Thursday, October 22, 2020

Just Received Some Exciting News


The annual international competition of the Professional Photographers of America is going on this week. And I just received the exciting news that two of my images have been selected to be part of the exhibition. It is always a high honor to be selected.

Even though I have been competing in various competitions for several decades, I never know which images will do well. When entering any competition, you always have to swallow hard and hope for the best. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't. 

The egret image on the left was titled "Peek-a-Boo" and was taken at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, FL. It was a lucky shot, with this wing position lasting only a fraction of a second. Thank goodness for cameras with rapid burst!

The bird-of-paradise shot was taken at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I used a Topaz filter (set at low opacity) to add some texture that provided a slight artistic finish. 

Both images have been extensively cropped and processed in Lightroom. 

So now I can rest easy for awhile until the next competition!

TECH SPECS   Egret - 1/1250 sec at f/5, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 227mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.     Bird-of-Paradise - 1/640 sec at f/3.5, ISO 800. LensBaby Sol 45 lens on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE  "Winning and losing are both very temporary things. Having done one or the other, you move ahead. Gloating over a victory or sulking over a loss is a good way to stand still."  -- Chuck Knox


Friday, October 16, 2020

Great New Filter - Test & Review


I was asked by Gary Farber of Hunt's Photo and Video to test a new, long-awaited close-up filter.  And it is a winner! 

If you love macro but do not have a macro lens, OR even if you do have a macro lens but want to get in even closer to your subjects, this sweet filter is just the thing. And the price is right! The official name of this filter is the Promaster 5D Achromatic Close-Up Lens, and it comes in a variety of sizes to attach to most lenses.

Long ago and far away, there were a couple of superb close-up filters made by Canon and Nikon. It was a simple matter of just attaching the filter onto any lens, and you instantly had an inexpensive macro lens that could get you in close for beautiful shots. Over time, those filters were no longer made, and that was a sad day for many of us.

Fast-forward to today, and I'm happy to report that those types of close-up filters are once again being made, now by Promaster. As many of you know, I rarely recommend any gear or software, and when I do it is ONLY after I have tested it, like it, and then use it myself. And I REALLY like this filter.

From the moment you take it out of the box it is clear that it is a well-manufactured, quality product. For me, the optical quality of any filter is critically important, and this one passed all my tests with flying colors. 

I tried it on a variety of subjects, and was happy with how it performed on all counts:

- Optically it is first-rate. There was no degradation of image quality that I could detect, and colors were represented accurately and clearly. 

- It was very easy to attach it to my lens. Just screw it on and you are ready to shoot. 

- It does not interfere with your ability to autofocus. Focus remained quick and precise.

- It does not cut light transmission through your lens.

- All of your normal camera controls work as they should. The filter does not interfere with any of your normal camera functions.

And as if all that was not enough, Hunt's Photo and Video is making these filters available at a very attractive price. You can view and purchase the filter at the special discounted price by clicking on this link

As with all macro shots, when you are in close to your subject, Depth of Field is very shallow. That is one of the charms of macro to me. I love the soft look, with just a small area of most importance being sharp. If you prefer macro images that are sharp throughout, there are some good focus-stacking software options available. While I do not use that sort of software, I have some colleagues who get good results with that approach.

So if getting up-close-and-personal with flowers and other macro subjects appeals to you, this filter is just the ticket. If you do get one,  let me know how you like it!

And a quick word on Hunt's Photo and Video - I have been buying much of my photo equipment from them for over 10 years. I have found them to be easy to work with, very professional, friendly, and fast. Gary and his crew are first-rate, and are always there if you have a question or need something special. I like buying from real people whom I trust to handle their camera gear properly, and to ship it well-packaged. I trust them much more than a faceless mega-supplier, and their prices are very competitive. If you have not dealt with them before, give them a try. You will find it a refreshing change.

TECH SPECS  1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 1600. Promaster 5D Achromatic Close-Up filter on Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.  

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better."  -- Albert Einstein

Friday, October 9, 2020

Autumn Is Here


Autumn is arriving in most parts of the country. Hard to believe it is October already, and in spite of these surreal and troubling times, the time has passed quickly for me. While it will be a while longer before our lives return to something resembling "normal," we are muddling through reasonably well. I am certainly looking forward to a better 2021!

Photographing moving water is one of my favorite things, and the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are among my favorites. While they are not the dramatic waterfalls of Yosemite or Yellowstone, they are lovely, and for me are a visual representation of the power of both stability and renewal. The meandering flow of water over ancient rocks is a testament to the power and resilience of nature.

While I rarely use a tripod, it is an essential tool when photographing moving water. The easiest way to convey the feeling of flow when photographing moving water is to first start with a low ISO. I generally use ISO 100 or 200 so that I can get good Depth of Field with a small aperture of about f/16 or f/22, and a slow shutter speed of anywhere from 1/2 sec up to several seconds. I always try a variety of shutter speeds since I never know exactly how much motion will appear in the image, and what look will work best for a particular shot. Remember that as you change your shutter speed, your aperture will change as well (unless you prefer to shoot on manual settings in which case you will need to change both the aperture AND the shutter speed). By the way, I recommend setting your camera on Aperture Priority. 

For many of us, getting away to far flung places is not in the cards just yet. So this might be a good time to review older images in your files and look for hidden gems. You never know what you might find!

TECH SPECS  3 seconds at f/22, ISO 200. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it."  -- Lao Tzu

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Smoky Mountains Sunrise


I came across this sunrise image that I took in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about a year ago, and wanted to share it with you.  It was a very misty, cloudy morning and the dramatic scene only lasted a few minutes. The thick mist hanging in the valleys is what gave the Smokies its name.

As with all sunrise shooting options, you never know what Mother Nature will provide. I have been in the Smokies many times, and sunrise is always a big unknown. Sometimes the fog is so thick that you can barely see a few feet in front of you, and no photograph is possible. At other times it is too clear, and the drama that you hope for never happens. But on this particular morning, even though we never saw the sun actually pop up over the horizon because of the thick mist and clouds, we were treated to this spectacular sunrise with shades of purples and yellows. 

When getting up early to shoot sunrise, it is best to plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before the officially stated sunrise time. The sky begins to get light about an hour before sunrise, and often the best shots happen before the sun actually breaks the horizon. 

I like to prepare my gear the night before so that when I arrive at the location, it is a simple matter of setting up my tripod, attaching my camera, and then waiting for the hoped-for show to begin. I use Aperture Priority, pre-set my camera to ISO 800, and the aperture at about f/16. The shutter speed will set itself, and will be very slow in the pre-sunrise hour. As the skies begin to lighten, I change the ISO as needed, first to 400, and then sometimes to 200. 

Setting the aperture to f/16 or smaller (f/22 or f/32, depending on the capability of your lens) gives you the best chance of getting the entire scene in sharp focus. In low light situations, like pre-sunrise, it is hard for your lens to autofocus properly, and it can also be difficult to focus manually as well. An aperture of f/16 or smaller gives you better Depth of Field which will help keep the scene sharp even if you miss the focus slightly.

Now that sunrise is later than during the summer months is a great time to get out there and get some great sunrise shots! You do not have to get up quite so early, and if one day does not provide you with a great sunrise, perhaps the next day will.

TECH SPECS  2 seconds at f/22, ISO 200. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 76mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Every day a million miracles begin at sunrise."  -- Eric Jerome Dickey 

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

A Virtual Trip To Antarctica


Penguins are amazing in the water and comical on land. These Chinstrap Penguins were standing on the edge of a low cliff overlooking the snow-covered mountains beyond. It appears that while one was enjoying the view, the other was squawking about something unknown to us human observers. 

When they walk, they are gawky and somewhat clumsy, but the moment they hit the water they are transformed into sleek and beautiful swimmers. I hope to return to Antarctica once the world is safe for travel again, but for now a virtual trip is the best we can do.

TECH SPECS  1/1000 sec at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D MarkII body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Penguins are the most human of all birds, which may be why people love them. They're cute, they stand upright, and they look like they are wearing tuxedos."  -- Shia LeBeouf

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Time For Another Virtual Trip


Today our virtual trip is to brown bear territory in Alaska. This young mother was very wary of the males in her territory. Males (called "boars") can be very aggressive toward small cubs so the mothers have to maintain a high level of alertness most of the time. She only ventured out with her cubs from their protected haven in the deep woods at the end of the day, and for a very brief time. She had 3 cubs, and the other two were frolicking under her watchful eye just out of camera range when I made this shot. This cub was the smallest of the three, and clearly had less confidence than the others, staying close to its mother all the time.

When the coast was clear she would bring the cubs out for a foray into the fields just beside the woods. Our guide knew her habits and we would stand for hours waiting for them to make an appearance. When they did appear, it was exciting and hundreds of shots were frantically taken in the brief time she and the cubs came into view.  

Normally I end each Blog with a quote, but today I'm instead sharing this cute analysis of bears that just came in via email. It has been around for awhile, but even if you have seen it before, it is still a fun thing to read:

"In this life I'm a woman. In my next life, I'd like to come back as a female bear. You get to hibernate and do nothing but sleep for 6 months. I could deal with that. Before you hibernate, you eat yourself stupid. I could deal with that, too. You birth your children (who are born the size of walnuts) while you're sleeping, and by the time you wake up they are partially grown, cute, cuddly cubs. I could definitely deal with that. As a momma bear, everyone knows you mean business. You swat anyone who bothers your cubs. If your cubs get out of line, you swat them too. I could deal with that. If you're a bear, your mate expects you to wake up growling, AND expects you to have hairy legs and excess body fat. Yup, wanna be a bear!"

TECH SPECS  1/500 sec at f/8, 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.  

Saturday, September 19, 2020

In Memoriam


Today's Blog is posted in memory of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I had the honor of meeting her and photographing her back in the 1990's when I had my photo studio in metropolitan Washington, DC. Even though I did not spend much time with her, I was immediately struck by her humility and down-to-earth nature. 

In those days I had the honor of photographing many notables, including her good friend Justice Antonin Scalia. Even though they were polar opposites in terms of their political leanings, they and their families had been firm friends for many years. It struck me then, and even more so now, that it is possible for people whose beliefs do not match to still have respect for one another, and to feel the warmth of honest friendship. They viewed each other as colleagues and friends, not political enemies.

Today, when it seems that divisiveness, polarization, and sometimes outright hatred invade our daily lives, I have been reflecting on that deep friendship between the Ginsburg and Scalia families. I am hopeful that one day soon we can return to a greater sense of respect for each other, and help our country pull together as we once did.

I chose this photo today since it illustrates how separate rivulets of water can flow independently but ultimately end up coming together to form one mighty river. They coalesce and form a powerful union. That is my hope for the future.

While this Blog is not intended to make any political statement, I encourage you to vote in the November elections, regardless of your political leanings. Voting is one of the greatest privileges of living in a democracy, and we should never take that privilege for granted.

TECH SPECS   2 seconds at f/45, ISO 100. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you."  -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

From Blah to Boffo


You have heard me sing the praises of Lightroom before, and this is one more example. Compare the Before image below to the main image above. They are the exact same RAW image, just improved greatly in Lightroom.

This was shot indoors at Longwood Gardens, so the lighting was soft and even. The beauty of these orchids was incredible, but the original RAW image here was really not exciting.

The bright spot in the background draws your attention away from the flowers. In addition, the background, even though very soft, is still distracting. So how was this image improved? It was pretty simple with just a few steps in Lightroom. The first step was cropping to eliminate the background issues. Then just a little tweaking of the Whites and Blacks, followed by a small reduction in Clarity (minus 22) to soften the flowers a bit more. I increased Vibrance a bit to punch the colors, and then used the Graduated Filter to darken the edges which added some drama. So in only 6 basic steps this image was transformed. 

The magic of Lightroom never ceases to amaze me. And it is quick and easy.

TECH SPECS  1/320 sec at ISO 800. LensBaby Sol 3.5 lens, 45mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A flower blooming in the desert proves to the world that adversity, no matter how great, can be overcome."  -- Matshona Dhliwayo   

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Just For Fun


Way back in January, when we were babes in the woods and did not realize how hard we were going to be hit with the pandemic, I made a brief trip to Longwood Gardens. Of course I did not know that this would be my last trip there, or anywhere else, for a loooooooong time to come. 

I came across this image of a Bird of Paradise flower today, and decided to play with it a bit. These are spectacular flowers with bright orange and blue tones. But this one, the best looking bloom that day, was partially blocked by the large leaf in the upper right. I tried a variety of angles, hoping to get a clear shot of the entire bloom, but this was the best that was possible at the time.

When I initially reviewed the images from that day, I was unhappy that I did not get the entire flower in the shot so I did not select it as one of my favorites at that time. But I did not delete it because I loved the colors and the overall look. If you have taken my workshops or trips, you know that I often recommend NOT deleting too many images when you review your shots. I find that I have to let them sit for awhile, and take a break from looking at them for days or weeks, or in this case even months. So when I viewed it today, I found it much more appealing than when I first saw it in January. 

I decided to try some effects in Topaz to give the image a more artistic look. I rarely use that sort of software since often they can introduce a very artificial look if you are not careful. A light touch is always the best approach when adding digital effects to your images, unless you are seeking a powerful or garish look for artistic purposes. 

So I tried Topaz Impression with the Georgia O'Keefe II filter. Initially it introduced the artificial look I try to avoid, but when I layered it over the original image and reduced its opacity to 30%, the effect was toned down significantly, and it added just a light painterly touch. 

It is great fun to play with filters and effects, just to see what works for your artistic eye. We all have different tastes, and you can expand your creativity by experimenting with a variety of options to find the looks that work for you. 

TECH SPECS  LensBaby Sol 45, f/3.5 at 1/640 sec, ISO 800 on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of 'how to do.' The salvation of photography comes from the experiment. " -- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

Friday, August 28, 2020

Take A Virtual Break To Patagonia


It's the weekend so it is time for another virtual trip. This time let's go to Patagonia. I was fortunate to have traveled there last December before the Covid-19 pandemic began circulating around the world. It is an incredible place with huge craggy mountains, thousands of wild guanacos (a relative of the llama), and almost constant high winds. The winds can make photographing challenging at times. Heck, at times it even made standing up challenging! But it is all part of the entire biome that one must embrace when traveling to some of the southernmost parts of the world.

December in the southern hemisphere is summertime, so the grass was green and flowers were blooming. And the guanacos were having babies. On our first day there we saw a few guanacos and got so excited that we were asking our guide to stop at almost every sighting. He kept telling us that we would see so many that eventually it would not be a big deal, but we did not believe him. And of course the wildlife photographers philosophy is to never pass up an opportunity. 

But sure enough, after a couple of days we became much more selective when asking for stops to photograph guanacos. This one's too small, that one's fur is not as nice, too many trees in the background, or not enough trees in the background. It got to be a running joke. 

And almost everywhere we went we had an opportunity to photograph the looming peaks that are the signature skyline of Patagonia.

TECH SPECS  1/1000 sec at f/8, ISO 400. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 105mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions."  -- Oliver Wendell Holmes