Sunday, November 29, 2015

Call Of The Wild

Hearing the bugle of an elk in the wilderness is a primal experience not to be missed. This male in Yellowstone National Park was in prime condition and was announcing his presence to any rivals who might be tempted to invade his harem. He had begun gathering females for the fall breeding season, and was determined to keep them all for himself.

Even though there is no sound coming from this image, his lowered stance, curved neck, and open mouth convey the moment of his echoing call.

When shooting wildlife we  have no control over where the animal is in the landscape, but we can still do our best to create a strong composition by changing our camera position and its height (if there is time and the animal is not moving). I was sitting on a low log for this shot which helped to line up his antlers perfectly, as well as provide separation between his belly and his shadow. In addition, a bit of cropping (in post-production) helped to make this image stronger.

As you can see in the uncropped version here, a scruffy hillside at the top of the image was cropped out, as well as some excess grass at the bottom and along the sides. Those decisions were based on the need to eliminate extraneous elements and use what was there to enhance the composition.
SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: If you interested in getting out into the wild for birds, check out this photo workshop coming up in January in Bosque del Apache, New Mexico. It is being run by Hunt's Photo and Video. My travel schedule prevents me from attending, but I have found this location to be great for photographing thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes.  Info here

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/13.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders."  -Edward Abbey

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ready For Takeoff

Ready for takeoff? When photographing birds and waterfowl, it is important to always be ready for the subject to take flight. This scaup on a small pond in Denali National Park in Alaska was calmly sitting on the surface when suddenly he decided it was time to go. With very little warning he cut a path through the water and was up, up, and away.

Be ready and set your camera for a fast shutter speed of at least 1/1250 sec. Slower than that and it will be difficult to freeze most of the wing motion. You don't have to completely freeze the action, since a bit of wing blur helps convey a feeling of speed. But you want the head and body to be relatively sharp.

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And if you are looking for some good Black Friday camera specials, check out the Hunt's Photo and Video offerings here   If you see something of interest, or just have questions, email Alan Samiljan at Hunt's at   or call him at (781) 662-8822. Hunt's is great and they can help you out. Tell them Mollie from Awake The Light sent you, and you will get great service.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "This is a wonderful day. I have never seen this one before."  --Maya Angelou

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

At this time of year we should sit back and consider all that is good in our lives. While in each life there are often setbacks, heartache, disappointments, and all manner of other negative things, at the end of the day we all have much to be thankful for.

So take a few minutes to consider all the positives in your life, all the people who care about you, all the things that bring you joy. It will be the best few minutes of your day!

I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving, and a joyous and peaceful start to the holiday season.


With warm wishes,

Shutter Speed 1.6 sec.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm L, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If  you are really thankful, what do you do? You share."  --W. Clement Stone

Monday, November 23, 2015

New Spring Workshops Announced

The November newsletter is out! View it here 

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This macro image was shot at mid-day, using backlight to punch the yellow color. Because most flower petals are translucent, when they are backlit they seem to glow from within. 

Learning how to identify the quality of light and its direction is crucial to becoming a better photographer. All Awake The Light workshops and tours incorporate training on lighting, and much more. We always strive to provide individual attention and a huge of amount of information. Education is the hallmark of all our workshops and tours. I hope you can join me on an adventure or workshop soon!

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/2.8.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."  --Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Balancing Act

Balance. Symmetry. Color harmony. Those are the basic building blocks of this image. The two Sandhill Cranes are virtually parallel - look at the positioning of their necks, their bills, and their legs. Notice that the wings are perfectly balanced - one crane has wings up and the other has wings down.

In addition, the color harmony of the birds and the background ties everything together. It was very early morning and the entire scene was bathed in soft warm light, making the colors of the birds and the background virtually identical.

This is a very simple image, but many factors came together to make it successful. Did I have this shot in mind when I went out to shoot that day? No. I merely hoped for some good opportunities, had my equipment set up and ready, and took many many images. With wildlife, and especially birds in flight, taking a large number of shots is crucial to guarantee that you will end up with at least a few successful ones.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS set at 330mm.  Camera: Canon 7D.  Gitzo tripod and ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is the harmony of the diverse parts, their symmetry, their happy balance. It is all that introduces order, all that gives unity, that permits us to see clearly and to comprehend at once both the ensemble and the details."  -Henri Poincare

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Golden Waters

Moving water can be some of the most pleasing subjects to photograph. The movement of the water, the colors reflected in it, and the calm joy of being next to a pristine stream or waterfall combine to make for a great experience.

Spring in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park brings all these elements together and more. Known not only for its superb displays of wildflowers in April, the Smokies has a multitude of streams which are some of the most beautiful anywhere. And they are at their very best in April. In the springtime the streams and waterfalls come to life and create a waterworld of sorts.

The upcoming photo workshop in the Smokies in April will put us close to superb opportunities to photograph moving water.  Swift-running streams are everywhere and we know the best places to find them within easy access. No back-breaking hikes, no slogging over hill and dale, we know all the back roads and will put you close to steams and not far from our vehicles. There are some lovely, relatively easy hikes for those who might want to venture farther afield, but that will be an optional personal choice.

And in addition to the spring wildflowers and exciting streams, there will be opportunities to photograph lovely landscapes and sweeping vistas. We will seek out sunrises and sunsets, and of course will always be on the lookout for wildlife as well. Black bear, deer, fox, coyote, and wild turkey are some of the animals that frequent the park.

Pro Tips For Photographing Moving Water:
-  use a sturdy tripod
-  ISO 100
-  f/11 or smaller aperture for good depth of field
-  shutter speed 1/2 sec. or longer (experiment with a variety of slow shutter speeds)
-  cable release or remote trigger (if you do not have one, set your camera on 2-second delay to allow it to settle down after pressing the shutter button)
-  try some shots with a wide angle lens, and also do some close-ups with a moderate telephoto lens
-  early morning and late afternoon are best, but using a neutral density filter (8 stops or more) can allow you to get great moving water shots at any time of day

So plan now to come along on the best Smokies photo trip available anywhere! The trip runs from April 22 - 27. Register before January 1 and save $300. Limited to only 10 photographers, it is already half full. So don't delay. Call us at 757-773-0194 or email with questions and for more information.

Shutter Speed 1/2 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins. Not through strength, but through persistence."  --Buddha

Monday, November 9, 2015

Already Thinking of Spring

As the poet Shelley said, if winter comes, can spring be far behind? Well, winter is coming and I'm already thinking ahead toward spring. And my favorite place to be for spring flowers is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Smokies has more species of wildflowers than nearly anyplace else on the planet. We will be there in April when the trillium, wild iris, lady slippers, and so many more species carpet the park. This is a visual treat not to be missed.

This easy-going stress free photo workshop takes you close to beautiful flowers with little effort. In addition, we will see some of the wild free-flowing streams that the Smokies is known for.

So join me at the Wildflowers and Wildwater Photo Workshop and learn more about creative macro and much more. And enjoy the unique beauty of the Smokies at the best time of year to be there.

Register before January 1 and save $300!

Come to the Smokies for a great workshop April 22 - 27. Learn a lot, have a blast, and come away with incredible images.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Listen to the silence of nature and hear your inner voice."  --unknown

Friday, November 6, 2015

Ice Castles

Glaciers. Big, blue, and beautiful. Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska is one of the last strongholds of glaciers in the world. Being in this ice world is a treat not to be missed.

Seeing a glacier is like traveling back through time. Many of them were formed eons ago, but unfortunately many of them are receding or melting or both. Having the chance to see them in person is a rare opportunity. Photographing them is an even greater achievement. Follow your heart, travel when and where you can, and see parts of the world that are changing fast. Once they are gone, they are gone.

Stay tuned for information on a 2016 Glacier Bay trip.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 140mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Future generations are going to ask what you did about it, when you knew the glaciers were melting."  -Martin Sheen

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Do More Than Skim The Surface

Skimmers are some of my favorite water birds. They are sleek, speedy fliers with incredible skill. They barely skim the water with their lower beak, which are longer than the upper beak, scooping up small morsels. They ply the same stretch of water over and over again, which makes it easy for photographers. Once you spot one it is a safe bet that you can set up your tripod and be ready for a show for at least several minutes.

Patience is the keyword when photographing skimmers. They move quite quickly, so if you miss getting good shots on one pass, just wait and chances are they will come by again. That makes it relatively easy to pre-focus in the general area they have passed before. Then it is a simple matter for your autofocus to grab on when they come by again.

This image has been optimized in Lightroom, the image optimization software I use most. The water has been darkened a bit and its color has been enhanced with the Vibrance slider. Fortunately this was shot on an overcast day so the bright whites and deep blacks held their detail and did not need any help. The bright orange area on the beak is an excellent point of color contrast against the deep blue water. And the naturally occurring reflection adds nice punch to the overall composition.

If you look carefully, you can see the water dripping off the beak. You can trace his forward progress by the thin line traced in the water as he skimmed for food.

Shutter Speed 1/8000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We skim over the surface thoughtlessly. But we must acknowledge that thinking well is a time-consuming process. Take the time to contemplate...."   -M. Scott Peck

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Smoke and Mirrors

Happy Halloween! This has become a fun holiday for old and young alike, so enjoy the fun and embrace the creepiness. Try your hand at creating some otherworldly images today to stimulate your creativity.

This image was created using black light, a light source that responds to florescent colors. But you can create similar looks without blacklight by using reflective items like glass bottles, or items made out of shiny black plastic which will reflect any bright colors that are placed in front of them or behind them.

You can use either a non-reflective black background like a piece of fabric (felt or fleece or suede), or as in this case, a sheet of dark reflective mylar. Place the main subjects in front of the background, leaving a space of 1 to 3 feet between them and the background.

What you see in this image is just the reflection of 3 clear glass bottles reflected in the mylar, not the bottles themselves. The slight natural waviness of the mylar causes the bottles to appear distorted and unreal. Rolled up sheets of brightly colored paper were placed in front of the bottles so that they reflected into them, creating an array of colorful designs.

The trick is to set this up after dark in an unlit room, and place 2 or 3 lights off to the sides of the scene. Make sure the lights shine on the colored papers so that they are lit and will reflect well into the bottles or plastic.

The lights can be light boxes (the things we used to place slides on in the old days to view them for editing) or the less expensive and more readily available LED work lights sold at:



Hunt's Photo and Video

These lights come in a variety of sizes and in varying price ranges. I suggest starting with the least expensive ones you can find to see how you like it. I have not used any of the exact lights in the links above, and am not endorsing any particular light, but it will give you a start in exploring what is available out there.

By the way, these small LED lights are also great for macro photography of flowers and other subjects indoors in a darkened room.

A tripod will be needed since the exposures will most likely be quite long. Also, use a moderate telephoto lens which will provide more flexibility for where you set the lights and the colored papers. 

A small aperture of f/16 or more is best for good depth of field which will keep everything relatively sharp.

Experiment with the positioning of the lights for best effect. Have a buddy with you to reposition the lights and the colored papers so that you can view the scene through the viewfinder and create exactly what looks best to you. Happy shooting and Happy Halloween!

Shutter Speed 15 seconds.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 155mm. Camera: Canon 40D (an oldie but a goodie).  Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and The Great Pumpkin."  -- Charles Schultz via Linus from "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"