Monday, March 19, 2018

Alaska Abstract

Sometimes interesting shots appear when you least expect it. On a low-level small plane flight from my favorite Alaska grizzly bears location back to Anchorage, we flew over fascinating shapes and colors. Our altitude varied between 1000 and 1500 feet.

While it might be difficult to discern what you are looking at, when the subject is abstract, what it IS really doesn't matter. All that matters are the shapes, colors, and movement throughout the image.

But I don't want to keep you in suspense, so I'm spilling the beans  -  this is an aerial view of winding water courses along a very shallow area at the shoreline of the Cook Inlet.

In a 4-seater small plane I find it easiest to shoot with my iPhone. The space is so tight inside the plane that juggling a full-size camera and lens can be dicey. Plus, the super wide angle lens of the basic iPhone is great for capturing the vast, quickly changing terrain below.

This image has been enhanced in Lightroom. I increased the overall color saturation, the contrast, and then saturated specific colors even more, like the blues at the top of the image. Upon close inspection you will see artifacts and aberrations created by the low-quality iPhone lens, but for an interpretive art piece such as this, those are not issues that concern me.

The sky's the limit, so to speak, when it comes to abstracts. If distortions, aberrations, or other issues enhance the final result, then that is OK. If this were intended to be a more traditional representation of the landscape, I would not be happy with anything less than a realistic view of the scene. But as an artistic representation, the aberrations just add further to the artsy look in my opinion.

1/3200 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 32. iPhone 6 standard camera with built-in 4.15mm f/2.2 lens.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality."  -- Pablo Picasso

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Desert Dweller

Bighorn sheep are beautiful subjects. We usually see several different species in the mountains of the American west and Alaska. But there are also Desert Bighorns like this guy.

I usually do not photograph captive animals, and prefer to find them in the wild. But this handsome guy was a resident of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, and was too appealing to pass by. The Desert Museum does a good job of creating large and realistic-looking enclosures for large animals. All the rocks you see are man-made, but they look like the real thing. 

This image was cropped and optimized in Lightroom. It took less than 5 minutes to tweak the original RAW image, shown here, to create the final version above.
The ram was deep inside the enclosure, behind a rock wall, with no direct light falling on him. So as always, Lightroom came to the rescue.

After cropping the image, I used the following Lightroom controls:
1. Move the Whites slider to brighten the horns and fur.
2. Move the Blacks slider to deepen the blacks slightly.
3. Increase Clarity to +30 for more mid-tone contrast.
4. Move Luminance slider to +30 to reduce noise.
5. Use the Graduated Filter to significantly reduce the brightness of the bottom rock.
6. Use the Brush Tool to lighten the eye.

That's it. Quick and easy.

Many people despair when they download their images and see something like the BEFORE image. They think they have done something wrong, and often delete the image. But Lightroom can bring out incredible details in most images with just a little bit of time and thought.

So go back through your old image files and see what you can find to work on in Lightroom (or Photoshop or Elements which work similarly). You will be surprised at how easily you can bring images back to life with just a little digital help!

1/800 sec., f/9, ISO 400. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Ansel Adams Revisited

The two most pivotal things that got me started in photography many years ago were the first time I had the opportunity to use an adjustable 35mm camera, owned by my high school friend Marion (with whom I am still friends today), and seeing the work of Ansel Adams. His images of unique and beautiful places in the west were arresting and compelling. So compelling in fact that I went to his home bases of Carmel, California and Yosemite National Park to have two short stints of studying with him. Those were deeply meaningful times in my photographic journey.

When I first saw his photograph of the ancient Native American ruins at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, I knew that someday I had to go there to see it in person.

I got that opportunity a few years later, and on my recent trip to the desert southwest I made my fourth pilgrimage to this special place. There are ruins scattered throughout Canyon de Chelly and other nearby canyons, and this one, named White House Ruin, is among the most beautiful.

Part of the beauty of this place is not only the ruins themselves, but also the dark streaks marking the cliff faces. Called Desert Varnish, the streaks are caused by mineral deposits formed over thousands of years, left behind by the evaporation of dew and water, and then polished by the winds.

While my image pales in comparison to the photographs Ansel Adams made of this place, I did make an attempt at the black and white conversion below using Lightroom. See Ansel Adams original photographs made of White House Ruin here

If you have a preference, let me know if you like the color version or the black and white version better.

1/640 sec. at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 19mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Some photographers take reality and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation."  --Ansel Adams

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Magical Moonrise

I was fortunate to be at Monument Valley in Arizona for last week's full moonrise. What a treat to see it appear above one of the famous Mitten buttes. No matter how many full moons I have witnessed, each one is exciting and renewing.

The full moon always rises at about the same time as sunset, so there is still some ambient light on the scene which illuminates it to preserve the texture of the landscape. That's the good news.

The bad news is that exposure can be tough. First, you must set the shutter speed no slower than 1/30 sec. Slower than that and the motion of the moon shows in the image resulting in fuzzy edges and\or an oval moon rather than a round one.

Second it can be difficult to keep both the landscape and the moon properly exposed. Often the landscape can be rendered too dark or the moon too light, or both. Play it safe and do one exposure for the landscape and one for the moon. This image employs that technique, and then they were blended using Photoshop.

1/30 sec. at f/4, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 127mm on Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."  --Aldous Huxley

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Slot Canyon Beauty

Slot canyons of the Southwest. If you have never been in one, I highly recommend it. They are beautiful and awe-inspiring. Their huge size, the eons of time it took to carve the swirling, sweeping, exquisite shapes, the quiet mood inside them, the Native American stories they inspired, all work together to make for a very special experience.

This one is in northern Arizona and was recently opened to tourists. Virtually all slot canyons require you to have a licensed guide, and this one is no exception. They are often difficult to get to, and require a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get to the start of the canyon.

The light levels inside are often quite low, and require long exposures in order to maintain good depth of field throughout the image.

I'm enjoying a scouting trip to several areas in Arizona and Utah which may eventually become part of a photo tour in the future. I'm revisiting some of my favorite places. The weather has been exciting, with snow, rain, brilliant sunshine, cool temperatures and clear air.

15 seconds, f/20, ISO 400. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 24mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "When you're in the desert, you look into infinity. It makes you feel terribly small, and also in a strange way, quite big."  --David Lean

Friday, February 23, 2018

Desert Southwest

I am in Arizona on a series of speaking engagements to camera clubs, and then will be off on a personal trip to some of my favorite places in the Desert Southwest.

Today's presentation was to the Sun City West Camera Club near Phoenix, plus other area clubs that were invited to attend. About 200 photographers were in attendance, and gave me a very warm welcome. It was a wonderful group, and I appreciate how warmly I was treated and how well they responded to a flat-lander from the east.

On Monday I travel to Sedona to speak to the camera club there. Then it's on to Monument Valley, some slot canyons, and Canyon de Chelly. It has been snowing in the high country so I am hoping for unique images of snow on the red rocks. We'll see what Mother Nature throws at us.

Today's image is from a former trip to Monument Valley. We arrived in the dark, long before sunrise in order to get set up and catch the sun breaking the horizon. If you look carefully you will see a natural starburst. That was created by using a small aperture (f/22) and positioning the camera so that part of the sun was blocked by the rock formation.

1/50 sec., f/22, ISO 200. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 17mm on Canon 40D camera body (an oldie but a goodie). Gitzo tripod.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What draws us into the desert is the search for something intimate in the remote."  --Edward Abbey

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Comin' At Ya

On my last visit to Iceland I took some personal time to visit a glacial lagoon. I was thrilled to see a large number of arctic terns making pass after pass around us. They are speedy and turn on a dime, so getting sharp images means you have to take a lot of shots and be prepared to throw many away. In fact that is often the case with any birds-in-flight photography.

This guy made a sudden hairpin turn and started gliding right toward me. My camera was set on AI (continuous focus), but when the action is coming directly at you, it is not always easy for the autofocus to lock on. In this case I was fortunate to get a sharp shot for two reasons  -   terns have not only a sharp line where their dark feathers meet their white ones, but this tern was directly in front a deep black area of the glacier. Autofocus functions best when there is a hard line with good contrast for the lens to grab onto, and that is exactly the situation here.

This is a color image, but except for the tern's bill, there was no other color in this scene.

For action shots, all you can do is be as prepared as possible, and hope for the best. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, with the right conditions, and had my camera set properly (continuous focus AND rapid burst). Often those once-in-a-lifetime shots come when you least expect it. Knowledge of your camera and its settings are your best friends when seeking action shots.

1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity."  --Oprah Winfrey

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Make a Mat in Photoshop

This brown bear mom and cub were taking a break from feeding on the lush early summer grass in Alaska. She was out in the fields with her 3 cubs, but the other two were off munching nearby. When they struck this pose, I knew I had a great mother-baby portrait.

When photographing wildlife, it is safety first, respect and care for the animals second, and getting the shot third. The shot is never more important than your safety, and the well-being of the animals.

I have found the absolute BEST location in Alaska for getting brown bear images up close and personal, and in safety AND comfort. And without tons of other photographers around. We stay in a lovely lodge along the shores of the Cook Inlet in Lake Clark National Park. The 2018 trip has been filled for quite awhile, but the July 2019 trip is now open for registration. It is not listed on the website yet, so if you are interested please email me and I can send you details.

I prepared this image for an upcoming competition, and felt it needed a mat to enhance the portrait feel. It is quick and easy to make a mat in Photoshop. Once the image is optimized and sized, make a new file in Photoshop that measures 3 to 4 inches larger than your image. For example, an 11x14 image would need a new file measuring about 15x18. That will provide space for a 2-inch mat all around. If that is too much mat for your particular image, you can make it smaller.

Copy and paste the image onto the new file, and center it. Use the Eyedropper tool to choose a mat color that goes well with the predominant tone in your image - in this case it was the dark brown of the fur. Just click the eyedropper on the color in the image you want. Then make a new layer and name it "mat." Go to Edit > Fill, Foreground Color, Normal, 100%, and click OK.

Then choose another color from the image that will serve as a thin border (called a keyline) around the image itself. I chose the green of the grass. Use the Marquis tool to trace around the image. The "marching ants" should be visible along the outside edge of the image. Then go to Edit > Stroke. When the dialog box opens, choose a pixel width that is narrow and not obtrusive. Then click inside the color box to add the color you have chosen. For location, choose "center." Blend mode should be "normal" at 100%.

You can always go back and modify your choices if the colors do not look good to you, or if the keyline is too thin or too wide.

1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "No matter how carefully you plan your goals, they will never be more than pipe dreams unless you pursue them with gusto."  --W. Clement Stone

Friday, February 9, 2018

Unexpected Opportunity

Two unexpected openings have come up on the Denali photo trip. This is a very unusual occurrence, so this is your chance to grab these spaces.

We go deeper into Denali National Park than most other photo groups are allowed to go, yet we stay in relative luxury in a lovely lodge with great food and our own driver. In fact Awake The Light is one of only two photo companies worldwide that is allowed this deep inside the park for so many days.

We'll photograph grizzly bear, caribou, moose, and more. The tundra will be in full autumn splendor, and the mountains will be dusted with snow. It is a photographer's paradise.

Details at this link

If you have questions or to register,
email me at
or call me at 757-773-0194

1/1000 sec at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm. Handheld.

TODAY QUOTE: "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."  --Frank Lloyd Wright

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Find Your Creativity

Going, going, almost gone! Only a few spaces left in the 
Creative Flowers MASTER CLASS 
at Longwood Gardens, April 30 - May 4.

Longwood Gardens is a gem among botanical gardens. It is filled with acres and acres of flowers and breath-taking beauty.

This Master Class will show you how to capture beautiful, artistic images of flowers, and will jump start your creativity. You will learn how to shoot, what to shoot, and how to improve your images in post-production with Lightroom, and Photoshop.

It is like two workshops in one. It is an in-depth week to help you hone your flower photography skills, AND it will provide training in easy-to-learn, easy-to-use techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Learn to see things more artistically using line, shape, and color to create your own masterpieces. Each day will be filled with shooting time, personalized training, classroom time, and image critiques. You will come away with new techniques, and a renewed sense of creativity and excitement about your photography. The entire week will be educational, inspirational, and fun!

Throughout the week you will learn a wide variety of things including:
Finding appealing subjects
Recognizing “good” light and how to work with it
Learning the freedom of working without a tripod
Isolating the subject for an artistic effect
Learning how to see with an entirely new vision
Learning how to use line, shape, and color to your best advantage
Using selective focus
Controlling the background
Using Depth of Field creatively
Understanding how to break the rules effectively
Using post-processing quickly and easily in Lightroom
Adding textures and other techniques in Photoshop and other software

More details on the website here

Call or email for more details, or to register. 
I'd love to speak with you about this workshop.
 April 30 - May 4, Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania

1/100 sec. at f/9, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro IS lens on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld. 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Flowers are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out-values all the utilities of the world."  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson