Sunday, June 21, 2020

Snuggled In For Safety


This Black-necked Swan signet was snuggled under its mother's wing. It looks so at peace, secure and protected. I thought it was a perfect antidote for the still tense times we are living in. 

While officially things have begun opening up across the country, we are being told to stay at home as much as possible for our own safety. So I have chosen to listen to that advice and am working online in our virtual world at this time. I hope you are staying close to home and are not putting yourself or others at risk. Patience and tolerance are the watchwords of these surreal times. 

This shot was taken at a bird breeding facility in North Carolina. Because the facility has large ponds with a variety of birds that are not too far away, and walkways surrounding them, it is relatively easy to get close-up images. 

This black-and-white conversion was done in Lightroom, my post-processing software of choice. After converting it to black-and-white, I moved the Clarity slider to the left to reduce mid-tone contrast which gave the image a soft, dreamy look. When working on images of soft subjects,  flowers, or misty scenes, I find that reducing Clarity adds just a touch of softness that enhances the overall look and feel of the image.  Be careful not to go too far, however, since the image can quickly become too mushy and lose detail. For this look I usually move the Clarity slider to approximately minus 15 to 25, but this image could handle more softness, so I moved Clarity to minus 50. 

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 400. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens with Canon 1.4X extender for an effective focal length of 280mm, on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld. 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A healthy tomorrow, for yourself and all those you care about, is the reward for practicing safe behavior today."  -- Mollie Isaacs   



Thursday, June 11, 2020

Fond Thoughts of the Open Road


Ahhhh........  The open road. How I look forward to getting back out there with you on a photo workshop! For now we still are better off not putting ourselves, or others, at risk so I am playing it safe by staying close to home and not running any workshops or photo tours at this time. But rest assured that big plans are in the works for 2021.

In the meantime I am offering webinars and online training in an effort to keep you focused on photography, and building more of your skills and confidence.

This image was taken last year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was on a narrow, tree-lined road off the beaten path. This is a single exposure made with a slow shutter speed to give a feeling of movement and softness. The end result is a somewhat impressionistic look of the scene.

Not all nature images need to convey a realistic version of the scene. Sometimes it is good to create images that impart a feeling rather than just a record shot of where it was taken.

This is a simple technique made from a moving vehicle. I call it a "drive-thru."  Here is how it was done:

1. First find a tree-lined, narrow gravel or dirt road, or an old paved road with no painted lines. You want it to be a road with no traffic so that you are not interfering with any traffic flow. This is very important since the car will be moving forward at only about 5 miles per hour. This works best when the trees are large enough to keep much of the sky from showing.

2. Since for now it is still important to maintain social distancing and not ride with someone who might be asymptomatic, it is best to have someone who is living with you in your home drive the vehicle. You are in the passenger seat. Please do NOT do this while you are driving since it will put you at risk. When we return to more normal times, this works well when the driver is another photographer so that each of you can trade off periodically, giving each of you a chance to get some shots.

3. When you are shooting, keep your seat belt on, and lean as far forward in your seat as possible. That will put your lens fairly close to the windshield to avoid possible reflections on the windshield from the car's dashboard or your clothing.

4. Wear medium-toned clothing to also avoid adding unwanted reflections in the windshield. Avoid wearing white, red, or other strong or bright colors.

5. Lens - use a lens with approximately a 100mm focal length. It can be either a zoom or a fixed focal length lens. Avoid wide angle lenses since that will often bring too much overhead sky into the image, and can also include unwanted portions of the car's dashboard or sides.

6. Camera settings - This is easiest with your camera set on Shutter Priority. Set your camera to ISO 100, with a shutter speed of 1/2 sec. The f/stop will set itself, and it does not matter much what the f/stop is.

7. Lean forward in your seat and focus on a tree trunk approximately 20 feet away from the car. You will not need to refocus again. This works best when your camera is set up with back-button focus so that your camera is not refocusing each time you press the shutter button.  If you are unfamiliar with back-button focus, you can read about it here

8. Now the driver can begin driving down the road at approximately 5 mph. Aim your camera straight out the windshield and start shooting. Take many shots since you never know exactly what you will get.

9. Tips - 1) look for slight curves or bends in the road since that will add leading lines;  2) for some shots, move your camera slightly up and down during the exposure to add more of a sense of movement;  3) feel free to experiment with different camera movements and different shutter speeds; 4) just let yourself go and try a variety of different things since you never know exactly what you will get. The goal is to have fun and end up with some unique and wonderful images.

10. Since each and every shot is an experiment, expect to get many bad shots that do not make you happy. That is perfectly normal. Often I will get only one or two shots I like out of dozens and dozens of attempts.

So get out there and have some fun with a friend! You might end up with real prize winners!

TECH SPECS
1/2 sec. at f/14, ISO 100. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 100mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body, handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better."  -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A Happy Honor


I was happily surprised to be contacted by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) informing me that this black-and-white image of puffins is being showcased on their website this week. Always an honor to have an image selected! Here is the link to their site
http://www.nanpa.org
It is one of several images on the NANPA Home Page, which will cycle through automatically.

You may remember seeing this image on the Blog earlier this year. It was shot on a small island in the Cook Inlet off the coast of Alaska near Lake Clark National Park. I was lucky that these Horned Puffins briefly posed themselves in the perfect position to create a beautiful line formed by their white and black feathers.

The original color image had grass in the background which I found distracting. So I replaced the background with a light gray background created in Photoshop. And while the bills were quite colorful, I chose to create this monochromatic version to better showcase the texture and contrast of the entire image.

When making extensive changes like this, you must disclose that when entering any nature and wildlife competition. Generally I do not significantly change an image from its original appearance, but sometimes it is good to exercise your creative muscles and go for something unusual or unexpected.

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretative."  -- Elliott Erwitt

Saturday, May 9, 2020

FREE Live Webinar for Camera Clubs


FREE Live Webinar - Lightroom Unleashed


Because we are still staying at home to remain safe from the coronavirus, I am offering a FREE live Webinar to camera clubs that would like to provide continuing learning opportunities to members. 

My very popular "Lightroom Unleashed" Webinar is an information-packed opportunity to learn how to quickly and easily take your images from Sad to Spectacular. Above you can see the RAW Before and After images, showing post-processing in Lightroom. All changes were done totally in Lightroom. No other software was used. 

The webinar covers many of my secrets for getting great results quickly. You will see a variety of Before and After images, and how the transitions were done. 

You will learn:
- how to use Lightroom most effectively to take your images from blah to boffo,
- a simple, fast, and foolproof Lightroom workflow,
- which tools and sliders are best to use, and how to use them,
- which tools and sliders to AVOID and why,
- why the histogram in Lightroom is so important,
- why the Gradient tool is a better choice than the Vignette tool,
- and more!

If your club is interested in making this Webinar available to members, please email me at awakethelightphoto@icloud.com as soon as possible. We can schedule the Webinar on a day and time that is best for your club. Demand has been high for this opportunity. I hope you can join me online!

TECH SPECS
1/640 sec. at f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x III extender for an effective focal length of 560mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld. 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create."  -- Buddha



Saturday, April 25, 2020

Just Announced - St. Augustine Florida Birds Workshop


Join me next April in St. Augustine, Florida for some of 
the best 
bird photography anywhere! This is the time 
of 
year when 
some of the most beautiful birds like 
Roseate Spoonbills, 
Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, 
and several species of 
Herons arrive in 
their 
breeding plumage.


The birds will be nesting, mating, and raising chicks, and all this will be happening close to us at eye level.

We will be in a private rookery that is beautifully designed with walkways that put us at tree-top level with the birds. This provides us with the best chances of getting close-up shots, and no long lenses are needed. All birds are truly wild, but are not bothered by our presence.

We will have special early access to the rookery before it opens to the public. And it is a short walk into and around the rookery. Super bird photography does not get any better, or any easier than this.

In addition to the birds there will be shooting opportunities in the historic areas of St. Augustine, which bills itself as America's Oldest City. It is the home of significant landmarks like Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, and more.

This unique workshop includes:
- early entry and private time photographing birds in the rookery
- personalized instruction to make your bird photography the best it can be
- all rookery entry fees
- trolley and self-guided walking tour of historic St. Augustine
- image critiques
- Lightroom and Photoshop tips

Workshop is limited to 12 photographers

FEE: Early sign-up fee is $1995 if you register no later than June 1. After that the regular rate of $2495 applies. Fee includes all entry fees into the rookery, trolley tour of historic St. Augustine, extensive personalized instruction, image critiques, both in-the-field and classroom training, and Lightroom and Photoshop tips. (Not included are lodging, meals, transportation, and personal incidentals. Special hotel rates have been arranged.)

DEPOSIT: A $500 deposit will reserve your space.

ITINERARY: Workshop begins in the late afternoon on Tuesday, April 6 with an orientation and training session. Specific time and location will be provided when you register. Each day of the workshop will be a varied combination of bird photography, historic architecture, training, and image critiques. The workshop officially ends after a morning rookery visit on Sunday, April 11.


FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO REGISTER

EMAIL
awakethelightphoto@icloud.com

or CALL 757-773-0194

Saturday, April 18, 2020

More Fun At Home - Photo Projects Lesson 3



This is another great technique for keeping your creative juices flowing while you are stuck at home during the pandemic. Sometimes you just want to have fun, and what better time than now! If you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you can create unusual images easily.

Today's image is just one example
ORIGINAL IMAGE
of what you can do with almost any image already in your files. Here is the original image, a flower shot at a botanical gardens. Try this
technique with flowers or birds or scenics or anything else that appeals to you. You won't know which images work best until you experiment with several different ones. And you can crop and do some post-processing on the original image before starting on the technique below.

Here are the easy steps used to create the final version:

1. Make sure to start with an 8-bit image. Only 8-bit images will work with all the Photoshop filters. (Some filters will work with 16-bit images, which is a typical default bit size for most images, but not all filters can be used unless the image is an 8-bit.) It is easy to do the conversion in Photoshop by going to Image > Mode. Then click on "8-bit" if it is not already checked. Now you are ready to work some magic!

2. Go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. Click on the "Polar to Rectangular" button (the lower button) and then click OK.

3. Next flip the image upside down by going to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Vertical.

4. Again go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. This time click on the "Rectangular to Polar" button (the upper button) and click OK.

5.  Now you have the basic distorted image, similar to the top image in today's Blog. I did not make any additional changes, but you can crop it if you wish, or change the color using Photoshop's color balance options, or make any other changes that you feel enhance the image.

So try this on a variety of different images and enjoy the results!

TECH SPECS
1/160 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Every adversity brings new experiences and new lessons."  -- Lailah Gifty Akita

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Happy Easter - Happy Passover


Happy Easter
Happy Passover


Even though we are all practicing the recommended social distancing and cannot spend time face-to-face with friends and family, we can still feel the warmth of Spring, and keep those personal connections strong. We can connect with those we love via all the great options available to us in our digital age - Skype or FaceTime or Zoom or Facebook or other options that allow us to speak with those far away and see their faces.

While the pandemic has turned many lives upside down, we can still be thankful for what we have, and can feel close to those we love and cherish. Keep those connections strong. The support of family and friends will help all of us cope with the New Normal, and help us be strong and look forward to a time when all this will be behind us. A time when we can hug, laugh together, and enjoy better times.

I am eager to be able to travel again, conduct workshops, and see all my friends and fellow travelers. And we WILL have those times again!

But for now, please follow the guidelines medical and governmental authorities advise, be patient as we wait for the pandemic to end, stay more than 6 feet away from others, enjoy a quieter, less hectic time, and wash wash wash your hands!

Mollie

Saturday, April 4, 2020

More Fun Photo Projects - Photo Projects Lesson 2


Today's lesson will help you turn lemons into lemonade. We all have images we shot some time ago that we want to like but they just do not have the pop or impact we expected. This is a great time to review some of your old images to see if another attempt at improving them in Lightroom can bring them back from the brink of boring.

As you know, Lightroom is my software of choice for nature and wildlife images. It can powerfully bring an image to life without making it look overdone or unrealistic. And that is the key to award-winning nature images - full of impact and beauty but without an artificial look.

The Before and After images above are the same shot. The Before image is the RAW image before processing, and the After is the same image after being processed in Lightroom.

It was a beautiful, pristine dawn in Jasper National Park in Canada, but you would never know that by looking at the Before image. It looks gray, dull, and unexciting. While there were pinks and blues in the sky, and lovely fall colors on the hillsides across the lake, they do not appear in the original RAW image. Why?

In general, regardless of the brand of camera you use, camera sensors are designed to be "dumbed down." What does that mean? It means that digital camera sensors were designed to do their jobs quickly, and in order to do that the sensor will capture an image (this applies to RAW images) with all the detail and color that was there, BUT our eyes will not see all that without using post-processing software to bring out the latent details in the RAW image. While this is an oversimplification, the bottom line is that you will rarely see the degree of contrast and the accuracy of colors in a RAW image as it initially comes out of the camera. Some post-processing is needed on virtually every image in order to bring out what you really saw. Some images need more optimization than others.

Because this image was shot pre-sunrise, it inherently had low contrast and the colors were somewhat muted. Add to that the nature of camera sensors I mentioned, and you have a Before image that is gray and lifeless. I wanted to bring out the colors and contrast that my eye saw when I was there, and that required some help from Lightroom.

The "fix" took about 5 minutes, and brought the image closer to what I actually saw. I admit that I did punch the blues and pinks a bit more than were really there, but they still look natural.

The simple steps in Lightroom to improve this image were:
1. Lightened the shadows with the Shadows Slider.
2. Brightened the whites with the Whites Slider so that the mist on the horizon looked white.
3. Increased Clarity to boost the mid-tone contrast.
4. Increased overall Vibrance.
5. Used the HSL panel to pinpoint increases in the saturation of the pinks, blues, and yellows.

That's it. Just those few easy steps brought this image to life.

So now that we have lots of time at home, a great project is to go back over some of your older images and re-work them in Lightroom to see how much you can improve them. You will be amazed at what you can do, even on old images that you have already processed.

Once you get into this, you can spend many happy days creating "new" and better images from ones already living in your photo files. And remember, for your health and well-being get up and stretch or walk around every 30 minutes or so, even though it is easy to sit for hours and not realize it!

TECH SPECS
2.5 seconds at f/22, ISO 200. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 17mm on Canon 6D body (an oldie but a goodie!). Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Learn as if you were to live forever."  --Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, March 20, 2020

Stuck At Home? - Fun Photo Projects Lesson 1


The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many lives upside down. It has caused many of us to completely alter our routines, and has impacted nearly all aspects of daily life. The good news is that we are photographers, and we can entertain and enrich ourselves at home even during these trying times.

This is the first in a series of Blogs in which I want to share creative ideas and tips for you to do at home. You may be familiar with some, and others might be new to you. Either way, give them a try. I hope they will help you tap into your creativity, and provide some fun and relaxation while you fill your days at home.

Please feel free to share these Blogs with your camera club colleagues, and other photo friends. Information on how to subscribe to my FREE Blog appears at the bottom.

TODAY'S LESSON - THE TWIRL TECHNIQUE

You can start with any image. It really doesn't matter because the end result is completely different from where you started. You can try this with wildlife, flowers, scenics, buildings, and more. Here is the image I started with. This is Sandhill Cranes taking off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.
BEFORE
You never know how the colors or shapes are going to turn out, and that is part of the fun.This technique is done in Photoshop. It just takes a few steps to create a unique abstract work of art. Here are the basic steps, but feel free to experiment once you have done the basics. Let your imagination and your creativity run wild! Ready? Here's how to do it.



1. Open an image in Photoshop.

2. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mezzotint. Make sure the Mode is set to "Medium Lines" and click OK.

3. Now go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. Amount 100, Blur Method "zoom," Quality "best." Click OK.

4. Repeat the Radial Blur step above as many times as you like. I generally do the Radial Blur step 3 times.  

5.  Now, make a duplicate copy of the Background Layer (the main image layer you have been working on so far). The keyboard shortcut to create the duplicate layer on a Mac is to press and hold the Command key and then press the letter "J."  If you are working on a PC, press and hold the Control key and then press the letter "J."  This duplicate layer will most likely be automatically named "Layer 1."

6. Now that you have two identical layers, click on the original Background Layer in the Layers Palette to highlight it. Then go to Filter > Distort > Twirl. In the Angle number box, enter a positive number anywhere between about 80 to 200. Make a note of this number. (You can also set the number by sliding the pointer to the right to obtain the positive number of your choosing). Click OK. Note that you will not see the effect of what you have just done unless you turn off the "eyeball" in the Layers Palette of the duplicate layer above the Background Layer.

7. Now click on the duplicate layer (Layer 1) that you made a few moments ago to highlight it. Go to Filter > Distort > Twirl. In the Angle number box, enter a negative number than is the same as the positive number you used for the Background Layer. (You can also set the number by sliding the pointer to the left to obtain the negative number of your choosing). Click OK.

8. With the duplicate layer still highlighted, you will now change the Blending Mode. This is a very powerful tool, and you will be excited when you see the results. To activate the Blending Mode, look for the word "Normal" in the Layers Palette, a little above the duplicate layer (Layer 1). Click on the tiny arrow next to "Normal" and a drop-down box will appear. Click on each option in the drop-down box one at a time and watch the magic happen! Choose the Blending Mode that appeals to you most. There is no right or wrong choice. One Blending Mode might work best for the image you are working on now, but another one might work better for other images in the future. Be creative and choose the one you like best for each particular image.

9. When you have found and selected the Blending Mode you like best, you can either flatten the image, save it and be done, OR you can continue to experiment and play by rotating one layer or the other to see what effects are possible.  You can also experiment by flipping one layer or the other, and use Blending Mode again to see what happens.

10. For finishing touches, you can saturate the colors for more punch if needed, or crop the image for better composition, or convert to black-and-white, or use any other options that you feel works with the image.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The true method of knowledge is experiment."  -- William Blake

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Sunday, March 15, 2020

Congratulations Bernie Lewis!


This spectacular image of a Bald Eagle was captured by Bernie Lewis on an Awake The Light trip to Alaska last summer.  There was a great group of photographers traveling with me for a week aboard a private chartered yacht on the Inside Passage. We had several opportunities to photograph eagles from our boat, and Bernie nailed this shot perfectly.

This superb image titled "Got It" has garnered many awards for Bernie. It won a First Place for Best Bird at the 2019 annual New England Camera Clubs Council competition, was a semi-finalist in the annual 2020 North American Nature Photography Association competition, Image of the Year Honorable Mention in the 2019 Delaware Photographic Society competition, First Place Two Rivers Photography Club end-of-year 2019 competition, and Acceptance in the 2019 Merrimack International competition. Quite a list!

Congratulations, Bernie!

TECH SPECS
1/2000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 1000. Canon 100-400mm f.4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 180mm on Canon 7D Mark II body, handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Winning doesn't always mean being first. Winning means you're doing better than you've ever done before."  --Bonnie Blair