Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall, er, Car

While riding through one of my favorite places, Monument Valley National Tribal Park at the Arizona / Utah border, I happened to glance at the car's side mirror and was rewarded with this great view.  It is one of the park's famous Mitten formations perfectly framed by the mirror.

Normally I try to eliminate any sign of civilization when I am photographing a natural scene, and I had done so in earlier shots of the Mittens. But as I was heading back to the hotel, I was lucky enough to see this Mitten come into view in the mirror, and it seemed like a unique shot asking to be taken.

Because it was a very clear day with bright blue skies, the exposure was easy. The light on the large butte outside the window was the same as on the Mitten. The inside of the car is dark, and does not distract from the rest of the image.

Very little optimization was needed on this image. The sky needed a bit more saturation, but that was about it.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set to 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "...there are blessings in the desert. You can be pulled into the limitless,...or you can do the beauty of minutiae...."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Shaped By Water, Wind, and Time

My whirlwind trip in the desert southwest has been going well with stops at several iconic places including Antelope Canyon. The lovely slot canyon is world famous, and presents many opportunities to photograph swirling shapes and rich colors.

In this canyon, photographs can be made almost anywhere. You just have to slow down and look, really look, at the rock formations and how they relate to one another. Look for line and shape. Look for separation between the elements. Look for variations in lighting to add interest.

These tips can apply to many different subjects, not just slot canyons. Try to consider all possibilities when out shooting. Keep a careful eye on the histogram, shutter speeds and f-stops. Being alert and aware will help you get better pictures, regardless of the subject.

Shutter Speed 1.3 seconds.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm set at 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III, Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

You Just Never Know

I am traveling in the desert southwest this month, and made a short visit to White Sands National Monument. It was a Sunday afternoon and the sky was a sunny brilliant blue. I was driving through the park and saw what I thought was (could it be?) a camel in a horse trailer! I quickly turned around, and sure enough it was indeed a camel. What are the odds? It appeared that the trailer was being driven out of the park, so I figured I had missed the chance of photographing a camel in its perfect environment and I continued with my journey through the park. As I finished riding through the main road and headed for the park exit, I was delighted to see the horse trailer parked in a side overlook and decided to wait about 10 minutes in hopes of seeing the camel walking across the dunes. After nearly 15 minutes I decided to move on, and just then I was treated to this sight. What a treat!

The camel, whose name I later learned was Mitchell, was being led across the dunes by the husband and wife who own him. Their dogs were also along for the walk. When they returned to their trailer, I got more information. Turns out they live about 30 minutes from White Sands, and take Mitchell out for a dune walk each Sunday afternoon.

What are the chances of traveling 3/4s of the way across the country, and being in the right place at the right time to see such an unusual sight? It was sheer serendipity. Had I not been there on a Sunday, I would never have seen this. Had I arrived a couple of hours earlier or later I would not have seen this. 

The lesson is that you should be prepared for the unusual, the unexpected, at all times. Be open to photographic opportunities any time you are out with your camera. You never know when an exciting, groundbreaking opportunity will present itself. Go out there, have fun, and be ready.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set at 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I love not knowing what might be around the corner. I love serendipity."  --Twiggy

Thursday, January 8, 2015

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There is no obligation, and you can opt out at any time. The newsletter varies each month, with information on our photo workshops and tours, educational articles, and tips from the pros. We never share or sell your information, so your privacy is assured.

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TODAY'S QUOTE: "Education is the movement from darkness to light."  --Allen Bloom

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Simple Combinations

This is a very simple image, but it grabs your eye quickly. Why? Several reasons.

The first is color. A mix of cool and warm tones is almost always a grabber. The yellow grasses against the blue water create a nice balance of color. That color combination more than any other seems to get our attention quickly and holds us in the image.

Next is leading lines. In this image the eye is brought in from the lower left with the line of grasses, and is drawn up toward the center and right side to the other clumps of grasses. In our western culture, since we read from left to right, it is easy to enter an image on the left and them move around toward the right.

The final element is texture. The texture of the grasses is quite strong, and it is complemented by the more delicate texture of the ripples on the surface of the water.

So three interrelated elements serve to create a cohesive image. Simple but interesting.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm, set at 150mm. Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The art of simplicity is a puzzle of complexity."  --Douglas Horton

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Wishing you a very Happy New Year! 
May it be filled with warm light, calm waters, smooth sailing, 
great times, great photographs, and much laughter.

I hope to see you in the New Year!

Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/5.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right."  -  Oprah Winfrey

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season's Greetings

This year, the final 8th day of Chanukah and Christmas Eve happen to fall on the same day. In addition, Kwanzaa follows just a day after Christmas. It is rare for all three holidays to fall so close together.

Thinking about so many different celebrations, for different reasons, going on at essentially the same time, it brings to mind that while our differences sometimes divide us, it is our similarities that should, and do, unite us.

However you celebrate, I hope that this holiday time of year will bring you happiness, peace, love, and perhaps a gift or two!

Wishing you good cheer, good times, good friends, good laughs, and the warmth of family.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/16.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, with 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.  Banners created in Photoshop.

TODAY’S QUOTE: ”Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.” –M. Scott Peck

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Iceberg Blues

This small blue iceberg gave a hint of what was waiting for us around the next bend. Glaciers, big blue ones. The impossibly blue color of icebergs and glaciers is always a visual treat.

On this very gray afternoon, the hillsides were muted and almost colorless, so I chose to create a black & white image with the only color being the iceberg. The lone bird flying overhead added to the sense of wilderness and peace, as well as a touch of mystery and loneliness.

As we rounded the hillside on the left we came within sight, and sound, of a mammoth glacier. The sound of glaciers calving (huge chunks of ice letting lose and crashing into the water) is quite muted from a distance, but thrilling closer up. If you have not experienced seeing and hearing a glacier, or want to experience it again, I highly recommend this trip.  

Alaska is the only place in the U.S. to have this experience. A trip is planned to Glacier Bay Alaska in August, and there are only 2 spots left. If the excitement of seeing and photographing glaciers gets your blood pumping, then this is the trip for you. Safely aboard our large boat, we will have the opportunity to see and photograph most of the glaciers in Glacier Bay. We also have two additional privately chartered boat trips for whale-watching as well as photography of puffins, sea otters, and seals.

If you have questions, please call or email. Grab these last 2 spots before they are gone.

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.”  --Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, December 18, 2014

From Sad To Spectacular



What a difference a little image optimization can make! These are Before and After representations of the same image. 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 did not appear in the image that was downloaded out of the camera.

In general, regardless of the brand of camera you use, sensors (the sensor "sees" what the lens sees, digitizes it, and then places it on the memory card) are designed to be "dumbed down." What does that mean? It means that manufacturers have designed sensors to do their jobs quickly, and in order to do that the sensor will capture an image without taking the time for perfect replication of the range of contrast or the depth of color that is really there. While that is a bit of an oversimplification, the bottom line is that you will rarely see the degree of contrast and the accuracy of colors in an image as it comes out the camera. Some image optimization is needed on virtually every image in order to bring out what you really saw. Some images need more optimization than others.

This image, because it was pre-sunrise, inherently had very low contrast and the colors are somewhat muted. Add to that the nature of sensors, and the resulting Before image is very gray with minimal color. I wanted to bring out what I saw when I was there, and that required some help from Lightroom.

The "fix" took less than 5 minutes and returned the image closer to what was really there. I admit that I did punch the pinks and blues a bit more than were really there, but still they look natural. In nature and wildlife photography, it is generally better to not go overboard with optimization. You want the final result to look real and believable.

The simple steps used 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 at the horizon line looked white.
3. Increased Clarity to boost mid-tone contrast.
4. Increased overall Vibrance.
5. Used the HSL panel to pinpoint increases in the saturation in the pinks, blues, and yellows.

Lightroom is simple software to learn and to use, BUT it is all too easy to get confused if you don't learn it properly at the beginning. While there are many online tutorials, they often do not explain what to do and how to do it in a simple, logical way. Many photographers do better in a real classroom with an instructor there with them. Experienced users sometimes need help to unlearn bad habits or relearn proper methods. Novices will learn properly from the beginning and be on a smooth road from that point forward. If you would like to take a REAL class, here is info on one coming up in March    This is a great opportunity to learn Lightroom properly once and for all, regardless of your experience level.

Shutter Speed 2.5 seconds.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff hallhead.

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

When Wrong Is Right

If you have attended an Awake The Light photo tour or workshop, you have heard me say many times to always ALWAYS use a lens shade on your lens. It helps to cut down on possible flare, even on overcast days. Use of a lens shade will help with color rendition and contrast.

But sometimes flare is a fun thing to play with, and can result in a more moody image. Even when using a lens shade, shooting directly toward the sun when it is low in the sky can still produce flare , as is the case here. This was taken very early in the morning when the sun had just risen above a line of trees that are not visible at the top of the image.

The low sun angle, and my position relative to it, allowed the creative use of flare to create a soft, warm-toned image. I was careful to focus on the near grasses, and to crop out the sun at the top of the image. I did not want the sun in the frame, just its warm soft glow. I was using a lens shade, but when pointing the lens directly toward the sun, flare will still occur.

When shooting directly into the sun, be sure to protect your eyes and your camera by not looking at the sun, or pointing the camera at the sun for very long. Frame the shot, take the shot, and then turn the camera and yourself away from the sun.

If your lenses did not come with a lens shade, you can find them at suppliers like Hunt's Photo and Video, or B and H. They are inexpensive and a must for all shooting situations.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/16.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 141mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you."  --Charlotte Whitten