Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Same Only Different


Compare these two images of a female cardinal. They are the same shot. The BEFORE image is how the original looked as shot, and the AFTER image is with some quick optimization in Lightroom.

Notice how the AFTER image shows more detail in the head and body, as well as the twig. Notice that the colors are improved but still look natural. The overall look is brighter and punchier in the AFTER image.

After cropping, only 5 quick steps were needed to create the final image:
1. Shadows were increased to +100.
2. Highlights were reduced to  -70.
3. Clarity was increased to +32.
4. Vibrance was increased to  +63.
5. Noise (Luminance) was reduced to 30.

That’s it. In about 5 minutes or less this so-so image was improved and brought to life.

Image optimization does not have to be complicated or time-consuming. Just spend a little time learning the software and practicing, and before you know it you will have elevated your images to a much higher level.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2x extender for an effective focal length of 800mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”  --Confucius

Monday, April 14, 2014

As Cute As It Gets

In the middle of all the fast and furious shooting of wild songbirds last week, a few chipmunks took advantage of the abundant food supply. This one spent quite a while gorging himself on seeds and grains, and posed nicely for the camera.

As he brought the food to his mouth, his little hands took on a prayerful position. I guess he was thankful for the abundance of food that had come his way.

If you go out in search of a particular subject or species, always stay alert and be aware of other opportunities that might present themselves. As you have read many times in this blog, it is important to be an opportunist and be prepared to photograph subjects in addition to your main ones.

Keep your eyes and ears open for anything that might prove to be photogenic.

As you can see below, this was shot at 800mm. Even at that, some cropping was needed to eliminate part of the extraneous background. If you do not have access to long lenses, you can often still get what you want by cropping. Most cameras and lenses today are sharp enough with good resolution that will allow for a high degree of cropping. Often extreme crops will hold up well for electronic transfer (for email, web postings, etc.) but will lose quality if blown up too much for a print.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/16.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2x extender for an effective focal length of 800mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”  --James Thurber

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Beauty And The Beast

Grackles. Not the most popular or most beautiful bird in the woods. They have a fearsome visage, a rather grating and demanding call, and most of the time appear to have deep black feathers. But in the right light, they glow with iridescent colors.

Look carefully at all the colors in this image. The feathers glow with shades of pink, green, and blue. The just-blooming pink dogwood and azaleas in the background create a pleasing backdrop.

The diagonal line created by the branch and the angle of the grackle's body provide a simple yet strong composition. His position and the turn of his head give him an almost regal appearance.

Very often nothing complicated is required to create a pleasing image. The simple approach can be the best approach, depending on the subject and the lighting.

The Wild Songbirds Photo Workshop Part 2 concluded yesterday, and like Part 1 it was spectacularly successful. Each and every participant created truly world-class images, kept their good humor throughout each day, worked well together, laughed at my jokes, and generally had a blast. I want to thank each of you for making the entire week so successful and fun.

I'd also like to thank Gary and Janice, our hosts at their fantastic bird habitat, for being so gracious and good-humored, and for going out of their way to make everything perfect in all respects. Gary, thanks for your constant tending to keep the birds close to the blind, your bird identification skills, and the care and forethought in creating such a perfect shooting area for photographers. Janice, thanks for all your time and work creating those delicious lunches, your kind and smiling face, all your input throughout the week, and keeping Gary on the straight and narrow!

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender, set at 400mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I get by with a little help from my friends."  --song lyrics by Paul McCartney and John Lennon

Friday, April 11, 2014

Color Harmony

Today is the last day of the Songbirds Photo Workshop Part 2. It has been another wonderful group of happy campers. Everyone has been good-humored, easy-going, and each person has created beautiful images. The sheer number of birds has been amazing, and the action has been exciting.

This landing zone with pansies in the background was the perfect spot for a yellow bird to light. But it was just not happening. I waited and waited. And waited. And waited. But finally this tiny pine warbler landed in exactly the right spot.

When photographing wildlife of any kind, patience is crucial. Often many minutes or sometimes hours pass while you wait for the action to occur. During those times it is important to keep an eye on other action as well. While you wait, you don’t want to miss other action or species that are also photo-worthy.

So multi-tasking, at least mentally, is crucial. And when you are finally rewarded with what you had hoped for, the feeling is sweet!

Shutter Speed 1/200.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2x extender for an effective focal length of 546mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”  --Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Red Bully

At the ongoing Wild Songbirds Photo Workshop, the cardinal action was fast and furious. Many males and females darted back forth, posing for our cameras. The males engaged in some territorial displays, with the dominant ones banishing the others.

This guy, a beautiful specimen, was clearly in charge of his range. He comfortably sat on this tree trunk, feasting when and where he chose to.

We have seen so many different species and each behaves slightly differently. Some flit quickly from perch to perch, others are calmer and stay put for longer periods of time. When photographing wildlife of any sort, observation is vitally important. Give yourself time to be observant in order to capture the best images possible. It is tempting when arriving at a new location to start shooting indiscriminately right away. While that might net you some good shots, a better approach is to be calm and  to observe activity and behaviors. Once you have a better sense of the action, then begin shooting.

A good frame of mind to maintain is that even if you miss a shot, you can still enjoy the experience and can keep that pleasant memory throughout your lifetime.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 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: “You can have no dominion greater or less than that over yourself.”  --Leonardo da Vinci

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bird Bonanza

Part 1 of the Wild Songbirds Photo Workshop has just concluded, and Part 2 begins later today. It was an incredibly successful workshop with more species of birds than we could have hoped for, and constant bird activity throughout most of each day. And the best part is that each and every participant came away with beautiful, professional quality images.

We spent each day in a very large blind surrounded by birds constantly coming and going, while we were fully protected from the elements. And we were treated to birdsong all day long. It doesn't get any better than that.

We saw several Red-Bellied Woodpeckers like this one, plus Downy Woodpeckers as well. We also saw the usually elusive Towhee, White Breasted Nuthatches, Thrushes, Goldfinches, Bluejays, Cardinals, House Wrens, Pine Warblers, and dozens more. We were also treated to the comical antics of a very hungry chipmunk who filled his cheek pouches beyond huge.

We had lots of laughs, we enjoyed sharing images with each other and hearing comments, had great food and great camaraderie throughout the workshop.

Some of the participants have already expressed interest in coming back next year, so if you are interested, please send us an email to let us know. There is no obligation to be placed on the "Interested List."

Stay tuned for more images as the week progresses.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2X extender for an effective focal length of 546 mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song."  --Maya Angelou

Monday, April 7, 2014

Songbird Photo Workshop Begins Today

The long-awaited wild songbirds photo workshop begins today. There is an excited and happy group of participants ready to go!

Watch the blog later this week for some photos and stories of our wonderful week.

TODAY'S QUOTE: " Life is either a great adventure or nothing."  --Helen Keller

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Either Or (by guest blogger Paula Neumann)


This macro shot of a magnolia flower works well in both color and black-&-white.  The color image conveys softness and a sense of calm.  The black-&-white image appears more dramatic and intense.  Very different feelings.  Which do you prefer?  

In the absence of color, the eye is drawn to the basics - texture, pattern, shape, lighting and tone. Texture and pattern are important in black-&-white images.  Low contrast lighting (such as that seen early in the morning, late in the afternoon or on overcast days) can enhance texture and roundness (the 3-dimensional look of a subject).  Side lighting creates shadows and will also highlight texture.  Harsh midday light, on the other hand (when frontally lighting a subject), can obscure detail and form.  Head-on harsh light can make an image appear "flat." 

In this image of the magnolia, the petals are smooth while the flower's center is highly textured and complex.  The composition is simple yet there is depth and dimension. 

A successful black-&-white image also requires tonal contrast.  In this image there is a full spectrum of tones ranging from the whitest white to the blackest black with several shades of gray in-between.  

Other tips to keep in mind for black-&-white photography include using a low ISO and shooting in RAW.  A low ISO will minimize noise (the equivalent of grain in a film photo) in the image.  As mentioned in previous blogs, it is best to shoot in RAW so that the camera records all the information (including color).  This will give you more control over the post-production conversion from color to black-&-white.  

So…next time you are out with your camera, take some images with the intent of converting them to black-&-white.  Think about the basics.  Look for texture, pattern, light, and tonal contrast.  Subject matter can be anything - landscapes, still life, portraits, architecture, street scenes.  They all work in black-&-white.

Experiment, too, with post-production conversion on images that you shot in the past.  A ho hum color image just may end up being spectacular in black-&-white.  

[Editor’s note: Paula is a prolific and superb photographer. You can see more of her work at www.PBase.com/mpneumann ]

Paula Neumann bio:
Paula considers herself a "visual" person and has always enjoyed taking photos.  Up until a few years ago though, she used a point and shoot camera or the automatic setting on an SLR camera.  When her daughter headed off to college, she tried to fill the void by taking some photography classes through The Art League in Alexandria, VA.  It worked, she got hooked on photography, and yes, she can even operate the manual settings on a camera.  She feels that she still has a ways to go technically, but she's on her way.  She has been on Awake the Light tours to Alaska, the Smoky Mountains and to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  Paula enjoys floral/macro photography, nature, and travel photography.  She has started dabbling in night and portrait photography.  She shares her passion for the camera with her husband and daughter.  Paula recently retired from a 26-year career as a hospital-based pathologist who used to spend hours peering through a microscope every day.  Now she can spend those hours looking through the camera lens.  

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/3.5.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 7D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Color is everything, black and white is more."  Dominic Rouse

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rediscover Your Creativity

Picasso said “every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Where does our creativity go? How do we get it back?

The best way to begin to get your creativity back is just to start. While that may sound meaningless, it is not. You HAVE to start somewhere. Here are some ways to get started:

§  Shoot what you love  -  that will make it easy to find subject matter that pleases you
§  Learn new things  -  take a photo workshop, view online tutorials, shoot with others
§  Stop worrying about what others think
§  Play more  -  fortunately photography is not brain surgery; relax and play

Once you have begun, take lots of images. Shoot subjects from all angles. Really work the subject in a variety of ways.

Experiment at every opportunity. Don’t worry if much of what you take has to be discarded. You will learn from the successful images as well as the unsuccessful ones.

Learn to use all your camera’s controls for maximum creativity. Try slow shutter speeds on a windy day in a field, or for birds in flight. Don’t feel you have to stick to the rules of composition, or any other “standard” approaches to making photographs.

Look for line, shape, color, or texture in all that you see. Exercise your vision like a muscle. Be observant at all times.

Use reflections, or geometric shapes, or leading lines to engage the viewer.

Look for abstracts in nature, or in things around your home. It can be a wonderful creative exercise.

Try shooting outdoors after dark. It can be an entirely new way of seeing.

Use these ideas as a starting point, and then spread out from there. Follow your heart and get in touch with what moves you.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/13.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 70mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life…”  --Sophia Loren

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Votes Are In!

Did you vote for the duck or the reflections as the main subject of this image?

Thanks to everyone who voted on whether the main subject of this photo is the water reflections or the duck.

Of all the votes that were cast, it was almost an even split between people who felt that the reflections were the main subject, compared to those who felt the duck was the main subject.  In addition, there were a few people who felt that each element needed the other in order for the image to be successful, so they voted that both were equal parts of the subject.

It is always so interesting to hear differing views on what a photograph is all about. There is no right or wrong answer. Each person responds to what speaks to him or her. As in any artistic medium, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  

Some representative quotes from those voting for the water reflections:
“Because the reflection has such lovely colors and you are not zoomed in on the duck, the reflection is the main subject and the duck just adds a bit of interest.”

“The reflection because it has more impact. It occupies a much bigger area of the photo….”

“The reflection is the subject and the scaup is just an hors d’oeuvre that adds an element of interest.”

Representative quotes from those who voted for the duck:
“…my first thought was that it is a reflection picture primarily. Then when I enlarged it I found my eye continually drawn to the duck.”

“…first I saw the colors in the water…. Then I realized that all the vertical reflections led me up to the duck’s wake [which] were leading lines that led me to the duck.”

“There are three main elements  -  the duck, the wake in the water, and the reflections. There is significant synergy between the elements. If I had to choose just one subject it would be the duck. It is placed near the rule of thirds power point.”

The names of all those who voted were placed in a bowl and a winner was drawn at random. And the winner is (drum roll, please) ……..   Joyce Niejako. Congratulations, Joyce!

The prize is a $25 Gift Certificate from Hunt’s Photo and Video. https://www.huntsphotoandvideo.com/

We will continue to have more opportunities for you to win prizes in drawings announced on our Facebook page   https://www.facebook.com/pages/Awake-The-Light/123508281034128    and in this blog. Stay tuned and spread the word to your photographic friends so they can enter as well.

And "LIKE" us on Facebook!

To see the technical data on today’s image, go to its original blog posting here http://awakethelight.blogspot.com/2014/03/subjective-subject.html

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.”  --G.K. Chesterton