Sunday, October 23, 2016

Moody Iceland

Moody just barely begins to describe this scene. It was a blustery wet day with strong winds and pelting rain. But even so, we were out there taking some wonderfully unique images along the southern coast of Iceland.

When on a photo trip, a little rain, or in this case a lot of rain, does not stop us from shooting. We gear up in our rain jackets and rain pants, plus rain protection for our cameras, and bravely step out of the van.

Everyone had been supplied with microfiber cloths to use periodically to help dry off lens shades and water droplets that kept hitting our lenses. To get this shot, I kneeled down next to a parked car (we were at a public overlook) in hopes of blocking the wind and some of the rain. That worked briefly, long enough to get this shot and several others.

The sky was so overcast and gray that this black-and-white conversion, done in Lightroom, barely looks any different from the original color version. I chose to go with black and white since there was a slight brownish tone in the water that I thought detracted from the image.

I took several shots, trying to get one in which the waves spilling onto the beach were rounded in shape. I felt that would soften the harshness of the sky and the ominous rock in the foreground.

Iceland is an incredible place filled with many dramatic and photogenic subjects. It is a compelling location, and I plan to return there July 21 - 30, 2017 for another exciting photo tour. If you have ever wanted to see this wonderful island nation with its dramatic scenery, or wanted to enjoy its endless beautiful light from morning to night, or photograph its large puffin colonies, then plan to join me. It will be a fantastic trip! Email me for more information.

1/320 sec., f/9, ISO 800.  Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 27mm, on Canon 7D MarkII body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather."  --John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Water World

Water is everywhere in Iceland. There are hundreds or thousands of waterfalls, many of which do not even have names because there are so many. There are also innumerable streams, glacial lagoons, and lakes.

This is a small portion of a wide row of many waterfalls cascading over ancient lava flows. The way the water flows down and around the rocks made for a unique composition. The fall colors created a lovely counterpoint of reds, oranges, and yellows.

When photographing traditional subjects like waterfalls, do the basic shots and then allow yourself to seek other views. Look for line, shape, form and color. Those elements will help you find a variety of creative images in almost any scene.

Iceland is a truly unique and compelling country, and one that I plan to return to many times. Stay tuned for information on the next trip, coming up in July 2017.

2 seconds, f/45, ISO 100. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing."  --John Muir

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Incredible Iceland

Iceland is truly an incredible place. More waterfalls than you can image, huge sweeping landscapes, tiny towns tucked away in the shadow of craggy imposing mountains, glaciers, icebergs....  Well, the list goes on and on.

One appealing subject is the number of small churches in the countryside, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. This church, which is hard to see and looks even smaller against its rock backdrop, is just one example.

As you drive around the country, about the size of Kentucky and with a population of only a little over 300,000 people, you feel like you are in a magical fairyland. The volcanic base of the island has created a wide variety of compelling scenes, different from almost anywhere in the world.

Our group of 12 skilled photographers is creating incredibly beautiful images. It is quite a treat to be traveling with them, and to be in this wonderfully welcoming country.

1/2000 sec., f/10, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens on Canon 5D Mark III body, handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In Iceland you can see the contours of the mountains wherever you go, and the swell of the hills. You are never hidden. You always feel exposed in that landscape."  --Hannah Kent

Monday, October 3, 2016

Flying High

Landed in Iceland late last night to prepare for the upcoming "Iceland - Fire and Ice" photo tour. It was a short and pleasant flight from the east coast of the US. This is going to be a very exciting and exhilarating trip with dozens of waterfalls, glaciers, an ice beach, black sand beaches, Icelandic horses, and sweeping vistas of mountains and geothermal areas.

The tour officially begins on Saturday, and with a dozen motivated and excited photographers we will explore many areas of this beautiful country. In the meantime I am cruising around the city of Reykjavik and some of the surrounding countryside. Everyone I have met has been charming, easy-going, helpful, and very welcoming. This is a country of warm people who welcome tourists.

So why this photo? It is a kittiwake, a fairly common seagull-like bird native to northern climates. But this is not a literal bird photo. The color and the shapes make it more of an interpretive art piece rather than a basic shot of a bird. When photographing any subject anywhere, it is important to capture not only the scene or the object, but the essence of the subject as well. It is your interpretation of the subject that makes your work stand out. At the end of the day, we all want our images to be well-received, and the more artistic ones seem to have more impact and more interest.

So do the literal approaches, but then push yourself further and look for more creative, artistic views. With nature and wildlife subjects, it is usually best to not compromise the appearance of the subject too much. You generally want the subject to still be recognizable, but you also want to reveal its nuances and essence in unique and interesting ways.

1/1000 sec at f/8, ISO 800. 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore."  --Andre Gide

Friday, September 23, 2016

He Said, She Said

These two kittiwakes were having a screaming fit over something. Lots of squawking and wing flapping. Kind of comical really. We were on a boat trip in Glacier Bay National Park in search of whales, puffins, sea otters, and sea lions. But when photographing anywhere, it is important to be alert to any subjects that might be interesting to photograph.

Kittiwakes, similar to sea gulls, are fairly common in coastal Alaska. But they are lovely birds with their pure white feathers, and stand out beautifully against the blue-green glacial waters. The fight was the added element that helped to create an interesting image.

This was a bright sunny day, with strong sunlight on the bright white feathers. Lightroom helped to tone down the whites, and also brought up the shadows. An added touch of Saturation improved the color of the water.

1/640 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. Canon 7D Mark II handheld on moving boat.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain."  --Douglas Coupland

Sunday, September 18, 2016


The Great One, Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley), played peek-a-boo with us for hours. The low-hanging clouds stubbornly clung to the highest points, but the light played beautifully on the fresh snow. The clouds also created deep, dramatic shadows on the lower ridges.

Determining exposure in this situation can be difficult. With the light changing constantly, there are times when you just have to shoot, check the histogram frequently, and hope for the best. Since the dark areas in the foreground did not require much detail, and I wanted the snow-covered ridges to be the main subject, I made sure not to over-expose the whites. In addition, in post-production I used the Highlights slider in Lightroom to tone down the brightest whites so that all the texture in the whites showed up well.

I rely heavily on Lightroom, especially in high-contrast situations like this. I know that Lightroom can effectively tone down the bright areas, and bring out detail in dark areas as needed. I never use HDR, and rarely bracket exposures because I know what Lightroom can do. At the same time, I try to be very careful with the original exposure so that neither the lightest tones nor the darkest tones are too under- or over-exposed. The only way to make certain of that is to keep a careful eye on the histogram.

To help improve your photography and the look of your final images, the best gift you can give yourself is an in-depth Lightroom class. While online tutorials are good and can provide some basic information, and some one-day classes can help you get your feet wet, the best way to learn is to take a multi-day Lightroom workshop. It is the best way to learn the most effective and easiest ways to use Lightroom to catapult your images to a much higher level.

Special 2-day classes can be arranged for your camera club or photo group, and can be scheduled at the convenience of the group. Just get a group of at least 6 photographers (15 is the maximum size for Lightroom classes) and we'll get things scheduled. Email for more information.

1/5000, f/5.6, ISO 1600.  Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld, shot from a moving vehicle.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection."  --Kim Collins

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Three Bears

We ventured out at dawn in search of whatever we could find on the recently concluded Brown Bears trip to Alaska. We were treated to this great scene of a mother and two cubs along the beach, with the mountains in the background.

The light level was so low that an ISO of 6400 was needed in order to get a good exposure. Because when shooting wildlife things can change in an instant, I chose to handhold the camera rather than use a tripod, in spite of the very low light.

While this image might give the impression that the three-some were not moving, in fact they were constantly changing positions. That is why rapid burst can enable you to capture some great images when events are occurring quickly.

It is not always appealing to get up before dawn in hopes of finding good light or good images, but when it pays off it always feels good.

This year's Alaska trips are over, but I am already looking forward to returning next year. Join me in Denali in September, or in Glacier Bay in July. Alaska is a prime destination for great photography of wildlife and sweeping scenics.

1/320 sec, f/7.1, ISO 6400. Canon 100-400mm lens set at 280mm on Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Bears keep me humble. They help me to keep the world in perspective and to understand where I fit on the spectrum of life. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves and for the dreams of children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended upon it, because it does."  --Wayne Lynch

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Yup, Still In Alaska

What a fabulous few weeks it has been. After Denali National Park I headed to Glacier Bay National Park with another group of excited and motivated photographers. We saw seals, sea otters, whales, kittwakes, and calving glaciers. And puffins. Beautiful puffins. This tufted puffin put on a show with his long and finally successful take-off.

Puffins basically run on the water in order to build up enough forward momentum to lift off. It is comical to watch, and seems to take a very long time for lift-off to finally occur.

In Alaska, much of the water is a spectacular shade of blue-ish green, reminiscent of tropical waters. But these waters are certainly not tropical. The color comes from the glaciers and the silt they carry with them as they move downstream and melt. 

There is so much wild beauty in Alaska. It has unspoiled wilderness areas, varied wildlife, and friendly helpful people. It is a great place to visit and photograph, which is why I return year after year after year.

Next year's trips are filling fast, so if Denali National Park in September, or Glacier Bay in July interests you, let me know soon before all the available spaces are gone.

1/1600 sec, f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "For sheer majestic geography and sublime scale, nothing beats Alaska."  --Sam Abell

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Alaska Beauty

Once again Alaska delivered on its superb wildlife. During our spectacular week in Denali National Park we saw many caribou, like this male who was perfectly posed on a tundra-covered hillside, as well as moose, brown bear, and willow ptarmigan.

This is the end of the season, and all the wildlife we saw were in superb condition with healthy coats and strong bodies. This is their last chance to stock up on nutrition for the impending winter season. It is also the mating season for caribou and moose.

The fall colors on the tundra were wonderful as always and created a lovely carpet of color for all the wildlife.

We had a wonderful trip, and now I am moving on to the next leg of my Alaska sojourn with a new group. Tomorrow morning we leave for Glacier Bay National Park for whales, sea otters, puffins, bear, mountain goats and whatever else Mother Nature provides.

1/2000 sec., f/13, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is harmony in autumn, and a lustre in its sky."  --Percy Bysshe Shelley

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Alaska, The Last Frontier

I am back in Alaska for my annual photo tours here, and happy to be here. Flying in yesterday we were greeted by snow-capped mountains and glaciers down below. The cool 60 degree afternoon was a welcome respite from the 90 degree summer heat back home.

The first of three photo tours over the next several weeks officially begins tomorrow  -  first Denali National Park, then Glacier Bay National Park for whales and glaciers, and finally Lake Clark National Park for brown bears  -  so today we took a short jaunt outside Anchorage along Turnagain Arm. The dramatic clouds were very punchy against the craggy mountains that flank the waterway. This black-and-white conversion was done in Lightroom to accentuate the contrast and texture.

The overall light level was low because of the heavy cloud cover, throwing the closest mountains into shadow. The brighter areas in the background stand out, and the large dark cloud adds drama to the scene.

Soon we will leave the coastal areas and head deep into the beautiful mountain country of Denali National Park. Stay tuned for photos and stories of adventure over the next few weeks.

1/640 sec., f/18, ISO 400. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 7D Mark II body, handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is only in adventure that some people succeed in finding themselves."  --Andre Gide