Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lowly But Lovely


The lowly dandelion, a weed and lawn invader for most people, can be a beautiful subject. When it has just gone to seed, as this one, it becomes a soft, spherical, multi-faceted beauty.

My preference for most flower photography, whether macro or not, is shallow depth of field. This provides a feeling of softness, allowing just the most important areas of the subject to be rendered in sharp focus. In this image I focused on the light areas over the dark center.

There are two reasons for this point of focus. First, because this is a symmetrical subject, the viewer's eye will naturally go to the center so it is logical for that area to be sharp. And second, because I always use autofocus, the light areas over the dark center allowed the autofocus to easily grab onto the subject.

A tip for having the most success with autofocus, regardless of the subject - find an area of the subject you want to be sharp, and then find something in that area that has light tones against dark tones. Autofocus needs contrast, either of color or tone, in order to grab focus accurately. So find a strong line of light against dark, or a light area against a dark area and your autofocus will work much better!

TECH SPECS
1/250 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."  --A.A. Milne

Monday, October 9, 2017

Teddy Bear


This cute little bear cub was playing with a stick, and when he struck this pose it created this adorable image. At my favorite Alaska grizzly bear location it is possible to get relatively close to bears and still be safe.

When photographing wildlife it is important to always be ready. You never know when a great shot will happen. One important part of being ready is to know your equipment inside and out. It is good to know how to change settings quickly, how to use your histogram effectively, and how to use ISO to your best advantage (based on lighting conditions).

But first and foremost, it is vitally important to never interfere with an animal's feeding or other behaviors. Photographing wildlife is a wonderful adventure, but the photos are less important than the animal's well-being.

TECH SPECS
1/800 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man."  --Stewart Udall

Friday, October 6, 2017

Just For Fun

AFTER

Sometimes ya just gotta have fun. This is a scene taken in Alaska on a trip to photograph grizzly bears. Photoshop helped to turn the basic image into something a bit more interesting. Here is the original image,
before optimization in Lightroom and then distorting it in Photoshop.The technique is simple. Once you have cropped and optimized your image in Lightroom, open it in Photoshop or Elements.

Then in Image > Mode, select "8 bit image." Most filters in Photoshop will not work on images that are not 8 bit.

In Filters, go to Distort and then Polar Coordinates. When the radio buttons appear, click on the "Polar to Rectangular" button and click OK. Then in Image > Image Rotation, click on Flip Canvas Vertical.


Now go back to Filters > Distort, and then Polar Coordinates. This time, when the radio buttons appear, click on the Rectangular to Polar button and click OK. Now you can crop the image or use it as-is.

This is a fun technique and it is just the starting point for some creative images.

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec. at f/9, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh the thinks you can think up if only you try."  --Dr. Suess

Monday, October 2, 2017

In Memorium Las Vegas Victims



Today’s blog is In Memorium of those who tragically lost their lives or were injured in the Las Vegas shootings. A friend of mine put it succinctly. She said, "My thoughts are simply shock, disbelief, horror, anger and grief."   I think we all share those feelings. I cannot begin to imagine the depth of the grief the affected families are feeling, the sense of loss, and the realization that their lives will never be the same again. Devastating in all respects.

Five long years ago, after the horrific shootings of 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there was a powerful outcry from many quarters demanding social and policy changes relating to weapons and mental health. There were many voices in all political walks of life hoping to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

We had already suffered the senseless loss of life in Columbine, Colorado when high school students brutally shot their classmates and teachers. That was an unimaginable 18 years ago.

And just last year, 49 people were killed in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Plus, in the recent past there were other school shootings, a theater shooting, shootings in a Charleston, SC church, and the Virginia Tech shootings.

But here we sit, stunned at the news of yet another senseless mass killing spree. In nearly two decades nothing has changed.  We as a nation and a people have not been able to effect any change. How many more tragedies will we witness before we realize that we have a problem? How long will it take us to muster the political will to grapple with this issue?

By way of contrast, Australia experienced a horrible mass shooting in 1996. 35 people died and 23 were wounded. That same year the Australian government outlawed automatic and semi-automatic weapons. While there have been erroneous reports that the law has not made Australia any safer, scientific research does not bear that out.  Gun-related homicides have decreased every year since the passage of that law, and firearm-related suicides have also decreased. The law is still in effect and still has the overwhelming support of the citizens of Australia.

While the solution for the U.S might be somewhat different from what worked in Australia, it seems that we have to do SOMETHING. Inaction and maintaining the status quo have not been working and are not the answer. We are a nation of intelligent and caring people. We should be able to come up with an approach that does not contravene the Constitution while at the same time reduces the senseless and shocking violence that has become all too common in our lives. Somehow, sanity and common sense should be able to prevail.

With deepest sympathy for those killed and injured, their families, and their loved ones.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Spiral Twist


Spiral staircases hold endless fascination. Their graceful curves and rotating lines draw you in. They are reminiscent of a nautilus shell, one of the most graceful designs in nature.

This spiral staircase is in a hotel in Iceland. The red carpet is in lovely contrast to the silver railings. When photographing any spiral staircase, I always do some shots from the bottom looking up, and others, like this one, from the top looking down.

This was shot with an extreme wide angle lens, and I had to be careful to not include my feet in the frame. Because this was shot during the day, and there were many large windows illuminating the scene, I was able to handhold the camera and could avoid using a tripod.

TECH SPECS
1/125 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 1600.  Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The human mind always makes progress, but it is progress in spirals."  Madame de Stael

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nature's Light Show


Seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is one of Mother Nature's most spectacular gifts. The undulating colors and shapes that dance across the sky are mesmerizing and compelling. And because you never know where and when they will occur, you feel incredibly lucky when they make an appearance during your time in a northern location.

Generally the Northern Lights are visible far to the north from September to March. While they can occur at anytime of year, they are rarely visible to the human eye in summer because of so many hours of daylight. You need reasonably dark skies to see them best, but complete darkness is not mandatory, as you will see in the tips below.

We were lucky to see them on the recently concluded Denali National Park trip. It was very exciting! Next year's trip to Denali, August 25 - 31, is at about the same time of year, so we will have a good chance of seeing them. Of course there are no guarantees, and a lot depends on sunspot activity, but I am hopeful.

Before giving you some great tips, and debunking some erroneous assumptions, here is what one of the participants on this year's Denali trip had to say:
"The Denali photo tour was the trip of a lifetime for me. The mountain views were breathtaking and majestic, and I have the pictures to prove it. Because of where our lodge was located, we were taken to areas that most people never see. We had two rare wolf sightings, plus caribou, moose, and the cutest ermine who played peek-a-boo. In addition, we had one fabulous meal after another. The trip was far above my expectations, and I had very high expectations. Mollie is an amazing teacher - she motivates you to shoot your best work, and doesn't spend a lot of time taking her own photos. She even instructed us how to shoot the Aurora Borealis, and she was out there with us at 3AM when they appeared. After a week with her instruction and encouragement, I am a much better photographer."  --L.R.

TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
1. Camera and other gear  -  camera body (either full-frame sensor or crop sensor will work - I have used both) with the widest angle lens you have. I use a 17-40mm zoom, set at 17mm. Sturdy tripod. Cable release or remote trigger for the shutter. Headlamp or small flashlight with red filter - white light will annoy others and diminish your night vision.
2. Camera settings  -  Set your camera to Manual Exposure. ISO 3200 or 6400 (I prefer 3200 because of noise issues, and Lightroom does a good job of removing noise even at this ISO). Aperture f/8. Shutter speed either 15 seconds or 25 seconds (try both and settle on the one that works best). Avoid longer exposures since they will render the stars as streaks and will detract from the Aurora.
3. Where to shoot  -  if preliminary reports (from locals and from the website http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast) indicate that aurora activity might be good in your area, go out in daylight to find an open area that faces north. Choose an area with open sky and not a lot of trees or buildings that might block your full view of the sky. Make sure that whatever land forms (trees, hillside, etc.)  that will be in the images are fairly far away.
4. How to focus  -  Focus on that land form. That will place your point of focus close to Infinity but NOT at Infinity. If you set your lens on Infinity, the trees or hillside will not be sharp. Bring wide masking tape with you and tape your focus ring securely so that you will not accidentally rotate it before shooting later that night. Now, if your lens has been set to autofocus, be sure to set it to manual focus. You do not want autofocus to kick in when you trip the shutter.
5. Set up an Alert Rotation Schedule so that someone in your group checks for activity every half hour between the hours of midnight and 4AM.
6. Go to dinner and get to bed early. Be sure your camera is already on the tripod, with cable release or remote trigger attached.

MYTHS DEBUNKED
It does NOT have to be a moonless night. This image was made during a full moon.
The sky does NOT have to be perfectly clear - see clouds in the image above.
You do NOT have to shoot with a wide open aperture - f/8 will provide better depth of field.
You do NOT have to use a camera with a full-frame sensor.  A crop sensor will be fine.
You do NOT need the fastest lens on the planet. I find that an f/4 lens works just fine.

Join me in Denali next year, August 25 - 31. Details here  http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/

TECH SPECS
25 seconds at f/8, ISO 3200. Canon 5D Mark II body with Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 17mm. Cable release. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Like going on safari or whale-watching, seeing the Aurora is a beguiling marriage of sheer luck and the effort you make to be in the best place at the optimum time."  - Nigel Tisdall

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Small In The Big


Look at this image carefully. It is a beautiful mountain scene in Denali National Park. But that is not the main subject. If you look closely you will see two Trumpeter Swans flying in front of the spruce trees. The swans stood out nicely against the dark trees. What a wonderfully serendipitous moment. Click on the image to see it larger.

When photographing nature scenes you always have to stay alert. You never know when elements will come together to help make an image soar. I had no idea the swans were nearby, but when I heard them honking I looked around and saw them. I got a few quick shots off before they flew out of range. I chose this shot to show you because of their complimentary wing positions.

If you are interested in seeing Denali National Park up close and personal, read this review of the recent trip from P. B.: "What an incredible trip! Mollie times this trip when autumn is at its peak and the animals are more active. The lodging was superb (oh, the food!), and our guides were extremely knowledgeable. But most of all, Mollie's instruction throughout the trip was the best. She is patient, and always positive. Her trip organization and attention to every participant is outstanding! Thank you Mollie!"

The next trip is August 25 - 31, 2018. Only a few spaces left. Information here  http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/
Please email or call with questions
  
TECH SPECS
1/2500 sec at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "But calm, white calm, was born into a swan."  --Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth

Monday, September 18, 2017

Stud Muffin Moose

AFTER
We saw many beautiful moose, both male and female, in Denali National Park. All were in beautiful condition, preparing for mating and the winter season. This large bull seemed pleased to pose for us for quite awhile at fairly close range.

In Denali National Park it is important for photographers and visitors to respect the wildlife so as not to interfere with their mating or feeding habits. We always keep our distance, and when wildlife is close to our vehicle, we stay in the vehicle and shoot out the open windows. That was the case here. 

While this moose was beautiful, the original RAW image, shown here, was less that stellar.
BEFORE
It was dull and lacking in color and contrast, as often is the case with RAW images before image optimization. Lightroom brought this image to life. Just a few tweaks made all the difference. All it took was the use of the Blacks and the Whites sliders to expand the contrast a bit, and then the Shadows slider to lighten the moose's coat. The only other thing needed was Saturation to improve the color overall, and then the specific color controls in the Hue/Saturation/BW box to enhance the yellows, reds, and greens. Quick and easy.

So the next time you see a dull image don't despair. Use Lightroom to enhance the image and you will be pleasantly surprised.

Next year's Denali trip is filling fast. It is scheduled for August 25 - 31, 2018. Details here  http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/
Limited to only 10 photographers. Just a few spaces left. For more information contact me at   awakethelight@charter.net 

TECH SPECS
1/1000 sec at f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, September 15, 2017

Denali Million Dollar View

AFTER

This was the Million Dollar view from the front porch of our lodge in Denali National Park, taken just after sunrise. It is the Alaska Range draped by dramatic clouds with fall colors in the foreground. A real feast for the eyes. This is the final version, after some tweaking in Lightroom. Notice how dimensional the clouds look, and the subtle but colorful autumn trees.

Below is the original uncropped RAW image before any work was done in Lightroom. I did minimal cropping on the sides and bottom, but extensive cropping on the top. I previsualized the cropping of the final version before I even clicked the shutter.
BEFORE
I knew I wanted to eliminate the dark clouds at the top in order to create a panoramic image. Even though it was a beautiful fall morning, the original RAW image lacks color, and looks dull and flat. Lightroom is my go-to software to take images from blah to boffo.

The basic steps, after cropping, were to lighten the shadows with the Shadows slider, and add texture to the light clouds with the Highlights slider. Then I increased Clarity 30% to boost mid-tone contrast. I then increased overall Saturation by about 50%, and did noise reduction of 30%. That's it. So in about 5 minutes or less all the latent beauty of this image was revealed.

Often when you first download your images you may be disappointed by the lack of color or contrast, and feel you made mistakes when you took the shot. In fact, it is rarely your fault, but rather the nature of the digital beast. Digital cameras often do not immediately reveal all the beauty and depth of an image, and need image optimization software (like Lightroom) to bring out all the details and color that are really there.

If you would like to experience this Million Dollar view for yourself, plus amazing wildlife every day, join me in Denali National Park next year. The trip is scheduled for August 25 - 31, 2018.  Details are at this link  http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/

This trip is limited to only 10 photographers, and there are only 5 spaces left. Send me an email if you would like more details  awakethelight@charter.net

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 75mm on Canon 5D Mark III camera body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet. [May] future generations know the majesty of the earth as we know it today."  --John F. Kennedy
                                                                                               

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Postcard From Denali National Park


The photo tour to Denali National Park in Alaska has just ended, and what a trip we had! Today's photos are just a very small sampling of what we saw during our time there. 

From top to bottom, we had clear skies nearly every day and saw the huge snow-capped Alaska Range during most of our travels in the park. Fall colors were at their peak and we were treated to brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. Fall in Denali is always a treat for the eyes and for the soul.

We had a beautiful sunrise morning with delicate shades of pink playing over the mountain tops. And we were treated to a rare sighting of an ermine, a tiny speedy little thing with sparkling eyes and a playful nature.

We also saw several moose at fairly close range, including this male and female relaxing at Wonder Lake at sunrise. It was such a treat to see a male and female together, and to have such a beautiful background for the image.

We watched caribou for quite awhile as they calmly munched on grasses. These two females eventually came closer together making this double portrait possible.

And on our last night we were treated to a dancing display of the Northern Lights, creating constantly changing swirls overhead.

Next year's Denali trip is already scheduled, and applications are now being accepted. The dates are August 25 - 31. If you are interested in this incredible trip, please email me and we can begin the application process. Details on the trip are at this link http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/ 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit."  --Edward Abbey

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Amazing Alaska


As many times as I have been to Alaska, it is always exciting to be here. Bringing photo groups here is an honor and a privilege year after year. The mountains, the wildlife, the waters, the glaciers, the scenery all work their magic no matter where in Alaska you go.

This is my sixth trip to Denali National Park, and each time it is different. It has never looked the same twice. While we almost always see snow-capped mountains and amazing wildlife like moose, caribou, grizzly bear, and the occasional wolf, we never know from day to day what Mother Nature will provide.

This year, as in all years, there is a full complement of 10 photographers traveling with me. We have a private naturalist guide and our own vehicle, and can move easily from place to place in search of photo ops.

I'll be out of internet range for the next week, but I hope to have some exciting images to share with you when I return.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer."

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ahhh-laska


My annual trip to Denali National Park starts next weekend. I am eager to be back there, in our country's last frontier. This is a unique photo trip, and puts us in a place that few others get to experience. While we are literally at the end of the road deep in the heart of Denali, we stay in a lovely lodge with all the amenities, chef-prepared meals, and a private vehicle with an experienced naturalist driver.

It is one of the most popular trips of the year, and always fills quickly. Next year's trip has already been scheduled for August 25 - 31. Limited to only 10 photographers, this surely is the trip of a lifetime. ONLY 5 SPACES LEFT.

We usually see grizzly bear, the sweeping Alaska Range topped by Denali, North America's tallest peak, migrating caribou, moose with huge antlers, and the miles and miles of tundra in spectacular autumn colors.

For more details, go to our website at this link   http://awakethelight.com/denali-national-park/

I hope you can join me in Alaska next year!

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In terms of wilderness preservation, Alaska is the last frontier. This time, given one great final chance, let us strive to do it right. Not in our generation, nor ever again, will we have a land and wildlife opportunity approaching the scope and importance of this one."  --Morris Udall

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse With A Twist


I was fortunate to be able to watch the solar eclipse from the upper deck of my house. I live on the coast of North Carolina, where we could see the eclipse at about 90%. Even though we could not see "totality," it was a wonderful thing to view.

Initially I was not going to photograph it at all, content to just enjoy the experience. But the photo bug got the better of me and I decided to try photographing it on my iPhone, using the special solar eclipse glasses I was wearing to protect the phone's lens. That did not work since the dark lenses caused the phone's shutter speed to slow down dramatically, preventing me from getting a sharp image.

By then I was motivated to try my "real" camera with a long telephoto lens. This was my first attempt to photograph an eclipse of any sort, solar or lunar, so I did some quick internet research to determine settings and the safety of shooting with no protective filter on the lens. Turns out that when most of the sun is blocked by the moon's shadow, it is safe to shoot with no protective filtration on the lens IF you point the camera at the sun only very briefly, take the shot and then immediately turn the camera away from the sun. Of course you still need to protect your eyes from the sun's glare as well.

I set the lens on manual focus, and set the focus ring to infinity. Then I quickly took about a dozen shots during the minute or so that the sun was mostly blocked by shadow. Because about 10% of the sun was never blocked by the moon's shadow from my vantage point, the light intensity was still great, requiring a short exposure and very small aperture.

When I downloaded the images, I was thrilled to find that some had a starburst effect, somewhat similar to what was described in yesterday's blog. I did not expect to see this effect during a solar eclipse.

Because of the intense light there was no color in the image, so I took creative liberty and used the Split Toning feature in Lightroom to add the yellow color.

The final effect is very different from most eclipse photos you might see. So the lesson for all of us is to never stop playing and experimenting with your photography. You never know what surprises might come your way.

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec at f/57, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 490mm on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Matter Of Perspective


Sometimes elements line up in a serendipitous way. This small church in Iceland was framed by an arched entryway, and when viewed at the right angle, the sun created a starburst along the top.

This starburst effect can be created by using a solid object - a tree, building, or as in this case, the arch - to partially block the sun from your view. A small aperture like f/16, f/22, or smaller enhances the sharpness of the starburst. Using a wide angle lens also enhances the effect.

When incorporating the sun in an image, remember that it will always appear pure white.  Do not attempt to darken it because it can turn gray or muddy looking. So next time you are out shooting, look for the sun position and see what you can create.

TECH SPECS
1/640 sec at f/13, ISO 200. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens on Canon 5D Mark III. Handheld.

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


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Expect The Unexpected


I just returned from Iceland last night. It is one of my favorite places. It was an amazing trip with a wide variety of photo opportunities, including this completely unexpected sighting of an Arctic Fox. It was a young one who appeared on the grounds of one of our rural lodges. He was not concerned by our cameras, and stayed around for a few minutes, allowing us to get some shots.

He posed, he stretched, he yawned, and then curled up for a little snooze. Arctic Foxes are the only land mammal native to Iceland. It numbers have been declining in Iceland since 2010, and the population is now estimated to be about one-third of its former numbers. They are said to be comfortable around humans in areas where they are not hunted, and clearly this one was very comfortable with all the photographic attention he was getting.

Regardless of how tame any form of wildlife appears to be, it is always vitally important to realize that ANY wild animal can be unpredictable and should be approached carefully and treated with respect.

TECH DATA
1/320 sec at f/6.3 at ISO 800.  Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Until he extends the circle of compassion to ALL living things, man will not himself find peace."  --Albert Schweitzer

Friday, August 11, 2017

Postcard From Iceland



Greetings from Incredible Iceland! As you can see from this postcard, this fantastic trip has netted us some amazing photographic opportunities. So far we have been traveling mostly in the northwest, northeast, and central portions of this welcoming island country. We have seen puffins, huge waterfalls, geothermal areas, unique farmhouses, and shown in the lower right, an unexpected appearance by an Arctic Fox. Fairly rare and reclusive, this was a real treat.

It is difficult to convey the range of elements in this small country. The magnitude and variety of its various features is compelling and makes me want to return again and again. The thunderous roar of its waterfalls, the sweeping scenes of stark volcanic formations, the calm coves along the ocean, the ponderous rock formations, the farmhouses tucked into hillsides, the famous Icelandic horses, and of course the very friendly and welcoming Icelanders all combine to make this one of my favorite places.

I am traveling with a wonderful group of photographers, guided by our top-of-the-line Icelandic guide Einar of Focus On Nature. He has gotten us to some of the best areas with friendly reassurance and a ready smile. We are a happy group, and have bonded in this shared experience. A full immersion photo trip, with people sharing the enjoyment of seeing new and exciting things, is the best way to enjoy travel AND to improve your photo skills and jump start your creativity.

We are only a little over halfway through our 10-day trip, and if internet service remains reliable, I hope to post another blog soon.

TECH SPECS
Puffin - 1/2000 sec. at f/8. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4x Canon extender for an effective focal length of 560mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
Farmhouse  -  1/1000 sec at f/10.  Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens at 140mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
Geothermal Area  -  1/60 sec at f/18. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
Waterfall  -  8 seconds at f/22. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens at 32mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.
Turf roof  -  1/800 sec. at f/7.1. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 70mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
Arctic Fox  -  1/320 sec at f/6.3. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens at 200mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment."  -- Hilaire Belloc

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

As Far As The Eye Can See


As far as the eye can see is pretty darned far at 35,000 feet up. This was taken flying over Greenland on my way to Iceland where the photo tour begins in a few days. I always like to arrive a few days before the start of a photo tour to get everything prepared, and also to have time to acclimate to the time difference.

Flying over Greenland is like nothing you have ever seen. With about 75% of the continent covered in a permanent ice sheet, and 10,000 foot mountains peeking above it, it is a winter wonderland or a snow-covered wasteland, depending on your perspective.

Since this image was taken with an iPhone through the aircraft window, it lacks great quality but it is something I wanted to share with you. It was taken around 11PM, and you can see how light it was. We are just at the edge of the arctic circle, and even in early August there are very few hours of semi-darkness. The sun set around midnight, and when I arrived at my hotel around 2AM Iceland time, there was still light in the sky. We are definitely in the land of the midnight sun!

TECH SPECS
1/2500 sec., f/22, ISO 32. iPhone 6 with 4.15mm lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Kindness is like snow. It beautifies everything it covers."  --Kahlil Gibran

Friday, July 28, 2017

Just For Fun


This majestic eagle, seen on the recently completed private yacht cruise in Alaska's Inside Passage,  was caught in a comical pose. He had been performing for our cameras, swooping, catching fish, and generally feeling his oats. But when he turned to fly away, I happened to catch, well, not his best side. When I looked at this image, it struck me that his tail looked like a ballerina's tu-tu, and his feet were his toe shoes. And then to make it perfect, he turned his head as if asking "does this tu-tu make my butt look big?"

Now I will never be able to look at an eagle's tail the same way again!

TECH SPECS
1/8000 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body.
Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance."  --Martha Graham

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Eyes Wide Open - Where's The Bear?


Spoiler alert - there is no bear! This was shot on my recent brown bears trip in Alaska. We were on the mud flats watching the bears frolic and dig for clams. When we turned around to change our vantage point, we were greeted with this beautiful abstract design of sand and shallow water.

Wherever you are, whatever you are photographing, there is often much more than you anticipated. It is important to keep your eyes wide open to all possibilities, even if your main mission is particular wildlife, a special landscape, or anything else. When I am out shooting I am a firm believer in being an opportunist. I always try to be open to any and all photographic opportunities, whenever and however they present themselves.

This image was optimized in Lightroom. I deepened the blue of the water to create more contrast between it and the silvery sand. It was a sunny day, but even in bright overhead light this scene had a wonderful 3-dimensional quality and a great deal of texture.

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec., f/10, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Your big opportunity may be right where you are now."  -- Napoleon Hill 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Bear Facts


Bears, bears, and more bears! For the third year in a row, we have traveled to the best and one of the safest locations to see and photograph brown bears in Alaska. We saw many mothers and cubs, a few males, wildflowers, had great weather, great food and great accommodations. What more could you ask for?

The 2018 trip has already been scheduled for July 13 - 19, 2018. We travel by small plane to Lake Clark National Park, about a one-hour flight from Anchorage. We will see newborn cubs, frolicking and sparring teenagers, wildflowers, and maybe even puffins.

The trip is not yet listed on our website, so please email me at awakethelight@charter.net for more information. Limited to only 8 participants, this trip will fill quickly. Let me know if you are interested.

TECHNICAL DATA
All images f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If people were superior to animals, they'd take better care of the world."  --Winnie The Pooh


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wild Alaska Postcard


I head back to the East Coast today after almost a month in glorious Alaska. All I can say is WOW! Between the brown bears trip, followed by the yacht cruise in the Inside Passage, it was all I had planned for and more. Everyone on each trip got superb images and had a blast. Many want to return next year for either one or both trips.

Today's blog is another postcard from images captured on the private yacht cruise. Starting at the top, this is a sunset view of snow covered mountains taken at one of our overnight harbor locations (each evening our captain moored us in calm protected inlets). The eagle was fishing and this was taken just after he snagged a herring (click on the image to see the entire postcard in a larger view). Next to the eagle is a shot of our Zodiac shuttling us to shore where we were surrounded by beautiful icebergs with abstract shapes and intense color. Having the Zodiac available allowed us to get images that most other photographers never have the opportunity to get.

The breaching whale was a real treat to see. The whale was quite exuberant and breached multiple times. He also did a lot of "chin slapping" so he made a lot of loud noise for quite some time. One of the benefits of this sort of trip is that there is no time limit - when we came upon something photogenic we stayed as long as we wanted. Pure paradise for a photographer!

The two seals were a real treat - the baby had just been born and if you look closely you can see the umbilical cord still attached. It was wonderful to see new life just appearing. And finally, the whale tail shot is actually two whales side by side, one blowing and one diving. We saw dozens of whales, more than I had ever seen before.

So, two wonderfully successful photo trips have come to an end.  What an amazing time it has been! We all have memories that will last a lifetime. Applications are now being taken for next year's private yacht cruise. Dates are still to be determined but it will be in late June / early July 2018. There is already a sizeable list of interested photographers, so if you are interested, please contact me as soon as possible and I can provide details.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The quicker we humans learn that saving open space and wildlife is critical to our welfare and quality of life, maybe we'll start thinking of doing something about it."

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy July 4th from Alaska!


Happy July 4th from Petersburg Alaska! The last of my group is here celebrating a truly small town holiday. The town puts on some fun games for kids and adults, a parade, a log rolling competition, rowboat races, and many more entertaining events.

Thanks to group member Cindy McCaffrey for capturing this image at the Salty Pantry restaurant at the harbor in town. The food is superb and the staff very friendly. Doesn't get any better than that!

My nearly one month in Alaska is coming to an end and it was filled with incredible photographic opportunities, great camaraderie with wonderful people, and one adventure after another. I can't wait to return!

TODAY'S QUOTE: "For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  --Nelson Mandela

Monday, July 3, 2017

Alaska Postcard


I have just returned from an incredible week aboard a private yacht for a photo tour of Alaska's Inside Passage. The seven participants traveling with me were treated to some of the finest photographic opportunities Alaska has to offer. All of us were blown away by the superb things we were able to observe and photograph during our week on the water.

We photographed cavorting whales, swooping eagles, pristine icebergs, a world class sunset, sea otters, sea lions, seals, a variety of birds, and so much more. On several days we took our zodiac skiff to nearby islands with ancient moss covered trails flanked by huge trees, or icebergs on the beach. We had complete flexibility since the boat was chartered just for us. Our captain was an experienced naturalist who has traveled these waters for over 40 years. He knew exactly where to go to get us the image opportunities we wanted.

As if that weren't enough, we had a world-class chef who prepared all our meals, and a ship's mate who did the lion's share of taking care of our quarters, shuttling us to shore, and a myriad of other duties. It was a great crew, and we were treated like good friends which for me is the best way to travel.

I plan to return next summer to do the same trip. Stay tuned for dates. It will fill very quickly.

TECHNICAL DATA
Eagle  -  1/6400 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 280mm on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.
Sunset  -  1/80 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800.  Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 5D Mark III body.  Handheld.
Iceberg  -  1/1600 sec at f/9, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4 extender set at 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.
Whale  -  1/2000 sec. at f/10, ISO 800.  Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm on Canon 5D Mark III body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is nothing  -  absolutely nothing  -  half so much worth doing as simply messing about in ships."  -- from "Wind In The Willows" by Kenneth Grahame

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dueling Duo


Grizzly bears. In the wild. Up close and personal. It doesn't get much better than this. These two siblings were mock-fighting for over an hour. What a treat and a privilege to see this action. Real and raw.

The Alaska brown bears trip last week in Lake Clark National Park provided my entire group a wide variety of superb photographic opportunities. Being able to see wild animals live their lives as they have for eons is so much different from seeing animals in a zoo or in a TV documentary. Being with them, seeing what they have to do to survive and thrive, and watching the young ones learning how to become healthy adults, ties us all to the web of life. We get so wrapped up in our daily lives in civilized society with our creature comforts,  essentially unconnected with the natural world. Having the opportunity to observe and photograph wildlife in their natural setting is an experience everyone interested in wildlife and nature should experience at least once in their lives. It helps put life on our planet and our own personal lives into a much different perspective. It is a life-changing experience.

The next Alaska brown bears trip has been scheduled for July 13 - 19, 2018. I am still traveling in Alaska, but if you would like more information, or would like to be placed on the "Interested List" please email me at awakethelight@charter.net   I will get in touch with you when I return to my office in mid-July.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1000 sec., f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 390mm on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."  --Chief Seattle

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Puffin Postcard


I am breaking tradition today by showcasing a composite of 3 images for today's blog. While on the brown bears photo tour, we took a side trip to a nearby island to photograph puffins who had just returned for nest building and breeding. Puffins live most of their lives at sea, and only come on land to breed in the summer. They choose isolated rocky locations with few predators and protected nesting burrows in the rocks.

For me, this was a decades-long dream fulfilled. I had wanted to be up close and personal to puffins for years, and I finally got the chance. I can't begin to describe the thrill of being so close to these birds and being able to photograph them while they went about their daily lives. This is what nature and wildlife photography is all about  -  observing nature's creatures continuing along the path of life.

Of course there are frustrations as well. Puffins are very speedy fliers and photographing them in flight was challenging to say the least. A very fast shutter speed is needed, generally a minimum of 1/1250 sec. and higher. And finding these speeding bullets in the frame is a challenge as well. Continuous shooting, and many missed shots was the order of the day. But thankfully there were enough sharp images with good lighting and wings in good positions to make me happy.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 300mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know."  --native Alaskan Anders Apassingok of the St. Lawrence Island Yupik

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Three Bears


The Alaska brown bears trip ended today, and what a week we had! The weather was perfect, the lodge was a wonderful place to stay with lovely rooms, great meals and a superb guide, and the bears were perfection itself. We saw moms and cubs, adult males, dueling teenagers, nursing babies, wildflowers, and puffins. It doesn't get any better than that!

This threesome was curious but not about us. There was an adult male in the area and that usually puts moms on high alert. In this location we are able to get fairly close to the bears safely. Safety is always the main concern, and these bears, although wild, are so used to seeing photographers with cameras, tripods, and ATVs that they barely pay any attention to us. We are always careful to keep our distance, not crowd them, and not block their access to feeding areas or water.

This is my third trip to this part of Alaska, Lake Clark National Park. It is about a one-hour small plane ride from Anchorage. In my opinion it is far and away the best place to view and photograph brown bears safely. I love it so much that I am already planning next summer's trip. It will run from  July 13 - 19. If you are interested, please let me know as soon as possible. This trip typically fills quickly, and it has not been officially advertised yet, so information is not on the website. Email me for details at awakethelight@charter.net

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1000 sec.,  f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nothing exists for itself alone, but only in relation to other forms of life."  --Charles Darwin

Monday, June 12, 2017

Alaska - The Last Frontier


Flew into Anchorage, Alaska last night and was greeted by this beautiful scene. Craggy mountains peaking out over smooth white clouds. What a feast for the eyes. This was shot with an iPhone6 so the resolution is not the best, but I wanted to share it with you.

Alaska is one of my favorite places. The wildness, the variety of wildlife both on land and in the water, the crisp cool air even in June, the friendly people, and the general feel of the place have mesmerized me and I keep coming back for more.

This time I am here for two different photo tours. The first one, starting on Tuesday, is to photograph grizzly bears in their natural habitat in Lake Clark National Park. While the bears are wild, we live in relative comfort. We stay in a lovely privately-owned lodge along the shores of the Cook Inlet at the border of the national park (about a one-hour flight from Anchorage by small bush plane). The lodge has a wonderful chef to prepare all our meals, and we have our own guide and driver. Our lodge is in the middle of bear country, and the bears often roam through the grounds. The lodge is only a few hundred yards from the water's edge, and we and all our gear are transported by ATV to where the bears are each day. The bears are truly wild, but are acclimated to humans. We practice serious bear safety nevertheless. The bears are in charge and we move as needed to maintain a safe distance from them. When photographing wildlife you always want to remain a safe distance away and do nothing to frighten them, or disturb their feeding or their parenting. Doing so can put you in danger quickly.

The other photo tour, starting toward the end of the month, is an 8-day boat-based trip to photograph whales, sea otters, puffins and other sea life. The entire boat has been chartered for just our group, and it is a beautiful boat. It has teak wood interiors, double occupancy staterooms with private bath, top-of-the-line stabilizers for smooth sailing, and superb creature comforts. It sleeps only 8 passengers, plus a crew of 3. The boat will transport us to where the action is best, and we can shoot as long as the action is good. We will also be going out on Zodiacs and sea kayaks to get closer shots.

So this will be a very exciting time for me and for those participating in each of the trips. Will keep you posted as internet access allows.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/6400 sec., f/2.2, ISO 32. iPhone6 camera with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We live in a wonderful world full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open."  --Jawaharial Nehru

Friday, June 9, 2017

Catch Me If You Can

Before the Action


Peak of the Action

Bird photography can be very challenging. Most birds are beautiful, like this Skimmer, but often they move like the wind and it can be difficult to get the focus just right AND capture the action.

Skimmers generally make multiple passes over the same section of water, skimming the surface (hence their name) in search of food. Because they will repeat their actions in more or less the same place, after a few passes you can begin to predict their route and can pre-focus to be ready when they move into view.

Originally I was only going to post the Peak of the Action image, but thought that perhaps it would be hard to see and understand exactly what was going on. So the Before the Action image, taken just before the skimmer spotted a fish and tucked his head under to grab it, shows the normal position of the bird as it skims over the water.

To get successful images of birds in flight, it is important to use two techniques  -  rapid burst in order to fire your shutter in rapid succession, AND Continuous (Nikon) or AI Servo (Canon) to allow your camera to continuously focus on the bird as it moves. Employing both those camera settings will help maximize your chances of getting good shots.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/2000 sec., f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4x extender set at 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best."  Henry Van Dyke  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Bear Facts


Alaska is known to be Bear Country. Grizzly (brown) bear to be exact. This lone female was walking along the shoreline of the Cook Inlet in search of a fish dinner. Brown bears in this area, about an hour's flight from Anchorage by small plane, are unquestionably wild. But they have so much food and are so used to seeing humans that they are not bothered by our presence, as long as we keep our distance and do not interfere with their feeding, and their offspring.

The guides in this area know the individual bears, their habits, and their favorite routes from the shore to the fields to the woods to the nearby mountains. They advise us when to move and how far, so that we do not disturb the bears in any way. In this location I have seen bears walk within 10 to 20 yards of where we are standing. As long as we are positioned off their chosen path, they have no concerns about us and pass by fairly closely.

This bear was considerably farther away than that, and was shot with a 100-400mm lens with a 1.4x extender on a crop sensor body. That is my preferred lens / body combination, and allows me to get good close-ups when the bears are near, and some nice environmental shots, like this one, when the bears are farther away.

When photographing wildlife, be prepared to shoot at all times of day. You will want to be on location when the action is good, regardless of the time of day and the quality of the light. Of course we always want perfect light, but we rarely get it. So you have to work with what you are given. This was shot late in the day in relatively low light. I chose to render the bear as a silhouette for drama. She is so small in the frame that the lack of detail in her body is not a problem. Her body position was perfect to show all four legs and her head in profile. It is unmistakably a brown bear.

I took many images as she walked by me, in hopes of getting this position. With wildlife, I always shoot on rapid burst so that I can capture slight variations of leg and head positions. That allows me to select the one I like best as the final image.

I am looking forward to being back in my favorite part of Alaska's Bear Country in mid-June.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/1600 sec, f/9, ISO 1600.  Canon 100-400mm lens set at 140mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Bears keep me humble. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves, and for the dreams of our children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended on it, because it does."  --Wayne Lynch

Monday, May 22, 2017

How To Show Emotion


Almost any subject can be portrayed to convey or stir emotion. These two lady slipper buds were tipped toward each other, so I selected a position that accentuated that. Each of the buds was nestled inside an outer protective leaf, and the rear one was placed so that it appeared to be in a protective position. Perhaps it represents a parent and child, or a caring couple.

Of course all images are subject to individual interpretation, and your reaction to this image might be different from mine. And that is fine.

The point is to try to convey emotion in your images. Not every image needs to have emotional appeal, but tapping into emotions can certainly add impact. Images that stimulate feelings of either tenderness, grace, dance-like moves, or other aspects that provoke an emotional response from the viewer will have instantaneous appeal and will stand the test of time.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/125 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: "Emotional responses are often regarded as the keystone to experiencing art, and the creation of an emotional experience has been argued as the purpose of artistic expression."  --Wikipedia

Friday, May 19, 2017

Color Harmony


This was a lucky shot. This delicate butterfly happened to be on a large leaf with a soft green background behind it. Using a wide aperture guaranteed that the background would go soft, but it was lucky that the background was the same green as the leaf the butterfly was standing on.

Shallow depth of field is a favorite technique of mine. Using a wide aperture from about f/2.8 to f/5.6 will assure you of a soft background in most cases. This technique, coupled with a fast enough shutter to guarantee a sharp picture when hand-holding the camera, can result in beautiful images.

I generally start with an ISO of 400 and an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4. In most cases that results in a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. or faster which often is fast enough. An even faster shutter speed helps ensure that your images will be sharp (no camera shake), but usually you can get away with a shutter speed as slow as 1/125 sec. and still get sharp images.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/400 sec. at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony ... we see into the life of things."  --William Wordsworth

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Truck Graveyard


I took a couple of personal days to go in search of new and different things to shoot. One of the participants in the Butterflies and Flowers photo workshop told me about a truck graveyard not too far away, so when the workshop ended I went to check it out. Thanks, George!

What a fun and creative thing to do. I had heard about truck graveyards in various parts of the country, but had never been to one. This one was relatively small, but had enough different old trucks in varying stages of decay to make it a great location.

Often when shooting it takes me a little while to "get in the groove." That was the case here. It took about half an hour of wandering around, looking at the different trucks, and exploring interesting areas to concentrate on, before I was ready to dive in.

I shot some with a super wide angle lens to accentuate and distort the shapes of the trucks, and others, like this one, with a slight telephoto lens to zoom in on details. This approach allowed me to concentrate on abstract shapes, designs, and colors.

I used Lightroom to punch up the colors and to improve the contrast. For this type of subject matter, those changes greatly improved the look of the image.

The main things to keep in mind when shooting unique or unusual subjects are to allow yourself to slow down, really take your time to look at the options before you, explore different angles, and then begin to select areas to concentrate on. It is great fun, and a wonderful jump start for your creativity.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/125 sec., f/8, ISO 200.  Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Abstract art [goes] beyond the tangible. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas."  --Arshile Gorkey

Friday, May 12, 2017

Butterflies Are Free


The BUTTERFLIES & FLOWERS workshop has just ended, and it was wonderful. Everyone got great images, and we all had a great time. The 1000 butterflies were very cooperative and sat still long enough for each of us to get some super shots.

When photographing butterflies, it is important to get the head sharp. It is nice to also get a great deal of sharpness in the wings as well, but a little bit of softness is acceptable, as in this image.

Since this critter is just black and white, it helps that it was perched on a brightly colored flower which adds a bit of punch.

To improve your chances of getting great shots of butterflies, first approach slowly. Rapid movements can startle them and cause them to fly away. In order to maximize depth of field, another tip is to try to position the camera parallel to the wings. Also, pay close attention to the background. A cluttered background, or one with blotchy lighting, can be very distracting and take attention away from the main subject.

TECHNICAL DATA
1/125 sec. at f/4, ISO 800. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty."  --Joseph Addison

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lightroom To The Rescue

BEFORE

AFTER

If you follow my blog, you know I often write about how great Lightroom is. It can bring an image to life as it did here. This is the same exact image. The top BEFORE image is how the image looked when I initially downloaded it onto my computer. Gray, dead, and lifeless. Hardly any color to speak of.

The AFTER image, after optimization in Lightroom, has much more color and more contrast, making the sky look textured and stormy. The AFTER image has much more drama and visual interest. Which image is an accurate representation of the scene as it looked to my eye? Neither one.

Surprised? I was, too. It was amazing that Lightroom could bring out so much color and texture that my eyes did not see when experiencing this scene. So now it is time for true confessions - this image is a bit over-punched and goes beyond the natural look that I usually strive for. But, as I worked on it in Lightroom, I liked the more intense color, the added drama, the deep blues and the rich warm colors. So I allowed myself to go a bit overboard in order to create a visually interesting image.

Would I enter this in a nature competition? Absolutely not, since it is admittedly "over the top" and goes beyond a realistic representation. But as an art piece, it is much more pleasing than the BEFORE image, or even something that would have fallen in between the two versions.

This was taken on a foggy morning a little after sunrise in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When we arrived at the site, the fog was so thick that we could not see much beyond the near trees. But a little patience paid off, and as the sun rose higher the fog began to burn off, and we could see more detail in the clouds and some of the hills in the distance.

The controls used in Lightroom that saved this image, in the order they were used, were:
Whites, Blacks, Shadows, Clarity, and Saturation. And then I added more punch by increasing the Saturation of the following individual colors in the HSL / Color / B&W box - Orange, Yellow, Green Aqua, and Blue. The final step was to use the Dehaze slider which cut through some of the mist and fog in the distance.

Lightroom is NOT complicated and it is NOT hard to learn. But I have so many people who attend my Lightroom classes in desperation after they were taught either improperly or in a confusing manner. If you want to hone your Lightroom skills, I would be happy to set up a special class for your camera club or a group of 6 or more. If that interests you, contact me and we can discuss available dates and fees.
 
TECHNICAL DATA
1/160 sec, f/8, ISO 400.  Canon 17-40mm lens, set at 20mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Anyone who keep the ability to see beauty never grows old."  -Franz Kafka

Monday, May 1, 2017

Denali, The Great One


Denali is a huge and beautiful mountain, visible from this close angle deep inside Denali National Park in Alaska. With such dramatic clouds and pure white mountains, black and white seemed like a good approach. It accentuates the texture of both the mountains and the sky.

I generally use Lightroom for black and white conversions. There are other software options as well, and many of them are also excellent. When using Lightroom to convert to black and white, first make the necessary modifications with the sliders for Blacks, Whites, Highlights, and Shadows. Then increase Clarity to about 30 points. Once those basic controls have been used, click on B&W in the HSL / Color / B&W box.

At this stage, you can begin experimenting with all the color sliders in the HSL / Color / B&W box. Move each slider all the way to the left and then all the way to the right to see its effect. Even though you have changed the image from color to black and white, Lightroom still sees the image in color, which is why the color sliders still have an effect.

You will be amazed how much impact the color sliders will have on the depth of the blacks and the richness of the whites. Just work the sliders until you are happy with the results. You can go for dramatic, as I did in this image, or you can be more subtle if you prefer.

So go play, and enjoy creating some beautiful black and white images!

TECHNICAL DATA
1/5000 sec, f/8, ISO 800.  Canon 70-200mm lens set at 200mm on Canon 5D Mark III body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list."  --Susan Sontag


Monday, April 24, 2017

Smokies Wrap-up


The Smoky Mountains WILDFLOWERS & WILDWATER photo tour has ended, and what an incredible week we had. All of the most beautiful spring wildflowers were in bloom, the weather was superb except for one short burst of rain early in the week. Everyone came away with spectacular images. I was thrilled with what the group was able to achieve, and they were happy with their results. They learned a lot, shared a lot, and had a great time. 

At the end of the day, that is what a full immersion photo workshop or tour is all about - lots of information, education, inspiration, and great fun.

This Showy Orchis (yes "orchis" is the correct spelling) was one of the most perfect and beautiful I have ever seen. These are not easy flowers to photograph because of the unusual shape of the blooms and their small size. When photographing flowers I always recommend "stalking" the plant. Walk around it and look at it from all angles and heights. Take a lot of shots since often you do not know until you see the images on your computer screen which views you will like the best. Give yourself every opportunity to capture great images by taking your time to shoot it from all angles. 

While this trip has ended, I am looking forward to a full schedule ahead with a Butterflies Workshop in May (FULL), Alaska Brown Bears in June (FULL), a boat-based Alaska whales and wildlife trip also in June (FULL), Iceland in August (STILL SPACE AVAILABLE, with Early Bird discount valid through April 30), and back to Alaska in September to Denali National Park (one space unexpectedly opened up for a female).

If you would like more information on either the Iceland or Denali trips, go to the website here www.awakethelight.com
Or for Iceland, 10 full days on this incredible island, click here  http://awakethelight.com/iceland-summer/
and

TECHNICAL DATA
1/500 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 800.  Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit."  --Frank Borman

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Smokies Abstract


The Smokies photo tour ends on Saturday, and I will be sorry to see it end. The spring wildflowers have been spectacular. We were lucky to hit it at peak, and have seen dozens of varieties in pristine condition.

And the streams have been beautiful and have provided us with incredible subject matter. Doing long exposures of moving water creates abstract shapes, and everyone has been creating unique and compelling images. It is a great way to improve your creative eye, and enhance your technical skills as well.

This image has a variety of shapes and movement, with minimal colors. It is a study in line and form. Participating in a full immersion photo workshop enables you to dramatically improve your eye and your technique, while providing a fun atmosphere with like-minded people. I strongly recommend that you treat yourself and take a photo workshop or tour this year. You won't regret it!

TECHNICAL DATA
1/2 sec. at f/32, ISO 100.  Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 280mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it."  --Lao Tzu

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Smokies Grace


Graceful subjects can be found everywhere if you look for them. This graceful yellow trillium is blooming in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am here this week leading a photo tour. I love being here in the springtime since the profusion of wildflowers is some of the best in the world.

This yellow trillium is fully open, even though it might not look that way. Their petals reach skyward in a slight curving motion.

When photographing macro flowers I try to keep the composition simple. Simple backgrounds, simple subjects, and simple soft natural lighting. I use Lightroom to enhance the colors and the overall look. But I try to do as little as possible in an effort to maintain the natural appearance of the flower.

When outdoors photographing, whether it is flowers or scenics, try to look for line, shape and simplicity.

TECHNICAL DATA :
1/320 sec at f/5.6, ISO 800. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If the sight of blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive."  --Eleonora Duse

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Easy Art


Creating images of moving water is exciting, easy, and fun. This stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the perfect subject. A nicely flowing stream flanked by ancient boulders has form, shape, texture and color.

A sturdy tripod is your best friend when photographing moving water. You need a stable platform for your camera so that you can use a long exposure to accentuate the feeling of flowing water.

Soft, even light is best for this type of shot. You want to avoid splotchy sunlight that can create extreme contrast of highlights and shadows. So early morning or late afternoon, or a cloudy day work well.

With  your camera on Aperture Priority, use a low ISO of 100, and set the aperture to about f/22. That will provide a relatively show shutter speed, which is the secret to creating soft flowing water shots. I am often asked what shutter speed is best, and the answer is "that depends." If the water is flowing slowly, a longer shutter speed of a few seconds might be needed to show the flow. If it is a fast-moving stream, a shorter shutter speed of 1/4 to 1/2 second will work well. It is best to try several different shutter speeds to see what works best. If you cannot get a slow enough shutter speed to achieve the look you want, use a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light coming through the lens. A polarizer will cut light transmission by about 2.5 stops.  Neutral density filters come in a variety of strengths from about 3 stops to 10 stops and reduce the amount of light being transmitted even more. 

How soft you want the water to look is a matter of personal taste. Experiment each time you are out photographing water, and take many shots at different shutter speeds to guarantee that you will get the look you want.

When leading groups, I teach a variety of techniques, depending on the situation and the speed of the water. We will be working with these techniques at the upcoming Smokies trip, and the Iceland trip coming up August 4 - 14. Still a couple of spaces left on the Iceland trip, and the Early Bird discount has been extended through April 30.  Details here   http://awakethelight.com/iceland-summer/

TECHNICAL DATA
2 seconds at f/32, ISO 100. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set to 70mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins. Not by strength but by perseverance."  --H. Jackson Brown