Friday, December 8, 2017

Wanna Be Here?


Wanna be here? I sure do. It is a close-up view of the mountain named Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). In the 7 years I have been taking groups to Denali National Park, we have been lucky enough to see "The Mountain" every trip. And what a treat it is, since so many visitors never get to see it.

Why is our luck so good? In large part because I always go in the autumn when the weather conditions are generally better for viewing. Plus, at that time of year the wildlife has coats in beautiful condition after a summer of great feeding and bulking up.

In addition to spectacular mountain views, we usually see brown bear, moose, caribou, and occasionally wolf. We are out exploring every day in our own large vehicle, driven by an expert naturalist. We can stop for as long as we please when the shooting is good, and can move on whenever we choose to.

We stay deep inside the park, where few others can go. We are one of only two photo tour companies worldwide allowed to do this sort of trip. 

At the end of each day we return to our lodge for a wonderful chef-prepared dinner, an image critique, and conversations with new friends. We then retire to our double-occupancy, well-appointed rooms for the night.

Limited to 10 photographers, there are only 4 spaces left. For more information or to register, email me at awakethelight@charter.net  or call me at 757-773-0194.

Click on this link for details    

TECH SPECS
1/800 sec. at f/10, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTES:
"Seeing Denali with Mollie was an experience beyond comparison. Mollie provided expert guidance without being obtrusive."  -- J. P., participant Denali 2017

"Wonderful instruction. Unbelievable photo ops."  -- B. L., participant Denali 2017 

Friday, December 1, 2017

RESERVE NOW - Denali National Park, August 2018


Join me for my 7th trip to spectacular Denali National Park, August 25 - 31, 2018. I love this place and look forward to returning each year.

Today's images showcase just a few of the many incredible things we typically see. From caribou to moose, from Denali ("The Mountain," the highest peak in North America at over 20,300 feet) to tiny flowers, from the world's largest swans to reflections and wonder, from grizzly bear to sweeping expanses of tundra blanketed in spectacular fall colors,  Denali National Park is filled with superlatives. And it is a photographer's paradise.

We stay deep inside the park where few others can go. We stay in relative luxury in a lovely lodge (double occupancy) with chef-prepared meals, and our personal naturalist driver and guide. It doesn't get any better than that!

This trip is limited to only 10 participants, and there are only 4 spaces left. If you have always wanted to see the Last Frontier, if Alaska has been calling to you, this is the trip for you.

Click here to see details on our website. Call me or email for more information. I hope you can join me!

TODAY'S QUOTES:
"To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world."  --John Muir

"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders."  --Edward Abbey
 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Informative FREE Newsletter Available Today


Check out the latest AWAKE THE LIGHT newsletter, just out today. If you are not already a subscriber, you can subscribe for free just by sending me an email with "Yes" in the subject line. That's all there is to it!

This issue highlights several exciting things, including our most popular photo tour to Denali National Park in Alaska, August 25 - 31, 2018.  This trip is limited to only 10 photographers, and there are only 5 spaces left. More details in the newsletter.

To view the newsletter, just click this link  http://conta.cc/2zxa0rb

This month also is the start of a new feature Lightroom Lights. Each article is filled with important information on how to use Lightroom more easily and more effectively. Even if you feel you know all there is to know about Lightroom, you will probably find some interesting information, or easier ways of doing things, in each issue.

And check out Gear Corner, an every-so-often article about gear that I use and love, or great sales out there. There are some super Cyber Monday specials from Hunt's Photo and Video in this issue.

Each issue of the newsletter is different, and each one is designed to provide information, education, and some creative ideas.

TECH SPECS
1/320 sec., f/6.3, ISO 12,800  (that is not a typo, it really was 12,800 because it was pre-dawn and very dark). Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer."  --anonymous

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!


The leaves turn from green to red and gold, and we pause to give thanks for all that we have - family, friends, health, and the joys of photography. 


Wishing you a warm and happy Thanksgiving 

filled with laughter and love. 

 

Mollie


TODAY'S QUOTES: 
"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come from getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have."  --Frederick Koenig

"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."  --Seneca

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  --John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Great TV Series for Photographers


If you subscribe to the Netflix streaming service, there is a superb photography program that I highly recommend. It is "Tales By Light," and is a beautifully filmed and narrated series of episodes about nature, wildlife, and culture photography. Each episode highlights a different photographer who talks about their work and what motivates them. It combines superb video and stills, and is highly motivational. Each episode is unique and each covers a different aspect of photography.

Some of the photographers are famous, like Art Wolfe, and others are not household names, but in each case their work is world-class and eye-opening. Each episode is only about 20 minutes long so it is easy to watch when you have a few spare minutes.

And no, I am not one of the featured photographers!

FYI, I shot this image of an Atlantic Puffin in Iceland at the end of the breeding season in August. These speedy little bullets are beautiful to watch and hard to get in flight. They live at sea for most of the year, and come on land only for about 6 weeks each summer to breed and raise their young. Their breeding season is generally from mid June to early August, but that seems to be changing somewhat with the warming climate.

TECH SPECS
1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all."  --Aristotle

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Votes Are In....


The votes are in, and the winner is........................

the color version.

If you recall, last week I asked you to vote on whether you liked the color or the black-and-white version of this flower best. An overwhelming majority voted for the color version.

While many of you liked the black-and-white version, most felt that it did not have enough contrast and was not as interesting as the color version. If you do not remember the black-and-white version, you can see it here  http://awakethelight.blogspot.com/2017/11/vote-for-your-favorite.html

Thanks to everyone for your vote and your input.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."  --attributed to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford

Monday, November 13, 2017

Awake The Light, literally!


Now that we are off Daylight Savings Time it gets dark early and quickly. I ran a private workshop here at the Outer Banks of North Carolina last week, and we set out in the late afternoon in search of good sunset images. This lighthouse was a good subject.

The sun was setting to our right, but the best color in the sky was in the east to our left. That can often happen, so when out shooting sunset (or sunrise) always keep an eye on the opposite direction for good colors and drama. You just never know.

While I like the look of the near darkness and the bright warm tones near the horizon, something was lacking. Below is the image before any work was done.

BEFORE
So I checked the web for information on how to add light rays to this image. Normally I prefer to be more of a "purist" and do not add elements to landscapes or wildlife images. But in this case it needed a little punch. The lighthouse light was on, but at such close range, and not in full darkness, the light did not appear bright enough. So two things were needed - brighten the actual light, AND add light rays.

Brightening the light itself was easy. In Photoshop I copied and pasted the original light (just the light itself at the top of the lighthouse) so that it was on its own layer. Then using Image > Adjustments > Levels I made the light brighter by sliding the middle slider to the left (toward the small black triangle). This created a glow which was the look I was hoping for. 

Then it was time to add the actual light rays. After trying several different approaches found on different tutorials and YouTube videos, I came across the technique that worked best with this image. As with all things Photoshop (or Elements), there are several ways to create any look you want. The trick is to find the one that is, first and foremost, easiest and then that works well with your particular image. Some of the info I came across created an artificial look which I was not happy with, so take your time when deciding which approach to use. Even with the tutorial I chose (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2z6hvfISqU) I had to make some personal modifications to achieve a result I liked. So use what you find as a starting point, and adapt from there to fit your own personal vision. 

A final important note  -  always, always, ALWAYS let subtlety and good taste be your guides. Try not to overdo any added elements if you want your image to look as real as possible.

TECH SPECS
1/160 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Realism is in the work when idealism is in the soul."  -- Henri Bergson

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Vote For Your Favorite


Same rose, two different interpretations. One is color, the other is black and white. One is cropped more tightly. One has the central swirl in the center, the other is off-center.

Vote for your favorite version on our Facebook page and give a brief reason or two for your choice. I will publish the results in a future post. Please take just a moment of your time to vote. And thanks!

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Iceland Church and Turf


Turf structures were developed in areas with cold climates and not enough trees to use for home construction. These old turf buildings are in Iceland, and have withstood centuries of cold and wind.

I had never seen this type of thing before and was utterly captivated with its design. That is one of the things I love about traveling. You see new and different things, meet wonderful people, and broaden your horizons.

This shot was made on a chilly and cloudy day. The dark sky caused the red steeple and roof on the modern church to stand out and be a nice counterpoint to the earth tones and rounded shapes of the turf houses. The overcast conditions made the exposure easy. Even in these conditions, however, it is important to check your histogram at the start of each new series of shots. Anytime you change your position or the direction in which you aim your camera, the direction of light can change and so will your exposure.

TECH SPECS
1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 800.  Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 33mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know."  --Native Alaskan saying

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Get Your "Artsy" On!


Sometimes you just have to get artsy. Things do not always need to be sharp and crisp. There are times when softness and a bit of a creative blur is a good thing. And sometimes it happens when you least expect it.

These sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge were flying in at sunset. The light level was dropping quickly and I did not keep a watchful eye on the shutter speed. It had dropped to 1/30th sec., much too slow to keep wing beats sharp. But I got lucky.

I was panning the birds as they flew past me, keeping the pan speed pretty much the same as the birds' speed, which created a nice blur on the background. When I downloaded the images later in the day, and realized that this was shot at a relatively slow shutter speed, I thought it would end up being deleted because very little of the image is sharp. But when I gave myself time to "live with" the shot, and looked at it with fresh eyes, I realized that it was an impression of birds in flight rather than a scientifically accurate version.

The lesson for me was that sometimes you have to let go of what you expect an image to be, or what is an "acceptable" image, and allow yourself to view it from a different perspective.

TECH SPECS
1/30 sec. at f/13, ISO 400. Canon 35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L lens (an oldie that I no longer own) on a Canon 40D body (also retired). Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence."  -- Robert Lynd

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cool Critters

Dragonflies are very cool. They flit and float through the air, and usually return to the same perch over and over again. That makes it fairly easy to get good shots. When you see a dragonfly, stop and watch where it lands. Once you see its favorite perch, be patient, stay put, and be ready to shoot.

Look for a good background, one that will be rendered nicely soft and non-distracting with shallow depth of field. Take some test shots to make sure your histogram looks good, and then you are ready to capture some beauty shots of these amazing creatures.

You can photograph dragonflies with either a telephoto zoom, or a macro lens. A telephoto zoom is a better choice, partly because it allows you to keep a greater distance from the insect. With any form of wildlife, you do not want to do anything that will frighten it or cause it to change its normal behavior.

When focusing, it is best to focus on the head and its huge eyes. If the rest of the dragonfly goes slightly out of focus, that is OK.

Even at this time of year, unless you live in an extremely northern area, there should still be some dragonflies around. If not, hang onto this blog entry so you can be prepared in the spring.

TECH SPECS
1/1250, f/5, ISO 200. Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on Canon 5D Mark III. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter."  --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, October 21, 2017

iPhone Old World Charm






Old European buildings hold a lot of charm for photographers. The textures, the shapes, and the sheer age are appealing. I was fortunate to have some time to photograph the restored Medieval village of Gruyeres in Switzerland. We arrived late in the day when the sun was low in the sky and the interior lights were just starting to come on.

I rarely use my iPhone for photography, but with the low light levels at this time of day it seemed the right choice. Smart phones are generally very good at capturing images even in near darkness. There was enough ambient light to provide good detail and color on the front of the building, and still hold detail on the lit interior. I used Lightroom to optimize the image, making sure all the detail in the dark wood doors was retained, and any over-brightness inside was toned down.

The setting sun provided nice warm light along the bottom of the steps, which repeats the warm light inside. The walls were quite smooth so in Photoshop I added a texture, using a low opacity layer of a tree bark image I had shot in Alaska. It added just the right touch to help the facade look a bit more weathered. There are many companies selling textures for use with Photoshop, and while they are very nice and can provide a variety of options to choose from, I prefer to use my own as much as possible for a more unique look.

TECH SPECS
1/17 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 320. iPhone 6 camera with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun."  --Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Speed Demon


Swallows are speedy and tiny, and are very hard to photograph. These little guys hang out at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. They zip in and out of their bird houses, swoop and dive at breakneck speed, and challenge even the most patient photographer. But they are adorable, graceful, and brilliantly colored.

The best way to get a shot is to hang out at their bird house. And wait. And wait some more. Then suddenly out of nowhere one might swoop in quickly, taunting you to get the camera up to your eye, focus and shoot. And then it's gone. So you wait for a return visit. And wait.

To photograph birds, whether large or small, a fast shutter speed is mandatory. A shutter speed of 1/1250 sec is the minimum necessary to get sharp shots. Even though this bird was standing on a post, notice that it was chirping. When birds chirp they often move their heads and flip their wings, and this guy did both of those things very quickly. So the fast shutter speed was necessary to freeze the action. And I was handholding the camera, as I usually do, making a fast shutter speed even more necessary.

I find that I can shoot faster and change positions much quickly when not tethered to a tripod for bird and wildlife photography. 

TECH SPECS
1/1600 sec at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4X extender for a focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."  --Chinese proverb

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