Wednesday, December 31, 2014


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

I hope to see you in the New Year!

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

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Season's Greetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Iceberg Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

From Sad To Spectacular



What a difference a little image optimization can make! These are Before and After representations of the same image. It was a beautiful, pristine dawn in Jasper National Park in Canada, but you would never know that by looking at the Before image. It looks gray, dull, and unexciting. While there were pinks and blues in the sky, and lovely fall colors on the hillsides across the lake, they did not appear in the image that was downloaded out of the camera.

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

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

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

The simple steps used in Lightroom to improve this image were:
1. Lightened the shadows with the Shadows slider.
2. Brightened the whites with the Whites slider so that the mist at the horizon line looked white.
3. Increased Clarity to boost mid-tone contrast.
4. Increased overall Vibrance.
5. Used the HSL panel to pinpoint increases in the saturation in the pinks, blues, and yellows.

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

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

When Wrong Is Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

More Lightroom Magic



Compare these two identical images. The Before version is how it came out of the camera. The After image is after a little optimization in Lightroom. The differences are significant. Lightroom was able to bring out the colors and allowed the texture in the dark foreground to be much more visible.

The After image is what was really there, but was not what I saw when I initially downloaded the images from a day of shooting. When your images look dull or lacking in intensity or "punch," it is not your fault. It is just the nature of digital image capture. All the color and detail is really there, but it takes software like Lightroom to bring out the latent colors and details.

This was a unique situation, with the full moon setting at sunrise. It was an awe-inspiring sight. Lightroom brought out the strong pinks and blues easily, helped increase the contrast, and provided texture in all the dark areas. In 10 easy steps, and in less than 3 minutes, this image went from so-so to powerful.

There are many online tutorials out there, but there is no substitute for an in-depth class with a knowledgeable instructor right there to guide you. If that appeals to you, and you can get to Richmond, Virginia in March, consider taking the Lightroom Unleashed workshop. It is a 3-day class that will give you all the information you need to use Lightroom efficiently and with confidence. And your images will have more impact than you imagined possible.  Information here

Shutter Speed 1/4 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm, set at 21mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Create Magic



Yes, in this wonderful digital age of photography, magic is at our fingertips. Compare the two versions of the same image above. The BEFORE image is how it came out of the camera. The AFTER version is after the quick and easy use of Lightroom brought out the dark tones and added detail to the light tones.

There are still many photographers who are hesitant to use image optimization software like Lightroom.  (There are other options available, too, but Lightroom is my personal favorite.) Yes, you can do many of the same things, if you shoot RAW, in Photoshop or Elements. But I find Lightroom to be much faster and much better than anything else out there. And it is easy to learn, and it does not take much time to optimize most images.

It took about one minute to improve this image.  The Shadows were lightened, the Highlights were darkened, Clarity was boosted slightly, and Vibrance was increased. Simple and quick.

Those who have never used Lightroom, or even some people who have taken a class or two, express three basic concerns  -  a long learning curve to understand the software, a significant time involvement for optimizing each image, and a requirement to completely change the way they have organized and stored their images in the past. In fact, those concerns are based on misunderstandings, or in some cases from having taken a class that just confused them or did not present the facts and techniques in a logical and simple manner.

Truth be told, you cannot learn Lightroom in a half-day or a day-long class. A more in-depth class will enable you to learn it properly, and be completely comfortable with it when you get home.

If the time is right for you to finally learn Lightroom properly, consider the upcoming LIGHTROOM UNLEASHED workshop coming up in March. Details here   Those who have taken it before have raved about it, and at the conclusion of the class finally "got it." 

Shutter Speed 1/80 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40 f/4L set at 40mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


Many thanks to the Northern Virginia Photographic Society for the warm welcome and huge turnout for my program last evening on Abstracts. In spite of the cold, rainy, raw weather, they welcomed me warmly and with great enthusiasm. They all stayed to the bitter end and made me feel very special. It was a great group and a wonderful evening.

This is one of many images shown in the program. It illustrates how simple a strong abstract image can be. The image incorporates color, line, and shape to form a cohesive composition with strong visual appeal. It was shot with blacklight, special bulbs that make fluorescent colors pop.

Whether your subject is abstract, or any subject like a flower, landscape, portrait, bird, or wildlife, simple is super. In general, the less complicated the composition the stronger the image can be. That is not to say that a more complicated image cannot be successful, but often simpler is better.

Abstract images are everywhere. You will see many possibilities if you just slow down and look. Look for the line of a flower petal, or reflections in water, or small snippets in the everyday things around you. Once you begin to look for abstract compositions, you will begin to see more and more possibilities.

There is an Abstracts competition coming up soon. The Fifth Annual Joseph Miller Abstracts Competition will begin receiving entries on December 27. All submissions must be received no later than February 25. For more details, click here

If you enjoy photographing abstracts, you should seriously consider entering this competition. If past years are any indication, this will be an incredible exhibit. Accepted entries will be displayed at the Joseph Miller Center for Photography in Manassas, VA in May 2015.

TECHNICAL DATA: Shutter Speed 13 seconds.  Aperture f/32.  ISO 200. Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 192mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways."  --Oscar Wilde

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Last Chance For Great Discounts

December 3, this Tuesday, is the deadline for taking advantage of some great discounts on 2015 photo tours and workshops. After December 3, the discounts will no longer be available, so now’s the time to sign up.

Check out what’s coming up and how much you can save by clicking here

The popular Alaska trip to Glacier Bay is nearly full. Only 4 spaces left. Trip includes all lodging and meals at a lovely lodge for our 5 days at Glacier Bay, plus 3 spectacular boat trips to photograph whales, puffins, sea otters, seals, and of course glaciers. Airfare from Juneau to Glacier Bay is also included. Just get yourself to Juneau and we’ll take care of the rest! Information here

Also note that we are offering a brand new photo tour to Charleston, South Carolina in May. We will have plenty of time to photograph in the historic district, plus we will visit some lovely plantations, see the famous Angel Tree, take a custom nostalgic carriage ride in the heart of historic Charleston, and much more. You will also learn some creative techniques to improve your photography and your image optimization skills. Limited to only 10 photographers. Details here

TECHNICAL DATA:  Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Opportunity knocks at the strangest times. It’s not the time that matters, but how you answer the door.”  --Steve Gray

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

This beautiful aspen forest in the Canadian Rockies is an appropriate scene to remind us that as the holidays approach, we should slow down and be thankful for all that we have. It is too easy to speed through our lives, not stopping to appreciate the beauty that is all around us, the love of family and friends, and the joy of life.

So take time this holiday week to enjoy everything around you. If the snow keeps you indoors, revel in the coziness of being safe, warm, and dry. If the weather is good where you are, go outside, smell the autumn air, take a walk.

May the holiday week bring you much joy, laughter, and love. I wish each of you a peaceful holiday with good times and good food.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 154mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Be thankful for what you have.... If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough."  --Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lucky Break

The Chincoteague Challenge Photo Workshop just ended and what a wonderful workshop it was. All participants stepped up to the challenge and produced some fantastic images. It was a fun and easy-going group, and we had a great time in spite of the unseasonably cold temperatures and high winds.

I stayed for an extra day in order to get some more shooting in before heading home. It was a bright sunny day, and this bittern, who had been completely camouflaged by the grasses before he stepped out into the water, became a very obliging subject. What a stroke of luck that he happened to come out to fish just as I drove by. And it was also lucky that the winds died down, leaving the water smooth as glass.

I took many shots and chose this one as the best of the day. Why? Several reasons. I like his stretched out body position, an indication that he was hunting for fish in the water.  I also like his raised foot and the water dripping off it. I used rapid burst and took many shots of his feet in different positions. Setting your shutter for rapid burst when shooting wildlife helps to improve your chances of capturing that perfect position.

Reminder: when shooting rapid burst, don't shoot more than 3 or 4 images in a row. Your camera will function more efficiently if you do not over-tax it by taking too many shots at a time. If you take too many, your camera will need time to process all the images shot in that burst, and it will not allow you to shoot again until it has processed them all. That might cause you to miss a good shot while you are waiting for your camera to catch up. So take it easy on the shutter button and only take a few shots at a time.

The other thing that ties this image together is the clear reflection in the water. It is a perfect mirror image of the bird and the grasses.

The frontal light on the entire scene made it an easy exposure. The camera's meter read the scene perfectly and provided a good exposure for both the highlights and the shadows.

This is a simple shot that did not require great thought. It did require patience - the patience to watch, to wait, and to be ready when the action became interesting. 

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm with external 2X extender for an effective focal length of 800mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope."  -- Alexandre Dumas 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Passion For Puffins

Puffins. Gotta love 'em. They are unusual with brightly colored bills, cute faces, small bodies, and a bit of a comical appeal. They are sleek in the water, masterful fishermen, and consummate divers. But they are not easy to photograph.

They are fast, and take off from the water's surface with little warning. They are relatively small and often fairly far away.

But if you want to see and photograph some of the most beautiful puffins in the world, come with me to Glacier Bay Alaska in August 2015.

The Glacier Bay photo tour will get us up close and personal to these wonderful birds on 3 separate days. We will be on our own private chartered boat with the best captain in the area who knows where to find them and how to safely get close. I will be at your side, helping you to capture some spectacular images.

The trick with puffins is to be ready. Have your camera pre-set with the proper ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed. These birds are fast, and being alert to their behavior pays off. The boat captain and I will help you recognize behavior, and you should get some great shots.

We will have plenty of room on the boat to spread out and not feel crowded. The boat is designed to hold about 30 people, but we will have the entire boat to ourselves for just our group of 10 photographers. The waters are generally calm, and there is plenty of seating if you need a break.

We will also be in the home waters of humpback whales, which will be another primary subject for our boat trips. We will be in their prime feeding grounds and should be able to see many of them at fairly close range.

But that's not all. We will also be close to sea otters, some of the cutest critters in the animal kingdom. We'll watch them roll, dive, lie on their backs to eat and rest, and will most likely see mothers and babies.

Frankly, it doesn't get any better than this. Alaska is a prime destination in anyone's book, and when you add the opportunity to photograph whales, sea otters, and puffins it becomes a pinnacle experience. And don't forget that we will be in Glacier Bay with all its famous glaciers. We will have a day devoted to cruising the length of the Bay to witness glacier calving, feel the coolness coming off the ice, and experience the awe and wonder of it all.

There are only 4 spaces left on this photo tour. See detailed information here

If Alaska is a place you want to see, don't delay. These last 4 spaces will disappear quickly. Email us at, or call 757-773-0194.

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe  harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."  --Mark Twain

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Repeating elements, shapes, or colors can be powerful compositional tools. The repetition in this image is plain and simple  -  two blooms of similar size and shape at essentially the same angles. Camera position was important to align them fairly well. Also the shallow depth of field allowed the front flower to take center stage, with the other in a supporting roll.

The dark background helps to make the light flowers pop. This was shot in a hothouse with cultivated plants, so the lighting direction was from above and behind, showcasing the translucent petals. No light was falling on the background, enabling it to go quite dark.

The camera was tipped slightly so that the flowers are at an oblique angle, adding flow to the overall image.

Simple images can have a lot of visual impact. So try to eliminate extraneous elements and concentrate on the main elements that can create a strong image.

Shutter Speed 1/100 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 320.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8. Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light."  --Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Bottoms Up

The two recently concluded Outer Banks photo workshops were a huge success. Thanks to all the great participants for making it such a fantastic time. Everyone was pleasant, happy, eager, and produced wonderful images.

You will see examples of what they captured in the Awake The Light newsletters coming out over the next few weeks.

This is one of the few shots I took during the workshops. It was a wall of wine bottles behind a local restaurant. The bottles were held in place between wire "walls." This is a small section of the 8-foot long wall. Choosing how to frame the image was the main decision. The blue bottle was the key element, with the other colors surrounding it being more neutral in tone. I positioned the blue bottle in the lower left of the frame so that it could serve as the focal point of this image.

The image was optimized in Lightroom, and then was opened in Photoshop where I used a low opacity Poster Edges filter, along with the Oil Paint filter.

When using filters, or the options available in Topaz, Fractalius, or other software, a light touch is usually best. Use those techniques to enhance the image, but not to overpower it.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 106mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Appreciate good people. They are hard to come by."  anonymous

Monday, October 20, 2014

Remember This?

Remember this shot?  It was in the Blog several weeks ago with a question. You were asked if you liked this type of severe crop or not. A huge number of readers responded, and the opinions were all over the ballpark. Not surprising. Generally an unusual image results in all sorts of opinions.

The "vote" was about a 50-50 split between those who liked it and those who did not. Some people thought it should have been cropped even more, and others were disturbed by the missing head. Most people liked the wing position and the stream of water coming off the feet.

No question that this is an odd-ball image. Truthfully it is probably not one I would enter in competition or hang in my home. But it does serve to illustrate that, once again, the worth of an image is in the eye of the beholder.

Each of the opinions expressed were heartfelt and valid. I appreciate your input and the time you took to comment.

Comments on any and all images posted on the Blog and on Facebook are welcome. Feel free to weigh in at anytime, and both positive and negative comments are welcome.

Speaking of Facebook, please take a moment now to become a Fan and "Like" our Facebook page. We are getting closer to our target of 500 "Likes" on Facebook, and you can help put us over that goal! Go to our Facebook page here   Then "Like" us.


TODAY'S QUOTE: "Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here."  --Neil Gaiman

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Predicting Fog

Fog and mist are superb elements in landscape photographs. But how do you know when and where to look for it?

It is actually easier than you might think. When days are relatively warm but nights are cool, fog generally forms on water and in low lying areas. These conditions often occur in spring and fall. The trick is to arrive on the scene around sunrise, before the temperature rises and the fog dissipates.

This particular morning was chilly and breezy. The fog was blown around by the wind and the scene kept changing, with more or less of the mountains showing in the foggy conditions.    

In changing conditions, shoot as many images as you can since these sorts of scenes are rarely repeated on a different day. Each day is different, and you want to maximize your chances of getting those great shots when you can.

Exposures can be dicey because often fog or mist is brighter than it might appear to your eye. Your camera's meter should do a reasonably good job of nailing an adequate exposure, but be sure to check the histogram every few shots to make sure the whites are not too bright and the darks are not too underexposed.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Most consequential choices involve shades of gray, and some fog is often useful in getting things done."  -- Timothy Geithner

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Alaska - The Last Frontier

Glacier Bay, tucked up at the northern end of Alaska’s famous Inside Passage, is home to a whole host of wildlife species. Whales, sea otters, puffins, seals, sea lions, and more make this area home until late autumn.

I’m excited to be taking a group to Glacier Bay in August 2015.

Sea otters win the “cute factor” hands down. They seem to appeal to almost everyone. Their innocent faces, sleek skill in the water, boundless energy, and facile flippers make them a favorite.

Because they generally stay in one place for a reasonably long time, and seem so curious about the 2-legged creatures looking at them from the floating craft nearby, they are relatively easy to photograph. Shooting from our private chartered boat, our captain knows these waters inside and out, and can get us close enough to photograph them easily while not intruding on their feeding or social behavior.

Moving slowly in the water, our boat will stay in close proximity for as long as the otters tolerate our presence.

In these same waters are whales, calmly feeding and diving nearby. These magnificent animals seem to move effortlessly in spite of their large size, and will come and go within easy shooting range. We never chase the whales since that stresses them and disturbs their feeding. They generally feel safe around boats and will often come to us if we are quiet, making them easy to photograph.

In addition to amazing wildlife, we will spend a day cruising the length of Glacier Bay to view its massive but rapidly disappearing glaciers, with beautiful mountains as a backdrop. This is a photographer’s paradise, and we will have opportunities to capture images that others only dream about.

There are only 4 spaces left on this trip of a lifetime, so if you are interested, please contact us right away. Complete information is available here

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  --Mark Twain

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Reflections Part 3

Today's Part 3 of the series on reflections shows another beautiful lake scene in the Canadian Rockies, but the composition is very different from the previous blog shots.

At first glance, it is a simple shot with the horizon line in the center. Notice that unlike the earlier posts, no sky is shown in this image. That is because the trees and their reflection are the main subject. But look closer and analyze this image before reading further. Take your time. Look at it carefully.

Do you notice anything different between the real trees and their reflection?

The tops of the trees on the shoreline are essentially straight across. You could draw an almost straight line from left to right along tops of the trees. But now look at the reflection.

The line across the tops of the trees in the reflection is not at all a straight line. A line drawn from left to right along the reflection of the tops of the trees would have several dips and curves. Quite different from the real trees.

It is that curving line that adds interest and a little punch to the image. That sort of subtle difference can enhance an otherwise static composition. Keep your eyes open and your wits about you, even when photographing the simplest of subjects. A simple shot can be improved greatly by paying attention to the lines and shapes created by your subjects.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "When you've done something right, no one will know you did anything at all."  --anonymous  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Reflections Part 2

In Part 1 of this series there was a complete scene shown both above and in the reflection. In this image, the complete scene is shown in the reflection, but only a portion of it above. Why the difference?

In this scene, the sky, while nice, was much more appealing in the reflection than in actuality. So I chose to crop out most of the sky above the mountains, but let it show in the reflection. Often colors in the reflection tend to be more intense than in the scene itself, and that was the case here.

Because most of the sky is cropped out at the top, the horizon line is above center. Placement of the horizon line is purely a personal choice, based on the elements of a scene. Art experts say that a horizon line placed in the center provides a sense of calm, while a low or high horizon line creates visual tension. The more off-center the horizon is, the more tension is created by the image.

I included a small rectangular boulder in the lower left to act as an anchor point.

Because of the strong contrast – bright white clouds and very dark green trees – some optimization was needed in Lightroom to bring both extremes under control.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “We should be filled with awe and joy at what lies over the horizon. And we should be filled with absolute determination to make the most of it.”  --Bill Clinton

Monday, October 6, 2014

Reflections Part 1

I have returned from a wonderful month in the Canadian Rockies. While the trip is over, I still have many more images to share with you, complete with educational and creative information.

This is the first in a series on reflections in water. There are few things more calming and pristine than a lovely scene reflected in a crystal clear lake.

When working with reflections, you have several creative choices which will be covered in this series. You can show the entire reflection, as you see here, or you can show portions of reflections. Because the entire scene and its reflections were so perfect, and the clouds were nice, I chose to show the entire scene.

There were several options for vantage points, and I chose this one carefully. I wanted the curving shoreline to lead the eye into the scene, and I wanted more of the mountains to show than the trees.

Often in photos of reflections, the scene takes up about half the space and the reflection occupies the other half. That is not a rule, but sometimes it seems to work well, as in this image. 

Some scenes and landscapes seem to lend themselves to black-and-white, and that is certainly the case in the Canadian Rockies. The dark evergreens, the light snow, and the mirror reflection combine to create a simple but effective palette of whites, blacks, and grays. As I have mentioned in past blogs, Lightroom can be a good tool to use for creating excellent black-and-white images. By using the BW portion of the HSL box, and then using the color sliders to control the lightness or darkness of selected portions of the image, you can create an image with strong shades of gray and can control the range of blacks and whites.

There will be an in-depth, no-holds-barred Lightroom class offered March 16 – 20,  2015 in Richmond, Virginia. This class will be geared both for those new to Lightroom as well as seasoned veterans. Details are not yet posted on the website, but if you received the September newsletter you can read about it there. Or call 757-773-0194 or email for details.  

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4 set at 27mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The more I see, the less I know for sure.”  --John Lennon

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Golden Glow

We woke up early to be on location shortly after sunrise to photograph a huge male elk and his harem of about a dozen females. We found them right where we had seen them the previous afternoon. We also found a gaggle of photographers with huge lenses and not much sense, walking much too close to the animals and following them into the nearby brush as they grazed. With their long lenses there was no need to be so close, but their egos and their sense of entitlement seemed to overpower their common sense and respect for the animals.

I was glad when a ranger appeared and gave them a serious but polite lesson on safety around large animals. Of course they already knew all that they were told, but apparently did not think the law of the jungle applied to them.

In any case, we shot for about an hour and got some great images of the large male and several females. While the intrepid group of disrespectful photographers followed behind the group of elk as they moved on into thick woods, we decided to venture down the road in search of whatever we could find.

In less than 2 minutes we came upon two young male elk walking in a wide river just off the road. We arrived just as the sun was cresting above the hillside behind the river, creating yellow-orange highlights on the pristine blue water. The animals were silhouetted against the bright water. We were thrilled at the incredible sight, pulled safely off the road, grabbed our cameras and began shooting. One of the elk walked slowly forward, aligning himself with the brightest streak of sunlight on the water.

What a lucky find! It was the shot of a lifetime, one of many we have experienced on this trip. Had we stayed at our previous location, following the herd (of elk AND photographers) we would have missed seeing this beautiful scene.

Pure luck? Yes. But also a small amount of common sense. We knew we had captured good images of the herd at the first location, and did not need to hang around there any longer. We sought greener pastures, and we sure did find them!

Because the river was so brightly lit, I exposed for the water, allowing the elk to be silhouetted. His perfect profile makes clear what he is, and no detail is necessary on his fur or face.

So once again this blog is about good sense around animals, not following the crowd, and making your own luck as much as possible to find great shots when you do not expect them.

Shutter Speed 1/3200 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no farther than the crowd. Those who walk alone are likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.” Unknown (various attributions)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mellow Yellow

It was late morning and we had completed our search for wildlife in the early morning light. It was time to move on to look for scenics and water reflections. Or so we thought.

We stopped at one of the many exquisite mountain lakes in the Canadian Rockies where we knew some yellow-leaved aspens lined part of the shoreline. We took a few shots and then noticed some movement in the water. Through the binoculars we could see that there were several male and female loons. They were far away, so we got out our longest lenses, set up the tripods and began to shoot.

As the loons moved around the lake, diving for fish and swimming on the surface, they eventually swam toward an area where the yellow aspens were reflected in the water. This was a shot of a lifetime! In this large lake there were many evergreens reflected in the water, but just a small area where the aspens, in peak fall color, were reflected. How lucky that the loons swam into that area, just when we happened to be there.

The yellow was a good backdrop for the loon’s neutral color and gave great punch to this image.

When we arrived at the lake we thought we were done with wildlife for the day, but clearly Mother Nature had other plans. Being flexible and open to all opportunities is a good philosophy to follow when photographing in any natural environment. You just never know what will present itself around the next bend.

Shutter Speed 1/3200 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with external 2x extender for an effective focal length of 800mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity."  --Oprah Winfrey

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sunset Surprise

When deciding to photograph sunset, you never know how it is going to go. Sure, you can check the timing and choose a location, and you can make an educated guess regarding color (or lack thereof) based on clouds and weather conditions. But in truth, Mother Nature has an infinite bag of tricks and you never know which one she will spring on you at the last minute.

This sunset is a great example of the unexpected. We had hoped for great color and classic cloud shapes. What we got was subtle color, unusual clouds, and an odd, long, low-hanging cloud that reflected the peachy-pink sunset.

Use of a wide-angle lens enhanced this sunset immensely. The extreme wide-angle view brings your eye into the picture from the top and sides, and directs you to the long, low line of the colorful cloud, the strongest warm tone in the image.

The line of mountains acts as a base. While often mountains are the main attraction in an image, in this case, they just support the very brief drama played out in the sky above.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 23mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE:  "There's nothing like a beautiful sunset to end a healthy day."  --Rachel Boston

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Sometimes it is fun to attribute human characteristics to animals or flowers. That is what happened when I saw this group of four flowers blooming outside a hotel in the Canadian Rockies. The three on the right seemed to have turned their backs to the one on the left, hence the title “Snubbed.”

Once I saw the lineup of flowers, it was necessary to position the camera to isolate them from the rest of the nearby blooms, and then to control the background. Because part of the background was in sunlight and part was in shadow, I had three choices  -  either shoot from a low position so that the sunlit area filled the background, shoot from a higher position so that the shadowed area filled the background, or split the difference and make the background partly sunlit and partly shaded. I shot from all three angles and then chose my favorite after I downloaded and could look at them on the computer screen.

As you can see, I chose the view with a partly sunlit and partly shadowed background. In all cases I used a shallow depth of field in order to blur the background.

I find I have the most success when I shoot from a variety of angles and vantage points. Sometimes it is easier to see which view is better once you see the images on your computer screen, and it is nice to have choices after a day of shooting. So don’t lock yourself in to just one option. Take your time, shoot a lot of images, and make final decisions later.

Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 6D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time. We haven't time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time."  --Georgia O'Keeffe

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Once In A Lifetime

I feel very fortunate to be spending the month of September in the Canadian Rockies on a photographic sojourn. My good friend and superb photographer CL is traveling for several months in the west, and invited me to join her for part of the time. It seems that around nearly every bend in the road we find something to photograph.

We were traveling along the Icefields Parkway in the northern reaches of Banff National Park when we saw several people parked along the side of the road near a bridge. In most places that is a sign that wildlife is nearby. We pulled over safely onto a wide shoulder, grabbed our cameras and got out to take a look. As we walked back to the bridge, which spanned a deep river gorge with a waterfall and a rocky, fast-moving stream, we saw an amazing scene of animal behavior play out. Here is the overall scene on the right.
Narrow but dangerous chasm. Note the rock marked.

We saw a line of about 8 female bighorn sheep, some with young, walk out from under the bridge and up the sheer, rocky sides of the gorge, looking for a way to cross the raging torrent safely. It was going to take a hefty leap for them to get across the chasm. The alpha female walked slowly across, then up and down, the steep cliff face to get a better view. She appeared to be seeking the narrowest section of the chasm, and a jumping off point that was higher than the potential landing spot on the other side. She seemed to see a way across, stood still for awhile, appeared to study the options,
Alpha female changed her mind,turned around.
but then apparently thought better of it and turned away from the gorge.

All the other sheep stood patiently in line, obviously waiting and watching to see what the alpha female would do.

There was more reconnoitering, more walking along the cliff face. It is miraculous how these animals can stand on and climb up apparently sheer rock. The tiniest ledge, just wide enough for their hooves, is all they need. Their feet are so well-adapted that they can effortlessly traverse seemingly impossible places.

This whole decision-making process took what seemed like a long time, perhaps five minutes or more. All the while, the increasingly large group of human onlookers watched in awe and some trepidation, fearful of the possible outcome.

Finally, with no warning and no sound, the lead female effortlessly bounded from a standing position,
The start of the leap.
vaulted across the chasm, and landed safely on the other side. Her eyes looked straight ahead, and she calmly walked forward after her soft and controlled landing.
Successful leap.

The  others followed her lead, and one at a time each bounded just as effortlessly and safely across. Once the last one had successfully leapt across the chasm,
Safe landing.
the 2-legged onlookers cheered,  applauded, and breathed a sigh of relief. We knew we had witnessed a potentially dangerous situation for the sheep, and all came through it safely, and with style and grace. What a privilege to have watched such a scene.


Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective length of 280mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: "The continued existence of wildlife and wilderness is important to the quality of life of humans."  --Jim Fowler 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

With A Little Bit Of Luck

They say timing is everything, and that seems to be true with nature and wildlife photography. An early autumn snowfall coated the mountaintops and dusted the huge evergreen trees in the Canadian Rockies. We could never have predicted being here for this surprise storm, but oh how lucky we were.

One of many treats to being here is the color of the water in lakes and streams. The unmistakable blue-green of glacial waters adds a lovely almost caribbean look to the scenery. The surreal water color against the freshly snow-covered trees creates a very simple but strong image.

The water creates a rectangular base to the overall image, complemented by the vaulting height of the vertical trees lined up like soldiers, one row behind the other.

Don’t shy away from simple compositions. If you can incorporate color, shape, and line, even the simplest of arrangements can make a pleasing image.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood."  --Andy Goldsworthy

Sunday, September 14, 2014

As Good As It Gets

Some days Mother Nature presents you with unexpected gifts. This was one of those days. An early autumn snow and bitterly cold temperatures hit the Canadian Rockies, bringing great photographic conditions.

There was just enough snow to dust the tall evergreen trees and to define the ridges and valleys of the high peaks. The swirling clouds added the final dramatic touch.

With all the elements there, it was just a question of finding a good composition. The oblique angle of the near mountain became the main graphic element, punctuated by the pointed peak behind it, and balanced by the rounded mountain on the right side of the image. The vertical trees in the foreground added a touch of life and scale to the scene.

This image worked better as a black-and-white rather than color. Black-and-white allows the subtle tonalities to show, and provides a timeless look. It is reminiscent in some ways of images made by Ansel Adams and other masters of black-and-white. Not that I am in their league by any means, but it is a nice look to emulate when possible.

Stripping away the color allows you to see texture and detail more clearly. While color is great in many circumstances, when you remove color, a completely different image greets you. Your mind no longer has to process the color information and you can concentrate more fully on the shapes, tonal variations, sizes, and all the other elements that combine to make up the image.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 98mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Black and white always looks modern."  --Karl Lagerfeld