Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter At The Beach

Even here at the normally moderate coast of North Carolina, January has been brutal and frigid. We have experienced two bouts of a Polar Vortex that has brought single digit temperatures and unusual snowfall.

For those who live in New England, or the mountainous west, our temperatures and snow are normal and barely deserve a notice. But here, at what is a beach resort in the summer, and a benign place to be in the winter, this has been an exciting and unique winter so far.

The latest storm brought 6 inches of snow to this area, where snowplows are an unusual sight, and their drivers are more experienced at removing sand from the roadways rather than the white stuff.

Venturing out yesterday morning in an attempt to get some unique photographs was an exercise in futility. The roads were barely drivable, there was no place to safely pull off to get a few photos, and the normally easily accessible beach parking lots were impassable. I finally found one parking area that looked promising. I pulled in and went in search of something interesting to photograph. Other than the rarely seen snow, there was nothing photogenic that I could find.  I gave up and headed back to my car, only to find that it would not start. It is relatively new and has never given me any problem at all, so it was a shock that my normally reliable chariot would not fire up

After a few choice words that I will not share with you, I called a friend with 4-wheel drive to come rescue me. He arrived with jumper cables and in an instant my car sprang to life. After a trip to a local repair shop for a diagnosis, it was determined that the battery did indeed have a terminal (no pun intended!) illness, and it was replaced.

So with a reliable vehicle once again, I headed out to look for more promising areas. Ended up finding this unique scene on the sound (what is called a bay in other parts of the country).

These mini icebergs were floating in the open water surrounded by a layer of ice. What looks like sand in the image is actually patches of ice.  The reflection of blue sky and a glint of sunlight adds some brightness and pizzazz to this simple scene.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The first fall of snow is … a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?"  J.B. Priestley 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sun And Moon

When the full moon sets at the same time that the sun rises, it is breathtaking. It was lucky timing that this occurred while we were in the Great Teton National Park. What a spectacular setting for this natural cosmic wonder.

When photographing the moon, especially when rising or setting, a shutter speed of no slower than 1/30 sec. is necessary. The movement of the moon is relatively rapid as it nears the horizon and if you use a longer shutter speed the moon will appear either oblong or blurred because of its movement.

The other thing to be aware of when photographing a full moon is its brightness. That was not a problem for this shot since there was already a lot of light in the sky, but when the sky is darker, and especially when photographing moonrise, the moon is generally much brighter than the surrounding sky and is easily overexposed.

Do not be surprised to see the “blinkies” on your histogram indicating an overexposure of the moon. Exposure compensation of one or two stops will help, but you then have to be careful not to underexpose the sky and foreground. Taking multiple shots at different exposures, and then combining the best one for the overall scene with the best exposure of the moon is a good solution. This can be done in Elements or Photoshop. HDR can also work, but remember that the moon may be in a slightly different location on each shot, since its movement is so rapid.

Shutter Speed 1/30 sec.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set to 26mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “For most people, we often marvel at the beauty of a sunrise or the magnificence of a full moon, but it is impossible to fathom the magnitude of the universe that surrounds us.”  --Richard H. Baker

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Be Bold

When all else fails, crop. Cropping can be a very powerful creative tool. While we all want to get the shot perfectly lined up in the camera before we click the shutter, there are times when that does not happen.

Sometimes we cannot get close enough to get the shot we really want, either because of the focal length of the lens, or because we just did not see all the possibilities when we took the shot. This was a case of wrong lens choice.

I had only one lens with me (the others had been left in my car) and this was the closest I could get to the flamingo at the time.
I knew I wanted tighter shots but I could not get them in this situation. At the time I did not think of such an extreme crop, but when I looked at the image on the computer screen later, I began to try different crops.

After several attempts, the extreme crop above was the view that I liked best. So never be afraid to try cropping images that you feel are weak, or need to be "zoomed in" on once you see the heart of the image.

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: " Fortune favors the bold."  -  Virgil

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Stop And Smell The Flowers

Perspective is a funny thing. Because in photography we represent our three-dimensional world in a two-dimensional form like a print or on a computer screen, the relationship between subjects in an image can be distorted.

This shot of a brown bear in Alaska is a good example. While at first glance it might appear that the bear is sniffing the white flowers, in reality his head is about a foot or two in front of the plant.

It was just coincidence that I happened to trip the shutter when his head overlapped the flowers and created this illusion. I had been shooting him constantly as he walked along the grassy edge near the water and this is one in a series of images. 

It is not always easy to keep the three-dimensional versus two-dimensional representation in mind when photographing, but it is good to consider it when you can. Sometimes, as in this case, you will not see it until you view the image on a flat surface like your computer screen.

The other thing to keep in mind about dimensionality is that it is beneficial to attempt to provide a three-dimensional look to all your images. This is generally accomplished with good use of natural light and using depth of field to your advantage. If you do not understand depth of field, send an email to me at with “Depth of Field” in the subject line, and I will devote a future blog to that very important subject. For now just know that it is a very powerful tool in the quest to portray our three-dimensional world.  

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L with 1.4x telextender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”  -- John Lubbock

Monday, January 27, 2014

Spring Wild Songbirds Photo Workshop

There is only one opening left in the exciting Wild Songbirds Photo Workshop scheduled for April 6 – 8.  So now is the time to grab that last spot.

The workshop will be held at an incredibly photographer friendly location in central North Carolina. We will spend our mornings and afternoons in a comfortable, fully-enclosed blind with birds literally just a few feet away.  Sitting in comfortable chairs with our lenses aimed out the large openings, we will be able to shoot a wide variety of wild songbirds who are attracted to the area by copious amounts of birdseed and other bird food hidden in the nearby trees and bushes.

All the spring songbirds will have returned to this area, and we should see dozens of different species up close and personal, including woodpeckers, goldfinches, bluebirds, chickadees, nuthatches, wrens, towhees, grosbeaks, starlings, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, warblers, finches, kinglets, juncos, and more.

With any luck, we might also be treated to a pair of nesting American Wood Ducks on the nearby pond.

Don’t be concerned if you do not own a long lens. These birds are close enough that a 200mm or 300mm lens is just fine. Of course longer lenses are always useful, but not entirely necessary.

In addition to group and personalized instruction, always a part of all Awake The Light Workshops, a delicious home-cooked lunch is included each day, and our mid-day break will include image critiques. That will enable you to see what you shot in the morning and make any necessary changes for the afternoon shooting session.

And no having to haul your camera gear long distances over hill and dale.  The parking area is right next to the blind.

It doesn’t get any better than this! Wild songbirds close and all around you, easy logistics, great lunches, and small group size all combine to make this a unique and exciting workshop.

Call us at 757-773-0194 or email  right away to grab this last spot!

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”  --Charles Lindbergh

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Water Reflections (by guest blogger George McLennan)

Look to the water for endless possibilities for reflected images. Reflections are fun because you can capture great images under a wide range of conditions. Any sort of water will do – streams, fountains, canals, ponds, lakes, birdbaths, and puddles after a rain. There are great shots to be found at any time of the day under any kind of light – early morning, later afternoon, direct sun, open shade, cloudy or sunny.

To get a smooth-as-glass surface go out in the early morning before the breeze comes up. But don’t stop there. Ripples and moving water can lend a very nice abstract effect. Dusk is another good time because lights start to come on, which can add a nice touch to the reflection.

Reflections can be bold, bright and colorful like the first image above. Or can be more realistic and subtle like the second image above.

The first image above shows reflections from brightly colored kayaks on rippled water. This abstract pattern was taken mid-day under direct sun. Like many abstract reflections this one benefits from a few adjustments in Lightroom to increase contrast and bring out the color: Blacks at -40; Clarity at +30; Vibrance at +55. Clearly these are heavy handed adjustments, but after all this is an abstract. You will have to experiment with your own shots to get the look to your satisfaction.

The second image was taken near a caretaker’s cabin along the C&O Canal. It is near dusk and the outdoor lights have just come on. My Lightroom adjustments were much more subtle: Blacks at -20; Clarity at +24; Vibrance at +15.

Most water reflection shots can be made with a hand-held camera since much of the time the shutter will need to be fast enough to stop the water from moving.

TECHNICAL DATA (first image)
Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/6.3.  ISO 200.
Lens: Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 set to 70mm.  Camera: Nikon D40X.  Handheld.

TECHNICAL DATA (second image)
Shutter Speed 1/80 sec.  Aperture f/4.5.  ISO 100.
Lens: Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 set to 55mm.  Camera: Nikon D40X.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Without reflection we go blindly on our way, and [fail] to achieve anything useful.”  --Margaret J. Wheatley

 George McLennan bio:
I am a photographer residing in Falls Church, Virginia. I have been taking pictures since my parents gave me a camera when I was 12, but it has only been the past several years that photography has become a passion more than a casual hobby. I began working in film, of course, but turned exclusively to digital several years ago and find the digital world much more to my liking.

While my photographic interests vary, most of my work is about landscapes and nature. I take great delight in nature’s details and often find those details provide great abstract images. Sometimes these images are abstract on their own. Sometimes I create the abstract after the shot is taken.

One of my specialties is photography for artists and collectors that need high quality images for juried competitions, insurance records and catalogs. I have served a number of fiber artists, fashion designers, painters and sculptors.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Wonderful Photo Workshop

The Captive Bird Workshop ended yesterday, and it was a wonderful week. There were a dozen happy campers in attendance who rocked and rolled with the weather. We had over an inch of snow in an area that has not seen snow in 10 years, and temperatures in teens.

But in spite of the weather, the birds were exactly as they should have been.  Sporting breeding plumage and exhibiting mating behavior, they cavorted for our cameras and everyone got exquisite images.

The variety of beautiful images was awe-inspiring, and each participant exhibited a unique and polished style. There were close-up portraits, full body shots, abstracts of feathers, tender moments, and knock-down drag-out fights.

Everyone came with an open mind and was stretched during the workshop. They got in touch with their creative sides, while learning new techniques and new methods of working.

Thank you one and all for making it such a spectacular workshop. Next month’s Awake The Light newsletter will highlight some of the great shots that participants created during the week. Watch for it during the first week in February. If you do not already receive the free monthly e-newsletter, just send an email to with the word YES in the subject line and we will start your free subscription. Be assured that we never share or sell your information, and you may easily unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to participate in any Awake The Light workshops, you can see everything coming up in 2014 here    

Today's shot, the back end of a male Mandarin Duck, represents the successful conclusion of this great workshop.

[I would like to thank the owners and staff of Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, NC,  the location of this workshop, for going above and beyond in accommodating us during the challenging weather conditions. They opened the park just for us after the unexpected snowstorm and bitterly cold temperatures. They quickly and cheerfully cleared away the snow from steps and walkways, opened the beautiful new "Landing Zone" enclosure just for us, allowed us full and unlimited access to their Visitor Center facilities so we could warm up, and through it all were always smiling, engaging, and welcoming. Many thanks to Mike, Ali, Brent, Claudia, JoAnn, Kimberley, and the entire staff for helping to make this workshop so successful.] 

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4 IS with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberly Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The photographer…must have…something of the receptiveness of the child who looks at the world for the first time….”  --Bill Brandt

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Curves, Curls, and Customization

Simple subjects and simple compositions can result in some of the most powerful images. This single lotus leaf at a small pond is a good example. The simplicity of the subject is enhanced even further by converting it to black-and-white.

The leaf was angled by tipping the camera slightly. Oblique angles or diagonals generally add interest or visual tension in any art form, and if your subject is straight up and down, a simple tip of the camera can enhance the most basic of subjects.

A variety of shapes and textures can also add visual interest to a simple image. This leaf has nice curves at the edges, straight lines in the veins radiating from the unseen center of the leaf, and branching veins visible on the underside.

The background is darker than the leaf with minimal detail, allowing the leaf to take center stage. A busy background would have detracted from the power of the main subject.

The conversion to black and white is successful largely because of the difference in tone between the top of the leaf and its underside. The lighter green of the underside becomes a very light gray in this version, and the darker front of the leaf becomes a much darker gray. Those tones are enhanced by the very dark background.

This entire conversion to black-and-white was done in Lightroom. There are several different ways to convert a color image to black-and-white. My personal favorite is Lightroom since it provides quick and easy options and controls. There are pre-sets that come standard with the software, and there are also sliders that you can control individually to get the exact range of tones you want. This image was done by using the sliders, which enabled me to make some areas darker and other areas lighter. Control and customization are the key elements that allow you to make rich, deep, black-and-white images.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/5.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see.”  --Dorothea Lange

[There are still some spaces available in the upcoming Lightroom Unleashed workshop to be held in March in Richmond, Virginia. Information here  The deadline for the special discounted rate has been extended to January 30.] 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Look Deeper

Wherever you are, whatever you are photographing, look beyond the obvious. While we all want to get that perfect shot of a beautiful scene, landmark, animal, or bird, once you have photographed the subject in the traditional ways, it is time to go deeper.

Look beyond the surface, get past the literal, and look for something more representational or abstract. Look for the unusual. All approaches are valid, and all can result in lovely and meaningful images.

It is easier to examine a subject more deeply when photographing with like-minded people. Other photographers will understand your desire to stay at the location a few minutes longer, and will not laugh at you when you have to contort yourself into a less-than-flattering position to get the shot you want. Of course there is no guarantee that someone will not photograph you in this odd position, but that is the chance you take when traveling with a group of photographers!

If you are a member of a camera club, go on their field trips. You will enjoy the camaraderie. If you want to increase your skills and your creativity, if you want to learn more about yourself and your camera, consider taking a photo workshop. Spending several days in a row immersed in photography will hone your skills faster than anything else. And the instructor is there to answer questions and provide some guidance.

This close-up shot of the back of a duck, shot from overhead, becomes an abstract of feathers. We do not know what species this is, and it does not matter. All that matters are the shapes, textures, and colors that work together to form an unusual image.

Normally one does not get this view of a duck. But at this week’s Captive Bird Workshop it is possible to stand securely on a wooden deck and shoot straight down on birds swimming below.

So look for the unusual, allow yourself to see things with fresh eyes, try extreme close-ups when possible, do all you can to capture the world around you from a new and different perspective.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “ There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.”  --Lemony Snicket

Monday, January 20, 2014

Good Hair Day

Mother Nature is amazing in her depth and variety of species. In waterfowl alone, the number of variations, color combinations, sizes, migration habits, and body shapes boggle the mind.

The Awake The Light Captive Bird Workshop starts today, and we will be privileged to photograph many exotic species from around the world. Some are endangered and all are beautiful. This dapper guy is a Smew, a member of the merganser family. Sporting an impressive top-knot, he is out to woo the ladies. This small diving duck is found mainly in Eurasia, and we rarely see one in this country.

When photographing ducks and geese, you have to be prepared for almost anything. In order to get sharp images it is best to set your camera at a fast shutter speed of 1/500 sec or faster. That way you will be able to capture both a quiet moment like this one, or rapid wing beats or an unexpected take-off which can occur with little warning. 

In order to set your camera to a fast shutter speed, it is necessary to use an ISO of 400 or faster. Generally I prefer to set the ISO no higher than 800, although I will go to ISO 1600 or higher if absolutely necessary when the light level is very low. The higher the ISO, the more noise (a grainy look) is created. Most digital cameras can handle noise fairly well at ISO 800 or less. Most image optimization software like Lightroom will enable you to reduce the appearance of noise.

There are two reasons why you should NEVER use the noise reduction function in your camera:  First, it slows everything down and prevents you from taking the next shot until the noise reduction process has been completed. And second, it takes the control away from you to determine how much noise should be removed. If you use image optimization software in post-production, YOU have control over how much noise to remove. Since noise reduction is essentially the blurring of pixels, you want to reduce noise only as much as is needed and not one bit more. If the camera is allowed to use its noise reduction function, it can often remove too much noise resulting in an image that looks mushy and not tack sharp.  

To maximize your chances of getting good shots, take your time to observe behavior when you first arrive at the location. Wind direction will play a role in how birds will take off  -  they usually take off into the wind.  Also, watch for clues as to when they might raise their chests out of the water and flap their wings. Within a few minutes you will be able to predict when this will happen. Generally the most active individuals will provide the best opportunities for some action shots.

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 268mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.”  --Michael Caine

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Less Is More (by guest blogger Stan Collyer



I confess--I used to hate black and white photographs.  Okay, hate is too strong a word, but B&W images never did much for me.  I used to view them as throwbacks to earlier times when photographers didn’t have any other choice—after all, why would you deliberately throw away all that information?  But three years ago I joined a camera club that happens to have a separate competition category for B&W prints.  That’s all it took.  My competitive juices started flowing, and I realized I had to learn more, and think more critically, about this subject.  The result:  I’ve grown as a photographer and had fun doing it.  Now I try to ask myself whether color is actually contributing anything to an image, or whether it is a distraction by masking the image’s best qualities.

Here is an example of how a boring photo can be improved by removing the color.  Mount Kirkjufell and the nearby waterfalls are well-known landmarks in southwestern Iceland.  We were there at midday when the shadows were harsh, but at least the clouds were pretty.  I wanted to create a smooth effect in the waterfalls, so I used a 6 stop neutral density filter which allowed me to make a longer exposure. I thought the resulting image had promise, but it was dull and lifeless, and no amount of color enhancement improved it much.  But converting to B&W helped to emphasize the interesting textures in the scene.

There are several specialized software programs for converting photos to B&W.  In this case I used Topaz B&W Effects 2, but I’ve found that using the capabilities of Lightroom are often all I need.  In the color adjustments section of the Develop module (HSL/Color/B&W), select B&W and then play with the eight color sliders until you get the look you want.  You can also start by choosing one of the B&W presets (on the left side of the Develop module), and then using the sliders to tweak it.  I also used the adjustment brush to select and enhance certain features (such as the little island on the bottom left), in order to bring out detail in areas that were in deep shadow.  It’s amazing how much structure you can often recover in Lightroom—but only if you start with a RAW image.

Shutter Speed 1.6 seconds.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L set to 16mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod.

TODAY’S QUOTE:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”  --Miss Piggy

Stan Collyer bio:
Stan has dabbled in photography since he got his first Kodak Brownie at age eight.  Since that was a very long time ago, he should have been famous by now.  But work and family responsibilities took priority, and it’s only been recently that he’s had the time to devote to his hobby.  Two events have made all the difference to him.  The first is the digital revolution, which has enabled him to throw away his poor pictures without feeling bad about all the money he wasted.  The second was his decision to join two camera clubs, which has motivated him to get out and shoot more, and to buy more expensive stuff.

Stan enjoys many kinds of photography—especially nature, travel, macro, abstracts, architecture, and street photography.  One of the many things he enjoys about it is the need to combine technical and artistic skills to create a successful image.  This forces him to use both sides of his brain for a change.  He is a dedicated Canon shooter, and currently uses a 7D and a 5D Mk III, both of which are smarter than he is.  He doesn’t yet have a proper website, but many of his recent images can be found on Flickr, at       

Stan has advanced degrees in experimental psychology, and used to be an R&D manager with the U.S. Office of Naval Research.  He lives in Maryland with Linda, his wife and best friend.  They enjoy traveling, and recently spent two spectacular weeks in Alaska on a photo tour with Awake the Light.  He has also organized field trips with his camera club to attend Awake the Light workshops.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Flying High

When the action is slow, or the scene unexciting, try something a little different. One of the easiest ways to introduce a unique feel to an image is to use a slower than normal shutter speed. It will help to blur motion or create movement or shapes that add a whole new dimension to an image.

This was a quiet morning at the waterfront in Homer, Alaska. A few gulls were bobbing around, a sea otter or two were far offshore, but not much exciting was going on. I had my camera on a tripod, and was standing around looking for something interesting to shoot. There was nothing that I could see.

Then a few of the gulls became restless and decided it was time to stretch their wings a bit. So I decided to play with a slow shutter speed to see what would be recorded. When using this technique, you never know what you will get. The best approach is to shoot a lot and hope for the best.

I did exactly that. I shot many that were, shall we say, quite bad. Awful in fact. But this one had some interest. The bird in flight was in a good spot. It was over an area of water with no other birds, and was in front of the dark dock. I lucked out that its wing position was good, and the other birds seemed to be looking in its direction.

I experimented with a variety of shutter speeds because with moving subjects, you never know what length of time will be best. Generally I try shutter speeds ranging from ½ second up to several seconds. Sometimes a longer exposure makes things too mushy, but at other times it is just right. For this shot a shutter speed of ½ second was the one I liked best.

The colors also help make this image work. The water is one of my favorite colors, and it, along with the brownish dock, make a nice backdrop for the white and gray seagulls.

Shutter Speed ½ sec.  Aperture f/45.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L with 1.4 extender for a focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you.”  --Deepak Chopra

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hidden Beauty



The drama of a clearing storm can help create stunning landscape photographs. This was a lucky catch at the Grand Teton National Park. Conditions were perfect. Heavy gray clouds above, billowing clouds behind the mountains, and a break in the cloud cover revealing deep blue sky. And the sun was in the perfect position to create strong rays coming down in front of the peaks.

The contrast was extreme and it was a little dicey finding the right exposure for the bright areas as well as all the dark areas. You might think that HDR would be useful here, but for now it is one of my least favorite ways of working with an image. I am too much of a control freak to allow the camera or HDR software to do the work for me.  The histogram looked fine, but as you can see in the Before image,
the whites appear to be blown out and the darks have no detail. Also, there is very little color.

As always, Lightroom was able to pull out all the detail needed to make this a more pleasing image.  By reducing the Highlights and increasing the Shadows, an entirely different image emerged. The addition of a little Vibrance improved the overall color. The After version is much closer to what the scene looked like.

This is a great example of an image with a good histogram  -  all the tones are within the confines of the histogram box – that still needed a great deal of help with image optimization software. All too often you might finish up a day of shooting, download your images, and are very disappointed with the results. Usually all the information is there, it just needs to be “developed” and brought out with Lightroom.

So when you see what appears to be an unsuccessful image, don’t despair. Have a go at it with Lightroom, or other image optimization software of your choice, and see what hidden beauty likes within the image.

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set to 17mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “ Nature is often hidden, sometimes overcome, seldom extinguished.”  --Francis Bacon 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Not Camera Shy

Ever wanted to be this up close and personal with butterflies? These butterflies love the camera, are eager to pose and hold their positions so you can get great shots.

Apparently this one wanted to see what this camera lens was all about, and how to make the most of it.

This was shot at my favorite place to photograph tropical butterflies in a protected indoor environment  -  the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. They have created a huge butterfly house, photographer friendly, with large windows for beautiful light all day long.

Notice the nice light on the head and body in this “grab shot.” There is hardly a bad place to shoot in this facility. At almost every turn there is a gorgeous butterfly waiting to be photographed.  And because they are so acclimated to the environment and the people, it is easy to shoot them with a macro lens. The beauty of using a macro lens is that you can focus very close to the butterfly, as well as blur the background to create nice soft tones.

This was shot with a large aperture for shallow depth of field. I focused on the head and body, allowing the wings and lens hood to be softly out of focus. 

Of course you can also use a smaller aperture for greater depth of field when you want the entire body, wings and antennae to be sharp. The macro lens provides great flexibility. Non-macro lenses can also work well.

This beautiful specimen was just one of many flying freely in this spectacular glass buildinge. The live plants make wonderfully natural-looking backgrounds, and because they are plants that the butterflies love, these delicate creatures are always in easy-to-shoot locations.

Open for only a few months each year, the gardens will be the location of an Awake The Light photo workshop in late May. If you like butterflies, and want to learn how to get great shots, this is the workshop for you. You can find the details here

Shutter Speed 1/100 sec.  Aperture f/3.2.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.  Distance from subject approximately 18  inches.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”  --Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Here's Lookin' At You, Kid

When photographing any subject, get the beauty shots, the basic shots, the expected shots, but also look for something different. Try going in really close, or try an unusual angle. Push the envelope, stretch your creativity, go beyond the expected.

Sometimes an unusual approach does not happen when you are actually shooting. Sometimes you do not see all the options until much later, after you have downloaded the image onto your computer. There is something about seeing an image on the big screen that can tap into a different way of seeing the subject.

That is exactly what happened with this image. This is what was shot,
before cropping
a more typical view of this captive silver wood duck. After viewing it on the computer screen I thought a very tight, head-on view would be powerful, and perhaps a little comical as well. So after extensive cropping, the close-up version was born.

With today’s fine cameras and lenses, image quality will generally hold up even with extensive cropping, IF exposure and focus are good. Sometimes cropping is necessary simply because you do not have a long enough lens to come in as tightly as you would like. At other times, as with this image, cropping can eliminate extraneous information and bring the viewer into the heart of the image. There is no shame in cropping. While you always want to do your best to frame the shot in the camera at the time of exposure, there are times when cropping later can turn a so-so image into a spectacular one.

So go back through some of your old images and look at them from a different perspective. Examine them to see if tight cropping can improve the original image. It will not work on all images, but you will find some that will thrill you once you experiment a little.  

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f.5.6L.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “You’ve got to push yourself harder. You’ve got to start looking for pictures nobody else could take. You’ve got to take the tools you have and probe deeper.”  --William Albert Allard 

Monday, January 13, 2014

And The Winner Is.......

Thanks to all who entered the guessing game of last week’s abstract image. There were many entrants, and guesses as to what the subject actually was were wide ranging.

While the majority thought it was a flower, perhaps a rose or magnolia or cyclamen, others thought it was part of a shell, or a piece of fabric like suede or a bedsheet.
Some especially creative guesses were hot chocolate being stirred, a leg under a sheet, an arm or the edge of a sleeve, and icing on a cupcake.

Since it was stated at the beginning that everyone had an equal chance of winning, regardless of whether they correctly identified the subject or not, all entrants were assigned a number and each number was tossed into a big bowl and the winner was drawn at random.

So without further ado, the winner is………….. Wanda Krack! Wanda guessed it was a flower petal. Congratulations, Wanda! The prize is a $25 Gift Certificate from Hunt's Photo and Video  

I know you are eager to know what it actually was. Was it hot chocolate being stirred? No. Was it a shell? No. Was it icing? No.  (Had it been icing it probably would have been eaten before the first shot was ever taken!) No, it was none of the above. It was (drum roll, please) a magnolia blossom.

It was taken in very soft light at a botanical gardens. The velvet-y smoothness of magnolia flowers make them very appealing photographic subjects.

To give you something fresh to look at today, there is another abstract as the main image above. As with all abstracts, the actual subject is unimportant. Abstracts serve as a creative outlet, they engage the mind, and they excite the eye.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS with 1.4x extender set at 208mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.  Distance from subject approximately 10 feet.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “In every landscape should reside jewels of abstract art waiting to be discovered.”  --Melissa Brown