Sunday, June 29, 2014

In A Fog? Lightroom To The Rescue



Fog and mist can create a soft moodiness in a shot. But sometimes it can be so bright, or so prevalent that it interferes with seeing all the detail that is in the image. You don't want to remove all the mist, but you do want to cut through some of it in order to see all the detail that is behind it.

Compare these two versions of the same image. The BEFORE image is the raw image as it came out of the camera, and the AFTER image shows a quick fix in Lightroom. The differences are subtle but clearly there. And subtlety is what you want on a foggy or misty day.

In the BEFORE image you can see some very bright white areas in the mist, but in the AFTER image they have been toned down so that more of the detail in the receding background is more apparent.

This was done with the Highlights slider in Lightroom 5. Both the Highlights and Shadows sliders are very powerful tools, and often can correct many of the issues in an image. I generally use these two sliders first, before deciding whether moving the Whites and Blacks sliders is even necessary.

Don't be afraid to move the Shadows and Highlights sliders all the way to 100 if necessary. The software is so powerful yet so subtle that even at that extreme setting the image looks fine. Of course you will not need to go to the limit on every image, but when it is needed, those sliders can be your best friends.

Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L + 1.4X extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Cross the meadow and the stream, and listen as the peaceful water brings peace upon your soul."  --Maximillian Degenerez

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Backlight is one of my favorite types of lighting. It is exactly what it says it is - the light comes from behind the subject. As you can see in this image, backlight provides a rim of light along the edges of the subject, adding a bright accent.

Because the light comes from behind, it is easy to underexpose the front of the subject since it is in shadow. Be sure to check your histogram to make sure you have enough exposure on the front side, while not overexposing the highlights from the backlighting. It is a delicate balance, and often post-optimization software is needed to tone down the highlights and/or bring up some detail in the shadows.

Backlight is easiest to find early and late in the day when the sun is lower in the sky. Once you become more experienced at finding it, you will be able to find it in some places, like at the edges of forested areas, even during the middle of the day

Some added attractive features of this image are the soft circles of light green in the background. They are sunlit out of focus leaves. I was lucky that the bird's head happened to be in front of a darker section of background. When shooting any kind of wildlife, especially birds which move quickly, it is not always possible to have complete control over the background. Shallow depth of field is a great benefit, since it throws the background elements out of focus, especially with long lenses.

When working with backlight, it is imperative that you use a lens hood. In fact I recommend using one in all lighting conditions since it keeps stray light from striking the front of your lens, causing flare or loss of contrast. If your lenses did not come supplied with a lens hood, you can find them easily from online retailers like Hunts Photo and Video. To get the proper hood for your particular lenses, email Alan at   or call him at 781-662-8822, press 1 for sales and ask for Alan. Tell him you are a client of Awake The Light for special treatment.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2x extender for an effective focal length of 630mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is not only fine feathers that make fine birds."  --Aesop

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Skimming The Surface

This beautiful skimmer was searching these calm pond waters for food. They are amazing birds who fly close to the water and then dip the bottom half of their bill just below the surface to scoop up food. They fly quickly, even with their bills half submerged in the water, and can be tough to track.

I was lucky on this calm summer morning that he chose to ply the waters fairly close to the edge of the pond, and I could get some good shots. Even so, to get this shot it took a long lens set at 784mm, AND what you see above is cropped in quite a bit.

You may be questioning the odd focal length of 784mm. That was achieved with the Canon 200-400mm lens with built-in 1.4x extender, plus the use of an additional external 1.4x extender.

This shot works for several reasons. The calm waters provide a lovely reflection of the bird, and the red area on the bill is showcased nicely by the deep green grasses reflected in the water. I was also fortunate that his head was positioned in a darker area, flanked by brighter green on either side.

To get this one successful shot, plus a few others, I took about 100 images. Many of them are either out of focus, or have other issues. To get successful images, especially of moving birds, it is necessary to make many exposures and to be prepared to eliminate many of them. Don't feel you are unsuccessful if a majority of shots are not good. For moving birds, my success rate is less than 10%. So for every 100 shots of the same subject in the same approximate area, I am thrilled if I get 10 usable ones, and more often I get only 5 or fewer.

The more you shoot, the better your chances of success. Bring several memory cards when you go out to shoot wildlife, and extra batteries. You never know what you will see, and how many shots it will take to net you one good one.

Start with an ISO of 800 on sunny days, and increase it as needed or on cloudy days. For moving birds, I prefer to use a very fast shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec., and often significantly faster than that. I also find I have better luck with sharp images when the f/stop is set at f/8 or higher.

Set your camera to rapid burst, and use continuous focus (or AI Servo on Canon cameras).  

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4 extender plus external 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 784.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick. 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Luck affects everything. Let your hook always be cast. In the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish."  --Ovid

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Look Beyond The Obvious

Last week you saw a close-up of a pink flower, and I promised to show you more of the same flower. The image below shows the entire flower, the Tulip of Siam, but that is not the main image in today's blog.
Why not? While it is a lovely flower, the smaller more intimate views appeal to me more.

The large image above shows a tiny flower that lives in the small green swirls below the main bloom. I have never seen a flower that has a main bloom plus several completely different-looking blooms underneath. Each different bloom is beautiful in its own way. The more you examine this flower, the more aspects reveal themselves.

When photographing flowers or any other subjects, it is important to examine everything before you. Take your time. Look at everything. Take images from different angles and different depths of field. Give yourself every opportunity to see and appreciate all that is around you.

Shutter Speed 1/80 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I can trust my friends. These people force me to examine myself, encourage me to grow."  --Cher

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Lovely Longwood

The fantastic flower macro workshop at Longwood Gardens has just ended. It was an incredible group of participants who created some gorgeous images. Each person was eager to learn and stretched their creativity and their skills.   I was blown away by the beautiful images they created.

Everyone was able to photograph a wide variety of flowers in a multitude of colors. We also had critiques each day plus a bonus Lightroom lesson on the last evening. Thanks to everyone for being so congenial, so energetic, and so motivated. It was a great workshop.

This image is a macro view of the unusual Tulip of Siam, native to Vietnam. It is a flower I had never seen before. It is a delicate, multi-part flower in a lovely shade of pink. This is a very tight shot, showing just the center. Some of next week’s blogs will show you the entire flower and other views. Use them as a learning tool to see some of the options available in macro photography.

Macro photography opens up an entire new universe of image-making opportunities. If you do not own a macro lens, you can use close-up filters or extension tubes to help you get in tight for unique and creative images. Try your hand at macro photography. You will be amazed and thrilled at what you can create.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”  --Albert Einstein

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Convey A Concept

It can be difficult to convey a concept in a photograph. While a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes words help to convey a meaning better than an image. But as photographers we rarely can incorporate words with our images, so they must be able to stand alone and make a statement.

The concept I want to convey with this image is one of protection and security. You be the judge as to whether it succeeds or not.

The flower, being partly covered by the upper leaf, makes it appear to be protected from harm. In addition, the leaves in each of the lower corners appear to act as additional protectors.

Again, this is just my interpretation, and may not mean the same thing to you. Anything subject to interpretation, whether it is a book, a movie, a photograph, or a painting, can mean different things to different people.

I am interested to hear your take on this image. What, if anything, does it represent to you? Do you think it is a successful image that makes its point?  You may either post your comments on this blog, or on our Facebook page,  or via email at

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 800. Lens: Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “The protection of the truth is a reward itself.”  --Simone de Beauvoir

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Unexpected



I was driving along a quiet back road that ran alongside a lovely stream in the Smokies, looking for moving water shots. While scanning the options, I saw a flash of yellow and a bit of movement far away, on the other side of the stream. It took me a few seconds to wrap my head around what I was seeing. It was this cluster of Yellow Swallowtails and the gorgeous blue-backed Pipevine Swallowtails.

They were engaged in what is called “puddling.” It is primarily the males who puddle in order to get minerals and other nutrients from the moist soil and rocks, nutrients that are lacking in nectar which is their main food source.

It was interesting to watch this behavior. The Yellow Swallowtails seemed more alert and active, while the Pipevines seemed almost drunk and unaware of their surroundings.

Seeing all these butterflies in one spot brought a huge smile to my lips. What a wonderful and unexpected treat, and it lasted for a fairly long time.

You have read many times in this blog about being prepared for the unexpected. You never know what Mother Nature will offer up just around the next bend. The more comfortable you are with your camera gear, the better your chances of getting some great shots.

Even though this was a relatively simple shot taken in the soft light of an overcast day, it still benefitted greatly from some basic optimization in Lightroom. Compare the Before and After shots. Notice how much more the butterflies stand out from the background, and how much better the color is.  All it took was a little darkening around the edges with the Gradient tool, a little boost in Vibrance, and some slight tweaking of the whites and blacks.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.   Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Our brightest blazes of gladness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”  --Samuel Johnson

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Separation Anxiety

When photographing wildlife, having some separation between animals is helpful. It allows all their features and distinctive body lines to show. More importantly, it does not create a distraction if, for example, one head blocks another.

This was a lovely spring day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Spring showers came and went, and the grass was an almost impossible shade of green. The immature female in the foreground was calmly grazing while her mother rested in the background.

Many elk live in the Cataloochee section of the park, protected and thriving. These two were very close to the road, so exiting the car quietly with no door slamming was important to prevent them from being spooked by our presence.

I had to walk a short distance to my left in order to create the amount of separation I wanted in this shot. My original vantage point put the two heads too close together. These elk are acclimated to people, so normal movements did not disturb them. But when photographing any wildlife, no matter how calm or tame they might appear, it is important to remember that they ARE wild and can react in unpredictable ways very quickly. So moving slowly and quietly is important.

In most national parks, you are required to maintain a certain minimum distance from any wildlife at all times. The distance varies, depending on the type of animal. Be sure to read all park information so that you do not get too close, or engage in inappropriate behavior that will disturb the animals. Always remember that it is THEIR land and we are just visitors.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/6.3.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Animals give me more pleasure through the viewfinder of a camera than they ever did in the crosshairs of a gunsight. And after I've finished "shooting," my unharmed victims are still around for others to enjoy."  --Jimmy Stewart

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

You Never Know

Today I need to paint you a picture to explain how this photo came to be. I was in my car in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a rainy spring afternoon. Several deer were cavorting in a nearby field, unperturbed by the heavy rain and gray skies.

I, on the other hand, had absolutely no desire to don raingear, leave the dry comfort of my vehicle,  and slog around in the soaking wet tall grass. As I sat in my car having a silent internal debate with myself about being a wimp and missing out on some good photo ops, I noticed the patterns of the water running down the window.

Now THAT was a good excuse to stay put! I could do abstracts and stay high and dry. I had my macro lens nearby, so I snapped it on and began to take a few photos of the patterns. The green color is the gorgeous spring green of the soaking wet grass I mentioned above. The darker area along the right side of the image is the side mirror.

In all honesty, I had gotten some photos of deer earlier, so I did not feel compelled to photograph these particular deer in the rain. Another good excuse? You betcha!

But in any case, I came away with some abstract shots I liked. I never expected to get abstracts on this trip to the Smokies, so this was an unexpected treat.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/3.5.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance in the rain."  --Vivian Greene

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Convert Color To Black & White

There are a variety of ways to convert a color digital image to black & white. There are software packages designed specifically for that purpose, like Nik Silver Efex Pro, and other software that allows the desaturation of color images like Photoshop.

However, my software of choice for now is Lightroom. It allows the image to be rendered in black & white, while not actually taking the color out. You cannot see the color, but it is there. That attribute allows you to tweak the color sliders to control the tones of white, black, and all the shades of gray in between.

While that might sound like smoke and mirrors, it does work and here is how to control it.

Once you have selected an image to work on, find the HSL / COLOR / B&W panel (on the right-hand side of the Lightroom Develop module). Click on the letters “B&W.” That instantly changes the appearance of the image from color to black & white.

Now experiment with moving the color sliders to the left and to the right. You will see that the gray tones change as you move the sliders. Some sliders will not do anything, for example moving the Red slider if you are working on a shot of blue water with green grass. Since there is no red in that image, moving the slider will not affect any shades of gray. But watch what happens when you move the blue slider, or the green slider. The gray tones will get lighter or darker, depending on which way you move the slider.

Adjust each of the color sliders to achieve the tonality you find most pleasing. Doing black & white conversion in this way allows you to achieve rich tones of gray and black, and produces images with a wide range of gray tones.

This early morning shot is very low contrast, but even so it has many shades of gray along with deep blacks and bright whites.

It might take a little practice to get comfortable with this technique, but fairly soon you will find it to be an easy way to create black & white images with a great range of tones and deep richness.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY’S QUOTE : “To see in color is a delight for the eye, but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul.”  --Andri Cauldwell