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