Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Unexpected

So many times in this blog I have written about seeing the unexpected. This is another example. While photographing water lilies at the macro Longwood Gardens workshop last week, we saw this huge dragonfly attached to one of the blooms.

It took a moment or two to realize that it was no longer alive. While I would not have wished that, it did make it very easy to photograph. Often dragonflies perch fairly briefly, fly off, and perch again, sometimes back to the same spot over and over again. At those times it pays to stand your ground and wait patiently for it to return to the same place.

In this case, however, we were able to take many shots to get exactly what we wanted. Because of the distance he was away from the edge of the pond, use of a moderate telephoto lens worked best.

A little optimization in Lightroom helped the look of the final image. The leaf and flower were darkened slightly in order to help the bright green body stand out.

It was a treat to see this large beautiful dragonfly close at hand.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/13.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 200mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."  -Aristotle  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Soaring Skimmer

Capturing birds in flight is exhilarating and gratifying. They are graceful in the air and glide beautifully past our lenses. But they are fast, change direction without warning, and are in constant motion. So what do you do?

Set your camera on its rapid burst mode. Check your owner's manual on how to do this. Rapid burst is a setting that enables you to fire off several shots in quick succession. Different camera bodies have different speeds, and most cameras give you two choices - either more shots or fewer shots with each press of the shutter button. Always select the setting with more shots since that will fire your shutter at a faster rate.

Regardless of how many shots your camera will fire with each press of the shutter, listen carefully and remove your finger from the shutter button after it has fired off 3 or 4 shots in a row. On many cameras, if you shoot more than that in succession, the camera's buffer will fill and you will be unable to take more shots until the camera has processed all images and is again ready to shoot.

This beautiful skimmer sailed past me several times in a row, first in one direction and then the other. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to capture the action. I took many shots, some better than others. This is one of the better ones.

Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II with Canon 1.4x III extender for an effective focal length of 520mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who...looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space...on the infinite highway of air."  -Wilbur Wright

Friday, June 19, 2015

Longwood Gardens Workshop Huge Success

The Annual Longwood Gardens interpretive macro flowers workshop has just ended and was a big success. All participants learned quickly and came away with some absolutely beautiful images. They worked hard and enjoyed themselves.

Each day was filled with fantastic flowers, good companionship, and great weather. This gorgeous orchid was just one of hundreds of flowers waiting for our cameras. Finding the right angles and understanding the technical attributes of this signature style are crucial to success. Focusing on one element, and allowing everything else to be soft and moody, creates a unique image.

This type of image can be created in either soft light or hard light. If you shoot in hard light, allow the shadows to become part of the composition. Regardless of the type of light, it is important to control the background and keep it as simple as possible. Soft tones that complement the main subject are best.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/3.5.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole world would change."   -Buddha 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer

Summer is officially here. Schools are out in most places, and the beach is on many people's wish list for a summer getaway. If you are planning to go the beach this summer, here are some photo tips (in addition to bringing plenty of sunscreen plus a mindset to just relax and chill out):

1. Plan to shoot either early or late in the day. On clear days, once the sun is over the horizon, the light gets harsh very quickly. The shadows will be quite dark, and the contrast level can be extreme.
2. Look for vegetation or dunes than can be incorporated into the composition.
3. Consider doing mostly horizontal compositions. The ocean is a sweeping landscape, and verticals rarely do justice to the scene.
4. On east coast beaches, late afternoon / evening light is better than morning light. The reverse is true on the west coast.
5. If you have a multi-stop neutral density filter (7 to 10 stops or so), use it to take images of moving water. This sort of filter will allow you to take long exposures, often even in the middle of the day. Exposures of  15 or 30 seconds or longer can make for some creative shots. Experiment and see what works best for you.
6. Looks for shells, seaweed, and other beach objects than can create a still life. Try not to move what you find, but rather search for an angle or a composition that works with what you found, just how it is.

So grab your sunglasses and a beach blanket and have a blast this summer!

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 25mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Every time we walk along a beach, some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers....  -Loren Eiseley

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

As Cute As It Gets

Sea otters are some of the most appealing animals out there. They are skilled swimmers, fun-loving, curious, and oh so adorable. This mother and baby were interested in us and our boat, and posed nicely, looking in our direction long enough for some great shots.

I'm looking forward to seeing them again in Alaska in August. The attentiveness of the mothers toward their offspring is remarkable. The babies have so much fat than they cannot dive under water in order to feed. So their mothers gently grab them and carry them underwater with them. When the mother lets go, the baby pops back up to the surface.

When shooting from a boat, fast shutter speeds are required. The boat rises and dips, and the animals are moving as well. So a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec is important, and faster is better if lighting conditions will allow.

On some boats, in calm waters, tripods can be helpful, but in many cases handholding is the best thing to do.

Always carry rain protection for your camera and camera bag, since you never know when a stray wave or a splashing animal will toss water onto the boat.

If you are prone to motion sickness, I have found that the accupressure wrist bands work well. They are available at Walmart and Amazon.

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: "We simply need the wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in."  -Wallace Stegner 

Sunday, June 7, 2015


In August and September a happy band of travelers will join me in Alaska for some once-in-a-lifetime photographic opportunities. The first group will travel with me in Glacier Bay National Park for encounters with whales, glaciers, sea birds and incredible scenics. The next group will go into the wilds of Denali National Park where very few people have the opportunity to go. Each trip is unique, and each is different from the other.

We are all anticipating this exciting time. We will hope to see brown bear, like this little guy from last year, along with migrating caribou, moose, dall sheep, whales, sea otters, endangered seals, and much  more.

This young bear was peeking out from the grasses along the shoreline for just a moment or two, and I was fortunate to have my camera pointed in his general direction. Young animals are always curious, and are as eager to look at us as we are to view them.

Some important pointers for wildlife photography:
1. ALWAYS be ready. Great shots can appear and disappear in a heartbeat and it pays to be observant, patient, and ready to shoot.
2. Check how many remaining shots are on your memory card. If it is down to 30 or fewer, go ahead and put in a fresh memory card. Remember to format it, of course. And always format your memory card in the camera body you will be using it in.
3. Take a test shot of the general lighting conditions to make sure your exposure will be adequate. Look at the Histogram, and if it appears that the exposure is off, use Exposure Compensation to make the correction. Then you will be ready to shoot when the action happens.
4. Check your battery charge level. If it is down to 1/4 charge, go ahead and swap it for fully charged battery. With today's high pixel cameras and fast burst rates, your battery can go down more quickly than you might expect.
5. Keep a safe distance away. Animals can run much faster than you might think, even faster than race horses in many cases. While it looks like I was very close to this bear, in fact I was behind a protective gate and on the other side of the river from him. Use long lenses and don't be afraid to crop later when necessary. For this view, more than half of the original image has been cropped out AND it was shot with a long lens.
6. Cute and cuddly is actually wild and dangerous. So many wild animals appear calm and tame but they are not. They need their space to feed and to feel safe. If they feel threatened, they could threaten you, or charge, or attack. Always heed the stated minimum distances you must keep from animals in the wild. Do not think that you are special or different, and can safely approach too closely.  Many have made that mistake and have suffered the consequences. Remember, no risk is worth getting the shot.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L lens with 1.4 telextender for an effective focal length of 560mm. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nothing exists for itself alone, but only in relation to other forms of life."  - Charles Darwin

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Faux Infrared



In the good old days of black and white film photography, we could create powerful scenic images with infrared film. It produced black skies, and light foliage. Clouds stood out dramatically from blue skies.

As film exited the scene, some savvy technicians figured out a way to turn a regular digital SLR camera into one that could reproduce those high contrast images of a bygone era. While they work well, it can cost $300 to $500 or more to convert a digital camera into one that takes infrared-like images. Not everyone has a spare camera to devote to this permanent conversion, or do not want to incur the cost, or do not want to carry an extra body around that can take only high contrast black and white images.

Well, here's a simple solution. Use Lightroom to create a very similar look. it is amazing how simple it is to create infrared-looking images in Lightroom from your original color files.

Notice the difference between the two images above. The BEFORE image is perfectly fine, but has no drama compared to the AFTER image. Notice how Lightroom successfully mimics infrared film by creating a very dark sky, bright clouds with detail, and light foliage. The texture of the mountains is enhanced as well.

It takes a little bit of tweaking to create this look, but it is not difficult, and it does not take a long time.

This technique, along with many others, will be taught at the upcoming Lightroom 6 Unleashed workshop coming up on November 7, 8, and 9. It will be held in Northern Virginia and registration has begun. This information has not been posted on the Awake The Light website yet, so for more information email us at, or call 757-773-0194 for more details. The limited spaces are already filling, so don't miss this opportunity. Group size will be kept small. This is a hands-on full immersion workshop with a lot of personalized attention.

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument."  -Eve Arnold