Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Smoke and Mirrors

Happy Halloween! This has become a fun holiday for old and young alike, so enjoy the fun and embrace the creepiness. Try your hand at creating some otherworldly images today to stimulate your creativity.

This image was created using black light, a light source that responds to florescent colors. But you can create similar looks without blacklight by using reflective items like glass bottles, or items made out of shiny black plastic which will reflect any bright colors that are placed in front of them or behind them.

You can use either a non-reflective black background like a piece of fabric (felt or fleece or suede), or as in this case, a sheet of dark reflective mylar. Place the main subjects in front of the background, leaving a space of 1 to 3 feet between them and the background.

What you see in this image is just the reflection of 3 clear glass bottles reflected in the mylar, not the bottles themselves. The slight natural waviness of the mylar causes the bottles to appear distorted and unreal. Rolled up sheets of brightly colored paper were placed in front of the bottles so that they reflected into them, creating an array of colorful designs.

The trick is to set this up after dark in an unlit room, and place 2 or 3 lights off to the sides of the scene. Make sure the lights shine on the colored papers so that they are lit and will reflect well into the bottles or plastic.

The lights can be light boxes (the things we used to place slides on in the old days to view them for editing) or the less expensive and more readily available LED work lights sold at:



Hunt's Photo and Video

These lights come in a variety of sizes and in varying price ranges. I suggest starting with the least expensive ones you can find to see how you like it. I have not used any of the exact lights in the links above, and am not endorsing any particular light, but it will give you a start in exploring what is available out there.

By the way, these small LED lights are also great for macro photography of flowers and other subjects indoors in a darkened room.

A tripod will be needed since the exposures will most likely be quite long. Also, use a moderate telephoto lens which will provide more flexibility for where you set the lights and the colored papers. 

A small aperture of f/16 or more is best for good depth of field which will keep everything relatively sharp.

Experiment with the positioning of the lights for best effect. Have a buddy with you to reposition the lights and the colored papers so that you can view the scene through the viewfinder and create exactly what looks best to you. Happy shooting and Happy Halloween!

Shutter Speed 15 seconds.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 155mm. Camera: Canon 40D (an oldie but a goodie).  Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and The Great Pumpkin."  -- Charles Schultz via Linus from "It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Bear Facts

Brown bear are beautiful and amazing creatures. They look relatively benign, and appear playful and amusing. But in fact they are skillful hunters, and at all times when photographing them it is important to afford them the highest level of respect. In other words, keep your distance.

When photographing coastal bears, as distinguished from mountain bears who are less mellow, as long as you give them plenty of space AND providing there are plenty of salmon and clams for them to catch easily, they barely seem to care that there are humans close by. The sound of cameras going off does not bother them. The sound of ATVs motoring around does not bother them.

However, they are wary and will change their desired route if people or vehicles block their way. So it is vitally important to keep an eye on the direction they want to head and to clear a path for them.

At all times in this environment we travel with an experienced naturalist who is knowledgeable about bear behavior. Make no mistake that a cute cuddly bear is tame and will tolerate any interference. It is neither tame nor tolerant, and should always be given a wide berth.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/6.3.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 140mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty."  -Albert Einstein

Monday, October 26, 2015

April In Paradise

Just Announced  -  The Wildflowers and Wildwater photo tour in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been scheduled! Join me April 22 - 27 in this spectacular park with over 1000 wildflower species, swiftly running streams, and beautiful mountain scenery.

Read all about it in our FREE monthly newsletter here  

Speaking of the newsletter, if you would like to begin receiving it free each month, simply send us an email at   with the word YES in the subject line and we'll get you started. Each month it provides information, education, and motivation as well. So join the thousands of others who enjoy reading it every month.  

For more information on the Smokies photo tour, please email us or call 757-773-0194.

Shutter Speed 1/100 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE:: "Each new day is a gift to be opened as sunrise slowly unties its ribbon of hope."  --anonymous

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Attention To Details

Regardless of the subject, paying attention to details can make all the difference. This is a beautiful scene in Alaska that would look good with almost any composition. But it is made even better by paying attention to small details that enhance and strengthen the composition.

Look at the position of the large rock on the right. It is partially framed by the water, rather than touching the shoreline on the other side of the lake. I knew I wanted the rock to be a pivotal point in the image and that would not have happened if it did not stand out.

Now look at the curve of the shoreline. It is important that the curve shows, and leads the eye into the image and around the lake.

By carefully looking through the viewfinder you can determine the placement of each important element relative to the other elements. Take your time, move around, see if a higher or lower camera position can improve the composition. 

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 70mm. Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Excellence is in the details. Give attention to the details and excellence will come."  -Perry Paxton

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Unexpected

On a recent whale-watching trip in Alaska this totally unexpected abstract appeared. The water was smooth and crystal clear. And the way the light played on the surface of the water created these oval shapes all around us. It was such a treat to see these unusual shapes.

So today's lesson is to ALWAYS keep your wits about you and look for photographic opportunities, no matter what your main goal is that day. All too often we see only what we seek, and overlook the unexpected that is just waiting to be photographed.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II with 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 560mm. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Don't wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great."  -Orison Marden 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

As Cute As It Gets

Sea otters are some of nature's most adorable creatures. They have such alert faces, and always seem to be interested in the 2-legged creatures on boats nearby. This one stared at us for a long time and seemed curious enough to watch our every move.

Focusing on anything from a moving boat can be challenging. Your distance from the subject is always changing, and the boat is continually being tossed on the waves and currents. So accurate auto focus and a fast shutter speed are necessary.

Because conditions are always changing, it is helpful to take a lot of images. Don't limit yourself to taking just a few. You never know when the body position or the wave action or other factors will be just right. In this image, the small waves and the sea otter's expression and position combined to make an interesting picture.

This was taken aboard a chartered boat in Glacier Bay Alaska. Our boat trips on most Awake The Light photo tours are private charters so that we have complete control over where we go and how long we stay in one area.

This year's Glacier Bay trip was very popular, and a similar trip is being planned for summer 2016. Stay tuned for details!

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/14.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II with 1.4x extender for an effective focal of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."  -Jacques Yves Cousteau

Friday, October 9, 2015

Making Perfect Scenics

Sweeping landscapes can make beautiful images. But how do you make them the best they can be?

Here are several tips to help you make better landscape images:

1. Look for a center of interest. In this image it is the mountain which is large and fairly centrally positioned.

2. Use complementary colors. The blue-whites in the mountains complement the warm yellows and oranges of the trees and ground cover. Cool against warm colors can make for strong images.

3. Compose the image so that it has a base. In this image the base is the ground cover.

4. Use a medium to small aperture to maximize depth of field. In traditional scenics it is best to keep all elements relatively sharp.

5. Use an ISO of 400 or 200 whenever possible. Higher ISO's create noise, especially in the dark areas.

6. Choose the best time of day with the best light whenever possible. Early morning and late afternoon are generally best.

7. Take your time. Consider camera angles and camera height. Look for the different and the eye-catching.

If you keep these few things in mind, your landscape work will improve quickly. Try to find your own vision and chart your own path. It is OK to use other images as inspiration, but try to create unique images of your own.

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, of the huge waves of the sea, at the circular motion of the stars; but they pass by themselves without wondering. "  -St. Augustine

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Glacier Bay Puffin

Glacier Bay Alaska is filled with nature's abundance. It is an indescribable experience to view the variety of wildlife in this amazing wilderness.

This beautiful tufted puffin was strutting his stuff as our boat passed nearby. He flapped at the perfect time for us to get this great behavioral image. Puffins are beautiful birds, and look a bit comical with their large bills. They are much smaller than they appear in photos, and when you see your first puffin you will be amazed at their diminutive size.

When photographing any animal with black feathers or fur, it is important to expose for the blacks so they are not underexposed. Underexposed areas show more noise. Often it helps to use the Exposure Compensation feature on your camera to increase exposure by about one stop to make sure that the blacks have adequate exposure.

Stay tuned for information on a return trip to Glacier Bay National Park in 2016. It is an area teeming with wildlife including whales, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, mountain goats, brown bears, and so much more. We had a spectacular trip there this past August, and are making plans for a return visit next summer.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5/6L IS II with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In order to see birds, it is necessary to become a part of the silence."  - Robert Lynd

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Magic Macro

Macro photography is indeed a magical thing. It enables us to see beauty that we would normally miss.

As many of you know, I love the freedom of shooting macro with no tripod. It seems to jump start my creativity, and is far less frustrating than messing with the tripod to get it at the right height and in the right position. 

I'm looking forward to doing a presentation at the upcoming Macro Conference in Massachusetts next weekend. While the Conference is full, I am offering two Macro Workshops in 2016. These workshops have just been announced! If you love macro, or want to learn how to set yourself free and REALLY enjoy photography, consider joining me at either or both of these places!

April 2016
Spring in the Smokies is a spectacular time to be there, when the flowers are at their peak. In addition, the streams run full and wild. Join me for the best wildflower photography in the world!

June 2016
This is one of our most popular workshops, and it generally fills very quickly. Learn a variety of creative macro techniques that will take your flower photography to a whole new level. Join me and let your creativity soar!

For more information, email us at

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A flower's appeal is in its contradictions  -  so delicate in form yet strong in fragrance, so small in size yet big in beauty, so short in life yet long on effect."  -Terri Guillemets