Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Bear Facts

Alaska is known to be Bear Country. Grizzly (brown) bear to be exact. This lone female was walking along the shoreline of the Cook Inlet in search of a fish dinner. Brown bears in this area, about an hour's flight from Anchorage by small plane, are unquestionably wild. But they have so much food and are so used to seeing humans that they are not bothered by our presence, as long as we keep our distance and do not interfere with their feeding, and their offspring.

The guides in this area know the individual bears, their habits, and their favorite routes from the shore to the fields to the woods to the nearby mountains. They advise us when to move and how far, so that we do not disturb the bears in any way. In this location I have seen bears walk within 10 to 20 yards of where we are standing. As long as we are positioned off their chosen path, they have no concerns about us and pass by fairly closely.

This bear was considerably farther away than that, and was shot with a 100-400mm lens with a 1.4x extender on a crop sensor body. That is my preferred lens / body combination, and allows me to get good close-ups when the bears are near, and some nice environmental shots, like this one, when the bears are farther away.

When photographing wildlife, be prepared to shoot at all times of day. You will want to be on location when the action is good, regardless of the time of day and the quality of the light. Of course we always want perfect light, but we rarely get it. So you have to work with what you are given. This was shot late in the day in relatively low light. I chose to render the bear as a silhouette for drama. She is so small in the frame that the lack of detail in her body is not a problem. Her body position was perfect to show all four legs and her head in profile. It is unmistakably a brown bear.

I took many images as she walked by me, in hopes of getting this position. With wildlife, I always shoot on rapid burst so that I can capture slight variations of leg and head positions. That allows me to select the one I like best as the final image.

I am looking forward to being back in my favorite part of Alaska's Bear Country in mid-June.

1/1600 sec, f/9, ISO 1600.  Canon 100-400mm lens set at 140mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Bears keep me humble. We need to preserve the wilderness and its monarchs for ourselves, and for the dreams of our children. We should fight for these things as if our life depended on it, because it does."  --Wayne Lynch

Monday, May 22, 2017

How To Show Emotion

Almost any subject can be portrayed to convey or stir emotion. These two lady slipper buds were tipped toward each other, so I selected a position that accentuated that. Each of the buds was nestled inside an outer protective leaf, and the rear one was placed so that it appeared to be in a protective position. Perhaps it represents a parent and child, or a caring couple.

Of course all images are subject to individual interpretation, and your reaction to this image might be different from mine. And that is fine.

The point is to try to convey emotion in your images. Not every image needs to have emotional appeal, but tapping into emotions can certainly add impact. Images that stimulate feelings of either tenderness, grace, dance-like moves, or other aspects that provoke an emotional response from the viewer will have instantaneous appeal and will stand the test of time.

1/125 sec at f.2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Emotional responses are often regarded as the keystone to experiencing art, and the creation of an emotional experience has been argued as the purpose of artistic expression."  --Wikipedia

Friday, May 19, 2017

Color Harmony

This was a lucky shot. This delicate butterfly happened to be on a large leaf with a soft green background behind it. Using a wide aperture guaranteed that the background would go soft, but it was lucky that the background was the same green as the leaf the butterfly was standing on.

Shallow depth of field is a favorite technique of mine. Using a wide aperture from about f/2.8 to f/5.6 will assure you of a soft background in most cases. This technique, coupled with a fast enough shutter to guarantee a sharp picture when hand-holding the camera, can result in beautiful images.

I generally start with an ISO of 400 and an aperture of f/2.8 or f/4. In most cases that results in a shutter speed of 1/125 sec. or faster which often is fast enough. An even faster shutter speed helps ensure that your images will be sharp (no camera shake), but usually you can get away with a shutter speed as slow as 1/125 sec. and still get sharp images.

1/400 sec. at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony ... we see into the life of things."  --William Wordsworth

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Truck Graveyard

I took a couple of personal days to go in search of new and different things to shoot. One of the participants in the Butterflies and Flowers photo workshop told me about a truck graveyard not too far away, so when the workshop ended I went to check it out. Thanks, George!

What a fun and creative thing to do. I had heard about truck graveyards in various parts of the country, but had never been to one. This one was relatively small, but had enough different old trucks in varying stages of decay to make it a great location.

Often when shooting it takes me a little while to "get in the groove." That was the case here. It took about half an hour of wandering around, looking at the different trucks, and exploring interesting areas to concentrate on, before I was ready to dive in.

I shot some with a super wide angle lens to accentuate and distort the shapes of the trucks, and others, like this one, with a slight telephoto lens to zoom in on details. This approach allowed me to concentrate on abstract shapes, designs, and colors.

I used Lightroom to punch up the colors and to improve the contrast. For this type of subject matter, those changes greatly improved the look of the image.

The main things to keep in mind when shooting unique or unusual subjects are to allow yourself to slow down, really take your time to look at the options before you, explore different angles, and then begin to select areas to concentrate on. It is great fun, and a wonderful jump start for your creativity.

1/125 sec., f/8, ISO 200.  Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Abstract art [goes] beyond the tangible. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas."  --Arshile Gorkey

Friday, May 12, 2017

Butterflies Are Free

The BUTTERFLIES & FLOWERS workshop has just ended, and it was wonderful. Everyone got great images, and we all had a great time. The 1000 butterflies were very cooperative and sat still long enough for each of us to get some super shots.

When photographing butterflies, it is important to get the head sharp. It is nice to also get a great deal of sharpness in the wings as well, but a little bit of softness is acceptable, as in this image.

Since this critter is just black and white, it helps that it was perched on a brightly colored flower which adds a bit of punch.

To improve your chances of getting great shots of butterflies, first approach slowly. Rapid movements can startle them and cause them to fly away. In order to maximize depth of field, another tip is to try to position the camera parallel to the wings. Also, pay close attention to the background. A cluttered background, or one with blotchy lighting, can be very distracting and take attention away from the main subject.

1/125 sec. at f/4, ISO 800. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty."  --Joseph Addison

Friday, May 5, 2017

Lightroom To The Rescue



If you follow my blog, you know I often write about how great Lightroom is. It can bring an image to life as it did here. This is the same exact image. The top BEFORE image is how the image looked when I initially downloaded it onto my computer. Gray, dead, and lifeless. Hardly any color to speak of.

The AFTER image, after optimization in Lightroom, has much more color and more contrast, making the sky look textured and stormy. The AFTER image has much more drama and visual interest. Which image is an accurate representation of the scene as it looked to my eye? Neither one.

Surprised? I was, too. It was amazing that Lightroom could bring out so much color and texture that my eyes did not see when experiencing this scene. So now it is time for true confessions - this image is a bit over-punched and goes beyond the natural look that I usually strive for. But, as I worked on it in Lightroom, I liked the more intense color, the added drama, the deep blues and the rich warm colors. So I allowed myself to go a bit overboard in order to create a visually interesting image.

Would I enter this in a nature competition? Absolutely not, since it is admittedly "over the top" and goes beyond a realistic representation. But as an art piece, it is much more pleasing than the BEFORE image, or even something that would have fallen in between the two versions.

This was taken on a foggy morning a little after sunrise in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. When we arrived at the site, the fog was so thick that we could not see much beyond the near trees. But a little patience paid off, and as the sun rose higher the fog began to burn off, and we could see more detail in the clouds and some of the hills in the distance.

The controls used in Lightroom that saved this image, in the order they were used, were:
Whites, Blacks, Shadows, Clarity, and Saturation. And then I added more punch by increasing the Saturation of the following individual colors in the HSL / Color / B&W box - Orange, Yellow, Green Aqua, and Blue. The final step was to use the Dehaze slider which cut through some of the mist and fog in the distance.

Lightroom is NOT complicated and it is NOT hard to learn. But I have so many people who attend my Lightroom classes in desperation after they were taught either improperly or in a confusing manner. If you want to hone your Lightroom skills, I would be happy to set up a special class for your camera club or a group of 6 or more. If that interests you, contact me and we can discuss available dates and fees.
1/160 sec, f/8, ISO 400.  Canon 17-40mm lens, set at 20mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Anyone who keep the ability to see beauty never grows old."  -Franz Kafka

Monday, May 1, 2017

Denali, The Great One

Denali is a huge and beautiful mountain, visible from this close angle deep inside Denali National Park in Alaska. With such dramatic clouds and pure white mountains, black and white seemed like a good approach. It accentuates the texture of both the mountains and the sky.

I generally use Lightroom for black and white conversions. There are other software options as well, and many of them are also excellent. When using Lightroom to convert to black and white, first make the necessary modifications with the sliders for Blacks, Whites, Highlights, and Shadows. Then increase Clarity to about 30 points. Once those basic controls have been used, click on B&W in the HSL / Color / B&W box.

At this stage, you can begin experimenting with all the color sliders in the HSL / Color / B&W box. Move each slider all the way to the left and then all the way to the right to see its effect. Even though you have changed the image from color to black and white, Lightroom still sees the image in color, which is why the color sliders still have an effect.

You will be amazed how much impact the color sliders will have on the depth of the blacks and the richness of the whites. Just work the sliders until you are happy with the results. You can go for dramatic, as I did in this image, or you can be more subtle if you prefer.

So go play, and enjoy creating some beautiful black and white images!

1/5000 sec, f/8, ISO 800.  Canon 70-200mm lens set at 200mm on Canon 5D Mark III body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list."  --Susan Sontag