Saturday, September 30, 2017

Spiral Twist

Spiral staircases hold endless fascination. Their graceful curves and rotating lines draw you in. They are reminiscent of a nautilus shell, one of the most graceful designs in nature.

This spiral staircase is in a hotel in Iceland. The red carpet is in lovely contrast to the silver railings. When photographing any spiral staircase, I always do some shots from the bottom looking up, and others, like this one, from the top looking down.

This was shot with an extreme wide angle lens, and I had to be careful to not include my feet in the frame. Because this was shot during the day, and there were many large windows illuminating the scene, I was able to handhold the camera and could avoid using a tripod.

1/125 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 1600.  Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The human mind always makes progress, but it is progress in spirals."  Madame de Stael

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Nature's Light Show

Seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is one of Mother Nature's most spectacular gifts. The undulating colors and shapes that dance across the sky are mesmerizing and compelling. And because you never know where and when they will occur, you feel incredibly lucky when they make an appearance during your time in a northern location.

Generally the Northern Lights are visible far to the north from September to March. While they can occur at anytime of year, they are rarely visible to the human eye in summer because of so many hours of daylight. You need reasonably dark skies to see them best, but complete darkness is not mandatory, as you will see in the tips below.

We were lucky to see them on the recently concluded Denali National Park trip. It was very exciting! Next year's trip to Denali, August 25 - 31, is at about the same time of year, so we will have a good chance of seeing them. Of course there are no guarantees, and a lot depends on sunspot activity, but I am hopeful.

Before giving you some great tips, and debunking some erroneous assumptions, here is what one of the participants on this year's Denali trip had to say:
"The Denali photo tour was the trip of a lifetime for me. The mountain views were breathtaking and majestic, and I have the pictures to prove it. Because of where our lodge was located, we were taken to areas that most people never see. We had two rare wolf sightings, plus caribou, moose, and the cutest ermine who played peek-a-boo. In addition, we had one fabulous meal after another. The trip was far above my expectations, and I had very high expectations. Mollie is an amazing teacher - she motivates you to shoot your best work, and doesn't spend a lot of time taking her own photos. She even instructed us how to shoot the Aurora Borealis, and she was out there with us at 3AM when they appeared. After a week with her instruction and encouragement, I am a much better photographer."  --L.R.

1. Camera and other gear  -  camera body (either full-frame sensor or crop sensor will work - I have used both) with the widest angle lens you have. I use a 17-40mm zoom, set at 17mm. Sturdy tripod. Cable release or remote trigger for the shutter. Headlamp or small flashlight with red filter - white light will annoy others and diminish your night vision.
2. Camera settings  -  Set your camera to Manual Exposure. ISO 3200 or 6400 (I prefer 3200 because of noise issues, and Lightroom does a good job of removing noise even at this ISO). Aperture f/8. Shutter speed either 15 seconds or 25 seconds (try both and settle on the one that works best). Avoid longer exposures since they will render the stars as streaks and will detract from the Aurora.
3. Where to shoot  -  if preliminary reports (from locals and from the website indicate that aurora activity might be good in your area, go out in daylight to find an open area that faces north. Choose an area with open sky and not a lot of trees or buildings that might block your full view of the sky. Make sure that whatever land forms (trees, hillside, etc.)  that will be in the images are fairly far away.
4. How to focus  -  Focus on that land form. That will place your point of focus close to Infinity but NOT at Infinity. If you set your lens on Infinity, the trees or hillside will not be sharp. Bring wide masking tape with you and tape your focus ring securely so that you will not accidentally rotate it before shooting later that night. Now, if your lens has been set to autofocus, be sure to set it to manual focus. You do not want autofocus to kick in when you trip the shutter.
5. Set up an Alert Rotation Schedule so that someone in your group checks for activity every half hour between the hours of midnight and 4AM.
6. Go to dinner and get to bed early. Be sure your camera is already on the tripod, with cable release or remote trigger attached.

It does NOT have to be a moonless night. This image was made during a full moon.
The sky does NOT have to be perfectly clear - see clouds in the image above.
You do NOT have to shoot with a wide open aperture - f/8 will provide better depth of field.
You do NOT have to use a camera with a full-frame sensor.  A crop sensor will be fine.
You do NOT need the fastest lens on the planet. I find that an f/4 lens works just fine.

Join me in Denali next year, August 25 - 31. Details here

25 seconds at f/8, ISO 3200. Canon 5D Mark II body with Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 17mm. Cable release. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Like going on safari or whale-watching, seeing the Aurora is a beguiling marriage of sheer luck and the effort you make to be in the best place at the optimum time."  - Nigel Tisdall

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Small In The Big

Look at this image carefully. It is a beautiful mountain scene in Denali National Park. But that is not the main subject. If you look closely you will see two Trumpeter Swans flying in front of the spruce trees. The swans stood out nicely against the dark trees. What a wonderfully serendipitous moment. Click on the image to see it larger.

When photographing nature scenes you always have to stay alert. You never know when elements will come together to help make an image soar. I had no idea the swans were nearby, but when I heard them honking I looked around and saw them. I got a few quick shots off before they flew out of range. I chose this shot to show you because of their complimentary wing positions.

If you are interested in seeing Denali National Park up close and personal, read this review of the recent trip from P. B.: "What an incredible trip! Mollie times this trip when autumn is at its peak and the animals are more active. The lodging was superb (oh, the food!), and our guides were extremely knowledgeable. But most of all, Mollie's instruction throughout the trip was the best. She is patient, and always positive. Her trip organization and attention to every participant is outstanding! Thank you Mollie!"

The next trip is August 25 - 31, 2018. Only a few spaces left. Information here
Please email or call with questions
1/2500 sec at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "But calm, white calm, was born into a swan."  --Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth

Monday, September 18, 2017

Stud Muffin Moose

We saw many beautiful moose, both male and female, in Denali National Park. All were in beautiful condition, preparing for mating and the winter season. This large bull seemed pleased to pose for us for quite awhile at fairly close range.

In Denali National Park it is important for photographers and visitors to respect the wildlife so as not to interfere with their mating or feeding habits. We always keep our distance, and when wildlife is close to our vehicle, we stay in the vehicle and shoot out the open windows. That was the case here. 

While this moose was beautiful, the original RAW image, shown here, was less that stellar.
It was dull and lacking in color and contrast, as often is the case with RAW images before image optimization. Lightroom brought this image to life. Just a few tweaks made all the difference. All it took was the use of the Blacks and the Whites sliders to expand the contrast a bit, and then the Shadows slider to lighten the moose's coat. The only other thing needed was Saturation to improve the color overall, and then the specific color controls in the Hue/Saturation/BW box to enhance the yellows, reds, and greens. Quick and easy.

So the next time you see a dull image don't despair. Use Lightroom to enhance the image and you will be pleasantly surprised.

Next year's Denali trip is filling fast. It is scheduled for August 25 - 31, 2018. Details here
Limited to only 10 photographers. Just a few spaces left. For more information contact me at 

1/1000 sec at f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, September 15, 2017

Denali Million Dollar View


This was the Million Dollar view from the front porch of our lodge in Denali National Park, taken just after sunrise. It is the Alaska Range draped by dramatic clouds with fall colors in the foreground. A real feast for the eyes. This is the final version, after some tweaking in Lightroom. Notice how dimensional the clouds look, and the subtle but colorful autumn trees.

Below is the original uncropped RAW image before any work was done in Lightroom. I did minimal cropping on the sides and bottom, but extensive cropping on the top. I previsualized the cropping of the final version before I even clicked the shutter.
I knew I wanted to eliminate the dark clouds at the top in order to create a panoramic image. Even though it was a beautiful fall morning, the original RAW image lacks color, and looks dull and flat. Lightroom is my go-to software to take images from blah to boffo.

The basic steps, after cropping, were to lighten the shadows with the Shadows slider, and add texture to the light clouds with the Highlights slider. Then I increased Clarity 30% to boost mid-tone contrast. I then increased overall Saturation by about 50%, and did noise reduction of 30%. That's it. So in about 5 minutes or less all the latent beauty of this image was revealed.

Often when you first download your images you may be disappointed by the lack of color or contrast, and feel you made mistakes when you took the shot. In fact, it is rarely your fault, but rather the nature of the digital beast. Digital cameras often do not immediately reveal all the beauty and depth of an image, and need image optimization software (like Lightroom) to bring out all the details and color that are really there.

If you would like to experience this Million Dollar view for yourself, plus amazing wildlife every day, join me in Denali National Park next year. The trip is scheduled for August 25 - 31, 2018.  Details are at this link

This trip is limited to only 10 photographers, and there are only 5 spaces left. Send me an email if you would like more details

1/1250 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 75mm on Canon 5D Mark III camera body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The supreme reality of our time is the vulnerability of our planet. [May] future generations know the majesty of the earth as we know it today."  --John F. Kennedy

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Postcard From Denali National Park

The photo tour to Denali National Park in Alaska has just ended, and what a trip we had! Today's photos are just a very small sampling of what we saw during our time there. 

From top to bottom, we had clear skies nearly every day and saw the huge snow-capped Alaska Range during most of our travels in the park. Fall colors were at their peak and we were treated to brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges. Fall in Denali is always a treat for the eyes and for the soul.

We had a beautiful sunrise morning with delicate shades of pink playing over the mountain tops. And we were treated to a rare sighting of an ermine, a tiny speedy little thing with sparkling eyes and a playful nature.

We also saw several moose at fairly close range, including this male and female relaxing at Wonder Lake at sunrise. It was such a treat to see a male and female together, and to have such a beautiful background for the image.

We watched caribou for quite awhile as they calmly munched on grasses. These two females eventually came closer together making this double portrait possible.

And on our last night we were treated to a dancing display of the Northern Lights, creating constantly changing swirls overhead.

Next year's Denali trip is already scheduled, and applications are now being accepted. The dates are August 25 - 31. If you are interested in this incredible trip, please email me and we can begin the application process. Details on the trip are at this link 

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Wilderness is not a luxury, but a necessity of the human spirit."  --Edward Abbey

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Amazing Alaska

As many times as I have been to Alaska, it is always exciting to be here. Bringing photo groups here is an honor and a privilege year after year. The mountains, the wildlife, the waters, the glaciers, the scenery all work their magic no matter where in Alaska you go.

This is my sixth trip to Denali National Park, and each time it is different. It has never looked the same twice. While we almost always see snow-capped mountains and amazing wildlife like moose, caribou, grizzly bear, and the occasional wolf, we never know from day to day what Mother Nature will provide.

This year, as in all years, there is a full complement of 10 photographers traveling with me. We have a private naturalist guide and our own vehicle, and can move easily from place to place in search of photo ops.

I'll be out of internet range for the next week, but I hope to have some exciting images to share with you when I return.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Mother Nature is always speaking. She speaks in a language understood within the peaceful mind of the sincere observer."