Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Iceland Church and Turf

Turf structures were developed in areas with cold climates and not enough trees to use for home construction. These old turf buildings are in Iceland, and have withstood centuries of cold and wind.

I had never seen this type of thing before and was utterly captivated with its design. That is one of the things I love about traveling. You see new and different things, meet wonderful people, and broaden your horizons.

This shot was made on a chilly and cloudy day. The dark sky caused the red steeple and roof on the modern church to stand out and be a nice counterpoint to the earth tones and rounded shapes of the turf houses. The overcast conditions made the exposure easy. Even in these conditions, however, it is important to check your histogram at the start of each new series of shots. Anytime you change your position or the direction in which you aim your camera, the direction of light can change and so will your exposure.

1/800 sec., f/13, ISO 800.  Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 33mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know."  --Native Alaskan saying

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Get Your "Artsy" On!

Sometimes you just have to get artsy. Things do not always need to be sharp and crisp. There are times when softness and a bit of a creative blur is a good thing. And sometimes it happens when you least expect it.

These sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge were flying in at sunset. The light level was dropping quickly and I did not keep a watchful eye on the shutter speed. It had dropped to 1/30th sec., much too slow to keep wing beats sharp. But I got lucky.

I was panning the birds as they flew past me, keeping the pan speed pretty much the same as the birds' speed, which created a nice blur on the background. When I downloaded the images later in the day, and realized that this was shot at a relatively slow shutter speed, I thought it would end up being deleted because very little of the image is sharp. But when I gave myself time to "live with" the shot, and looked at it with fresh eyes, I realized that it was an impression of birds in flight rather than a scientifically accurate version.

The lesson for me was that sometimes you have to let go of what you expect an image to be, or what is an "acceptable" image, and allow yourself to view it from a different perspective.

1/30 sec. at f/13, ISO 400. Canon 35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L lens (an oldie that I no longer own) on a Canon 40D body (also retired). Gitzo tripod with ballhead.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Cool Critters

Dragonflies are very cool. They flit and float through the air, and usually return to the same perch over and over again. That makes it fairly easy to get good shots. When you see a dragonfly, stop and watch where it lands. Once you see its favorite perch, be patient, stay put, and be ready to shoot.

Look for a good background, one that will be rendered nicely soft and non-distracting with shallow depth of field. Take some test shots to make sure your histogram looks good, and then you are ready to capture some beauty shots of these amazing creatures.

You can photograph dragonflies with either a telephoto zoom, or a macro lens. A telephoto zoom is a better choice, partly because it allows you to keep a greater distance from the insect. With any form of wildlife, you do not want to do anything that will frighten it or cause it to change its normal behavior.

When focusing, it is best to focus on the head and its huge eyes. If the rest of the dragonfly goes slightly out of focus, that is OK.

Even at this time of year, unless you live in an extremely northern area, there should still be some dragonflies around. If not, hang onto this blog entry so you can be prepared in the spring.

1/1250, f/5, ISO 200. Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on Canon 5D Mark III. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Always maintain a kind of summer, even in the middle of winter."  --Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, October 21, 2017

iPhone Old World Charm

Old European buildings hold a lot of charm for photographers. The textures, the shapes, and the sheer age are appealing. I was fortunate to have some time to photograph the restored Medieval village of Gruyeres in Switzerland. We arrived late in the day when the sun was low in the sky and the interior lights were just starting to come on.

I rarely use my iPhone for photography, but with the low light levels at this time of day it seemed the right choice. Smart phones are generally very good at capturing images even in near darkness. There was enough ambient light to provide good detail and color on the front of the building, and still hold detail on the lit interior. I used Lightroom to optimize the image, making sure all the detail in the dark wood doors was retained, and any over-brightness inside was toned down.

The setting sun provided nice warm light along the bottom of the steps, which repeats the warm light inside. The walls were quite smooth so in Photoshop I added a texture, using a low opacity layer of a tree bark image I had shot in Alaska. It added just the right touch to help the facade look a bit more weathered. There are many companies selling textures for use with Photoshop, and while they are very nice and can provide a variety of options to choose from, I prefer to use my own as much as possible for a more unique look.

1/17 sec. at f/2.2, ISO 320. iPhone 6 camera with 4.15mm f/2.2 lens. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Buildings, too, are children of Earth and Sun."  --Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Speed Demon

Swallows are speedy and tiny, and are very hard to photograph. These little guys hang out at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. They zip in and out of their bird houses, swoop and dive at breakneck speed, and challenge even the most patient photographer. But they are adorable, graceful, and brilliantly colored.

The best way to get a shot is to hang out at their bird house. And wait. And wait some more. Then suddenly out of nowhere one might swoop in quickly, taunting you to get the camera up to your eye, focus and shoot. And then it's gone. So you wait for a return visit. And wait.

To photograph birds, whether large or small, a fast shutter speed is mandatory. A shutter speed of 1/1250 sec is the minimum necessary to get sharp shots. Even though this bird was standing on a post, notice that it was chirping. When birds chirp they often move their heads and flip their wings, and this guy did both of those things very quickly. So the fast shutter speed was necessary to freeze the action. And I was handholding the camera, as I usually do, making a fast shutter speed even more necessary.

I find that I can shoot faster and change positions much quickly when not tethered to a tripod for bird and wildlife photography. 

1/1600 sec at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4X extender for a focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song."  --Chinese proverb

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Lowly But Lovely

The lowly dandelion, a weed and lawn invader for most people, can be a beautiful subject. When it has just gone to seed, as this one, it becomes a soft, spherical, multi-faceted beauty.

My preference for most flower photography, whether macro or not, is shallow depth of field. This provides a feeling of softness, allowing just the most important areas of the subject to be rendered in sharp focus. In this image I focused on the light areas over the dark center.

There are two reasons for this point of focus. First, because this is a symmetrical subject, the viewer's eye will naturally go to the center so it is logical for that area to be sharp. And second, because I always use autofocus, the light areas over the dark center allowed the autofocus to easily grab onto the subject.

A tip for having the most success with autofocus, regardless of the subject - find an area of the subject you want to be sharp, and then find something in that area that has light tones against dark tones. Autofocus needs contrast, either of color or tone, in order to grab focus accurately. So find a strong line of light against dark, or a light area against a dark area and your autofocus will work much better!

1/250 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them."  --A.A. Milne

Monday, October 9, 2017

Teddy Bear

This cute little bear cub was playing with a stick, and when he struck this pose it created this adorable image. At my favorite Alaska grizzly bear location it is possible to get relatively close to bears and still be safe.

When photographing wildlife it is important to always be ready. You never know when a great shot will happen. One important part of being ready is to know your equipment inside and out. It is good to know how to change settings quickly, how to use your histogram effectively, and how to use ISO to your best advantage (based on lighting conditions).

But first and foremost, it is vitally important to never interfere with an animal's feeding or other behaviors. Photographing wildlife is a wonderful adventure, but the photos are less important than the animal's well-being.

1/800 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man."  --Stewart Udall

Friday, October 6, 2017

Just For Fun


Sometimes ya just gotta have fun. This is a scene taken in Alaska on a trip to photograph grizzly bears. Photoshop helped to turn the basic image into something a bit more interesting. Here is the original image,
before optimization in Lightroom and then distorting it in Photoshop.The technique is simple. Once you have cropped and optimized your image in Lightroom, open it in Photoshop or Elements.

Then in Image > Mode, select "8 bit image." Most filters in Photoshop will not work on images that are not 8 bit.

In Filters, go to Distort and then Polar Coordinates. When the radio buttons appear, click on the "Polar to Rectangular" button and click OK. Then in Image > Image Rotation, click on Flip Canvas Vertical.

Now go back to Filters > Distort, and then Polar Coordinates. This time, when the radio buttons appear, click on the Rectangular to Polar button and click OK. Now you can crop the image or use it as-is.

This is a fun technique and it is just the starting point for some creative images.

1/1250 sec. at f/9, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender on Canon 7D Mark II body.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh the thinks you can think up if only you try."  --Dr. Suess

Monday, October 2, 2017

In Memorium Las Vegas Victims

Today’s blog is In Memorium of those who tragically lost their lives or were injured in the Las Vegas shootings. A friend of mine put it succinctly. She said, "My thoughts are simply shock, disbelief, horror, anger and grief."   I think we all share those feelings. I cannot begin to imagine the depth of the grief the affected families are feeling, the sense of loss, and the realization that their lives will never be the same again. Devastating in all respects.

Five long years ago, after the horrific shootings of 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, there was a powerful outcry from many quarters demanding social and policy changes relating to weapons and mental health. There were many voices in all political walks of life hoping to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

We had already suffered the senseless loss of life in Columbine, Colorado when high school students brutally shot their classmates and teachers. That was an unimaginable 18 years ago.

And just last year, 49 people were killed in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Plus, in the recent past there were other school shootings, a theater shooting, shootings in a Charleston, SC church, and the Virginia Tech shootings.

But here we sit, stunned at the news of yet another senseless mass killing spree. In nearly two decades nothing has changed.  We as a nation and a people have not been able to effect any change. How many more tragedies will we witness before we realize that we have a problem? How long will it take us to muster the political will to grapple with this issue?

By way of contrast, Australia experienced a horrible mass shooting in 1996. 35 people died and 23 were wounded. That same year the Australian government outlawed automatic and semi-automatic weapons. While there have been erroneous reports that the law has not made Australia any safer, scientific research does not bear that out.  Gun-related homicides have decreased every year since the passage of that law, and firearm-related suicides have also decreased. The law is still in effect and still has the overwhelming support of the citizens of Australia.

While the solution for the U.S might be somewhat different from what worked in Australia, it seems that we have to do SOMETHING. Inaction and maintaining the status quo have not been working and are not the answer. We are a nation of intelligent and caring people. We should be able to come up with an approach that does not contravene the Constitution while at the same time reduces the senseless and shocking violence that has become all too common in our lives. Somehow, sanity and common sense should be able to prevail.

With deepest sympathy for those killed and injured, their families, and their loved ones.