Tuesday, December 31, 2019


A New Year. A fresh start. What better way to illustrate this than with a young animal. This baby guanaco and its mother walk in perfect step, protected in the safety of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia Chile.

The following beautiful and insightful New Year’s greeting was sent to me by a friend. She does not know where it originated, but found it long ago and kept it. I have modified it slightly, but essentially it is as written. It struck a chord with me, so I am passing it along to you. 

"May we break down boundaries, tear down walls, and build on the foundation of goodness inside each of us.
May we look past differences, gain understanding and embrace acceptance. May we reach out to each other, rather than find reasons for division.
May we be better stewards of the earth, protecting, nurturing, and replenishing the beauties of nature.
May we practice gratitude for all we have, rather than complain about our needs.
May we seek cures for the sick, and help the hungry, the needy, and the lonely.
May we share our talents, give our time, and teach our children about love and tolerance rather than hatred and division.
May we take action to seek justice for all who inhabit our planet.
May we hold hope for the future very tenderly in our hearts, and do all we can to build for bright tomorrows.
And may we love with our whole hearts, for that is the only way to love."  --origins unknown

Each new year gives us the chance to start fresh, to rethink and reset our goals, and to make it a better year than the one before. I thank each and every one of you for helping to make 2019 such a stellar year for me personally, as well as for Awake The Light Photo Workshops. 2020 will be even bigger and better!

I wish you a spectacular 2020, filled with joy, wonderful photographic opportunities, good health, great times, and a touch of whimsy.


1/400 sec, f/16, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 189mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Holiday Greetings




I returned home today from my travels in Patagonia and Antarctica. What a trip. It was superb and beyond my wildest dreams! Because of limited internet service I was unable to post a Blog while I was away, but I did post some images on Facebook. You can check them out at this link

The image in this blog was taken in Antarctica on a beautiful day with calm seas and blue skies. Antarctica is the most amazing and breath-taking place I have ever been. Its pristine beauty, expansive wildness, its wildlife, soaring mountains and massive icebergs have made a deep and permanent mark on me. I am already dreaming of going back.

I wish each of you a joyous and peaceful holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, I hope it will be filled with warmth, and the love of family and friends.

At this special time of year it helps to think back and appreciate all the wonderful things in our lives. I am grateful for all the opportunities and spectacular travels that photography has provided me. And I am also grateful for your support and encouragement. I cherish my family and friends, my clients, and this amazing planet that sustains us. May we preserve and nurture Mother Earth since she is the only home we have.

1/2500 sec. at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 120mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on our blessings and seek out ways to make life better for those around us."  --Terri Marshall

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Off To The Ends Of The Earth

I leave today for the ends of the earth. I am headed to Patagonia and Antarctica, two places I have never been before. It is an exciting scouting trip for possible group trips in the future. 

These are two locations I have always wanted to see. Will spend about a week in Patagonia photographing the sweeping landscapes, glaciers, and wildlife like puma and guanaco. Then will spend about 5 days in Antarctica photographing icebergs and various penguin species, and possibly whales and other wildlife. Antarctica is one of the last pristine areas left on Earth. It is largely untouched and unpopulated.

Since I have never been in this part of the world before, today's image is a closeup of an iceberg in Alaska. 

I will be in some remote areas with minimal internet service so it might be awhile before I can post another Blog entry. Will try to update you when I can.

1/1000 sec. at f/8, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 300mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If Antarctica were music, it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. Literature and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it."  --Andrew Denton

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

At the start of the holiday season, 
I wish you joyous and peaceful times

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."  --Melody Beattie

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  -- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

May your Thanksgiving be filled with family and friends, 
love and laughter, and the joy of life. 
And as always, Seize The Day!


Friday, November 22, 2019

More Lightroom Magic

Here is another example of how much Lightroom can improve an image easily and quickly. I was walking along the rocky shoreline in Juneau, Alaska last summer and saw this still life scene. One of the things I love about walking on the beach or along the edge of any body of water is to see what I can find. I don't always find something photogenic, but when I do, it is exciting. I never move or add any elements. If it is there and it looks interesting just as it is, I will photograph it. So when I came across this feather and rock, I was excited.

But the original RAW image was not as punchy as this final version, nor did I get as close to the subject as I should have. Here is the original before anything was done in Lightroom.
It is flat, rather blah, and not cropped in tightly enough. While the scene excited me when I came across it, the RAW image was quite disappointing. Frankly I was ready to delete it, but decided to try some post-processing in Lightroom to see if anything could be done to make it more visually appealing.

The first step was to crop it to eliminate much of the unnecessary background. Then it was time to go to work on bringing out the whites and the blacks that were there, but hidden.

Here are the steps I used to turn this into the final version at the top of the Blog. [Note: While your first instinct might be to use the Contrast slider to create more punch, that is not the best approach. In fact, I almost never use the Contrast slider. I find it is much better to make changes in small, controllable, incremental steps, rather than to make global changes that affect the entire image all at once. By controlling the Blacks, Whites, Shadows, and Highlights individually you will achieve much better results. ]

1. Move the Blacks slider to -100 to create deeper blacks.

2. Move the Clarity slider to +30 to boost mid-tone contrast.

3. Use the Graduated Filter tool to darken all areas around the feather. I brought the tool in from each of the 4 corners so that the rocks and sand were darkened, but not the feather or the rock on top of it.

4. Even though the image was shot in color, all the tones were either gray, white, or black so I converted it to a Black and White image in Lightroom to give it a full monochromatic look.

That's it. Four easy steps that made a big difference to the final image.

1/1000 sec. at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 105mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Found objects, chance creations.... The commonplace is miraculous if rightly seen."  -- Charles Simic

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Lightroom To The Rescue

As I have written many times before, Lightroom is my go-to software for post-processing. It is fast, powerful, easy to use, and if you make any mistakes or misjudgments, you can always go back and change whatever you want to.

This image is a great example of the power of Lightroom. It was shot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on a very overcast and misty day. Here is the original RAW image, before any Lightroom adjustments.
As you can see, it is a very blah, unexciting image. The mist obliterates most of the color and detail in the image. While the original scene was misty, it did not appear this gray and murky to my eyes. This is the kind of image that, when you first see it on your computer screen after downloading it, you instantly want to delete it as a "loser." But it pays to not be too hasty in that decision. At least take a few minutes to attempt some post-processing to see if there are hidden details that Lightroom can bring out and make better.

Only 5 easy steps were needed in Lightroom to bring out the hidden qualities in this image. Here are the steps used (note that the order of these steps, and the amount of change needed, will vary image by image - there are no hard and fast rules since each image is different and will need various amounts of changes):

1. Moved the Whites slider to +58 to increase the light tones.
2. Moved the Blacks slider to -31 to decrease the dark tones.
3. Moved the Clarity slider to +30 to increase mid-tone contrast.
4. Increase Saturation to +86 to improve color.
5. Dehaze filter to cut through the mist. (note that not all the haze has been removed - since it was a misty day I wanted some of that quality to still show in the image)

So when you first look at your images after downloading and see some that look, well, pretty bad, don't be too hasty to delete them. Take a few minutes to try a few things in Lightroom to see if you can reveal the hidden beauty that is most likely there.

1/800 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."  --Confucius

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

A Thrill And An Honor

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I am happy and honored to announce that this image was selected as one of the Top 100 images in the recently concluded North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) annual competition. Over 3800 images were submitted. This is a pair of Horned Puffins taken in Alaska.

I entered it in the "Altered Reality" category since it is an artistic rendering of the original color image. I debated for a long time whether to enter a black-and-white version of such colorful subjects. We are used to seeing puffins in full color, so showing them in a monochrome image was a gamble. In this case, the gamble worked!

This breeding pair positioned themselves perfectly on their rocky perch. This rendering (done with Lightroom and Topaz) brings out the texture and contrast more clearly than what our eyes see in a color image.

1/1250 sec., f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Be passionate about your life. Learn to live without the fear of failing. Take a chance, you might just surprise yourself."  -- Nishan Panwar

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Timeless Spiral

Spiral shapes appear throughout nature, and have been adapted by man in a variety of ways. This spiral staircase in a lighthouse is reminiscent of the spiral of a nautilus shell. The beautiful ratio and repetition of shape make spirals fascinating photographic subjects.

This shot was made with my iPhone 10R, a device I rarely use for images. But sometimes it is handy, and very easy to use. And the sharpness is much improved over older iPhones.

This is a straight shot, not changed with some of the wonderful software available. We have so many options open to us, but sometimes a straight shot is a nice treat. I did use Photoshop to improve the color saturation.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping."
Julia Margaret Cameron

Friday, October 18, 2019

Florida Bird Photography Workshop

Join me for some of the best bird photography anywhere.
This is the time of year when some of the most beautiful 
Roseate Spoonbills, Great Egrets, 
Snowy Egrets, 
and several 
species of Herons 
arrive in their breeding plumage. 

The birds will be nest building, mating, and raising chicks, and all of this will be happening close to us at eye level.

We will be in a private rookery that is beautifully designed with walkways that put us at tree-top level with the birds. This provides us with the best chances of getting close-up shots, and no long lenses are needed. All birds are truly wild, but are not bothered by our presence.

We will have special early access to the rookery before it opens to the public. And it is a short, easy walk into and around the rookery. Super bird photography does not get any better, or any easier than this.

In addition to the birds there will be shooting opportunities in the historic areas of St. Augustine, which bills itself as America's Oldest City. It is the home of significant landmarks like Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, the Lightner Museum, and more.

This unique workshop includes:
- early entry and private time photographing birds in the rookery
- personalized instruction to make your bird photography the best it can be
- all rookery fees
- trolley and walking tour of historic St. Augustine
- image critiques
- Lightroom and Photoshop tips

Workshop is limited to 12 photographers.

FEE: Early sign-up fee is $1995 if you register no later than November 20. After that date the regular rate of $2495 applies. Fee includes all entry fees into the rookery, trolley tour of historic St. Augustine, extensive personalized instruction, image critiques, both in-the-field and classroom training, Lightroom and Photoshop tips. (Not included are lodging, meals, transportation, and personal incidentals. Special hotel rates have been arranged.)

DEPOSIT: A $500 deposit will reserve your space.

ITINERARY: Workshop begins in the late afternoon on Monday, March 30. Specific time and location will be provided when you register. Each day of the workshop will be a varied combination of bird photography, historic architecture, training, and image critiques. The workshop officially ends after a morning rookery visit on Saturday, April 4.  



or  CALL 757-773-0194

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Simple Pleasures

As photographers, we enjoy many of life's simple pleasures - a beautiful sunrise, wildlife encounters, or in this case a gently flowing stream. Being by the water is a primal experience for many of us, whether it is at the ocean or along forest streams.

Photographing moving water is relatively easy. To show the movement as in this image, a tripod is needed, as well as a cable release or remote trigger for your shutter. If you do not have either of those, you can still get great shots if you set your shutter on a 2-second delay. If you do not know how to do this, your owner's manual will have directions. The delay allows your camera to stop vibrating after you have pressed the shutter button. Even though you are on a tripod, there is still some vibration when you press the shutter, and allowing you camera the 2 seconds to settle down will result in sharp images.

I am always asked what the best shutter speed is to show the movement of water, and the answer is "it depends."  There is no hard and fast rule for the best shutter speed, since it will vary widely depending on how fast the water is moving AND how much movement you want to show.

For fast-moving water a shutter speed as short as 1/4 sec. can work well. For slower moving water often a shutter of several seconds or longer is needed.

The best thing to do is to start with a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. and then slow down the shutter speed in increments, up to several seconds or longer to determine what look you like the best. That way you have many options to choose from each and every time you do this type of photography.

It is important to remember that as you change the shutter speed, you must also change the f-stop so that the exposure on each shot is a good one. Just slowing down the shutter speed without changing the f-stop will result in over-exposed images. So be sure to check your Histogram on each shot to be sure you are getting good exposures.

3.2 seconds at f/20, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Simple pleasures are the last healthy refuge in a complex world."  -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Oh What A Beautiful Morning!

The Misty Moody Smoky Mountains workshop has been an incredible week of great photo opportunities, great people and a great time all the way around.

We headed out at 5AM yesterday morning in hopes of seeing a spectacular sunrise, and Mother Nature did not disappoint. We had the wonderful mist that the Smokies are famous for, and the show lasted for about 45 minutes.

The clouds and the light were constantly changing and we were all happy campers. It is always wise to arrive on site about an hour ahead of official sunrise time. That gives you time to set up and to start shooting as soon as the there is enough light for an exposure. Our starting exposures were about f/22 for 15 seconds, with an ISO of 800. But the light brightened quickly and soon we were able to reduce the ISO to 200 and the shutter speed to 1.5 seconds.

15 seconds at f/22, ISO 800. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 76mm on Canon 5D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Sunrise is always a perfect time of day. If only it did not come so early!"  -- Mollie Isaacs

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Autumn Is On The Way

The Great Smoky Mountains photo workshop begins in just a few days, and everyone is looking forward to some cooler weather and fall color. The Smokies are famous for morning mist in the valleys, and we are hoping to see that, too.

But regardless of what we might see, I am looking forward to showing everyone some spectacular hidden gems inside the national park. I am fortunate to have traveled to the Smokies many times, and know some of the best tucked away places for superb photography. We will explore many of those locations in search of unique and beautiful images.

When photographing the autumn colors anywhere, it is best to go during the week when the area is less crowded. Then look for places where there is some color, but also some foliage that is still green. So often we hear reports on when things are at "peak color," but the best images are often possible days or a week or more before peak so that there is some green to offset the warm yellows, oranges, and reds as in this image. Having some color contrast can provide more punchy and appealing images.

Also, look for foliage that has just burst into color if possible, rather than leaves that are already becoming faded or brown. Colorful leaves floating in streams or ponds can also provide some great images. Let your imagination go, and try to seek out unique views, or different approaches to typical autumn images.

You will be amazed at what you can create when you let yourself go, and allow your creativity to soar!

1/500 sec. at f/16, ISO 800. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 5D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "This world is but a canvas to our imagination."  -- Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Once Again The Stars Aligned

I have written many times about how luck or serendipity plays a big part in getting successful images.   You see another example of that here.

On the recent private yacht cruise in Alaska's Inside Passage, we were headed to a quiet cove for the night. The sun was close to setting and the ambient light was falling quickly. We were out on deck  watching a few humpback whales lazily cruising nearby. I never expected this moment to occur, but fortunately I was looking toward the sun's reflection when one of the humpbacks decided to dive in the absolute perfect spot. What an exciting and serendipitous event!

It happened fast, but I managed to fire off a few shots before the tail disappeared below the water's surface.

These moments can happen without warning when photographing wildlife, and do not last long. That is why it always pays to have your camera set for a good exposure, and to be ready to put the camera to your eye and shoot as many images as you can while the action is happening.

I recommend that in order to be ready for these moments, you have your camera set on Rapid Burst, and your lens on Continuous Focus. And remember when using Rapid Burst to set your camera to the highest burst mode it has BUT only fire off 3 or 4 shots at a time. Then stop shooting for a second, giving your camera's buffer time to recover. Then fire off another 3 or 4 shots. If you allow your camera to fire off too many images at one time, the buffer will fill and you will be unable to trigger the shutter again until the camera has processed all the images in the burst. Giving it a second or so to  do some processing will usually assure you that you can continue to shoot while the action is occurring.

1/1000 sec. at f/8, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "When opportunities come, be ready."  --Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, September 23, 2019

Galapagos 2020 Trip Announced

Galapagos - just the name conjures up images of exotic birds, 
pristine beaches, beautiful waters, species unique to the 
area, and more. It is a photographer's paradise, and we 
will explore it more intimately than most other groups can. 

We will have 10 glorious days to sail among the islands and view the wildlife of this magical archipelago. 

We will live aboard our own private motor sailing vessel, a beautiful yacht that fits right in with the pristine locations we will be visiting. We will have our own onboard naturalist guide who is reputed to be one of the best guides in the Galapagos. 

We will have opportunities to land on most of the islands and explore the exotic wildlife, birds, and landscapes.

Our home will be a 78-foot steel-hulled motorized sailing yacht with 7 staterooms (double occupancy), each with private bath and air-conditioning. 

Our boat has motor launches to get us ashore to photograph and explore. And wetsuits and snorkeling gear will be provided, too, for some great underwater photography opportunities. 

Our knowledgeable guides will provide us with information on wildlife, geology, history, local color, and safety.

As with all my trips, you will have exceptional photographic opportunities, receive personalized attention, participate in image critiques, be treated royally, and have a great time! 

For a complete itinerary, pricing, and more details 
and I will be glad to send it to you.

Please note: the email address above appears this way to avoid spam. When you enter the email address, please use the standard "at" symbol.

Have questions? Call me at 757-773-0194 
and I will be happy to answer them!

This is a rare opportunity to experience the Galapagos on board a beautiful private yacht with limitless photographic opportunities. 
I hope you can join me!  


FYI the September newsletter came out today. If you did not receive it, please email me with YES in the subject line and your free subscription will start right away. You can read the newsletter at this link  https://conta.cc/2muoBln

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Lowly Dandelion

When you are looking for something interesting to photograph, don't overlook the simplest of subjects. This common dandelion was turned into an interesting image with just a few easy steps in Photoshop.

You can read about the technique at this link  https://awakethelight.blogspot.com/2017/03/just-for-fun.html?fbclid=IwAR0sdpDiUh606OPfN0o8RJKBA5SDcpieo87rEi__6CbAdMBjUbstgYZDUDc  

Dandelions actually make very interesting subjects if you take the time to get close and look at all the repeating shapes and textures. In fact many simple things which might not seem appealing take on new life when you take the time to examine them closely.

So stretch yourself. Go in search of simple, everyday things and think about what you can do to make them more interesting.

1/2000 sec at f/8, ISO 800, Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. "  --Robert Brault

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Power Of Black-and-White

Puffins are some of my favorite bird species. They are beautiful, somewhat comical, adorable, and they fly like the wind. And while their feathers are a simple blend of black and white, their large bills are brightly colored, especially during breeding season.

So why did I choose to do this image in Black and White? Because a Black and White image has the power to show graphic elements and textures more strongly than most color images.

With Black and White, you see the form, the line, and the shape much more clearly. Look at the graphic shape of the bills, the wonderful curve leading to the eyes, and the rounded textured chests. Those elements do not stand out when viewing a color image.

Sure, not all images lend themselves well to Black and White, and I admit that I wondered if this one would lose its visual strength without the bright colors of the bills. On the contrary, for me it gained more power than it had in color.

1/1250 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "To see in color is a delight for the eye, but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul."  --Andri Cauldwell

Friday, September 13, 2019

Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

Do you know what this is? The color pattern might make you think it is an Orca, a so-called killer whale. In fact this is a Dall's Porpoise, a beautiful little creature found off the West coast of the US as far north as Alaska. We were lucky to see a small pod of these little guys off the coast of Alaska. They are about the size of a typical porpoise, but incredibly fast. By the time you see them, they are gone before you can get a shot off. They can reach speeds of 34 mph in short bursts, and surface only briefly.

So what do you do? The best approach is to take your best guess as to where one might surface, and as crazy as this might sound, start shooting BEFORE you see one. Sure, you will get a lot of images of empty water, but once in awhile you will luck out and actually catch one, or part of one, breaking the water's surface.

While this image does not show the entire body, it did capture part of the black and white color pattern, the small dorsal fin, and a beautiful arc of water spraying off the fin.

For me, what makes this shot appealing is a combination of the color of the water, the water spray, and the beautiful warm light of early evening giving a golden glow to the fin and the white area under the water.

It is another example of how important it is to be prepared and do your best to anticipate action when photographing wildlife and birds.

1/1250 sec. at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 147mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn't been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn't have been lucky."  -- Oprah Winfrey

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Abstracts Here, There and Everywhere

Abstract images are all around us. The potential is limitless. All it takes is a little time, a little patience, and an awareness of what is around you.

This shot was taken on a brown bears trip in Alaska. We were walking across the mud flats to get a little closer to the bears when the parallel lines of the mud raised slightly above the shallow water caught my eye. It was a clear day, and the blue sky reflected in the smooth water. In all honesty, however, the water was not this blue. I saturated the color in Lightroom to make it richer.

Because this is an abstract and essentially an art piece, I had no reluctance to oversaturate the blue. But for more traditional nature and wildlife images, I would never go this far. In those cases you want to preserve the realism of the scene as much as possible.

This is a cropped version of the original. I did some cropping in order to make the triangle of blue in the upper right about the same size as the similar triangle of blue in the lower left. While that is a small thing, attention to those sorts of details can elevate an image to a higher level, giving it more visual appeal.

1/1250 sec. at f/10, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The acknowledgement of a single possibility can change everything."  -- Aberjhani

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Award Winners

I was honored and thrilled to receive word on Friday that two of my images were selected for the prestigious Loan Collection of the Professional Photographers of America.

The top image, titled "Blowin' In The Wind," is a Great Egret with breeding plumage. It was taken in St. Augustine, Florida on a very breezy day. The egret was sitting on a top branch of a nearby tree, and I was happily shooting away when the wind kicked up and blew its long, flowing feathers up and over its head. Shooting on rapid burst, I did not know exactly what I had captured until viewing it later on my laptop screen.

Because it was on a top branch, the smooth overcast sky formed an even-toned backdrop. I liked the white-on-white look, with the only color being the long orange bill. I debated whether to enter it into competition or not, since it does not show the head or the eye, which is often what judges look for in bird and wildlife photography. But I liked the unusual nature of the image, and its touch of whimsy, so I threw caution to the wind and entered it in the annual Professional Photographers of America International competition.

Needless to say, I was overjoyed when I received word that it had been selected for their Loan Collection, what they dub the best of the best.

The bottom image, titled "Eye On The Prize," was also selected for the Loan Collection. You might have seen the image before in this Blog. It was taken in Alaska on a gray misty day. Several eagles were circling our boat to catch fish, and this one was performing some amazing aerial acrobatics. The mist behind the eagle helped separate it from the dark green background. Again, shooting on rapid burst I did not know exactly what I had captured until viewing the results on my laptop. And doing some optimization in Lightroom really made the eagle pop out against the background.

All competitions are a complete unknown, and you never know what the judges will respond to. When deciding which images to enter, it is good to show them to a wide variety of people, and not all of them photographers. Show them to friends and family, as well as camera club buddies and any photo mentors you might have. It is best to get a wide range of opinions, and then weigh that against what your gut tells you is a great image.

Egret - 1/1250 sec. at f/11, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

Eagle - 1/1000 sec. at f/11, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "All competitions are a crap shoot. Sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don't. The trick is to keep going, keep striving, keep improving. And at the end of the day, believe in yourself."  --Mollie Isaacs

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Six-Pack of Composition Tips

Composition can be a tricky thing. A well-composed image attracts the eye and keeps the viewer engaged. But how do you get there? There are a few simple tips that can help make or break an image.

Here is my six-pack of tips to help improve your landscape images:

1. For a landscape image such as this one, creating a feeling of depth is important. This image was taken in Iceland on a promontory overlooking a huge, wild beach. To provide a feeling of depth, I included the distant rocks in the mist, along the horizon near the long cliffs in the background. They are faint, but they are visible and that allows the eye to travel all around the scene.

2. Another important tip is to have a center of interest. In this case it is the large rock in the foreground. Make sure the center of interest is sharp, stands out from the rest of the image, and has enough interest (shape, size, color, or line) to grab the viewer's attention.

3. Shapes are also important in a successful image. This was a very blustery day, and the shapes of the waves rolling onto the shore were constantly changing. I waited until several of them were in a similar U-shaped form before clicking the shutter. The soft rounded shapes of the waves on shore are a counterpoint to the hard, jagged rock that is the center of interest.

4. Contrast in any image adds punch and appeal. Whether black and white or color, contrast helps give the image life. In a black and white image, ideally there will be good whites with detail, strong blacks with detail, and a range of middle gray tones. Even though this was a very overcast and rainy day, there was enough contrast between the white foam in the water and the black rock and black beach to provide just enough punch for eye appeal.

5. Even the best images need a bit of optimization. I use Lightroom most often. It can help add that extra little oomph that most images need. For nature and wildlife images, you want the modifications to be subtle and in keeping with the look of the original scene. Don't overdo the contrast by either making the light tones too light, or the dark tones too dark. For artsy images you can certainly go a little crazy with over-saturating colors or boosting contrast, but for nature and wildlife, let subtlety be your guide. For color images, keep the colors natural. For black and white, maintain the contrast within a range that is in keeping with the existing lighting conditions.

6. And finally, take lots if images of each scene and each subject. Give yourself plenty of options regarding overall composition, camera height, and your position relative to all the elements in a scene.

So get out there and go for the gusto!

1/320 sec. at f/9, ISO 800. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 27mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The more you get set into your own world, the smaller your world becomes."  --  J.R. Rim

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Cutest Critter In The Water

Sea otters are absolutely adorable, and a thrill to watch cavorting in the water. They twist and twirl, and are masters at diving.

This male was an unusual sight in the area of Alaska we were traveling in. He had actually been sighted nearly 100 miles away from this location just a few days prior to our being treated to his antics. While we don't know what brought him to the vicinity of our boat, we were excited to see him.

Typical of sea otters, he would look at us, then ignore us, then look at us again. He appeared as curious to see us as we were to see him. And he performed for us long enough for us to get some great images.

This is one of my favorites since he had his front paws placed perfectly near his face. Doesn't get any cuter than that!

One of the thrills of being in Alaska is seeing a huge variety of wildlife, AND being able to photograph them.  I'll be returning to Alaska in 2021 to photograph brown bears, also called grizzly bears. It will be at my favorite bears location, timed to coincide with the annual salmon run.

If you would like to join me in Alaska August 29 - September 4, 2021 for this exciting brown bears trip, please send me an email expressing interest. It will put you on the "Interested List" but does not obligate you at this time. Details are being finalized, but this trip has not been publicly announced yet. So if you would like to beat the rush and get on the list now, let me know. I will send you details as soon as they are set. Limited to only 8 photographers.

1/1250 sec. at f/10, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm, on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Do not delay. Do not delay. The golden moments fly!"  -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

And The Winner Is.............

Last week there were four versions of this image, and you voted for your favorite. (See all four options here   http://awakethelight.blogspot.com/2019/08/please-vote-for-your-favorite.html )

The one above, the Pastel version, was the clear winner, with the Original version coming in a close second.

Most comments indicated a preference for the softer look of this one, compared to the others. I confess that this one is my favorite as well. I like the overall pastel nature of the colors, the feeling of softness, and the better blending of tones in the background.

This look was achieved with Topaz Studio 2. I am experimenting with this software, and frankly the jury is still out. It has some features that I like, and others that I do not especially care for. That is typical of most software, and you have to work your way through it to find what works best for you. In general my preference is to NOT use preset filters or textures. When I do find one that I like, I try to modify it to my taste by either reducing the filter's opacity, or softening the look in other ways. Some competitions do not allow the use of preset textures, so be sure to read the rules.

I like to create my own textures and I have a file of images taken just for that purpose. Subjects like clouds, tree bark, soft reflections on water, out of focus flowers or grasses, rough walls, rusty cars, etc. can make great textures. When taking the shot, I fill the frame with the subject. I often take a few shots with the subject in focus, and a few others with it thrown out of focus. That gives me a wide variety of options.

To add one of your own textures to an image, first open the image you want to add texture to in Photoshop or Elements. Then open the texture image you want to use. Copy the texture image and paste it over the original image. If it is not as large as your original image, use the Transform tool to expand it to fill the frame. Then reduce the opacity of the texture. If it is too sharp, use Gaussian Blue to soften it. Then try each of the Blending Modes to see the different ways Photoshop or Elements can blend the two layers together for a variety of looks. (Blending Modes are accessible just above the Layers  Palette. Find the word "Normal" in the rectangular box, and click on the small triangle next to it. A drop down box will appear with all the different options. Click on each one to see the effect and then choose the one you like best.)  You will need to experiment to come up with a look that works for you. But it is a lot of fun, and a very creative exercise.

I appreciate all your votes and comments, and was happy that so many of you were interested in making your preference known. Thanks to everyone who voted!

1/1000 sec., f/7.1, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 247mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have."  -- Maya Angelou

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Exposure Compensation Made Simple

When humpback whales communicate to engage in bubble net feeding, it will absolutely blow you away! If you are not familiar with what bubble net feeding is, here's the short version - a group of whales come together because of an abundance of fish or other enticing food. When they cooperate as a group, each one can eat much more than attempting to catch food alone. They begin by doing a deep dive, and then begin to blow bubbles in a circle that form a "net" around a school of fish. The bubbles force the fish to come closer to the surface of the water, and to group together in the middle of the circle of bubbles. At that point the whales, who are now below the fish in the "net," thrust themselves upward through the group of fish and grab large amounts in their huge mouths. The upward thrust, which lasts only a few seconds, brings the whales up above the surface when we can grab some shots.

To see up to ten or more 60,000 pound animals blast upwards above the surface of the water is an amazing sight. We were exceptionally lucky during one of last month's Alaska trips to see this behavior for 5 days in a row. What incredible luck!

This shot, taken very late in the day, presented a technical problem. The whales are dark and it would have been easy to underexpose them since the surface of the water was much brighter than they were. The solution was to use Exposure Compensation to make sure the dark whales received enough exposure to not look pure black. It is important to remember that when dark tones are underexposed, it is difficult for Lightroom or other optimization software to bring out the details, and often the final result appears very noisy and grainy

I chose a "Plus 2-Stop" setting for Exposure Compensation in order to guarantee that the details in the dark tones would be visible in the final image. Taking this approach meant that the water was overexposed, but in a trade-off between showing detail in the water vs showing detail in the main subjects, the whales, the choice was obvious.

The final result is a bit more artsy than a traditional rendition of this scene. It conveys the power and movement of the animals, including the birds, offset by the pure white background.  Although no artwork or filters were used on this image, the look is reminiscent of a charcoal drawing.

1/1600 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Art is where you find it."  --Mollie Isaacs

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Please Vote For Your Favorite





Here are four different versions of the same image. It is a Fireweed plant, photographed in coastal Alaska last month.  Fireweed blooms from the bottom up, and when its blooms move up to the top of the plant (you can see just buds on the top level in this image) it is a sign that autumn is on the way.

Which one do you like best? Please vote for your favorite. I really appreciate your input.

You can vote either on my Facebook page, or email me your vote at awakethelightphoto@icloud.com  If you would like to give reasons for your choice, I would love to hear that, too.

As you can see, each image has a caption so please mention that with your vote. Either Original, or Pastel, or Vintage Black and White, or Textured.

I have been experimenting with various filters and looks, and am interested to know how you like these first few I have tried. Photographic trends, methods, hardware, and software are constantly changing, and we all need to keep moving with the times.

Note that this shot was taken with a long telephoto zoom lens. That helped to blur the background nicely. The background is filled with more Fireweed plants.

1/1000 sec at f/7.1, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things because we're curious, and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."  --Walt Disney

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Mid-air Confrontation

Eagle fights occur quickly and end just as quickly. Rarely is damage done. These eagles were vying for the best position to grab a fish in the waters below. The eagle on the left was zooming toward the other one. Clearly the eagle on the right saw the attack coming and assumed a very strong defensive posture. Its beak is open, issuing a warning to the attacker. They eventually locked talons but then released each other with no damage. The entire encounter lasted only an amazing 3 seconds. Incredible.

Eagles are some of the most skillful flyers in the air. They are a joy to watch, and assume a wide variety of positions with blazing speed.

1/1600 sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you."  -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Monday, July 29, 2019

Serene Alaska Scene

Serenity along Alaska's Inside Passage. Late in the evening this lone fishing vessel was plying the waters in search of a catch. The subtle colors against the dark outline of the boat caught my eye. You can see the distant mountains through the haze.

There were dozens of wildfires burning throughout the state during much of my time in Alaska, which caused the misty haze. While it added a mood to this image, it was a concern that so many fires were active. The extreme heat and drought helped to keep the fires alive for weeks. Many of the residents and visitors I came across expressed concern over the growing changes they see in the weather patterns and the climate.

One sobering sight we saw on this trip was a huge, exquisite iceberg that had shrunk to less than half its size in less than 24 hours. Of course no one knows what the future will bring, but the rapid changes being observed are generating many questions and concerns.

1/1000 sec at f/6.3, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to."  -- Terri Swearingen

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Puffins - Little Flying Bullets

Even though we went to Lake Clark National Park in Alaska to observe and photograph brown bears, there is always a side-benefit to this photo trip. We take a boat ride to a puffin breeding colony about 30 minutes away. It is such a treat to see these small, speedy birds. Two varieties occupy this colony - Horned Puffins and Tufted Puffins. This Horned Puffin happened to be flying past a blooming fireweed plant which created some additional color to this image.

Puffins are so much fun to watch. They are very fast flyers, zooming past at up to about 50mph, so getting flight shots is quite challenging. Fast shutter speeds and careful tracking are needed to get successful shots.

They are beautiful but also quite comical at times, with their feet splayed when coming in for a landing. But they are poetry in motion when flying.

The next trip is already being planned to this location. It will be in late August 2021. Yes, 2021. It is necessary to plan far ahead for this prime location for brown bears. If you are interested, please contact me for more details.

1/1250 sec at f/6.3, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set to 400mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times." --unknown

Monday, July 22, 2019

Beautiful Baby Bear

I am back in Anchorage after a wonderful week photographing brown bears in Lake Clark National Park. We stayed in a great lodge with comfortable rooms and great food, yet right in the middle of bear territory.

This beautiful juvenile put on an entertaining show cavorting on the beach and frolicking in the grassy meadows. When she stood up behind the grass, I was able to grab this fleeting moment for a bear portrait. Like people, each brown bear's face is different. This bear is especially beautiful with inquiring eyes and a sense of calm.

The bears are completely wild, yet are very tolerant of humans. They are curious, but at the same time non-threatening. We are careful to be very respectful of their space and feeding needs, and do not interfere with their normal activities.

Super long lenses are not needed at this location, and I have found that a 100-400mm zoom lens, often with a 1.4x extender, is all that is needed. I rarely need a tripod, and have found that I can move more quickly and get better images when I am free and not tethered to a tripod. Of course a tripod is needed for some types of photography like moving water, night shots, and more, but when possible I prefer to handhold the camera.

1/1000 sec at f/7.1, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport."  -- Steve McCurry

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Iceberg Extravaganza

Before I leave Anchorage for my next Alaska photo trip, and once again be out of internet range, I wanted to share this abstract image with you. It is a small portion of a huge iceberg in a side channel off the Inside Passage.

The color was stunning, and the various shapes were endless. We shot hundreds and hundreds of images as our boat captain expertly navigated us around this incredible iceberg.

This was a large berg that had broken off the LeConte Glacier located several miles upstream. It is one of an innumerable number of glaciers that are receding at a rapid rate. We returned to the same spot the next day, and half of this berg had already melted away overnight. Its greatly reduced size was both disturbing and alarming.

1/640 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender, for an effective focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II for a final focal length of about 780mm.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We have to wake up to the fierce urgency of the now." -- Jim Yong Kim, President of The World Bank

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Tender Terns

I returned today to the land of internet, after an incredible 8 days aboard a private chartered yacht in the Inside Passage of Alaska. While all my Alaska trips have spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife, this one was especially wonderful. As we cruised up Misty Fjords, these Arctic Terns put on an amazing show. The male, on the left, brought a gift of a fish to the female, and she accepted it gracefully.

These terns are tiny, and weigh only about 4 ounces each.

The tender scene lasted only a few moments, and how lucky were we to be there at the exact right time. As with all photo experiences, any action that takes place in front on your lens is a gift.  This was especially exciting to me since it was behavior I had never witnessed before, and the location and the light were perfect.

1/2000 sec. at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with 1.4X extender for an effective focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body (totaling a final focal length of about 780mm). Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is a wonderful feeling to arrive dead center of a target you didn't even know you were aiming for. -- Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday, July 5, 2019

Perfect Plunge

This young humpback whale treated us to repeated tail slaps and plunges for quite awhile. He assumed perfect poses and we were thrilled to be able to get many great images.

While most humpbacks "fluke" when they do deep dives, it is generally the younger ones who do tail slaps (repeatedly slapping the water with their tails for reasons we humans do not understand) and breaching.

Since there was virtually no color in the water at this time of day, I converted this image to Black and White in Lightroom.

Watching whales, listening to whales, and marveling at them is one of my favorite experiences!

1/1250 sec. at f/11, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II set at 147mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The sea lives in every one of us." --Wyland

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Eagle Fight

The first of three Alaska photo tours has just ended, and what a week we had! We were in Glacier Bay National Park and saw whales, eagles, puffins, sea otters, sea lions, and more.

We were treated to a series of exciting aerial eagle fights. They did not last long, but any nasty fish scraps were enough to cause a ruckus. These mature bald eagles gave us a good show, fighting in the air over a stretch of beach at low tide.

All of us were mesmerized with the action, and were so happy with our good luck of being in the right place at the right time. It was a great group of happy and fun-loving photographers. We had lots of laughs, too much good food, and great photography. The elements of a perfect photo trip!

Now I am in the tiny town of Petersburg, Alaska waiting for the next trip to begin in a couple of days. We will be on a private yacht for 8 days for whale-watching, bird photography, and enjoying the beauty of the wilds of the Inside Passage.

Internet access is spotty in town, and once we leave port there will be none. I'll try to post more Blogs over the next couple of days before we head into the wilds once again.

1/1000 sec. at f/9, ISO 800.  Canon 100-400mm lens set at 255mm on Canon 7D Mark II. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet that you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later."  --Randy Komisar

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Smokies Sunrise

Sunrise in the Smokies is always a treat. Watching it from on top of Clingman's Dome, the highest point reachable by road, is uplifting and very photogenic. While often sunrise comes much too early for many people, at the Smokies Workshop coming up October 5 - 10, the sun will not rise until about 7:30am. Practically lunch time!

The technique used in this image is a simple one. As soon as the sun begins to peek above the ridge line, there is a brief time when sharp rays appear. They are enhanced when shot with a small aperture like f/16 or f/22. This same technique can be used when shooting the sun peeking around a tree trunk, a building, or anything else that blocks most of the sun, allowing just a small piece of it show.

Try it. Experiment. You will be surprised at what you can create!

Join me in the Smokies, October 5 - 10. We will work on slowing down in order to see and feel the moods of the landscape. Images that convey emotion can be very powerful. We will work on composition to help you create stronger images. We will explore not only the park's soft, misty moods, but also the power conveyed by its rocky streams, its majestic trees, and its thriving wildlife.

We will also have time to work on creative techniques, plus some classroom training sessions on Lightroom and Photoshop. Regardless of your skill level, you will come away with new approaches and a new way of seeing.

WHERE: Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the Tennessee side near Townsend, TN. This gives us the best and easiest access to the park and its main features.) 

WHEN: October 5 - 10

LIMIT: 10 photographers

FEE: $2495, BUT register by June 15 to receive the special discounted rate of $1995

FEE INCLUDES: All breakfasts, snacks, daily instruction, personalized attention, classroom training sessions, creative ideas and approaches, Lightroom Tips and Tricks, Photoshop techniques, image critiques, and a few surprises. [NOT included are lodging, lunches and dinners, and transportation.]

Saturday, October 5 - workshop begins at 6PM with a Welcome and Training session, followed by dinner at a local restaurant
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, & Wednesday, October 6, 7, 8, 9 - each day will be filled with morning and afternoon shooting sessions; mid-day will be working lunches with classroom training; most evenings will have critique sessions; at least one morning will be a sunrise shoot
Thursday, October 10 - workshop ends at 9AM after a wrap-up and farewell session 

TO REGISTER OR ASK QUESTIONS: Call or email me with questions or to register. For your security, we do not take Registrations or Payments online. You can find phone and email information on the website here  www.awakethelight.com 

1/50 sec. at f/22, ISO 400. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn."  -- Benjamin Franklin

Friday, May 31, 2019

Simple Close Up

Often the simplest subjects can be the most powerful. This perfect orchid was in bloom in a botanical gardens, and had just been watered by one of the volunteers. Perfect timing! I like to find natural water droplets rather than bringing my own spray bottle, so I never carry one. But if I luck out to be photographing just after a regular watering, I am happy to take advantage of the good timing.

Not only is this a simple subject, but the tones and composition are simple as well. I tipped the camera so that the viewer's eye moves from lower left to upper right. And it is carefully cropped so that, except for the lower left, there is no extraneous background.

1/2000 sec. at f/3.2, ISO 800. Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."  -- Leonardo da Vinci