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 )

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  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