Saturday, December 12, 2020
Finally we can begin to plan future travel! Let's head to Bosque del Apache, a magnificent bird paradise in New Mexico, next December.
This will be the perfect time of year to photograph thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. This famous location is one my favorite places to photograph birds. You will learn no only classic bird photography, but also new, creative artistic approaches. You will create images that are compelling and out of the ordinary. You will also learn many Lightroom techniques that will dramatically improve the look of your images.
Each day we will photograph the magical, in unison, lift-off at sunrise of thousands of Snow Geese. It is a spectacle not to be missed. The thundering sound of wing beats and splashing water is an experience of a lifetime. We will also photograph the graceful, ballet-like Sandhill Cranes as they soar past us.
Complete details are at this link https://www.awakethelight.com/workshops
This workshop is followed immediately by a landscape workshop to White Sands National Park, New Mexico. Take one workshop or both. Details for both trips are at the same link.
Now's the time to start planning your 2021 photographic adventures!
TECH SPECS 1/1250 sec at f/8, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 463mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head and Wimberly Sidekick.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "We have flown the air like birds, swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
It spite of the very tough year we have all been enduring, it is helpful to stop and consider all the things we have to be thankful for. It will vary widely from person to person, but regardless of any hardships or illnesses that you and your family have faced, there are still some good things to be grateful for.
For many of us, we will not be celebrating in person with family and friends this year. But we can still share the meaning and emotion of the day with them via Zoom or Skype or FaceTime calls. Even though life is not normal right now, we can still make the day the best it can be. Rather than despair over what we do not have, revel in what we DO have.
And we all have 2021 to look forward to. Surely it will be a better year than 2020. I hope to see you at an in-person workshop or trip when it is safe to travel again. Until then, I hope you will be safe and healthy, and find a bit of happiness in each day.
TECH SPECS 1/400 sec at f/9, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L lens set at 330mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ball head and Wimberley Sidekick.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." -- John F. Kennedy
Friday, November 20, 2020
I hope you are enjoying a taste of autumn. Autumn in Alaska is my favorite time to be there. The tundra bursts with color, the wildlife is in full mating attire, and you can see and feel Mother Nature at its finest.
This male caribou was beautifully positioned in colorful tundra with a distant mountainside as a backdrop. He was content to pose for awhile, and our shutters were doing a rapid-fire dance.
Some wildlife photography tips:
- try to show all four legs if possible
- make sure there is good sharpness in the eye(s)
- with dark fur, it helps to set your camera on +1 Exposure Compensation; that generally will provide good exposure of the dark tones and prevent them from showing too much noise
- use rapid burst even if the animal is not moving much; you will be amazed at how many variations you will see in your images for head position, eyes open or closed, legs positioned well or poorly, and other tiny changes that can make or break an image.
TECH SPECS 1/640 sec. at f/8, ISO 1600. 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 body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting, and autumn a mosaic of them all." -- Stanley Horowitz
Monday, November 16, 2020
This bald eagle in Alaska was doing a full speed nose dive to grab a fish. Eagles are amazing to watch. They have intense focus on their target, are incredible flyers and hunters, and have the gift of speed. They can turn on a dime and grab a fish that you do not even see.
Photographing them is exhilarating and exhausting because the action is non-stop and constantly changing.
This was a misty day onboard our boat, and the mist added an almost painterly quality to the background. The eagle looks almost pasted on against this classic Alaska background, but this is exactly how it was, no Photoshop used. I did use Lightroom to bring out the dark tones in the feathers, and to saturate the color of the beak and talons.
I took several thousand images over the course of an hour or two. With this kind of action, you have to shoot constantly in order to not miss the chance of getting great shots.
Today I am also experimenting with a new logo. It is a complete departure from the old one, and I would love to know how you feel about it. Let me know either way - love it or not. But I sure hope you love it! I designed it over the past few days.
TECH SPECS 1/1600 sec. at f/9, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II at 140mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Eagles come in all shapes and sizes, but you will recognize them chiefly by their attitudes." -- E.F. Schumacher
Monday, November 9, 2020
The lowly dandelion. The scourge of manicured lawns, BUT a great photo subject. Its small elements combine to create a beautiful tapestry of texture and softness. Shooting straight down provides a symmetrical circular composition that, when you really study it, can deeply engage the eye.
This black-and-white conversion was done in Lightroom. Stripping away the color in the image enhances the soft starbursts radiating from the center outward. And it allows the textures to be more enjoyable.
Note in the TECH SPECS below that this was shot with a very long lens. It is a technique that I love - it creates a macro effect for subjects that are somewhat far away.
So the next time you are seeking some exciting photo subjects, don't go for the clearly beautiful. Look for the unusual - weeds, or plants that are shriveled and finished for the season, or the last gasps of autumn's flowers. Take your time, REALLY look at the options before you, and seek subjects and compositions that stretch your imagination and your creative eye.
TECH SPECS 1/2000 sec at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens with Canon 1.4x III extender for an effective focal length of 560mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see." -- Dorothea Lange
Monday, November 2, 2020
Once again, Alaska is under attack. This time it is the incredibly important Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska. It is the world's largest intact temperate rainforest, known as America's Amazon. Effective this week, the Federal government will be lifting decades old protections and will allow logging companies to build roads and cut and remove ancient growth timber, some as old as 1,000 years.
This vitally important area covers 9.3 million acres of forest, and is home to bear, eagle, and salmon. This huge and ecologically vital area is said to absorb at least 8% of all the carbon stored in ALL the forests in the lower 48. Experts say that rainforests are the "lungs" of the planet, and the Tongass is the lungs of North America, according to the Washington Post. It has been called "America's last climate sanctuary."
At this time, major legal challenges are being mounted by environmental groups, and I certainly hope they succeed. According to experts interviewed by the Post, there is no strong economic reason for logging, nor is there a compelling biological or cultural benefit. This move by the Federal government and logging companies puts many things at risk. All 5 of Alaska's native tribal nations are opposed to this land grab. It will jeopardize even further the deteriorating environmental devastation Alaska is experiencing from global warming, plus other moves by the Federal government to lease Alaska lands for private business interests. These moves will negatively impact migratory animals and their habitat, put native tribal Alaskans at risk, and speed the destruction of our last great frontier.
I encourage you to get more information on all the environmental issues putting Alaska at risk. As you know, Alaska is one of my favorite places. I love the land, the people, and the animals who thrive there.
The photos above were taken in the Tongass National Forest in the summer of 2019. It is a huge, vibrant, and magical place.
TECH SPECS 1/1600 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.
TODAYS QUOTE: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead
Thursday, October 22, 2020
The annual international competition of the Professional Photographers of America is going on this week. And I just received the exciting news that two of my images have been selected to be part of the exhibition. It is always a high honor to be selected.
Even though I have been competing in various competitions for several decades, I never know which images will do well. When entering any competition, you always have to swallow hard and hope for the best. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes you don't.
The egret image on the left was titled "Peek-a-Boo" and was taken at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, FL. It was a lucky shot, with this wing position lasting only a fraction of a second. Thank goodness for cameras with rapid burst!
The bird-of-paradise shot was taken at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. I used a Topaz filter (set at low opacity) to add some texture that provided a slight artistic finish.
Both images have been extensively cropped and processed in Lightroom.
So now I can rest easy for awhile until the next competition!
TECH SPECS Egret - 1/1250 sec at f/5, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 227mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld. Bird-of-Paradise - 1/640 sec at f/3.5, ISO 800. LensBaby Sol 45 lens on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE "Winning and losing are both very temporary things. Having done one or the other, you move ahead. Gloating over a victory or sulking over a loss is a good way to stand still." -- Chuck Knox
Friday, October 16, 2020
I was asked by Gary Farber of Hunt's Photo and Video to test a new, long-awaited close-up filter. And it is a winner!
If you love macro but do not have a macro lens, OR even if you do have a macro lens but want to get in even closer to your subjects, this sweet filter is just the thing. And the price is right! The official name of this filter is the Promaster 5D Achromatic Close-Up Lens, and it comes in a variety of sizes to attach to most lenses.
Long ago and far away, there were a couple of superb close-up filters made by Canon and Nikon. It was a simple matter of just attaching the filter onto any lens, and you instantly had an inexpensive macro lens that could get you in close for beautiful shots. Over time, those filters were no longer made, and that was a sad day for many of us.
Fast-forward to today, and I'm happy to report that those types of close-up filters are once again being made, now by Promaster. As many of you know, I rarely recommend any gear or software, and when I do it is ONLY after I have tested it, like it, and then use it myself. And I REALLY like this filter.
From the moment you take it out of the box it is clear that it is a well-manufactured, quality product. For me, the optical quality of any filter is critically important, and this one passed all my tests with flying colors.
I tried it on a variety of subjects, and was happy with how it performed on all counts:
- Optically it is first-rate. There was no degradation of image quality that I could detect, and colors were represented accurately and clearly.
- It was very easy to attach it to my lens. Just screw it on and you are ready to shoot.
- It does not interfere with your ability to autofocus. Focus remained quick and precise.
- It does not cut light transmission through your lens.
- All of your normal camera controls work as they should. The filter does not interfere with any of your normal camera functions.
And as if all that was not enough, Hunt's Photo and Video is making these filters available at a very attractive price. You can view and purchase the filter at the special discounted price by clicking on this link
As with all macro shots, when you are in close to your subject, Depth of Field is very shallow. That is one of the charms of macro to me. I love the soft look, with just a small area of most importance being sharp. If you prefer macro images that are sharp throughout, there are some good focus-stacking software options available. While I do not use that sort of software, I have some colleagues who get good results with that approach.
So if getting up-close-and-personal with flowers and other macro subjects appeals to you, this filter is just the ticket. If you do get one, let me know how you like it!
And a quick word on Hunt's Photo and Video - I have been buying much of my photo equipment from them for over 10 years. I have found them to be easy to work with, very professional, friendly, and fast. Gary and his crew are first-rate, and are always there if you have a question or need something special. I like buying from real people whom I trust to handle their camera gear properly, and to ship it well-packaged. I trust them much more than a faceless mega-supplier, and their prices are very competitive. If you have not dealt with them before, give them a try. You will find it a refreshing change.
TECH SPECS 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 1600. Promaster 5D Achromatic Close-Up filter on Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 70mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." -- Albert Einstein
Friday, October 9, 2020
Autumn is arriving in most parts of the country. Hard to believe it is October already, and in spite of these surreal and troubling times, the time has passed quickly for me. While it will be a while longer before our lives return to something resembling "normal," we are muddling through reasonably well. I am certainly looking forward to a better 2021!
Photographing moving water is one of my favorite things, and the streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are among my favorites. While they are not the dramatic waterfalls of Yosemite or Yellowstone, they are lovely, and for me are a visual representation of the power of both stability and renewal. The meandering flow of water over ancient rocks is a testament to the power and resilience of nature.
While I rarely use a tripod, it is an essential tool when photographing moving water. The easiest way to convey the feeling of flow when photographing moving water is to first start with a low ISO. I generally use ISO 100 or 200 so that I can get good Depth of Field with a small aperture of about f/16 or f/22, and a slow shutter speed of anywhere from 1/2 sec up to several seconds. I always try a variety of shutter speeds since I never know exactly how much motion will appear in the image, and what look will work best for a particular shot. Remember that as you change your shutter speed, your aperture will change as well (unless you prefer to shoot on manual settings in which case you will need to change both the aperture AND the shutter speed). By the way, I recommend setting your camera on Aperture Priority.
For many of us, getting away to far flung places is not in the cards just yet. So this might be a good time to review older images in your files and look for hidden gems. You never know what you might find!
TECH SPECS 3 seconds at f/22, ISO 200. 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 ballhead.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it." -- Lao Tzu
Saturday, October 3, 2020
I came across this sunrise image that I took in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about a year ago, and wanted to share it with you. It was a very misty, cloudy morning and the dramatic scene only lasted a few minutes. The thick mist hanging in the valleys is what gave the Smokies its name.
As with all sunrise shooting options, you never know what Mother Nature will provide. I have been in the Smokies many times, and sunrise is always a big unknown. Sometimes the fog is so thick that you can barely see a few feet in front of you, and no photograph is possible. At other times it is too clear, and the drama that you hope for never happens. But on this particular morning, even though we never saw the sun actually pop up over the horizon because of the thick mist and clouds, we were treated to this spectacular sunrise with shades of purples and yellows.
When getting up early to shoot sunrise, it is best to plan to arrive at least 45 minutes before the officially stated sunrise time. The sky begins to get light about an hour before sunrise, and often the best shots happen before the sun actually breaks the horizon.
I like to prepare my gear the night before so that when I arrive at the location, it is a simple matter of setting up my tripod, attaching my camera, and then waiting for the hoped-for show to begin. I use Aperture Priority, pre-set my camera to ISO 800, and the aperture at about f/16. The shutter speed will set itself, and will be very slow in the pre-sunrise hour. As the skies begin to lighten, I change the ISO as needed, first to 400, and then sometimes to 200.
Setting the aperture to f/16 or smaller (f/22 or f/32, depending on the capability of your lens) gives you the best chance of getting the entire scene in sharp focus. In low light situations, like pre-sunrise, it is hard for your lens to autofocus properly, and it can also be difficult to focus manually as well. An aperture of f/16 or smaller gives you better Depth of Field which will help keep the scene sharp even if you miss the focus slightly.
Now that sunrise is later than during the summer months is a great time to get out there and get some great sunrise shots! You do not have to get up quite so early, and if one day does not provide you with a great sunrise, perhaps the next day will.
TECH SPECS 2 seconds at f/22, ISO 200. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 76mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Every day a million miracles begin at sunrise." -- Eric Jerome Dickey
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Penguins are amazing in the water and comical on land. These Chinstrap Penguins were standing on the edge of a low cliff overlooking the snow-covered mountains beyond. It appears that while one was enjoying the view, the other was squawking about something unknown to us human observers.
When they walk, they are gawky and somewhat clumsy, but the moment they hit the water they are transformed into sleek and beautiful swimmers. I hope to return to Antarctica once the world is safe for travel again, but for now a virtual trip is the best we can do.
TECH SPECS 1/1000 sec at f/11, ISO 400. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 400mm on Canon 7D MarkII body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Penguins are the most human of all birds, which may be why people love them. They're cute, they stand upright, and they look like they are wearing tuxedos." -- Shia LeBeouf
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Today our virtual trip is to brown bear territory in Alaska. This young mother was very wary of the males in her territory. Males (called "boars") can be very aggressive toward small cubs so the mothers have to maintain a high level of alertness most of the time. She only ventured out with her cubs from their protected haven in the deep woods at the end of the day, and for a very brief time. She had 3 cubs, and the other two were frolicking under her watchful eye just out of camera range when I made this shot. This cub was the smallest of the three, and clearly had less confidence than the others, staying close to its mother all the time.
When the coast was clear she would bring the cubs out for a foray into the fields just beside the woods. Our guide knew her habits and we would stand for hours waiting for them to make an appearance. When they did appear, it was exciting and hundreds of shots were frantically taken in the brief time she and the cubs came into view.
Normally I end each Blog with a quote, but today I'm instead sharing this cute analysis of bears that just came in via email. It has been around for awhile, but even if you have seen it before, it is still a fun thing to read:
"In this life I'm a woman. In my next life, I'd like to come back as a female bear. You get to hibernate and do nothing but sleep for 6 months. I could deal with that. Before you hibernate, you eat yourself stupid. I could deal with that, too. You birth your children (who are born the size of walnuts) while you're sleeping, and by the time you wake up they are partially grown, cute, cuddly cubs. I could definitely deal with that. As a momma bear, everyone knows you mean business. You swat anyone who bothers your cubs. If your cubs get out of line, you swat them too. I could deal with that. If you're a bear, your mate expects you to wake up growling, AND expects you to have hairy legs and excess body fat. Yup, wanna be a bear!"
TECH SPECS 1/500 sec at f/8, 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.
Saturday, September 19, 2020
Today's Blog is posted in memory of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I had the honor of meeting her and photographing her back in the 1990's when I had my photo studio in metropolitan Washington, DC. Even though I did not spend much time with her, I was immediately struck by her humility and down-to-earth nature.
In those days I had the honor of photographing many notables, including her good friend Justice Antonin Scalia. Even though they were polar opposites in terms of their political leanings, they and their families had been firm friends for many years. It struck me then, and even more so now, that it is possible for people whose beliefs do not match to still have respect for one another, and to feel the warmth of honest friendship. They viewed each other as colleagues and friends, not political enemies.
Today, when it seems that divisiveness, polarization, and sometimes outright hatred invade our daily lives, I have been reflecting on that deep friendship between the Ginsburg and Scalia families. I am hopeful that one day soon we can return to a greater sense of respect for each other, and help our country pull together as we once did.
I chose this photo today since it illustrates how separate rivulets of water can flow independently but ultimately end up coming together to form one mighty river. They coalesce and form a powerful union. That is my hope for the future.
While this Blog is not intended to make any political statement, I encourage you to vote in the November elections, regardless of your political leanings. Voting is one of the greatest privileges of living in a democracy, and we should never take that privilege for granted.
TECH SPECS 2 seconds at f/45, ISO 100. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens set at 200mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.
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
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
You have heard me sing the praises of Lightroom before, and this is one more example. Compare the Before image below to the main image above. They are the exact same RAW image, just improved greatly in Lightroom.
This was shot indoors at Longwood Gardens, so the lighting was soft and even. The beauty of these orchids was incredible, but the original RAW image here was really not exciting.
The bright spot in the background draws your attention away from the flowers. In addition, the background, even though very soft, is still distracting. So how was this image improved? It was pretty simple with just a few steps in Lightroom. The first step was cropping to eliminate the background issues. Then just a little tweaking of the Whites and Blacks, followed by a small reduction in Clarity (minus 22) to soften the flowers a bit more. I increased Vibrance a bit to punch the colors, and then used the Graduated Filter to darken the edges which added some drama. So in only 6 basic steps this image was transformed.
The magic of Lightroom never ceases to amaze me. And it is quick and easy.
TECH SPECS 1/320 sec at ISO 800. LensBaby Sol 3.5 lens, 45mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "A flower blooming in the desert proves to the world that adversity, no matter how great, can be overcome." -- Matshona Dhliwayo
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Way back in January, when we were babes in the woods and did not realize how hard we were going to be hit with the pandemic, I made a brief trip to Longwood Gardens. Of course I did not know that this would be my last trip there, or anywhere else, for a loooooooong time to come.
I came across this image of a Bird of Paradise flower today, and decided to play with it a bit. These are spectacular flowers with bright orange and blue tones. But this one, the best looking bloom that day, was partially blocked by the large leaf in the upper right. I tried a variety of angles, hoping to get a clear shot of the entire bloom, but this was the best that was possible at the time.
When I initially reviewed the images from that day, I was unhappy that I did not get the entire flower in the shot so I did not select it as one of my favorites at that time. But I did not delete it because I loved the colors and the overall look. If you have taken my workshops or trips, you know that I often recommend NOT deleting too many images when you review your shots. I find that I have to let them sit for awhile, and take a break from looking at them for days or weeks, or in this case even months. So when I viewed it today, I found it much more appealing than when I first saw it in January.
I decided to try some effects in Topaz to give the image a more artistic look. I rarely use that sort of software since often they can introduce a very artificial look if you are not careful. A light touch is always the best approach when adding digital effects to your images, unless you are seeking a powerful or garish look for artistic purposes.
So I tried Topaz Impression with the Georgia O'Keefe II filter. Initially it introduced the artificial look I try to avoid, but when I layered it over the original image and reduced its opacity to 30%, the effect was toned down significantly, and it added just a light painterly touch.
It is great fun to play with filters and effects, just to see what works for your artistic eye. We all have different tastes, and you can expand your creativity by experimenting with a variety of options to find the looks that work for you.
TECH SPECS LensBaby Sol 45, f/3.5 at 1/640 sec, ISO 800 on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "The enemy of photography is the convention, the fixed rules of 'how to do.' The salvation of photography comes from the experiment. " -- Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
Friday, August 28, 2020
It's the weekend so it is time for another virtual trip. This time let's go to Patagonia. I was fortunate to have traveled there last December before the Covid-19 pandemic began circulating around the world. It is an incredible place with huge craggy mountains, thousands of wild guanacos (a relative of the llama), and almost constant high winds. The winds can make photographing challenging at times. Heck, at times it even made standing up challenging! But it is all part of the entire biome that one must embrace when traveling to some of the southernmost parts of the world.
December in the southern hemisphere is summertime, so the grass was green and flowers were blooming. And the guanacos were having babies. On our first day there we saw a few guanacos and got so excited that we were asking our guide to stop at almost every sighting. He kept telling us that we would see so many that eventually it would not be a big deal, but we did not believe him. And of course the wildlife photographers philosophy is to never pass up an opportunity.
But sure enough, after a couple of days we became much more selective when asking for stops to photograph guanacos. This one's too small, that one's fur is not as nice, too many trees in the background, or not enough trees in the background. It got to be a running joke.
And almost everywhere we went we had an opportunity to photograph the looming peaks that are the signature skyline of Patagonia.
TECH SPECS 1/1000 sec at f/8, ISO 400. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 105mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes
Saturday, August 22, 2020
Saturday, August 15, 2020
Saturday, August 8, 2020
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
Friday, July 31, 2020
Since it is blazing hot in many parts of the country, I thought a quick trip to the cool climate of Antarctica might be a fun thing to do. My trip there this past December was beyond spectacular, and I came away with many lifelong memories.
We were so lucky that the trip was right before the Covid-19 virus began sweeping the globe.
This jaunty Gentoo penguin was making its way to the top of a small hill of snow. Penguins are absolutely adorable in so many ways. I could have watched them for hours and never tire of their antics, their beautiful feathers, and their endearingly gawky movements.
So if you are dealing with the summer heat, absorb some of the cool air in this image.
I am working on building an exciting and educational series of workshops for 2021, so stay tuned. As soon as we are past this terrible pandemic, we will begin traveling again! But for now, please be safe and stay healthy.
1/4000 sec at f/8, ISO 800. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II set at 227mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "It's practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry." --Joe Moore
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
I was happily shocked to open the box with my copy of this book to find that my image had made the cover! This is the annual hard-cover coffee table book published by the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) that showcases the images selected for their prestigious Loan Collection. While I knew that the image had been selected for the Loan Collection and would appear in the book, I had no idea that it would appear as the cover photo.
This image, titled "Blowin' In The Wind," was taken in St. Augustine, FL. The great egret was perched in a tree on a very windy morning, and when the wind caused its breeding plumage to go a bit crazy, I was in the right place at the right time to grab a few shots before the moment passed.
I thought long and hard before deciding to enter this image in the competition since it is certainly not a typical "beauty" shot of an egret, and not generally what judges look for in a successful image. But I loved the unique moment, and the the high-key white-on-white look. So I threw caution to the wind and took my chances.
I have been competing in the PPA annual photo competition for over 3 decades, and have been fortunate to have many of my images selected for the Loan Collection during that time and published in the annual book. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think an image of mine would be selected for the cover.
The reason for that is that the majority of photographers in the PPA are portrait and wedding photographers, and most years it is a portrait or wedding image that makes the cover. There are a few of us wildlife and nature photographers who are members, and often it is an uphill battle to have a wildlife or nature image do well in the annual competition. Nevertheless, we persist in trying year after year!
So in the most recent 2019 competition, I was thrilled to have two of my bird images selected for the Loan Collection. The other bird image is an eagle in flight taken in Alaska (see it in the August 25, 2019 Blog post).
The lesson for all of us is that if you love an image, you should go ahead and enter it in completion. After all, the worst that will happen is that it will not be accepted. So go for it!
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.
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, July 16, 2020
This dramatic sunrise was taken in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It was quite unusual to see both soft pinks with a backdrop of fire-y orange and yellow tones.
Admittedly I have enhanced the colors quite a bit in Lightroom. Generally I do not go quite so far in making modifications in post-processing, but I felt this image needed some punching in order to convey the sense of drama I felt when viewing the scene. I would not enter this in any nature-based photo competitions since the modifications take this image well beyond the actual look of the scene. But for artistic purposes, in order to convey the feel of the place, I was OK going a bit overboard with artistic license.
When using software to improve the look of images, it is all too easy to go too far. Over-sharpening and over-saturating are common pitfalls, especially when entering images into competition. Normally all you want to do is to bring the RAW image close to what the scene actually looked like. But there are times, as in this case, when your personal decision is to add drama and mood to an image.
Since photography is essentially a communication device, there are times when communicating YOUR take on the image outweighs the general rule to preserve the actual look of the scene. It is best to choose your battles, and not add extreme drama to all your images. But for those images that can be made more powerful in order to communicate your message, you should feel comfortable going farther than normal.
1.3 seconds at f/22, ISO 800. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 76mm on Canon 5D Mark III body. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive - to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." --Marcus Aurelius
Thursday, July 9, 2020
I am SO missing Alaska this summer. The pandemic has certainly had a major impact on travel near and far. So today I want to share this breaching whale image. To me, it shows the exuberance all of us will feel once this terrible pandemic is over and we can freely and safely be with friends and family. AND be able to travel again!
So for now, we can travel vicariously by reviewing our images from past trips. Often when reviewing older images I find some hidden gems that I had overlooked before. So I highly recommend taking a walk down memory lane with some of your travel photos from past years and see what you can find.
For now, stay safe and healthy. And watch for news of 2021 trips and workshops!
1/1250 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 1600. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens set at 214mm on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "And let us remember too that life, in its exuberance, always succeeds in overflowing the narrow limits within which man thinks he can confine it." -- Jacques Yves Cousteau
Sunday, June 21, 2020
Thursday, June 11, 2020
Ahhhh........ The open road. How I look forward to getting back out there with you on a photo workshop! For now we still are better off not putting ourselves, or others, at risk so I am playing it safe by staying close to home and not running any workshops or photo tours at this time. But rest assured that big plans are in the works for 2021.
In the meantime I am offering webinars and online training in an effort to keep you focused on photography, and building more of your skills and confidence.
This image was taken last year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was on a narrow, tree-lined road off the beaten path. This is a single exposure made with a slow shutter speed to give a feeling of movement and softness. The end result is a somewhat impressionistic look of the scene.
Not all nature images need to convey a realistic version of the scene. Sometimes it is good to create images that impart a feeling rather than just a record shot of where it was taken.
This is a simple technique made from a moving vehicle. I call it a "drive-thru." Here is how it was done:
1. First find a tree-lined, narrow gravel or dirt road, or an old paved road with no painted lines. You want it to be a road with no traffic so that you are not interfering with any traffic flow. This is very important since the car will be moving forward at only about 5 miles per hour. This works best when the trees are large enough to keep much of the sky from showing.
2. Since for now it is still important to maintain social distancing and not ride with someone who might be asymptomatic, it is best to have someone who is living with you in your home drive the vehicle. You are in the passenger seat. Please do NOT do this while you are driving since it will put you at risk. When we return to more normal times, this works well when the driver is another photographer so that each of you can trade off periodically, giving each of you a chance to get some shots.
3. When you are shooting, keep your seat belt on, and lean as far forward in your seat as possible. That will put your lens fairly close to the windshield to avoid possible reflections on the windshield from the car's dashboard or your clothing.
4. Wear medium-toned clothing to also avoid adding unwanted reflections in the windshield. Avoid wearing white, red, or other strong or bright colors.
5. Lens - use a lens with approximately a 100mm focal length. It can be either a zoom or a fixed focal length lens. Avoid wide angle lenses since that will often bring too much overhead sky into the image, and can also include unwanted portions of the car's dashboard or sides.
6. Camera settings - This is easiest with your camera set on Shutter Priority. Set your camera to ISO 100, with a shutter speed of 1/2 sec. The f/stop will set itself, and it does not matter much what the f/stop is.
7. Lean forward in your seat and focus on a tree trunk approximately 20 feet away from the car. You will not need to refocus again. This works best when your camera is set up with back-button focus so that your camera is not refocusing each time you press the shutter button. If you are unfamiliar with back-button focus, you can read about it here
8. Now the driver can begin driving down the road at approximately 5 mph. Aim your camera straight out the windshield and start shooting. Take many shots since you never know exactly what you will get.
9. Tips - 1) look for slight curves or bends in the road since that will add leading lines; 2) for some shots, move your camera slightly up and down during the exposure to add more of a sense of movement; 3) feel free to experiment with different camera movements and different shutter speeds; 4) just let yourself go and try a variety of different things since you never know exactly what you will get. The goal is to have fun and end up with some unique and wonderful images.
10. Since each and every shot is an experiment, expect to get many bad shots that do not make you happy. That is perfectly normal. Often I will get only one or two shots I like out of dozens and dozens of attempts.
So get out there and have some fun with a friend! You might end up with real prize winners!
1/2 sec. at f/14, ISO 100. Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS II lens set at 100mm, on Canon 5D Mark III body, handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tuesday, May 19, 2020
I was happily surprised to be contacted by the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) informing me that this black-and-white image of puffins is being showcased on their website this week. Always an honor to have an image selected! Here is the link to their site
It is one of several images on the NANPA Home Page, which will cycle through automatically.
You may remember seeing this image on the Blog earlier this year. It was shot on a small island in the Cook Inlet off the coast of Alaska near Lake Clark National Park. I was lucky that these Horned Puffins briefly posed themselves in the perfect position to create a beautiful line formed by their white and black feathers.
The original color image had grass in the background which I found distracting. So I replaced the background with a light gray background created in Photoshop. And while the bills were quite colorful, I chose to create this monochromatic version to better showcase the texture and contrast of the entire image.
When making extensive changes like this, you must disclose that when entering any nature and wildlife competition. Generally I do not significantly change an image from its original appearance, but sometimes it is good to exercise your creative muscles and go for something unusual or unexpected.
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: "Color is descriptive. Black and white is interpretative." -- Elliott Erwitt
Saturday, May 9, 2020
FREE Live Webinar - Lightroom Unleashed
Saturday, April 25, 2020
Join me next April in St. Augustine, Florida for some of
bird photography anywhere! This is the time
some of the most beautiful birds like
Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets,
and several species of
Herons arrive in
The birds will be nesting, mating, and raising chicks, and all 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 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 entry fees
- trolley and self-guided 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 June 1. After that 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, and 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 Tuesday, April 6 with an orientation and training session. 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 Sunday, April 11.
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO REGISTER
or CALL 757-773-0194
Saturday, April 18, 2020
This is another great technique for keeping your creative juices flowing while you are stuck at home during the pandemic. Sometimes you just want to have fun, and what better time than now! If you have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you can create unusual images easily.
Today's image is just one example
Here are the easy steps used to create the final version:
1. Make sure to start with an 8-bit image. Only 8-bit images will work with all the Photoshop filters. (Some filters will work with 16-bit images, which is a typical default bit size for most images, but not all filters can be used unless the image is an 8-bit.) It is easy to do the conversion in Photoshop by going to Image > Mode. Then click on "8-bit" if it is not already checked. Now you are ready to work some magic!
2. Go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. Click on the "Polar to Rectangular" button (the lower button) and then click OK.
3. Next flip the image upside down by going to Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Vertical.
4. Again go to Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. This time click on the "Rectangular to Polar" button (the upper button) and click OK.
5. Now you have the basic distorted image, similar to the top image in today's Blog. I did not make any additional changes, but you can crop it if you wish, or change the color using Photoshop's color balance options, or make any other changes that you feel enhance the image.
So try this on a variety of different images and enjoy the results!
1/160 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400. Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens on Canon 7D Mark II body. Handheld.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Every adversity brings new experiences and new lessons." -- Lailah Gifty Akita
Saturday, April 11, 2020
Even though we are all practicing the recommended social distancing and cannot spend time face-to-face with friends and family, we can still feel the warmth of Spring, and keep those personal connections strong. We can connect with those we love via all the great options available to us in our digital age - Skype or FaceTime or Zoom or Facebook or other options that allow us to speak with those far away and see their faces.
While the pandemic has turned many lives upside down, we can still be thankful for what we have, and can feel close to those we love and cherish. Keep those connections strong. The support of family and friends will help all of us cope with the New Normal, and help us be strong and look forward to a time when all this will be behind us. A time when we can hug, laugh together, and enjoy better times.
I am eager to be able to travel again, conduct workshops, and see all my friends and fellow travelers. And we WILL have those times again!
But for now, please follow the guidelines medical and governmental authorities advise, be patient as we wait for the pandemic to end, stay more than 6 feet away from others, enjoy a quieter, less hectic time, and wash wash wash your hands!
Saturday, April 4, 2020
Today's lesson will help you turn lemons into lemonade. We all have images we shot some time ago that we want to like but they just do not have the pop or impact we expected. This is a great time to review some of your old images to see if another attempt at improving them in Lightroom can bring them back from the brink of boring.
As you know, Lightroom is my software of choice for nature and wildlife images. It can powerfully bring an image to life without making it look overdone or unrealistic. And that is the key to award-winning nature images - full of impact and beauty but without an artificial look.
The Before and After images above are the same shot. The Before image is the RAW image before processing, and the After is the same image after being processed in Lightroom.
It was a beautiful, pristine dawn in Jasper National Park in Canada, but you would never know that by looking at the Before image. It looks gray, dull, and unexciting. While there were pinks and blues in the sky, and lovely fall colors on the hillsides across the lake, they do not appear in the original RAW image. Why?
In general, regardless of the brand of camera you use, camera sensors are designed to be "dumbed down." What does that mean? It means that digital camera sensors were designed to do their jobs quickly, and in order to do that the sensor will capture an image (this applies to RAW images) with all the detail and color that was there, BUT our eyes will not see all that without using post-processing software to bring out the latent details in the RAW image. While this is an oversimplification, the bottom line is that you will rarely see the degree of contrast and the accuracy of colors in a RAW image as it initially comes out of the camera. Some post-processing is needed on virtually every image in order to bring out what you really saw. Some images need more optimization than others.
Because this image was shot pre-sunrise, it inherently had low contrast and the colors were somewhat muted. Add to that the nature of camera sensors I mentioned, and you have a Before image that is gray and lifeless. I wanted to bring out the colors and contrast that my eye saw when I was there, and that required some help from Lightroom.
The "fix" took about 5 minutes, and brought the image closer to what I actually saw. I admit that I did punch the blues and pinks a bit more than were really there, but they still look natural.
The simple steps in Lightroom to improve this image were:
1. Lightened the shadows with the Shadows Slider.
2. Brightened the whites with the Whites Slider so that the mist on the horizon looked white.
3. Increased Clarity to boost the mid-tone contrast.
4. Increased overall Vibrance.
5. Used the HSL panel to pinpoint increases in the saturation of the pinks, blues, and yellows.
That's it. Just those few easy steps brought this image to life.
So now that we have lots of time at home, a great project is to go back over some of your older images and re-work them in Lightroom to see how much you can improve them. You will be amazed at what you can do, even on old images that you have already processed.
Once you get into this, you can spend many happy days creating "new" and better images from ones already living in your photo files. And remember, for your health and well-being get up and stretch or walk around every 30 minutes or so, even though it is easy to sit for hours and not realize it!
2.5 seconds at f/22, ISO 200. Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens set at 17mm on Canon 6D body (an oldie but a goodie!). Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "Learn as if you were to live forever." --Mahatma Gandhi
Friday, March 20, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many lives upside down. It has caused many of us to completely alter our routines, and has impacted nearly all aspects of daily life. The good news is that we are photographers, and we can entertain and enrich ourselves at home even during these trying times.
This is the first in a series of Blogs in which I want to share creative ideas and tips for you to do at home. You may be familiar with some, and others might be new to you. Either way, give them a try. I hope they will help you tap into your creativity, and provide some fun and relaxation while you fill your days at home.
Please feel free to share these Blogs with your camera club colleagues, and other photo friends. Information on how to subscribe to my FREE Blog appears at the bottom.
TODAY'S LESSON - THE TWIRL TECHNIQUE
You can start with any image. It really doesn't matter because the end result is completely different from where you started. You can try this with wildlife, flowers, scenics, buildings, and more. Here is the image I started with. This is Sandhill Cranes taking off at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.
1. Open an image in Photoshop.
2. Go to Filter > Pixelate > Mezzotint. Make sure the Mode is set to "Medium Lines" and click OK.
3. Now go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur. Amount 100, Blur Method "zoom," Quality "best." Click OK.
4. Repeat the Radial Blur step above as many times as you like. I generally do the Radial Blur step 3 times.
5. Now, make a duplicate copy of the Background Layer (the main image layer you have been working on so far). The keyboard shortcut to create the duplicate layer on a Mac is to press and hold the Command key and then press the letter "J." If you are working on a PC, press and hold the Control key and then press the letter "J." This duplicate layer will most likely be automatically named "Layer 1."
6. Now that you have two identical layers, click on the original Background Layer in the Layers Palette to highlight it. Then go to Filter > Distort > Twirl. In the Angle number box, enter a positive number anywhere between about 80 to 200. Make a note of this number. (You can also set the number by sliding the pointer to the right to obtain the positive number of your choosing). Click OK. Note that you will not see the effect of what you have just done unless you turn off the "eyeball" in the Layers Palette of the duplicate layer above the Background Layer.
7. Now click on the duplicate layer (Layer 1) that you made a few moments ago to highlight it. Go to Filter > Distort > Twirl. In the Angle number box, enter a negative number than is the same as the positive number you used for the Background Layer. (You can also set the number by sliding the pointer to the left to obtain the negative number of your choosing). Click OK.
8. With the duplicate layer still highlighted, you will now change the Blending Mode. This is a very powerful tool, and you will be excited when you see the results. To activate the Blending Mode, look for the word "Normal" in the Layers Palette, a little above the duplicate layer (Layer 1). Click on the tiny arrow next to "Normal" and a drop-down box will appear. Click on each option in the drop-down box one at a time and watch the magic happen! Choose the Blending Mode that appeals to you most. There is no right or wrong choice. One Blending Mode might work best for the image you are working on now, but another one might work better for other images in the future. Be creative and choose the one you like best for each particular image.
9. When you have found and selected the Blending Mode you like best, you can either flatten the image, save it and be done, OR you can continue to experiment and play by rotating one layer or the other to see what effects are possible. You can also experiment by flipping one layer or the other, and use Blending Mode again to see what happens.
10. For finishing touches, you can saturate the colors for more punch if needed, or crop the image for better composition, or convert to black-and-white, or use any other options that you feel works with the image.
TODAY'S QUOTE: "The true method of knowledge is experiment." -- William Blake
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