Wednesday, December 29, 2010

White Christmas

We don't get many snows at Christmas but this year we were blessed with a few inches to a couple feet, depending on where you were.   I took the week off, which gave me the opportunity to get out and shoot some winter landscape photography this week.

The first day was spent within 3 - 4 miles of the house.   This one was less than a mile away.  That's Fall Creek on the left.   The footprints were there when I got there.  I think this looks pretty good in black and white.

This next one is a little different.  It's a window at the old Washington College Academy near Limestone Tennessee.   The school is closed but it's still a pretty place to photograph.   You can see the reflections of snow in the window.

I did get out and take some traditional landscape shots this week.  June and I drove up past Damascus Virginia to the little town of Taylor's Valley to get to the Virginia Creeper Trail.   There was 4 - 6 inches of fluffy snow on the trail.  No bikers this day, but there were plenty of cross country skier tracks.   I took several photos of the trail and creek.

One of my favorite Christmas presents this year is the Nik Complete Collection of photo editing software.   One of the packages is a new HDR tool that can produce HDR images that don't have the edgy HDR look.   This is one of my first attempts with that software.

This shot would not have been possible without the HDR software.   It is a composite of three images taken at different exposures to get the bright sunset and the front of the house in the shadows.  It's one of my new favorites.

These photos, and others, are available on my website under the Winter gallery.   Many other photos are also available on my website.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Finalist in Outdoor Photographer 3rd Annual Nature's Colors Contest

I don't normally enter these online contests because they get thousands of entries and the odds are about as bad as winning a million dollar lottery.   When I got an email about the latest contest at Outdoor Photographer I decided to try it and entered 5 photos.    Well, there were about 6,300 entries from thousands of talented photographers from all over the world.   I was shocked when I saw one of mine in the 80 finalists.  

Sunset Over San Joaquin

How cool is that?   There are not a lot of awards in this contest.   The judges will pick the Grand Prize and First Place winners around December 17.   There is also a people's choice award based on online votes.   If you like this photo go to and vote.  You have to create an account, but that will also get you on the Outdoor Photographer emailing list, which will get you the online edition for free.   Voting ends January 6.

While you are there you might browse the other finalists.   There's some really good photos out there.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Photography Library

I've always loved to read.   I can remember reading Tom Swift sci-fi novels around 10 or 11 years old.   I still enjoy reading sci-fi but have expanded my interests a bit.   I also love photography and have combined these two interests by adding several photography books to my library.   Here's my favorites in the order I purchased them.

How to Photograph The Canadian Rockies  by Darwin Wiggett.   I bought this before taking a vacation to the Canadian Rockies with my Compact Canon Point and Shoot.   This is the book that got me started.   Unfortunately, this book is out of print.  You can buy a used copy at Amazon for just a little over $100!  I have a link to Darwin's blog on my blog site.

Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography by Brenda Tharp.  I have the first edition, which is a great book.   This new edition has more information on shooting digital.   I also have a link to Brenda's blog on my blog site.

Composition Photo Workshop by Blue Fier (yes - that's a real person's name).  This is a decent introductory book on composition.  There is a whole series of photography books from but this is the only one I have. 

Mountain Light by Galen Rowell.  This is the classic mountain photography book.  It is a series of essays describing how a photo was taken.   Galen was an adventurer traveling around the world to exotic places most of us will never see.   The photos are fantastic and the accompanying stories engaging and inspiring.

The Digital Photography Book (volumes 1 and 2) by Scott Kelby.   At one time this was the biggest selling digital photography book of all time.   Scott Kelby's writing is almost as good as his photography.  I read his books, watch his podcasts, follow his blog, and hope to take one of his workshops one day.   This little book is the one book that should be in your camera bag.  It's small and is laid out with one topic per page in an easy to understand style.   If you're out shooting and need to know how to ____________ just pull out this book and flip to that page.   The second volume focuses more on portrait photography.   I don't have volume 3.  You can get all three as a package.

The Nature Photographer's Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques by John Shaw.  I bought this book used when it was recommended as pre-reading for a workshop.  Originally published in 1989 this book does not deal with digital photography at all.   Some of the chapters on equipment are a bit dated but the sections on exposure, composition, close-ups, and working in the field are timeless.  Anything by John Shaw is going to be a great addition to your library.  Too bad John has not been writing much lately.  We really can use a revised edition of this book for digital.

The Photoshop Elements 5 Book for Digital Photographers and The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby.   If you use Photoshop Elements, Photoshop CS, or Adobe Lightroom you need to get the latest edition of Scott Kelby's book for each package.   My copy of the Elements book is old (they are up to version 8 now) but I still pull it out when ever I need to know how to do something in Elements.  These books explain how to use the software is a straight forward and easy to understand fashion.   You will get much more out of the software by having one of these books on your desk. 

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography by Ferrell McCollough.   I wanted to try my hand at HDR photography and specifically learn how to create HDR photos that looked realistic.  This book covers all the leading HDR software from 2007.   Because the author tries to cover all the packages it does not have enough info on any one package.   I don't get this one out very often.

National Audubon Society Guide To Landscape Phtography by Tim Fitzharris.  This is a nice book for anyone starting out in landscape photography.  It covers everything from equipment to composition, lighting, and recognizing those great scenic shots. 

Creative Close-Ups by Harold Davis.   I got a copy of this book for agreeing to be an early book reviewer. Harold has written a number of books in his creative series but I only have this one.   This book is all about macro photography.   It focuses more on the creative side of macro photography and less on the equipment and technical how to steps.   If you're one of the people who learn by seeing you will get a great deal out of the wonderful example photos in this book. 

The ultimate guide to digital nature photography by the Mountain Trail Photo Team
This book is written by a team of outstanding nature photographers that I follow on  I took a workshop with Bill Lea, know Jerry Greer, and have met Richard Bernabe at a workshop at Grandfather Mountain.  As the title implies, this book covers the waterfront of nature photography with tips, techniques, and advice from the experts.   The photos in the book alone are worth the purchase price.  A great book for anyone starting out in nature photography.

The Digital SLR Expert Landscapes  Labeled as "essential advice from top pros" this is book is written by five landscape photographers, including Darwin Wiggett who wrote the first photography book I bought.  This book covers some areas not covered by my many other books, including creating a panorama, research & planning,  locations, and B&W landscape photography.  There's even a section on HDR.

The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally.  I've not done much flash photography and what I have done is often not work keeping.  I bought this book to learn how to use my on and off camera flash.  This is not so much of a technical how to book.  Joe, who is one of the best photographers in the world, tells how he approaches flash photography.   Reading this book is like sitting down and talking to one of the masters.

The Photographer's Mind by Michael Freeman.  This is the latest edition to my library.   It is a follow on to the best seller The Photographer's Eye, which I don't have yet.   I got this book to help grow my creative side, which is definitely not one of my stronger skills. I've only just begun to read this book. 

That's quite a list!   I still prefer printed books, but lately I've purchased a few e-books by Ian Plant, David duChemin and Guy Tal.   I'll do a quick review of these e-books in the future.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's hoping everyone has a Fantastic Thanksgiving Day.

This was taken in Zion National Park back in March 2007.   I updated it a bit with a trial version of Nik Viveza.   All the Nik software is on sale right now.   I've been using the Nik Define 2.0 package for a while and have been very happy with it.   They have a new HDR tool that results in realistic images.  I'm thinking about getting the entire package.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cass Railroad

At one end of the West VIrginia Greenbriar "Rails-to-Trails" bike path is the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park.   Located on the east side of West Virginia, not far from the Snowshoe Ski Resort, the state park includes the former West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company town of Cass and 11 miles of track from Cass up into the highest points of the Back Allegheny Mountains.  West Virginia has some very nice state parks and Cass is one or the more unique.

We arrived in Cass after riding the Greenbriar Trail for 25 miles from Marlinton WV.   The train pulled into the station shortly after we arrived, dumping a trainload of tourists into the town.

It was early afternoon on a bright cloudless day, which made photographing the train very difficult.   The black engine and the white company store building behind it were two extremes in tonality.   I wanted to get both, plus the yellow tree and the blue sky.  It took several tries, each time checking the histogram on my camera and adjusting to not blow out the whites while maintaining details in the dark areas.

I didn't take too many of the engine and train.  The engine was attached to the train backwards, which just didn't look right. 

A little ways up the tracks from the town was a water tower, repair yard, the old saw mill and this caboose.  I was hoping to catch the red caboose with bright fall colors behind it.  We had missed much of the fall color on this trip and the colors in Cass were still a few days away from peak.

The state has maintained the town of Cass pretty much like it was when it was a company town.  There are streets lined with white company houses, white stores, and white churches.  In fact, I think every building in the town looked like it came from the same plans and was painted with the same white paint.   The exception is the old saw mill.

The saw mill was once the largest double-band sawmill in the world.  Today, some of the buildings remain in ruin just outside town.  The ground around the mill is littered with old equipment from the mill.  They have done a good job with signs telling about the mill and about the remains spread out all around.   Unfortunately, we could not get close (for obvious reasons) and had to be satisfied with taking pictures from  several hundred feet away.

While trying to find a short cut back to the Greenbriar Trail we ran across some old abandoned train cars from Cass Scenic Railroad's earlier days.  These are sitting on a siding with grass and bushes growing up all around.  The windows are all broken out and the cars are slowly rusting away.  

I used Adobe Lightroom to give these photos the edgy look that enhances the texture and colors in the old cars.   I was still struggling with the extreme light conditions and had to do some editing in Lightroom to bring out the details inside the cars without blowing out the brightest parts.

I think I could have spent a couple hours climbing around the cars taking pictures,  but it was time to head back to Marlinton so we could get there before sundown.   It was another 25 miles back after all.

There are more West Virginia photos available online in my gallery.

Friday, November 5, 2010

God's Painting With Reds, Yellows, and Orange

Fall is a beautiful time in Kingsport Tennessee but it's way too short.   It's almost like God grabs three paint brushes and colors the trees with brilliant yellows, reds, and oranges.   Early morning and late evening are the best times for the fall colors.  The low sun makes the leaves come alive with color before they fall to the ground.

This shot was taken not long after sunrise on October 17 at Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport.  Several of us had met around 5:30 AM to hike in and catch the sunrise over the lake.   There were no clouds that morning and the sunrise was a dud, but the trees more than made up for it.

These colors are now pretty much gone.  A few maples are hanging on but recent rains and wind have pretty much stripped most of the trees.   I hope this photo helps you remember the colorful days of fall.

Photos of reflections on water are best made in early morning when the winds are calm.   A polarizing filter is a must to control the reflections and pull out the colors of the leaves.

Prints of this photo and others are available for purchase at the Close To Home Gallery
Be sure to check out all the photos at The Siggins Photography

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Ponies of Grayson Highlands

Grayson Highlands State Park is located in Southwest Virginia in the Jefferson National Forest.  The elevations range from 3,700' to just over 5,000' at the top of Little Pinnacle.   It's a beautiful park with historic sites, hiking trails including the Appalachian Trail, scenic vistas, and a nice visitor's center.   The most unusual feature of the park is the wild ponies that inhabit the balds.

The ponies are allowed to run wild within the confines of the park and are very accustomed to people.   You can walk up to them, which makes for plenty of great opportunties to photograph these beautiful creatures.  Some people touch and feed the ponies, which is why sometimes they will walk up to you like in the last photo.

Because of the elevation, fall can come early to the park.   These photos were taken Oct. 1, 2010.   Like most places this year, fall was a week or two late coming to Grayson Highlands.   I didn't get any great fall landscape shots, but I did get some interesting pony shots.

I highly recommend spending a day or two at Grayson Highlands.   While you're there, take some time to walk up on the balds and visit the ponies.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

West Virginia Icon

Earlier in October we took a few days and went looking for fall color in the beautiful state of West Virginia   It was beautiful, but the fall colors were late.  There was still plenty of beauty to be found in The Mountain State, including Babcock State Park.  

We didn't get to stay long at the park but we did hang around the Glade Creek Grist Mill.   This is an icon shot.  You'll find this exact shot with much better lighting on any number of websites and travel magazines.  It's a wonderfully photographic old mill.   The mill was created by combining parts and pieces from three mills which once dotted the state.  The basic structure of the mill came from the Stoney Creek Grist Mill which dates back to 1890.  It was dismantled and moved piece by piece to Babcock from a spot near Campbelltown in Pocahontas County.  It's almost like the mill was placed in this exact spot for photographers.  

If you go to shoot the mill, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.   We were there early afternoon and had to wait around for the sun to go down enough for most of the scene to be in the shade.

Prints of this and other photos are available here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sunrise and Sunset

Fall in the Southern Appalachian Mountains is a beautiful time.  God paints the hills with blazing oranges, yellows and golds with some greens left in for good measure.   It's a great time for outdoor photography, but it is way too short.  Seems like just a few weeks between when the trees start to change and the ground is covered with fallen leaves and the colors fade.   This year has been no different.  I started October out with a trip to Greyson Highlands State Park, then followed it with a trip to West Virginia, a couple trips to Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport, Tennessee and finally a weekend photography workshop in Max Patch North Carolina.  All this was over a period of 24 days.  Whew! 

All these outings have resulted in lots of photos in the post-processing backlog.   I'm working through them, but not necessarily in the order I took them.   I'll be posting some photos from those trips and am starting with some of the last ones I took.

Eight members of the Eastman Camera Club spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday in a photography workshop in Max Patch, North Carolina.   Lori Kincaid was a fantastic instructor and we all had a blast. I learned several new photo skills in the workshop and I can't wait to try them out.  Max Patch is a naturally occurring bald mountain on the North Carolina - Tennessee boarder with 360 degree views of the surrounding mountains.   We got up very early on Saturday morning to drive down to the Max Patch bald for the sunrise.  We were treated to clear cloudless skies and a full moon setting over the mountain ranges.  I learned about the Belt of Venus, which is the band of red, pink or purple above the dark blue. The dark blue is the earth's shadow.

That evening we were treated to a beautiful sunset from Lori's rental place, which is where we were based for the weekend.   She has the most beautiful setting for a home I have ever seen.     I got the sunset and maple tree shots from her place on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning we got up, walked just a few feet from her place and were able to shoot the sunrise over Mount Mitchell and other near by peaks.

As we watched, the sky got more and more dramatic as the sun lit the underside of the clouds with brilliant reds.  

This is a great place to photograph to fall colors and beautiful sunrise and sunsets.   I'm already planning to go back in the spring!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


When we went to the Pinnacle Nature Preserve Area on September 5th we were surprised by the number of butterflies on the mountain.   When we went to the Smoky Mountains September 7 - 9 we saw even more.   Turns out it's Monarch migration season.  These little guys are on their way to Mexico where they winter each year.   Some travel as far as 3,000 miles!   The Monarch's we saw may have started as far north as Nova Scotia.

We stopped at an overlook along the Newfound Gap Road and discovered a field of wildflowers that was full of butterflies, including this Monarch (right) and Common Buckeye (left). 

Nearby we found several Pipevine Swallowtails (blue with orange spots under the wings) on some bushes, maybe pipevines.   Because adult butterflies are poisonous to predators from all the pipevine they eat as caterpillars, most birds avoid them, which could explain why we saw so many.

The Pipevine Swallowtails, like other butterflies, have an unusual habit of "puddling". Puddling is when many butterflies are seen at one spot, such as a shallow puddle, mud, or animal poop. When we drove into Cataloochee we found hundreds of these beautiful butterflies on the dirt road, many flattened by car tires. It was difficult to drive down the road and not run them over.

Perhaps the prettiest we saw this day was this beautiful orange Gulf Fritillary.  It seemed to pose for me.  I noticed many of the butterflies were happy to sit still, which seemed unusual.   I don't know if they were resting up for the long journey, enjoying the sun and flowers, or it was just nearing the end of butterfly season.

I used to think spring time was the time for flowers and new growth.  Now I'm seeing these God Signs in the late summer and early fall time.  What a blessing to live so close to the Smoky Mountains.   We are going to be back again and again.

If you're impressed with my knowledge of butterflies, don't be.  I used the Discover Life website to look these up.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mingus Mill in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Over the past few years we have traveled thousands of miles and visited many national parks in the US and Canada.  The ironic thing is we live within easy driving distance of the most visited National Park in the US.  We've decided we need to spend more time in the Smoky Mountains National Park. 

This week we spent three days in some familiar places and some new spots we've not been to before.  One of the new spots was the Mingus Mill.
The mill was built in 1886 for only $600.  You won't see the traditional wooden waterwheel because the mill uses a metal turbine.  

The mill is still very photogenic.  The millrace that brings water from Mingus Creek to the mill starts out in the ground with moss covered wooden sides.  When the mill is not running water flows off the side of the millrace near the mill fall near Jewell Weed growing at the base of the wooden tower.

Mingus Mill is a working mill, still grinding grain and corn that is sold at the mill.  The inside of the mill is maintained much as it looked at the end of the 19th century.

Taking photographs inside the mill was a challenge because of the dark wooden walls and the bright sunlight streaming in through the windows.   Two of these images are High Dynamic Range or HDR photos, which are made from multiple exposures blended together in software to eliminate the very dark and very bright range of light.   The photo of the lever in front of the window would have been impossible to photograph in one shot.  Either the trees outside the window would have been solid white or the walls would have been almost solid black.

The image with the wheel is also a HDR photo.  The lighting conditions were not as extreme in that photo but it was helped by using the HDR technique.

The photo of the stove is not a HDR photo.  There was no direct bright light to deal with and only indirect light from a nearby window.

The Mingus Mill is worth driving out of the way and spending an hour or so exploring this historical building.  There is also a Mountain Farm Museum near by that we didn't get to.  We will be spending more time in the park and will make our way back down to that area again before too long.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve

To celebrate our 28th Anniversary, June and I went hiking in the Pinnacle Natural Area Preserve in Southwest Virginia.  Located near the confluence of the Clinch River and Big Cedar Creek, the area gets it's name from the impressive rock formation that towers above Big Cedar Creek. Cut from dolomite, the Pinnacle rises 400 feet above Big Cedar Creek.

September is not really wildflower season in SW Virginia, but there were many late blooming flowers including a lot of thistle.   We were treated to dozens of butterflies that seemed intent on checking out every bloom, never stopping long enough for me to get a decent picture.   You can see in this photo one of the two was still moving.

One thing we noticed that we had not seen before is that the butterfly's body has the same iridescent blue pattern as the wings.  If your click on the photo to zoom in you will be able to see for yourself.

There was not much water in Big Cedar Creek but what was there made great reflections of the late afternoon light.   It made the creek look like a river of gold.   A great excuse to sit on the rocks beside the creek and enjoy God's creations.

We hiked up to the top of Copper Ridge but the views that day we're much to write home about.   I can imagine it could be fantastic at sunrise or sunset.

One of the landmarks along Big Cedar Creek is Big Falls, which is not more than a few feet high.  It is however very wide.   The low water level made Big Falls into lots of little falls stretching across the wide creek.  

Below is a pano of 6 individual photos stitched together.

If printed at high quality this would stretch 6 1/2 feet wide!

Our anniversary trip wouldn't be complete without a photo of the two of us standing in the creek in front of Big Falls.

We may not get back to the Pinnacle area this year but it may be a great place for wildflowers in the spring.  If you would like to check it out there is information available at the Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Out With The Old, In With The New

The Siggins Photography website is getting a face lift and a new location -

The old site has served me well over the years, but some of the newer photo sharing websites offer many more services than I have time to develop and support on my old "do it yourself" website.  My old site had grown so disorganized with so many photos, galleries and photo albums that it resembled my garage! Time to start new.

Some new features include:
  • Easier to find your way around
  • Keyword search
  • View photos at different sizes or resolutions
  • Support for HD videos
  • Enhanced full screen slideshows
  • Better security
  • Prints, merchandise, and digital downloads can be purchased directly from the site.
    (The Siggins Photography logo is not on your prints)
I'm in the process of loading photos to the new site.   The old site ( is still online for the time being but will go away before the end of September.  The blog site is still available at the same web address.

Don't forget to change your favorites to add to the list.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ordinary Made Extraordinary - Gear Photography

There is always something to shoot.   You don't have to have a perfect day or a perfect subject.  Sometimes ordinary items can become extraordinary subjects.  This is especially true in macro or close up photography.   Here's an example.

My son Tim ordered a new set of gears for his mountain bike.  When he opened the package and I saw the repeating pattern of silvery gears I said "I've got to shoot that!".   Fortunately for me, he was lacking a tool to replace the gears so I had an extra day to try out the gear photography.

The gears themselves were interesting under normal light, but I thought adding some color would add some interest and make them eye catching.   I used the on camera flash and a second off-camera slave flash to light the gears.  I then used colored tissue paper over the flashes to add the reds, blues, and yellows.  I also used a yellow envelope behind the gears to give a stronger yellow reflection.

I was shooting in manual mode on the camera and adjusted the on-camera flash output depending on the tissue paper and where the other flash was positioned.   I moved the off-camera flash around to produce different lighting effects.

I'm normally outside shooting landscapes or nature so it's a little out of the ordinary for me to shoot still life or abstract photos.  It was fun to try something new.  And I didn't need a fancy studio or a particularly special subject for this.  Just goes to show, you can find something to shoot anywhere.

These were all shot at ISO 640 using a Canon 100mm macro.  The aperture was between f/10 and f/16 and of course I was using a tripod.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Contrasts in Sierra Nevada

Click on any photo for a larger view.

It's been two months and I've still not gotten around to posting my photos from Sequoia, Yosemite, and Kings Canyon National Parks.   There are so many I've not figured out how I want to share these.  So far I've shared photos from Bodie California and the Wildflowers of Sequoia and Yosemite, which you can find in previous blog entries.

One thing I tried to look for and pay attention to on this trip was contrasts.   There are lots of different kinds of contrast in the world of nature photography.   Some contrast is to be avoided, such as when the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of the scene are too extreme for the camera to handle.  Having contrasting colors in a photo, such as red/green or blue/yellow, can really make an image.  Sometimes you can add interest to a photo by including contrasting subjects, such as large/small, fast/slow, or immobile/moving.

Here are some images from the the parks in Sierra Nevada where I tried to make use of different kinds of contrast.

The first two photos are examples of color contrasts.   The evergreen branch contrasts with the vivid blue sky in the background.   The light colored bird and the darker background also add tonal contrast to the image without exceeding the camera's ability to capture the range of light.   The second picture has layers of contrasting colors - cool blue in the river, green of the trees, and the warm pink-orange color of Bridalveil Falls and the cliff face at sunset.

The second pair of images show contrasts in size.  The small evergreen in the foreground and the Giant Sequoia in the background tell a story of growth.   One day that sapling may be one of the largest trees on earth like the one behind it.   The Giant Sequoias can live to be over 2,000 years old so it may take some time.  The second image shows a small dead twig on a large dead stump (no, I didn't place it there).  This also has a Giant Sequoia in the background as well.   Because they are so big and there were so many I had lot of opportunities to use them as backgrounds.
This photo shows both death and new life in one image.  The dead tree stump is the remains from a forest fire that destroyed much of an area of Yosemite several years ago.  Without the tree canopy to block the sun the Lupines are thriving and spreading new life across the hillside. 

This final image show the immobile solid rock surrounded by the flowing water of a stream.   The rock is sharp and in focus, while the water is smooth and blurry, adding an interesting contrast to the image.

I'm going to continue to post images from our trip in June.  Be sure to come back or better yet subscribe for email updates .