Monday, December 26, 2011

Tips for Winter Photography

Winter can be a great time for outdoor photography, but there are some things you need to consider that you don’t have to worry about during the rest of the year. Here are some tips to make your winter shooting successful.

1. White Balance. Most of the time the camera will be able to determine the correct white balance or color cast to apply to your photo. Snowy conditions can fool the camera and make that more difficult. Try manually setting the white balance to “sunny or daylight”, “cloudy”, or “shade” depending on the conditions. If you shoot in RAW mode you will be able to adjust the white balance later using a photo editing package.

2. Exposure. Modern digital cameras want to set the exposure so that the scene averages to a mid-gray tone. When much of your photo contains bright white snow, the camera will lower the exposure to make that white snow gray. Use spot metering and measure something other than snow or use exposure compensation to add one to two stops (EV) of light. Most cameras can do this. Check your manual for specific instructions.  Be sure to watch your tone curve to know if you are exposing correctly. A properly exposed photo with lots of snow will have a tone curve that is bunched up on the right side.

3. Flash. If you use your flash when it’s snowing the snowflakes will show up as bright white spots. You can avoid this by turning off the flash, using a tripod, and taking a long exposure. Depending on your exposure time the snow will show up as streaks or not show up at all with a very long exposure, like the photo to the right. Experiment with the shutter speed to get the effect you want.

4. Condensation. When you bring a cold camera inside a warm building or car condensation may form on the lens. If you take that camera back outside that condensation may turn to ice! You can avoid the condensation pitfalls by avoiding taking your camera between warm and cold environments. If you’re getting in and out of your car, keep the car interior temps cool. If you want to take it inside a warm place try sealing the camera and lenses in a big zip lock bag while you are still outdoors. That will keep the warm moist air away from your camera until it warms up.

5. Batteries. Cold temps can zap a camera battery. They will function better if they are kept warm. Keep your spare batteries in an inside pocket where your body heat will keep them warm until you need them. Make sure they are fully charged before heading out into the cold.

7. Shoot during “The Golden Hour” just before sunset and just after sunrise. The low angle of the sunlight will emphasis the texture in the snow on the ground.   It you shoot near noon then the snow may appear to be solid white.

6. Fingers. Pressing little buttons on your camera can be nearly impossible when it’s very cold. Either your fingers are numb and you can’t feel the buttons or your bulky gloves make it very difficult to hit the right button. You might try special gloves that allow you to stick your thumb and forefinger
out of the gloves to shoot then pull them back in. A couple examples are Pho-Tog Gloves or Shooting Gloves. Check out the Adorama buying guide.

Of course, you need to be safe while out shooting in the winter.   Make sure you layer up to stay warm.   You'll want to have good water proof footwear to keep your feet dry and warm.  Last year I purchased at set of Yaktrak to add to my boots when hiking on snow or ice.   Winter is also a great time to use hiking poles for extra stability.

With a little preparation you can have a great time photographing in the winter.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

eBook Review - Rabari - Encounters With The Nomadic Tribe

If you read my earlier post about my photography library you know I love books about photography.  I have books about composition, technical aspects, printing, Lightroom, HDR, and many others.   Recently I've been buying electronic eBooks.   These books are typically not printed in hard copy format but are books in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format that can be read on a PC, MAC, iPAD, or Smart Phone.  It makes taking your library along with you on a photo outing much easier.  Because there is no printing or distribution costs these eBooks are typically cheaper than hard copy books.   Most are also shorter than normal books.  I'm really not sure why.

This week I got a copy of Rabari - Encounters With the Nomadic Tribe by Mitchell Kanashkevich.  This is part of The Insider Series on Travel Documentary Photography by LightStalking.   The title suggests it is a travel book but it's really a book about photography that just happens to use the author's four month long travels in this region of India for the examples. 

Here's the table of contents for the book:

After a brief introduction to the project, the equipment (surprisingly affordable) and the work flow, the author goes into details about each of 10 different photos from the project.  For each photo, he discusses background information, objectives for that particular photo, the light, the moment and/or pose, the composition, the "Biggest Challenge" and how me managed it, and the what/why of post processing.

The author provides great insight into what was going through his mind when he was working on that particular photo. Reading these well written descriptions is like being with him on the photo shoot and having him tell you what he's doing and why.

One thing I was surprised to learn was how little equipment he used.   He didn't have high end cameras, lenses, or elaborate artificial lights.   Instead he relied on a 5-in-one reflector for his lighting.   He describes the conditions he was shooting in and includes diagrams showing where the subject, light source and camera were located.

I found his description of the biggest challenge with each situation and how he overcame it to be instructive.  While I may never run into that exact challenge, his approach to solving the problems was educational as I learned things I will be able to apply later.

He uses a combination of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop to edit his photos.   In the book he talks about what adjustments he made to the photo and how he made the adjustments.  The book is more about the photography and is less about post-processing. He includes before and after versions of the photo.

Reading this book was entertaining and informative.  The photos reached out and grabbed me right off.   You can see why Mitchell Kanashkevic is a successful  travel and documentary photographer.  I recommend this book for amateurs as well as professional photographers.

Rabari – Encounters With the Nomadic Tribe is available for download for the special Christmas release price of $19.95 when you apply the special launch discount code “HAPPYXMAS” until Dec 25th.  Go online and buy a copy.   There's no waiting for shipment so you can start reading right away.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What Are You Thankful For?

"Now thank we all our God" is a Christian hymn written around 1636 by Martin Rinkart (1586–1649).  Rinkart was a Lutheran minister who came to Eilenburg, Saxony at the beginning of the Thirty years war. The walled city of Eilenberg became the refuge for political and military fugitives, but the result was overcrowding, deadly pestilence and famine.   During the height of a severe plague in 1637, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor, conducting as many as 50 funerals in a day.  He performed more than 4000 funerals in that year, including his wife's.

Rinkart wrote this hymn at the end of the Thir­ty Years’ War  for a grand cel­e­bra­tion ser­vice. 

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

It is amazing that, af­ter such mis­e­ry, he was able to write this hymn of thanksgiving.

This time of year we are quick to tell others "Happy Thanksgiving" without giving much thought to what we are thankful for.  If Rinkart could thank God after such hardship you and I should be thanking Him continuously for all the blessings he has given us.

What are you thankful for?

Friday, November 18, 2011

I've just ordered the biggest print I've ever made

For some time I've wanted to create a large pano print to hang over the living room couch.  I have a framed print there now but it's just not big enough.   I'm talking about something about 4 feet wide!

To print something that large takes some preparation.   A single 18 Megapixel photo cropped down wouldn't have the printed resolution I was looking for.  I needed to take several images and stitch them together to create a wide pano.   I wanted a landscape scene that would look good with the colors in the couch.  I had made several attempts but never cared for what I got.  Either the light was not good, the colors didn't match, the scene was not great or the stitch didn't work.  On a recent photo workshop I had the conditions I was looking for.

I wanted to the pano to be wide enough to give me some flexibility for cropping to print.  I decided to make a series of 7 images.   In this case I was looking into a sunrise and the range of light was going to be more extreme than my digital camera sensor was going to be able to handle.  I needed to take three different exposures at each point in the arc to capture the full range of light so I could blend them together later using HDR software.   That meant I had to take 21 images!   The sun was coming up and the light was changing so I wouldn't get a lot of chances at this.   To make the stitch come out I set the camera exposure on manual, exposure bracketing -1EV, 0EV and +1EV, aperture at f/14, ISO at 100 and set to daylight white balance, removed the polarizer filter, and made sure the camera and tripod were level.  These are all things I learned the hard way on the other failed attempts.

When I got home I found I had what I had been hoping for.  I ran each set of three bracketed images through the Nik HDR Efex software to create seven new single HDR images using saved the settings so I could process each set exactly the same.   I then used Hugin pano stitching software to create a final image that was wide enough to fill 4 feet.  The end result could have gone up to 6 1/2 feet wide without having to scale up!

For printing I wanted to create a Triptych, which is three prints hung side by side.  In this case I wanted to create the appearance of looking out windows to a beautiful landscape.   Enter Groupon codes for 16x20 gallery wrapped canvas prints from Canvas on Demand (I'm getting hooked on Groupon).  I divided my photo into three 16x20 panels and placed my order.   It's going to be a while before I get my prints, but when hung on the wall the should look something like this

I'm real happy with the way this came out and can't wait to see the actual prints.  Check back in a few weeks for the end results.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Are you ready for Winter?

It snowed in Kingsport Tennessee today!   The temps were still in the 40's so no one was worried about accumulation on the roads.  Snowing before Thanksgiving is a bit early for us but it does remind me that winter is not to far off.

Ready for Winter?
Seems like just a couple weeks ago we were enjoying the fall colors.  Recently I put together a calendar with some of my favorite photos from the past year.  Here's the calendar page for November 2012.

I really like the quote I found for this photo.   I can look at this photo and remember what autumn was like just a few weeks ago.  Fall just does not last long enough.

Right now we are in that in between time where the fall colors are gone and everything is either brown or grey.   In a few weeks we may have some snow accumulation, which can be a beautiful time to go out and enjoy God's gift of snow.   I can hardly wait.

If you are interested in buying a copy of my calendar you can send me an email at   The calendars are $15 each and all the profit goes to Hope Haven Ministries of Kingsport.  You can see some of the photos used in the calendar by clicking here

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Whew! I'm done.

I have been home for four weeks now since my trip to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont and I just now finished editing and posting my favorite photos from that trip.   People ask me how many photos I took and to be honest, I don't know.    I'm pretty aggressive when it comes to deleting images after I have loaded them on my computer.   This time I didn't count before I started deleting.   I will say it's the first time I used every memory card I have, which is quite a few.

The good news is I spent the four weeks narrowing down to 36 from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and 59 from Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.   Considering I was gone for 16 days and most of those were spent it a photography workshop, that's a really small number of photos. 

I always shoot in RAW mode.  Unlike when shooting in JPEG format where the camera does a lot of automatic adjustments, shooting in RAW means every photo has to be edited.   I spent a lot of time on my edits trying to make them the best I can.

I didn't edit my photos in the same order I took them.  I worked on the most promising ones first and made my way down to the questionable photos last.  Most of the last ones I worked on got deleted.  The very last photo I edited did not look promising.  It was from a spot known for sunsets, but we got there too late for sunset.   There were no puffy clouds in the sky to catch the remaining sunset light and it was getting pretty dark.  Most of our group didn't bother to walk out to this spot.   Imaging my surprise when I came out with this image from that spot.

Heaven's Bench, Vermont

I took three exposures (1/5 second to 2.0 seconds) to capture the entire range of light and then blended them together using Nik HDR Efex Pro software.  I used Lightroom 3 to add the finishing touches.

This spot is a wide grass covered hill with views that go on forever.  The interesting thing is there is a mountain bike trail that runs through it.  You can see the path on the left side.  Nothing like the mountain bike trails here in Tennessee.

Take a look at all my photos from this trip by clicking these links.  Once the page loads click the slideshow button, sit back and enjoy.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Reflections of Fall

A shot I enjoy getting is window reflections.   If I position my camera just right I can get some really cool subjects reflecting in the windows.   If the window happens to be in an old building with a lot of character then the window frame and walls can really focus attention on the reflections.   Here's three I've done.

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
Cradle of Forestry, North Carolina

Church Windows Somewhere in New England

I got the church on a recent photography workshop.  We chris-crossed across Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont so many times I lost track of exactly which state we were in.   It's in one of those three.

All three of these shots just happen to have been taken in the fall.   The Harper's Ferry shot was October 2010 and the other two were October 2011.   I like the texture of the walls in the first two and the horizontal lines in the last one.

A polarizing filter is not necessary for window reflections but it can be used to adjust how much reflection you want in the window.  In the Harper's Ferry photo I wanted to be able to see inside the building and see the reflections.  I adjusted the filter to get the balance I was looking for.  In the second two I wanted all the color and light I could get in the reflections. 

If you try these shots, just make sure you watch for unwanted elements in the reflections, such as buildings, lights, people or even yourself!

The fall color is pretty close to gone for this year, but I'm going to enjoy these for a while longer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

What to do with grey cloudy day photos

During our recent trip to Nova Scotia we spent several days with rain, clouds and fog following us everywhere we went.  We basically had dull grey days.   These are great for some photos where the fog can enhance the mood, especially if the photo does not contain any sky.  See the Rainy Days and Fridays post from October 14 for some examples.   Sometimes you can't avoid getting a large part of the sky in the photo and mood comes out blah like this.

Edited with Lightroom to bump up the contrast, clarity and tone curve.

There are always options for dealing with these dull photos.   For fun I processed this photo four different ways.  The first one is the photo above edited in Nik Color Efex 4 using the Detail Enhancer filter.   This is a great filter that was added to version 4.  It will pull details out of the dark and light parts of an image without adding a lot of noise.  This filter alone is worth the price of the upgrade!  In this case it really brought out the detail in the lighthouse, rocks and gave the clouds a very dramatic feel.

Edited with Nik Color Efex 4 Detail Enhancer

This is better but other than the red lighthouse top, there is not much color.   Sometimes no color is better than a little color.   Here's the second image edited with Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert it to black and white.

Edited with Nik Silver Efex Pro
I'm really starting to like dramatic black and white images like this.  Without the dull colors, you concentrate more on the textures, contrast, and composition.   I think this is my favorite version of this photo.

Finally, I though I would try something I've seen others do.   Starting with the second image in Lightroom I desaturated all the colors except red.   This essentially created a black and white except for the  lighthouse top.  Our eyes are naturally attracted to red so it's the thing you want to look at first in this image.
Edited in Lightroom to remove all color except red.

I'm not a fan of this style and this is not my favorite of the four.   The good news is everyone has different taste and this might appear to someone.  I'd love to hear which one you prefer.  Post a comment and let me know what you think.

These are photos of the lighthouse at Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia.   Peggy's Cove is a quaint fishing village that draws tourists by the bus loads.  The day we were there it was cold and the winds were gusting to 80 mph.  The tour buses were there but not many of the tourists were out on the rocks or near the lighthouse.   Made it easier to photograph without people in the picture, but the winds made it very hard to get a sharp photo.  I set my tripod as low as it would go, sat on the ground, and held it down so the wind wouldn't blow it over.   I felt like a Weather Channel reporter when I was taking these photos.   June was on lower ground praying I didn't blow off the top of the rocks.

Here's a couple more from that day.

You can view larger versions of any of these photos by clicking on them.  This also allows you to easily flip through each one to compare them.  They are also available for purchase in the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Gallery

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What a Way To End a Week

I'm sitting in the Bangor International Airport waiting on USAir to fly me home.   If everything works according to plan I'll be home by midnight.   Today was the last day of a fantastic 8-day photo workshop.   I have learned a lot in eight days and more than that, I've made a lot of new friends from all over the US.   It was a privilege to have the opportunity to spend a week with two dozen great Christians making photos of God's Creation.   I'll be glad to be home, but am sorry to see it end.

To wrap the workshop up we went to Otter Cliffs in Acadia National Park for sunrise.  God provided perfect conditions (AGAIN!) and I was able to try out a new technique or two.   In this photo the sun was up and bright, but I was able to add two neutral density filters to my lens to get a 30 second exposure.   This long exposure made the waves hitting the rocks turn into fog.  The beach is covered with round polished pink granite rocks which captured the beautiful light of sunrise. 

Canon 7D, Tamron 17-50 @ f/20, 30 second exposure.

I now have a few thousand images to go through when I get home.   As I send the next several weeks working on these photos it will remind me of the great time and great fellowship on this trip.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Rainy Days and Fridays

It's hard to believe that it's been 40 years since The Carpenter's Rainy Days and Mondays went to #2 on the charts.   Today brought that song to mind.   Our photography workshop group spent the morning shooting in drizzle and fog on Cadillac Mountain and The Wild Gardens of Acadia in Maine.   Cloudy days are great for photographing a variety of different subjects.  The clouds and fog disperse and soften the light eliminating almost all shadows and giving things a rich color.   Today we had blowing drizzle when made shooting a challenge.  Most of the time I wasn't wearing my glasses because they were covered with water.  I had to trust the camera to get the focus right because I couldn't tell if I was even close to in focus.   I had to constantly wipe the front of my lens and then quickly take the shot.

I'm not complaining.  These conditions gave me the opportunity to take photos like these.

It has been cold enough that some of the vegetation on Cadillac Mountain has started to turn red.  Add some evergreens, the pink granite, and some fog and you get a decent photograph.
 The granite was worn smooth by glaciers long ago and has since cracked, which make great leading lines in the photo.
This bunch of grass had turned golden.

After stomping around on the mountain we went down to the Wild Gardens of Acadia.  There was not much blooming in the gardens but many of the ferns had turned golden.

 I was able to move around to get a green background behind the golden ferns making a nice color contrast shot.

Tomorrow promises to be a nice sunny day.  We'll get out and shoot but it will be different from today.   I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blessed By New Friends

This week I have the privilege of spending 8 days in a photography workshop in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont with some of the best instructors around and and a couple dozen outstanding photographers.   After three days I have found my photography has already started to improve and I'm learning a great many things that will help me to continue to improve. 

This evening Matt Kloskowski spent some time running our group through some great tips on using Adobe Lightroom, plus some on Photoshop and Nik Color Efex 4.   I couldn't wait to try out what I learned.  Even though I got up at 4:30 this morning to head out for sunrise and have to get up at 5:00 tomorrow to do it all over again, I came back to my room to try out my new skills editing one of the images I took today.   Here's the end result.

I'm pretty pleased with the end result.  Here's one I took yesterday morning.

Besides being an opportunity to improve my photography, this trip is also an opportunity to make a lot of new friends who are all great people.   I am blessed to be able to spend time with these folks in this vibrant fall season in New England.  I'm looking forward to getting up in 7 hours to start all over again.

Be sure to check out Bill Fortney's blog where he is chronicling each day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I went to Hungry Mother State Park for the first time several weeks ago.  While I was there I took this shot.   It's not very interesting but I thought, hey this will look great if I had a picnic basket and some picnic food laid out on a colorful table cloth on that table.    I had previsualized in my mind exactly what the photo would look like.  

A couple weeks later I was back.   June had gotten our picnic basket, a colorful quilt to use as a table cloth, some fruit and classes to put on the table.  I brought my long lens so I could compress the apparent distance between the table and the bridge in the distance.  This is going to be a great photo.

When I got there I found the table had been moved and was being used by a father and son as their fishing station.   Plus, a group of shirtless men were on a pontoon boat right in front of the bridge I wanted to include in the photo.   Neither group of fishermen were moving.   I was not going to get that shot this day.

I really liked that bridge with the setting sun shining on it.   We found our way down to the bridge and crossed over to try and find a good angle to shoot.   I was able to get this shot.   It's not the shot I came to get but I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out.

I hope to get back there before all the leaves drop off the trees and try the shot again.   Maybe conditions will be better than I even imagined.

A couple months ago I heard Bob Krist say "The key to making more interesting photos is to stand in front of interesting stuff."   Sometimes we have to go multiple times to stand in front of interesting stuff before the conditions come together to get a good shot.   Fortunately for me I live in a place with interesting stuff all around.  I have the camera.  I have the subject material.   All I need is enough time to get out there and shoot.  

Come back and visit this blog again and you may see the next attempt at this photo

Friday, September 23, 2011

First Day of Fall

Today, Friday, September 23, 2011 is The First Day of Fall.   

Welcome to fall!  The colors have already started to appear in Maine and other northern states.  Only a very few trees have started to turn here so we have a few more weeks before the peak arrives.  I'm told this year will be a good one for fall color in East Tennessee.  

Other than raking leaves, which we have a lot of, fall is my second favorite time of year after spring.   I look forward to the contrasting brilliant yellows, oranges, reds and clear blue skies.   The problem is, fall just does not last long enough.

Here's a shot from last fall to celebrate the first day of fall and to get you in the fall mood.   This was taken in Babcock State Park, WV at f/9, ISO 100 which gave me a 0.3 second exposure.  Just long enough to blur the water but not so long that the water lost all texture.   Sunrise is a better time to shoot the Glade Creek Grist Mill but our travel plans put us there for sunset.   We had to wait about an hour for the sun to drop behind the trees.   There are large rocks in the creek that allow you to get some great angles on the falls and mill.

Glade Creek Grist Mill
I have this printed on a 20x30 gallery wrap canvas in my den and it looks great!  It's available for purchase online here

I'm looking forward to taking a lot more fall color this year.   This fall June and I are blessed with the opportunity to travel to some places we have never been before.   Watch for new fall photos in a few weeks.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Windows and Doors

Recently I've noticed a trend in my photography - I'm taking lots of pictures of windows and doors.

Palmer Mill, Saltville VA
Some are from the inside looking out and others from the outside looking in.  A few are in new buildings but most are in old historic, restored or run down buildings.   I've decided to start a new gallery on my website dedicated to Windows and Doors.   This may sound a bit strange and narrow, but it's what I've found interesting to me.
Madam Russell Cabin, Saltville VA

First United Methodist Church, Marion VA
Log Cabin, Sequoia NP, California

You can find the new Windows and Doors Gallery under the Art collection.   I'll be adding more and more doors and windows.

I'm trying to add something thought provoking or inspiring to go along with the windows and doors, but I'm drawing a blank.   Maybe after a good's night sleep I'll be inspired and will add something.   Until then please enjoy this slightly off the wall collection.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reflections of The Past

June and I met Jerry while shooting in Saltville VA last Saturday.  He described himself as the Church Historian of the Madam Russell Methodist Church.   We got to spend a long time with Jerry while he told us some of the history of the area, Saltville, and the Madam Russell Methodist Church.  

Jerry mentioned that he keys to the William Alexander Stuart house and we could go by there for a personal tour and photo shoot.   William Alexander was Confederate General J.E.B. "Jeb" Stuart's brother and manager of the Saltville Salt Works during the civil war.   When Jeb Stuart was killed his wife and children moved in with William in Saltville.   The house came under both Confederate and Union guns during battles for the Saltworks.

I came away with some interesting photos from inside the old house.  It's been lived in, upgraded over the years, and was purchased years ago to become a B&B.   As you can see, the B&B didn't quite make it.

These photos are all multiple exposure High Dynamic Range photos.   In each one I took several different exposures from very under exposed to very over exposed.  I then used Nik HDR Efex Pro to combine the different images into a single tone-mapped image.  The Nik software has a number of different tools that can be applied to give the final image many different looks from realistic to cartoonish.  I chose to bring out the texture in these to convey the old and weathered look.

3 exposure, -2. 0. +2 EV
6 exposure, -3 2/3 EV to +1 1/3 EV
3 exposure, -2, 0, +2 EV

The first two fit the Reflections of The Past theme with the mirrors.   This last one was taken in an upstairs bedroom looking out into the hall to the top of the stairs.   I think the beautiful wood floors contrast with the cracking paint on the door, the peeling ceiling, and the old wallpaper.  

I've found the older I get the more I enjoy photographing old things.   I guess I have more of an appreciation of history.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fly The Flag High

This was taken on September 10, 2011 in Marion Virginia.   The Marion Fire Department was honoring those who lost their lives on 9/11/01 and those who continue to put their lives on the line each and every day.   

Remember to honor the soldiers who server abroad, those who serve at home and our local Police Officers and Fire Fighters that serve us each and every day.

Click for larger version

This was taken with a Canon 7D, Tamron 17-50, 1/25 second.   The aperture was set at f/25 to get the sunburst.   Used Lightroom to darken the sky (was very blown out) and remove some lens flare caused by shooting into the sun.   I was lucky enough to be there when the sun was shining through the trees on the flag.

I'm also lucky enough to have a wife who encourages me and points out shots for me to take.   She makes me a better photographer.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Compromising With Pearls

Recently when biking around Cades Cove at sunrise I came across a field of tall grass, spiderwebs, and dew.   This combination can create some beautiful abstract artsy images with dew drops on the spiderwebs.   I wanted to get up close and shoot the "String of Pearls" but I didn't have my macro lens with me.   It would have been the perfect solution to this situation. 

I did have a couple other lenses with me, including a 80-400mm long telephoto, a 24-105mm zoom and a 17-50mm wide-angle zoom.   I wanted to have the dew drops as sharp as possible but blur the background to keep it from being distracting.   I choose the 17-50, set it at 50mm, f/2.8.   The wide angle let me focus reasonably close and the wide open aperture blurred the background.   Typically, short focal length lenses will have a larger depth of field and in this case, even at f/2.8 the background was too distracting. 

I decided to crop down as much as possible to see if I could eliminate the background distractions.   This is an extreme crop of the same picture.

Be sure to click the photo to zoom in and see the details.

You can see that by compromising the end result is just not sharp.  If I had my macro with me I would have gotten a much sharper image of the dew drops.  Oh well.

Right now I am studying a book by Warren Wiersbe on the Book of Exodus.  In it he says "most people in our world are being crucified between two thieves: the regrets of yesterday and the worries about tomorrow.  That's why they can't enjoy today."   What a waste.   I made a choice when I packed my camera bag and got on my bike that morning.   I could regret not having what I needed, or I can be happy I got to enjoy God's String of Pearls.   Next time I go out to take photos I can worry about having to leave some piece of camera gear behind or worry about not being at the right spot at just the right time or I can enjoy the moment and be glad I'm there.

Later that morning I got to spend about an hour using my long telephoto lens to shoot deer and black bear in the Cove.   You can bet I wasn't worrying about not having my macro lens then!  God's creation is all around us.  We'll miss seeing much of it because we are so busy running around.  If we slow down and look God will provide the Wow moments for us.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

You Looking At Me?

Last year I was reading a magazine for nature photographers.  Part of that issue was a survey asking the photographers about their favorite place to photograph.  It was fun to read and see how many of the top places we've been to, including Canadian Rockies, Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Arches, Zion, and Acadia.  One of the top spots is in our own back yard -- The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  June and I decided we have been neglecting our park and we need to spend more time in the GSMNP.  As a result, my Smokies Gallery is now the largest on my website.

Last weekend we took another get away trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It was a great weekend to spend time together and recharge our batteries in the woods.  As John Muir said

Forney Ridge Trail to Andrews Bald
"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energies, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."

We hiked to Hen Wallow Falls, Biked the Cades Cove Loop at sunrise, spent at least 30 minutes waiting for a mother bear and her three cubs to move so we could continue our ride, hiked to Andrews Bald after a rain, caught a great sunrise at Clingman's Dome, and another great sunrise from the Foothills Parkway outside Townsend.  Believe it or not, there are still wildflowers blooming in August.

In addition to the black bears, there were numerous white tailed deer, including several bucks.   This one wasn't too sure about the photographer in the high weeds.

You Looking At Me?
We were blessed with peace and quiet on our trip to The Smokies.  Yes, you can find peace in the park if you get away from Gatlinburg, start early, leave the main roads and explore the trails deep into the woods.

There are 17 new photos from this trip in the Smoky Mountain Gallery for you to enjoy.  Check them out and enjoy some of the beauty of our park.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

His Light Shines

I took this photo this morning off the Foothills Parkway near Townsend Tennessee.   It's a place I've been for sunrise multiple times and each time it's different.  There has always been some fog in the valley below the Parkway and this morning it was staying low, allowing the hills to peak out.   There was also something special in the image -- a glow of light in the fog.  I'm assuming it was a street light, security light or something similar strong enough to cut through the fog.   Looking at a map I think it may have been Millers Cove Church.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. - 2 Corinthians 4:6

It was still very dark when I took this - 30 seconds, f/5.6, ISO 400.   This morning the light was shining out of the darkness and we could see it on the hillside above the valley.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Storms Coming to Rich Valley

I spent last Sunday taking photos around Smyth County Virginia.   My first stop was the Visitor's Center in Chilhowie to get some suggestions for places to shoot.   The folks there were very helpful, giving me enough ideas to last for days.  One suggestion was the Rich Valley Overlook on northern boarder of Hungry Mother State Park.  This is not a marked spot and is easily missed.  In fact I drove about a mile down the other side of the mountain before I found a place to turn around and head back up to the top where there was the only pull off I saw for miles.   You couldn't see the valley from the pull off so I was standing on the edge of the road against the guard rail hoping a car didn't come by and send me and my gear over the edge.

It had been thundering for a while and I knew from the weather map on my phone that an afternoon thunderstorm was going to hit about the time I got to my spot.  Just before and after a storm is some of the best times to get dramatic lighting on the landscape so I knew I had to try.  I had just enough time to set up and fire off several shots before the rains hit and chased me back inside my car.   You can see the rain coming up the valley on the left side of this photo.
Be sure to click this image for a larger view

To capture the entire range of light I took bracketed shots at -2EV, 0EV and +2EV.  I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to merge them together, then a little Lightroom adjustments to lighten the trees, increase the vibrance, cut some of the noise, and add a little vignette.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thinking Outside The Frame

We're told "thinking outside the box" is a good thing.  It opens our mind to consider new ideas beyond the way it's always been done.  What about when we edit our digital photos?   What's the box that might constrain our thinking when we are using Photoshop, Lightroom, or Picasa?   The cropping feature that is built into these tools can tend to keep us within the standards for picture frames.

If you go to any store that sells ready made frames you'll find they are sized to hold 4x6, 5x7, 8x10 prints.   The crop tool in our editing packages often defaults to these standard sizes.   That's fine if you plan on printing your photo and using a standard frame.   Most of us don't print many of our photos any more.  They end up on a website somewhere.   Yet, we tend to use the standard crop sizes.   If the photos are going on a website they can be cropped to any width and height that works best for the photo.

Here's an example.   The first photo is not cropped at all.  This is the way I took it.
The next two are cropped to 8x10 and 5x7



None of these really work for me.   There is too much wasted space at the bottom and top of the photo.  This does not add anything to the photo and a good rule of thumb is to eliminate anything that doesn't add to the composition.

Here's the crop I like best.

Unconstrained Crop
 I turned off the crop lock in Lightroom and cropped according to what I thought looked best, without considering the dimensions.

If I was to print this I would have to go back and find a crop that either fits a standard size print/frame or go for a custom photo mat and/or frame.   In this case it's pretty close to a 10x20, which is a size that I can get printed.   If you're looking for a frame for a 10x20 print you may have to go somewhere besides Walmart and Hobby Lobby.   Better yet, forget the frame and print as a canvas wrap.   I've done three of those now and love them.

This photo is available for purchase online.  It's ready to print at 4x8, 5x10, 8x16, 10x20, or 12x24.   Many of these sizes are available as metal or canvas prints.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Photo/Travel Program - The Parks of The Sierra Nevada Mountains

Now, a word from the Shameless Self Promotion Department at The Siggins Photography.

The 63rd Annual Virginia Highlands Festival kicks off this Saturday July 23 and runs through August 7.   The festival began in 1949 by Robert Porterfield, founder of the Barter Theater, as a simple one-week festival to showcase Appalachian arts and crafts. Since then the festival has now grown into a two-week event offering a variety of venues.

View from Moro Rock, Sequoia National Park

This year I'll be presenting a program at the festival on The Parks of The Sierra Nevada Mountains on August 6.   I'll be showing some of my photography and talking about Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks.  I'll also take the audience to Bodie California to experience a real gold rush ghost town and to Mono Lake for out of this world landscapes and sunsets.   The Virginia Highlands guide lists my program as four hours long, which is not right.  I don't think I can talk near that long and no one would stay that long.   Instead it will be between 2 and 3 hours depending on how much discussion we get into.

The program (I don't like the word lecture) is part travel show and part photography program.  I'll talk about the places we visited and also about how I took different photos, the gear I used, etc.

The festival charges $5 for the program.  You can buy tickets online here.  It will be in the Executive Auditorium at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, in Abingdon.

There are two other programs that are worth going to.  Chris Duncan is presenting Around the World in 180 minutes on Saturday, July 30 and National Geographic Photographer Bob Krist is presenting Behind the Scenes: Real Life Misadventures of a National Geographic Photographer Saturday July 23, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m in the Grand Hall of the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway and Other Recent Work

I've added a new Recent Work gallery to my website that contains all the photos posted in the last two months.  As I post newer photos the older ones will drop off but will still be in their proper galleries.  For example, you will find the latest photos from Smoky Mountains, Wildflowers, and Charleston / Hilton Head galleries also in the Recent Work gallery.
Mossy Stream

Take a look in the Recent Work Gallery for some of the photos from my trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on July 4.  I'm very happy with some of these and hope you enjoy them.

Leather Vasevine

Until this last weekend I had convinced myself that by July the wildflower season was over and there was not much to shoot until fall.  Boy, was I wrong.  We saw Fire Pink, Bee Balm, Cone Flowers, Columbine, Fly Poison, Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel, and others.   Of course, there was plenty of ferns and moss covered rocks in the streams.   Just goes to show we are blessed all the time, even if we don't know it.   Sometimes all we have to do is open our eyes and look around at God's Glorious Creations.

Fire Pink
Many thanks to my friend and fellow photographer Harold Ross for taking me to all these great places and helping me learn some new wildflowers.