Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Early Bird

"Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark."

Rabindranath Tagore
Indian Poet

The best time to take photos outdoors is the hour around sunrise or sunset.   If you want to avoid other people in your photo, dawn is the perfect time.  Few people will be up and about at sunrise.   It's my favorite time to make photos.

The problem with taking photos at dawn is I have to head for my destination long before I know what the conditions will be like.  Will the sun paint the clouds with brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows or will the sky be overcast and gray?  I have found that weather forecasts will give a general idea what to expect, but often the moment the sun breaks the horizon will be very different from the forecast.   I have to get up when it's still dark and see what is in store when I get there.

Blue Heron in Morning Light

On a recent trip to visit my family in South Florida June and I got up early and left the house while everyone was still comfortably asleep.   Our destination was Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  This is a favorite place to photograph birds in a natural setting.  Boardwalks snake throughout the wetlands, making it easy to get close to birds, gators and other wildlife.  On this morning, there were fewer birds than what we had seen in the wetlands before.  Mid-December is a few weeks early for nesting activities and brilliant mating colors that present many photographic opportunities.  However, there were still enough birds to fill all our available time and the rising sun bathed the scenes in a warm soft light, like the photo above.

We don't always have the gift of sunrise colors on every outing but if we didn't get up while it is still dark we would never get to experience the beauty of a sunrise and the beautiful colors of dawn. 

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” 
Corrie ten Boom

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Calendar Chronicles - December 2014

The number of days left in 2014 is getting smaller and smaller.  Just a few more weeks left before it will be time to replace the 2014 calendar with the 2015 edition.  But, not yet.  

The photo for December 2014 is the road going from Carvers Gap on the TN/NC border up the mountain to the Rhododendron Gardens.   The only travelers on that road this day in March 2013 were cross country skiers.  It was a Saturday morning and I was able to get up to Carvers Gap just after sunrise before the road was plowed.  There were just a handful of hardy (some say crazy) photographers and skiers.  The snow was unbroken and beautiful.  The photo of the pines in the snow that is on the calendar page was  taken on this same day on the Roan Mountain Balds.

Taking photos of snowy scenes like this has special challenges.  You can read some of my suggestions from an older post here.

I felt very alone up there that morning.  The blanket of snow absorbed what little sound there was.  While I saw cross country ski tracks, I didn't see a single person on this side of highway 143.  It was like I was alone in the world.  But no matter how alone we my feel, The Lord is always in our midst.  I believe God rejoices when we are out in His creation, enjoying the natural beauty.  This was both a calming  and a joyful experience for me.  I am looking forward to more snow!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Go Wide!

The college football season is rapidly approaching the end of the regular season and the beginning of the bowls.   Going wide is something we'll hear when talking about football wideouts and wide receivers. Maybe we'll hear it this Saturday in the Florida - Florida State game, but I'm afraid the passing will favor the Seminoles this year.

We can also go wide in photography.   A wide angle lens is typically in the 24mm - 36mm range with ultra-wide having shorter focal lengths and standard or normal lenses having longer focal lengths.  The are called wide angle because the angle of view through the lens takes in so much more.  A 28mm lens has a 75 degree angle of view, while a 135 mm has only an 18 degree view.

The typical way to use a wide angle is to capture a big wide landscape scene.

Shaker Village

Reel Foot Lake 
Both the Shaker Villiage and Reel Foot Lake photos were taken at 17mm.   They take in a lot of the scene from the far left to the far right.   This is a perfect use for a wide angle lens, but not the only use.

When you place objects close to a wide angle lens their size is magnified relative to objects that are further away, like in this photo of the Cable Mill in Cades Cove.
Cable Mill @ 24mm
What if you turned your camera and took a portrait (taller) orientation shot?   Same effect - things that are close appear much bigger.

In the photo to the left the white flower is the obvious subject.  It is bright and big, demanding attention.   The purple flowers in the background are hardly noticeable, but they do add some depth to the photo.

I've found this is a fun way to get close up shots but include the environment around the subject in the photo.   Wide angle lenses also tend to have a much deeper depth of field, making it easier to keep the close subject and far background in focus.


I've used this technique with flowers to draw people's attention to the flower.  You can use the same technique on other subjects, but beware.  If you use a wide angle lens to photograph a person up close you can get a photo with a large nose or ears.  Not too flattering.

Next time you're out try turning your camera into the portrait orientation and going wide!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Stop, Look and Listen

I may not remember much about growing up, but I do remember - "Stop, Look, Listen!"   We were taught to do this before even thinking about crossing a road.  Look to the left and to the right, and listen for approaching vehicles. It was so ingrained in the minds of our generation that it The Stylistics released a soul song by that title in 1971, followed up by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross in 1974.

It's a good think to remember in photography as well.   Those of us who are nature or landscape photographers can easily fall into the trap of getting to a place and shooting the first thing that looks good to us, then moving on. I call this the shoot and go approach.  It's easy to do, but we miss the great shots by not stopping and looking around.   The first shot we make is most often not the best one.  There are always other angles, other compositions, and other subjects in an area.  Each one can tell a different story.

Here's two examples.   The first shot shows two  Adirondack Chairs under a tree. What' kind of story does this tell?  The leaves n the gree and the grass are still green, but there are brown leaves on the ground under the tree.  It's early fall.  The chairs are inviting under the shade.   Just imagine yourself with your favorite person you enjoy being with sitting in those chairs on a cool fall day listening to birds and watching horses run in the near by pasture.  Sound like a good place to be?   

A photo is more interesting to the viewer if they can imagine themselves in the photo.  It creates a sense of connection.   Can you imagine yourself there?

This was just outside the room where we were staying at Shaker Village in Kentucky.  It was an obvious photo for me, but not the only shot.   Notice the two leaves on the chair on the right?  There was a photo in there as well.

Taken at the same place and the same time of day, this second photo tells a completely different story.  The subject is no longer the chair, lawn, or trees.  You can't even see those things in this composition.  The subject is the dried leaf stuck in the slats.  The first photo had a lot of green and only a little yellow or brown, this photo is almost entirely brown.  To me it is a story of the end of life for the leaf.   Same place, different story.

I could have stayed in a 20 foot circle for an hour taking different pictures of leaves, grass, chairs, and tree trunks.   What possibilities do you see in these photos?

Here's a suggestion for avoiding the shoot and go approach and slowing down to look for photos beyond the obvious.  When you get to a place just stand or sit for a while and take it all in.  Walk around a little and enjoy what God has made.   Don't even try to make a photo until after you have had time to stop, look and listen.   You'll find many more photographic opportunities right in front of you.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Giving Thanksgiving for Blessings

Just a couple more weeks and we will be celebrating Thanksgiving in the US and Canada.   The photo for November is probably the most recognized symbols for Thanksgiving.  

This was actually taken in the month of April in Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   The Tom was trying his best to impress the ladies.  He would run around to get in front of them, puff up, spread his tail feathers and do his best to get their attention.  There were several hens and none were giving him the time of day.
Look At Me
I took 50 shots of the turkeys that day.  I started out standing on one side of the road and I used my 80-400 mm zoom lens to get in as close as possible.   After they crossed the road I noticed another photographer taking photos while laying in the grass.  At first I thought that the grass was way too wet and cold to do that but after some encouragement from June I was out there with the turkeys and flat on my stomach.  I'm glad I did.   It wasn't that cold and I eventually dried out. The calendar photo was taken in this position.   Getting down to the animal's level makes for a more interesting photo.  Because I was less threatening laying down it allowed me to get closer.

For many Thanksgiving is a time to gather for family, football and feasting.   Originally  a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year, for many Thanksgiving has turned into a time to over eat and prepare to go shopping on Black Friday.   John F. Kennedy said “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”, which is taken from Luke 12:48 - "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  (NIV).  As we give thanks on November 27, it's a time to reflect on our blessings and think about how we can use those blessings to bless others.

If you enjoy these posts you may want to purchase on of my 2015 calendars.  All the proceeds go to Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.   It's one small way to bless others.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Importance of a Good Education

"An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

- Benjamin Franklin

Last night I attended a photography seminar by one of the premier landscape photographers in the world today.   For the paltry sum of $7 (normally $25 but I found this great coupon) I got 2+ hours of instruction in Composition, Technique & Impact by Art Wolfe from the comfort of my den on my big screen TV.   This is by far one of the best investments I have made in my photography.

Hot Air Balloon Ride 2014

I always encourage people to invest in education as the best way to improve their photographs.   No lens or camera will make as big a difference as time spent with a quality instructor, taking an online course or participating in a photography group.  I've been in several photography workshops and sat through many webinars on photography.  I really enjoyed last night's session with Art Wolfe.  He spent the first hour or so talking about some techniques he uses to create compelling compositions.  The entire time he was showing his own photos as examples of each technique.  Just seeing his photos was worth the price.   The second half was a critique session.  Participants were able to submit some of their photos ahead of time and Art picked several to discuss.   With most of them he spent a minute or so showing what could be done with some creative cropping, exposure adjustments, and color balancing.   I found myself saying "wow, that really made a big difference".   In the last 20 minutes he answered a few questions that had been submitted online.

This was the first time Art did a live Webinar.  His next one is on  light, color and how to get more emotional impact out of your photographs.  Hop on over to and sign up to get notified when it is scheduled.   

Do you want to learn more about Adobe Lightroom?  Kent Ervin and I are planning to do a Lightroom class this winter in Kingsport, TN.  More information will be available in the next month or two.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Makes A Good Photographer?

On October 11 there were photographers of all skill levels with all kinds of photo gear wandering the streets of Jonesborough Tennessee for the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk.
Some of the Photowalk Crew
There were Nikons, Canons, Sonys and other brands represented.  Some of these were pretty nice cameras.  There were also many excellent photographers.

The photo below is not mine.  It was taken on the photowalk in Jonesborough by one of the photographers/walkers in the photo above.  Each of the photographers who participated in the walk could pick their favorite photo and submit it to be judged against all the other favorites from that day.  The photographer with the best photo won a full year membership to Kelby One online training (a $249.00 value). That's a pretty nice prize.  As the walk leader I had to choose what I thought was the best photo of the day.  This is never an easy task because they are all good and each one is different.  This year I picked a red leaf in water as the best photo.

Leaf in Water Fountain - Prize Winner

So what makes this a good photo?  Of course, there is a lot of subjectivity in picking a photo.   What I like may not do anything for you.  The thing is, photography is art and everyone has different things they like and appreciate in art.  Here's some things I thought this one had going for it.

Color and color contrast - red is a powerful color and one that people's eyes are naturally attracted to.  This photo has a strong dominate red but also has a slightly blue tint in the background, creating a nice color contrast between the red and blue.

Angle - the fact that the photographer thought to angle the camera so the leaf points at an angle makes this a more dynamic photo.  If the leaf had been vertical, horizontal or placed in the center of the frame it would have felt static and uninteresting.

No distracting elements - simple, just a leaf in water.  There are no other things, such as twigs or other leafs, in the photo.   Generally the simpler the photo the better.

Sharpness - the eye is drawn to the sharp parts of a photo and the part of the leaf that is out of the water is nice and sharp.  You can see the interesting texture in that part of the leaf.  That part of the leaf is also placed at one of the power point intersections created by dividing the photo into three vertical and horizontal sections (rule of thirds).

Besides the composition of this photo, I like the fact that the photographer found this.  An eye for seeing photos before taking them is a skill that not everyone has.   My wife June has a good eye for photos, which is why my photos are always better when she comes along with me.

Some of you may be thinking that this is not a perfect photo, and you're right.   The top of the leaf was cut off and there is a circular shadow in the top, maybe from the photographer.  The thing is there is no perfect photo.  In my opinion, this is a very good photo.   I wish I had taken it.

So a good photo is made by a photographer with a good eye who can create an interesting composition.  What about photo gear?   What kind of camera was used?   In photography circles there is always some friendly jabs between the Canon and Nikon shooters.  Lately, there have been some Sony and Fuji shooters showing up to claim the top gear of the year/month/day award.   What about this one?

Because of the info embedded in the digital photo I was able to look up some interesting facts about the photo.  It was taken with a shutter speed of 1/145 second, at ISO of 50, and an f-stop of 2.2.  This was taken with a 13 mega pixel model SCH-1545 digital camera.  Not familiar with that one?  Click here for info on the camera.  That's right, it was taken with a cell phone!

Now, I'm not suggesting we all go out and trade our cameras in on cell phones.  I am saying the most important piece of photography gear you can have is not the hardware you hold up to your eye.  It's what's behind your eyes that makes a good photographer.   Photography is all about light, seeing, and knowing how to compose a photo in such a way that it is pleasing to view.  The good news is you can easily upgrade your photographic mind by taking classes, workshops, online training or just hanging out with other photographers.   Being with other photographers and practicing are the two best investments you can make.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Photo Manipulation

Tom Branch Falls
Today I took a hike down along the trails in the Deep Creek area of the Smokies with a good friend and Best Man from our wedding .   It's a place I've only been one other time and the first time I've been there in the fall.   The colors in the southern Smokies around Bryson City, NC were more muted and a little behind where they are on the north and western slopes this year.

As you can see from the photo of Tom Branch Falls, there was still a lot of green in the trees.  We didn't see a lot of golds or reds.  A few more cold nights and sunny days are sure to bring out those colors.

Even when we don't get the colors, light, or other conditions we are hoping for, there are always other ways to manipulate the photo.

I'm not talking about editing the photo and changing the green leaves to gold.  I'm talking about using compositions  that manipulate what the photo says.

Juney Whank Falls

The Park Service has built a nice bridge right next to Juney Whank Falls that allows the hiker or photographer to get close to the falls.  The yellow and red leaves stuck to the rock face caught my attention. Instead of taking a picture of the entire falls, I chose to zoom in on a small section with those leaves and some white water.  I think this photo has an autumn feel with the little color that there is.

Another opportunity to manipulate the mood through composition is the picture of this small rock in a stream.
Streams of Gold
I got this color by getting down low on the edge of the creek and getting in the right position to get the reflections I wanted.  In this case the reflections in the stream were of trees on the opposite bank that were lit by the early morning sunlight, giving it a golden tint.

No need to manipulate a photo in software.  You can change the story the photo tells by paying trying compositions that are different from the obvious, getting the right angle, paying attention to the light and getting a bit creative.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Trust in the LORD with all your heart.

The photo for October on my 2014 calendar is from Unaka Mountain Road in the Cherokee National Forest and Unicoi County in Tennessee.  This 12 mile long road windes its way over and around the mountain.   According to Encylopedia Briticanica the Cherokee Indians named the mountains Unaka (“White”), probably in reference to a persistent white haze or to some white rock formations.

On this day the colors were anything but white.   Fall was ablaze with warm yellows, oranges, and red interspersed with some green leaves trying to hang on for a few more days.  You can tell by the leaves on the road that the fall days were growing short and soon the mountain would again be white with the first snows of winter.

I used one of the most powerful shapes in my composition.  The s-curve is a great graphic element that adds interest and pulls the viewer into the photo.  In this case I had the road start in a corner and avoided putting it dead center in my photo, which is a sure way to create a photographic dud in landscape photography.   One thing I wish I had tried was to climb on top of the car, which would give me a better view of the s-curve.  I always come up with great ideas for improving a photo long after I took it.  I guess that's the way I learn.  It sure takes a long time that way.

Exchange Place

The small photo on the calendar page was taken just a few miles from our house at Exchange Place.   It is a great place to wander around and shoot, particularly in the fall.  On this day I had to place to myself and spent a couple hours wandering around and poking my head in any open building looking for a photo that would tell the story of Exchange Place in the Fall.

Once you're on Unaka Mountain Road you have very few decisions to make.  There are only a handful of short side roads, but they all lead to dead ends.  You either have to continue to the end or turn around and go back.  It makes navigating the mountain easy.

Life is not always so simple.  Every day we are faced with multiple decisions that have to be made.  Some are small, yet others are significant and can have a major life impact.  We find ourselves struggling to gather information, study all the angles, and make our decision.   That's the hard way.  If we listen to Solomon's wisdom, don't try to figure it all out on our own, but trust the Lord  he will show us which path to take.   We don't have to know it all.  We have someone on our side who already knows it all and will show us the way to go.  All we have to do is listen and trust.

It's time to be thinking about a calendar for 2015.  I've place an order for the first batch of 2015 calendars.  If you want one just drop me an email to   They're only $15, all the profit goes to Hope Haven Ministries, and I'll even ship to you.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

And the winners are....

The votes have been gathered, tallied, and double checked.   The photos that will be on my 2015 calendar are:

Wild Ponies, 39 votes
Top Pick for 2015
Burkes Garden, 35
Big Red, 33
White Top Sunset, 29
Winter, 27
Old Country Church, 27
Home Place, 25
Bald River Falls, 25
Southern Plantation, 23
Sunrise Above The Clouds, 23
Peacock, 23
Peaceful Reflections, 22
Lambs, 20

Dewdrops was tied for last place with 20 votes.  I had to pick one and decided to go with Lambs because it is so appropriate for the Christmas Season.

A preview of the calendar is available on YouTube.   Click HD - 1080p for the best video quality.  Be sure to have your sound on to enjoy the beautiful music by Gerald Sheppard

I got a number of requests to include The Spider That Ate The Moon in next year's calendar.  It might be too much for some people to see a giant spider on their wall for an entire month.   You might find a smaller version creeping around October.

Each year I am surprised by your selections, which ones are your favorites and which ones you really don't want on your wall for a month.  This year there were 33 photos to choose from.  All were photos I thought were good enough, but some only received 3 or 4 votes from 47 people.   While some photos were not popular they were picked by a few people.  The Wild Ponies was picked by 39 out of 47 people so while it was the top pick there were 8 people who did not think it was one of the best photos.   I am blessed with friends with a broad spectrum of tastes.   It's a good thing I didn't pick the photos myself.

These calendars should be available by the end of October this year.   Send me an email if you would like one or more.  Don't forget to tell your friends about the calendars.  Spread the word and help me support Hope Haven Ministries.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

7th Annual Worldwide Photo Walk Comes To Jonesborough Tennessee

Event Hailed as the Largest Global Social Event for Photographers

On Saturday, October 11, 2014, photographers will gather in cities across the globe to capture a slice of life through their eyes during the 7th Annual Worldwide Photo Walk.  It’s the world’s largest global social photography event in the history of photography itself.  Photographers of all walks of life and skill levels gather together, on the same day to socialize, learn new tips from each other, and explore their corner of the world through photography.  Last year over 1300 walks took place in countries like the Philippines, Iran, India, Great Britain and the United States. This year Tennessee’s oldest town will be the site one of the photo walks.

The Worldwide Photo Walk was founded by Scott Kelby, president of Kelby One and a #1 bestselling photography and technology book author.  He leads a walk each year in a different city and credits the success and popularity of the event to the social aspect of photography. “Photography is usually viewed as a solitary activity, but the truth of the matter is that people love to shoot together, compare notes and just have fun with photography.”

I will be leading the Jonesborough Photo Walk this year and I hope you will join me.   Photography is my passion and I enjoy sharing that passion with others.  I believe spending time with other photographers is the best way to learn and improve your photography skills.   The historic city of Jonesborough provides unlimited photo opportunities.

The walk starts at 8:30 AM and will wrap up around noon.  For those that are interested we will meet for lunch in Jonesborough to share photos and enjoy time with others on the walk.

The best part is the Photo Walk is free.  Just go to the Worldwide Photo Walk site  find the Jonesborough walk, and register. You don’t have to be a professional or expert.  All you need is a camera and a passion for photography. It doesn’t even matter what kind of camera you use, a smartphone will work.  You do have to register online before the walk.

This year, the Worldwide Photo Walk Team is attempting to step up its charity efforts for the Springs of Hope Kenya orphanage in Africa.  Scott Kelby is asking walkers and walk leaders alike to consider a dollar donation.  100% of the proceeds will go to the orphanage - at a very critical time for them.

Anyone who registers in advance is eligible to win prizes from the Worldwide Photo Walk’s sponsors if their photo is chosen as the best photo of the day for Jonesborough Photo Walk. Each winning walk photo is then entered into a global competition where Scott Kelby picks the single “best photo” of the event along with 10 runners-up.

Learn all the details about how to get involved at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Building A Calendar

Each year I put together a calendar to raise money for Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.  Hope Haven is a Christian, interdenominational, non-profit ministry that reaches out to homeless men, women and children who may be impoverished economically, educationally, emotionally and/or spiritually.   Hope Haven doesn't receive any government funding or support from United Way.   Like all non-profit organizations they are in constant need of financial support to keep providing the services they provide in our community.   These calendars are one way you and I can support this ministry.

Photography and sharing photos is my hobby and I really enjoy putting this project together.   It's not a quick process and usually takes several days to get together 25 - 30 candidate photos.   This year I
  1. Selected the 4,620 photos from past 12 months that are wider than tall (landscape orientation) to fit on the calendar pages.  Because I use Lightroom to catalog all my photos this took about a minute.  Would have been about a second but I had to remember how to do this.
    Saved From The Bit Bucket
  2. I then narrowed the candidates down to 165, then 60.   If I thought it is a photo people might like to see on their wall for a month then I marked it as a candidate. This step took a while.  The interesting thing is I selected some photos that I had not touched since down loading from the camera.  I have a lot of these images on the edge between keepers and destined for the bit bucket.   Sometimes something that doesn't catch my eye when I first look at it turns out to be a favorite later, like the one on the right.  Click on it for a larger view.
  3. With June and Holly's help and a couple days we narrowed down to 34.

Is this one in the top 13?

That's all I can do.  It's hard for me to pick any more to throw out.  After all,  I have eliminated 131 from my first list.  I am asking my friends to help me narrow the 34 down to 13 to go on the calendar.  So far 32 people have voted and I'm already seeing some trends.

  • There is a clear front runner - 27 out of 32 have voted for this one.
  • Two photos got only 2 votes each.  Doesn't look good for those two.
  • There are three tied for 13th place with 13 votes each.
  • There are two more with 12 votes each.

How many people would like a black and white photo on their calendar?
As you can see, one person's vote can determine which photos make it on the calendar and which ones are left out. 

The deadline for sending me your vote is Saturday, September 20.  

The winners get announced on Sunday the 21st.  Instructions for voting are on the September 5 blog post.  Drop me an email with your vote.   Oh and let me know if you're interested in buying a calendar. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tanawa Trail Footbridge - The September 2014 Calendar Photo

The Tanawa Trail is a 13 1/2 mile hiking trail in the North Carolina mountains that parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain.  This footbridge is easily accessible from one of the many trail access points along the parkway.  It's been some time since I made this photo, but I think this is on the section of the Tanawa trail that goes to Rough Ridge.

Tanawa is the Cherokee name for fabulous hawk or eagle.  On this day the scene was a fabulous painters pallet of warm fall colors.  To the east the sky was becoming overcast which obscured the grand vistas, but created really nice conditions for taking photographs in the woods.  

There are any number of ways to photograph this bridge.   If you do a google search for Rough Ridge Bridge and look at the images you will see the compositions others have come up with.  I like this angle because it shows off the beautiful arch of the bridge and the stone column in the center.   In the fall the creek is reduced to a small trickle, which shows up as a black section under the bridge.  For the photographers who are interested in the more technical points this was taken with a full frame DSLR, 17mm, f/22.  This image is an HDR image created from three different exposures to capture the brightest and darkest parts of the scene.

This photo brings to mind quiet walks to peaceful places.   The busyness of life can wear us down and we need to get away to these quiet places to recharge.   Luke recorded that Jesus would slip away to a quiet place to pray.   What better place to pray than in the midst of God's creation with no distractions to compete for our attention.

I'll be selling the 2015 edition of my calendar this fall.  For information see the previous blog post -  Stay tuned for more information on how to order a calendar.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The polls are open. It's time to vote for your picks for the 2015 calendar from The Siggins Photography

Each year I invite anyone who has bought one of my calendars in the past or intends to buy one this year to help select the 14 photos to be included in the calendar.  It's time to start the voting for the 2015 calendar photos.

I have picked this photo of the Mountain Home Veterans Cemetery in Johnson City for July 2015.   I want to honor our military veterans for the month of July.

Mountain Home

The fun part is anyone who will buy a calendar gets to help pick the other 13 photos (11 months, plus the front and back covers).  Here's how the process will work.

The candidate photos are available online at   These were all taken in the past 12 months and include photos from Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida Canada and South Korea.  The best way to browse through the photos is to click on the first small thumbnail to zoom in on that photo.  You can then use the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard to flip through the full size versions.   Send the names of your 13 pics to me at by midnight Saturday September 20.   I will total up the votes and announce the winners on Sunday September 21.

Some people have asked about the price for the calendars this year.   It's the same low price of $15 each.   The best part is all the profit goes to Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.  Remember - the calendars make great Christmas gifts, especially for those hard to buy for people on your list.  Send me an email if you want to order a calendar.

Feel free to pass this info on to anyone who might want a calendar.  Anyone who wants a calendar can vote.  

I can't wait to see which photos make it to the 2015 calendar.  

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why I like some of my photos more than others

June and I got to spend 3+ days with some great photographers who are even nicer people last weekend at the Shaker Villiage near Harrodsburg, KY.   The reason for this gathering of friends was to spend time together and of course take lots of photos.   Personally I came home with over 900.   Hey that's only about 300 a day, which is not that much considering.

I'll be working through those photos over the next few weeks.  I've already shared a few on facebook.  I want to share four more here today.

The Hallway


Spiral Staircase

While I'm happy with all four, I like two better than the other two, and it's not because they are better photos.   I used none of my personal creativity on the last two.  They are shots everyone in the group took and are copies of photos taken by dozens if not hundreds of photographers before me.  For the Spiral Staircase photo we took turns going up the two floors and shooting down.  We all pretty much made the same photos.  If placed side by side I don't know if I could tell mine from the next guys.  They are that similar.   The Lemons photo was an attempt to copy a beautiful photo made by Bill Fortney years ago.  We have all made it and added it to our portfolio.   These are not bad photos. Taking these help me to learn what goes into making a good photo.  I'm glad I took them and can share them with others. They are just not my photos.  To me this feels like the photography equivalent of paint by numbers.  There is none of my personal creativity involved.

The first two I made all on my own.  No one said stand here and make this shot.   As far as I know I may be the only one to get these shots this past weekend.   Photographically they are not as good as the Spiral Staircase or Lemons photos, but they are mine and that's why I like them better.   I feel much the same way about iconic landscapes.   Most everyone who goes to Zion National Park stands on the same bridge and takes the same afternoon photo of The Watchman and the Virgin River.  Go ahead and google it and you'll see what I mean.   

There's nothing wrong with taking the iconic shots or attempting to emulate great photographers like Bill Fortney.   In the end I take photos because I enjoy the creative process and that creativity is what makes my photos something I treasure.  My advise is to take those iconic shots, learn from them, enjoy them, but make sure you make your own creative photos.  Those may be your favorites!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Scouting For Ideas

I'll be leading a photo outing to South Holston Dam near Bristol Tennessee on August 16 for the Eastman Camera Club.   Anyone is welcome to join us.   Trip details are available at   Send me an email if you have questions -

It's been a couple years since I was up there and I decided I had better do a little scouting before next Saturday.   I need to have some suggestions for photography to offer.  Here's what I found.

The wildflowers are not the primary photo opportunity in mid-August.  The Cut Leaf Coneflowers that bloom along the river banks have seen better days.   There were a few Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not still in bloom, but they were not growing where they were easy to get to.

TVA was generating so the water flow was pretty high over the Weir Dam and after a couple cloudy rainy days the sun was out making it difficult to take long exposure shots of the flowing water.

What I found was some really cool reflections and patterns.

Hanging On

Golden Reflections

Cut Leaf Coneflowers
Golden Flow

Stump - Long Exposure


Repeating Patterns

Weir Dam Patterns

If you join us Saturday, here's some suggestions:

Stuff to bring:

  • A picnic dinner.  We will eat and have some social time at the picnic area before starting our photographic journey.
  • A tripod.  You will want to try some long exposures of the water flow.
  • A polarizing filter.  It can make a tremendous difference with the reflections and the fog that rises off the river in the evenings.
  • A long lens.   I found I wanted something longer than 200mm for many of my shots.   Except from the top of the dam, there are not many wide angle shots.
  • A neutral density filter if you have one.  It will cut the light and allow you to get longer exposures and blur flowing water.
  • A hat or something to shade the front of your lens.   Late afternoon sun can cause flares in your pictures if it shines on the front of the lens.
  • Comfortable shoes.  There is a nice 1.8 mile trail around Osceola Island.  This is where we will spend most of our time.
  • Bug spray.  There were a few pesky bugs but nothing bad.
Things to look for:
  • Reflections in the surface of the water.  The greens will give way to golden reflections as the sun gets lower.
  • People fishing, canoeing, etc.  People can add interest to your photos.
  • Patterns
  • The little details
  • Light - no telling what the light will be like when we get there.  We'll work with what we get.  If we're lucky there will be some clouds, but enough light to give the warm light of sunset. 
  • Fog - sometimes the fog off the river is very thick.   This creates perfect soft light.  Watch for sunbeams in the fog.
  • Wildlife.  I haven't seen any wildlife there, but it should be a good place for herons and other birds.
If you are interested in joining us meet me at the Colonial Heights location or up at the Weir Dam.   If you have questions just email me at

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Happened To July?

Where did July go?  I completely missed writing about the July calendar photo.  I was so focused on getting through the Korea and Memory Lane photos that I completely forgot.

Canon Beach, Oregon
Time to get back on track.  If you haven't done it yet, turn your calendar over to August for a view of Palouse Washington.

Lone Farm, Palouse Region, Washington State
The Palouse is a fertile farming region in Eastern Washington State and Western  Idaho.  The rolling dunes of the Palouse Prairie were formed during the ice ages when silt was blown in from the glacial outwash plains to the west and south.  These rolling hills are reminiscent of Tuscany Italy except where Tuscany has vineyards the main crops in Palouse are wheat and rapeseed (Canola).

This photo was taken from the top of Steptoe Butte, which is a quartzite island jutting out of the rolling hills. At 3,612 feet (1,101 m) in elevation it is approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) above the surrounding countryside, which makes a great vantage point for photographing the hills.

Stepetoe Butte is a favorite place for photographers to gather around sunrise and sunset.  When the sun is low in the sky it creates interesting shadows and highlights, which define the contours of the rolling hills.  If the same photo had been taken at mid day the contours of the land would be hard to distinguish and the photo would appear flat and two dimensional.

I made two intentional decisions when composing the photo above.  First, I found a position where the sunlight was coming in from the side to maximize the contrast that defines the contours.  Second, I positioned the farm in the powerpoint position defined by the rule of thirds.   If the farm was dead center in this photo it would have felt static and less interesting.  The fact that the barn is red in a sea of green makes us want to look at the farm first.

Before Dawn
The photo above shows that you don't have to have strong light to define the contours.  This was taken more or less at ground level before the sun came up.  Although the sun was not up yet, there was enough side light to create soft shadows and highlights.  

It may appear that everything was green but in fact, they were growing different crops that had very different colors.   In this case the yellow wheat glowed in the morning sunlight.

It's amazing how beautiful something as simple as wheat fields can be.  God created such stunning beauty for us to enjoy!

Now that it is August it's time to start thinking about the 2015 Calendar.  I will be putting one together over the next couple months.   If you have enjoyed the 2014 Calendar, please save room on your wall for next year.  I will again be donating all the profit to Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Digitally Restoring A Vancouver Island Rainforest

The west coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia gets a lot of rainfall during the fall and spring seasons.   The moisture laden clouds hit the mountains of Vancouver Island and are forced up, causing them to cool and drop their moisture in the form of a lot of rain.  For those of you metrically challenged, 500 mm is almost 20 inches.  On average the coastal town of Tofino gets about 2,440 mm or about 96 inches of rain in the six months between November and April! 

When May arrives the rain is replaced by clear cloudless skies.  In the month of July they average 80 mm or about 3 inches of rain.   When we were there in mid-July this year we had clear blue skies every day with almost no clouds except for the fog that came in off the ocean in the afternoons.

Outdoor photographers have some strange ideas about what makes for good vacation weather.  A good time to take photos in a forest is on an overcast day.  It's even better if it's raining.   Now clear blue skies are beautiful but that bright sunlight can make taking photos a real challenge, especially where there are shadows and bright sunny spots.  The first version of the photo below was taken in a Vancouver Island rainforest on one of those bright sunny blue sky days.

Version 1 - Unedited

Notice the extreme contrast between the dark shadows and the bright spots on the boardwalk and ferns.   Those bright spots draw a viewers attention and create distractions that take away from the cool boardwalk and trees. In the original format this is not a photo that I would keep.   I did the following to save it.

First I used the Nik Color Efex software  detail extractor filter to bring back the details that were hard to see in the really bright and dark sections of the image.  If you compare the first and second versions you can see that the details have been extracted out of those areas and the lighting is a bit more even.  I also added a little tonal contrast and adjusted the color temp to take out the slight blue tint in the original version.

Version 2 - Nik Detail Extractor Filter

I then used the adjustment brush in Adobe Lightroom to further darken the brightest spots, gave the boardwalk a slight brown tint, further reducing the unnatural blue tint.  I also straighten the image and added a slight vignette to darken the outside slightly.

Version 3 - Bright spots further darkened.

The final version still shows enough of the shadows to let the viewer know it was a sunny day, but not so much that the bright spots are distracting.   It has more of a rainforest feel to it, unlike the original version.

Click on any image and then use your keyboard arrow keys to move between versions to see the difference.

I will be creating a Vancouver Island folder in my online gallery.  Check back to see more photos from our mid-July 2014 trip.