And now for something different…

•November 1, 2011 • 2 Comments

I recently visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the Grand Tetons area with a small group of wonderful photographers, to photograph the peak fall colors of the Grand Tetons. It was one of the best photographic trips I’ve taken, even though there are soooooo  many more places I plan to go, both in the USA and in other countries. But I digress. The “something different” in this article’s title is that we (the other photographers and I) decided to have fun painting with light using strong flashlights at 4:30 A.M. – yes, I said A.M., as in waaay before dawn! – to “paint light” where we wanted it, being careful not to overdo it, keeping a balance between what was lit with our flashlights and what was caught in the light drop-off, all done in pitch dark! Here’s an example (no this wasn’t “Photoshop’d!”):

Painting the Tetons

Using flashlights to add light to the trees and reflections, we were careful to maintain a balance with the areas not directly lit.

How it was done: Using tripods, we composed our frames the way we wanted. We used flashlights to light the trees first so that we could focus. We manually set our exposure settings (listed below). There is no formula for painting with light; there are many variables, so practice, practice, practice when you try it – and I hope you do try it; it’s fun!  Once you’re composed and focused, as far as how much to “paint” with your flashlight, that’s where trial-and-error comes in. This particular  image was a 30-second exposure, and during the exposure, a flashlight was used to paint up and down the trees, using less light on the background trees to be sure to not over-paint them, in order to maintain a good balance of light. Normally you would want to keep the ISO (if your camera allows you to control it) as low as possible when you’re shooting on a tripod, but in this case, we had to experiment with combinations of ISO and shutter speed (our focus was for the most part set at infinity). The settings used in this photo were: f/8 at 30″, ISO 8000 (my camera can handle high ISO without problem; your mileage may vary. There are many good noise-reduction programs and plugins if your image needs it). The point is to try different settings, paint with more or less light, try different ISOs, and so on. You need a long enough exposure to allow you time to paint with the flashlight, but not so long that you’ll introduce too much noise (grain) or unwanted ambient light  into your image, especially in the dark areas. And use a cable shutter release or your camera’s self-timer!  This photo was taken at around 4:30 am, long before natural light started showing itself. As the sky grew lighter, I reduced my ISO, taking care to still be able to maintain the shutter speed I wanted (30 seconds, to give me time to paint), and the desired aperture.

This is only one example of what painting with light can do. Go out and experiment, whether it’s before dawn or after sunset. It’s fun!

Below is a happy accident: During one of my long (30-seconds) exposures, a stranger walked into my frame with his flashlight (it was still dark outside, so he used his flashlight to light his way, but he didn’t see us since it was still dark, and his light didn’t pick us up at the time, so naturally he didn’t realize he was walking into our photos!). This was the funky result:

An interesting accident

Sometimes the unexpected can be very cool!

I’ll end today’s article with a slideshow of some of my favorite photos from the Grand Tetons. Enjoy, and keep on shooting!

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Photographer’s block? Join the club!

•June 12, 2011 • 2 Comments
Like a writer, photographers can get stuck. Snapshots are easy; I’m talking about planning an image or series or bringing home “something different” from your vacation. Let’s say you’re traveling to a beautiful location you’ve been to before, and have taken 3,217 photos of the same landscapes, people and places. You feel that your images are getting stale. You want to bring home something different, special, unique. Not the same old, same old. But you’re stuck for ideas. What to do? You’re not alone, my friend. It’s happened to me, to every photographer I know, and I have no doubt it’s happened to the top guns in this field as well. They’ve learned to accept it and then overcome it, and I’m going to give you some tips that have helped to overcome my own Photo Block, as I call it. There are plenty of other ways to refresh your creativity, but these may give you a jumping-off point. Ready? Grab paper; you might want to take notes (Oh right, you can just print this!).

  • First, never delete any but the most obvious unusable photos or those that you have far too many versions of the same composition. Why? Because what you may not like today, you may love next month or next year. Our current mood often dictates whether we think a photo is keepable or not. You may later decide that the photo you almost trashed might look great if you convert it to black and white, sepia, maybe crop it to a more simple composition, remove some unnecessary objects, or maybe you’ll use a portion of it to combine with another photo (a composite). When your creativity is at its best, the sky’s the limit. On a similar note: never, ever delete an image from your camera based only on what you see on that teeny weenie LCD screen (again, unless it’s obviously out of focus or you only caught the flying hawk’s tail feathers). Viewing the same photo on your computer later on may give you an entirely different opinion. You may like a certain detail instead of the entire frame. You may decide that you like the out-of-focus aspect because it lends a mysterious or ethereal look. This is another reason I recommend carrying 2-3 memory cards with you. Better to run out of time than memory!Morning Glory
  • Ok, back to overcoming Photo Block: Now that you’ve saved your images somewhere (and I highly recommend saving copies to multiple places besides just your hard drive. External drives are more affordable than ever. There are many cloud services. Even CDs work – not DVDs, but that’s also a topic for another article. Redundancy is your best friend.). Take a walk down memory lane and review those old photos from a long time ago. Analyze them and decide what you might have done to improve them, or decide what made it a good photo. Learn from all if it. Also, when reviewing older photos, you may see them differently this time, feel differently about them. They can give you new ideas. Maybe you’ll go back to that location and photograph at a different time of day (for different light) or a during different season, or at a different angle (higher, lower, or from a different spot). Try a different lens next time: if you shot it originally with a 50mm, try a wide-angle, telephoto, and/or macro (extreme close up) lens. Each lens provides vastly different results. Try moving closer to your subject, further away, and rotating your camera to the vertical orientation, or an angle. Change your white balance, aperture, shutter speed and/or ISO (or if your camera doesn’t offer these options, try different Scene Modes). If you’re shooting RAW (another topic for a later article), you can convert multiple copies of your RAW images in a different fashion, such as black and white, a different white balance or color temperature, different hues, add grain for character, and so on. A side note: If you intend to make a “black and white” photo (which is technically a “gray-scale” photo but “black and white” has become an accepted term), don’t use the grayscale/black&white mode in your camera. Always shoot in color, and at the maximum resolution if shooting in JPG format or, preferably, shoot in RAW, which can be made grayscale during the conversion process or later, in post-processing. JPGs can be duplicated and made grayscale easily as well, and there are several ways to do it, which is a topic I’ll try to remember to write about later. Some people like to (in Photoshop) use the Image\Mode\Grayscale method. I highly recommend NOT using this method, even if you convert the image back to RGB. There are many better, more controlled methods that produce more appealing results.
    Lady Liberty
  • Look at others’ photos. Study the masters. Check out photography websites. I’ve been inspired by many. Don’t try to copy their work, but try to grasp the message they’re making with each image. Look at the big picture, then the details. Look at the lighting, the angle from which the photo was taken, the subjects in the frame, decide how you might like it more or less if you made the image yourself, and so on. Is the photo too “busy” or is it just right? Keep your images simple. If I were to ask you why you made a particular image, I would hope you could answer in only one or two sentences. If you go on and on (the way I often do in my writing!), it tells me that you don’t really know. When you analyze and critique your images after a shoot, decide if that 5th tree at the edge of the frame adds to the story you’re trying to tell, or detracts from it. What other elements are unnecessary, in relation to the reason you made the image? Are there any distracting bright spots that draw the eye away from your subject? If so, can they be cropped out or otherwise removed with post-processing tools? Or are they part of the image’s appeal? If you see something that stands out because it’s red, photograph it! Red subjects and complementary elements and colors can add great appeal!
  • Read photography magazines like Outdoor Photographer, Popular Photography, Shutterbug, and many others. They contain wonderful articles, how-to’s, and tips, not to mention fantastic photographs made by professionals, beginners, and everyone in between. You can learn as much from “good” photos as from “bad.”
  • Always have a camera with you, whether it’s an SLR, a compact or point-and-shoot, or your camera phone. You never know when something will catch your eye. For example, while driving home from work one evening, I was watching the sun set, and I couldn’t take my eyes from the beauty of the fast-changing colors (which is hard to do while driving!). I saw a small group of trees, pulled over, and framed this shot with my iPhone. Always have a camera with you.Roadside Silhouette
  • Another way I get out of my creative slump is to give myself assignments. Sometimes I’ll mount only a macro lens and I’ll go to a local park or elsewhere, even just around the house, and photograph only macro (extreme close-up) subjects. Many compact cameras/point-and-shoots have a macro mode, usually indicated by an icon of a flower. Read your manual for more information. Another assignment I gave myself was to walk around my house and photograph everyday items in a way that would make them look unique or unusual. Below was one result. It was all done in-camera other than minor post-processing such as a bit of dodging and burning (creative darkening and lightening of certain portions), and I applied a filter in Photoshop, plus a digital framing effect. But the main look, the “swipe,” was achieved by moving the camera up or down during a relatively long exposure (in this case it was probably about 1/10″ – 1/10th of a second – I’d have to check the metadata to confirm). This image was submitted to a photography contest and earned First Place. 

    Wine Swipe

    A bottle of wine and a glass sitting on my kitchen counter, backlit by a floor lamp that looks likes 3 vertical softboxes enclosed in wicker. An ordinary subject photographed to look anything but! Changing things up can help recharge your creative energy!

  • Go out shooting with a photographer friend, and ask questions! If he/she is really a friend, the questions will be welcome and the answers helpful. If you don’t know a photographer, join a local camera club or meetup, attend a workshop or seminar, or… contact me! 🙂 There are also hundreds of illustrated and well-written books by seasoned photographers. Go to your nearest Barnes & Noble, or check out or other sources. What? You want me to recommend some books? Well, since you asked, I do have a few favorites that I cut my own teeth with. This is a short list, and if I’m leaving any out (well, of course I am!) it’s not because I don’t recommend them; it may be that I haven’t read them yet, or because there are just too many great books to list, or any of a number of other reasons. Here are a few, in no particular order (I own and have read all of these wonderful books, and many more, and have met two of these fine people and extraordinary photographers):
  1. By Bryan Peterson: Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography (Updated ed.)
  2. By Bryan Peterson: Understanding Exposure (3rd ed. – and he just released a new version – highly recommended!)
  3. By Joe McNally: The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world’s greatest shooters
  4. By John Shaw: Landscape Photography
  5. By John Shaw: Nature Photography Field Guide
  6. By Ansel Adams: The Camera

These tips will hopefully reopen your creative eye. The best way, though, is to practice, practice, practice!

As always, don’t hesitate to contact me at with any questions at all. And thanks to all of you who have! Happy shooting!

Man, I must’ve been bizzzzzy!

•March 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment
Mmmmm, catnip goooood!


To my loyal readers, my apologies for letting so much time go by without hearing from me. It’s been a long and wacky summer, fall and winter, and now it’s spring. Where does the time go? Besides living life, being a mom, going hiking and photographing, taking trips here and there, I’ve just been so caught up in so many things that  something just had to give. To my followers (and I thank and am grateful for each and every one of you!), I will start writing and posting fun things again very soon. Keep the faith! Spring is here! Fresh beginnings! New life! And I’m back in town and here to stay. 🙂   Cheers, and stay tuned!

Fall colors & waterfalls

•October 29, 2010 • 3 Comments

Well, it had been a while, but I finally made the trek to upstate Pennsylvania last weekend. I went to Ricketts Glen State Park and just caught the end of the peak autumn colors before they started fading. Climbing the steep trails with my heavy gear and tripod was sooooo worth it to me. I hope you enjoy the images.

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Details, details, details…

•October 8, 2010 • 1 Comment

You know those beautiful landscapes and seascapes we love to photograph? They can be grand, magnificent, and awe-inspiring. I’m like most nature photographers who love the broad, grand views and vistas around us.

Haiti, taken from a cruise ship

But I also pay attention to details that are often missed – details that can be pretty cool photos in and of themselves.

Details of a Bird of Paradise

Beach Details

When I photograph people, besides the whole person I also like to isolate story-telling parts of the person. For example, I did a shoot of volunteer firefighters demonstrating some of their training exercises. Before the shoot started, I talked with each of them casually, to establish a rapport, a comfort level, and to get to know them as individuals, even if only a little bit. When I know a person beyond the “total stranger” stage, I can make a more intimate portrait. For example, the brave Captain below isn’t much of a talker, at least not with me during the shoot. But unbeknownst to him, I saw something in him, something that said to me “This man is deep. He has a lot on his mind. He doesn’t suffer fools. He commands and deserves respect.” I could be wrong, since I never had contact with again him since the shoot, but those are the perceptions I had of him that day, from observing his demeanor. I knew I had to find a way to photograph him in a way that wouldn’t make him feel self-conscious. I needed to catch him off-guard so that I could try to bring out the essence I felt he had inside of him. Whether I was successful or not, I don’t know. But this photo told a story, even if only to me. Same with the photos beneath it.


Firefighter in Gear

The Hands

And here’s one more example, to tie in my last blog entry about looking all around you. In this photo, I had finished spending a few hours in a wildlife sanctuary in New England, and was heading out for a much-needed bite to eat. As I walked the path leading out of the park, I looked down and something red caught my eye near the small creek. When I sat on the ground for a closer look, I saw the bubbles, shapes and patterns, and I photographed it. No, it doesn’t “tell a story,” but it was interesting enough to me to want to take the picture and see what happens. Maybe you like it, maybe not. But the worst picture is the one that you don’t take, right?

Bubbles and Shapes

There’s so much more to photography than aiming a camera and pressing the shutter release. It’s sort of like “take time to smell the roses.” Take time to look around, to really see, and if you’re not sure if it would make a good photograph, take it anyway – especially if you’re using a digital camera. What have you got to lose? The Delete button works! 🙂

Happy shooting!

Look behind you! (Made ya look!)

•October 5, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(Made ya look!)

Ok, seriously, it’s one of the mantras I drill into people’s heads when I’m helping them learn how to make great images: Always look behind you. And to the left. And to the right. And up and down. Starting to see where I’m going here? Grin. Learn from my mistakes: I’ve missed a number of wonderful (or interesting, or funny, or unusual) compositions because I stayed in one place, one position, and took many frames of the same or similar subjects. Once I got into the habit of turning in all directions, I was treated to many wonderful and unexpected scenes.

If you have more than one lens, try the same composition with other lens(es). You’ll see a totally different perspective. If you have a camera with one lens and a zoom, try the same scene at the closest and farthest ends of the zoom. At the closer end you may catch details you might have missed before. At the farther end, you may tell the story more effectively by showing more of the environment around your subject. Move closer to your subject physically, if you can. Then move further away. Work the scene! Turn your camera to the portrait (vertical) orientation instead of the typical landscape (horizontal) orientation. Even hold your camera at an angle! You don’t have to “settle” for what you see the moment you put your eye to the viewfinder or LCD. Make it work for you. Make magic!

Great weekend conference in Massachusetts!

•July 19, 2010 • 2 Comments

Got back late last night from the annual NECCC photography conference in Amherst, Massachusetts. This is a wonderful, packed, exhausting, fun, educational, inspirational and all-around great photographic conference to attend. It’s for photographers ranging in skill and interest-level from beginner to semi-pro (or who want to go pro or semi-pro). The presenters/instructors were wonderful, and included renowned photographers such as Darrell Gulin (who gave the main presentation, and what a presentation it was!), Bob Krist, Dave Middleton (two funny and talented photographers who are a riot to see together), Lindsay Adler, Lisa and Tom Cuchara, Charles Needle, Paul Hassell, Joe LeFevre, A. Cemal Ekin, Jack Reznicki, Andrey Antov (who brought his wife and beautiful baby, and whose images are extraordinary – such talent!), Kathy O’Donnell, Guy Biechele, Janice Wendt (Nik Software), Molly Isaacs and Mary Lindhjem (two talented photographers who also were fun to watch present together), Richard Cloran, and many others.

If you have any interest in learning about different aspects of photography, composition, techniques, new skills, seeing wonderful presentations, meeting new people, and so much more, try to go. It’s held every July at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As hot and humid a weekend it was, and as much walking had to be done to get from class to class, it was soooooooo worth it! (Because the conference just ended yesterday – July 18, 2010 – their website hasn’t been updated yet. But you’ll get an idea of what it’s about.) After you look at the main page, click “Next Conference” on the left (remembering that the site hasn’t been updated yet, so the “next conference” is the one that just ended). You’ll see the classes that were held, and the photographers who taught them. Classes and presenters change each year – although many photographers are invited to return due to popular – and deserved – demand. If you go, you might want to go a few days before the conference starts, to visit some beautiful places nearby, including Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory, Yankee Candle, Sugarloaf Mountain, and lots of other interesting places.

A huge shout-out to the organizers of this event, and to everyone who kept it running smoothly. They did a great job!

A few butterflies I photographed at Magic Wings:

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