Articles from: August 2011

My Lying Lens — A Fable!

This week’s guest blogger is Michael Masters

Digital image processing has opened a whole new world of possibilities.  Every pixel is fair game for manipulation, sometimes in ways that surprise and astound.

This, of course, has launched many an ethical debate as purists and practitioners of the new order probe limits and attempt to sort out how this brave new world will coexist with the old – or not.  While there is no uniformity of viewpoint – and probably never will be – a key distinction seems to be emerging. There just may be grudging acceptance that there is a difference between photojournalism and “art” – whatever the latter is understood to be.  In the former domain, one better not add elements or remove anything.  And for good reason.  Altering reality in journalism is lying and must never be tolerated, whether verbally, via text, or in images.

Photographic art seems to receive more latitude, but with a big caveat – one ought to state up front that one does art, or at least disclose how an image differs from the original scene.  This is, of course, by no means universally agreed to.  Many stoutly refuse to go beyond traditional darkroom adjustments.  But, history tells us that photographers sought to airbrush dreary reality with the tools available even from the inception of the photographic craft, in a variety of ways too numerous to enumerate here.

These days, many do a lot more.  It is not uncommon to remove blemishes and make ugly pretty.  (Well — wedding photographers began prettying up brides as soon as they figured out how!)  Some add canvas for compositional balance.  Some blur backgrounds just as a wide open lens would.  Less approved is adding elements not there originally – unless obviously a composite.

The caveat on top of the caveat is that if one enters a contest – be it ever so artistic in character – one had better abide by the contest rules.  If the rules say no manipulation beyond X, Y and Z, woe be unto thee if you do R, Q and P.  Many judges have caught on and now require RAW files from prospective winners.  Bravo to them!

Perhaps the stickiest dilemma is the fact that one might well construe many domains to be either art or photojournalism – natural image making among them – depending on intent, ethical principles or just plain dogged opinion.  More generally, where does one draw the line?  And, who draws it? Humpty Dumpty told Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”  Might the most realistic answer be that we each draw our own line – and are open about what we do? 

In the spirit of Alice and Humpty, here is my modest tongue-in-cheek contribution to the debate.  Not that it will settle anything one way or the other.  Probably nothing will.  But it was certainly fun to write! 

Yesterday, I took my 800mm lens into the back yard. I waited patiently until at last a bird landed on a nearby limb. Ah, I smiled, perfect!  I took one last look at the scene before bending to the viewfinder.  Beyond the little creature, at some distance lay a hopeless tangle of decidedly unphotogenic foliage – a miserable setting to the unpracticed eye!  The bird?  Hardly worthy of notice against that chaotic background.  But, thought I, the unsuspecting naïfs who will soon view the artificiality I am about to create will never suspect the reality my eyes see at this moment!  My deceitful optical marvel will suffuse those ruinous distractions that the human eye cannot escape seeing into a beautifully unreal abstract canvas!  Poor souls!  They think I’m such a creative genius!  Little do they know I owe it all to my lying lens!  With smug, self-satisfied smirk, I placed eye to viewfinder and gently pressed the shutter.


Michael Masters is moderator of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of, a web community devoted to nature photography.  As moderator, Michael organizes outings for members in the region.  A perennial favorite is Chincoteague NWR.  Michael may be reached at Note: no non-traditional processing was applied to the image featured in this blog post!!

Addicted to Photoshop

Our guest blogger this week is John Barclay.  John presented his “Dream – Believe – Create” lecture at the expo in 2010.

How lucky are we as photographers to live in such a time!  A time when we are afforded so many tools and plug-ins for the digital dark room.  I was one of the last hold outs using film and was dragged into this crazy digital world kicking and screaming.  In 2006 I was quoted (and am reminded by good friends often) as saying “I’ll never go digital, Photoshop frightens me!”  Fast forward to 2011, I’m now an addict!  

The digital darkroom can be overwhelming for many.  The thought of mastering Photoshop can seem daunting.  Enter Plug-ins.  Plug-ins are are essentially tools that do what can be done in Photoshop, however, they typically offer a cleaner, read easier interface to work with.  In the case of Nik Software, they allow you to click and point to an area to adjust and then give you all the sliders you need.  The sliders are clearly marked and logical!  Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, etc.

For the image associated with this blog post.  I used a nifty plug-in from Totally Rad called Dirty Pictures along with a FlyPaper Texture.  The Dirty Pictures plug-in makes the process of texture overlays easy.  FlyPaper makes tremendous texture files perfect for texture work.  These two tools together make textures fun!   If you want to learn more about Dirty Pictures you can watch a few video podcasts I’ve done on my blog.

John Barclay is a freelance photographer based in Bucks County PA.  John is a passionate workshop leader and motivational speaker presenting his inspiring Dream – Believe – Create program to audiences all over the country. You can see more of his work by visiting his webstie or blog

Sandhill Cranes

This week’s guest blogger is Denise Ippolitio,  Denise is a freelance photographer, artist and writer living in NJ.  Denise will be speaking at this year’s Expo.

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache NM., November 2010

1/10 sec. at f/32, ISO 100, Canon 500mm lens w/ 1.4 ex, manual mode

The image above was created at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. I was co-leading an IPT (Instructional Photo Tour) with Canon Explorer of Light and world renowned bird photographer and teacher Arthur Morris. It was an amazing place that I had heard about for years and always wanted to visit. Every year around Thanksgiving the city of Socorro NM and the Bosque del Apache NWR celebrate the “Festival of the Cranes”. Thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese come to Bosque del Apache to feed on the corn that is planted there by the farmers.

 The morning light can be magical at Bosque especially at the ponds. The golden light is reflected from the mountains in and around the water and on the cranes. Crowds of photographers line up at hand-cut “windows” to photograph these beautiful birds in magic light. “Windows” are the areas where the Bosque management team has cut through the vegetation and corn to allow for easy viewing and photographing.

At these pools you can see the cranes waiting around deciding on whether or not to fly. They often preen and drink. Photographing in this spectacular morning light is every photographers dream.

 I have always been drawn to the softer side of images and art. Blurring my images allows me to create the look that I want for my artwork. I used a camera shake technique for the image above. With my camera and lens mounted on a tripod I shake the camera ever so slightly using a very slow shutter speed to create the soft impressionistic look that I want.

As a moderator on Bird Photographers.Net and an avid avian photographer I have seen hundreds of Sandhill Crane images created at these ponds. I wanted my images to stand apart from the norm. This look that I have created is subjective. It may not appeal to everyone but I believe that as photographers we must be willing to take risks in order to show the world our vision.

Shot of a lifetime

This week’s guest blogger is Jack Nevitt. Jack is a member of the Manassas Warrenton Camera Club.

Ever since I was a kid I have loved photographing birds.  It all started when my father took me to see large flocks of Snow Geese in Brigantine, NJ.  Years later when I had my own house the first order of business was to put up a bird feeder so I could attract lots of birds. That is when my love affair with bird photography took off in earnest. 

Each year a large number of Bald Eagles congregate at Conowingo Dam on the Maryland/Pennsylvania border.  The best time to go is usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Planning for this trip I decided to rent a Canon 400mm 2.8 lens.  I had use of the lens for another day so I decided to drive over to Blackwater NWR in Cambridge, MD to give the lens another workout.   My longtime friend Stephen Vogel joined me on this trip.  Driving through the refuge we saw some eagles, mostly too far away to get a good shot, but as we approached the refuge’s osprey platform we noticed a bald eagle that was fairly close.  As we drove up, another eagle landed beside the eagle already on the platform, so now we’re really excited with two eagles on the same perch!  After debating whether to get out of the car, we decided to slowly get out and see if they would stay put and amazingly they did.

We got our tripods out and set up the big lenses and were prepared to shoot any possible situation and then it happened!  It was a mated pair and the male jumped on top of the female and it was over in an instant. What a great time to have rented that lens.  Must have had all the stars lined up for that day.  I have never before or since then seen this magnificent sight.  It was truly a shot of a lifetime!

Expanding My View

This week’s guest blogger is Jan Ponder, Jan is a member of the Northern Virginia Photographic Society and the Mclean Photography Club.

Recently for the NVPS Portfolio Project I decided to do something that I call “Fanciful Flowers”. I love the effect that the Lensbaby gives with its dreamy look. I don’t usually use a tripod because I move in and out of a flower until I see the point that I want to be in focus.  Then I shoot.  If you want to be close use the macro set which is available with Lensbaby. Then I decided to take it another step and add a textured layer in Photoshop.  Whenever I am shooting I look for things that I could use for a background.  Usually something with texture but I’ve even used clouds or water.  Once you have found a good combination go through the blend modes to see which effect that you like.  This is the fun part.

The great thing is that you don’t have to go far to find your subject.  When I go for a walk I take my camera. The Lensbaby is a small lens so it isn’t cumbersome. If you don’t have any flowers in your own yard you can find them along the way.  I also go to Green Springs a lot because it’s close

I took a workshop with Dan Burkholder in Santa Fe last month on HDR. To practice what I learned, I went with my photo buddies to photograph the Bridges of Washington County, MD.  HDR works well with this subject because of the wide tonal range. We had a perfect day with clouds and blue sky.  I also took my infrared camera and this was great for the same reason. The old stone bridges are a wonderful subject with varied textures and colors.  It takes you back to another time.

To top it off I took another workshop in Encaustics with photography.  A lot of people say,” what is that?”.

It’s an ancient art of painting with hot wax. There are many ways of incorporating your images into this art.

You can be as creative as you can imagine.  I’ve got my workshop set up with my melting pots of color and a fan to blow away the caustic fumes. I’m adding layers of wax to my creations and having fun.

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