Articles from: September 2011

iPhone Workshop

Karen Messick is our guest blogger and will be teaching an iPhone workshop at this years Expo.

iPhone photography is a great way to add new and different images to your portfolio.

I am looking forward to sharing some of my iPhoneography (photography) processes, favorite apps and accessories as well as shooting ideas during the Nature Visions weekend. I hope you can join me on Sunday, November 13! This week I made a couple images while at the beach with my iPhone. I also processed them with my iPhone and a few cool apps. These are just a few samples of the types of images you can create on the iPhone from HDR, to selective focus, to adding textures,  to painterly looks. If you would like to see more check out my iPhone Blog here.

Last week I was interviewed by the Beginners Lens here is a link to that interview, where I share some ideas on making iPhone images. I will be sharing lots more at Nature Visions and you can pick up a free copy of iPhone Life Magazine.



Lightpainting the Landscape

This week’s guest blogger is Don Rosenberger.  Don is a member of the Manassas-Warrenton Camera Club.

One of our challenges as photographers is to create images that are uniquely our own.  One of my favorite aspects of photography is lightpainting.   If you consider that photography is the language of light, I think of this as just another dialect of that language.   

I would also suggest that lightpainting must be approached differently than traditional photography.   I have exposed a number of photographers to this type of photography and it seems the first question is always “What are my camera settings?”.  It’s the one question I can’t answer but I’ll give you some general guidelines later.  First let’s step back and consider some other factors.  It is going to be fairly dark, in fact you will need to use shutter speeds from at least 10 seconds to perhaps 30 seconds or more.  In this amount of darkness finding a composition might be a little difficult.   In the shot above I had the benefit of moonlight, one occasion when finding a simple composition like this was not very difficult.   But in general I think you need to know what you plan to shoot before it gets dark.

After you have preconceived your shot what next? Setup your tripod and frame your composition.  Find a focus point using your flashlight and then lock your camera down.  Switch everything to manual and turn off auto focus.   In my case I leave white balance on auto and my camera generally does a good job.  I also recommend you shoot everything in RAW.  This will allow you to adjust the white balance and exposure later.  If you don’t want to use auto white balance try the daylight white balance setting.  I also recommend you shoot on the lowest ISO.  This will allow longer shutter durations.  

I generally start my lightpainting at dusk.  It will be important to watch your histograms and the LCD screen on the back of your camera.  In this example, I’m going to talk about single exposure lightpainting.  In a future blog I’ll talk about some other more complex techniques.  You essentially want to shoot to underexpose the image. So if your camera meter is telling you that you can shoot for 15 seconds at F8 and you then add external light to this equation, chances are you’re going to overexpose part of the image.  In the prior example I would then try shooting for say 10 seconds at perhaps F11 and check the results.  Lightpainting is very much a trial and error process. Depending on the results, you would then choose to either increase or decrease your exposure.  Also as dusk turns to night you will need to make adjustments.  For me this is an intuitive process and I make changes on the fly.  I’m sorry but there is no special setting where your camera can do all of its normal magic.  

Now let’s talk about light.  A small standard flashlight may be sufficient for working with close up objects but for lightpainting larger scenes I recommend at least a 1 million candle power flashlight.   The other thing to consider is that light is cumulative.  The longer you leave it on a subject the brighter that subject will be.  Also try and use one light for the shot.  Different lights may have different color temperatures and may not mix well in the same exposure.   Lastly, I recommend that you light from a different angle than your camera.  This will have the effect of adding a little depth and texture to your image. 

Now get out and experiment!

Seeing in Black & White

Arthur Ransome is our guest blogger and will be presenting a lecture on “Seeing in Black and White”  at this year’s Expo! 

“A picture speaks a thousand words” goes the old adage.  Although a two dimensional representation of a specific subject, as photographers we use various techniques to add the all important third dimension to our images to emphasize the subject and lift it off the page.  I like to think there is also a fourth dimension, which when used successfully will draw the viewer into the image to experience the same sights, sounds, feelings and thoughts that the photographer experienced when the image was created. 

Since we naturally see the world around us in its myriad of colors, the underlying mood that the photographer experienced when capturing the scene can be difficult for a viewer to feel.  To experience the mood it is therefore often necessary to strip away such distractions, not unlike the exclusion or removal of any element that is not an important part of the image.  Enter the world of black and white photography.

While the photographer’s use of technique to emphasize subject can distinguish his or her style, the portrayal of mood and atmosphere gives us an insight into the mind of the photographer.  The resulting image therefore tells the viewer as much about the photographer as it does the subject.

The image that accompanies this entry was taken during a recent trip back to my hometown in the North East of England.  I have photographed this extremely picturesque pier on many occasions over the years but this time around rather than capture its beauty I wanted to capture the atmosphere of a cold, wet day.

Bear Viewing in Alaska

This week’s guest blogger is Andrew Sentipal. Andrew is a member of Northern Virginia Photographic Society.

Alaska is a nature lover’s dream come true from beautiful vistas, glaciers and active volcanoes to outstanding bird and animal viewing. I recently returned from two weeks in the state that is known as The Last Frontier. It is indeed a wilderness that is as vast as anything you could ever imagine. The highlight of my trip was a float plane trip from Homer, Alaska to Katmai National Park to view the largest concentration of coastal brown bears in the state. While there are several choices you can make to view bears I chose Emerald Air Service due to the advice from several Alaska based professional photographers. Craig and Sarah Elg make you feel comfortable from the start with an overview of what to expect and how to act in bear country. This was my first float plane trip and I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth the flight was.

Bear viewing trips change destinations throughout the season as the bears move to where the food is throughout the summer. We flew approximately 100 miles and landed on Crosswind Lake. A short hike to Funnel Creek put us in the heart of bears feasting on salmon. Our first bear encounter was a gorgeous mom with two first year cubs. She noticed us but paid no attention as our guides kept us at a safe distance. I was the only serious photographer in my small group but Sarah made sure I was in a position for some great shots. We moved around to get the best possible backgrounds, head shots, etc. It was quite interesting to learn about the continent’s largest land predator and their hierarchy while fishing. Mom quickly moved her cubs when the Alpha male moved down from the hills to the ledge overlooking the creek. He is the only bear in the group to pull his salmon from the water and eat it on the shore. The others grab their fish and head for the bushes due to their position in the bear world. We crossed the creek several times with relative ease even with a tripod and a large lens attached to my camera. Great captures can be made as there are numerous bears to shoot. Some actively fishing while others nap nearby. At one point, we sat down on the rocky shore and watched as bears fished in front of us. As a group we were never in danger and I enjoyed shooting full frame shots of bears enjoying the freshest Salmon meal possible right in front of me.

Our group ate lunch on the ledge after several hours of bear viewing. Mom and her cubs had returned as well. Mom looked up at us as her cubs napped next to her. She felt no danger so she returned to her nap. What a compliment from this gorgeous animal. It was truly an experience to view these magnificent animals in their Alaskan tundra environment. If you want to capture some outstanding images you can do it in one day if you don’t have time to go on one of the week long bear tours that are offered.

Nature Visions

This week’s guest blogger is Josh Taylor.  Josh was one of our presenters and one of our judges in 2010.

It’s an honor to say that I’ve judged photographic competitions at all of the camera clubs in the Metro area. Some camera clubs have invited me back year after year, even though their rules state otherwise. Also, I’ve judged photo competitions online, national media competitions, and was one of last year’s judges for Nature Visions competition. So, from viewing hundreds of images, both print and digital, each year, I’m sharing my judging criteria and hope that this insight will be helpful in selecting images for the 2011 Nature Visions competition.

First and foremost, I try to keep an open mind free of perceived notions and biases. With digital cameras featuring numerous presets and iPhones with high tech camera features and apps, a technically executed image is within anyone’s reach. Entries in photo competitions must rise to the top beyond the classic image. What is a classic image? It can be a landscape photographed front and centered, a portrait of an animal facing the camera with no indication of movement or its natural behavior, or a flower shot front and centered or from a profile position with mostly every part in sharp focus. However, there is still a place for classic images and some will win in competitions.

Here are my basic criteria for judging landscapes, animals, and flowers. This is not a definitive list of all the criteria used and competition categories. When selecting a landscape image for a competition, one must ask himself/herself this question. How will this image stack up against others in the competition? The landscape should have some unique quality, such as dramatic lighting or weather conditions, an unusual view of the familiar, and it should leave no doubt what the photographer intended for the viewer to see, experience, or imagine. Glorious light and a good subject create joyous images. Good light, composition, and photographic skills go hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other.

For animals and other critters, my first cut in judging is to look for sharpness in the eye closest to the camera, whiskers, and fur/feathers. Also, a catch light in the eye(s) is most important. This gives life to the subject. Usually, an animal displaying some type of behavior wins over the straightforward portrait. Once again, good lighting and technical execution are important. The background should complement the subject and not compete with the subject for the viewer’s attention.

 There are two schools of thought on flower photography. The classic approach shows the flower as a portrait or a close-up, and the other is the artistic approach showing the flower in a creative fashion. The artistic approach often has limited depth-of-field with only certain parts in sharp focus, backgrounds that are enhanced, in-camera manipulations which are sometimes used, and enhancement software that is often used to create a fine art image. Whether it’s a classic or artistic image, the background should enhance the subject. Which image wins in a competition is in the eye of the judge.  However, select an image that will rise to the top of the competition and will immediately grab and hold the judge’s attention. Look out! An image taken and processed with an iPhone might be the next competition winner. Therefore, don’t settle for something safe in a competition but think outside the box (camera).

Is my big glass (partially) ruining my photography?

This week’s guest blogger is Eric Kaufman – photographing every chance he can get, from Falls Church VA

Just to lay things aside from the beginning, no don’t make me an offer on my beloved big glass, it isn’t going anywhere, but I think that the honeymoon is over.  It’s just that I am coming to the conclusion that I don’t need to pull out the 600mm every time I go out to shoot wildlife or sports just to justify the purchase price, and I need to admit that such reliance has hurt my photography.

A few years ago, while vacationing on Assateague Island, I caught a few pictures of shore birds fishing or in flight. I got the shot above using a 70-200 with a 1.4x converter, and was quickly hooked on bird photography. The shot of the tern fishing was highly cropped as were most of my wildlife shots at the time, so in the mindset that more focal length is always better, went searching for good deals on bigger glass. It was a multi-step acquisition path, and today I have a 600mm. The 600mm has been fantastic in instances where I can just plant my tripod and, due to the proximity of a nest or sure thing feeding ground, the birds come to me. But it occurred to me this week that ever since going bigger than 300mm, I have never repeated the tern or skimmer shots at Assateague that got me hooked in the first place. Is this because I have raised my own bar photographically— become more patient and have just been unlucky at Assateague, or has the big glass bogged me down and I am unable or unwilling to move and stalk?

For now at least, I am concluding it is the latter.  Sure the 600mm gets me a better shot if I can get it, but my ability to get it is often diminished. At Assateague at least, it is harder to track the feeding terns in the viewfinder to catch that fleeting moment when they hit the water. It’s more difficult to keep moving as the heron move from pond to pond.  I need to figure out what the proper balance is in the use of the hand holdable 300mm f4 versus the hernia inducing 600 with the tripod and gimbal. I have not done that yet, but this past week out, I did devote some of the shooting to the smaller glass.  What balance have you reached in your wildlife photography?

More of Eric’s work can be seen at  Follow him on Twitter @ericspicts.


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