127 Photos - Jul 8, 2011
Photo: StreamingPhoto: Goodbye to Winter

I stood by the window this morning, watching new snow fall on the snowdrops by the door. The tiny, white flowers are tightly closed against the chill - waiting for a moment of warmth. They are a quiet promise that Spring will come.

Tips for Photographers:

1. When photographing white objects against a white background, overexpose slightly. All that bright white throws off your camera's meter. Check your histogram to be sure your whites are bright enough - but don't let the details blow out.

2. When photographing water droplets with a macro lens, look closely at the reflections. Change your position if necessary to make sure the reflection isn't distracting. In one shot from this morning, I noticed that the water droplet reflected the pattern of siding on my house. No good. I changed my angle and captured this shot instead.

3. Pay close attention to your color balance. A slight shift towards blue will leave those greens looking dull and lifeless.

#phototips   #photographytipsPhoto: Through The Woods

When I visit a location, I always try to give myself time to really explore the location. When we visited Rainbow Falls on The Big Island of Hawaii, I took a few shots of the waterfall, and then want to see what else I could find. I climbed the steps to the top of the falls, and then followed the path off into the woods. The path was soaked with water from intermittent downpours, so I sloshed along... letting the mud ooze over my slippers and between my toes. I loved these trees with their echoing curves that created a beautiful tunnel of greenery.

A couple of tips for photographing in the woods:

1. Forests can be full of "clutter", so getting a pleasing composition can be hard. Look for repeating patterns, and eliminate distracting elements if you can.

2. Pay close attention to your histogram. Getting the right exposure in the woods can be tough because the sky is usually visible through the leaves - and is much brighter than the trunks and leaves in the shadows. In this case, I let the sky blow out in order to ensure that the trees were properly exposed.

Do you find it difficult to produce nice compositions when you are shooting in the woods? Or is it just me? :)

#landscapephotography   #phototips  Photo: Lost in the Woods

I wasn't really lost. But this is a beautiful place to lose yourself. I was looking for something different out there this time, because I've photographed these falls many times before. I wanted to show the simple beauty of the location. Even in winter, the moss and the hemlock trees gave me lots of color to work with - and relatively warm temperatures and recent rains gave me a nicely flowing waterfall.

So, I went in search of a simplified composition. That's never easy in the woods - there's so much clutter out there... leaves, rocks, trees... it's easy to come away with a really busy composition. For this shot, I tried to remove as much as possible. That way, the brilliant greens, the leading lines, and the pretty falls through the trees get all the attention.

Time slows down when I'm in the woods... there's no clutter... no schedule, no assignment, no stress. Just fresh air and the sound of the falls. So, the photograph is my attempt to share that with you.Photo: Fire in the Valley of Fire

Crazy-beautiful skies create a color cast than enhances the brilliant colors at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

Thanks to those who share my work. I appreciate your efforts to help me find a wider audience.

The ground really is a brilliant pink in the Valley of Fire - at least in this spot. In other places, it's bright orange, or crazy yellow, or smooth white. Spots and stripes and bumps and curves make it even more incredible. But the skies on this particular night were just as breathtaking.

It's hard to get the colors right when you are shooting in the place like this. The default color balance settings in the RAW converter just can't handle unusual lighting conditions - so it comes down to remembering the scene as it was. Are my settings just right? Probably not - but they are as close as I can get to the reality of the scene as I remember it.

It's important to realize that color casts are sometimes real - removing the cast would actually make the image feel wrong to the viewer. If the blinds in my bedroom are half-lowered, I can see only the street outside my window... not the sky. In the evenings sometimes, I'll look out through those half lowered blinds and see that the street is an odd color - there's a hint of magenta that wasn't there before. When that happens, I'll pull up the blinds or step outside because I know that the sky must be amazing. And it always is. That color cast is quite real - and I want it to remain in my image.

So on a night like this one, the sky was actually enhancing the colors on the ground. The color shift isn't always subtle - at least to someone who is used to looking for it - and in this case, the beautiful pinks stood out even more as they reflected the light from the sky.

Have you seen the color casts I'm talking about? Sometimes it's magenta, sometimes golden... but always beautiful! :)Photo: The Wave, Coyote Buttes - Arizona, USAPhoto: Sunbeams

I spent a good chunk of my childhood growing up in a beautiful valley in the Rockies... and every time I find myself back in those mountains, it feels like coming home. We're waiting for our next flight, here in Denver - so it won't be long. A few more hours and I can get my wilderness fix. Our workshop starts on Thursday.Photo: The sky was beautiful - but not over the waterfall I had planned to shoot. What to do?


Well, that's an easy one. MOVE! Go shoot where the light is right! :)

There you go. That's my piece of advice for the day. Brilliant, eh?

Seriously though. I took this shot while we were in Iceland...

You can check out our trip report for day 7 on our blog:

The shot you see here is not the one I was waiting for... but I'm perfectly happy with that. Nature photographers don't get to adjust the lighting to their specifications. We're stuck with what we get. On this morning in Iceland, I was all set up and ready to shoot the sunrise over some beautiful waterfalls. But the sun wasn't particularly interested in lighting up the sky over the falls. Instead, it put on a pretty little show over this distant mountain in the distance. I was uninspired by the foreground, so I took off my wide-angle lens, and replaced it with a 70-200mm. Then, I zoomed in to capture the beautiful colors in the sky and the dusting of snow on the mountain. It had just snowed the night before, so I was able to capture the beauty of the snow contrasting against the stark lava slopes.

I'm not disappointed. In fact, this is one of the things I love about nature photography. You never know what you'll come away with! I was expecting to get a shot of those waterfalls... and I could see the shot in my mind. I didn't get that shot... but I came home with something entirely different.

When only a small area of the sky is rich with color, that's a great time to pull out a long lens. With a wide angle lens, this small area of color would seem insignificant within the frame. With a long lens, I can fill the entire frame with color! Bang on!Photo: Fire and Water

This week, +Jay Patel and I visited the Big Island of Hawai'i and hiked out to see the lava from the Kīlauea volcano for ourselves. This was, without question, the highlight of the trip. We spent a couple of hours photographing the lava on the first night, and we were so impressed that we returned for another go around the next day. Shooting the lava was a challenge as night got darker. Here's what I recommend for getting great shots in a place like this...

1. Give yourself time to figure out which lenses will work best - based upon the distances you are working with. I used a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x converter. This gave me the length I need to capture lava far away - but also let me work with the flow right in front of me without having to change lenses. My photos from the second night are much better than those from the first night because I knew exactly what I wanted and how to get it.

2. I found that focusing on distant lava was difficult because of heat distortion. The solution was to focus on a cooler rock nearby or to focus manually.

3. Experiment with different shutter speeds. I liked the long shutter speed effect for this shot because it showed the smooth flow of the lava as it fell. For other photos, I preferred a fast shutter speed so that I could capture the incredible details in the cooling lava. The patterns were amazing. I'll post some more photos soon!

If you are planning a trip to the Big Island, give Cheryl a call for her awesome Poke-A-Stick Guided Lava Tours. Please keep in mind that this is private land, and you can not go out there without a guide. As it says on her business card, this trip is "Not fo' Wimps!"


Thanks so much to +Jarek Klimek and the team at +PhotoExtract Photography Magazine for including this photo in the Top 10 Google+ Photos for January 3.

http://www.photoextract.com/plus-extract/2013/1/3Photo: Critique Your Own Work

Do you critique your own work? Here's an example of what goes on in my mind when I'm critiquing one of my own photographs.

This is a shot from Bean Hollow State Park in California. It's not one of my favorite shots - and it won't make it to my portfolio or my website. So why am I posting it here? Well - I believe that we can learn as much from images that don't appeal to us as we can from those that do.

In this case, there are a few things that make this image unappealing to me. The first is that there is no clear point of interest. Where do I want your eye to go? Which element is the most important? Is it the sky? The foreground? Who knows!

The second problem is that the image feels very busy and cluttered. There's a lot going on here. A variety of colors, tons of textures and details... too much, in my opinion.

And finally, do you see the leading line in the shot? The ridges in the rock seem to form a line - but where does it take you? It certainly doesn't lead your eye toward any particularly interesting element. Nope. It points you directly towards a rather nondescript, smooth stone in the mid-ground. I just doesn't work.

The next step is to think about what you might have done differently - and to compare the images you don't like from a location to the ones that really appeal to you. In this case, I could have gotten down nice and low with my tripod. That simple adjustment would have helped this photo a lot. A lower perspective provides a "foreshortening" effect, which would help eliminate some of the uninteresting mid-ground. It would also help to hide that pointless leading line. Additionally, getting down low would bring my lens closer to the details in the foreground. They would appear larger in the frame, and that would help them stand out as a point of interest.

I believe that critiquing images you don't like can have enormous benefits. Understanding what you don't like can help you avoid it in the future, and thinking about how you could improve your own work is a great way to grow as a photographer.

#phototips   #photographydiscussion   #landscapephotography   #photocritique  Photo: Snowfall at Bryce Canyon

I took this shot in 2007 - but just processed it this morning. It's always interesting to go back and process images from a few years ago.

When I opened this shot in Camera RAW, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I cropped it. Why? Because there were dark trees scattered in the foreground. As lovely as they were, they drew my eye away from the main elements. They were a distraction. If I had taken this photo today, I wouldn't have included those trees in the photo in the first place. My style has changed over time... or perhaps it is just more defined. I've always appreciated simple compositions - but over time, my simple compositions have become minimalist compositions. I find that when it comes to my own photography, I almost always prefer extreme simplicity.

Of course, I made a few other changes as well. I corrected the color balance so that the snow felt clean and fresh. I darkened the sky just a bit to even out the exposure and bring out that pretty blue. And I adjusted the contrast to ensure that the details in the sandstone were crisp.

This photo was featured Photo Extract's Top Ten Photos for December 1st with +Jarek Klimek: http://www.photoextract.com/plus-extract/2012/12/4

Thanks so much!Photo: The Coming Storm

I get a lot of questions about how long I spend in Photoshop. Well. Most photos take just a few minutes... but this one was a tough one.

This shot from Snowmass Wilderness in Colorado was a real challenge. Taking this photo was an awesome experience. We watched this storm coming toward us for a short time, and then grabbed our cameras and headed out to get a few shots. The first thing that caught my eye were the colors. The brilliant golden leaves were a perfect compliment to the deep blue tones in the approaching storm. I wanted to capture that juxtaposition - and also capture the chaos in the sky. I chose a simple composition - ignoring the lake behind the trees and choosing a single peak to minimize distractions. I took several shots, waiting for a moment when the skies were full of textures.

Processing was difficult. I processed a single image twice - once for the foreground leaves and once for the background. Then blended the two with layers and masks in Photoshop. Blending was particularly difficult because some leaves were blurred and other weren't. So, feathering my mask was difficult. Too much feathering and I'd get halos around some leaves. Too little, and I'd end up with dark lines around others. In the end, I needed several layers, some precision work with my Wacom tablet, and a lot of patience to get it done.

#photographydiscussion   #theexperienceproject  Photo: Colorado, USAPhoto: Enlightenment

In 1850, there were 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park (Montana). Today, there are 26. By 2020, there may not be a single glacier remaining in the park.

Scientists are studying the region to try to understand the impact of humans on current warming trends - and to find out if humans could cope with severe changes in climate. It's a fascinating debate... and it's sad to watch the glaciers melt away.

On the other hand - the beauty of the park is as much about the legacy of those massive, shifting rivers of ice as it is about their continued presence. The area is indelibly marked by the freezing and thawing and re-freezing of glaciers over time. This might just be my favorite park in the entire US - don't quote me on that, I might change my mind tomorrow... but I do love Glacier.

And next week - that's where I'm headed. We'll be taking a group of students to this most beautiful of places. I can't wait to put my feet on the ground out there again.

Have you been to Glacier? This spot is along Going-to-the-Sun Road... do you have a favorite spot to recommend? I'd love to see your images - and I'm sure others would enjoy seeing them too.Photo: Photo: Independence Pass 3,687 m (12,095 ft) - Colorado, USA

How do you stay warm and dry when you are shooting in cold weather?

Shooting in cold weather can be challenging - but there's nothing quite like the beauty of snow. It changes the look of the landscape profoundly. When we are getting ready to shoot in cold weather, we make sure we're ready for it. We carry chemical heat packs in our pockets to keep our hands warm - but for another reason as well. In between shots, we'll tuck our cameras inside our jackets to keep the battery warm... which helps increase battery life. We know from experience that cold batteries drain quickly, so the longer we can keep them warm, the more time we can spend shooting. Some people like to tuck warmers into their boots as well - though I find that they don't work as well in such cramped spaces. Make sure your boots will keep your feet warm and dry, and keep moving to stay warm.

We also wear waterproof and windproof gloves - and we prefer the ones with a mitten flap. We fold the flap back so that we can use our fingers to adjust the controls on our cameras. I recommend wearing a thinner pair of "glove liners" underneath. And try tucking an extra chemical warmer into the mitten flap so your fingers stay warm.

I almost feel silly suggesting that you wear a warm hat, since I think it's obvious... but on the other hand, I see people out there all the time without one. They are the ones shivering in the wind, complaining about the cold despite their heavy parka. Put a hat on! Sheesh! :) I like to have a hood as well, since it keeps the back of my neck warm and gives me an extra layer of protection if I need it.

The trick to staying warm is to keep your core temperature up. If your center (and your head) are warm, your extremities will stay warm longer. Use a waterproof outer layer to keep dry if the conditions are wet.

#phototips   #photographydiscussion   #naturephotography  Photo: Pearl in the Storm - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Crazy weather makes the best photos. And fun memories too! ;)

This storm came up on us so fast that we ended up having to run from it. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and we were visiting Norris Geyser Basin. We were out hiking with the kids, and we took a wrong turn on the trail. So, instead of the shorter loop, we ended up on the longer one. And to make matters worse, we mistook the distinctive sound of distant thunder for the rumbling of geysers! We did see clouds moving in, but they didn't look too threatening - until this one appeared. And it was moving FAST! We knew we'd be in trouble if we didn't get moving. We were on a wide-flat plain, and we were carrying our tripods - which start too look a lot like lightening rods when you are surprised by weather like this. :)

So, as the rain started to fall, we told the kids to run for it. We headed for the shelter near the trail head. Jay ran ahead with the kids - and I stopped with my tripod to grab one quick shot before catching up with them. The kids were excited - and the younger ones were a little scared - but we arrived at the shelter just moments before the storm unleashed its fury. They watched wide-eyed as pea-sized hail fell in torrents all around us.

The storm didn't last long, and we were never in great danger - but it was a fun adventure for the kids. At the end of the trip, they all agreed that it was the best part of the whole trip. :)

That said - please stay safe when you are traveling. Beautiful weather can turn bad fast - and it's important to be prepared. Check expected weather conditions before you go out, read your trail maps carefully, know where the nearest shelters are, and watch the skies. Bad weather can be incredibly dangerous.

So, what about you? Have you ever been caught in a storm like this? I'm adding this to The Experience Project collection - so share your stories!

#theexperienceproject   #photographydiscussion  Photo: Here's the black and white version of the shot I posted yesterday. What do you think? Color or B&W?

Here's the color version along with a write-up of what I was thinking when I took the shot:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/115105647022907007398/posts/8DwAdyxViQSPhoto: For the Love of the Islands

#PhotographyTips, #Travel, #Hawaii

Waking up to this? Priceless.

This is the view of the island of Molokai from Napili Bay on Maui. It's not difficult to get out of bed when you are in a place like this. :) You want to get up and get out in the fresh air. We stayed at The Mauian - a beautiful hotel right on the beach - so we just hopped out of bed and grabbed our gear. We were standing on the sand a few moments later, hoping for a crazy sunrise. The brilliant light never materialized - but it's hard to go wrong in a place like this, don't you think?

If you are shooting on the beach, push the legs of the tripod down into the sand so that the waves don't move you around to much. The water was calm this morning - but be careful out there. A sudden, rogue wave can do serious damage to you and your camera gear. The ocean should NEVER be taken for granted. No matter how serene it looks.

Anyway - I wanted to get a shot that showed the motion of the water, and also the changing colors in the scene. The deep purple in the clouds seemed to echo the color of the distant island - and the turquoise water seemed to fade into the white foam and then the beautiful, golden sand.

It is always important to me to remove any distracting elements within the frame in order to keep the image as simple as possible. So my first step is to decide what the image is about. If this shot was going to be about color and motion, then I had to be sure that nothing else would pull your attention from those elements. I moved away from the rocks on the beach, and placed myself close enough to the water that I could avoid the footprints in the dry sand higher on the beach. I pointed my camera straight out toward the Molokai - making sure that none of the palm trees on my left were in the shot. I let the distant island stretch from one edge of my frame to the other. And then I started shooting.

I needed to choose a shutter speed that would be long enough to capture the motion in the waves, but not so long that it would remove the subtle textures in the water. And I needed to capture the shot before a larger wave came up and shifted my tripod - or made me run for it. :) A couple of experimental shots were enough to determine that a 0.3 second exposure would give me exactly what I wanted.

I took several photos one after another - waiting for the waves to rush toward me before firing. I got the shot I wanted after a few tries.

I've been to Maui three times now - and it's one of my favorite places in the world - not least because my beautiful grandmother lives there. I visited her and my beloved grandfather on the island for the first time when I was seven years old. It's a trip I will never forget! All these years later, I got to spend some time swimming with her in the waves on this beach. What a perfect memory! I can't wait to visit her again!Photo: Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve, New MexicoPhoto: Graveyard Flats

I took this shot before sunrise at Graveyard Flats - Banff National Park in Alberta Canada. The mist was hanging over the mountain in the distance, and I loved the stark beauty of the scene. It was still pretty dark, so this shot required a long shutter speed... ten seconds at f 7.1.Photo: Flippin' the Bird

#PhotographyTips, #PhotographyWorkflow

Sorry. I couldn't help it. That just seemed like the right title for this post. :) I'll try to behave myself from now on.

This is a shot I took in Everglades National Park in Florida. This gorgeous stork was sitting near the trail, but there was a whole lot of messy grass behind him. A typical portrait might have worked out well enough, but his bright white feathers would have grabbed your attention. His head and beak - with their more muted tones - would have been lost against the similar colors in the grass. Lucky for me, the water was smooth and clear, and the sky was bright blue.

I chose an angle that let me capture the reflection of the stork against the rich blue of the sky. The morning light helped bring out the beautiful details in his feathers... and even gave me a catch-light in his eye.

When I'm photographing animals, I try to capture something different from the typical portrait. That's not always easy to do, but in this case, I am happy with the result. The stately stork - lost in thought. Reflecting on his reflection.Photo: Yellowstone National Park

#PhotographyWorkflow, #PhotographyTips, #Travel, #Yellowstone, #NationalParks

I almost never use my camera without a tripod... but in this case, I didn't need one. The bright sun gave me plenty of light, and setting it up on the boardwalk would have been less-than-satisfactory anyway. Instead, got as low as I could, stuck my lens out through an opening in the railing, and took a few quick snaps.

I also rarely shoot wide-angle landscape photography at mid-day... but Yellowstone is one of those places where mid-day photography is kind of neat. When the sun is high in the sky, the light reaches way down into the depths of these brilliantly colored pools. The light bounces all over the place down there, and it really intensifies the colors. I also like the effect of the light on the steam rising from the pool. It glows as the light scatters through the mist.

For this shot, I made sure I didn't have any shadows in the foreground of my shot - that's important to me because I don't want the distractions. I also wanted to show those beautiful cloud formations and the rich orange tones in the bacterial growth along the edge of the pool. I kept an eye on the boardwalk and tried to catch a shot when there were very few people there. I did clone out two photographers... but that's a lot easier than dealing with a whole bus-load of tourists! :) Why clone them out? Once again, it's about distracting elements... and artistic choice.

I also kept an eye on the steam. When the wind changes, it shifts - and I didn't want it in my face. I wanted to be able to see the clarity of the water and show the mist as it hovered over the pool.Photo: Long Exposure in Windy Conditions

Do you find yourself packing it in when conditions aren't optimal? Or do you see difficult conditions as a personal challenge?

After shooting the sunset at Logan Pass in Glacier National Park, I took one last shot. The light was fading fast and it was awfully windy - but those conditions would work in my favor if I could create the image I wanted.

So, I set up my tripod low to the ground, framing my shot so that I was really close to the pretty purple and yellow flowers that dotted the hillside. I guessed that I needed about fifteen seconds to get the effect I wanted, so I chose my camera settings accordingly... f/11, 15 seconds, ISO 100). I made sure my ND Grad filter was adjusted appropriately to help even out the exposure. And then I stood back and waited while my shutter was open.

The fading light meant I needed that long shutter speed - and the high winds ensured that a long shutter speed would blur anything that moved while the shutter was open. Fifteen seconds was just right to blur the colorful flowers, and get a bit of motion in the clouds. My concern was that I'd end up with too much blur... and I wanted to be sure that you can tell those are flower in the foreground. My shutter speed selection ended up being just right. Just enough blur to produce an interesting effect - and not so much that you can't tell they are flowers. To me, the scene feels like something out of a story book.

I always enjoy playing with the conditions I have at hand. Rather than seeing the wind as an obstacle - or the fading light as a problem - why not take those conditions and turn them into tools... something you can use to create a better photograph? Rise to the challenge!Photo: Singin' the Blues

Field Techniques: Creating a soothing image with filters and field work.

This shot required very little special post-processing... just setting the correct color balance, and a bit of subtle mid-tone contrast. The real work of creating this particular image happened in the field... well... on the beach, actually. :)

This is a mid-day shot - I took it around 2 pm. Deep blue storm clouds were moving in. The water at Bahia Honda in the Florida Keys is this incredible turquoise or emerald color (depending upon light conditions and how rough the water is) and the sand is smooth and white. I wanted something different for this image. +Jay Patel and I were playing around with our cameras... and this is the result.

There were a couple of problems with this scene as I stood there. First, the waves weren't big enough to blur out easily... but they were too small to look good frozen in time. No matter what I did with my camera settings, I wasn't getting a very interesting image. Second, there were strands of dark seaweed floating in the water. They created distracting streaks in the water, and left my test shots feeling pretty unappealing.

The solution to both problems? A whole lot of Neutral Density Filter. I used my own filter, and also borrowed Jay's. The filters significantly reduced the amount of light entering the lens - by about ten stops in all. So, in order to get a correct exposure, I had to use a long shutter speed. 10 seconds at f/11 produced exactly the effect I wanted. The waves were completely smoothed out, so that the water seems calm and almost surreal. And all that floating seaweed? Well, it moved around so much with each wave that it blurred itself into oblivion! I didn't have to clone out a single strand.

Even the clouds are softer - because they shifted during the long exposure. The rock in the foreground provides a clear point of interest, and since it is in clear focus, the scene doesn't feel too blurred. Sometimes it's helpful to have a sharp foreground object when you blur an image like this - it helps to anchor the scene.

So - what do you think? Was the technique successful? Does the image work for you?

Have you ever used a Neutral Density Filter? Or a long shutter speed to produce an effect like this? If not - maybe you should try it! It's kinda fun! :)Photo: Photo: Ten Seconds To Takedown

Some of you have asked to see the photo of the wave that took me out on our Iceland trip, so I went ahead an processed it for you. It's not one of my favorites from the trip... but half a minute later I was blacking out on the beach... so, I guess I'll keep the photo as a reminder of the power of nature.

See that big wave coming in out there? That's the wave that would take me out ten seconds later. At this point, I still thought I was ok. I was ready to back off if I needed to - but I didn't feel threatened. You can see that there is a bit of water at my feet - but not enough to worry me. I assumed that the pull of one wave retreating would substantially reduce the power of the incoming wave... as had been happening all morning.

Unfortunately, that's not what happened. The water at my feet didn't pull back - you can see that it is shifting to my left. The next wave came in, climbed past me up the beach, and I pulled back to get out of the water. I realized I couldn't move fast enough, so I braced myself to avoid being dragged under. No problem. The waves gently picked up all those pretty pieces of ice, and they floated past me. And then, the waves reached their peak - and in a rush, they returned to the sea. All those giant ice cubes shifted direction and came straight for me. An incredible impact to my right knee took me down. The tripod and camera underwater - along with my f-stop bag, and the iphone in my pocket. I was hit by at least four icebergs... but I only remember that first one.

Anyway - it was a rough morning. For the whole story, you can check out the post on my blog. Some of you have already read it. :)

http://www.photographybyvarina.com/photography/blog/iceland-day-5-2Photo: ... and here's the photo from the takedown itself. I can't remember hitting the shutter release.

The photo I took ten seconds earlier... just in case I'm confusing you because you didn't see the last one.

Kinda pretty isn't it? :)Photo: What is this guy thinking?

Give me your best line!

We're out here in Glacier - teaching a workshop in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. We're pretty much off grid out here - no cell service or internet access. But we can get a connection at the St. Mary Lodge. We're giving our students a short break, and taking advantage of the spotty connection to check emails and say a quick hello.

On our first day here - before the students arrived - +Jay Patel and I took a short hike out near Logan Pass. It's an incredibly beautiful place... meadows in full bloom, trickling streams, waterfalls, and mountain peaks all around you. Breathtaking.

While we were there, a couple of mountain goats were snacking in the fields. We took lots of photos, but this one really had me laughing, so I thought I'd share it with all of you. The challenge? Come up with a great line that really fits the image. Maybe I'll write up a blog post with some of the best suggestions! Just for fun, of course!

Join in!Photo: Happy Cyber Monday, Everyone!

In case you haven't had a chance to download it, our FREE Iceland eBook is now available here: http://www.photographybyvarina.com/photography/ebooks/ebook-exploring-iceland

You can check out the whole eBook collection here: http://www.photographybyvarina.com/learn

And, since it's Cyber Monday, we're offering 15% off any eBook or iHDR webinar recording purchase of $10 or more... from now until the end of the month!

Just enter this code during checkout: ILUVGPLUS15
This is Háifoss in Iceland. Such a beautiful waterfall! The whole area is just breathtaking! Don't fall in!Photo: Our Death Valley Webinar starts in 30 minutes!

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Meeting Password: ExtremesPhoto: Cracked - Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

When the scene is cluttered, I work to simplify the composition.

This beautiful location in Bisti Wilderness in New Mexico is absolutely bizarre. These rocks sit on a smooth stretch of white ash and clay. The rocks themselves show striking evidence of erosion in the patterns and layers on their surface. It's totally cool!

How I Did It
The challenge is to find a composition that isn't cluttered, and to show the incredible details in the rocks without losing that beauty in the clutter. To do this, I chose a single rock as a point of interest, and moved my camera until the rocks behind it formed a smooth curve. I got as close as I could to the rock in the foreground. This serves a dual purpose. I fill the foreground with a single object - so the scene is simplified. And I give the viewer as much information about the location as possible - so they feel as though they could walk right into the image. The rocks in the background seem smaller because of the wide-angle lens.

I used a Graduated Neutral Density filter to reduce the brightness of the sky so that the overall dynamic range was less extreme. In post processing, I was careful about setting my color balance correctly. The sky needed a slightly different setting than the foreground since they are lit differently.

Have you ever been in a location that is cluttered like this? Do you have any tips for simplifying a cluttered comp? I love this stuff! It's such a fantastic challenge to be out there shooting in a place like this!

#composition   #photographytips   #photographydiscussion   #photographyhowto  Photo: Capturing the Last of the Light


Finding your spot and getting your shot. Share your tips, too! Everyone benefits!

Here's a shot from the Florida Keys. At the end of the day, a group of us were shooting on this beautiful shoreline. Others were trying to capture the last glow of the sunrise in the sky - but I wasn't inspired by the sliver of light behind me. Instead, I found myself captivated by the much more subtle glow on the mangroves.

This is one of my favorite times to shoot. When the light is nearly lost - and night is just about to gain the upper hand. But it's not always easy to capture the beauty of the moment. It's brief - gone almost before you have time to set up your camera. So, when I already have my camera out and ready (because I've been shooting the sunset) I try to grab the opportunity if I can. I am constantly turning around as the sun sets - checking the sky behind me for color, and checking the ground for that gorgeous, fleeting glow. :)

On this day, I grabbed up my tripod as soon as I saw it, and ran along the shoreline towards the mangroves. When I reached the waters edge - I searched for the composition I wanted. I had scouted the area earlier in the day, so I knew what my options were, and I waded out into the calm water to find my spot.

I needed to set up my tripod in such a way that my shadow wouldn't be in the image - which is a challenge when the sun is behind you! So, I looked for a spot where I could shoot at a slight angle. My shadow stretched to the left in this shot... carefully placed just outside the frame. I wanted to show the beautiful patterns under the water, so I used a circular polarizer to cut through the surface glare. A graduated neutral density filter was unnecessary, because the was getting darker and the foreground was lit just slightly. So, I ended up with pretty even lighting overall. My camera had no trouble capturing the entire range of light with a single exposure.

I needed a long shutter speed in order to get enough light - 20 seconds was enough to get the shot. And it's a good thing I was ready... because by the time the shutter closed, the light was gone.

So, what can you learn from a shot like this? First, arrive early so you can scout the area in advance. You want to know where you want to shoot when the moment arrives. Second, keep checking over your shoulder. Changing light means changing photographic opportunities! Don't let that great light get away from you! And third, have your camera ready to go so that when you find your spot you can get your shot. :)Photo: Photoshop Actions

I'm still getting lots of questions about the frames around my images, and how I make them... and even more questions about Photoshop actions.

Here's a link to a colllection of free framing actions that +Jay Patel and I built for you:


And here's a hangout video recording where we are talking about how you can build your own actions:


I hope they're helpful to you!Photo: Photo: Shooting at Midday

#photographytips #naturephotography #photographydiscussion 

Bowtie Arch - Utah, USA

How do you deal with harsh light? Do you pack up your camera and go hang out in the hotel? Or do you hike a few trails - exploring the area and looking for shots that work even when the light isn't "ideal"? Whatever that means. :)

You always hear about shooting during the golden hour - and that's great advice. But most serious photographers aren't setting up 30 minutes before sunset, and packing it in as soon as the sunset is over. Most of us are out there no matter the conditions - and we're doing our best to work with the light we have. Learning to handle the light is a huge part of photography. Maybe the most important part. ;)

I took this shot right in the middle of a hot, sunny day. Not a cloud in the sky. Brilliant blue overhead and blinding light bouncing off every surface. Exactly the kind of light that we are supposed to avoid. But that's actually what I wanted for this shot. I took the shot in the shade - just a few meters to each side, the face of the rock was brightly lit. But here - under a huge shelf of rock, the sandstone was cool and evenly lit. No harsh shadows. No blinding highlights. And to make things even better, the intense sunlight was bouncing all over the place - reflected light bounced and rebounded from every surface. And this is the result. The rich colors in the sandstone really stand out - and even the darkest shadows are getting some light.

I got in close to the stained rock in the foreground, and chose a composition that included the patterns and the arch itself - but none of the bright sunlit areas around me. The results is an abstract shot that shows off the incredible beauty of the location - with none of the distractions that black shadows and blown highlights would bring.Photo: My Own Worst Critic - First I'll bash my work. Then it's your turn.

Delicate Arch - Arches National Park, Utah

Thanks to all those who joined us for our Open Critique Hangout yesterday! I think it went very well. It's always tough to ask for a public critique - and I want to send special thanks to those who put themselves out there.

I think that image critique is an incredible tool for learning - and I'm a firm believer in being your own worst critic. And I'm putting my money where my mouth is by offering my own image for public critique. And I'll start things off by providing a scathing critique of my own work to get you started. :) Think of this as a learning opportunity - sometimes we learn as much by critiquing other people's work as we do by hearing critiques of our own work.

So - +Jay Patel always tells me he loves this shot... but I rarely share it because I don't think I did a very good job with it. I was fighting time - trying to capture that gorgeous rainbow before it faded. And then there's the processing... which leaves something to be desired.

Let's start with composition. There's too much going on here. Rather than making Delicate Arch the clear subject of the photo, I included three bumpy things on the left - and they are fighting for attention alongside the storm clouds, the rainbow, the horizon line in the distance, and the arch itself. A much tighter crop would improve the image substantially - how about just the arch and the first bump on the left? I'd lose the intense blue color over there... but I actually think that's pretty distracting, too. It's the only area in the image that isn't glowing orange - which means it grabs your attention. Better to allow the arch and the rainbow to do all the grabbing. Too much grabbiness can ruin a perfectly good photo.

And while we're on the subject of the intense blue... let's talk about processing. Does that blue color feel natural to you? It sure doesn't feel right to me. And that means that this image fails to meet my own standards for inclusion in my portfolio. (Please note: I don't have ANY problem with other people's color choices in their own artwork. This is a personal preference for my own work... most of the time.) The solution? Well - the color balance for the areas in bright sun are about right - but that area isn't lit by the sun, so the color temperature is different there. I need to choose the correct color balance for that area, and blend for a more realistic scene.

What else? Ah yes - the brightest areas in the shot are the storm cloud in the upper right and the glowing sandstone on the lower left, so that's where the viewers attention goes first. The arch feels like an afterthought. That's a pretty major mistake in my opinion. If the image is about the arch - and it really should be - then I need to make sure the arch is where your eye lands as soon as you look at the image.

So - there it is. The location was breathtaking, the sky couldn't have been more incredible, and the light was to die for... but I didn't do the scene justice with this image.

All right - now it's your turn. This is meant to be a learning process... I want to show how incredibly useful critique can be... and how important it is to be your own worst critic. So, please feel free to tear this image to pieces. I plan to take your suggestions - and my own advice to myself - and redo the post-processing for the shot. Then, I'll post the results.

And feel free to share this post. I always appreciate your shares and comments.

Now, I'll just go put on my crash helmet. ;)Photo: Photo: Photo: Photo: Google+ Photo Walk: The Path


This is a shot I took during our Photo Walk at San Gregorio Beach in California. I looked for a spot where the bubbles left behind by the waves made a smooth leading line toward the edge of the cliff. I took a few waves to give me the line I wanted. I used a wide-angle lens to capture the details in the foam at my feet, and to make the most of the depth of the scene. I didn't need any filters for this shot, since everything was pretty evenly lit.

Post-processing was quick and easy. I made sure I had the right color balance so that the soft golden light on the cliff didn't look odd, and I reduced the brightness of the sky very slightly. I also cloned out a couple of little dog footprints. :)

Thanks again for coming out to meet us, everyone! It was so great to meet so many neat people!Photo: Free Webinar: Photographing Death Valley

+Jay Patel and I are offering a FREE webinar this Sunday, September 11 at 2pm EDT.

The topic is Death Valley National Park in California - and we'll talk about weather conditions, great locations within the park, what kind of gear we recommend bringing along if you make a trip out there, and so on. We'll also show some of the photos we've taken in the park over the years.

23 students should be able to join us live. We will post instructions for joining us on Sunday morning at the link below:


We hope that some of you will decide to join us!Photo: Album Theme: Leading Lines

#PhotographyTips #Photography 

I love using leading lines in my photos. They serve to lead the viewer through the image and can help add impact as well. I try hard to simplify my images - and leading lines can help with that. When I look for a shot on a beach, I'm looking for a path or rocks, the lines in the shifting waves, or patterns in the sand.
The goal with leading lines is to make sure they lead you through the image, or toward the primary point of interest. Leading lines that drop you off the edge of the photo aren't very effective. :)

I've rearranged my landscapes album so that the first ten images show leading lines.

Try to imagine photographing these locations without leading lines. Do you think that the images would be as effective? Do leading lines improve the photograph? And what about the other images in the gallery - those that don't contain leading lines? Are they less effective because they lack leading lines? Or are there other elements that make them work?Photo: Happy New Year, Everyone!


Here's a photo from yesterday's shoot in Hocking Hills State Park. I'm standing inside a dark tunnel, here. It's way too dark inside the tunnel to see any detail on the walls of the tunnel, so I choose a long exposure and painted the walls with light. I choose the proper exposure for the steps at the end of the tunnel, and made sure the walls had just enough light to give you a sense of where you are.

So, head towards the light, my friends. I hope the New Year brings you joy.Photo: Autumn in Iceland

This is the last shot I took with my10-22mm lens in Iceland. Moments later, it bit the dust. Literally. You can read all about it on our blog...

http://www.photographybyvarina.com/photography/blog/iceland-day-2-2Photo: Stranded

#PhotographyTips, #Travel, #NewHampshire, #Autumn

Do you ever crouch down low and set up your tripod close to the ground? I do it all the time. Here's an example of why I do it."

This lovely autumn scene drew my attention because of the brilliant gold color scheme - and the single, red leaf on the rock. Actually, there was a pretty maple tree just behind me, and it's red leaves were scattered all over the ground at the edge of the river... but when I stood in the water with my back to the maple, this leaf seemed to stand alone against all that gold.

It's a subtle composition - I didn't want the leaf to be glaringly obvious within the frame. Just a bit of simple beauty in an Autumn scene. New Hampshire is beautiful in Autumn... as you can see. :)

For this shot, I got down very low with my tripod to bring the rock in the foreground as close to my wide-angle lens as possible - which increases it's relative size within the frame. Getting low also served to "foreshorten" the midground, so that I could include more trees in the upper part of the frame. Standing up with my tripod would have made the river seem to be wider... and would have forced me to chose between all that lovely gold in the background and the large rock in the foreground.

I made sure the entire rock was included in the foreground, so that it wouldn't feel cropped, and so that the stream could flow around it. I chose a shutter speed that would allow the water to blur a bit in the foreground - I wanted to remove details and create a slightly surreal effect in the water.

As for the rules of thirds - well... the edge of the river is at the top third, but the leaf and the rock are centered in the bottom third. I felt that using the rule of thirds in this case would leave the image feeling heavy on one side. I only use the rule of thirds when it feels right. ;) I'm a firm believer in breaking all the rules whenever it feels right to do so.Photo: Sunny Lake - Ohio, USA

We've explored so much of the area around our home, but we didn't know this park existed!

We discovered this beautiful local park a few weekends ago, and spent the evening shooting as the sun set. I took this shot as the first hints of color appeared in the clouds.

How I Did It
My goal was to show the beautiful light reflecting off the smooth surface of the lake. I used two filters for this shot - a Graduated Neutral Density (GND or ND Grad) filter and a Neutral Density (ND) filter. The ND filter reduced the amount of light coming through the lens so that I could chose a long shutter speed (3.2 seconds) to remove the small ripples on the surface of the lake. I love this simple technique because it creates a smooth, pearlescent glow on the water. The long shutter speed also let me capture some motion in the foreground as the plants around the lake shifted in the breeze. I like the effect, and it adds to the peaceful feel of the image.

I used the GND filter to reduce the brightness of the sky even further so that I could take one shot and capture the entire dynamic range in-camera.

#photographytips   #photography   #landscapephotographyPhoto: Photo: 5 minutes a day

#photographydiscussion   #naturephotography 

Ponytail Falls, Columbia River Gorge - Oregon, USA

How much time do you spend in post-processing on a regular basis? Business and family responsibilities make it tough to find the time... but I'm trying!

Over the past few years, I found myself struggling to find time for post-processing. I never had a back-log of unprocessed photographs before... but now I find myself mired in images that are begging for attention. Where did all my time go? Well. I never had a whole lot of time to begin with. So that's part of the problem. And now, on top of all my other responsibilities, I'm running a thriving business. The demands are time-consuming and never-ending. There never seems to be a moment when I can just stop and take a few minutes to open up a file and get to work.

So, I've decided to start a new habit. Every morning when I boot up my computer, I open up Adobe Bridge. I leave it open as a visual reminder so that sometime during the day, I will grab an image and put a few minutes of work into it. My goal is to spend 5 minutes a day in post-processing. For now. Just a few minutes on any photograph from my most recent trip. And that's it. It doesn't sound like much... but in the past two days, I've finished one image that had been sitting on the sidelines for a while... and I processed this one from start to finish. That's not half bad! And it's two more files than I would have completed if I hadn't set a goal for myself. Some photos will take more than 5 minutes - but that's what the save button is for. Some days I won't be able to put in more than 5 minutes... but some days maybe I'll be able to spend a little extra time.

I could fill every minute of every day with business responsibilities. But I think I can manage to wedge in 5 minutes of post-processing if I put my mind to it. Don't you think?

Last time we visited Columbia River Gorge, +Jay Patel met up with +Brian Matiash, +Nicole S. Young, +Patricia Davidson, and +Michael Riffle. What a fantastic group of photographers! That's what I love about Google+. I've met so many incredible people in real life after getting to know them online. I've been in online photography forums for years - posting, commenting, moderating - and yet, I met just one or two people face-to-face. Something about Google+ - the incredible sense of community, the interface that encourages long discussions, the easy-to-manage circles - builds connections like no other social forum I've joined. It's great! Anyway... we all got along famously, and I had way too much fun. Can't wait to do it again. :)Photo: You are Waterproof and Washable - so get wet and dirty!

#photography #photographytips 

We were in the Columbia River Gorge (Oregon) a couple of weeks ago, and the weather was just incredible. I'm not talking about the kind of weather most people want while they are on vacation - sunny skies, not a cloud in sight. No. I'm talking about storms. Rain and Hail and Fog. And the sun coming out in between - rainbows dropping out of the sky and then disappearing as yet another storm rolled through.

The rain meant that everything was rich and green - and glowing with the diffused light filtering through the clouds overhead. It meant the waterfalls were running fast and furious. It meant that every rock and every leaf was wet - and saturated with color and life. Breathtaking.

Of course, it also meant that we had on all our rain gear, and had our bags covered with their waterproof shells. It meant we had to keep our cameras covered too - and wipe the lenses frequently. And it meant that we were constantly pummeled with rain or hail. But that's all part of the adventure, right? It's living! Not just standing by and watching others have fun. Don't be afraid to get wet and dirty! You're waterproof and washable! Get out there and have fun! ;)Photo: Bird on a Stick

_We're off to Iceland! One more before we go!*

One more shot from Glacier National Park before we go. I took this one while waiting for sunset on the shore of St. Mary Lake. Driftwood is always fascinating. I loved the curve in this little twig - and the clear image of a tiny bird. This is a macro shot - taken with my Canon 180mm macro. High winds made it difficult to keep everything steady... but I pulled it off in the end. :)

When I return, I hope to have some new images from beautiful Iceland. Have a wonderful week! I'll be almost completely off-grid for the next seven days. See you next week!Photo: Just out of Reach


So, here's something a little bit out of the ordinary from my collection. I took this shot on a beach in Florida a few years ago. It's nothing more than a bit of a branch that I found in the sand, but I loved it's smooth form and the cracked patterns that covered it. I wanted a clean and simple portrait.

I took the stick and pushed one end into a little hole in a log nearby and set up my camera so that I could shoot the sticks straight on. I used a 180mm macro lens to get nice and close, so I could bring attention to the interesting cracks and details. And I chose a shutter speed carefully - making sure that the background was completely blown out and that the stick was exposed correctly. I wanted it to look as though I had placed the stick in front of a white background... but of course, I didn't have one out there on the beach... so I just set the stick in front of the bright sky. It's a really simple technique, and the finished image looks as though it was photographed in studio.

Obviously, this look won't work for every photo - but in this case, I like it. :) The stick seems to be reaching for something just out of the frame. I wonder what it is reaching for!Photo: Ain't She Sweet?

Do you ever photograph wildlife in your back yard? Share your tips and experiences so others can learn!

This beautiful baby spent much of the summer eating flowers and plants in our wooded back yard. She was born late this year, so she's still small - but she's full of life and so much fun to watch. She wanders the neighborhood with three pretty little cousins and her mother. They've eaten half my flowers. But who's complaining! The kids love having her around, and I have plenty of flowers to share.

I waited to take this shot until the fawn was mostly in shade for even lighting. Shooting on an overcast day is also great for even lighting - but the wildlife doesn't always cooperate! :) A fast shutter speed kept her nice as sharp as she moved. I also wanted to be sure the capture the catch-light in her eye, and to get her in a pleasant pose. I got a few shots of her looking right at me with her mouth wide open as she chews... but that's not quite what I was going for! ;)

#photographytips   #theexperienceproject  Photo: We rented a Canon 300mm f/4.0 lens from www.LensRentals.com for our Glacier workshop - and then wrote up a review for our blog.


If you've used this lens, we'd love to hear what you think of it! You can add a comment here, or on our blog. I'm sure others will appreciate your input as well!

And what about LensRentals.com? Have you rented a lens through them before? We were very impressed with their service and the easy ordering process. Have you had a good experience with them as well?Photo: Light Catcher

#PhotographyWorkflow #Photography 

I had to race against the sun to capture this shot. Moments before sunset in White Sands, New Mexico, I noticed these beautiful little pods reaching out to catch the last rays of the sun. But as I approached one and prepared to shoot, the light shifted, and suddenly it was in shadow. I picked up my tripod, and hurried a little further up the dune to find another, but I knew that I didn't have time to capture that one either. The shadows were creeping towards me faster and faster. To give myself a few extra moments, I climbed toward the highest clump, and set up my tripod as quickly as I could. A few seconds after I captured this one, the last of the light was gone.

I used the sky as a clean and complimentary background - but I needed to get down low in order to capture it this way. My tripod was close to the ground, and I chose an angle that allowed me to get a little bit of extra depth of field. Rather than a perfectly sharp outline, I wanted something a little bit soft, so that the image feels just a little bit dreamy. So, I allowed the edges of the furthest "fingers" to go soft - as well as the lower end of the stem. But I made sure that the main body of the pod, and the nearer fingers are sharp and clean.

The light provides a little bit of extra impact.

Post-processing took less than two minutes. I wanted to be sure the sky was a rich, clean blue - so I was especially careful with the color balance. It's very easy to leave a sky looking odd if your color balance is off. I adjusted the contrast to bring out the colors just a bit, and then left it alone. I chose to let the sky stay slightly dark in order to allow the bright areas inside the pod to stand out.Photo: Meadow - Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

How I lead the eye with focus and blur.

When a single element in an image is in sharp focus and the rest of the image is blurred, the eye tends to settle on the sharp element. The blurred areas lack detail, so the eye shifts away from them. That doesn't mean they aren't in integral part of the image - not at all. But a soft blur allows me to soften the effect of the pink flowers in this photograph. The sharp grasses and water droplets draw the eye.

How I Did It

I took this shot with a 180mm macro lens. Although the pink flowers were beautiful, it was the water droplets that caught my eye. So, rather than trying to capture the entire scene in sharp focus, I chose to bring the droplets and grasses into focus and allow the pink flowers to go soft. I use this technique to point the viewer toward the object I want them to notice. In this case, I chose those two blades of grass covered in droplets as my "point of interest". So, my goal is to minimize distractions in other areas of the image. The pink flowers provide a sense of place and a beautiful counterpoint to the main subject - but the eye migrates towards the water droplets rather than wandering around through the image.

#photographyhowto   #photographytipsPhoto: Capturing Details

#macrophotography #photographytips 

This is the kind of photo that makes me smile. A very clean and simple composition. Subtle colors. Smooth curves. It's my personal metaphor for life. :) Simplify. Life's complicated, right? You are busy and stressed and you feel like you can't keep up with everything that needs to get done... but if you step back and look at what you are doing, there are so many things that are entirely unnecessary. If you can let some of them go, every now and then you might find a moment that is uncluttered. Clean and free and open. That's what I'm trying to create when I shoot. I'm trying to get rid of the clutter so that I can see what's hiding within it.

The last time we were in California, I headed into the tall grasses along Highway 1 to shoot the Lilies. They are huge and beautiful - and irresistible. :) I did take a few portrait shots of the flowers, but I was more interested in finding details. Like this beautiful curve. I wanted to show the incredible shape and smooth color... so I let the background go nice and soft to allow the flower to take center stage. The depth of field is very narrow, so I placed my subject parallel to the plane of focus. That way, I could get more of the flower in focus. I let the focus fade out just slightly along the edge of the petal as it curled open, because I love that smooth softness. A diagonal composition adds just a little bit of life to the shot - and accentuates the curve.

I used a small diffuser to soften the light - making sure that the light in the background was also softened - and checked my histogram to be sure I wasn't blowing out my highlights. And I made sure the tip of the flower was absolutely sharp.

Post processing was pretty easy. Just a quick color correction, and a very small amount of contrast to bring out those subtle colors. And then done.

This minimalistic moment was brought to you by little ol' me. I hope you enjoy it!Photo: Anemone Flower Seed Head - Sunshine Meadows - Banff National Park, CanadaPhoto: My Tiny Island - near Panther Creek, Washington

Micro-landscapes are way too much fun!

This is a shot I took of a wee pine tree just beginning to make it's way in the big world. It's growing on a giant downed tree trunk. To me, it looks like a tiny little island in the middle of the ocean - are you sure that's not a palm tree? ;)

How I Did It

I think the hardest part of a shot like this is just getting the focus where I want it. I knew that I wanted the very top of the "palm tree" to be in sharp focus - so I zoomed in close and used the auto focus function in live view mode to make sure it was really sharp. It took a few tries, since there was a bit of a breeze. I wanted everything else to be soft and fluid - like something out of a daydream. So I chose a wide aperture of f/4.0 to get a really narrow DOF. I'm working with maybe eight or ten mm of DOF here - so even the ends of the pine needles are soft.  Little bits of detail in the moss give your eye something to play with... but not enough to grab your attention. And the bark of the fallen tree seems watery.

I converted to black and white in post-processing - for no better reason than because I wanted to. :) I just liked it better that way. Sometimes color is a distraction.

I love tiny scenes like this one. They are so much fun to find when you are out shooting. I took this after I finished shooting a gorgeous waterfall at Panther Creek with +Michael Riffle, +Patricia Davidson, +Brian Matiash, +Nicole S. Young, and +Jay Patel. We had an awesome time! Didn't we, guys? :) Photo: The Keeper of the Pond

This is a great place to use a circular polarizer filter.

This little guy is going to be famous! :) He will be featured in our next Workflow Series eBook! I've been keeping my eyes open for a detail shot that would show the effect of a circular polarizer, and this was perfect. I took two shots - one with and one without the polarizer filter. This is the filtered shot. The colors are nice and clean and bright, and you can see lots of details on the surface of the lily pads. Without the filter, the lily pads reflect too much light toward my camera, so all that nice color and detail is lost. I'm sorry to say that you'll have to wait for the eBook to see the unfiltered shot (mostly because I haven't processed it yet.) ;) I guess this is just the teaser.

So there you go! Now you can say you knew him before he was famous!

#photographytips   #naturephotography  Photo: Aspen Leaf on Marble - Marble, Colorado USA

Marble, Colorado is a tiny town that boasts both a pretty darn impressive marble quarry and some absolutely beautiful scenery. As the leaves start to change color, photographers descend upon the town. The locals call us "The Leafers". It's a name I embrace. I am, most definitely, a Leafer at this time of year... seeking out the autumn foliage like a junkie. ;)

I used a 70-200mm lens for this shot. A macro lens would have worked just as well, but I didn't need to focus too close... and +Jay Patel l had absconded with it anyway. :) Getting the exposure right was easy - the range of light is very narrow, as you can see. Actually, the hardest part was just finding the right leaf. I wanted one with a variety of colors. Most of the aspen leaves are a brilliant golden color - and they are lovely - but I wanted on with a little more character because I knew my background would be very subtle. Once I'd found my leaf, I carried it very carefully up the road toward the huge marble blocks that lined the roadside. I didn't want to disturb the water droplets. Then, I scanned the surface of the stone -  looking for the right vein in the marble. It took just a moment to find the one I wanted... this jagged grey line that defines my marble background. I placed my leaf, set up my camera straight overhead - on a tripod. And took a shot. Not quite right. I bent down, pushed the stem just slightly so that it curved a little bit, and took another shot. Done.

In post processing, I was very careful about color balance. I didn't want the marble to appear at all yellow - or the leaf to have any tint of blue. Slight color casts in a shot like this would really dull the photograph. I removed a few tiny specks of dirt from the rock and the leaf, and brightened up the water droplets just a tiny bit.

This is, hands down, my favorite shot from the trip. I love the contrast between the colorful foreground and the subtle background. Heck - this one just makes me smile. What do you think?

#photographytips   #photohowto   #phototips  Photo: Rock Garden - De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area, New Mexico

When you hike out to this spot in De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area, you can't help but smile at the funny little hoodoos that litter the landscape. They're everywhere. And they almost seem like sculptures. It's as if someone came out and placed them one at a time.

How I Did It
I took this shot just moments before the sun set. I wanted to capture the shadows stretching across the desert, and the soft, golden light painting the rocks. I also wanted to show how many of these stones there were - without letting the composition get too busy. So, I chose a nice big one and got in close to it. I couched down and placed my camera so that the rock filled the foreground. The wide-angle lens helps to exaggerate the size of objects that are close - and objects that are further away seem smaller. That's exactly the effect I wanted here. I decided not to include the sky in the photograph because I felt that it wouldn't add anything to the image.

#photographyhowto  Photo: Hourglass

Complimentary colors and the rule of thirds in the desert.

Thanks to all of you for commenting and sharing!

We had actually planned to photograph the beautiful formations in the Vermillion Cliffs region of Utah on this trip, but the storm front we were expecting stalled out over California. So, we got back into the rental car, and drove West toward Death Valley National Park. We were exhausted (six hours by plane to Las Vegas, five hours by car to Utah, and then overnight to Death Valley... enough already!)

We arrived in time to capture the storm clouds as they gathered over the Mesquite Dunes. Early morning light brought out the beautiful rippling patterns on the dunes, and the brilliant blue sky is a perfect compliment to the golden sand.

When we shoot the dunes, we avoid the areas that are frequented by most tourists. We don't want footprints in our photographs - so the biggest dunes don't get much attention from us. Instead, we look for patterns like these - unbroken and perfectly formed. We arrive before first light in order to seek out a pleasing composition.

I set up my camera on a tripod - nice and low - so that I could get as close as possible to those gorgeous patterns. I chose a simple composition - this one is all about the rule of thirds. And I made sure to eliminate any distracting elements in the foreground. When I want to get close in the foreground, and still get the entire image in focus, I have to know my hyperfocal distance - invaluable information when you are shooting with a wide-angle lens. I also used a circular polarizer for this shot.

Post-processing wasn't difficult. Just a matter of getting the right white balance to ensure that the rich gold color really stood out... and making sure I didn't lose any detail in those highlights.

Death Valley is absolutely breathtaking no matter where you are standing - but the dunes are one of my favorite places to shoot. Maybe because they are constantly shifting with the wind.Photo: There is nothing quite like the ridiculous beauty of a snowy morning at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. I took this shot just after sunrise. My fingers were stiff with cold, but I hardly noticed while I was shooting. There's something about holding a camera that takes me beyond my physical self. I guess that's why I love photography!Photo: Paria Overlook at Sunset. Arizona.Photo: Reprocessing an old Image

Thanks to those who participated in our live critique session recently - and to those who shared in my personal critique session. I reprocessed the original image based upon your comments and suggestions. Now, I'm posting the finished image for your review.

For reference, here's the link to the original critique post - you can compare this reprocessed shot to the one I processed back in 2007.


I'd love to hear what you think! Is the reprocessed shot better than the old one?

In my opinion, the older shot was much more dramatic - but also much less realistic. Although I tried hard at the time to capture the reality of the scene, I found that my processing skills just weren't up to the task. Since then, I've learned a lot, and RAW Converters have gotten better... but maybe I'll revisit this image in another four years and see if I can do even better.

Please feel free to be honest in your comments. As I said in my older post - this is meant to be a learning experience for everyone.

On a side note - this re-processing is an excellent argument for shooting RAW. If the original image were a JPG file, I would have had a terrible time reducing contrast, shifting color balance, or calming those intense blues you see in the original image. I would have been left with terrible noise and artifacts as well. Instead, I was able to go back to the original RAW file and start again with all that original data intact.Photo: Waiting for the Night

#PhotographyTips, #NewMexico, #BistiWilderness, #Travel

Have you ever taken a photo at twilight? Were you happy with the results?

We found these gorgeous Hoodoos in the Bisti Wilderness reserve in New Mexico. This was such a fantastic location. It's the kind of place you could just wander in for hours. Actually. We did wander around for hours. And we would have liked to stay a lot longer - climbing over one ridge after another, discovering bizarre formations and crazy patterns in the rocks, searching for interesting composition... what a place!

This was the last shot I took that day. I set up my camera to shoot these strange, smooth hoodoos - but I wanted something different. Rather than shooting in broad daylight, or during the golden hours, I decided to take the shot at twilight. This is the time after the sun disappears below the horizon - when there is still a soft, glowing light remaining. And before it is truly dark. I wanted a slightly strange light to add to the bizarre scene... but I wanted the light to be very subtle and smooth to compliment these beautiful hoodoos.

So, I set up my composition and waited for the light to do what I wanted. (And believe me, waiting around in a place like this is no chore... so much to look at!) When the light was soft enough - and I could see a touch of pink in the sky behind the hoodoos, I fired off a 3.2 second exposure. No good. The hoodoos were too dark. So, I pulled out my headlamp, fired off another exposure, and gave the hoodoos a pass or two with my lamp. I had to take a few shots to get the light even on the foreground... and to avoid the harsh shadows that directional light produces. For this final shot, I made sure I was far enough back with my light to avoid bright spots, and I moved the light from side to side to reduce those shadows.

Although dramatic sunbeams and brilliant sunsets can be striking in a photograph - I sometimes prefer more subtle light. Especially when the landscape is dramatic on it's own.Photo: Cold, Wet, and Windy - Tips for Photographers Shooting in Miserable Weather

What kind of nasty conditions have you shot in? And what do you like best about shooting in difficult weather?

This is a blog post that took me some time to write, but I think it's a good one. So, I thought I'd share it with all of you. I love shooting in stormy conditions because storms often bring amazing light and brilliant colors.


What about you? What kind of nasty conditions have you shot in? And what do you like best about shooting in difficult weather?

#photographydiscussion   #theexperienceproject   #photographytips  Photo: What Goes Where

(edit - Gosh! I can hardly keep up with you guys! Thanks so much for all the shares!)

Our most recent blog post attempts to answer this question: "How you choose which images to show on your website gallery and which to put on photo sharing websites?"


Do you have a specific criterion for choosing which images go in your portfolio, and which end up on G+ or other photo-sharing sites? It's an interesting question.

I think that what separates a really good photographer from a mediocre one is that the good ones don't show their bad images. I'd rather have ten really amazing photos than ten-thousand mediocre ones, and I'm not at all afraid to throw images away if they don't make the cut. How about you?Photo: Photo: Photo: I Dream in Color

Tom McCall Preserve - Oregon, USA

I love shooting flowers in the wind. When a brilliant splash of gold dances in the wind, a longer shutter speed captures a blur of color. When I have a whole bunch of flowers, the result is like something out of a dream. And on the morning I took this shot, the sky decided to play along. What a perfect morning!Photo: The Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley National Park - California, USAPhoto: Calm

A neutral density filter is an invaluable tool when I'm on location.

Thanks for commenting and sharing.

Here's a shot from Nine Mile Pond in the Everglades. It's a beautiful place to watch the sunrise - but on this morning, I wasn't getting any good photos. Although the sunrise was pretty, it wasn't very photogenic - and the water was a bit choppy. A couple of test shots failed to get me excited.

I wanted to transform the scene. So I pulled out my neutral density filter. The idea was to block some of the light coming into the lens with a grey filter - that would mean I could use a much longer shutter speed. The effect was exactly what I wanted. A 25-second shutter speed (f/8) blurred out the waves, giving the water a smooth, calm surface. The slowly moving clouds blurred just a bit - which left the sky looking dreamy. Most importantly, the reflected light on the water scattered with each wave, producing an opalescent glow.

Simple, in-camera techniques like this one can turn an ordinary scene into something just beyond the usual. Have you used a neutral density filter for a similar effect?Photo: Photo: Coloring Book

Havasu Falls, Arizona

The colors are real... but doesn't it look like something out of a child's wild imagination? I guess they used just about all the prettiest crayons in the box for this one. Brilliant turquoise water. Orange sandstone cliffs. And pink clouds against such a beautiful blue sky. This shot is all about color.

I really wanted to get a shot of the falls under a brilliant sky, but I wasn't convinced we'd have any really good color. But I waited anyway. The color didn't last long, but I was in the just the right place to capture it. The canyon was in shade, so the range of light wasn't too bad. I used a circular polarizer to minimize glare off the water, and reduced the brightness of the sky just a bit in post-processing to get the exposure exactly right. Over or under exposure will make the colors feel dull and lifeless... but the correct exposure really makes the colors pop.

What do you think? Should I convert to black and white? ;)   (Just kidding, of course.)

#waterfallwednesday   #exposure   #photographytips  Photo: Sunrise Overlooking the Columbia River Gorge - Oregon, USAPhoto: Photo: The World on Fire

#PhotographyDiscussion #TheExperienceProject #Photography 

What lessons have YOU learned from experience?

Nature is breathtakingly beautiful. She lulls you into feeling safe and calm. But she can turn dangerous in an instant.

I am pretty darn careful out there - but sometimes Nature reminds me that being careful isn't always enough.

Damaged gear? Drowned cameras? Injuries? Accidents? Share your stories, and the lessons you've learned! Here are a few of mine!

1. Never let go of your camera or tripod when you are shooting in very windy conditions. My 10-22mm was badly damaged when it took a bad fall in high winds in Iceland, and the same thing happened to my 180mm macro and my 50D when +Jay Patel was shooting with them on a beach in California.

2. If at all possible, leave your bag high and dry if you are shooting on a beach. Jay ended up underwater with ALL his gear when a rogue wave grabbed his bag and threw him off balance in Iceland. Luckily, his Loka backpack from f-stop kept everything dry... except for the tripod and camera he was holding in his hand.

3. Don't assume that because you've done it before, you'll be ok doing it again. I ended up falling hard on my butt in the middle of a stream in Montana when I jumped onto a dry rock thinking it wouldn't be slippery. I'd done it carefully moments before - testing the rocks to make sure they were rough and easy to stand on. But this dry rock was slippery. The camera and tripod survived the fall. My butt was pretty muddy, though. ;)

4. Logs and other buoyant objects that are floating in the ocean or sitting on the beach can be deadly. I was photographing small icebergs on a beach in Iceland, when a rogue wave came up and picked up a bunch of bergs. They slid smoothly past me, and then turned and raced back to the ocean. I was hit by at least four of them. It felt like being hit by a car.

I'm sure there are many more... but that's what comes to mind for now. ;) Just be careful out there. Nature isn't friendly. She's breathakingly beautiful, she lulls you into feeling safe and calm, and she can kill you in an instant.Photo: Photographing Star Trails

#Photography #naturephotography 

While we were in Utah last week, +Jay Patel and I had mostly clear skies. Not so great for daytime photography - but awesome if you are hoping to shoot stars or the moon at night.

On this night, we set up our cameras near Balanced Rock in Arches National Park for a nice, long evening shooting star trails. It was relatively warm out there - though after a while, the wind really picked up. We hid out in the lee of a giant rock nearby, but got kinda chilly anyway. Ah well. It was awesome fun.

There's a lot to think about when you are shooting something like this - exposure, digital noise, the location of the north star, what time the moon rises, cloud cover, stabilizing your camera, light from passing planes, blending in post-processing... the list goes on.

I am putting together a blog post that will include as many details as I can think of, and I'll post the link when it goes live. Maybe it will help someone who is interested in trying something similar. Meanwhile, I have a couple more shots that I'm working on as well. Time to get back to work!Photo: Beaming

Careful planning in the field - and complicated post-processing. This one wasn't easy!

So - how do you capture a scene like this one? This is one of the more difficult situations to work with. First, the range of light is extreme - dark shadows and blinding highlights mean I can't capture the entire dynamic range in a single exposure. And since the light beams reach below the horizon line and the dark trees stretch above it, a Graduated Neutral Density filter will cause as many problems as it solves.

The solution? Bracketing. I took three exposures to capture most of the dynamic range. One shot exposed for the darkest shadows. One for the mid-tones. And one for the highlights. I let the brightest area inside the sun remain over exposed, since we can't see details there in reality and reducing the brightness of the sun would create a very odd, unnatural look.

Once I had those three images, I needed to blend them as smoothly as possible. I processed each image carefully for the area it would represent. I used the mid-tone image for most of the sky, and used the other two images to bring out details in the trees and foreground... and of course, the bright areas around the sun. Then, using layers and very careful masks in Photoshop, I blended the three images. I use the "iHDR" manual blending technique that +Jay Patel and I have developed over the years. It's much more effective than your standard HDR software because it allows us to apply blending only where it's really needed.

When blending was finished, I removed a bit of lens flare (which is often a problem when you are shooting directly into the sun).

Is it perfect? Almost certainly not... but it does represent the scene as I remember it. What do you think? Does the scene feel natural and real to you? Does it evoke an emotional response?Photo: Another beautiful day in Iceland!

Here's a like to our blog post for Day 6:


I took this shot of Skógafoss with a 70-200mm lens, a circular polarizer, and a neutral density filter. I needed a longish shutter speed to blue the surface of the water in bright conditions, so that the rainbow would stand out against a smooth background. The neutral density filter helped with that - and the polarizer allowed me to increase the shutter speed even more, while also helping to bring out the brilliant colors in the rainbow. With both filters, I could reduce the shutter speed to .6 seconds at f/11. Just enough to smooth the water to my liking.

This was such a beautiful location - but the climb was steep. After my little run-in with the icebergs the day before, I couldn't climb the hill... so I stayed behind. At first I planned to just sit back and enjoy the beautiful sunshine while I waited, but the more I looked at the falls, the more I wanted to shoot it. The view from below wasn't very exciting... I wanted something a little different. And this is the result. This was the best weather of the entire trip, too. Warm and sunny! Such pleasure after yesterdays difficulties!Photo: iHDR Overview

Wondering how +Jay Patel and I blend images with a very broad dynamic range? Our latest blog post gives you an overview.

Here's the link: http://www.photographybyvarina.com/photography/blog/ihdr-workflow-overview

Please feel free to share!

So, what is iHDR? It stands for Intelligent High Dynamic Range - and it's our manual blending technique for images with a very broad range of light... like the one you see here.

This is what I'll be doing with some of the images I brought back from Glacier National Park. I can't wait to get crackin'! :)Photo: Free Photoshop Watermark Action - by Varina and +Jay Patel 

Here's the link:


Lots of people ask us how to create a watermark on an image - so we decided to add a watermark action to our free collection. The set already includes two framing actions - one for black frames, and one for white ones - and an action that overlays a copyright notice on your image. Now,we've added another one...

This one overlays a watermark symbol or letter like the example you see here. You can choose your font, adjust the size of the symbol, and place it anywhere you like within the frame.

All four actions resize your image for web display, convert the image to sRGB for optimal viewing in any browser, and sharpen the photo - allowing you some basic control over the finished product.You can even adapt each action for your own use as you see fit.

Please pass it on - if you know others who might find this collection useful, please feel free to share. That's what it's all about!

Oh yeah - and for those who are wondering - this is Glacier National Park in Montana! We're headed there to teach a workshop next week! Can't wait!Photo: Solitude

One of the biggest reasons I choose to photograph nature is because I love solitude. I find that this is true for many nature and landscape photographers. We seem to share an appreciation - no... it goes beyond that - a NEED for solitude.

I get along with people just fine. I don't mind speaking to large crowds. I can navigate my way through a city without a problem...

But I'd much rather be in the middle of nowhere. No cars driving by. No airplanes flying overhead. No lawn mowers or leaf blowers or weed trimmers. No radio or television. Just birdsong and the breeze through the branches and the trickle of the water over the rocks. I'm perfectly happy out there for hours. Days. Weeks.

How about the rest of you? What is it about nature photography that keeps you coming back for more?Photo: Hold Your Breath

Get there early and use a long shutter speed to get images like this one from Glacier National Park in Montana.

Lots of you have been asking about my images from our recent trip to Glacier. I've been busy getting caught up, and writing up a lens review, and attending a multitude of soccer games... but I've have managed to find a few minutes to do some post-processing. So here it is. The first shot I've posted from beautiful, Glacier National Park.

We pay close attention to sunrise and sunset times when we are on location... but most of the time it's not so much about being there at the moment the sun peaks over the horizon. It's more about the light before and after that moment. We like to be there a good hour before sunrise - that gives us time to choose a composition, set up our camera gear, and do some low-light photography as the light begins to change.

The subtle magenta color you see on the mountain in this shot is called "Alpenglow". It happens well before sunrise - this shot was taken nearly 20 minutes before the sun rose - and the colors started changing rapidly from that point on. The alpenglow faded as the sky began to glow in the East. By the time the sun appeared, the glow was long gone, replaced by rich golden light and a rainbow over the lake.

This was a tough shot to capture - more because of rain and splashing waves than particularly difficult camera settings. I wanted a 30 second shutter speed for a smooth opalescent effect... so I chose my settings accordingly. (f/8.0, 30 seconds, ISO 200.) Then, I wiped my lens clean and hoped for the best. I took three shots before the light faded - and only this one was was free of water droplets.

I've always loved long-exposure photography for the slightly surreal or dreamy effect it produces. What would you have done in a situation like this? Would you have been there in time to capture the glow? Or would you be kicking yourself later? :) I sure hope you wouldn't have missed it!Photo: What are you thinking when you are shooting?


Do you usually have a clear idea of what you are after when you are shooting - or do you shoot what's in front of you, and look for something good in your collection later? Are you looking for something unique and different? Or trying to replicate a photo you've seen before?

I'm curious about what goes on in photographer's minds as they are standing out there with their cameras.

I can only explain my own thought process. :) Most of the time, when I'm shooting, I have a pretty solid feeling for the finished image I want to present. This shot was no exception. I knew I would convert to black and white in Post-Processing, and I could see the image I wanted to create in my head. A high-key shot with some clean contrast in the foreground rocks. It took some time to get exactly what I wanted, though - because the sand was dry at low tide. I knew that as the tide came in, the waves would wash away the footprints and bicycles tracks. So I waited. Finally, a single wave came all the way to the base of my tripod - filling the depression around the rock with water, and smoothing the surface of the sand throughout my entire composition. As the wave pulled back, I snapped a single photograph. The next wave, was as high as my knees, and the rocks were underwater for the duration.Photo: Circle Project

No. Not Google+ circles. I'm talking about geometric shapes, here.

I started shooting circles a few years ago - and it became my own little project. You can check out some of the images from my "Circle Project" on my blog.


Have you ever tried to photograph a series of related subjects over time? I found myself discovering circles in unexpected places - and it was a fascinating experience... watching my collection grow. If you haven't done something like this - I highly recommend it.

In noticing circles in particular - I also began to notice light and color, patterns and repetition, tones and contrast... in places I wouldn't have thought to look before. What about you? Why not share your ideas and inspiration for projects you've done!Photo: Shooting in Iceland


Here's the link to our Day 4 Trip Report for our Iceland Trip. Shares are always enormously appreciated!


And here's another shot from my iceberg series. For this one, I wanted to capture the shifting motion of the bergs as they were rocked by the waves. In order to show that movement, I needed a long exposure. This one is 30 seconds. As most of you know - I often strive for minimalism in my compositions. This shot is no exception. I wanted an extremely simple canvas - so the long shutter speed served to smooth the surface of the water and simplify the background. And finally, I made sure to keep my blues as clean as possible in post processing... I didn't want any distracting color casts sneaking in there.

Is this what the scene looked like in reality? Of course not! Waves were crashing at my feet, I could see textures in the sand and the water, the ghosting effect is caused by the long exposure, and the blues were not so intense on location. But... this is exactly what I saw in my head while I was standing there shooting. This isn't documentary photography... it's art. A little bit of the dream world that exists in my head. I hope you enjoy it!Photo: Photo: Photo: Salt Flats, Death Valley National Park - California, USAPhoto: Metlako Falls - Oregon, USAPhoto: Photo: Photo: Simple Images: Beauty in the Details

#PhotographyTips #PhotographyDiscussion #Spring 

Is it sometimes tough to find the "essence" of a scene you are photographing? I think we are often distracted by the big stuff. The bright stuff. The thing that everyone else is photographing. Do you think that's true?

There is nothing more appealing to me than an incredibly simple image. But making a photograph "simple" is actually more difficult than you think!

Take this shot of a tiny water droplet as an example. Picture the scene - bluebells blooming in profusion. The river flowing past over scattered stones. Trees just putting out their first leaves. Sunshine dancing through the branches as they shift in the breeze. There was so much going on out there. I took a few wide-angle shots to capture the whole scene, but that's not what I was after. I wanted to capture the feeling of Springtime, not the cluttered scene before me.

So, I replaced my wide-angle lens with a macro and looked for the details in the scene that defined it. This tiny droplet got my attention right away. So, I got in nice and close and took a shot. A narrow depth of field blurred out the background... but not enough for me. I could still see dirt and patches of light behind my little droplet. So I looked around - and sure enough, I found a nice green leaf lying on the ground. It wasn't very big - but it was enough for my needs. I placed it directly behind my tiny droplet, checked my focus and took another shot. Better. But a bright patch of light was hitting my background leaf and taking the attention away from the droplet. I shifted my body so that it blocked that shaft of light... and voila. I had what a I wanted.

And then I stood up and tried to work the kinks out of my legs. Ouch! ;)

Anyway - simplifying the image meant removing distracting details... simplifying the composition to include only what I wanted to show... adding a smooth background that would let the subject stand out without becoming a distraction itself... and handling the light to avoid bright patches or blown highlights. I used a tripod to keep everything nice and steady, and I used the live view function to get my focus just right... not an easy task considering the breezy weather and the low camera angle.

I have photos of those lovely bluebells too - but in the end, it wasn't the showy flowers that attracted me most. It was the feeling that Spring had arrived at last. This photo still says that to me. Spring is here!Photo: Our trip report for day 3 of our Iceland trip just went live on our blog. :) You can check out the details here: http://www.photographybyvarina.com/blog

I spent a good hour getting this shot how I wanted it on location - fighting with high winds, rain, ocean spray, and a long exposure. I'm happy with the finished product though. What do you think?

(I guess this also happens to work for #MonochromeMonday and #MoodyMonday. Not on purpose though! I'm not even sure I know how that's supposed to work.)Photo: Photographing France

Check out our FREE eBook here: http://www.photographybyvarina.com/photography/ebooks/ebook-photographing-france

Thanks so much for your comments and shares!

So, here's a shot I took in Jura, France in 2006. This is Grand Saut Falls. The region is incredibly beautiful - and I was lucky enough to be able to spend nearly three months wandering the countryside with my children. We hiked as many trails as we could find... visited castles... played in caves and rivers and lakes and waterfalls... picked dandelions... talked to wild swans...

I hiked this particular trail several times during our visit, since the area is packed with spectacular waterfalls. I wanted to shoot the falls with a layer of clouds in the sky to filter the light and avoid blown highlights in the water. (This image isn't about spectacular light or brilliant skies - but the light was carefully considered just the same.) So, we picked a slightly overcast day at the beginning of June - while the flowers were still in bloom, and before the summer crowds trampled the undergrowth.

I wanted to smooth the flowing surface of the water for a silky effect, so I chose a shutter speed of 0.4 seconds. Since the flow was pretty heavy, that would be enough to produce the effect I wanted. An aperture of f/11 was sufficient to capture the entire scene in sharp focus - provided that I chose the right point of focus.

I set up my tripod at the edge of the trail, and settled in to wait. Because of that long shutter speed, I'd have to get the shot at a moment when the breeze settled down. After a short wait, I got the lull I was hoping for. I fired off a few shots - checked each for good focus, and deleted those with any motion blur in the leaves.

It's a simple image - meant to convey the fresh beauty of the location with a simple color palette and a clean composition. I used the flowers in the foreground to provide a sense of the place. If I print this at large size, I want you to feel as though you could reach out and touch those flowers.

What do you think?

You can see more of my photos from France in my free eBook. Click on the link above to download the PDF.Photo: Photo: Detail of the inside of a Nautilus Shell.Photo: Photo: Photographing a Splash

#PhotographyTips #PhotographyHowTo #Photography 

I spent the better part of two hours photographing water as it splashed against the rocks at Bean Hollow State Park's Pebble Beach in California. I noticed that foam was collecting in a pool just beyond the biggest rocks, so I watched for a while until I could begin to predict where the biggest splashes would occur. I also wanted to make sure that I chose the spot with the best light - I wanted soft shadows to show the incredible details. But I also wanted to be sure to avoid blown highlights and deep, black shadows. This spot was just what I wanted.

After I chose my spot, I took several test shots - I wanted nice, sharp details, and a perfect exposure, so that I wouldn't have to worry about clipping my highlights. A chose to shoot at f/13 and 1/800 at ISO 400. An even faster shutter speed would have been better, but I wasn't willing to sacrifice too much depth of field with a wider aperture. I didn't want to add too much noise either, so I didn't increase my ISO beyond 400.

And then I clicked away happily until I was sure I had what I wanted... deleting far more shots than I kept, since I couldn't predict what the waves would do as they crashed ashore.

This is my favorite of the collection.

Post-processing was easy - I converted the image to black and white, but gave it a bit of a blue tint. I also brightened up the lower right corner just a bit.Photo: Singin' the Blues

Low light photography in beautiful places.

Iceland was incredibly beautiful... and one of my very favorite locations was this gorgeous beach at Jökulsárlón. I think you can see why. I would have liked to spend far more time shooting these small icebergs. I guess we'll just have to go back for another trip!

We have a long story to tell about our trip to Iceland - and a difficult and painful morning spent on this beach. We've decided to put it all on our blog. You can check out the first installment of our trip report here:


Anyway - the challenges for this shot included wind and rain, keeping the tripod still as the waves pulled at it and shifted the sand underneath, and getting a shot before the iceberg floated away!

I shoved the legs of my tripod deep into the sand to steady it and chose a 30 second exposure. It was getting dark at this point, but I was happy with that. I wanted a very long exposure to smooth the water behind the iceberg. My goal was to make sure the ice in the foreground stood out as much as possible against a simplified background. The long shutter speed removed any details from the waves, leaving me with a clean backdrop for my giant ice cube.

The intense blue is a result of the long exposure, the extremely low light, the overcast skies, and careful post processing.

Well - what do you think? Did I oversimplify this shot? Or do you like the effect of the long shutter speed?

I really can't wait to get to Iceland again!Photo: Photo: *Photographing Reflected Light: "House on Fire" Anasazi Ruins"

#Photography #PhotographyTips 

+Jay Patel and I are back from Utah. Got in around 1am, and we were up at 5:45 this morning. Ugh. :) I'm going to fall asleep with my head on my keyboard pretty soon here. But, who's complaining? This trip was phenomenal.

This is a shot from the "House on Fire" Ruins in Mule Canyon. The sun was high in the sky when we arrived, but the ruins are in shade under a shelf of rock. The stone structures are incredible all by themselves, but when the harsh mid-day light reflects off the sandstone at your feet, it makes the ceiling glow with a brilliant light. That's what we were after. And we got it.

We've seen this effect in countless canyons. The light bounces off one wall onto another, and the reflected light makes the canyon glow. Here, though, the unusual patterns on the ceiling add a whole different dimension to the photo.

I used a wide-angle lens to get as much of the ceiling in the shot as possible. The lens adds a bit of distortion - which also adds some depth to the image. For this shot, I turned the camera at an angle to remove the foreground rocks and help simplify the photo. Post-processing was minimal. I used the default "shade" white balance in Photoshop - and brightened up the ruins by about a third of a stop. I left the "flames" alone.

Who's been here? I found out this morning (too late) that there are hand-prints in an alcove nearby! I was in that alcove, but didn't see them. Darn! I guess I'll just have to go back! Anyway - if you haven't been, it's an easy hike and worth a trip. Definitely!Photo: Pay attention to ME!

Tips for making a single element stand out in your photographs. ;)

When you shoot, do you take a moment to consider the most important element in your photograph? For this shot, I wanted to get in really close - and show off the beautiful, reflective droplets clinging to the leaf. I also wanted a very clear point of interest. So, I started looking for a single element that would work well for me. This little droplet was perfect. It stands out because it is much larger than the other droplets, and because it breaks the line that runs through the lower third of the image - between the leaf and the background.

Here are a few tips for isolating a single element for impact.

1. You can blur the background to allow sharply focus foreground objects stand out. Blurring the background will also help obscure potentially distracting elements, which can pull the eye away from your point of interest.

2. Look for contrast. In this case I'm using contrast of size. The large drop stands out because it is so much larger than all those little ones. You can also use contrast of shape, color, tone, and so on.

3. Break the pattern. All those tiny little droplets make a pattern in this photograph - but I've broken that pattern. Twice. First, I positioned the leaf so that it's edge cuts through the lower third of the photo. That brings your eye to the lower area right away. And then, just to be sure I have you where I want you, I've broken the pattern again by including the large droplet in the frame.

What techniques do you use to help isolate a single element within the frame? There are thousands of ways to do this. I always enjoy the challenge.

#phototips   #photographytips   #nature   #minimalism  Photo: Do you Think before you Shoot?

Aspens in Marble, Colorado

I love aspens. Who doesn't? But if you've tried to photograph them, maybe you know that getting a shot you really like isn't as easy as you think it's going to be. You pull out your camera in front of all that golden glory, and the resulting image just doesn't do the scene justice. So, how do you go about getting the shot you want?

Start by thinking about the most important element in your image. What are you trying to show? Is it the sweeping landscape? The beautiful mountainside? Or is the most important element of the image the colors themselves? In this case, I really wanted to show off the details on the trunks of the trees - but I also wanted to make sure that the colors were an important part of the photo. And I am almost always looking for a minimalist composition - so of course, that was part of my planning.

The first step was to find the right aspen glen. :) I know - that seems kind of obvious... but the thing is, it isn't that easy. Notice that there's no bright sunlight coming through those leaves. And notice that you can't see the base of the trees, the ground, or any canopy or sky. Those are important details. The elements you don't include in a photo are just as important in the planning process as the things you do include.

I needed a high vantage point with trees growing below me. Standing on the forest floor would put me too low - I'd end up with ground in the photo if I pointed my camera downward or even straight ahead. And I'd end up with sky in the photo - and distortion - if I angled the lens upward. No good. When we drove past this glen, I knew we were in the right place. The road was high enough, and the bases of the trees were low enough. And behind my scene was a vast mountain that blocked my view of the sky. Perfect.

The next step was to find the right tree for my "point of interest". I walked up and down the road searching for the best one - but each time, there was something distracting behind. A trunk that tilted at an odd angle - calling attention to itself. A broken branch. Too much white trunk behind and not enough golden color. And often, trees that were too close to let just one stand out on its own. This tree was just right - but only if I stood in just the right place. There's actually a dead trunk just behind this one, but I chose an angle that hides it. No distracting elements allowed. :)

We were in this spot for about 20 minutes, and I have just one image to show for it. But it's the photo I wanted.

When I finally found my composition, I took a few shots to decide how much depth of field I wanted. I chose an aperture (f/4) that would allow me to smooth the details in the background as much as possible - while keeping the tree in the foreground nice and sharp.

The most important step in post-processing was getting the color balance just right. A slight color cast would be enough to leave the whole image feeling dull.

So, there you go. That's what was going on in my head while I was taking this shot. What do you think? Would you have done things differently?

#photographytips   #photohowto  Photo: Hey, Dad... is this close enough?

My dad used to tell me to "get in close" when I was taking pictures with his sturdy little Pentax, K1000. It was good advice!Photo: Shooting Details - Useful Gear

Nature Photographers Network sent me some gear to review a few weeks ago - and this kit from +Mike Moats is something I was thrilled to get a chance to work with. I already had a diffuser - but the kit comes with a reflector and a Wimberly Plamp as well. I don't buy lots and lots of gear - but there are a few essentials that make photography a lot easier. If you are shooting details... my review might interest you.


And while you're at it, take a look at +Mike Moats work. I think you'll like it. ;)Photo: Beauty and Peril

All right - I'm being a little dramatic. I admit it. But if you go on over and read our blog post for Day 5 of our Iceland trip, you'll see what I mean. Dramatic? Indeed. I woke up this morning from an unpleasant dream about icebergs. I'm not kidding.

I can laugh about it though - that's a start, right? :)

Iceland - Day 5: http://www.photographybyvarina.com/photography/blog/iceland-day-5-2Photo: Where have you photographed ruins? Share your photos!


Here's another photo from the "House on Fire" ruins in Utah. We spent about four hours hiking out there and shooting - and during that time we saw two people were traveling together. I love the solitude.

When I posted a shot yesterday, some people suggested that I visit other ruins in the area. If you have photos of ruins, post the link in the comments... and the location! I'd love to see what else is out there, and I'm sure others would be interested as well!Photo: Aperture and Composition


I wanted a specific effect when I took this shot... here's what I was thinking.

Yesterday morning, I went out and took some photos of the frost and frozen droplets on autumn leaves in my back yard. I used a small clamp to hold the leaf off the ground in front of my camera. I wanted even lighting on the leaf, and a clean background of autumn color behind. I chose to shoot at f16 to get some extra depth of field on the leaf, and to keep some of the subtle bokeh on the leaves behind. A wider aperture would have resulted in the loss of the bokeh effect.

As usual, I wanted an extremely simple composition - no distractions. But I also wanted to make sure the image showed the character of the leaf. I looked for a leaf with a nice shape, and a bit of uniqueness. The little twist at the lower left stood out to me - subtle, but beautiful - and I loved the small hole on the right as well... especially since it is ringed with frost.

Autumn in Ohio is incredibly beautiful! We've had frost on the ground for the last three or four mornings - and it is absolutely gorgeous out there when the sun creeps over the horizon!Photo: *How do you organize your photos?"

In a response to another of my posts, +Susana Cabaço asked how I organize my photos. I posted about this a while ago on my blog, since it's something that concerns all of us... and I thought I'd share it here for those who have similar questions.


I do want to point out that there is no "correct" way to do this. You should organize your images in a way that works for YOU. If my way works, that's great... you are more than welcome to adapt it to your needs. The important thing is to be able to find the images you need... when you need them.

If you'd like to share your own tips for organizing images, please feel free to do so. I know that there are others who would appreciate your suggestions and ideas.Photo: The Spider's Pearls

Tips for shooting tiny things.

This is a shot I took on the Big Island of Hawai'i last week. We were driving along the road, and we noticed a small road way down below us in a beautiful valley. So, we pulled off the main road and found the road we'd seen from above. I'm glad we did. We found ourselves in a gorgeous spot - waves pounding the rocky shore on one side, and lush rain forest on the other.

I noticed these lovely water droplets strung like pearls on a spider's web. So, of course, I pulled out my macro lens and got down to business.

Capturing a shot like this is tough. Even with a macro lens, it was hard to get in close enough for the shot I wanted. And even a slight wind is enough to keep the web dancing... so getting a sharp picture requires patience.

I took several shots - hoping that I could get one that was sharp. Oddly enough, the photo I took with a 1.6 second shutter speed (ISO 100) is cleaner than another I took with a 1/6 second shutter speed (ISO 400. :) Sometimes, you just get lucky. :)

A few tips for shooting spider webs.

1. Look for a clean background. Here, I used an aperture of 7.1. That setting gave me just a bit of depth of field to work with, and left my background completely blurred out. I was VERY close for this shot... just at the focus limit of my lens, so my depth of field is incredibly narrow.

2. Look for patterns. Notice that I included only a few strands of the web in this shot. I looked at it carefully to find repeating patterns that were appealing to me. The Y-shaped strands give me the patterns I want, and the single strands break up the pattern just enough to keep things interesting... in my opinion, anyway. :)

3. Align the objects you want in focus on a flat plane - and keep that plane parallel to your camera's sensor. As I mentioned before, I was working with a ridiculously narrow depth of field here, so anything outside my narrow plane of focus would be blurred. I adjusted my camera very carefully to be sure it was aligned as accurately as possible.

I hope these tips are useful! Have a great day, everyone!

#photographytips   #photographydiscussion   #phototips   #travelphotography  Photo: Horseshoe Bend, Colorado River - Arizona, USAPhoto: Evening Light on Mount Rundle - Banff National Park - Alberta, CanadaPhoto: Colorado, USAPhoto: That's my photo on the cover of Lightroom Magazine issue #7.Photo: Colorado, USAPhoto: Ice in the Night

Do you think it's all be done before? Here's why I don't believe that.

This is a shot from Jökulsárlón in Iceland. I took the shot in the middle of the night, in the short space between a midnight sunset and a 3am sunrise. The world seemed completely blue. This large chunk of ice broke off an iceberg, floated from a beautiful lagoon to the sea, and washed up on the beach. As I watched, waves crashed against it, smoothing its surface and constantly changing the patterns of shadow and light that danced through it. It was mesmerizing.

This is a location that we returned to again and again. Each time we visited, it was completely different. Sometimes, the beach was free of ice... and then, moments later, an ice-jam would break up, and huge chunks of ice would sail down the river and out to sea as if on an urgent mission. They smashed into one another with such force that they broke into pieces... some as big as cars. And then they washed up onto the beach, where they rocked gently in the waves. At night, the colors were muted and blue. At sunrise and sunset, the ice glowed with color. When the sun was high in the sky, the light scattered through the ice with such intensity that it seemed it should melt.

Some places seem to gain an entirely new personality from one moment to the next - and others show much more subtle changes. But it's always worth coming back. If you can, return to a location repeatedly. Explore it in different conditions and get to know it's moods. There are so many variables. Changing seasons... changing light... different angles... rain and snow and mist. And of course, your options for cameras and lenses and filters and camera settings give you such a huge variety of creative control.

Lots of photographers I talk to feel that it's all been done before. They think that a location has been photographed so many times that there's absolutely no way to get a unique photograph. I don't believe that. I believe in getting to know the soul of a place. When you take the time to do that, you'll find that it is as changeable as the shifting patterns of light in this beautiful block of ice.

Now - of course, you can argue that you can't always visit a location over and over again. That's absolutely true. But if that's the case, go beyond the usual. Don't just stand at the overlook. Explore the place. Try different lenses. Look past the obvious. Inspiration is there. You just have to find it.Photo: Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve, New MexicoPhoto: *Tips for Converting to #blackandwhite *

I spent a good part of yesterday doing black and white conversions with Silver Efex Pro 2 from Nik Software. I'm putting together a talk on Monochrome photography and judging - and I needed a few more examples to help fill out the presentation. It was a lot of fun to go through my portfolio in search of photographs that would work well in Black and White.

Here are a few tips for black and white conversion:

1. Look for photos that are all about tonality, patterns and lines, or form. Black and white lets you take away the distraction of color and let your viewer focus on other elements.

2. Color goes a long way toward setting the mood in a photo - but there are other ways to accomplish the same purpose. Use a long shutter speed for a moodier feel. Capture motion for a dynamic and energetic photograph. Look for curving lines for a sensuous photo - and diagonal lines to show depth and change. Get creative!

3. Watch your highlights and shadows. Most of the time, the best black and white photos have a nice range of tones - all the way from black to white. Don't let shadows or highlights overwhelm the shot. Check for details in the brightest and darkest areas.

4. For lower contrast scenes, try high or low-key conversions! It's a lot of fun to play with different styles!Photo: Frozen Droplet on Autumn Leaf - Ohio, USAPhoto: Double Rainbow Over Loch Eilt

I just discovered that this little island in Loch Eilt was used as a location in two Harry Potter Movies -- The Prisoner of Azkaban and Deathly Hallows Part 1. Apparently, the island is the site of Dumbledore's grave. Cool!

It's been such a busy month. Presentations in London and here in Ohio, planning our workshop in Australia, +Jay Patel losing his job and shifting to photography full time, and so much more... I didn't even get a chance to download my photos from Scotland until today. Ridiculous. But it's always fun to see what I have in my collection after a few weeks, because I'm surprised by what I find. I had nearly forgotten about this double rainbow and beautiful Loch Eilt in the highlands.

We stopped here because of the beautiful little tree-covered island in the middle of the loch. We got out and wandered along a little path for a bit - looking for a nice composition. And then, the light started to go a little nuts... and just when you'd think a place just couldn't be any more beautiful, this gorgeous double rainbow appeared.Photo: Brand New

Look who we discovered in our little magnolia tree this morning! She has two little brothers in there with her - and their mother has been back and forth all day making sure they are all well fed. I grabbed my macro lens for a quick photo shoot while Mama was away. My 180mm gives me a little bit of extra working distance... which is great for subjects that might not like a lens right up in their business.

Welcome to the world, little ones!Photo: Self Portrait on the Beach

...and a few simple tips for taking shadow portraits.

This is one of my favorite places in the whole world - the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón in Iceland. When I noticed my tiny reflection on the rock, I decided this was the perfect place for a self portrait. So, I set up my tripod with my camera on it, stood so that my legs lined up with the shadow of my tripod legs and the shadow of my camera was hidden by the shadow of my body. Then, I set a two second timer, released the shutter, and threw my hands into the air. It was an incredibly easy shot - and a really fun and different self portrait. :)

Tips for taking shadow portraits:

1. Look for a simple composition, so that your shadow doesn't get lost in a cluttered scene.

2. Use a tripod to hold your camera so that your arms are free for a more interesting pose. A 2-second timer will give you time to pose.

3. Hide the shadow of the tripod in your own shadow. Nobody will even know it was there!Photo: