Summer Blues Part 2 – Ivy Creek Natural Area

One of my favorite things about the hot weather are pollinators. A great place to shoot these little flyers is at Ivy Creek Natural Area off Earlysville Road by the reservoir.

Ivy Creek has 215 acres of natural area with 7 miles of trails taking you through grasslands, woods, over streams and along the shore of the reservoir. It’s a wonderful respite from the hectic day just minutes from Rio Road.

One of my favorite features at the natural area is the butterfly garden off the paved wheelchair accessible trail next to the Education Building and across from the barn. Various native species have been planted to attract our local pollinators.

Summer, July & August, is prime time for the garden to be in bloom. A small oasis of color in our otherwise dull green landscape. A huge variety of bees, butterflies, and other interesting bugs abound.

Pick a sunny afternoon to head out. The natural area is open 7a to dusk 7 days a week year round, except for major holidays. There is ample parking and it’s a short walk to the small garden.

I recommend a 100mm macro lens if you have it, but a 50mm macro or a general zoom 75-200mm with an extension tube will work well also. These guys are small so a macro lens or extension tubes to help you get close-up are best.

I typically handhold as a tripod can be cumbersome in the close quarters of the garden. Sunny days will give you fast shutter speeds to capture their rapid movements. While the chase is fun it can be exhausting, so I prefer to find a nice flower with a good background and wait for something to show up.

Check out Ivy Creek’s website,  They have a wealth of information on native flora and fauna with several ID sheets so you can later identify what you’ve captured.

Ivy Creek is a wonderful photographic destination year round for the nature photographer. I recommend checking them out throughout the year. If you enjoy the lands consider becoming a member and donating to help keep this local treasure around. Ivy Creek Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that depends on member donations to keep up staffing and programs.

Summer Blues

It’s hot outside, the light is harsh and the landscape is no longer lush and vibrant. So what’s a photographer to do? Over the next few weeks, I’ll guide you through a few of my favorite summertime photography locations in Charlottesville.

First off is the downtown mall. Things are hopping here in the evenings. The sun is up late so you have good to decent light until 8:30 – 9p. There are lots of people, architecture, vendors, street performers, reflections, abstracts and the list goes on! 

The sun bursts through the trees for starbursts, dramatic light, and shadows. The atmosphere varies from upbeat descending to calm and peaceful as night approaches. Cooler temperatures are a pleasant respite from the day’s heat.

This is great practice for any trips you may be taking over the summer. Practice street shooting in your own backyard. Come back often for different lighting, weather conditions and to challenge yourself to find new and interesting compositions.

Then reward yourself with ice cream from Chaps! They validate parking also, so it’s a twofer.

If you’re a slug like me and need some motivation to get out shooting, join me starting next week for my Travel/Street Photography class through PVCC. For more information on the class click on the link below for the summer catalog at PVCC and go to page 6 for a description of the class.

So get out to the downtown mall and enjoy photographing one of Charlottesville’s lively locations.



Basic Studio Set up

Stargazer Lily with backlight shot in studio

Studio work is not really my thing, but I’ve had a few situations where I needed it. I created some of my abstract floral shots in a studio and it was a must to shoot for a gaming company several years ago. Recently a student also asked about a low-cost studio setup, so I thought I’d share what I did with everyone today.

This list is intended for a small studio setup, to shoot still life tabletop, portraits or for you to do your own videos with a basic backdrop.

First off I visited a website a friend recommended called the Strobist. They have a nicely written article on lighting 101. They give you the basics for setting up a studio and also have a couple of kits you can buy.

After reading through that material you will need to find a space to shoot. Do you want natural lighting or do you want to control all of the light? For the game company shoot, I worked in a basement and blacked out the windows with a heavy fabric. This allowed me to control all of the light. You will need to pay attention to shadows cast by all of your light sources and to any distracting reflections on the subject.

Studio setup in bedroom

Recently I have moved my studio setup to a bedroom that has large windows to one side and overhead lights. This was sufficient for me to shoot a number of items I wanted to put up on eBay. And I hope to create some short video segments for my teaching channel on Youtube – coming soon!

For equipment I have the following items:

  • Canon 550 EX flash – yeah it’s a dinosaur from my film days but it works fine
  • LumoPro compact umbrella
  • Cheaplights spring clamps – to hold the paper onto the table
  • 5001B Nano Stand Black – to hold the flash and umbrella
  • ePhoto Video Backdrop with dark grey and white paper rolls for backgrounds.
  • Tripod – I use a Gitzo G1348 MK2 4 section tripod – it holds a lot of weight and is very stable
  • Shutter release cord – I prefer this to the remotes and I can stand behind the camera to release the shutter.
  • 5 in 1 reflectors in two sizes – 22″ and 45″

You can use a flash or studio lights. I have some old studio lights I purchased a long time ago that I used for some of my shots, but a flash will work fine as well and sometimes you might want the combination. For more advanced techniques multiple flash units are needed. You should learn how to use the flash manually for the best results and most control, but TTL auto does a decent job.

Hot shoe adapter for flash

I still use the flash from my film days. It’s almost 20 years old. It pays to buy good equipment as it’ll last. The only drawback is it’s not wireless so I had to get a hot shoe adapter with a cord to link the flash to the camera since you place the flash on the Nano stand and not on the camera. This allows you to adjust the angle of the light on your subject.

Umbrella used to reflect light back onto the subject from the flash.

The umbrella is essentially a diffuser for the flash. You can shoot the flash into the umbrella and then that light is reflected back onto the subject or you can shoot through the umbrella so it acts like a softbox.

The ePhoto Video backdrop is adjustable both in height and width. The setup shown above only uses 2 of the 4 poles provided for the width. I have both white and grey paper for backdrops. You can also use fabric. The options are limitless. Make sure the background does not interfere with the main subject, so keep it simple.

The clamps hold the paper down onto the table I am using. They are also useful for various other things such as securing reflectors.

If you don’t already have one, get a good tripod. I’ll post another blog on tripods, but you want one that is suitable for your needs. Spend some money now and you won’t ever need to get another one again. I’ve had mine for 14 years.

The tripod improves picture quality by keeping the camera stable. Most studio work needs a high depth of field (aperture setting) which lets in less light and results in slower shutter speeds. You want to keep your ISO low for quality so use a tripod and you don’t need to worry about slower shutter speeds causing blur.

Close-up shot of Rose

The tripod also improves quality by giving you a stable platform from which to create a good composition, especially for close up shots and tricky angles. You must learn to love your tripod! It slows you down and that is a good thing for producing quality images.

F22, 1second, ISO 100 with 100mm Macro lense

To go with your tripod a shutter release cord or remote control are essential. The problem with most remote control units is they have to be activated from the front of the camera. However, some cameras can be triggered by your phone or computer. I actually had my computer connected to the camera during my gaming shoot and activated the shutter from the computer. The images were then directly copied to the hard drive and my client could see the image immediately.

The equipment is lightweight and portable. So you can easily take it with you for on-site shooting. Especially the stand for the flash with the umbrella.

If you already have a flash and tripod then the rest of the equipment is quite affordable. I think it all totaled less than $100 for me a few years ago. If you don’t have a flash or tripod it’ll be quite a bit more. Both are useful well beyond studio shooting. I use my tripod all the time for my nature and macro photography.

Have fun with your new studio and keep shooting!


2017 – Paths, Pits and Pictures

Time flies and suddenly it’s a New Year! Last year was a time of recovery and healing for me. The passing of my father was not unexpected but still shocking all the same. Losing anyone dear to you changes your world.  It takes time to learn to live without them in your life.

Many feelings lift us up and crush us down. Sadness, depression, anxiety, happiness, love, freedom. We try to fill this jagged chasm of loss with memories of love and happiness. Over time it smooths out, but it will always be a pit on our path.

I found freedom. Freedom from worry, commitments, being a caregiver. Anyone who’s ever cared for someone else understands. There’s guilt over this new found freedom. It’s ok to feel these things. We are sad for the loss or change,  but it can’t last forever or stay the same. Life is change. So you do your best to climb out of the pit and start down the path again.

Depression and anxiety seem to be the most insidious of all. They plague the daily lives of many of us. Any change in our world adds to it. I strive daily to deal with it. Some days are better than others. So I continue down my path with all its twists and turns.

I am thankful for my family, friends, and co-workers – both in person and through social media. I am blessed with a wide range of work and hobbies that connects me with so many amazing people. It’s these people that filled my photography this past year. These images show me love, happiness, laughter, some sadness, and accomplishments.  Here’s my journey in 2017…

As the sun sets on one life,

Sunset at the Point overlook, Shenandoah National Park

it rises again to show us the light and give us hope.

Freedom Bell outside Union Station, Washington DC

We learn from the past

Discovery Space Shuttle at Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum

and look to the future.

ULA Delta IV rocket launch, Cape Canaveral, Florida

We lift our heads up each day and try to live the best we can.

Turtle at Cleveland Aquarium

Some days we fail.

Palm Warbler, Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, Florida

Some days we succeed.

A friend celebrates his birthday and battle over cancer

We reconnect with friends from long ago.

College friends at 1920’s murder mystery party

We strive,

Building on the Kitchen for Gardiners Company


Relaxing after cooking a delicious feast for  Gardiners Company

and laugh with our friends.

Sharing a celebration of accomplishment with an amazing artisan and friend

We share time with family,

Texas family

and friends far away.

Seattle friends

We enjoy the beauty around us.

Fire Pink, Old Mills Trail, Charlottesville, VA
Ladybug, Old Mills Trail, Charlottesville, VA

We celebrate the accomplishments of our loved ones.

Longtime friends and Texans

We say goodbye to a beloved pet,

Oz, Purr-bot, 2005-2017

and then laugh and squeeze the others


We see the ordinary a little differently.

Rotunda, the University of Virginia with Jefferson statue
Pike fencing, Gardiners Company
Cooking an amazing feast for Gardiners Company, fall muster.

And we hold on tight to the ones we love.

My best friend and love of my life.

Here’s to another year and your path, wherever it takes you and your photography.

Cats in Windows, A lesson in back-lighting

Zeb with fill flash. Check out the great rim lighting on his fluffy tail!

Cats love windows. They can spend hours watching the world fly by or basking in the warm rays of the sun. They are so very cute and snugly and you just want to capture an image of them, but the lighting is against you. So what’s a photographer to do?

Back lighting is a tricky shooting situation, one you’ll often run into with many different subjects. The problem is that the light is behind the subject, not illuminating it, so the subject is in shadow. You would prefer light shining on your subject, but the silly cat wants to sit in the window! So we’ll look at several options you can try to capture your beautiful cat or any back lit subject.

Exposure Review

First let’s briefly review exposure. When you frame an image in the view finder, the camera averages all of the reflected or direct light in the frame. It then sets an aperture, shutter speed and ISO to get the exposure or end result. In the manual modes, you control one or all of these settings, but there are only certain combinations that will give the results you want.  If you’re a beginner, the camera will choose for you.

The exposure varies widely depending on how much of the subject you have in the frame vs how much brightly lit background you have included. The less of the bright background included, the better.

I recommend reviewing how to use exposure compensation in the owners manual if you are not savvy with your camera settings.

Now for those tips for dealing with back-lighting!

Fill Flash (Beginner & Advanced)

The simplest thing to do is pop up the flash, which gives you fill lighting. The flash lights up the shadow areas on the subject so they show up against the bright background. It’s magic! The camera automatically figures out how much light to fire from the flash, so this is a great starting point for the beginner. However, it does not allow you to control the background exposure which will vary widely from really blown out to slightly blown out depending on how bright it is.

Buggs with fill flash

If you want to control the background exposure, you need to know how to set exposure in the manual modes. Use the camera meter to set an exposure for the background and then pop up the flash. This gives you a properly exposed background and subject.

Background exposure set to +1 and fill flash

Expose for the Subject (Beginner & Advanced)

The most important part of any image is the subject. So if you have bad lighting, expose for the subject and let the background do whatever it’s going to do. There are two ways to do this, the precise method and the zen method. For precision, change the metering method to spot metering. Meter the subject and set the exposure using manual mode or exposure lock in aperture or shutter priority. This is for advanced camera users. If you’re a beginner use the zen method below.

The zen method involves bracketing several exposures with the default metering method, matrix/evaluative metering, unless you’ve changed it. Bracketing is a technique used to take multiple exposures of the same lighting situation to find the exposure you like. For instance you’ll set exposure compensation to take an image at 0, + 1 and +2, then compare them to find the one you like best.

Some cameras have a setting to do this automatically or you can manually change the exposure in the manual modes. If you’re a beginner, use your owners manual to figure out how to use exposure compensation, then the camera will automatically change settings for you.

The result is a properly exposed subject and blown out background. Try to eliminate as much background as possible and fill your frame with your subject. This decreases the amount of bright light in the frame and can help get a good exposure on your subject.

Spot metering on Oz set to +2/3, no flash. Note that background is completely washed out. Same location as image above.

Go with the silhouette! (Beginner & Advanced)

A silhouette is created when there is a lot of contrast between the subject and the background. You will underexpose, make very dark, the subject and have a properly exposed or overexposed background. Try exposing for the background and see what you get. The brighter the background the better the silhouette. The higher the contrast the better.

If you’re a beginner bracket the exposures until you get a good background exposure and a really dark almost black subject.

It’s important that the subject be recognizable if you use this technique, so profiles are best.

Oz back-lit by the setting sun

Use HDR (Advanced)

If you have a very still subject or still life, then HDR, High Dynamic Range, photography is an option. Find the exposure for the background and then find the exposure for the subject. Take both of those images and then take exposures at one stop intervals to fill in the gap between. Combine the images using an HDR program . This result usually gives you an obviously stylized HDR effect, but it’s an option and has some fun results. Check your camera to see if it has a built in  HDR feature such as Canon’s 5D Mark III.

HDR of Oz using Googles HDR Efex Pro 2

Practice each of the above methods and let me know what works best for you. You’re welcome to post some of your results on my Facebook page for comments and critique. Have fun and happy shooting!

A New Beginning

After a rough couple of years caring for my elderly father, he passed away last December. I have spent the past 2 months moving through this time trying to rediscover what my goals are and where my ambitions lie. I’m not close to any answers yet, but I am once more drawn to working on my photography. There is a sense of satisfaction and joy in crafting a beautiful image and teaching these skills to others.

Late summer Milky Way Galaxy at Ravens Roost, Blue Ridge Parkway


My last post back in March of 2016 was introducing my first e-book. I am proud of that work and hope that it helps beginning photographers learn useful information while having fun doing it. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out on Amazon here. My graphic artist friend did an amazing job making the book pleasing to look at and easy to read.

I am now working on my second e-book in the Beginning shots series. This book, Create Beautiful Images – Basic Composition and Lighting, will be chock full of image examples. Look for it later this year.

Classes at PVCC in Charlottesville, VA continue this spring. Beginning LIghtroom (starts next week!), Street/Travel Photography and Beginning Nature Photography are all on the agenda. Check those classes out here!

So I apologize for dropping the blog for the past year. We’ll see where this new life will take me.

PS Let me know if you like the design of my new blog. Any comments are appreciated. It’s not quite where I want it yet!

New E-book for Beginning Photographers

cover beg

I’ve finally finished my first E-book, Getting to Know Your Digital Camera! This is the culmination of years of teaching my beginning photography classes. I wanted to create a book packed with information in a fun, easy to read and view format for new photographers.  With the help of my wonderful Graphic artist friend, Cynthia Gisiner, I believe I achieved my goal! She created a beautiful format for the book and designed a smashing cover.

I have come to love teaching and hope students find this book useful. My plan is to continue with a series of beginner, intermediate and advanced books. I also have plans to add small video clips to enhance the teaching experience. The book format can support this so I can’t wait to get started on that as well.

So a copy for yourself or as a gift for the aspiring photographer in your life.  I’ve kept the price low, only $4.99! It’s available through the Kindle store on Even if you don’t have a Kindle, most any device will support the Kindle reading app. Use this link to access my book on Amazon: Getting to Know Your Digital Camera

I appreciate all of the students that have made this book possible and everyone in my life that supports what I do.

Below is the full description of the book:

Learn the basics of your digital camera in a fun, easy to read manual with plenty of practice exercises so you can get shooting! Cameras help us capture the moments of our lives; so don’t miss out on learning how to make the most of your camera. We’ll start at the beginning with a digital primer. In it we’ll demystify megapixels, file size, file formats, and types of cameras. Then we’ll address basic navigation of the camera and learn some terminology. Once we have the basics set up we’ll learn a little about how the camera works. Understanding a few key features will make photographing so much more enjoyable and then you can move onto the fun stuff – making beautiful memorable pictures.

A solid foundation in photography comes from understanding the basics of how the camera works and sees the world around us. So you’ll get a primer on exposure, light, shutter speeds, and aperture. Then I’ll teach you how to choose the proper shooting mode for the situation, get sharp images by paying attention to how much light you have, avoid unwanted colorcasts, control how bright or dark the image is, know when to use the flash and when to avoid it, and so much more. Don’t worry; I will not force you to learn full manual control of the camera, yet. If you have a desire to move on, I’ll have a book for that in my Intermediate Shots series.

This book is also great for those of you unsure what type of camera to buy and for those of you looking to upgrade. Get an overview on camera types and the variety of shooting modes and what they can do in various shooting situations.

This guide, the first in a series, will give you a solid foundation in photography. These books are drawn on 12 years of teaching photography to people like you and me. Continue on to learn about composing the image and seeing great light in my next Beginning Shots e-book, Create Beautiful Images. Want more? I plan to take you to the Intermediate and Advanced levels as well. Stay tuned!

Some testimonials from former students:

“In reflecting on earlier workshops and private lessons I took with you I realize how much you provided me with inspiration and instruction for photograph. Please continue your classes and workshops to positively influence others. As you know good teachers are rare and you are one.” Morris L.

“Fantastic and fun learning experience – as I’ve come to expect from Victoria! Love the humor!” Dana T.

“I enjoyed the class and was a true novice with my camera and I’m not so afraid of it now. “ Connie H.

For more testimonials visit

Share with your friends!!!

Persistence wins the day

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Critters are notorious for vexing you. They can’t be found, they’re walking away, they’re too far away, they’re in the wrong light, you’re not ready, the list of problems goes on and on. What to do? Keep trying!

My friend has a little ornamental pond in their yard and they have a bunch of happy green frogs. I visited one evening and spied quite a few of them. Despite a good number of fairly tolerant subjects, it was still a challenge to get a good shot.

Some individuals were more shy than others. Moving off when I got too close.


Some had a terrible background.


Others were not interested in posing properly either. Just sitting, sitting and sitting there, sigh….



I just kept bidding my time. Patience is not my strong point, but finally this little guy turned around, but only for a moment. I got a couple shots before he jumped off.



And this guy had a nice little water bubble around his feet. He was my favorite of the evening.



So keep trying. Of the 55 images I took, which is not much for me – it was getting pretty dark, I got a couple of keepers. Sometimes I come up empty handed as well. It’s the challenge of finding the right moment that makes it all worth it in the end.



Finding Focus

Bear Eye

This post is philosophical and a bit rambley, so bear with me. I constantly struggle with focus and motivation. Everyone tells me it’s so great you’re pursuing your passion. The accolades they give far exceed how I personally feel. I do love creating an image, I love the chase of wildlife and getting that awesome shot, I love teaching people photography. These are all gratifying to me, but the day to day grind is more difficult. Working from home, alone is hard. Getting up and getting going is not easy. It’s easier to lose myself in a book, play a video game, clean the house, organize, anything other than doing the things that actually do give me a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day. It’s like trying to hike up a huge mountain. I feel great when I’ve accomplished my goal, but those first few steps are hard to get going. It’s so much easier to take the level path back to bed, to the book or the game. Justifying I’ll get to it all later. Then I start to question whether it is all worth it? Am I really doing what I want to do? Where is the passion, the wake up and drive? You hear about these people. Do I not have the passion? Am I lazy? People seem to think it just happens, I’m not so sure. Maybe for a select few, but I think it’s a lot harder than that. Or do you need to create the passion, fake it until you make it so to speak.

So what to do? There’s the slogan, ‘Just do it’. There’s a lot to be said for that. Don’t think too hard, just go into the office and start working. But you have to have a plan, focus or else you’ll flounder and soon I’m clicking on the video game. What goal do I want to accomplish? I want to get a book published. Ok there’s a goal, but good grief, where do you start? It boggles the mind. So calm down and write out a list of steps. Make it fun, use big paper and colored markers or even crayons – they aren’t just for kids! Do a little research to flesh out the steps. Now pick a step and do it. It takes patience to get a huge goal accomplished but it’s well worth it in the end. So today I picked up my big pad of paper and jotted down my major goals. It was pretty easily actually, then wrote out some steps. The first one was writing this blog. So there you go, one thing down, now onto the next step.

I’m starting to feel a little better. Each day is a new battle or challenge – yes that’s a more positive word. So stay positive! Little steps and don’t be too hard on yourself.