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.



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.

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!

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.

Photo Cheat Sheet from Hamburger Fotospots

Trying to learn how the camera works can be daunting. I teach beginning, intermediate and advanced classes and even though there are only a few settings, the combinations of settings and variables make for a wide variety of options and results. My students often retake classes so they can continue to practice and pick up information they missed the first time around.

This cheat card from Daniel Peters at is a good basic start. It shows the basics of how ISO, aperture and shutter speed will affect the picture. Aperture affects how much of the image will be sharp based on where you focus, shutter speeds affects if the image is sharp or blurry and the ISO affects grain in the image. It’s a cool beginning tool all in one diagram.


Shooting Fireworks


Firework displays are fun to watch and I can’t possibly pass up any opportunity to make some images, so here are a few tips for shooting fireworks.

1. Turn the autofocus feature off on the lens. Move the focus ring to infinity. It’s difficult for most cameras to focus accurately and quickly in the dark. So pre focus ahead of time. To get the best accuracy, autofocus the lens you will use in daylight on something far away. Then turn autofocus off and tape the focus ring with electrical tape. Now you’re all set. You’ll notice the most accurate focus reads slightly off the infinity mark.

2. Use manual mode. You’ll be adjusting the shutter speeds to get the proper exposure. I don’t use the histogram for this type of photography, I just view the image on the screen to see how it looks.

3. I set my ISO to 400 or 800 and f stop to 4 or 5.6, depending on the lens. Depth of field is fairly irrelevant for this type of shooting. White balance to Auto.

4. Use a tripod. It gets tiresome to stand and hold the camera up at an angle for very long. Most firework shows last 30-45 minutes. A tripod that is taller than you is best, you don’t have to squat down at an awkward angle to look through the viewfinder. Once you know where they are shooting you can just stand back and press the shutter button.

5. Use a remote control or trigger release cord. I prefer the trigger release better as the remote often requires you to use it from the front of the camera. That is where the sensor is. If the camera is pointed up towards the sky, it may be awkward to use a remote. The trigger release attaches to a port usually on the side of the camera. Now you can just sit back and click the trigger when a burst goes up. Once I’m set up I don’t even bother looking through the viewfinder.

6. I use a wide angle zoom lens, 16-35mm. If you’re really far away you might need a telephoto. Fireworks can be quite spread out and you want to make sure you have plenty of space in the image for them to fill up.

7. Shutter speed will vary depending on how bright the fireworks are. Typical single shot fireworks came out well with an ISO of 400, aperture of 5.6 and shutter speed of 1-2 seconds. The image below was made with those settings.


Whereas this image of a much brighter show was shot at ISO 400, aperture 5.6 and a speed of 1/3 second.


Both images were shot at 24mm on a tripod with a Canon 5D MarkII set to Auto White Balance.

The finale can get quite bright, so bracket your shutter speeds faster so you don’t end up with a blown out display like this:



Get there early to get a good spot and bring a red flashlight so you can see your camera and preserve your night vision. It may take you a few shots to figure out the best focal length, and shutter speed settings. But once you’re set you can sit back and shoot away!

If you live in the Charlottesville area there is a show tonight at dark at McIntire Park celebrating the Dogwood Festival.


Grooming the Scene

Spring is here, time to get shooting!   I love shooting the spring ephemerals. These wildflower gems pack a lot of beauty in a tiny package. However, due to their small size there may be a lot of distractions around them. I like my subject to stand out from the background. This involves choosing a subject that has as clean a background as possible. Despite your best efforts, there are usually distracting elements around your subject. It may be another plant, bright or dark spots, color, pollen, dead leaves, anything that draws the eye of the viewer away from the subject is distracting.

Distracting elements in the image below are sheen on the leaf, the leaf of another plant in the lower left and a dead leaf on the right leaf near the bottom.


The first problem I addressed was the sheen on the leaf. This was resolved by using a circular polarizer. This removes sheen and lets the color of the subject come through. This is why everything looks better through polarized sun glasses.

The next thing I did was recompose slightly to the right and tuck the offending leaf out of the way. The rule here is ‘Tuck don’t Pluck’. This image was taken on public land, so don’t go messing up the environment and ripping stuff up. I often times gently tuck a leaf or blade of grass out of the way. Finally I removed the dead leaf on the right leaf near the base. I have no qualms rearranging a few dead leaves.


This image is better but there is another leaf encroaching in the lower right corner. The color of the leaf draws your eye away from the main subject.


Here, I’ve tucked the lower right leaf out of the way. It’s looking much better, but there is a tall green grass stem sticking up on the right side intersecting the tip of the right leaf and creating a competing line with the main subject. I tucked this out of the way and WaLa!


The final uncluttered image with no major distracting elements.

Good nature photography takes time and patience. Compose and take a shot. Then review it! Ask yourself what worked and what needs improvement. Do you have distracting elements? If so can you groom them out of the scene without tearing anything up?

Grooming your scene helps the subject to stand out. Never pluck or damage surrounding plants.

Use a tripod! As you see this took several shots to get the final one. Having the camera on a tripod eliminates the need to find the perfect spot again and helps you notice some of the distractions prior to pressing the shutter button.

This series is of a Showy Orchis that I photographed at Ivy Creek Natural Area. Other local Charlottesville areas good for photographing wildflowers are Secluded Farm at Monticello trails and Preddy Creek Natural Area. Happy Shooting!

Larger than life

Spring Peeper
Spring Peeper – 100mm Macro lens

I like to photograph almost anything in nature. This past weekend I spend some time looking for salamanders and frogs. These guys are small and low to the ground, so how do you capture them?

First off you need to get low. Down on their level. This means the proper clothing and knee protection. I always wear my rain pants so I can wallow around in the mud and wet leaves. Knee pads or a garden pad are great ideas to protect your knees – we’re not getting any younger. A couple of Ibuprofen may also be in your arsenal to help with those aches and pains of getting low!

A macro lens, extension tube or close-up filters help you focus close and make your subject bigger if you’re using a DSLR or mirror-less system. If you’re using a point and shoot camera, then switch to macro mode. This is marked with a flower usually. This mode will allow you to focus closer. Try not to use the zoom when in the this mode, unless you can’t get close enough to the subject.

A macro lens is the best as it will render your subject life size on the sensor at it’s closest focusing distance. They have wonderful quality and a wide range of f stops, often opening up to 2.8. They also make great portrait lenses so you have multiple uses for them. They usually come in 50mm, 60mm, 100mm, 180mm, and 200mm focal lengths depending on your manufacturer. I prefer the 100mm for it’s size, distance to subject and  focal length. However, this may not be in everyone’s budget.

An extension tube is a great alternative that I used for years with my 70-200mm lens until I could afford the 100mm macro. This is a hollow tube that goes between your camera and the lens. It changes the focal length of the lens so it will now focus closer and it doesn’t impact the quality of the lens you are using unlike the close-up filters.  I also used it to great effect on my 400mm lens by reducing the 11.5 foot minimum distance. Now I was able to focus on a subject out in the water that I couldn’t get real close to but was closer than 11.5′ and still make him good sized in the image.

Bull Frog - 400mm lens with  25mm extension tube
Bull Frog – 400mm lens with 25mm extension tube

The cheapest method, but also lowest quality, are close up filters. These are essentially magnifier filters that enlarge the subject. They are an economical way to get started and see if you like this type of photography.

Armed with your set up, get low and get close. This brings your subject to life! You don’t want to have to crop 75-90% of your image to see your subject.

Marbled Salamander
Marbled Salamander – 100mm macro lens