Be ready to Grab Opportunities when they come your way

Last week I was working in my home office. It was a dreary, cloudy day, when suddenly I noticed this beautiful warm light filtering through the windows. I looked outside and the sun was beaming through the trees across the street. I’m thinking, “That’s really pretty, I should go see what I can do with it”. As I get up to go grab a camera, a friend calls. I chat with him briefly and then look outside again. “Well, I can still get out there in time, I think:.  Then I race downstairs as I am filled with a sense of urgency. Grabbing my camera, I head outside in my slippers and house clothes.

I loved the starburst effect through the trees, but the sun was getting too low to do much and the foreground by the trees was not great.The area behind my house is all new homes and construction, so there’s a lot of junk in the foregrounds. The clouds were quite nice, so I’m thinking, “Maybe the after sunset color will be good”. It’s so hard to tell sometimes. I wandered down the street as the sun sunk below the horizon, looking for a vantage point. There was great fog cover over the river in the background, but I couldn’t get up high enough to capture it. You can barely see it in the image I posted.

But you should never give up! I was wandering back when the clouds lit up. The image does not do it justice. Soft molten gold is as close as I can describe. I was shooting tree silhouettes, when one tree stood out from the rest. This was it! After a few test exposures, I was happy as a clam, changing compositions and enjoying every moment of a spectacular sunset as my husband was hollering for dinner in the background. “Just a few more minutes,” I holler back. He’s a good and understanding partner!

This is one of my favorite sunset images to date. You never know what will come your way, so don’t hesitate when it does. Run out and grab it!

Photographing Lovejoy

This past weekend I tried my hand at shooting the comet Lovejoy. I had lovely clear skies Friday evening and caught my first glimpse of the comet. It’s a cool fuzzy green blob below the Pleiades. I trained my long 300-800mm lens on it, but it was hard to get much with the lens. It’s slow at f5.6, not ideal for astrophotography. Combining that with the long length meant I couldn’t use shutter speeds much fast than 2-3 seconds before the stars lost their pin point brilliance. My Canon 5D MarkII has good ISO quality up to 3200. 6400 was ok, but the HI and H2 were too noisy to use. I also forgot to pre focus the lens to infinity during daylight hours, so the first batch of shots weren’t great.

I pulled out my 70-200 f 2.8 lens and had much better luck. The infinity mark on this lens was spot on and the 2.8 aperture combined with less focal length allowed me to get longer shutter speeds and some decent images. So I’ve got a cool fuzzy green blob on a field of stars. I’ll take it!

Key points to remember prior to shooting objects at night with basic camera photo gear:

  • Prefocus all lenses to infinity and tape the focus ring down
  • Turn off autofocus
  • Have a red light headlamp
  • Shoot in manual
  • Use the widest aperture you have – a 2.8 or wider lens is best
  • Start with ISO 3200 and go from there
  • Take the lens focal length and divide into 500 for the longest shutter speed you can use without significant star streaks, ie 200mm into 500 is 2.5 seconds, 20mm into 500 is 25 seconds, 100mm into 500 is 5 seconds, etc…
  • Don’t even try this without a tripod
  • Use your cable release or remote control
  • Consider long exposure noise reduction, but this does double the time to take each image
  • Mirror lock up not really necessary as the shutter speeds are too long. Mirror lock up is best for speeds between 1/15 and 1 second long
  • Figure out ahead of time where your object is located in the night sky and have a star chart or app available to help you find it.
  • Find a dark sky location away from light pollution

One day I’d love to have a telescope to shoot through and the ability to track the earth’s rotation. Something to look forward to. In the meantime I’ll drool over the spectacular shots other astrophotographers got. See this link for some examples:

Here’s my shot:

comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy


Aurora Printing

Witnessing the Northern Lights is a once in a lifetime experience. Photographing them does not do them justice,but it’s an incredible reminder of my journey. I of course shot  hundreds of images, but after careful editing, I have about a dozen that I really like. They are brilliantly displayed on my monitor, but I want to make Christmas Cards for this year. So off to Red River Paper I go! They have a wonderful selection of paper options for cards, both glossy and matte finishes. While I have traditionally printed on matte papers for my fine art prints, I feel these images will look best on a glossy paper. Glossy papers along with photo black inks do a better job rendering black than a matte paper ink combo. Since these images have a lot of black in them, I’m going gloss.

Since I’m not sure which paper will work best I got Red Rivers Card sampler pack. I would also like to offer these images for sale as prints, so I decided to give the Polar Pearl Metallic a try. Metallic papers give an interesting 3D shimmer to the image on top of the glossy finish. The Aurora Borealis seems like a perfect subject for this!

I quickly got my papers. I had to change out my matte black ink for the photo black on my Epson 7800. Relatively easy process. Newer printers often have both ink sets installed, so you don’t have to go through it; saving you ink and time. However, I discovered my Epson 7800 doesn’t handle the small 7″ x 10″ size of paper for cards, so I tried using my Epson 3520 workhorse, the office printer. The workhorse Epson did a fantastic job of handling the card paper and rendering true colors just using the printers built in color management. Hooray, my goal of printing cards is still alive. I tested all of the glossy card options from Red River and decided on their most popular glossy card paper: Pecos River Gloss. It has a nice weight and great gloss with deep crisp blacks.

Now onto the metallic paper. I’ve wanted to try this paper for a while, but haven’t had a subject worthy of it, so here we go! I downloaded Red Rivers color profile for the paper and installed it. They have great directions to do this. It’s easy to do, you just need to make sure the profile goes in the right folder so Lightroom or Photoshop know where to get it. I’m using Lightroom to print everything by the way. The profile worked great. The prints had deep crisp blacks with accurate colors and brightness. I was quite pleased. I also enjoy the shimmery metallic sheen for the aurora. It brings them to life.

Choosing the right printer, paper and ink set can be daunting. It’s taken me lots of research and years to get to where I am. I started with Epson’s 1280 so many years ago.  So get a good photo printer if you want to do a lot of printing/selling and don’t be afraid to try some of the all in one models for simple jobs like making cards!


Tales from the Northwest Territories – Bucket List – The Northern Lights

Aurora dances over Prosperous Lake
Aurora dances over Prosperous Lake

Nothing short of a divine experience, the lights play across the sky, dancing and writhing, expanding and contracting, undulating color changes. The stars shine so brightly, the Big Dipper pops from the sky, the Pleiades twinkle like I’ve never seen and the Milky Way flows a river of stars across the sky.

We had 4 wonderfully clear nights to experience the Aurora in Yellowknife, NWT. I look forward to more Aurora experiences next year. My friend Rod Barbee and I plan to run another workshop up there in September 2015. Let me know if you’re interested. You won’t regret it!!!

Not to mention there’s great fall color in the boreal forest, a couple of lovely waterfalls and even some wildlife sightings; we saw wolves, otters, beaver, eagles and fox.

Shooting the aurora is relatively easy, but does require a thorough set up. I highly recommend How to Photograph the Northern Lights . This book explains shooting this phenomenon in plain terms for all levels of the DSLR user.

Aurora swirls above
Aurora swirls above
Milky Way with aurora
Milky Way with aurora
Dancing lights
Dancing lights



Tales from the Northwest Territories – The Man Who Cried Bear

Bear Silhouette

Danny cried bear and our fearless leaders bounded off the road in our all-terrain minivans. Everyone quickly focused on the beast standing across a pond. It patiently waited there unmoving, with it’s mouth slightly open, gazing. Frame after frame was eagerly shot as everyone vied for position and tried to keep quiet. A few minutes into the shoot, we began to wonder why it had not moved a hair. Shooting stopped and images were reviewed close-up. I guess the fact it was a target of wood answered that question. Exclamations of amusement broke from the group as we noticed our folly. A grand joke upon us and much ribbing for the son of Badger – but he took it in stride. It was a good spot. At least my Bison silhouette was real, if no less elusive.

Tips for shooting in Cold weather

Snow laden trees - Yellowstone
Snow laden trees – Yellowstone

Well it’s a frosty one out today! I enjoy shooting all times of year and I need to make sure I’m prepared. So here are a few tips for shooting in cold weather.

Cold weather for me is below freezing. Most cameras will work fine in this weather but the colder it gets the harder it is on the gear.

  1. Keep your batteries warm. The colder it is the faster the batteries lose power. I usually use a hand or foot warmer and rubber band or tape it over the battery compartment. The spare battery I keep under my coat close to my body.
  2. Check to see if your equipment has weather sealing. Many cameras & lenses today are weather sealed, but many are not. Weather sealing prevents moisture from getting inside the working area of a camera or lens. Moisture can ruin the electronics or cause residue that compromises image quality.
    • If you do not have weather sealing on your gear, put it in a sealed plastic bag, remove as much air as possible and place desiccant or rice in the bag to absorb moisture as you move it between climates. Letting it warm up or cool down slowly, over 30 minutes, is the best bet.
  3. When moving the camera from warm to cold or cold to warm, leave it in your camera bag and let it cool off or warm up slowly, usually around 30 minutes. Frankly I just leave everything in the backpack and remove the batteries and media cards prior to moving between environments.
  4. Make sure you are comfortable. Frozen hands and toes will impair your creative abilities and enjoyment of shooting in cold weather. Here’s a list of my cold weather gear:
    • hand and foot warmers
    • multiple wicking layers of clothing
    • ski pants for wallowing around in the snow
    • boots rated for cold weather
    • a wool hat
    • mittens or fingerless gloves over a thin layered glove that covers my fingers
    • lots of kleenex or handkerchief, frozen nose discharge is gross gentlemen
    • gators – keeps deep snow out of your boots
    • extra pair of socks in case they get wet
    • yaktrax for gripping on icy/snowy ground
    • insulated thermos for the hot beverage of your choice
    • a towel to wipe moisture off gear
    • plastic baggies to protect gear if it gets really wet out


Happy New Year and Happy shooting!

Directional Light for portraits

Light is paramount to your images. Understanding light will improve your craft. Today we’ll talk a little about the direction of the light. Straight on frontal light often results in an evenly lit boring subject. You are taking a 3 dimensional subject and rendering it 2 dimensional in a picture. The last thing you want to do is make the subject more 2 dimensional by erasing any shadows that give depth and modeling to the subject.

On camera flash is one source of frontal light. This straight on light washes the subject out and erases any depth or dimension to the subject. Also using the old technique of placing the sun behind you and having your subjects stare into the sun. Not only is there no depth to the subject, but they are cranky and squinting.

Frontal flash
Frontal flash

So work on finding ways to change the direction of the light. When outdoors find an overhang and face the subject so the light comes in at an angle, usually around 30-60 degrees to give depth to the face.

Under bridge to create side light
Under bridge to create side light

Get a flash for your camera with a rotating head. This way you can bounce the light off of a wall or ceiling. Use window light and adjust the subject so it is lighting the side of their face.

Side window light
Side window light
Side window light only
Side window light only

Observe how the light strikes your subject. Look at portraits made by professionals and see how the light is striking the subject. All of this will teach you to see better and subsequently make better images.

Nature Photography Workshop this weekend

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens is hosting a one day workshop filled with nature photography seminars this Saturday.

For more information visit:

The lineup includes a number of local photographers including Ben Greenberg, Lynda Richardson, Bill & Linda Lane and more.

So check it out if you have an interest in nature photography.

I’ll be joining the group next year, so save the date September 27th, 2014.

Catching Up


sunset Albemarle
Sunset Albemarle – December 2007

I continuously preach to my students to keep up with their catalogs. Do a shoot, download, backup, organize, keyword and edit the good ones. Get it done! Keep up or you’ll end up with thousands of images sitting listlessly on your computer with no way to find them. Well we’re all lazy to some degree! I’m no exception, I have images going back years that I haven’t cataloged yet. Usually shoots that were not very exciting or the shoot was so big – 1000’s of images that I identified some of the good ones but haven’t had the fortitude to go through them all. So they sit.

So how do you keep up with your images? HAVE A GOAL

  1. Social Media – I do much better if I have a goal for the images in mind. Sharing on Social media is a great goal. It’s fun to share your images and you feel good from all of the responses and ‘Likes’ you get! You might even have someone ask to buy a print.
  2. Make a Gift – If that doesn’t stimulate you then how about a gift for someone? Christmas is coming. Make a photo book for someone or cards or a calendar of your favorites. Images are a personal gift and can brighten someones day.
  3. Join a Group – Having images for critique is very stimulating. Joining a local camera club such as Charlottesville Camera Club or the Charlottesville Photography Intiative. Sharing images with others and talking about it in person is a great way to improve your photography and get them organized!
  4. Contests – There are a lot of local contests, both in the camera clubs mentioned above, through PEC – Piedmont Environmental Council and Virginia Wildlife. Local groups often sponsor contests with prizes and in return they might use your image and you get to see it printed or up in ‘lights’.
  5. Donations – Many nonprofits are looking for donations to raise money or decorate their spaces. Another feel good and tax deductible goal for your images.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the backlog! Today I found a small folder of images from a sunset back before Christmas in 2007. Yes I did say some were pretty old! Here are a few of them, not bad for 6 years ago!

Slowly start chipping away at the backlog, but foremost don’t let the new shoots languish. Try to catalog them as soon as possible and share, share, share! It’ll brighten your day as well as someone else.

PS – If you don’t have a cataloging program I highly recommend Lightroom, inexpensive and relatively easy to use. I have a class starting on October 15th at PVCC that covers it from the beginning.


Zoom Blur

Zoom blur is a funky technique where you zoom the lens while the shutter is open. This gives a funneling effect. You should choose a subject that is symmetrical or has a strong point that you want to zoom into. This will be the only clear part of the image. The surrounding area will blur down to the point.

Make sure you have a relatively uniform background with texture. You need to have something that will give the streak effect when you zoom.

I typically use a shutter speed around 1/15th of a second or slightly slower in shutter priority. Aperture doesn’t matter so much except to get a good exposure.

Courtesy Carmen Lynch

A tripod is very helpful as it allows you to keep a steady focus on the subject while you quickly zoom the lens, usually wide to telephoto.

Some of my students have come up with pretty cool effects!

Courtesy Phuong Opper