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!

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



Spring Time Photography in Charlottesville, VA

Spring is at hand, despite this late winter storm. The spring ephemerals are on their way. These flowers bloom before the trees leaf out and obscure the light. They are fleeting, small and beautiful to behold. Take a walk in the woods around the area to catch a glimpse. Places to go are the Monticello trail, Ivy Creek Natural Area, The Rivanna Trail System and Chris Greene Lake to name a few.

  Walk slowly and look down to find them emerging from the leaf litter. Go early in the morning for soft light or a cloudy day for diffuse light. A close-up lens will help you get close to these tiny beauties. If you don’t have a close-up/macro lens you can get an extension tube to use with an existing lens and help you focus closer. Extension tubes go between the camera and lens. Or a very inexpensive option is go get close up filters you attach to the end of the lens to magnify a subject.

In order to get good depth of field a tripod is highly recommended. This slows you down and gives you a better quality image. It’s hard to hand hold in low light and get a sharp image of your flowers. Also avoid windy days, unless you want to try blur techniques.

Regardless, it’s not too early to get out and start looking! Join me for my Spring Shooting Series. We’ll meet weekly to visit a new location and photograph what spring has to offer us. Visit  for more information on this and other Spring Classes.


April Events in Charlottesville

Farmers Market Tulips

Spring has sprung and there is so much to explore! Not sure where to find cool locations to do some shooting. Here are a few options:

The Farmers Market downtown opens this Saturday April 7th at 7:30am. Great opportunities for shooting. Get there early for good light and to avoid the crowds. By 9a that place is packed and hard to photograph!


The Carnival for the Dogwood Festival opens April 12th and runs through April 29th. I love shooting here at night. The rides and lights are great fun. Hours are M-F 6-11p, Saturday 1-11p and Sunday 1-7p. It’s free if you don’t go on any rides. The Fireworks are Friday the 13th for even more fun. Weeknights M-Thursday will be best to avoid the crowds. Watch the weather.

Dogwood Carnival

The Dogwood Parade is scheduled for April 28th.

Historic Garden week is April 21-29th. Places around here are open the 21st, 22nd and 23rd – several homes in Keswick, Monticello, Morven and the Lawn gardens – but you can do those anytime!

Rotunda and Daffodils

UVA grounds – the gardens are really nice this time of year! Go during the mornings for best light. Park by the Tennis Courts to avoid getting towed.

Ivy Creek Natural Area – wildflowers, trails, streams and barn. The barn will officially reopen on April 21st 2-4p. Join us for the ceremony and tours!

Ivy Creek Natural Area

The Saunders-Monticello Trail that leads from the parking area at the beginning of Rte 53 up to Monticello is 2 miles long with scenic trails, boardwalks and some views. There are numerous side trails to explore and plenty of parking in the overflow lot off of Rte 20 across from PVCC’s main entrance. Lots of nice blooming trees right now.

Saunders-Monticello Trail

So take some time on one of these lovely days and get out to do some shooting!

Wildflowers Monticello Trail