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


My Morning with the Merganser’s

Hooded Merganser Pair
Hooded Merganser Pair
I crawl out of bed long before sunrise, dress, eat and drive to a pond in Crozet, VA. Grabbing 25 pounds of gear I trek across a lumpy wet grass field to my blind.  A quick check with my headlamp confirms no creepy critter has taken up residence so I move in for the morning. I set up my tripod, lens and attach camera; now the waiting begins. I am hunting – hunting ducks or whatever else will pose for me near my blind.
Bathing drake Hooded Merganser

Why go through the trouble?   The experience is sooo worth it! It starts with an overwhelming chorus of frogs and toads, a trilling to lift your heart. Then there’s the red wing blackbirds flitting about and screeching their special song. Suddenly they appear, the Hooded Merganser pair, a drake and hen. They winter here in Virginia, you just never think to find them in Central Virginia.

Hooded merganser hen stretching wings
Stretching Wings
Hooded Merganser Hen
It’s still too dark to get any good images, but I shoot a couple anyway, I’ll delete them later. Finally it starts to lighten and they have moved off. This is why I shot a couple earlier you never know how long they’ll stay around and I have to have at least one image! As the sun starts to come up, they come back, thank goodness. They are swimming around looking for breakfast. A tasty toad or frog. Smackdown wrestling takes place as the hen twists, dunks and slams the frog around before gulping it down whole.  Makes my stomach squirm just thinking about it!


Wrestling Frog

Next they bathe, the joy of water and rearing up to stretch their wings and realign those pesky feathers. Time for preening, a nap, more preening, a drink of water, more preening then, some sweet lovin’, however being pinned under the water doesn’t sound great to me, but it’s a bird thing. More bathing and preening, then off to find more frogs.

So I spent the last 2 mornings with the Merganser’s. It’s a ducks life!

Drake Hooded Merganser

Selective Focus


iron fence

Selective Focus allows you to make a subject stand out from the background or elements around it. When you press the shutter part way the camera focuses on a point a certain distance away. This depends on where you are focusing and how far away the subject is. This plane of focus is parallel to the plane of the sensor.

If you want the subject to stand out you need to set a low aperture to decrease the depth of field. So f 2.8 has a shallower depth of field than f 8, f16 or anything higher. Depth of field is how far in front of and behind the plane of focus that will be rendered sharp in the image. So if you want the subject to stand out you need a shallow depth of field or low f stop.

One final consideration is how far from the subject you are. The closer you get to the subject the easier it is to decrease the depth of field. So being inches from the subject as opposed to feet or being 5 feet as opposed to 10 feet away, will help decrease the depth of field.wine bottles

The example of the iron fence has the focus on the center fence spike with an f stop of 3.2 and I’m relatively close to the subject about 1 foot away.

The next image has the focus on the first wine bottle with f stop of 2.8. This makes it stand out from the others behind it.

The final example uses selective focus to highlight the grapes and then lets the grape picker go blurry but still be recognizable. To achieve this effect I am inches away from the grapes but need a higher f stop of 11 to render enough detail in the background.



Get the Right Colors!

Color Calibration between the monitor and prints has long been a thorn in the side of the photographer. When I first got involved with printing my own images on my Epson almost 10 years ago, nobody knew much of anything. There was one guy in the UK that shed some light on the subject, but there were few tools.

Well we’ve come a long way since then! Now it’s so easy to calibrate your monitor and printer. I recently got a Dell U2410 monitor. Dell says it’s color calibrated for sRGB and Adobe RGB from the factory. And boy did it look good when I plugged it in. Too good actually. Images that I had previously developed looked garish, bright and oversaturated. They were fine when printed. Hmmm a mismatch here.

So I got a Spyder4 from Datacolor the mid level Pro version. And boy was it easy to use. A huge improvement over their previous products. It measures the ambient light, the interface is simple – none of the adjusting brightness to make the logo disappear into the black – you know what I’m talking about if you’ve used older products.

And the results were spot on. Images perfectly matched from screen to my Epson 7800. So if you’re printing and need a solution I highly recommend the Spyder 4!


Icy Weekend

Hopefully you got a chance to get out and do some shooting this past weekend. The ice covering was beautiful to see. I ventured out in full winter gear, to stay warm and captured a couple of images. Both were done with a close up or macro lens to get close to the subject.

The problem with close up photography is the depth of field drops off dramatically. So trying to get the entire subject sharp even at f22 may not work. Or you may run into the background coming into focus too much and ruining the shot.

So break out the tripod and take several images changing where you focus each time at f5.6 or f8, then using Photoshop CS5’s auto blend feature or Helicon focus you can stack them to create a sharp image.You can do this manually using layers and masks in any Photoshop, but that’s like work, hours of it.

icy leaf curveicy leaves


People add Scale

Many natural wonders are so vast they are hard to express. I personally find the Grand Canyon overwhelming beyond belief! But other natural structures are vast as well. If you just photograph a waterfall or rock formation it may be technically great, compositionally pleasing, but the grand feel you felt from it is lost. What to do?

Add a sense of scale. Use a person in the image to scale the subject. Both of these images give a sense of the scale of the feature. The person on the bridge behind the rainbow is tiny! (My friend and fellow photographer Rod Barbee, check out  his site: www.barbeephoto.com). The person gives a sense of scale to the vast old growth forest and the waterfall in front of him.

The second image to a lesser degree also conveys a sense of scale. I posed my student Sam in this narrow area to show the size of where we were walking. I like the fact you can’t see the top or bottom. It leaves the scale to the imagination.

So next time you are overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of nature, add some scale!


Photo Business Tips – Who are you?

Want to start your photo business? Have a photo business and you’re flailing? There is a lot of work that goes into any business, but the most important part is you.

Who are you and want are you selling? You need to know who you are first, really and truly. Not the superhero in a perfect world you really want to be this way you, but the everyday you. If you paint yourself as something you are not then you are cheating yourself. Start with who you are, good and bad. Bond with it. This will define what you offer the world.

This is not a static thing however, you can change and grow into what you want, but you have to start with what you are. Have no idea how to start? I highly recommend Fast Track Photographer by Dane Sanders. It’s an eye opening experience on defining who you are and creating what you want to be.

Nothing good is easy, it’s hard work but well worth it. Try it out!




Lightroom Tip: Add pop to your image!

Ever have those dull lifeless images? Oftentimes this is the result of low contrast or lack of a good black point in the image. In the film darkroom it was important to have a print that had a black and white point. In other words a place on the print that has absolute black and absolute white. This creates contrast and results in an image with a good range of tones.

Not all images will have an absolute white or black point but most images will. So when your image looks flat and lifeless try this tip in Lightroom to boost the contrast and set the black point:

Under the basic tab go to the black slider. While holding down the Alt key AND left clicking on the slider the image goes white. Now move the slider slowly to the right until you see an area of black appear. Release the Alt key and see what the image looks like. There should be a definite increase in contrast which gives the image pop and will give more saturated colors.

These examples are from a hazy day shoot in Palouse, WA. The first image is flat but once I adjusted the black point the image has good color and life again.

Happy New Year!

So it’s cold and the landscape is barren. Most popular photography magazines say winter is a wonderful time to shoot and show you spectacular images of snowy landscapes and colossal mountains(well at least they look that way to east coasters). So unless you live out west and up north you are out of luck for consistent amazing snowy landscapes. We get a few here and there but they are few and far between. So what is there to do? While our landscapes are not the most inspiring this time of year, look to the details. Today we’ll look at ice formations.

While the temperatures may fluctuate wildly down here, up in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest it stays relatively cold and all of those weeping rocks you see driving along during the spring and summer turn into amazing ice formations.

I found these images a few miles down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ice creates interesting unique formations. Find some icicles or look for interesting patterns in a mass of ice. Also notice what the light is doing. The image on the right was taken at sunset and gives an interesting warm glow to an otherwise cold subject. The color of the light greatly influences the feel of an image.

I love close up patterns. Take your time and experiment with different views and focal lengths. Once you find a good shot don’t just click on auto and move on, use the camera and what you’ve learned. Set up your tripod and set the camera to manual. Adjust the depth of field to maximize how much of the ice is in focus and clear. Using a tripod will give you a sharp image since the shutter speed will not matter. All too often we are in a hurry. Why? Winter is a beautiful peaceful time of year. Make sure you are comfortable and warm. Slow down and create a few great images instead of running  from shot to shot like some caffeine crazed hyper psycho. SLOW DOWN and ENJOY the experience. Life is too short to run from thing to thing never remembering what you saw.

So bundle up and take a drive up the parkway/skyline drive, it’s incredibly uncrowded this time of year.Have fun, get up close and take your time! If you want to learn about how to get more out of your camera in the manual modes I have a ton of classes open for registration this spring in Charlottesville and Richmond. PVCC is registering and filling up fast, plus I offer one day workshops and private lessons. So click on Classes/Workshops above and sign up for some fun classes!

New Classes/Workshops Posted for Spring!

After a 2 week delay I finally have new classes and workshops posted on www.digiphotoclass.com. A back injury flare up had me confined to bed for a week or so. It was time well spend breaking in my new Dell 2410 monitor. A fabulous monitor with great color. It comes color calibrated from the factory and looks good when I hooked it up. The wide view is excellent for working in Lightroom, Photoshop and any program when you need several screens open at once.

So onto classes for the spring. PVCC is already registering for spring session. These fill fast so sign up soon. I highly recommend the Advanced Photography class for those of you that have taken everything else. This class was great fun to teach. We have classroom and field sessions, so join me in the spring!

I have a new HDR workshop. I will show you how to pick the right scene and shoot it then develop the images using Nik HDR Efex Pro. I also have another round of Macro and Action photography planned. Finally there are several workshops with my friend Rod Barbee, one here in the Blue Ridge Mountains and then out west in Palouse, WA. The image above is from an abandoned farm in the Palouse region developed with bi-color in Nik Color Efex Pro. So if you’re still looking for that perfect holiday gift consider giving a gift certificate for a class or workshop!

Have a wonderful Holiday season and I’ll see everyone again next year!