Saturday, December 22, 2012

Screensaver = Memorysaver

One of the true joys I get out of photography is when my computer falls asleep and the screensaver kicks in.  I have it set to cycle through my My Pictures directory, and it’s absolutely wonderful.  I can get mesmerized just sitting there watching it.  I'll see pictures come up that I'll have forgotten I had.  It's a real joy.
I’ve learned a few things too.  Once when a picture came up on the screen, I sat impatiently wanting to see the next one-- what a great litmus test for whether or not I should delete that image.  The second lesson that I learned (and have been pondering for a while), is that there are a lot of images that I've taken over the past several years that never show up.  I know why this is but never thought about it long enough to solve.  The pictures that I'm not seeing are those I started taking when I switched to shooting RAW instead of JPG.  I'm am forever glad I made that choice by the way, but there was this minor downside that I was willing to live with until I figured out a simple solution.  And the key to that solution was Adobe's Lightroom--arguably the best base software for serious photographers (used in concert with other software packages).  You see, the screensaver will only display JPGs and so what I needed to do was convert the RAW images I wanted to see in my screensaver to JPG.  But I didn't need full quality images and didn't want to have a bunch of big files and duplicate images on my computer.

Lightroom has the capability to publish images to external sources.  Most people use this capability to publish to Flickr or Smugmug (I do both).  But the beauty is that you can also publish locally to your own hard drive.  You might wonder why you'd want to do that?  There are several great uses, but I'll give you the one reason that's relevant here--it's so you can have a folder of small JPG images that the screensaver will be able to use along with the other JPG images you might have in your My Pictures directory. 
So, I created such a folder, and then selected the RAW images that I've got published on my website gallery ( and created a collection that I can publish any time I add new images to it--super easy, super simple.  Now my computer's screensaver is flashing ALL my great images when it kicks in, and bring back lots of great memories!!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What was I thinking?!

A couple of weeks ago I was outside with my camera just putzing around, and coming down the street were these two girls.  I wanted the shot, but felt awkward pointing the camera at them since I didn't know them.  So, I held the camera down near my gut and fired off several shots hoping my aim was close.  (by the way, THIS is why I want Nikon to add an articulating LCD to their D7000 successor !!!!)  Anyway, when I got back to the Lighroom, the images were a disaster--what was I thinking?!  In fact, I was only thinking about the idea of the image and not how to technically capture it.

You can see from the original that everything is wrong.  Instead of panning with them, my camera is steady so the background is sharp.  And instead of using a wide open aperature to help blur the background, I'm at f/8.0...great.  I was about to toss the image when I decided that I would try to salvage the idea by taking it in to Photoshop Elements and use the camera blur filter on the background.  I did that, and also de-saturated the background, but that still wasn’t enough to warrant keeping the image.  The idea I had just wasn't translating into the image.

So I tried one more thing.  I took the image to Silver Efex Pro 2 to get rid of all the color and strip the image down to just the ideas of motion, fun, and innocence.  I used several control points to emphasis parts of the main subject and other control points to minimize the visual weight of the background.  Taking the image back into Lightroom,  I normally like to add a darkening vignette to my images, but in this case I added a whitening vignette instead in order to add to that dreaminess idea. 

Now I think I have an image worth sharing…  Wouldn't it have been nice if I was THINKING when I made the original capture--would have saved lots of post processing time!!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

We Both Know More Than Each Other...

Situated on the campus of the California State University at Long Beach, the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden sits tucked away on 1.3 acres.  The hills and ponds of this Japanese-style garden was built through a donation from Mrs. Loraine Miller Collins in honor of her late husband Earl Burns Miller. Following three years of planning, and in collaboration with the University, Mrs. Miller Collins selected University master plan landscape architect and longtime friend Edward R. Lovell, ASLA to create its design. Construction began in the summer of 1980 and it was dedicated in the spring of 1981
I just recently had the opportunity to photograph these gardens as part of our Photographic Society of Orange County club’s monthly outing.  We had the run of the place for two hours and unlike normal hours, they allowed us to bring in tripods.  You can see my entire collectionfrom this shoot on my website gallery at:

I have always enjoyed going on photo shoots with other photographers.  I more typically enjoy going out with just one of two friends at a time, but when you get 20-30 photographers together, you can expect some great exchanges of technical and creative information.  For example, when you see someone crouch down looking at something that you didn't see, it not only alerts you to the possibility that you've missed something interesting, but more than that, it helps you realize and appreciate the diversity of interests, perspectives, and styles that people use to express themselves using the very same physical environment that you're in.

One of the pictures that you will see in my gallery collection of this shoot is a picture of a Great Blue Heron in flight.  Just after I captured that image, a woman friend next to me asked what settings I was using on my camera.  It was a great chance to exchange not just technical information, but the thought process behind using it.  In that moment, I felt like I was the expert, but just as quickly learned the expertise that she had with her visualization--she was noticing things I hadn't, and in that sharing exchange, we both benefitted from each other.  That's what's so great about sharing common interests!

(Metadata for waterfall image is 1/4 sec @ f/22 and ISO 200, focal length 20mm on a Nikkor 18-200mm lens)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Photographic Journey

I've recently been exchanging some emails with a couple of friends who are enjoying some newly purchased camera gear. I'm jealous of them right now, but am living vicariously through their excitement!  Along the way, our conversations have included some nostalgic comparisons to early cameras that we had "back in the begining". That made me think of my own journey...

I was in ninth grade when my dad told me about a friend of his who offered to give us a ride in a hot air balloon.  I grew up in Albuquerque, the capital of hot air ballooning!  I was excited about this and commented to my parents that I should take pictures from up in the balloon.  I didn't own a camera, but after about a 15 minute absence from the room, my mom returned and handed me a small plastic 35mm camera.  It had only one control--a shutter release.  I was thrilled!!  A camera!! My dad was very interested in photography and had several good cameras including a Leica that he was quite proud of.

My dad suggested that I start out with black and white film because of the less expensive processing costs.  It was good advice considering I knew nothing about photography.  When I turned in that first roll of film and received prints a few days later, I had the bug...bitten hard.  The magic of it all so enthralled me.  I couldn't wait to take more pictures and turn the film in for processing!!

It wasn’t after too many rolls of Tri-X and Pan-X that I went to a pawn shop and bought my first "real" camera…the Pentax Spotmatic F. Wow, a built-in light meter! All I had to do was center a needle and I’d have perfect exposures! Everything was manual...manual shutter speed and aperture selection, manual ASA/ISO, manual focus...  But wow, what a camera!!  Much like today, I’d either wander around the neighborhood, or drive around the city looking for interesting things to take pictures of.  I shot everything...I read everything...studied anything I could get my hands on.  The internet?  right.  We're talking the library.  Books, periodicals.  My dad was a great resource too, patiently explaining the inter-relationship between shutter speed and aperature.  I was a sponge.  All my film processing and printing was at the local Walgreens. The clerk got to know me by name. It became clear to my parents that I was bit with the photography bug.
A few years later, it came to my dad’s attention that another one of his good friends was getting rid of his darkroom equipment because he lost interest (or time) and didn’t want it anymore and saw an opportunity to give it to someone that would enjoy it. It was very exciting to be over in my dad’s friend’s garage where he had built a darkroom and see all the stuff set up. He didn’t demonstrate how to use everything, but he did offer some rudimentary explanations and walked me through the process. He had some supplies of chemicals and papers which I started out using but quickly found were so old that the poor results I was getting were not so much because I was clueless, but because the materials had gone bad (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it).

I quickly found a local department store that had a photography supplies section where I could buy chemicals, papers, and other accessories. I quickly learned that I could save even more money if I bought my film in bulk and rolled it myself. Not sure how many 100-ft rolls of film I went through, but I got pretty good at rolling my own cartridges.  In high school, I would take pictures at the basketball games, go home and spend the next couple hours in the darkroom so I could have prints with me to show off at school the next day.  When I went to college, I served a short stint as a photographer for the university newspaper.  Journalism didn't fire me up as much as my freelancing.  The ideas of being told what to shoot, and when to shoot it seems too much like work, and not as much fun as I thought it would be.  It was cool to see a picture of yours in the paper, but I found that it wasn't enough of a charge to keep me going.  I think my engineering school work was also putting some pretty big demands on my time, and I didn't see myself pursuing a career in photography.

Like many people who had their own B&W darkrooms (mine was in a storage room in our basement), I  eventually ventured into color processing. The chemistry and temperature sensitivity for film developing was so exacting that I kept with lab processing of the film and only dabbled with color printing. It was orders of magnitude more complicated. First of all, forget the yellow light in the darkroom. Once you had a negative loaded in the enlarger and had the magnification and focus set, it was lights out…fumble for paper, place paper for exposing, fumble to turn on the timer, fumble to put the exposed paper in the light-tight drum, and then fumble to turn the lights back on. From that point, processing was dumping a series of chemicals into the drum’s pour spout, set the drum in a motor-driven rotating cradle, and just go through the steps. After about 30 minutes, it would be time to open the drum and see what you had… I don’t recall the percentages, but the success rate was pretty low. Getting exposure of the print was tricky, and if you were lazy and didn’t create a test print by exposing revealing bands in order to determine exactly the right exposure time, then it was a matter of trial and error. That turned out to be not only frustratingly time consuming, but costly…the color paper wasn’t cheap, and the chemicals were even worse.

Today, people may harken back to the good ol’ days, but not me…I was there, and I know the difference. We are lucky to have what we have, and the current generation doesn’t have a clue the advantages they have with the current technologies.

Once I got out of college I moved to California to accept a job offer. I took all my equipment, but just never had the room, the time, or the inclination to get it set back up. When we bought our second house, it had a utility room with a sink and I’m pretty sure the previous owner had used it as a darkroom. I was really excited to FINALLY have the opportunity to unpack the boxes and get my darkroom set up once again. No, I never did… Then there were kids, and well, you know the drill.  The only real "photography" I did was take snap shots of the kids doing cute stuff, and group shots at family gatherings.

Welcome the digital age!!  This would be the spark that re-ignited the passion for me much as it has for countless others. Photography had remainted deep down an interest of mine, and now it was accessible again. I didn’t start with a DSLR…I started with a Canon point and shoot that my father-in-law purchased so we could keep him stocked with grandchildran pictures!  My first several camera upgrades were to better and more capable point and shoots. My “post processing” was virtually non-existent until my father-in-law introduced me to Photoshop Elements which is what he had been using. I think that might have been back at version 3 (they are at 11 now). I have since found Photoshop Element to be indispensable and continue to use it along side LR, Photomatix, and Silver Efex Pro 2.
I eventually made the plunge and bought a DSLR...a Nikon D90.  Big camera, big dollars, BIG difference in image quality and image capture flexibility.  Wow, THIS was photography!!  I was not going 100 mph, and have never looked back.  I love taking pictures, processing pictures, sharing pictures, and talking about everything photography.  I'm in a photo club, maintain a website, and as time allows, share my thoughts in this blog.  My journey is far from over...this is just where I am now.
(Metadata for this image taken at the Japanese Gardens in Long Beach is 1/90th sec at f/3.2, ISO 200, focal length 100mm...macro)
If you have comments, questions, suggestions, or feedback, feel free to contact me anytime at  You can also see my last images on my new website

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Yellowstone—The Photographic Adventure Series

Having just returned from a week-long trip to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Tetons National Park, I’ve decided to publish a series of related posts dealing with the various experiences and encounters I had.  I learned a lot while I was there and had plenty of practice applying what I knew, from changing lenses and camera settings to changing positions and angles—flexibility and adaptability were the operative words.  I hope to share my experiences in order to reinforce what you may already know and/or to add to it and give you ideas for your next adventure.
Topics that will be covered include:
Luck—where preparation meets opportunity. 
Preparation--I will try to break this down and discuss planning and the importance of anticipating, understanding you camera’s various settinsg and why you need to be prepared to change them, using your LCD screen to validate the capture and especially to check the histogram, why lugging lenses, tripods, etc is a bother worth accepting.
Opportunity--how do you create your own opportunities, how to increase your odds of getting that great shot, how to let the shot come to you, varying your perspective, how cliché images are ok and don’t diminish a photographer’s “status” if done right, what does visualize mean, and does your mood influence the mood of your images.
Post Production—sharing your “luck”.  Once you get “lucky” and capture the image you want, I’ll discuss how important post production is to bringing it all together.  I’ll touch on the workflow of downloading, backing up, image review, etc, and will spend time talking about destructive versus non-destructive edits as well as step into the delicate and sometimes controversial topic of image manipulation—how much is too much, and at what point is a photograph no longer a legitimate representation of reality.
So stay tuned over the next several weeks as I explore the above topics and share with you along the way some of the images I captured on this extraordinarily inspiring trip to God’s country…

As I make progress on organizing, culling, editing, and posting, you will have the opportunity to see my full collection of Yellowstone and Grand Tetons images on my website gallery at

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback.... Jon

Saturday, July 7, 2012


I can't think of anything more American than fireworks on the 4th of July.  There's something about the sparkling, glittering, whistling, and popping of fireworks to excite everyone young and old.  Although we didn't shoot off any fireworks ourselves, there were plenty of shows around us, including a large one visible from our back yard.  That's where this image came from.

I couldn't resist running into the house, grabbing the camera, and racing back out to catch some of the show.

What I've come to appreciate more and more though is that not everyone is excited about fireworks.  This was our first 4th of July without our dog Shadow (we had to put down last year).  She did not like fireworks at all.  What I didn't appreciate at the time was that many pets don't like fireworks.  A news story I just saw talked about how busy the animal control folks were picking up run away pets, scared, confused, and trying to get away... 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

What's Important to You?

It's easy to think of photography as just this somewhat abstract mixture of equipment and artistic vision.  Afterall, you always see technical equipment reviews, new camera and lens releases, articles about post-processing software and techniques.  It's never ending.  No magic then right?  Just take that top-end gear out, follow the rule of thirds, and bingo...right? 

No, not really.  There has to be magic, and it's the intent, the vision, the idea, the purpose, the reason the shot is being taken in the first place.  There has to be a reason that this scene, this subject, this compostion is being captured as a keepsake, to be viewed and shared...  And I contend that more often than not, that reason reflects what's important to the photographer.

Photography at it's most basic level is the art of expression.  It's a view of sorts into the mind of the photographer.  Other than commissioned assignments, photographers are free to shoot what they want shoot what's interesting to them...what's important.  Much as a child draws what's important with crayons, we do the same with our fancy DSLRs.

My simple image is of an apricot in my tree was important to me.  Not because it's ripe and ready to eat with the sun kissing it one last time before I do.  No, my apricot tree is important to me because I admire the miracle of it's struggle in my backyard, taking the place of trees before it, and trying to live up the grand beauty of another apricot tree that grew in that very place when I first bought my house.

My apricot tree is now bearing fruit for the first time--a major threshhold for a thriving fruit tree.  My picture records that accomplishment, a commencement of sorts.

Reminds me, tomorrow is my youngest son's commencement ceremony at his university.  This is the last son through college.  The day will be important...the ceremony will be important.  I will take pictures--because it's important to me.

Questions and comments are always welcome--

(Metadata 1/750 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 720, 105 mm, Nikon D90)

Friday, May 25, 2012

"Photo of the Day"--That's a Pretty Cool Award!

I was flattered earlier this week when one of my photos was selected by the Huntington Library as their Photo of the Day!

This sort of recognition is more valuable to me than money.  Well, ok, maybe that's overstating it...  It's more valuable to me IN THE LONG RUN than the short joy of being paid...that's what I meant to say.

Most people are motivated by knowing that they're contributing something of value or working towards an honorable objective, and then being recognized for that effort.  It's a basic of human nature, and understanding that is one of the more powerful advantages that one can have when working with people in any endeavor.

Just a short note today...just wanted to brag.

You can see the photo, as well as my other Huntington Library shots HERE on my website gallery.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Don't Underestimate the Importance of Technique

It helps to have top-of-the-line gear, but if you don’t know how to use it, it won’t matter.  I learned this valuable lesson recently after admiring images of hummingbirds that a friend of mine had taken.  I went out to shoot some of my own, and the results were well below my expectations, and didn’t come close to the quality of my friend’s shots.

Clearly it was because my lens was no good, right?  It couldn’t be me, it had to be the equipment.  After taking my lens to the Nikon Service Center, I got back the embarrassing report two weeks later that there was nothing wrong with my lens…really?  So, I started doing some research and found other users on the web who had the same lens that I did.  Some of these users had the sort of incredible shots that I was after.  What was their secret?

I contacted several of them to see if they would share.  They responded with the various setting that they used on their cameras when making their bird-shots.  They were using the continuous focus mode (AF-C on Nikon), and also the Single Focus Point.  They were also using f/8.0-11.0 which is the sweet-spot for most lenses in terms of sharpness.  A fast shutter speed along with shooting in “burst” mode completed the picture. These were settings that I was familiar with, but in no way understood how important they were to the particular challenge of telephoto photography of birds.  I couldn’t wait to get back out there and try what I had learned.  Guess what...the results were significantly improved.

Still, there was a gap between my images and those of my friend’s.  That’s when I turned back to my lens and compared it to the lens my friend was using.  Hers was a top-of-the-line lens.  Mine was mid-level.  More research revealed that people with my lens were upgrading to better telephoto lens.  Further research narrowed my interests down to a couple of lenses.  Ultimately I settled on a Sigma 150-500mm APO HSM.  Wow!

With my new found techniques in place, and with a new lens on the front of my camera, I was ready to go out and see what I could find…  The above image was one of several that I captured on my first test-drive.  I’ve pretty satisfied that I’m on the right track again.  To summarize, you need good equipment, but don’t underestimate the importance of proper technique!

If you have any comments or questions, drop me a note at  You can see more of my hummingbird shots on my website gallery at

(Metadata:  1/2000 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 1000, 250mm focal length on a 150-500mm Sigma lens)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's Your Point (of View)?

 A good friend of mine is in an apparent competition with me...who can buy the most lenses?  Actually, we're both quite active and enthusiastic photographers who appreciate having "good glass", and that appreciation has led to our collaboration of research as we research and invest in our increasing collection of optics.  Invariably, the question comes up though...why are there so many different lenses, and aren't there just a couple of lenses that we could get that would do everything?  Do we really need all these different lenses??

Those are rhetorical questions of course, and the answer is fairly obvious if you think about photography and the nearly unlimited range of image creation styles and possibilities... There is macro, landscape, still life, portraiture, birding, photojournalism, nature, documentary...etc, and each of these is dramatically different from the others in terms of the optical properties needed to maximize their effect or impact. The question would be similar to painter wondering why they don't make just one kind of paint (watercolor, oil, etc...) or one kind or size of paper to put it on.

My friend was commenting on a photographer's presentation he attended this week at his photography club.  She apparently had mentioned that her 17-85mm lens was perfect for her work.  I suspect that her skills and portfolio cover a much broader range of styles than what she was presenting, but the point was interesting...for that particular style of work, that lens was all she needed.  Much like a photographer that works in a studio taking portrait, it would not be uncommon to hear them talk about the a single lens as their "go-to" lens of choice for portraiture.

So you probably see where I'm going... Different lenses allow you to work across a wider range of photographic interests.  And unless you're wanting or trying to specialize in a specific or narrow creative endeavor, you will find that having more lenses opens new doors of possibility for creativity and expression.

I'm looking right now to add a 150-500mm telephoto lens to my arsenal.  I currently have a 70-300 but have been wanting more reach.  I've been wanting this in the context of some wildlife and bird photography.  It would be easy to think that a 150-500 is the right lens to have if you want to get closeups of birds or wild animals. And while that might be true, it certainly is not the ONLY use of a long telephoto--and far from it.

As part of my research on this particular lens, I reviewed set of images on Flickr that were taken exclusively with an extended telephoto lens.  And you know what?  There were no where near as many animal close up images as I expected (or was initially hoping to see).  What impressed me was how many images there were where it was not immediately obvious that telephoto was even used. And by that I mean, there were images where the advantage of telephoto was evident, but it wasn't to give you the pimple-view of a subject. The telephoto lense was used to compress distance or to bring out-of-reach subject into a reasonably composed frame without extreme cropping and image loss.  There were shots of a cluster of buildings up against a backdrop of mountains--amazing because it looked like these structures were right at the base of these giant mountains.   Using the telephoto lens provided a different point of view.

And that's really the bottom line...different lenses allow you to provide a different point of view.  You can shoot a flower with a wide angle lens, a macro lens, a "normal" lens, or even a telephoto lens--each can be an excellent and inspiring image, but each will have a different point of view.

If you have questions or comments, email me at  You can also view my image portfolio at

(Metadata for this image is 1/250 sec @ f/4.0 and ISO 80, focal length 33mm)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spring Has Sprung--POW!!

Our weather this weekend in Southern California has once again returned to that marvelous combination of morning marine layer followed by late morning sunshine and then capped off with brilliantly bright and warm afternoons. 

What a perfect day to be anywhere, doing anything--as long as it was outside.  For me, it was a short trip...right out to the backyard, where once again I could marvel at the beauty and variety of the flowers in our garden.  I don't plant them, and I don't know their names, but I do know how to photograph them!

Today I was going after close-ups and was using a set of extension tubes.  An extension tube is basically a hollow ring that goes between the camera body and the lens--pushing the optics further away from the focal plane to increase the magnification.

This is just one of many shots taken today, and if you're interested, you can view all my flower images by visiting

(Metadata:  1/350 sec at f/8.0 and ISO 200, shot at 105mm with Kenko Uniplus 25 extension tubes)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Delight for the Soul

To see in color is a delight for the eye, but to see in black and white is a delight for the soul.

I came across this quote attributed to Andri Hery and had to write it down so I could share it.  It really speaks to me.  It was a timely quote as I had recently acquired Silver Efex Pro 2 and was experiencing black and white image processing in a way that reminded me of my early days in the darkroom watching images form right in front of my eyes...this wasn't just magic, it was thrilling and almost miraculous.  My digital work in black and white was now starting to approach that same feeling, and the quote took on a certain relevance to me.

Up until recently I had been using Photoshop Elements or Lightroom to make my conversions to black and white.  I began to favor Lightroom because of it's quickness, simplicity, and the power of being able to use the targeted adjustment tool with the underlying color data driving the resulting changes.  But it was Silver Efex Pro 2's ability to replicate the varieties of contrasts, structures, and moods with ease that convinced me that I was underutilizing my photographic expression by not utilizing black and white enough.

There are so many different creative expressions of photography that I see on a daily basis, from the straight-forward, nearly out of the camera documentary, to the wildly colored and evenly toned HDR images, to the painterly interpretations, and everything in between.  But a good black and white image is truly something on a different emotional level.

Without color to influence your reaction to an image, black and white images rely on shapes, contrasts, and light to convey the image's story and emotion.  You know when an image, color or black and white, hits your emotional buttons, and I think you might agree that a really good black and white image can be transformative.  I'm continually working to create images that do that.  It's the hardest part, and yet the ultimate objective of photography.  The equipment knowledge, techniques, gear bags, scouting and setup, etc are all in pursuit of moving the soul.

If you have questions, comments, or would like to share some of your own experiences, please feel free to contact me at You can also visit my extensive photographic web gallery at

(Metadata:  1/250 sec at f/8.0, 48mm focal length and ISO 200)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Journey Continues...

I have always loved black and white photography.  No doubt that's due to my beginnings in photography during high school where I was fortunate enough to have my own dark room.  I had bulk film, rolled my own cannisters, developed my own film, and made my own enlargements.

Of course digital photography changed all that, and along with the profoundly powerful editing software, made converting images to black and white a snap...actually, a click--often times a single click.

So I've got Lightroom (LR) and I've got Photoshop Elements (PSE), and both have powerful black and white processing tools--more than the average, or even above average photographer would ever need.  But sure enough, there were photographer friends of mine that swore by a program which was dedicated to nothing but black and white imagery--and that program was Silver Efex Pro 2.  Similar to the way Photomatix (which I also have) is dedicated to processing HDR photos, Silver Efex Pro (or SEP as the "in" crowd calls it) is dedicated to black and white conversion.

Each step of my journey has included a reluctance on my part to taking the next step.  So you can imagine my resistance to getting SEP.  Really, with LR and PSE and Photomatix, do I need another program, and one dedicated to such a small area of processing, b&W?  Of course not.  Well, maybe.  Ok, yes, absolutely I need it.  And now that I have it, I wonder how I ever got along without it...just like my journey's steps to PSE, and LR, etc...this step was another significant step forward.

Now I'm looking through my viewfinder and am seeing the end result of a black and white images.  The above shot was one such vision during my visit to Union Station in Los Angeles.  Who hasn't been bored waiting for a plane, or a bus, or in this case a train...but with a stack of hats?  Yes, this required a photograph, but to me the interesting part wasn't just the man with the hats, but look at the treasure this photograph reveals in the background.  It was the man with curiosity (and a steaming cup of coffee).  It was that expression of curiosity and wonder that compelled me to take this shot.  Glad I had SEP waiting at home for me!

You really don't know where your photographic journey will take you, but hopefully you'll be less resistive to each step than I've been.  I don't regret a single decision I've made with either hardware, software, or camera gear.  Each step and been along a maturing curve as my skills and interests have evolved and improved.  It's a journey without a roadmap, and as I've said previously, without even paths...

If you have questions, comments, or would like to share some of your own experiences, please feel free to contact me at You can also visit my extensive photographic web gallery at

(Metadata 1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 1800, focal length 105mm with a 70-300 Nikon lens)

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Journey Without Bounds (or Roads)

I got a call the other night from our club president letting me know that our planned presenter for an upcoming meeting would not be able to make it. He said he's observed me asking questions and providing answers in previous meetings, and together with the images he's seen me show, asked if I wouldn't mind giving a presentation on my "workflow".

Having already been mentally prepared for the prospect of presenting something at some point, I accepted, although the two days notice I was given was a bit of a challenge given that I had nothing prepared and no real thought about my objectives for the presentation.

So I started by looking for images to use, and that prompted me to back up and put the editing process in the context of my thought process and workflow. A key part of my presentation was the idea that there isn't a right answer regarding processing, or even what software package to use, but instead, it's a journey without paths, that involves a certain evolution and/or maturity that leads people to where they are and may have some indicators as to where they're going... I used two great personal examples...the decision to jump from JPG to shooting RAW, and the decision to get Lightroom.

So after boring people with my "journey" to this point, I broke my presentation up into organizing, processing, and sharing--the post-processing side of my workflow. I told them that workflow often is used in the context of post production, but really it can mean from the time you're conceiving or visioning a photographic opportunity, to include preparing and loading the gear you will need, through the whole setup and capture process, and then ultimately the post production. I think there is (or can be) another part of "workflow" that encompasses the ongoing organization, editing, deleting, etc... sort of the post-post-production.

Attached are the notes I quickly assembled and spoke from. Nothing particularly novel, just thought I would share it with you.

Evolution and Maturity of the Photographer
Technical knowledge and understanding of photography
Artistic and creative talents (colors, shapes, composition…)
Equipment…cameras, lenses, tripods, lighting, gadgets…
The capture…JPG, RAW, bracketing, panos, time-lapse…
Computer Software

Basic Need of Computer Software
Image management and organization
Processing (“post processing”) and editing
Sharing, publishing, printing

Image Management and Organization
Basic computer system file storage structure (e.g. Windows Explorer)
Database-oriented tools such as Zoombrowser, Photoshop Elements (Organizer), Lightroom (Library Module)
Finding images (search criteria), grouping images, tagging and labeling

Determine which images to process
Extending your vision from the initial capture
Evaluate the image and assess its merits and challenges
Is your objective more Documentary or Creative
Using software tools to complete the vision…Photoshop, Lightroom, Photomatix, Silver Efex, Topaz…
Workflow is often used in the context of processing, but applies from capture to end product

Sharing, Publishing, Printing
Why were the images captured—was there an intended use in mind
Who are your audiences and how do their interests differ
Emails, websites, sharing services
Printing, framing, displaying, gifting, selling

If you have questions, comments, or would like to share some of your own experiences, please feel free to contact me at You can also visit my extensive photographic web gallery at

(Metadata 1/500 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, focal length 145mm with a 70-300 Nikon lens)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Mystery of Attraction

When you're out and about with your camera, what is it that catches your attention and invites you to take a picture?  Have you ever looked at something, and immediately knew what it was, and could explain it?  But what about those times when you can't explain what caught your eye?

I just got back from a two-day photoshoot out of town, and I came back with my usual treasure trove of images--ok, some treasure, some not...  I went through my normal process of culling out images, ultimately deleting more than 2/3 of my original captures.  I processed those that I felt were worthy, and posted them on my website gallery.  I've since discovered something quite unexpected that I can't explain...

This image of the green lizard has had more user views than any other image from my shoot, including those that I personally think are superior in quality, interest, and/or creativity.  More views by a factor of 3!  Why?

Is it the color, the composition, the subject?  I don't know.  I don't have the answer.  Clearly the lizard caught my attention enough to want to make a photograph, but so did hundreds of other subjects.  Somehow though, this image has captured the attention of those visiting my website gallery--I'd be interested in YOUR theory...

If you have questions, comments, or would like to share some of your own experiences, please feel free to contact me at You can also visit my extensive photographic web gallery at

(Metadata 1/60 sec at f/5.6, ISO 2200, focal length 105mm with an 18-105 Nikon lens)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Dimension of Black & White

According to their website, Casa Rondeña Winery was established in late 1995 as a family undertaking, with the first plantings in 1990. Their tasting room opened in August 1997 and a winery building was completed in the autumn of 2004. In 2008, a barrel aging and storage facility was built in order to expand production capability of the winery and hold special events for winery members and special guests.

This is a picture of their tasting room from a visit of mine in October 2011. While the richness of the adobe-colored exterior accented by the bright, deep red of the ristra of chiles, stands out against the green of the shade trees and the blue of the desert sky, this image spoke to me in black and white.

There's a drama with black and white images that is often unachievable in color photography. You also see and feel things in a B&W image that colors can block or interfere with. There's also a timeless quality of an image in black and white, and it was this sense that I wanted to convey. I've been increasingly interested in black and white photography lately, partly due to the nostalgia I've gotten from scanning in some old negatives from my early days in photography back in high school.

There are a lot of software packages that people use to achieve black and white. Most of them have sufficient flexibility and capability to accomplish the translation of what was shot. There are even some programs that specialize in only processing the range of effects possible in black and white toning. In my case, I've simply kept to using only Lightroom 3.
If you have questions, comments, or would like to share some of your own experiences, please feel free to contact me at You can also visit my extensive photographic web gallery at

(Metadata 1/350 sec at f/9.5, ISO 200, focal length 18mm with an 18-105 Nikon lens)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shapes and Colors and Contrasts

I was finishing up my bird/focus experimentation when I noticed this pair of clay birds looking at each other.  In the midst of all the other real birds flying around and making noise, it was these two that really had me interested.  Really weird actually.  They captured my imagination, much the way the imagination of the original artist must have been at work when he/she was creating these gazing poses.

What had caught my attention though and drew me to photography them was their shapes, colors, and the contrasting light.  I don't understand the science or psychology as to why this was, but I found it pleasing, and therefore I composed the image to complete the capture.

Not surprisingly, I didn't have to go far to get this shot.  I had friends today that drove 2 hours to get to their destination, and no doubt they will come back with some spectacular photographs.  But I'd like to encourage you to not be discouraged that you don't have that kind of time, and instead choose something really close to home...a nearby regional park, a walk around the block, or just an adventure in your own back yard.

Keep shooting!

Feel free to contact me at or check out my website gallery at

(metadata 1/1000 sec at f/8 and ISO 250, focal length 300mm--on my 70-300 lens)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Read Your Manual (more than once...)

Probably the least part of the fun of getting a new toy is reading the manual.  Manuals are not exciting, entertaining, or dramatic, yet they hold the secrets of getting the most out of your gear.

Reading your camera's manual, and in particular RE-READING the manual is one of the best things you can help to grow your skills.  I know.  It's so tempting to put your camera on automatic, get great shots, never look back...  But what do you do when you're not getting the results you want?  Blame your equipment?  Thnk maybe you didn't spend enough?  It's an easy temptation to think this way--I did.

Imagine the humbling experience when I got my lens back from the Nikon Service Center and they said nothing was wrong with it.  Embarrassing really.  I was not getting the sharpness I wanted and figured I was just going to have to buy one of those $2000 lenses.  As an alternative to that, while Nikon had my lens, I decided to re-read my manual--especially the part about different focus modes and focus point settings.  Really, there's more than one set-up?  Ever wonder why your camera has these different settings--it's for a reason!  I got a crash course on one of the most important parts of my camera's operations--focusing.

I used the manual to help fill in a knowledge gap that I had, and it was this gap that explained why I was getting less than satisfactory (sharpness) results when shooting wildlife.  Reading manuals isn't glamorous, and it doesn't work too good if you try doing it cover-to-cover.  I found it works best when you're targeting a specific area of understanding.  In my case, I now know the different focus modes, and how each one is different from the other, and when each one would be most appropriate.  No, not an expert in this area, but WAY smarter than I was. 

Much like polishing a rock is a repetitive process with finer and finer grit, developing your photography skills is a repetitive process where you get more and more detailed knowledge about a subject.  Learning that you have aperture priority and shutter priority in addition to program/auto mode is a big jump.  Learning when to use one over the other is a smaller jump, a refinement if you will.  Different focus modes, etc... you get the idea.

Hopefully you're at least read or skimmed your manual.  I'm encouraging you now to pick it back up, read a chapter, put it down and absorb the incremental learning.  You'll be glad you did.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, at  and while you're at it, you might want to check out my latest images at

(Metadata 1/60 sec at f/8.0, ISO 450 shot at 300m with a 70-300mm lens)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Experimenting Frees You Up...To Experiment!

I have obsessed on and off over the last year about the sharpness (or lack thereof) of my 70-300mm lens.  It wasn't so much that I was dissatified with my images, it's that recently I've been admiring the images of another photographer friend whose images are tack sharp.

So over the last couple of weeks, I've been conducting a number of tests, shooting by myself, and asking friends to send me specific shot sample with their gear.  In a real sense, I've been conducting experiments.  I've been shooting with vibration reduction on an off, with super-fast shutter speeds, and slower shutter speeds that support a small aperture.  I don't have any other objective than to learn.  To learn about my equipment, and to learn more about the techniques to get the most of out it.

As part of my experimentation, I went on a photoshoot to a local city park with a friend who had a lens similar to one I wanted to test.  We spent a couple hours walking around, changing lenses, and just shooting at anything interesting.  Since I was more focused on the experimentation around technique and equipment, my creative side was freed up from the pressures of trying to get that great "money shot".  Consequently, I got quite a number of interesting images.

My experimentation is not complete yet, but I wanted to encourage you to start your own experiments.  Grab your camera, grab your gear, and go to work on something.  Explore a concept, a feature, a technique, to just play around and hope for that happy accident.  Sometimes the most fun learning is that which comes from teaching yourself.

Feel free to contact me at or check out my website gallery at

(metadata 1/90 sec at f/11 and ISO 200, focal length 105mm)