Winter Opportunities

It’s winter so I naturally want to jump in the car and find snow.  In my case I would have to drive about three hours to find something truly worth a wintery scene.  Winter offers other opportunities to take advantage of the cold mornings besides just snow.  One good way to improve your photography skills is to find a place close by your house you can return to at different times of the day and different seasons.  Not only will you be familiar with the area, it allows you to track your progress as a photographer over time.  This post will address both aspects, cold mornings and one of my favorite places.

One of my favorite places to go in San Jose is Lexington Reservoir.  Lexington has two bonuses in addition to being close to the house, first, a local rowing company operates on the reservoir providing a never-ending opportunity to play with sculls with one to six people pulling on the oars.  Second, the surface of the water gives me a chance to play with light and reflection.  Recen
tly, I returned to the reservoir to capture sunrise and the fog created when the early morning temperature of the water is warmerthan the ambient air temperature.

My first challenge was to find the correct exposure to reveal the fog coming off the water.  Going into the session I had two choices, put the camera on aperture priority and use the exposure compensation or use complete manual and measure the scene to get the contrast correct between the emerging sun and shade created by hill. In each case my most important technical tool was the histogram on the camera’s screen.  I know I can’t trust the video display because it is not calibrated and it will appear different as the ambient light changes with the sunrise.  I’m not a huge fan of HDR and I know that if I shoot in RAW format Lightroom and Photoshop RAW will help me pull out some detail in the shadows.  My tack in the field in 32 degrees is to expose to the right of the histogram making sure I don’t overexpose the highlights.  It’s not possible to bring back too bright highlights (blown out) but it is possible to bring back shadow detail.

You will see in the first image I overexposed just a little on the left.  I did it on purpose to draw the view’s eye to the fog and then let it move into the picture.  lexington-fog-sunrise-wSecond, I waited for the sun to peak over the top of the hill.  In this case the fog was not so important as the lens flare-star of the rising sun.
I had to clean up a few spots in post-production to get a clean foreground.  In the second picture, I have blue skies, a hint of blue water and leading lines to the sunrise along with that beautiful star created by the camera lens.

The last thing I did was take a picture specifically to convert into black and white.  As I have written before, my go-to program for black and white is Silver Effex Pro (SFX) (currently available as a free download from Google).  Lines and contrast are by tools in black and white so I wanted to make sure I have a hint of a sunrise to backlight the hill.  The shade of grey on the water needed to be less than the silhouette of the hill and I knew I wanted the mirror reflection of the water.  My plan was to expose to the right for the sun, wait for the water to be still and create the mi
rror I was looking for, and make sureI could use the fog on the water to create a separation _dwp9711sfx-wbetween the water and the hill’s silhouette.  Lastly, knowing I was going to play with a digital filter to fine tune the final image, I shot in color and converted later in Photoshop/SFX.

I hope I’ve encouraged you to find a place you can return to and play with new aspects to perfect your photo taking craft.  If you have other techniques of questions be sure to leave me a comment.


Fall time is color time


It’s officially fall.  To some that may mean the return or everything pumpkin or pumpkin spice.  To others it’s the beginning of the countdown.  It seems as though once All Hallows Eve is done the end of the year is upon us like the Jonestown Flood.  In some parts of the country fall means bright yellow, orange, fiery red, and other colored leaves that transform the landscape into Vincent Van Gogh’s palate.  To some you have to go to or be in Vermont to see the fall color.  If you ask around at work and other places you visit about where to go to see the beautiful colors of fall it’s likely you will get one answer over and over…not in California.  I’m here to tell you they are mistaken.  California has fall.

Where would that be, you ask.  Here is a site that can get you in the right direction (to the east),  This site is volunteer run and will help you plan your fall trip to the Eastern Sierra Nevada’s.  Color starts up around 10,000’ and from the end of September through the first of November works its way down.  Two of my favorite places are Lundy Canyon and June Lake.  The aspens turn a bright yellow and since aspens always grow in large groups in the wild they are easy to spot.  You can take a fancy camera to capture your memories but if you are looking for some new screen wall paper your phone will do just fine.  Here are a few tips to help you capture California’s wonderful fall colors.

First, be sure you plan your day to take advantage of the soft light.  The Golden Hour is the time just after the sun rises and before it sets.  It isn’t really an hour but about two hours on each end of the day.   Because of the angle of the sun all those bright oranges, yellows, and reds will more saturated, something your camera sensor will like.  When you plan your trip be sure to account for the shadows thrown by the Sierra Nevada range.  If you take a DSLR I strongly recommend you pick up a polarizer.  It does for your camera what your polarized sun glasses do.  Because the polarizer bends the light it will saturate the colors even more and help eliminate glare.  You operate it by turning the front.  As you turn it you will see the colors go from subdued to saturated.  Pick the level you like the best.  If you want crisp leaves on those trees use a high shutter speed, something above 1/500.  If you like the somewhat fuzzy look that communicates a windy day dropping to 1/250 or below works well.  If you want a watercolor type look drop your shutter speed below 1/60 but beware, you’ll need a tripod.

If you done have time to go all the way to the Eastern Sierras we have color locally in the Santa Cruz mountains.  I strongly recommend you do not touch the poison ivy that grows naturally in the hills, however, I strongly recommend that you look for its fiery red color when taking pictures.  The red poison ivy contrasts nicely with the brown leaves falling off the trees laying on the ground and the evergreens that are all over the hills.

Lastly, there are come parks in the area that have been planted with trees with fall in mind.  My favorite is Vasona Park.  As an added bonus the pond in the park acts as a mirror of the colors.

Don’t fret if you can’t afford the time or money to go to Vermont this fall.  All you need to do is plan a weekend, or even a day right here in California.

This fall pictures brought to you from Lundy Canyon, California.

Sea Otters and Such



I don’t think there is a bad place to have your camera. I sell pictures but I don’t think every picture I take has to be for sale.  In fact, some of the pictures on my wall will never be sold.  I take pictures of surfers and motorcycles that I put on slide shows, wall paper for electronic devices, and to frame and put in my office.  They serve as inspiration and motivation._dwp0098b-w

Recently I have been focusing on bringing back photos from my Saturday morning paddle in the Monterey Bay.  I have a Nikon AW100 submersible camera I bought for a Hawaii vacation and I bring out my old Nikon D200.  The AW100 is specifically designed to go swimming.  It has a mode for underwater pictures and is waterproof to about 100 feet.  Of special interest to me is the video function of the camera.  I don’t do video currently and using this camera I get to practice without worrying about studio lights and all the equipment.  Since I have no plans to become a videographer I get to play with this small point and shoot camera.  Sometimes it helps me remember why I started taking photos in the first place.  It’s fun.  I also mount it on the faring of my motorcycle and occasionally relive moments speeding along twisty mountain roads.

The D200 has a very inexpensive Quantaray 70-300mm lens attached to it.  The lens isn’t on anyone’s list to use for high quality photos.  It is, in fact, the very definition of a consumer lens.  It was cheap, it’s light because the casing is plastic (if I dropped it I’m sure it would break) and the optics are so-so.  Together the outfit is worth about $200 on Craigslist so if it joins Davey Jones Locker because I flipped the boat or dropped it when I was trying to put it back in the dry bag on the deck I wouldn’t cry too much and since it’s old outdated equipment I wouldn’t feel any pressure to replace it.  But it gives me a chance to practice my craft and capture some nice images for my wall of the sea animals I get to visit on Saturday morning.  Recently I’ve been pointing the lens toward the otters in the kelp.  I consider everything I do with this rig practice and when I think I am able to capture photos I think are worthy of someone else’s wall or public relations piece I’ll take the chance and bring out the new, expensive, I-hope-I-don’t-loose-this-camera-and-lens equipment.  _dwp0091b-w

With the D200 rig I get to struggle with making sure I look for the direction of the light right, figure out how to paddle, keep an eye on the ocean conditions and incoming swells, choose the correct aperture and depth of field, and hold the thing steady enough to allow the auto focus to work correctly and not jump around between the kelp and the otter I am intending to capture.  If it sounds like a lot of work you’ve correctly interpreted my words.  Did I mention that if I see a pod of dolphins have to guess where they’re going to be in 5 minutes because I can’t keep up (I’m too slow), I have to take the camera out of the dry bag, and set up to focus on where they will surface next?  Maybe this sounds like too much trouble.

Boy is it fun when I get home and see a couple of frames that actually worked out!  Here are a couple of examples from a recent Saturday.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.  The point of all this is that if you like to take pictures, either for personal use of for profit, you need to continue to refine your craft.  Putting yourself in an unfamiliar place with all the challenges it will present is a good way to expand your skill set.

_dwp0099b-wIf you would like to see more of the marine life that has stopped in front of my lens you can go to and


The Rule of Thirds-Make Stronger Compositions

I have offered some tips on using your iPhone as your vacation camera in the past.  One of the suggestions I made was to turn on the grid to help you with the composition of your picture.  Why would you want to do this?  Moving the subject off center creates interest.  We have a tendency to place the subject of our photo in the center, like the bull’s eye of a rifle scope.  The problem with doing a bull’s eye is that it tends to make the photo boring.  To help tell a story and create more interest in your picture use the rule of thirds.  The grid looks like diagram on the left.  By choosing one of the intersecting points for your subject in your frame the picture will lead the viewer’s eye to the open part of the frame.  Why would you want to do this?  Consider this beach photo.  By placing the surfer on the left portion of the picture, your eye is led to look at the wave he is examining as he enters the water.  Can you sense his anticipation?  Hold up a piece of paper to this image and make it a bullseye (position the surfer in the center).  See what I mean?  Using the rule of thirds will help you tell a story with your pictures.

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Okay, now it’s your turn to go out and practice. It’s okay to use you phone if you want.

Taking Pictures of Fireworks

It’s almost Independence Day and you’re thinking about BBQ, friends and family, and fireworks. A great ‘ol American celebration.  Here’s the $95,000 dollar question, how do I take pictures of fireworks?  Of course there are many options, some easy and some hard. Let’s start with easy (if you’re pressed for time you can stop after this.) Check your owner’s manual to see if you have a special mode for fireworks. If you are using a point and shoot camera I can almost guarantee you do.  Make the selection and fire away (nice pun don’t you think?)

If you have a DSLR and want a bigger challenge or you want bragging rights you took killer pictures by yourself, put the camera on manual mode.  Before we get to settings we need to remember two things: first, left alone your camera will meter the dark night sky and overexpose the picture, and second, you want to catch the light trails of the black powder explosion to capture the grandeur and colors of those beautiful fireworks. Okay, here we go.

Fireworks light up the night sky so we need to expose for that light.  We also want everything nice and sharp in the frame. You get to play with this a little as the exhibition goes on by examining the back display and making small adjustments but let’s start with f8 and ISO 200. This will keep the light trails sharp and the black sky black (without spotty noise). Our next setting is the one that give you bragging rights; set the shutter speed to 1/30 or 1/15th of a second. If you can’t hold the camera still use a tripod. The longer the shutter speed the larger the fireworks will be in the frame.  Follow the lighted path of the firework with the camera up and hit the shutter when it explodes.  Sounds easy doesn’t it?  You will want to take several pictures during the show making little adjustments to shutter speed and position to get a few different options when you view the pictures later.

If you are feeling artsy and creative use the lighted sky to silhouette items in the foreground. You’ll get bonus points and many oohs and ahhs.

If this all seems like too much trouble you can always take out your phone, set to video and enjoy the show!

I choose to include the bowsprit from the HMS Surprise (from the movie Master and Commander) in these pictures in 2013.  I especially liked the red fireworks because it reminds me of the Star Spangled Banner, our national anthem.

Happy Independence Day!.


Nik Software now FREE

I just received my update from Red River Paper about their new Canvas paper.  In the body of the blog was an announcement that Google, who owns Snapseed, my favorite app for tuning up photos on my tablet is giving away my favorite Black and White program.  Not only are they giving away SilverEFX Pro, they are giving away their whole suite of software plugins.  So if you would like to shorten up or post production time, or want to play with black and white, color enhancement, HDR, or sharpening RUN over to and download the plugin before they either change their mind or stop making it available.  They have tutorials on the web site to help you learn the program also.

Keep looking here and I’ll be posting some more about why SilverEFX Pro is my go to program for black and white.  Let me leave this with you, when I look at a scene and know I want to display it in black and white, I shoot color and do the post processing using SilverEFX Pro.

Alright, if you are a Photoshop or Photoshop Elements user, go over and get that program suite!

Selecting White Balance for Better Photos

Your camera does many things extremely well. It meters the scene and selects the correct exposure.  The newest generation of cameras can select and focus on a face in the scene.  It can sense when the light is too low and a flash is needed to compensate.  In all this guessing it does it is remarkable how often the camera “gets it right”.  One of the things the camera doesn’t do well consistently is choose white balance.

Different sources of light have different color tints, even different times of the day have different color casts. For example, a standard light bulb (Mr. Edison’s kind) casts a yellow tint, a florescent tube casts a blueish-green tint, a flash (pop up on your camera or separate unit) has a closer to white hue.  In order to get the colors on you photograph correct you have to tell the camera which light it is looking at.  It has to correct or balance the color of the light.  Armed with this selection the camera is much better at making a good guess how to select and display true colors.

Fortunately it isn’t hard to select the correct white balance. You will probably have to go to your camera instruction manual to find it the first time.  Go to the index and look up “white balance”.  It may be obvious (a button on the camera that is labeled “WB”) or it may be hidden in a menu.  When you find where it is all you have to do is move it from “A” for automatic to the specific lighting you are going to be under while taking pictures.  If you are outside look up.  Do you see the sun or are you under a cloudy sky?  Are you in the shade?  The same is true inside a building.  Do you see a regular bulb or something else like a CF (compact florescent) or LED?  If you are in an office building the odds are you will select florescent (the company is saving and being green because they both take less electricity and don’t put out much heat.)  Your camera probably has icons to represent the type of lighting/white balance selection.  A light bulb means tungsten, clouds for a cloudy sky, and etcetera.

I realize you may think I’m pulling your leg here. So don’t trust me go do a little experiment.  Take your camera and the owner’s manual and select an area to take a picture.  It could be a person or a flower if you wish.  Take a picture on “A” auto white balance, a second on the correct type of light, and a third that is purposely the wrong light.  Download all three photos to your computer and take a look.  Surprised?

See you next month. Keep taking photos!

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The attached images are in Santa Cruz. The first photo has a daylight white balance, the second is set to tungsten.  The first image is the correct color.