Thursday, July 1, 2010

We've Moved!

This will be my last post here on Blogger. It's been a good run, but I needed something a little more robust. The entire blog - every post, page, and keyword - has been moved to Now, you can find all my galleries, free downloads, and blog articles in one place... and much more besides. I hope you will come visit us there!

Thanks for visiting!
Varina Patel

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Student Showcase: Cristina Iacob

Today, we are featuring the work of Cristina Iacob. She joined us for workshops in Death Valley & Olympic National Park this year, and for our online iHDR webniar last year. We've been very impressed with her talent...we hope you will be too.

We get great satisfaction from seeing our students capture stunning photographs using skills learned during our webinars and workshosp. After attending our iHDR webinar and Death Valley workshop, Cristina was able to capture this stunning shot of Calla Lillies in Big Sur, CA. Her careful processing, and an outstanding composition resulted in a final image with perfectly exposed highlights, stunning colors, and beautiful detail in both the foreground and the distance.
"Nothing compares to the immaculate soft white of the early spring calla lilies. Imagine a canyon all covered with lilies, reflecting the light of the golden sunset near the ocean. That’s what I tried to capture in this photo, and I must confess it was quite a challenging task. I disregarded small inconveniences such as having to cross the deep creek in the canyon several times, making way through 5 feet tall vegetation and trying to stay away from hungry bugs to find this breathtaking view. Because the canyon walls were making for about 50% of the upper half of the composition, I couldn’t use a GND filter. Instead, I bracketed the shutter speed for foreground and for the sunset sky as I was shooting toward the sun. With an f/14 aperture and low sunset light I had to compromise for a long shutter speed of 1.6s, and I was lucky enough not to have the breeze moving the flowers around. Finally, finding a proper angle for the composition took me quite a while, as I was struggling to find firm soil for both my tripod and my feet. I applied the wide angle workflow I learned during the Death Valley workshop. The hyperfocal distance technique worked like a charm, and it was a great satisfaction for me to be able to get a good wide angle shot on my own. Later, applying iHDR post-processing techniques I was able to produce the final image of the Calla Lilies sunset."
Cristina captured this next shot on an early December afternoon from the top of Burnaby Mountain (15 minutes from downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada).
"At times, the fog was totally engulfing the mountains, just so that later to generously reveal the spectacular view of the Indian Arm, while a light rain was setting a mysterious mood. It felt like I was part of a Lewis and Clark expedition, as all signs of civilization were fading away in the mist, while the meandering fjord was carrying you afar through massive mountains heavily covered by the northern rain forest. I took several shots to recreate the mood of this unique moment. Post-processing went through several trials, and I finally reached a satisfactory result after applying the onOne filter to create the old time photo effect. This seemed to be still insufficient for my purpose - therefore, I added a sepia tone."
Well done, Cristina - and thanks for letting us share your work on our blog!


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Featured Photographer

This month, Varina is the featured photographer at She has received some really nice comments about her work. Thanks, everyone!

We're back from our Olympic Workshop. It went very well and was a lot of fun. Our students took some fantastic shots despite rainy weather. A extra big THANK YOU to Tex - who loaned me his Canon 40D body after mine quit working. And to Shawn, who loaned me a memory card when Jay walked off with mine. :) I really appreciate it, you guys.

The first shot is from the Marymere Falls Trail - this incredible bridge is made from a huge log that spans the river. The second shot is from the Hoh Rain Forest Hall of the Mosses Trail. We shot under cloudy skies - dodging rain showers as the day progressed. The rich glow is typical of the forest in conditions like these. It's really incredible to see it for yourself. :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

En route to Olympic

We arrived in Portland very late last night - and got up bright and early this morning to head for Forks, Washington. Yes - all you Twighlight fans out there - that Forks. :)

It is rainy and overcast, but we're not complaining. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful in any weather. And with any luck, we'll get some fantastic skies as the storms move through.

For those who are joining us in Olympic for this workshop - bring your rain gear! And get ready for a great trip. We can't wait to see all of you!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Capturing Creatures

The critters that call our landscapes home are often elusive and hard to photograph. When we do foray into the world of animal photography, we try to make sure our images allow the creatures to stay in their habitat. Think about the difference between a studio portrait, and a candid shot. Both are representative of the subject - but the candid shot provides a bit of the real story.
The Great Egret (Ardea alba) in the photo above is an example of the "studio shot" I'm talking about. The bird is holding a perfect pose for me, and I've taken some liberties with the colors and light in order to create a mood. It's a pretty portrait shot - but it's a bit like touching up a posed senior photo, right? Still a nice image - don't get me wrong. In fact, I love this shot. It's just not what we are usually looking for.

Here are some shots that show a bit of habitat - and are more representative of reality. Jay photographed this cool little ghost crab (Ocypode pallidula) on Kauai - the locals call them 'ohiki. He used a 180mm macro lens to capture the tiniest details. It takes patience to get this close to these skittish little guys - they're very fast, and they disappear into their holes if you come too close. Jay sat near a burrow for a long time before this 'ohiki decided he wasn't a threat. The click of the shutter was enough to send him back underground, but Jay got a couple of nice shots in the end.
On another morning, we found ourselves on a sandy path en route to another beach. It was pitch dark, and we were navigating with flashlights. Suddenly, my light danced over one of these beautiful East African Land Snails (Achatina fulica) beside the path. These are an invasive species, and are considered pests, but they sure are pretty! We returned later to capture them in brighter conditions. They stayed in the cool shade, and pulled into their shells if we came too close. They avoided the sand - staying on damp, rich soil beside the path. Maybe they get kind of itchy if sand gets into their shells! :)

I used the 180mm macro lens to shoot this little guy. My depth of field was incredibly narrow, so I needed two shots to get both the shell and the body of the snail in focus. I combined the images in Photoshop when I got home... and also removed a distracting stick with the clone tool.
Here's an extreme close-up of a Female Widow Skimmer Dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa). She had settled on the side of our house, and I pulled out the camera to try for a few close-ups. I was thrilled when she decided to relocate to the garden - where I could capture a bit of green showing through those fantastic transparent wings. The light was pretty harsh that day, but she waited patiently while I went inside to get some thin paper to act as a filter. In fact, she sat perfectly still while I messed with my camera, and rattled the paper over her head, trying to keep it from blowing away in the wind.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Nights

It's always fun to try something new. Varina did a bit of night photography years ago - but neither of us has spent much time shooting in the dark in recent years. In the past several months, we spent some time shooting at night in Arizona and New Mexico. Here are a few of our attempts. What do you think?

This shot, titled "The Night Flight", is a digital blend of two images taken during our recent trip to Bisti Wilderness in New Mexico. The image was created using a technique Jay calls "Painting with Time", and no artificial lighting was used. He took one shot just as the last light was falling on the hoodoo - soft, directional lighting gives the formation a soft, golden glow. After taking the first shot, Jay left the camera and the tripod in place. Soon, the stars came out, and he adjusted the exposure to capture their light. (F5.6@25s, ISO 500). Later, he combined the images in Photoshop to create the final image you see above.
 Varina chose a simpler technique that evening at Bisti. Shortly after sunset, she used a 3.2 second shutter speed to capture these smooth hoodoos. The sky glowed with a soft magenta light in the West, and the reflected light created the slight color cast you see in the image.
We also tried some night photography in the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona. Jay's shot is titled "A Night at The Control Tower". This is an example of light panting. Although we generally prefer natural lighting, we find that a bit of artificial light can work well alongside ambient light. In this case, the ambient light was provided by the moon. Jay used a 30 second exposure (F4, ISO 200) to underexpose the scene by about 1.3 stops. He wanted to avoid a longer shutter speed, since it would result in "star trails". He used a headlamp to light The Control Tower as he waited. Matching the exposure for the foreground and the background required some experimentation.
While Jay was busy painting with light, Varina climbed high on the rocks in the dark to find a spot that offered an interesting view from above. She wanted to capture the glow of residual light on the bizarre Southwest landscape. In order to capture enough light, she used a whopping 266 second shutter speed (F16, ISO 100). (Though she could have reduced that long shutter speed by increasing the ISO.) The rich colors in the rock were enhanced by the very faint glow in the western sky.

Light Painting, "Painting with Time", star light, moon light, residual light... your options are wide open! Have you tried shooting after dark? If you have some night shots you'd like to share, leave a link in your comment. Make sure you tell us how you did it!

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Free Olympic National Park Webinar

This weekend, we will open registration on Facebook for another free webinar. In the past, we've had students tell us they wished they'd known about upcoming webinars sooner - so we're giving you a few days notice before we start accepting registrants.

This webinar will focus on Olympic National Park in Washington. Facebook fans will be able to sign up as soon as registration opens this weekend. You can find our facebook page by clicking the link below:
Click to see our Facebook Page
Free Olympic National Park Webinar
Location: Online
Date: May 9, 2010
Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM EST
This seminar will focus on shooting in Olympic National Park and the techniques we use to capture some of our images. We'll show lots of photos, so you can see what the park looks like, and we'll talk a bit about what students can expect if they join us for one of our workshops.

We hope that you will be able to join us. Feel free to post questions here on our blog - or on Facebook.

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