Saturday, August 29, 2009

Featured Download!

Today, for the first time on our blog, we're featuring an image from our FREE wallpaper downloads. We have a wide variety of images available for free downloads from our websites, and we are planning to start posting one here on our blog every now and then. This shot is from Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. The shot, titled Meander, was a finalist in this year's Expose Your World competition. It was also used as one of the cover images for the Competition Winners book.
Horseshoe bend is a popular spot for landscape photographers - but make sure you bring along a wide angle lens. And if you are afraid of heights, forget it. You're looking at a drop of more than 600 meters (about 2000 ft)... no guard rails. Keep kids and pets on a tight leash. ;)
Choose a link below to download this free wallpaper at the appropriate size for your monitor:

1024 x 768
1280 x 1024

1280 x 800
1440 x 900

These images are provided for personal use as computer wallpaper or backgrounds ONLY. Copyright belongs to the photographer, and photographs cannot be used, redistributed, or recreated in print or on the web or on any other medium without written permission from the photographer.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Sunshine Meadows

Here's another shot that was taken in bright sunlight. I love the incredible colors in the glacial lake and those gold bands of sunlight dancing on the stones. But, the sky is completely uninteresting, and the distant mountains suffer from harsh lighting. For me, the image works despite those flaws.

When the sun is high in the sky, I often spend more time scouting than shooting. But every now and then, an interesting element catches my eye, and I pull out my camera. I'll return to Sunshine Meadows in Banff again - I'd like to capture some shots with better lighting and a more impressive sky! But for now, I'm happy with this shot, even if - technically speaking - it's not "perfect".

What do you think? Keep it, or toss it?

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Learning to See: Creative Compositions

As landscape photographers, we are trained to look for perfect light and stunning skies. We’re taught to shoot only during the golden hour, and only when the clouds are positively radiant with sunbeams. Most of us won’t even consider pulling out the camera when the sky is sunny and bright, or on hazy days when the image contrast is fairly low. Is this because there is nothing to shoot? Or are we just not looking at things creatively? Learning to see creatively is about thinking outside the box. Look for unusual lighting and unique composition. A different perspective can make all the difference in unfavorable conditions. And why not take it a step further? Creative processing techniques can bring out detail and interest that might get lost with more traditional methods.

One of the most common challenges for landscape photographers is capturing a unique image of an iconic location. “The Wave” in Arizona has been photographed by thousands, and it seems to have been shot from every angle many times over. Rather than taking standard shots, I forced myself to avoid the compositions that I had seen before. On this day, a pool of water filled the base of the wave. Bending down low, I noticed that I could fill a frame entirely with the wave and its reflection – creating an abstract composition that I had not seen before. I waited for the winds to calm down and took this shot under bright sunlight.
Tips for Creative Compositions

  • Find a new location to shoot that icon
  • Experiment with different zoom lenses
  • Change elevation of your camera
  • Get up close to focus on textures and patterns rather then location
  • Use reflections if available
  • Place a human or wildlife element in the photograph

Continued on Learning to See: Creative Compositions: Part II


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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hyperfocal distance

Here's another early morning shot from Graveyard flats in Banff. I used a GND filter to reduce the overall dynamic range, and a circular polarizer filter to cut through the light bouncing off the surface of the water and allow you to see the beautiful stones at the bottom of the pond clearly. The sun had climbed high enough in the sky to require a shorter shutter speed here (0.5 seconds at f/16) - but the surface of the pond was absolutely still, so a longer shutter speed was unnecessary.

The question then, is this... why I am using f/16? Why not shoot at f/8 or f/11, since I know that's where my lens works best? The reason I chose f/16 is because that gives me a hyperfocal distance of about 0.5 m with my focal length at 12mm ... so objects just .25 m away will be in sharp focus!

At f/8 - that near focus point will be about half a meter away... not close enough to get those rocks in the foreground sharp. I have my tripod low to the ground, here... just about .25 m from the closest rocks. I could have gotten even closer with f/22 - but I want my aperture as close to f/11 as possible, since that's where I get my cleanest shot.

All right - no more technical stuff. Sorry about that. ;)

I took several shots that morning, and I'm not sure which one I like best. I've processed four and deleted the rest - and I'll add them all to a new Canada gallery once I've finished the rest from the trip. I'm having such a great time working through these photos!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Well folks. Now I've done it. I've gone and gotten myself banned from (a well-known photo critique exchange site).
It may have had something to do with this letter I sent to PhotoSig admin this morning...


To Whom it May Concern:

When I started at PhotoSig a couple of years ago, I thoroughly enjoyed posting my photos here. I wrote a few critiques, but didn't feel particularly qualified to do so at the time. My ratio of posts to critiques was about 1/1. At some point, admin started asking posters to critique three photos for every post. I immediately started posting at least three critiques for every image I posted here on PhotoSig. Soon, I was posting a critique for every person who critiqued my images... often ten or more critiques for each image I posted.

And yet - despite my efforts to give back - I still received rude comments from [a moderator at PhotoSig... I won't use names as I'd prefer not to get personal here]. It seems that no matter the effort one puts into this site, no one is exempt from this kind of treatment.

Once, I was accused of stealing the work of another member of PhotoSig - and although the accusation was withdrawn when [the moderator] realized she'd made a mistake, the negative feeling about PhotoSig remained.

On another occasion, I was told quite rudely to post more critiques - despite the fact that I had already posted eight critiques that day. Again, I received an apology - but the negative feeling doesn't go away.

After that most recent episode, I took a break from PhotoSig. Why spend time here when I end up feeling frustrated and angry? Seems a waste of valuable time.

But the other day, I came back and posted another shot because I felt that PhotoSig has much to offer - and here we are again. My first post in months and I get another nasty comment.

After my husband responded to the rude post, he got an email accusing us of sharing accounts (we each have an account and we post separately), using PhotoSig to drive traffic to our sites (does [the moderator] really think PhotoSig gives us enough traffic to our sites to justify the time we've spent here over the past couple of years?), and not giving back. Really? After the seven critiques I wrote in the past two days... after posting a single image of my own?

I don't object to being reminded of the rules – like critiquing regularly or not posting photos with a link to our individual websites (oops). I object to rude and condescending comments like the ones I regularly receive from [a moderator] here at PhotoSig.

I will no longer post images on PhotoSig. I’ve also pulled all my images from the site. Enough is enough. Why waste my time on PhotoSig when there are so many other critique sites that offer the same services - and a positive experience as well?

I do wish I could thank all of the contributors who took the time to critique my photos over the years. Contributors here are a great collection of people. I've enjoyed being a part of this community… and I regret that my time on PhotoSig is over. I’ll spend my time on FredMiranda, NPN, and other communities which offer a fantastic experience alongside the critiques and comments.

I do hope that PhotoSig will find a way to return to its former glory. It was a fantastic site once – but I’m hearing more and more negative comments about the experience as time passes. I know that the problems PhotoSig is having with [this moderator] are not a secret – and I know it must be politically difficult to handle a situation like this one. I do hope it will be resolved in the near future. I wish PhotoSig the best of luck.

Varina Patel


My mother would say, "OH, Varina...."

And she's probably right. But there it is. Now I've gone and done it.

Now - please don't think I'm asking all of you to remove your own accounts on PhotoSig. I still believe that PhotoSig is a great site - and that the community there is excellent. My problem is with a single moderator/administrator - and I hope that they will resolve the issue eventually. I know my experience has not been unique.

I do want to thank all those of you who reviewed my work while I was a member of PhotoSig. I'm a better photographer because of all of you. So Thanks! And I'll miss you all over there! :)

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

iHDR Webinar

All right, folks. Your wish is our command. We have received a whole lot of inquiries about online iHDR classes over the past few months. So many, in fact, that we've put together a series of webinars for all those who can't attend an on-the-ground seminar. You can get all the information you need by clicking here: iHDR webinar

Here are the dates and times - notice that we've broken up the lessons into four separate sessions. Two on Saturday, September 26th - and two more on the 27th.

Session 1: Sept 26, 9:00 AM - 11:00 AM (EST)
Fundamentals of Nature Photography

Session 2: Sept 26, 2:00 PM - 4:30 PM (EST)
Histograms & Raw Processing

Session 3: Sept 27, 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM (EST)
Layers & Masks in Photoshop

Session 4: Sept 27, 2:00 PM - 4:30 AM (EST)
iHDR Workflow

We HIGHLY recommend completing sessions 2 & 3 before attending session 4. We won't have time to go back and cover the concepts covered in sessions 2 & 3.

We're not sure how fast these sessions are going to fill up - and we're not sure when we'll be offering another series - so if you want a spot, you'll need to sign up right away.

I hope these dates will work for all those who were unable to attend our seminars.

And for those who are wondering what the heck I'm talking about, click here for a short video explaining iHDR.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beauty Creek - Jasper

We had some spectacular skies on this night. Jay's photo from a few days ago is from the same location - but facing in the other direction. He was somewhere on the left in this image - hidden by trees at the edge of the lake. The sun was shining through clouds on the opposite horizon, and just for a few minutes, a golden band appeared on the mountain. So I was hopping back and forth from rock to rock - trying not to end up with the fishes.

I love the reflected light in the water - and those beautiful dark spots of flora at the bottom of the lake add a bit of interest in that corner of the image.

I shot at f/11 and 1/5 sec. I processed a single image three times to find the correct exposure for sky, mountain, and water. This took quite a while, since I couldn't decide on the correct white balance. Is it right? Heck - I've no idea. I usually try to memorize the colors so I can reproduce them later... but I guess my little brain was overwhelmed with color data (too many shots in just a few days!) In the end, I decided this looked as close to real as I could get it... and I combined the three images in Photoshop using our iHDR technique. I'd love to hear your comments on this one. :)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Q and A

I had a good time answering this question yesterday. I thought some of you might be interested in the topic, too.

If your images are shot in RAW, have [they] been adjusted for sharpness, density, saturation and the like?

My wife keeps telling me (she shoots jpegs on a G6) that my final images are not 'real' because they were 'done' in Photoshop.

I say they are very real because the finished image once it goes thru the RAW processor is what I saw in my mind's eye when I took the shot in the first place…

…Do you have an opinion on this?

We are on the cusp of sleeping in different bedrooms, sharing parts of the dog and so on.

- A

Adelaide, South Australia


So, let's start by looking at this analytically.

What is the difference between a JPG and a RAW file? In order to create a raw file, the following steps take place in your camera:

1. Photons reach the pixels on the sensor
2. An electrical charge is created on each pixel
3. The charge is converted to voltage
4. The voltage is amplified
5. The Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) measures the volts and assigns discrete values
6. The ADC converts this information into binary

That's it. That's a RAW file. Now... to create a JPG file, the camera does all that too... and then it does the following:

7. Uses a Bayer Interpolation to create color information (remember - your camera can't see... so it is using a mathematical equation to make a decent guess at the correct colors. Sometimes it is correct - but not always. In fact, not often.)
8. White balance adjustments are made (again - the camera is blind, so it uses a complicated mathematical equation to guess at a neutral tone)
9. Makes a series of tonal adjustments including contrast enhancements, etc... in fact... all those things you can do for yourself in the RAW converter are just done automatically in a JPG file
10. Sharpens the image (another algorithm... sharpening is applied indiscriminately across the entire image. Whether it needs it or not.)
11. And last... but certainly not least. The camera compresses the data. Which means it throws away any data it didn't use. If it guessed wrong about the correct color balance - that's too bad. The correct data has been thrown out. If the contrast is too high, or the sharpening is too extreme... you are out of luck. The data is gone and it cannot be recovered. Ever.


If you shoot RAW, those last five steps are up to you. Luckily, you aren't blind. (At least, I’m assuming you aren't.) You know how the scene looked in reality. So, rather than relying on a series of blind mathematical equations, you can rely on your own vision. Is it perfect? Will you get it right every time? Nope. But it's a whole heck of a lot more reliable than the camera.

How does processing a raw file compare to developing an image in a darkroom? Well - Photoshop (or whatever software you use) is your digital darkroom. You use it the way a film photographer would use a darkroom... to brighten or darken areas of the image, to adjust contrast and luminosity in specific areas of the image, to adjust color and so on. Developing an image in a darkroom is completely different from processing an image in Photoshop... but it accomplishes the same purpose. Would you say that a photographer who shoots film and develops his own film in the darkroom isn't a photographer? And would you say that a film photographer who takes his film from the camera and sends it off to have the developing and printing done by someone else is superior to the one who does it himself? It's a strange argument, really. In the past, a photographer who didn't do his own development was considered "less than". Not a "real" photographer. But now, with the advent of digital photography and Photoshop, the photographer who actually goes beyond the release of the shutter to handle the processing of the image himself is in question. :)

And finally - does it really matter? It's art. Photoshop is a tool. Just as a brush is a tool for a painter, and the kiln is a tool for a potter. So in the end, does it really matter? Just enjoy photography for what it is. Art and pleasure. An expression of what you love and who you are. Love it. Don't fight it. ;)

So yes. My photographs are shot in RAW and adjusted in the Adobe RAW converter and Photoshop. The colors are as close to the reality of the scene as I can make them (most of the time). I'm not perfect - but I do try. :)

Have a great day. And my best regards to your wife.
Please don't try dividing the dog. I hear that gets messy.


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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reflecting on Jasper

When the right light and right location come together the results are nothing short of spectacular. While shooting at Beauty Creek we ran into cloud formations that produced some of the most brilliant light display of our trip to Canadian Rockies. I have to give credit to our host Darwin and Samantha for showing us this location. Be sure to check their website (, Chrysalizzphotography) and their blog. Both Darwin and Samantha offer workshops in Canadian Rockies.

To capture this photograph I used a 0.9 Hard Edge GND filter. Because I was shooting looking directly into the sun, even with a 0.9 ND filter I had to bracket my shots. These bracketed shots were combined using our iHDR work flow to bring out the colors and details in both the sky and reflection.

I hope you like the photograph. Please feel free to comment and give me suggestion for improving the photo. Thanks you for stopping by.


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Monday, August 10, 2009

Green and Blue - Banff

Since I've had very little time for processing, I have chosen to process a few quick and easy shots. This first shot is just a simple dandelion seed head. Jay pointed this one out near Bow Lake. I shot with my 180mm macro. Notice I'm shooting in the shade - soft, even lighting works well for this subject. You can see the detail in the seeds, but the contrast isn't too extreme... which means the flower keeps its delicate softness.

This is Herbert Lake. We'd been shooting elsewhere, but high winds forced us away. I took only a few shots under this sky - and I threw all but this one away. Wide angle lens, f/11, and a long shutter speed (3.2 sec). A simple composition, a bit of texture in the clouds, and a bit of drama just for the fun of it.

This is an early morning shot from a pond near Graveyard Flats. We'd had a rough night - nearby campers partied late into the night, and loud thunderstorms kept us awake after that. The moodiness of the heavy morning fog had me smiling, though. :) This was an incredibly easy shot to process... no broad range of light to deal with, very low contrast overall, and it wanted to go blue... so I let it have its way.

What do you think?

We have an iHDR seminar in Ohio this weekend. There are just a few seats left, so if you are interested, don't put off registering any longer.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Photographer of the Month

I am hugely honored to have been featured as Photographer of the Month on Darwin Wiggett's blog. He wrote up a really kind review of my work. Take a look if you have a chance, and make sure you spend some time in his website galleries. Beautiful work all around. Thanks so much, Darwin. I appreciate it enormously!

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Back in the States

Sorry folks! I would have loved to update my blog regularly during our stay in Canada, but I had very little access to the internet. And I was having entirely too much fun. This was, without question, one of our best trips ever. The landscapes were gorgeous, the skies were stunning, and the company was great fun. I have hundreds of images to work through, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to processing them. I hope you'll all be patient with me! :)This is a shot of Anemone occidentalis - better known as "Tow-headed Baby" or "Western Anemone" - from Sunshine Meadows in Banff National Park. (Forgive me... I love those fantastic Latin names. I have to admit, though - I look them all up. I don't have a clue what this stuff is called off the top of my head. I guess I just like to pretend I'm smart.) Although the vistas were fantastic, the light was pretty harsh. I found myself noticing small details. The drops of dew on this flower remained only because the flower was in the shade - which meant I had perfect lighting for a macro shot. It takes time to get a shot like this one just right... the flower is blowing in the wind, and focusing for macros can be difficult.

I used my 180mm macro lens to get nice and tight - and made sure the setup was secure on my tripod before worrying about focus. Although standard auto-focus works well enough for wide angle shots, I needed the more precise live-view auto-focus function to make sure focus was spot-on for such a small subject. I had to wait for the wind to die down as well.

I bumped up the ISO to 400 for a faster shutter speed - and managed to get a nice, clean shot at 1/30 sec. I chose f/5.6 to get just enough depth of field... I wanted those droplets nice and sharp, but the background completely blurred.

I'll post lots more from this trip as soon as I can. Hang in there - I'm trying to get caught up! :)

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