Guest blog

What's Interesting

Here is another great entry from Dave of DCStep. In this tutorial he helps us understand interestingness as defined by flickr. For those who don’t use flickr, I suggest spending some time looking at the artists found here. Your photography will improve.

Those of you that view images and/or post images to Flickr have probably noticed something called “Interesting.” Flickr also uses the word “interestingness”, which they define as follows:

“There are lots of elements that make something 'interesting' (or not) on Flickr. Where the clickthroughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing. Interestingness changes over time, as more and more fantastic content and stories are added to Flickr.”

If you haven’t explored the Interesting images on Flickr, then I think that you should. As you explore, think about the elements that you see in these images that might be missing from your own or might be made stronger. Now, after you’ve explored the Interesting images of others, do you know which of your images are Interesting?

I use a couple of methods to keep tabs on my Interesting images, Flickriver (here’s my page on Flickriver ) and a set manager called ( ). You can see my Flickr Set called Interestingness, as managed by at . Both services are easy to set up for anyone with a Flickr account.

Here’s a picture of a white tail deer doe that I took last weekend that I suspected would be popular and, sure enough, it rose to my 18
th most “interesting” within less than a week:


here to view on Black

(Canon 7D, with EF 500mm f/4L IS lens in AV mode at f/5.6, ISO 400, +1/3EV resulting in 1/100th sec. on tripod)

What are the elements that allowed me to predict that this image would be Interesting? Looking again at my Interestingness Set and this image, here’s some of the things that I see:
The subject is either cute, sweet, brightly colored, powerful, funny, rare, cudley, furry, feathery or downy. I see this one as sweet and innocent. Look at that wet nose, smooth fur, alert ears and little wiskers on her chin. On the other end of the scale, I have a powerful bull elk that made my Interestingness Set, probably due, in part, to his impressive rack, strength and stature.

Catch a light in the eye. If you go over to Flickr and look at the Original size version of this you can see my reflection in her eyes. That’s an added bonus for me, but the light in the eye of the subject really adds to our connection with the subject as viewers. I took multiple shots of this gal, but I was always hoping that she’d turn her head so that the eyes shown brightly. The sun was to my back and a little left. We’re in the shadows here, but there’s bright morning light outside the shade. I’m always looking for a glint in the eye.

Classic composition. For a portrait, I often like the subject centered. You can see the rule of thirds in use here and her body coming in from the left adds a diagonal element that’s pleasing to the eye.

Lots of sharp details are critical for most nature photography. There are other types of photography where you might avoid sharp details, but I think that it’s critical in nature photography. I love the fact that I can see more details in my image than I saw when I was framing this in my viewfinder. Using my tripod allowed a relatively low ISO and low shutter speed, resulting in very accurate colors and lots of detail. You can hand hold many lenses with good results, but with any telephoto over 130mm you’ll usually benefit from a tripod in this type of light.

Nice backgounds seem to populate my most Interesting images. Here the large aperture on a super-telephoto resulted in a wonderful bokeh, separating the doe from her surroundings. With my other images there might be blue sky background or attractive environmental elements, like a pond or snowy field. With scenics there’ll be balance between the foreground, main subject and background.

FILL THE FRAME STUPID is one of my main mantras. Fortunately, with digital processing, it’s easy for us to crop our images, but it helps to fill the frame in-camera whenever possible. It’s interesting to note that I used to own an excellent EF 400mm f/5.6L lens before I bought my 500mm. There are still shots that I took with my 400mm in my Interestingness Set, but the shots with the 500mm are steadily displacing the 400mm shots. That may be partly due to my gaining experience, but I’m convinced that it’s also due to my ability to fill the frame better with the 500mm.
Did I list “cute” as a criteria?


here to view on Black.
(Canon 7D, with EF 500mm f/4L IS lens in AV mode at f/5.6, ISO 1600, +1EV resulting in 1/2000th sec. on tripod)

This little gosling flashed to the top of my Interestingness Set, despite my clunky crop (subject is too far left), no light in the eye, too-high ISO, concrete pond setting, etc. If every subject were this cute, we’d all be pros.

I think that following my own “Interesting” images and routinely viewing the Interesting shots of others has helped my photography a good bit. It’s just one more element of study that suplements and demonstrates the success of the rules that we’ve studied in books, classes and blogs. As I review, questions come up like, did I follow the rule of thirds, did I catch light in the eye, was the image sharp, was the background interesting and occasionally, why in the heck do they like that one but not this one?

Making Scenic Photography Opportunities

Here is another blog from Dave of DCStep. Recently both of us have been quite busy. I hope to have many new entries in the coming weeks. Recently work and family have gotten in the way taking photos. Family comes first and work is necessary to pay the bills. Thank you for visiting. Please take some time to visit my site and also the great photos on Dave’s site.

I take two primary types of scenic photographs. One type is shots of opportunity, where I’m lucky enough to have my camera with me and a striking sunset or sunrise presents itself or I happen on a beautiful place at just the right time. Another type is the planned scenic or landscape shot. This blog entry will discuss planning scenic images.

Following is an image I took last August at
Echo Lake, Colorado:


A big part of taking successful scenic images is putting yourself into scenic places. I try to do that several times per year, whether on vacation, as in my recent cruise to Alaska, or business in Atlanta or on specific photography oriented trips, like when I took the image at Echo Lake, Colorado. The main objective of the trip was to ascend Mount Evans to locate mountain goats and bighorn sheep to photograph with my 500mm and my 70-200mm lenses, but I always like to consider if a wildlife photography trip might contain some scenic photography opportunities. Knowing that I’d be in the mountains and scenic lakes might be there; I looked at the map and noted that Echo Lake was right on my way to Mount Evans.

Mount Evans is known for big crowds on weekends because you can drive your vehicle all the way to the top and it’s a popular place for sporting events, like bike races. All of the traffic and events tie up the only two-lane road in and out and scare of some of the animals and ruin other shots. Because my work is flexible I was able to go up on a weekday. I chose to go in early morning to further reduce crowds and to give myself the best odds for good light.

The weekend before my short trek I studied the weather report for the likely clearest morning of the coming week. For either goats or scenic shots, I didn’t want overcast skies, so I picked a day when high pressure was predicted. The ideal scenic shot might have a few clouds in it and maybe some red tinge due to low sun; however, the “safe” shot is with a clear sky. From images that I’d seen by others, I knew that Echo Lake was a reflecting lake, with trees and mountain showing.

Mountain lakes are usually in valleys and mountain valleys don’t usually get sun until almost an hour after sunrise, sometimes later. Sunrise was just after 6 a.m. on my chosen day, so I planned to get to echo lake between 7 and 7:30 a.m. Another reason to be early is because breezes start building in the mountains not long after the sun rises and a stiff breeze will ruin the reflective properties of the water surface. In my image of Echo Lake the water was mirror-smooth.

If Echo had been my main objective I probably would have been there at sunrise. A professional photographer trying to get the best possible shot of the lake might have been there several sunrises and sunsets in a row, hoping for something really “special.” Trying to distinguish their work, pros spend a lot of effort getting to places that the average person seldom sees. Echo Lake is certainly not a rare site. Compare that to a mountain site that might require two-days to pack in and you see the difference in dedication level.

In one way, describing my effort to take this shot makes it seem like I’m lazy. Still, my objective is to help others discover how easy it is to take pictures that make you proud with just a little extra effort. A casual photographer could have happened by the same scene and got a shot roughly equivalent to mine with almost any Point & Shoot camera, it just won’t happen to them as often as for those of us that plan for it and try to make it happen.

Anyway, my planning was successful and I literally drove up to the lake, stopped my car twenty-feet from where I took this image, stepped out, sat down on a rock, low and close to the water and pressed the shutter.

I used my EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens at 55mm. This is a great, sharp lens. I use DxO Optic Pro for RAW conversion to remove the small geometric errors that most zooms contain, particularly at the wide end of their zoom ranges. I used a relatively small aperture of f/11 to give good depth of field. My low ISO of 100 was selected to minimize the chances of digital noise. -1/3EV was used to keep the sky from looking washed out. A graduated neutral density filter (“GND”) is often used for this purpose, but I didn’t think the sky was bright enough to warrant pulling mine out.

I also prefer to use my full-frame Canon 5D MkII for scenic photography because of its great clarity and huge image with lots of pixels on the subject (24 mega-pixels). Also, the angle of view is wider than my 7D with its 1.6x crop factor sensor. For instance, on my 7D my 24-105mm lens give the field of view of a 38-168mm lens on the 5D MkII.

My tripod was in my car, but I didn’t use it because the shutter speed of 1/60
th second was adequate for me to simply brace my arms against my knees as I sat on a rock at the water’s edge. I try to go for the lowest ISO practical and a small aperture for scenic shots. If the shutter speed drops below 1/50th second, then I leave the ISO low and pull out the tripod and remote release. You can get away with less if you’ll never blow the image up into a large print or pixel-peep it, but I’m trying to get images that’ll withstand the most detailed scrutiny.

This is the very first shot that I took. I moved around the lake and took maybe another twenty, but this was the best of the lot, taken from the exact spot of where my eye led me. As I approached I drove by the lake to survey it, did a U-turn and came back to this spot.

By the way, here’s one of the results of the main purpose of my trip to
Mount Evans:


Here is another incredible blog entry from Rikki of Rikkims. She is a very talented photographer that takes time to tell a story with every one of her photos. She puts a lot of time and effort into taking photos that have meaning and portray a story. Thanks for another great post Rikki.


Basically, I don't have very much "fancy" equipment. Whenever I see people with big cameras I always get excited or maybe it's jealous haha. The reason I don't have one is because when I went for my interview/portfolio review at the Hallmark Institute of Photography last october I asked the guy looking at my work which camera he recommended me to get. He told me straight out not to get one (even though my parents were planning on getting me one for christmas). The reason was because once I get the camera from Hallmark he said I would never use the other one because the cameras we get there are so immaculate and I’d be unhappy with that one afterwards, so he said not to waste the money. So I'm stuck with my little old point and shoot. I shoot with an Olympus FE280 - it's a little 8.0 megapixel, red point and shoot and it has done me well so far. I realize everyday how much I'm limited with it but I try to make up for it in post processing. I'm hoping this will make me a stronger photographer in the end and I’m going to be in heaven when I get the cameras from Hallmark!


I got you.

One nice thing I do have is a tripod! I don't think I’d live without that. I take mostly self-potraits because I don't have very many models, however I do take pictures of other people but I rarely post them on flickr for privacy reasons. I don't have a remote so I have to resort to my cameras 12 second timer. It can be very frustrating but it works. So this picture you see here was of me and my boyfriend. It's so hard to get him in a picture with me, but when I do I always love how they come out. I live near the Hudson River so there are some very beautiful places to take pictures. This one in particular was taken on a dock thats right next to the Mid-Hudson bridge. We had just gone out to dinner at a local restaurant on the river and afterwards I forced him to walk down to the dock with me, then I whipped out my camera and he groaned. haha. I didn't have my tripod with me so I had to set the camera down right on the dock and I ran to get in position next to him. I'm actually very happy that I didn't have my tripod because I love the different view it gave. You can see all the nails in the dock. I think it gives it a different perspective that's really special. I wasn't even considering the rule of thirds with this picture but it came out as if I did. After I got it on the computer I fixed the exposure a bit and turned it into black and white because the colors weren't anything vibrant. That's all I did for processing but it came out as a great, memorable shot.

Holding still

This shot here was completely planned out (for the most part) unlike some of my other shots. I've been to this location once before and it's a really magical place. So I had gotten a new dress the friday before I took this picture. I always take pictures in dresses so I was excited. I went out sunday afternoon to this place and it was very hot. I found the flower that I’m holding on the way to this bridge. I love Queen Anne's Lace , they are so beautiful and I was definitely using that in my picture because I love flowers. When I got to the bridge I had already had some poses in mind and this was one of them. I made sure to set my tripod on the bridge, but at a lower angle so it would have a nice personal perspective of me sitting on the bridge. I also made sure to sit on my shins and have my dress all fanned out like I did- close attention to details. Then I heard the beeping of my timer so I quickly got into the first pose I could think of with the flower and my hand in my hair and this is how it came out. I love the contrast between the red and green. I wasn't even thinking about that beforehand but afterwards I thought hey that was lucky. I feel that with a location like this you can't go wrong. It's just tough sometimes for me to come up with poses because I have no modeling ability whatsoever haha. But I am happy with the turnout. I don't usually like to give my photos an incredibly personal feel for myself, simply because I want other people to imagine themselves in the spot I'm sitting at, which is why I take lots of pictures with my back facing the camera or like this one where my eyes and face are hidden. I feel that pictures like this give other people a chance to envision themselves in my shoes. I like to take pictures other people can relate to and enjoy and sometimes this helps a little. But when I'm taking pictures for other people I do the opposite- I make them very personal for the person they are of so I make sure to get their faces and anything else that defines them in it.



Here is a chance for you to see my work with me behind the camera. This is a picture of my friend Perry. I took this photo back in October around the time I was first really getting into taking pictures. I'm still a beginner at photography so I consider myself a super beginner when I took this. Yet after 10 months of grown experience I still am very proud of this image. My friend Perry really does play the guitar and he one day suggested to me that I take pictures of guitars, but I felt that pictures of just guitars was a little too plain for my taste. So I suggested he be in the pictures with them! This was my second portrait shoot for a friend that I had ever done but there are so many from this day that I still like. We went up to a state park on the Hudson River called Vanderbilt Estates. They have the most beautiful "Italian Gardens" there and that is the spot I took most of the pictures. This one in particular is of a building that had this random door on the side and it was up high with no steps. So I made him sit on the ledge holding the acoustic guitar- which is actually mine, he took his 2 other electric ones but I personally like the look of acoustic guitars in photographs better, I feel it’s more natural or mellow as opposed to the loud electric guitars. I got so lucky with the composition of this shot. The bricks to the right balance out the vines to the left and the little thing on the top corner of the door looks really cool- I’m not sure what it is though. I was holding my camera when I took this; I didn't own a tripod at this point. After I put it on the computer I turned it into sepia because I think the contrast between the highlights and shadows look better that way and it gives it warm tones. It also makes the texture of the grass and wall stand out so much more. I'm pretty sure I used some vignetting in this too because of the bottom corners but the dark spots in the top corners are mostly dark because of the brick that was on the building. Despite being one of my earliest works I am still fond of this shot, and so was Perry.


Keep your eyes on the horizon

Back to a self-portrait! This isn't my most "popular" picture on flickr but it is my only picture that has made it to explore front page and has the most comments, favs, and views. (not that that necessarily means anything but I thought I’d talk about it because of that). This was taken at Long Beach Island, NJ around 6 in the morning. I woke up early on my vacation to take these and my dad was nice enough to come with me. I used my tripod for this shot and got into position, but since I had my dad there with me I told him to press the shutter for me when I was ready. The light from the morning sun was so beautiful and I loved how it was shining on the fence. This spot was at the opening of the walkway to get onto the beach, so once again I didn't get very far before I started taking pictures haha. The colors of the sky, sand and sea were amazing because of the morning light. But I made sure to get those sea grasses behind the fence in the picture because I love how it adds to it. I feel like it's such a simple portrait but it was taken at a beautiful time of day in a beautiful place. I made sure not to look at the camera because I wanted there to be a sense of wonder about what I was looking at and the title fit so well when I thought about it after I uploaded it to flickr. I only did a little processing to this, mostly with the cross processing effect. But I just had to leave it in color because of the gorgeous beach tones. This will always be a favorite of mine.

Thank you again Darrin for the opportunity to do another blog. I love what you do with your website and I'm so honored to be a part of it. If you'd like me to do any other posts about processing or something else I'd be more than happy to. Thank you thank you!

Nature Photography on a Cruise Ship

Nature Photography and Cruising
By DCStep

I just returned from a ten-day cruise and land excursion to Alaska on the Diamond Princess and using Princess Properties (trains, buses and hotels) inland to Denali. This was billed as an “Inside Passage Glacier Discovery” tour, which meant that the ship’s captain took every opportunity to use inland waterways, ranging from the rivers and straits North of Vancouver, British Columbia to the river dead ending at Skagway, Alaska to the incredible fjords like Glacier Bay and College Fjord where active glaciers “calve” into the fjords.

Dreaming of the trip I imagined bald eagles, orcas, humpback whales, bears, glaciers and beautiful scenery, all visible from my balcony. (Do spring for a balcony if you can afford it. You can go out on the Promenade Deck for photography, but being cozy on your own balcony for hours at a time is much superior). All my dreams came true, but I wasn’t prepared for the beautiful send off from Vancouver as boats swarmed our big ship as the prominent skyline against the water with Whistler Mountain served as the backdrop.

Wildlife photography generally requires a long lens, but shooting wildlife from a ship amplifies the need for focal length because ships can’t really get into shallow water and/or stop for much wildlife. (Our ship did slow for whales and other sea life and did stop for the bear you’ll see later in the blog). Expecting this, I took my 500mm f/4 lens on this trip.

First, let’s look at a couple of shots using the 500mm lens for “scenic” images.
View on Black

The shot above of Lions Gate Bridge with a Holland America cruise ship and a tanker passing was taken with my 500mm lens on my Canon 7D. I’m guessing that I was around a mile away from the nearest ship. The compression of distance caused by using the super telephoto lens gives this image much of its dramatic impact. The long focal length also reduces the impact of smoke and atmospheric haze in this busy metropolitan city.

Here’s another image taken with the 500mm, taking advantage of the distance compression to compact a tanker, the Vancouver skyline and Whistler Mountain into a dramatic composition.
View on Black

Even though the subjects are relatively static in the past two examples, I’m still using my tripod to get the maximum sharpness out of my 500mm lens. I use a strong ballhead with a Wimberley Sidekick mounted to hold my 500mm steady while also allowing quick movement to follow opportunities like the image that follows.

View on Black

I doubt that anyone else on the ship actually saw this juvenile bald eagle catch a fish. About two-hours out of port, I saw a large bird cross over the ship and tracked it with my lens before I’d even identified it. As it neared the water I shot a burst of images and caught this image To give an idea of the distance involved, I had to crop this around 80% to get it this close, pushing the limits of reasonable sharpness, even with a 500mm lens. I don’t use my 1.4x teleconverter for birds in flight because I find it very hard to lock onto the bird quickly and follow it. With more practice I hope to develop the necessary skill, but right now the 500mm is about at the limit of my handling ability.

For the following image I had my 1.4x teleconverter mounted with the 500mm lens, equaling 700mm, and I still had to crop 50%. I’m guessing that the brown bear was around 300-yards away. The ship’s skipper did a great job of getting us close to wildlife and glaciers, but there’s only so much that he could do.

View on Black

The distances to wildlife when viewed from a cruise ship are the big reason to bring your long lens. Also, using the long lens for scenic images gives your images a different perspective. I still brought and used my wide angle lens, but this blog thread is about using the heavy artillery.

Carrying all the equipment on a trip is an issue to be considered. I bought a ThinkTank International carryon roller bag that holds two bodies, my 500mm lens, a 70-200mm f/4 and my 24-105mm f/4, plus ancillaries. It’s heavy when loaded, but it fits in the overhead bins on US and international flights. That and my computer case are my carryon baggage. I have a four-section Induro C414 (now the CT414) that will fit in a large suitcase, which I check with the airline. The 3-section tripods tend to be too long for most luggage. When buying a tripod, make its length versus your luggage one of the selection criteria.

I’ve packed this way for two trips and found that it works quite well. For trips where I don’t need the 500mm I use a regular sized backpack style camera bag and usually take two bodies, two lenses, the flash and other odds and ends. For some trips I travel light and take only one body and two lenses and use a much smaller handbag type arrangement. I still usually pack the tripod in my checked bag.

Other issues I was forced to deal with were vibration and wind. With a large lens, every vibration is amplified and the wind on the deck of a moving ship can grab a lens and shake it pretty good. To the degree possible, I positioned the tripod inboard as much as possible to still see and yet avoid letting the wind catch the end of the lens. To deal with vibration I kept the shutter speeds up over 1/1000-second when I could. When cruising, the ship’s vibrations are minimal in calm seas, but when the ship is stopped and positioning for us to see wildlife, like the bear, the side-thrusters can produce quite a shake that is visible through the lens. I waited on the thrusters to stop, but you could lift the camera off the tripod to damp this effect with your body, but then you need higher shutter speed to offset any unsteadiness due to hand holding.

What if you don’t have a 500mm lens and don’t want to rent one, then what is the minimum lens needed to get some really effective shots? I find my 70-200mm f/4 to be a workhorse. Here’s a shot of Margerie Glacier calving taken with my 70-200mm f/4 lens.

View on Black

This was handheld. We were too close to use the 500mm for this type of shot. I did get some details of the glacier with my 500mm, but this shot of the glacier “calving” into the Glacier Bay worked best with the smaller zoom. By the way, that blue tint is the actual color of the glacier.

Everyone trekking to Denali wants to capture something like this following image. I used my 70-200mm lens, plus the 1.4x teleconverter for this. We were 80-miles from the mountain at this point. I was extremely lucky that the mountain even showed its face, because there had been rain and clouds for two-weeks prior to my visit. I could have ridden the bus another 40-miles into the park, but probably would have come up empty because the mountain would likely be hidden again. Our bus driver saw this and pulled to the side at the first turnout so that we could get our shots. The window of opportunity was only around 30-minutes. I was there for another day and a half and never saw the mountain again.

View on Black

For me, taking the inside passage up Alaska’s Southeastern coast and then inland to Denali was a “bucket list” kind of trip. In planning I couldn’t imagine going without taking the very best pictures possible for me, which meant bringing my best equipment, even if it’s bulky and heavy. I’m glad I did. Out of around 2,800 passengers, I only saw a handful of other “serious” photographers. Most others were shooting with point and shoot cameras and a few were simply using their iPhones. If you’re reading this blog, you probably want to stay at the higher end of the scale.

My wife and I took our ten and fourteen year old granddaughters with us on this trip; otherwise, I might have gone on a much smaller boat. I considered taking a photography workshop on a boat that carried only 28 passengers and crew. That would not have worked with the wife and young girls, so we elected this style of cruise. I think that it really did work out well. I looked at what the photographers on the smaller boat did on their cruise and envy them nothing. They did get some things that I didn’t and vice versa. The large cruise ship is a valid way to really see Alaska and document it with your own photography.

Here’s the URL of my Flickr site for anyone interested in seeing more of my images from this adventure:

Happy shooting


Thank you for another fantastic post from DCStep.

Macro Photography with Birding Equipment
I recently demonstrated how the birder photographer’s tripod, ballhead and high quality camera could be used for night photography if you just add a remote release and know how to deal with the low light. Now I’d like to discuss using the same tripod, ballhead/gimbal, camera and super telephoto lens for “macro” photography.
First, let me talk a little about what macro photography is actually. To me, macro is all about “life sized” images. So, if you view an image of a bug or flower, the subject is around as large as it is in real life, if not bigger. In the beginning, and I’m talking way back in the 1800s, a “life sized” or “1-to-1” image was an image where a bumble bee was the same size on the photographic plate as it was in real life. In those days, most prints were made either directly from the photographic glass or a contact print method, where the print was the same size as the plate (negative).
Soon, enlargers and film were invented and the prints stayed large and even got larger, but the definition of “life sized” still meant that the subject was life size on the negative, not the final print. This was a consistent definition, but didn’t relate to the final viewed image, which was usually a print. Today, the sensors for many point and shoot cameras are smaller than a bumble bee. Hence, the magnification ratio cannot physically be 1-to-1 to capture a whole bumble bee at the sensor on a P&S camera which is more likely .1-to-1 when producing a “macro” image. Yet, many of those cameras will produce pleasing “life sized” bumble bees on 4”x6” prints.
Canon makes a macro lens that can produce an image at the sensor with a 5-to-1 magnification ratio. If you think about a bumble bee and a sensor size of 35mm or smaller, you could only use such a lens at its maximum magnification to shoot part of a bumble, like the eye, and that would fill the image. I’ll call that “extreme macro”, which is a topic I’ll not cover today.
What I will demonstrate is how to use your birding lens to produce pleasing, “life sized” images (when viewed as 4”x6” print or “internet size”, for instance) that are stunning in detail when viewed full screen on a large computer monitor or a large HDTV.
I shot this bumble bee with my Canon 7D with a 500mm f/4.0 lens and a 1.4x teleconverter and 25mm extension tube. Just like when shooting birds, I shot in Aperture Preferred mode at f/11.0, 0EV, resulting in a shutter speed of 1/1250. That’s exactly the same set up as I was using to shoot humming birds and goldfinches about 25-feet further away, except for the extension tube. This bumbler was at around 15-feet when I shot this particular image, but it’d been slightly closer, where the ET was needed. I’ve learned to take the ET quickly off and on the lens and hold it in my left hand while I shoot songbirds and hummers. An extension tube will prevent you from focusing your lens at infinity. In the case of my 500mm lens the maximum focus distance is reduced to around 10-meters.
This image is cropped some for composition purposes, rather than to get the bee large enough.
Technique for shooting bumble bees, song birds and humming birds is almost the same. I left the auto focus on because of the constant movement of the subject and the shallow depth of field. I was using f/11.0 for both birds and bees in an attempt to get the whole animal and some surroundings in focus. You can see that, even stopped down like this, the bokeh is creamy smooth behind the bee.
I use my tripod for steadiness and a relatively high shutter speed to stop movement of the subject. Because the subject is constantly moving I cannot use mirror lock up and a remote release like in my night photography demonstration, so I damp the shutter vibration by putting my left hand on top of the lens and pressing down. That and the fast shutter speed makes for a sharp image.
If I were shooting something static, like a flower, I’d use Live View (a Canon term for using the LCD on the back of the camera) to lock the mirror up and I’d use my remote release. This will allow a much longer shutter speed and smaller aperture to increase depth of field even further. Also, with a static subject I’d lower the ISO to further reduce noise. (My Canon 7D has excellent noise performance at ISO 800, so it’s not a huge issue). Also, be aware that static subjects are not always particularly static if there’s any breeze. Generally shooting a 500mm lens, you don’t want to go below 1/500
th second, but it’s possible to do quite well at much slower speeds with a locked down tripod, mirror lock up and remote release. Just take the wind into consideration.
One key to using your telephoto and super telephoto lenses as macros is to get as near to the minimum focus distance as the subject will allow. Getting closer increases the size of the subject in the final image. Yeah, I know, duh, but that’s what macro is about so I thought that it was worth repeating.
If you have trouble focusing and you’re near the minimum focus distance of the lens, teleconverter and extension tube combination, try physically moving the camera toward and back from the subject. If you’re right at the minimum focus distance and go just a fraction under it, then the auto focus gets lost. At the extreme limit of focus distance, where you get the maximum magnification, focus gets harder to achieve and you might even elect to go to manual focus. One advantage to telephoto lenses is that’s less likely to be an issue than with something like a 50mm lens, where the range of focus will be very small when an extension tube is attached. I’ve seen people write on forums, “This thing doesn’t work and I’m going to send it back” when they didn’t really know how to operate it by physically moving the lens/camera in and out from the subject.
Another key is realizing that adding a 1.4x, 1.7x or 2x teleconverter is not going to change your minimum focus distance much, if at all, and you gain magnification on your sensor and in the resulting image. Teleconverters are quite commonly used on super telephoto lenses to increase the “reach” of the lens to bring small, distant subjects closer. They’re also useful to simply magnify a close subject in the viewfinder and on the sensor, which is the usage that I’m describing now.
Also, if you have a choice between a high quality crop sensor camera and a full-frame camera body, the crop sensor will give you a larger subject in the final image. However, you must consider the final image quality of each. For instance, a brand new full-frame Canon 5D MkII will yield a better image, even after cropping to bring the image up to the same size, compared to a several generations old crop sensor camera, like the Canon 20D. With the current 7Dcrop-sensor model and the 5D MkII, image quality is very, very close. I prefer my 7D for this use because what I see in the viewfinder is closer to my final print for most of these type shots.
I’m not advocating that anyone go out and buy a very expensive 500mm lens just to use for macro photography. What I’m saying is, if you already own a super telephoto lens for birds and/or nature, consider using it as a macro lens. The bumble bee was shot from around 15-feet away, which is luxurious working distance for macro shooting of moving subjects. An extension tube is not a primary requirement, but it will allow you to get closer, or keep shooting as the subject moves closer to you. I’d do suggest that a teleconverter is a key to getting satisfactory magnification, such that your subjects might actually be larger than life, depending on your particular camera and lens combination.
I was using a 500mm lens for this demonstration, but 400mm, 300mm and even 200mm lenses work very well also, you just need to get closer for the same image size. Bumble bees, butterflies, dragonflies and other bugs are all quite tolerant at the working distances that any of these lenses allow.
If you want to see this bumble bee at full image size (way larger than life sized) and have a reasonably fast internet connection, you can see extremely fine details at the following link:
View the above image Original size

For comparison below is an image taking with a 105mm Macro lens. The below image is taken handheld. Both the above image and the below are Milkweed. Both images show incredible detail. While you don’t need to go out and purchase an expensive lens like the 500mm or the 105mm, equipment does greatly help you in getting the shot that you are after. If you don’t have the newest camera or the best lens then the best camera is the one you have with you. Learn to use it and push it to its limits and you too can take great photos.~wr~

Rikki From Flickr

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Rikki from Flickr. Rikki is a very talented photographer that has a loyal following of people on Flickr. Many of the photos have a human subject in the photo, but that is not the entire story. If you follow her for long you will quickly learn that her photos tell a story. One thing that impresses me is that Rikki uses a point and shoot camera. Her photos are good due to solid composition and a nice touch with her post processing. I hope you enjoy the story she tells with her photos as much as I have.

Rikki teaches at least two important lessons perfectly with this blog and with her site. The first is that you can’t take good photos if you don’t go out and try. Some times she gets her inspiration from her walks. The second lesson is that the best camera for photography is the one you currently have. An expensive camera won’t do you any good if you can’t afford it. Just get out walk around and take photos with what you have.


When I was younger I always carried around one of those disposable cameras and would take tons of pictures of pretty much anything. Then, during my sophomore year in high school, I took a class on photography. This class didn't teach me a lot about lighting or posing or any important technical aspects of photography. However, it did teach me how to develop film in the darkroom, which was so much fun. I would say that this class really swayed me into becoming more interested in photography but I didn't get real serious about it until a year later, during my junior year in high school, the year you're supposed to decide what college you want to go to. I heard about the Hallmark Institute of Photography through a friend and when I went to visit it I fell in love with the school. So, in the fall of 2009 I started really getting into taking pictures and I love looking back and seeing how much I've improved already. It should be amazing to see all the things I will accomplish after attending Hallmark this fall.

I am happy to post this blog the hard part was choosing the photos. I have narrowed it down to the following four photos.

Beautiful Day For a Daydream
Beautiful Day for a Daydream

This photo is one of my favorites that I have taken. Mainly because of the location and colors. I am always looking for wildflowers to photograph near because I really love them. When I went out to take this, I was walking around aimlessly before I found this spot, but I am really happy with the turnout. I only have a point and shoot camera so there were no special settings I used on this, but I did do some post processing to get the dreamy tones I wanted.

Lingering Sun
Lingering Sun

This is another one of my favorites because I simply love how the sun looks in this. For this one I used the "candle light" mode on my camera, so it made the light seem like it was glowing. I didn't really plan this shot out, I had just gotten my tripod and was playing around with it and I happened to capture this! I also did some post processing with the tones.

In the Woods
In The Woods

This photograph has an interesting story behind it. First off, I really love this little bridge that is tucked away in the woods, it’s so quiet and mysterious there. One night I was looking through the book that I'm reading in this and I found this little excerpt called "In the Woods". Now, this book was my great-grandmothers school book and was published in 1911, so its almost 100 years old, which blows my mind. As I was reading the excerpt it reminded of this spot in the woods and the next day I went out to shoot this. I'm also holding one of my favorite wildflowers in this, the queen anne's lace.

I wish I could just put the pieces together
I Wish I Could Just put the Pieces Together

In this picture I definitely wanted to express a certain type of feeling. I think that a lot of people sometimes feel like they can't "put the pieces of the puzzle together" and have a hard time figuring some things out in life. I know I certainly have felt this way. So, in this shot, I used these paper puzzle pieces I had left over from an old english project and I wanted to lay down the way I did because I wanted to convey the feeling of helplessness or that I can't put the pieces together. I also love how the colors pop out and that I took this in the woods.

-Thanks again for this opportunity!

Night Photography

Here is another fantastic article from Dave of DCSteps. I think you will enjoy this as much as I did.

Urban Nights and Lights

So far I’ve been talking here about bird photography, but I thought I’d cover how to make use of some of the same equipment in an entirely different vein of photography. For most of my bird photography I use a sturdy tripod combined with a strong ballhead and a gimbaled head. If I take the gimbaled head off and substitute a wide-angle lens for the super telephoto used in bird photography, then I’m set for urban night photography.

I dabble in architectural photography, but really enjoy combining that with night photography. In some ways, getting a dramatic night shot is easier than getting a really “special” shot in the day time. The same rules of composition and perspective still apply, but the addition of artificial lights on a building seems to make things more dramatic, at least to my eye.

Well lit downtown areas tend to offer good subjects. One of my examples below is Radio City Music Hall in New York, which you might consider “cheating” to shoot something so iconic, but the other is Boston Avenue Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Thinking of the places that I’ve lived, the bridges in Jacksonville, the lit up buildings and streets of Dallas, Denver and Tulsa all offer great subjects. Try to find subjects locally but, when you travel to New York City or Vegas or Paris, pack the tripod.

In addition to the tripod, I also use a remote, wired shutter release to avoid any movement when I release the shutter. My DSLR has a function called “Live View” that puts the reflex mirror up and shows the scene on the camera back’s LCD. Raising the mirror and then using a remote release avoids any shake when the shutter is started and then closed. If you don’t have a remote release, then you might use your camera’s delayed release, combined with the mirror lock-up, if it has it. Point and shoot cameras don’t need to worry about mirror shake, but a remote release is still good, to avoid moving the camera as you press the Shutter button.

I use two primary methods for night exposures. Sometimes I use Aperture Preferred automated settings and let the camera calculate the exposure and other times I use the “Bulb” setting an experiment. When the subject fills a large part of the frame and you’re not trying to do things like catch blurred traffic in the same image with buildings, then the Aperture Preferred method generally works very well.

DCStep June 30a

See DCStep for a larger image.

For this Boston Avenue Church image I used the Aperture Preferred method. Since the background was largely black and the building was brightly lit, I used -1EV to avoid over exposing the building. (Whenever a portion of a subject is well lit and most of the background is totally dark, the camera will typically over expose the highlights while trying to give you a good average reading). Remember, you can change the exposure after you look at the Preview of your image and it’s either too dark or too bright. Be sure to look at it large size (if your camera allows) to make certain that you didn’t over expose some small detail area, or didn’t have enough exposure to bring out shadowed areas. Generally you’ll have time to bracket up and down 1 or 2 EV, to see how it impacts your final results. Remember, once you’ve paid for your equipment, extra images are essentially free.

I screwed up on the Boston Avenue Church images, forgetting to bring my remote release on the trip. You can see that I got a nice shot, but I ruined a few others with camera shake when I released the shutter. I knew of this risk and took some extras to be certain that I had a sharp image.

I like to use a true wide-angle lens for most architectural photography. I use a full-frame Canon body (the EOS 5D MkII), meaning that the digital sensor is roughly the same size as 35mm film. The full frame sensor gives a wider field of view through my EF 24-105mm f/4L IS than when the same lens on my “crop-sensor” 7D. In fact, at 24mm on the 7D, the equivalent focal length is just over 38mm. I think that 17mm to 24mm is the best focal length range for architecture on a full-frame camera.

This image was taken at 24mm, f/8.0, ISO 100 and -1EV, resulting in a shutter speed of 2.5-seconds. The low ISO setting is critical, because large parts of the image are under exposed and will show much more digital noise at higher ISO settings. I could have used ISO 3200 or 6400 and handheld this shot, but the noise would have been very intrusive. With the low ISO the blacks are deep and rich, highlighting the building dramatically.

DCStep June 30

See DCStep for a larger image.

For this image of the iconic Radio City Music Hall I used the Bulb setting to get the building sharp, but allow the streaks of taillights from the moving traffic. As with the Boston Avenue Church image, I used a low ISO 100 to minimize digital noise. Once again I had the 24-105mm zoom lens all the way wide at 24mm because I like that perspective, but I used a smaller f/16 aperture which allowed me to leave shutter open longer without over exposing the building itself. I wanted the building well exposed, but I also wanted the lights of heavy traffic to be obvious in the image.

After I set up my tripod, I’d wait until traffic was coming and then, with the mirror up in my camera’s Live View mode, I’d hold the shutter open on Bulb for a few seconds. At the time I knew that I was holding the shutter open three or four seconds, but I had no idea that it was actually 3.2-seconds. I’d take an image, look at the Preview and either increase or decrease the exposure by a little. Shooting in RAW there’s great leeway to bring the exposure level up or down, but I tried to get the building lights about right.

If you look at the EXIF data for this image you’ll see that the camera was set at -2/3EV. That’s meaningless on Bulb settings. I’d taken a couple of shots of the building using the camera’s exposure, hence I set it at –EV to avoid over exposing the many lights. In Bulb mode you’re overriding all the camera’s calculation, so it doesn’t matter if it’s set at 0EV, -2EV or +4EV. I cropped this square because the building is kind of square.

By the way, my technique for setting the tripod position is to set the lens at the focal length that I want, then set up the tripod and look at the subject. If the subject is too small in the frame I move forward and if the subject is too large I move away. I didn’t end of standing in the middle of a street for either of these shots, but if I did, I’d change the focal length of the zoom lens. Getting close and using the lens’ widest focal length generally gives a more dramatic perspective. It usually only takes a little more effort to move the tripod rather than zooming in or out from wherever you happen to be standing, but I think the results are well worth that effort.

If you have a good tripod and a wide-angle lens for your camera, then you can take these types of shots pretty easily. The remote shutter release is a nice added accessory, but not absolutely required. I’ve started making night photography part of my travel plans by packing the tripod, even when bird photography is not on the agenda.

Happy shooting,



Today we I am pleased to have Dave Stephens as a guest blogger. Dave and I met through flickr. I was drawn to his amazing nature photos. He has some incredible action shots of some of natures most beautiful animals. In his blog he describes how he takes the photos and describes some of his incredible equipment. I have the opinion of my friend Jon Adams that the best camera is the one you have. Through Dave’s blog and flickr photo stream it is very evident that great equipment does help to make a photo that much better. I hope you enjoy the time reading Dave’s blog and that you enjoy his photos as much as I do.

Darrin asked me to contribute guest blogs, focusing on my interest in bird and wildlife photography. Let me briefly introduce myself and then I’ll blog about a recent photography.

I met Darrin on Flickr, where we both post. I live on the Eastern side of the Rockies, near Denver, and he lives on the Western side, so naturally we seem to like similar scenic images and we were drawn to each others’ photographic work.

I’ve been interested in photography for over fifty-years. Starting in junior high, I was lucky enough to take “Graphic Arts” under a teacher that spent a couple of six-week periods showing us how to make our own pen-hole cameras, load our cameras in the dark room, take a photo of our classmates and then process our negatives and produce our own prints in the darkroom.

Ever since that class I’ve been involved, off and on, in photography for fun. After a long “off” period, I decided that digital photography had developed enough for me to give it a serious try, so I bought Canon’s top end point and shoot camera of the time, a G7. That was followed by a G9 and then by my first DSLR in late 2008, the Canon 5D MkII.

In the spring of 2009 I was on vacation at Melbourne Beach, Florida when a chance encounter with an osprey fishing from the top of our hotel rekindled an interest in bird and nature photography. Soon thereafter I’d invested in a 400mm lens. I told myself that if I’d taken more than 1,000 images with the lens over the next four months that I’d keep it. I ended up taking 10,000 images in my “test period.”

Recently I took a deep plunge into wildlife photography by investing in Canon’s EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens. It’s big, heavy, expensive and so powerful that I felt like I was “cheating” the first few times that I used it. In the few weeks that I’ve owned it I’ve taken close to 5,000 images. (We’ll discuss the need to take multiple images of wild subjects as I blog about specific images).

Click here to view my most “Interesting” images, as determined by some Flickr algorithm.dcstep-1
Click here to leave a comment for Dave.
Click here to view in large size.
Click here to view in original size.

This Roseate Spoonbill image was taken while I was recently in North Florida for my high school reunion. I grew up in Florida on the banks of the St. Johns River between downtown Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean, yet I’d never seen a Roseate Spoonbill. I knew they were there, but I’d just never sought them out.

While they are fairly common in Florida, they tend to cluster in rookeries that are deep in the swamp and literally surrounded by alligator infested waters. In fact, two popular locations to photograph them are at Gatorland, near Orlando and The Alligator Farm, in St. Augustine. I chose Guana Park, because it was near to where I’d be staying at Jacksonville Beach.

Like any good expedition I needed to plan ahead. My weekend would be full visiting with family, friends and my old classmates. I only had one morning that I could dedicate to bird photography, so I needed to know where my subjects would most likely be. Fortunately for me, my brother still lives in Jacksonville and knew a birder/photographer that knew where to find the Roseate Spoonbills. One weekend before my arrival, my brother and his friend went to Guana Park to make sure that the birds were in their usual place and for my brother to learn how to get there.

It turns out that the birds were about a 45-minute walk from the park entrance, on a small, island, not too far from shore, but surrounded by swamp and alligators. With my brother as my guide, we arrived before sunrise and walked in to the East side of the birds as the sun rose, giving us great light. The last fifty-feet involved walking through a peat bog while avoiding snakes. When I set up my tripod it sank about 8-inches into the peat.

We spent about an hour photographing the spoonbills and the wood storks that shared the same rookery. The pre-dawn start assured us of good morning light. The park is large, but I could have found the birds myself, without guidance, but it would have taken several hours.

For wildlife and bird photography, knowing where to look is half the battle. When I see birders and/or other photographers I ask, “What have you seen and where.” We help each other. I’ve gotten some good results by taking off blindly into the woods and listening for birds and moving quietly toward them, but my odds increase when I have a plan.

For this image I used my Canon EOS 7D with the EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens attached with an EF 1.4x Extender, all mounted on an Induro C414 carbon fiber tripod, with an Arca-Swiss Z1 ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick gimbal. (I’ll talk more about why I use certain equipment in future blogs). The exposure was at 1/2500-second, at Aperture Preferred f/8, ISO 800 and -2/3EV. The relatively high ISO resulted in a high shutter speed in case I caught a bird in flight. The -2/3EV was used to avoid blowing out the highlights in the very strong, direct morning sunlight. Whites and pinks are particularly prone to blow out in strong light.

Don’t be too daunted by the huge focal length equivalency that I’m using here. The 7D’s crop-sensor gives a 35mm film-equivalent focal factor of 1.6-times, such that a 100mm lens gives an image that looks like a 160mm lens would look like on a 35mm film camera. So my 500mm lens, plus the 1.4x Extender equals 700mm, times 1.6x equals 1120mm equivalency! As you might imagine, I need to crop very little. If you were there beside me with a 400mm lens on something like a Canon Rebel, you could have got a pretty nice image by using a lower ISO, slowing the shutter speed and cropping heavily. Particularly at internet sizes, your results can be pretty pleasing. My equipment increases my “keeper ratio” and results in a higher IQ (image quality), but for purposes of posting on the internet in relatively small images sizes, many people will never know the difference. The fun of the “hunt” is just as good, so long as you have a decent chance to get a pleasing image.

In future blogs I’ll talk more about the “keeper ratio” and how it’s simply a fact of life in wildlife photography.

Click here to view my most “Interesting” images, as determined by some Flickr algorithm.

Guest Blog

Thank you Jon for a great Blog. Jon from is an extremely talented photographer. I have enjoyed working with Jon and his father for several years now. They do great work.

I’d like to thank Darrin for the opportunity to be a guest blogger here at Wasatch Reflections. This is truly a great place to enjoy beautiful imagery.

I thought I'd give you some quick tips for making better images. So here goes.

1. Get Closer
Get in close and crop in tight. A tight crop will almost always have more impact than an image with a bunch of extra space. So don't be afraid to get in close.

Get Clsoer

2. Rotate
Your camera can take pictures no matter what direction it is pointed or rotated. Give it a try! The best time to take a vertical image is right after you've taken a horizontal one.
DSC_6032 (1)DSC_6035

3. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
Don't let that great shot get away, take your camera with you and have it ready. The best camera in the world is the one you have with you.

Best Camera

4. Hold it still.
The number one killer of otherwise great photos is camera shake. Practice holding still or use something to help such as a tripod or monopod even a nice rock on the side of the trail or a wall to lean on can help.

5. Eliminate Intruders.
Just before you press the shutter, take a look around the edges of the frame. Are there intruding objects that will detract from your subject? if there are get rid of them by moving or zooming.


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Jon Adams

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