The Chapel Of The Transfiguration

This year, our Winter In The Tetons Workshop group didn't experience anywhere near the volume of snow that the area normally gets.  The advantage to that is we could get a lot more places to shoot.  One of those places was The Chapel Of The Transfiguration. 

This little chapel was built in 1925 and still holds Sunday Services in the summertime.  Each chaplain at the church serves for one month each summer.  It is also a popular spot for small weddings.  Let's not forget the view...it has one of the best views of any small church I've ever seen.

Although I have visited the church many times, I haven't photographed it very much.  Inside the church is a tough scene to deal with, exposure wise.  You have a dimly lit church on the inside and a big, bright window that looks out onto the mountains.  There is such a big exposure difference the best way to handle it is to bracket your exposures for HDR.  That is exactly what I did.  I took seven separate exposures to ensure I had detail covered from the brights to the darks.  Then I merged them as a HDR inside Lightroom Classic CC.  After I had the merged HDR photo I decided to process it in black and white.  I really like the feel of it as a black and white, too.

Aperture-priority, f/16, ISO 100, 7 varied exposures

I made this image with my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm lens.  Since I shot for HDR I did use my Sirui Tripod and ballhead.

Top Ten of 2017

I didn't do as much traveling in 2017 as I have done in previous years, so I had initially considered it a "down" year...until I started looking through my images and trying to pick my favorite ten.  During that process I felt like I had underappreciated 2017.  Even though I spent a lot more time closer to home than usual, I still got to see a number of amazing things, and I'm always grateful for that.

Note that I said these were my favorite images.  That doesn't mean they are technically my best.  It means these mean something more to me.  It could be the subject, the stories behind the image or the people I was with at the time that made these special to me.

Feel free to browse the self-guided slideshow above.  I'll try to explain a little about why each of these images made the list.

1. Snake River Overlook, GTNP, January 2017 - This is probably my favorite scene in GTNP, although it is very tough to pick just one.  This morning it was -30 degrees Fahrenheit, the coldest weather I have ever been outside in.  There was a ton of snow in the valley and the scene was just incredible.  It was a morning I will never forget.

2. Merlin, Mobile, AL, February 2017 -  This was taken on a trip to Mobile, AL when David Akoubian and I were scouting for an upcoming bird workshop.  The sky wasn't great here, but it was the first Merlin I had ever seen, let alone photographed.  It cooperated with us for several minutes, too.  

3. Backyard Bluebird, Huntsville, AL, April, 2017 - The bluebirds are always special to me, every year.  I am no birder by any stretch of the imagination, but I'll never pass up an opportunity to photograph any bird.  It makes it easier if they live in your backyard.  I've had about 3 or 4 years in a row now that Eastern Bluebirds have nested in my yard and I am thankful for it every year.  2017 was no exception. 

4. Tree Swallow, Huntsville, AL, April, 2017 - This image is probably not very special to many people.  I was just excited that a pair of Tree Swallows decided to nest in my backyard.  I had never had that happen and I had read that is a fairly rare thing.  As soon as I saw them bringing in nesting material I grabbed the camera and headed out.  I got several shots of them bringing in straw so it was hard to pick one, but I think this was my favorite.

5. Coyote, GSMNP, May 2017 - This was the year of the coyote for me.  I got the best coyote pictures I have ever taken this year in multiple locations.  This coyote in Cades Cove was special for me.  Although I had seen many coyotes in Cades Cove before, I'd never really had a good opportunity to photograph one until this day.  It having the spring wildflowers around it was icing on the cake.

6. Double Rainbow, Mormon Row, GTNP, June 2017 - This is another one of those "I'll never forget this morning" shots.  The weather was absolute crap.  Thunder and lightning everywhere.  I looked out the hotel room and told the guys I was traveling with we were going out despite the conditions.  I wanted someplace wide open in hopes of capturing some good lightning shots over the mountains.  I picked Mormon Row.  I had no idea what we were in for.  Right at sunrise the rain stopped and the sunrise broke through creating this double rainbow.  It lasted about a minute or two and then it rained the rest of the day.  This could have been my luckiest day of the year...I probably should've bought a lottery ticket that day, too.

7. Hops Barn, Swan Valley, ID, June 2017 - Another time being out shooting in a downpour paid off.  As we were driving over to this barn, it was raining sideways.  The rain had lightened up a little by the time we had arrived, but it was still coming down steadily.  In fact, we were taking turns shooting.  We would stand underneath the rear door of the SUV with our camera ready, then one at a time, would run out grab a quick shot and run back underneath the door.  As I sat in the car looking at the images on the camera I remember thinking "These won't be horrible, you can actually see some detail in the sky."  I had no idea until I started processing how much I loved theses images.  Especially in black and white.

8. River the Bald Eagle, Teton Raptor Center, June 2017 - You might have noticed in the two previous notes that rain was in abundance while I was in the Tetons this spring.  On a whim, with the weather not cooperating, we decided to visit this place we saw advertised called The Teton Raptor Center.  We initially went over on a day that they weren't doing shows, but the people there were so friendly and inviting that we went ahead and bought our tickets then for the next show.  It turned out to be a chance to get within feet of some majestic birds.  This particular Bald Eagle was named River.  She was recovering from some wing injuries.  After all of the cool, science things they told us about the birds, they let River fly around and pose for pictures.  She did a great job.  This particular image was just after she had dipped down into a small swimming pool they had setup for her and she was just drying off.

9. Osprey, Blythe Ferry, TN, July 2017 - I had visited the Blythe Ferry area before, but never while the osprey were nesting.  I thought I had missed it again this year since I wasn't able to get up there until July.  The osprey chicks had not fledged yet, however, and the parents were trying really hard to convenience them to.  That allowed me to capture many flight shots.  This one in particular was during a quick, summer rain storm.  You don't mind standing out in these rain storms near as much in July.  The rain made for a great element in the photo, too.  Being able to get so close to such awesome birds is a real treat.  If you are close, you should certainly go when the osprey start to nest.

10. Minnehaha Falls, Lakemont, GA, October 2017 - If you;'ve followed me for any amount of time you know I love waterfall photography.  I had to include at least one of them in this list.  I've only been to Minnehaha a few times.  Although we were there before the peak fall colors arrived, the fallen leaves around the rocks did give you a bit of the feeling of fall. So did the cold water!  This was a vertical pano that I put together in an effort to keep this composition but include the entire waterfall in the scene.

That's it.  My 10 favorite from 2017.  2018 is going to be starting off with a bang and I am looking forward to getting out and creating more images.  Thanks to all of you that like, comment, share and support me and my photography.  

SAHM

SAHM, that's what my wife calls herself, a Stay At Home Mom.  SAHM, that's what I call Stay At Home Macro.

From time to time I will purchase some flowers, my wife thinks they are for her, but no, they are for my SAHM.  See what I did there? ;)

I setup the flowers in a vase on the dining room table next to a window.  I will use the available window light and if I need more, I will use one of the little LED lights that are designed for on camera video lights.  They work great for adding a little light to a macro subject.  In this case, a daisy.

ISO 400, 90mm, F/16 @ 1/4 second

Hover over the image to see the camera settings used.  Click the image to view it larger.

The angle of light plays a very important role in the final image.  Holding it an angle that will accentuate details you want is important, especially if you plan to process the image as a black & white, as I have here.

Another tip...Glycerin.  If you mix a 50/50 water glycerin mix you will have a liquid that will not evaporate.  For the most part, it will stay where you put it, too.  This single drop remained here during and after my entire shooting session.

This image was made with my Sony A7R II, Metabones Adapter and Tamron 90mm Macro Lens.  This setup was mounted on my Sirui W-2204 Tripos and K-20 Ballhead.  THe image was process in Lightroom and converted to black & white using On1 Perfect B&W.

Taking a break from birds

Several months back I was asked to do an article about long exposures using Tiffen ND (neutral density) filters, more specifically, the Tiffen Apex ND filter from their XLE Filter series.  The Apex is a 10 stop ND filter.  It is also equipped with a standard near IR blocker and a hot mirror to eliminate all IR pollution that you might normally get with long exposures.

This image was made at a lake close to my home.  It was taken near mid day, but using the filter I was able to get the exposure over a minute.  Which allowed me to show some movement in the clouds and water, leaving it looking much smoother than it was.

ISO 50, 24mm, F/22 @ 1 minute 14 seconds

Hover over the image to see camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

If you aren't familiar with using Solid ND Filters there are a few things to keep in mind.  You will need to compose and focus before attaching your filter.  Most likely you won't even be able to see through the camera after attaching the filter.  Be sure to switch your lens to manual focus.  If not, your camera will try to auto focus, which it will never be able to do, with the filter attached.  Another good tool to have is a ND Filter Calculator app to keep on your smartphone.  There are several of them that you can download for free and they all do the same thing.  You can put in your base exposure (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) and the number of stops of your ND filter and it does the math to calculate your new shutter speed.  It's super simple.  Even I can use it!

This image was made using my Sony A7R II, Tamron 24-70mm Lens and Tiffen Apex ND Filter.  Of course, a minute long exposure requires a very stable tripod.  For this shot I used my Sirui T-2205X and G-20X Ballhead.  Although this is designed to be more of a "travel" setup, it is more than sturdy enough to hold your wide angle lens for long exposure photography.

Favorites of 2015

I've had a few months absence from posting to the blog.  I really took the last few months of 2015 to chill out and hang with the fam.

I see the "in" thing now seems to be everyone posting  their "best" or "favorites" from the year of 2015, so I thought I'd follow suit here.  Many of these photos are special to me for various reasons.  It's mostly the memories made more then the photographs made.  Spending time with friends, stories we will talk about for years to come, some killer breakfasts after sunrise, I could go on and on...the point is, I probably like these for reasons that wouldn't make much sense to many of you, but that's one of the aspects of photography that I enjoy the most; friends and memories.

I hope you enjoy!  I included 15 images, since it was well...2015.

You can click on each image to view it larger.


Not Your Paw Paw's Point and Shoot

On the days we just strolled around the quaint little town of Apalachicola during our workshop I usually left everything at the car except for my Sony RX-100 II point and shoot camera.  It wasn't at all because I wasn't taking my photography seriously.  Even though I heard things like "You're only taking the little camera?" or "This must not be very good if you aren't taking a real camera.".  It was just that I wanted to walk around comfortably, with the ability to just tuck the entire camera in my pocket when I wasn't using it.

Now, if you know anything about the Sony RX-100 series of cameras, you know they aren't your paw paw's point and shoot.  They have complete manual controls and shoot RAW.  This allowed me to shoot in Aperture Priority Mode.  I shoot in this mode 95% of the time when I'm using any camera so with this camera having that ability, I felt right at home.

Here's a scene that I came across as we were walking to have breakfast one morning.  It is a local seafood processing factory.  It happened to have the great breezeway that was back lit causing everything between in it to be silhouetted.  The scene itself made it very easy to capture.  

By the end of the workshop the things I was hearing were more like "I'm going to have to look into getting one of those little cameras.".

ISO 100, 37mm, F/4.9 @ 1/80th second

After I got home, I processed the RAW file in Lightroom.  Basically, all I did was convert it to black and white, then bump the contrast and lower the blacks.

Apalachicola Locals

The first of our Forgotten Coast Workshops have started this week in Apalachicola, FL.  So far we have captured great sunsets, sunrises and even some awesome milky way shots!  This morning, however, I spent a little time photographing something I normally don't....a human.

The local oyster fishermen that line the docks, fishing boats and general hangouts around town have such character.  If you take the time to listen to any of their stories you will not regret it, either.  I talked to one fella this morning that was telling me all about his family's old turpentine farm from years gone by.  Heck, we've even heard tales of a locally famous man's murder.

This morning, as we wrapped up our sunrise shoot, we ran into a few guys that were more than willing to pose for our cameras.  This gentleman was the older of them.  I do not recall his name, but I spent a few minutes talking to him and photographing him.  We tried to offer him some money for being a cooperative model for us all, but he refused to accept any payment.  

It's hard to capture the hard lifestyle these guys live through only a camera.

ISO 100, 70mm, F/2.8 @ 1/320th

I captured this image using my Sony A7RII, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 Lens.

I processed this image using OnOne's B&W Suite.  I knew this dude would make a great black and white portrait as soon as I saw him!

 

All about ND Filters

I've been asked about ND filters at the last few workshops we've done, so I figured it's time to go over everything you need to know about ND filters.

What are ND filters?  

A ND filter is a specialty filter used to block a certain amount of light from reaching your camera's sensor.

Why would I want to block light?  

There are multiple reasons, but a few would be to slow your shutter speed down in order to do things like show movement, eliminate moving people from a photo or be able to shoot at a wide open aperture in bright daylight.

How are ND filter strengths labeled?

OK, let's talk about determining the strength of the ND filter.  Different manufacturers label ND filters differently.  Sometimes you may see a filter labeled as a ND4 filter,  sometimes you may see one labeled as a 0.6 ND Filter and sometimes it may be labeled as a 2 stop ND filter.  I'm going to attempt to explain why this is and how to know what strength a filter is by these numbers.

If you see a filter labeled with a ND #, like ND2, that is actually the attenuation factor of that filter.  I know...big word.  However, it's easier to remember it like this.  The number, in this case 2, would be the denominator, or bottom number, of a fraction.  So, if we have a ND2 filter, the fraction would be 1/2, so half the amount of light being allowed through the filter, or roughly 1 full stop.  A ND4 would be 1/4 the amount of light being allowed through the filter, or 2 stops.

Some manufacturers label ND filters in terms of their optical density.  Optical density is just a fancy way of describing the light blocking ability of the filter.  Those numbers will look like this: 0.6 ND Filter.  What you basically need to remember here is the higher the number, the more light that is blocked by the filter.

The most common way ND filters are refereed to are in stops.  Let's face it, as photographers we all talk in stops.  It's our language.  None of us really care about the optical density, we just want to know how many stops of light is our filter blocking. If you have a ND filter that is labeled with the Attenuation Factor or Optical Density, you can use the chart below to find out how many stops of light it is blocking.

Attenuation FactorOptical DensityLight Reduction in Stop #'s
ND20.31
ND40.62
ND80.93
ND161.24
ND321.55
ND641.86
ND10026 2/3
ND2562.48
ND4002.68 2/3
ND5002.79
ND1000310

 

Do ND Filters come in different shapes or sizes?

Yes.  They do.  Typically they will either be a round, screw on type filter or a square or rectangle shaped filter.

The round screw on types are pretty easy.  They screw on to the front of your lens threads and you would buy the size filter that you need for your lens.  For example, you have a lens with a 77mm filter thread, then you buy the 77mm round ND filter.  

The square or rectangular shaped filters come in various sizes.  They require a filter "holder" system in order to mount to your lens.  The "holder" system would consist of a ring that screws onto your lens filter threads and a "holder" that mounts to that ring that would have slots that you would slide your filter(s) into.

I prefer the screw on types myself because there tends be much less chance of light leak using these.

 

Are these the only types of ND Filters?

Not at all.  There are also Variable ND filters, Graduated ND Filters and do not forget in a pinch a Circular Polarizer can be used as a ND Filter.

A Variable ND Filter is a screw on type ND filter that has a variable amount of ND adjustment. So, you would turn it just like you do a circular polarizer to dial in how much light blockage you want.  Typically these filters will range from about 2-10 stops of light blockage. 

 

A Graduated ND Filter is most often in the square or rectangle format.  It is basically a ND Fitler with a graduation of ND effect.  Typically about half the filter has the ND effect.  So if you were in a situation where the sky was very bright and the foreground was dark, you would want to use a graduated ND to darken the sky, but have no effect on the foreground.  These also come in the round, screw on flavor, but they aren't as popular because the round ones limit your amount of control over the filter.  They also come in Hard Edge or Soft Edge.  A Hard Edge Graduated ND filter has an abrupt stop of graduation.  They would be best used in a situation where you would be photographing a flat horizon line, like at the beach. The Soft Edge Graduated ND Filter has the graduation taper off slower.  Those are best used in a situation where your foreground is not level, like mountains.   Graduated ND Filters also some in "reversed".  This means the graduation would be darker at the horizon line and fade out as it goes up.  You would use a Revers Graduated ND Filter when the horizon is much brighter than the rest of the sky, say at sunrise or sunset when the sun is right along the horizon line.

After saying all of that, I will tell you I do not regularly use Graduated ND Filters.   I typically take separate exposures while I'm in the field and blend them together using Photoshop.  This requires more post processing work, but it keeps me from lugging around extra filters and I feel it yields better results.

I typically keep Variable ND Filters in my bag at all times.  They are very convenient to use and eliminate the need for several filters in several different strengths.

Another thing to keep in mind is a circular polarizer can block a certain amount of light, too.  Depending on the brand of polarizer you have, it could block from 1-2 stops of light.  It can be used in a pinch to slow down your shutter speed, or if you have forgotten or do not own a ND Filter.

How much will an ND Filter slow down my shutter speed?

Let's take a look at how many stops of ND will have an effect on your shutter speed.

ND Filter In StopsShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter Speed
0 Stops1/4000 second1/1000 second1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds
1 Stop1/2000 second1/500 second1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds
2 Stops1/1000 second1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds
3 Stops1/500 second1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds
4 Stops1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute
5 Stops1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes
6 Stops1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes
6 2/3 Stops1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes8 minutes
8 Stops1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes15 minutes
8 2/3 Stops1/20 second1/5 second1.6 seconds6 seconds25 seconds1 minute 40 seconds6 minutes26 minutes
9 Stops1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes8 minutes30 minutes
10 Stops1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes15 minutes1 hour

You can see from the chart above that if you have a /4000th of a second shutter speed and add a 10 stop ND Filter to the front of your lens that will result in a shutter speed of 1/4 second.  Likewise if you have a shutter speed of 1 second with no filter and you add a 10 Stop ND, then you get a 15 minute shutter speed.

What kind of effect does this have on my images?

Let me show you a few examples.

ISO 400,  51mm,  F/8 @ 244 seconds

This is an image I made at sunrise on Folly Beach, SC.  I added a 10 stop ND filter to the front of my lens, which yielded a shutter speed of 244 seconds.  Without the filter my shutter speed would have been somewhere around 1/4 second.   The longer exposure here allowed the sensor to capture all the movement of the water  as a smooth, dreamy look.  My original shutter speed of 1/4 second would have frozen the water compared to this. 

ISO 100, 70mm, F/13 @ 25 seconds

This is an image that I took in the middle of the day in San Leon, TX.  After I added the 10 stop ND filter it gave me a resulting shutter speed of 25 seconds.  Although it isn't as long a shutter speed as the previous image, it was taken midday in much more light.  Without the filter I would have had a shutter speed of around 1/30th second.  The water was pretty choppy this day and the longer 25 second shutter speed created a much more visually appealing image.

Besides having ND Filters, you will also need a sturdy tripod since your exposures will be so long.  I use Sirui Tripods because of their stability and durability.  I would recommend them to anyone in the market for a good tripod.

That's all I have today.  I hope you learned a little something and I didn't take up too  much of your time. Happy Friday!

 

Dramatic Weather, Dramatic Photograph

One of the days we were in the Tetons, it came a pretty good storm on us.  I had even heard reports of significant hail in the area.  Luckily, while it was storming we were resting at the hotel, however afterwards we went right out to shoot in hopes of getting images of some awesome clouds or dramatic light.

The old saying "Dramatic weather makes dramatic photos" was true here indeed.  I immediately could see some amazing black and white images being produced just from seeing the clouds the storm left us with.  While we were shooting different scenes, I told my group to keep black and white in mind for sure, because that would even be more dramatic!

One scene we photographed under these clouds was the famous barn on Mormon Row.  This is usually a great sunrise spot, but once I saw the clouds, I knew that's where we should check first for some dramatic shots.

ISO 100, 45mm, F/11 @ 1/200th second

This image was made using my Sony A7R, Sony LA-EA4 Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  Of course I used my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod and BBH-200 Ballhead as a solid foundation, too.  I then processed the image in Lightroom and Nik Silver Efex Software.

Folly Beach Long Exposure

Sticking with the Folly Beach theme from yesterday...

After sunrise we stuck around for a bit and I got the chance to try out my new 16 stop Firecrest ND filter by Formatt Hitech.  Although I had ordered this and the mounting system for it some time ago, I really hadn't gotten much of a chance to try it out yet.

What a better place than the ocean?  It seems water, especially moving back and forth water, goes very well with longer exposures.  It creates a very surreal look that everyone seems to like.

ISO 400, 51mm, F/8 @ 4 Minutes and 6 seconds

This exposure was over 4 minutes long.  If you think waiting on a 30 second exposure is long, try a 4 or 5 minute one!

I used my Sony A7R, Metabones adapter and Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD Lens.  Of course the ND Filter was the new Formatt Hitech Firecrest 16 stop ND.  All of this was resting atop my Vanguard Abeo Plus 323CT tripod.

I also processed the image in Lightroom and On1's Perfect Black and White.