Use the Camera That’s with You!

Red balloon

Don’t get me wrong, I love my full-size camera (Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II) and take it on many adventures. But, every now and then, I get caught without it or am traveling with people that don’t want the hassle of a camera and tripod. So, I use my iPhone in these situations. After purchasing the new iPhone X I was invited to visit the Glendale Glitters Hot Air Balloon Glow with family members and thought it was a great opportunity to “play” with my new iPhone.

We arrived just after dark and after a quick glance, we gravitated to photograph the balloons instead of the 1.5 million LED lights in downtown Glendale. The low light environment was perfect to test the new iPhone, after all, the iPhone has not been great with low light. For the last night of the season, the city had about 20 hot air balloons set up “glowing” throughout the downtown streets. Handholding my iPhone was a perfect solution with the large crowds on the streets.

Details of a hot air balloon

Post Processing

I used the main Apple Camera app since it opens from the home screen without unlocking my phone. I held down the shutter button to capture many burst images. When the pilots illuminated the balloons, it was not a steady fire blaze, so burst mode helped me capture the best image. I had hundreds of images to choose from. When I returned home, I spent 30 minutes sorting out the burst images and was thrilled with the result of these low light images. The iPhone X defaults to HDR mode when exposures are extreme and it worked well on my images. I avoided using HDR mode before, but this photo shoot proved to me new technology is ever changing and improving.

All of my iPhone photos are added to my Lightroom Mobile app on the phone automatically and then transferred to my home computer. When I opened the images on my home computer, I got even more creative. While I was capturing images of the balloons, I kept trying to get more than one balloon lit up. At one point four balloons were in my frame but I could only catch three glowing. Photoshop to the rescue! Since I used burst mode, the images aligned perfectly as two layers in Photoshop and then with a little masking I made the background balloon visible. And voila! I created a composite of four illuminated balloons! The final image  includes removal of the light in the top right hand corner. View the images below to see the transition. Don’t forget, if you don’t take your big camera, use the camera that is with you!  If you are interested in iPhoneography, check out one of my workshops from the workshops page! Happy Shooting.


My Backyard



A few months ago, I changed camera systems to an Olympus mirrorless camera (OMD1 MarkII) and I looked forward to spend quality time with my camera. Sometimes I think I need a grandiose trip for photography, but really all it takes is a location and some time. So, I spent a few hours in my own backyard. Using only my 60mm macro lens and Vanguard Veo tripod I jumped in to capture the small details of my backyard. I didn’t find the best light, so I grabbed my diffuser for the overhead sun and in the afternoon clouds rolled in to diffuse the light.

Dandelions were the first item to photograph. The delicate details and proximity to the ground provided a great challenge with my new gear. I setup my tripod, camera and shutter release to find a small bug on one of the dandelions. I quickly adjusted my field of view and captured photos of this guy. With the camera on the tripod, one hand was free to hold a diffuser over the subject. This softened the light and gave me a more even exposure. After a few minutes, I removed the camera from the tripod and handheld a few shots. Of course, I switched the camera to burst mode. I prefer burst mode when handholding the camera because it increases my chance of sharp images in the case that I move while shooting the image. Next, I was in search of ladybugs.

ladybugOur plum trees were full of ladybugs. I did try the tripod, but the ladybugs moved so fast, I chose to handhold my camera instead. The focus point was a single point on the head and again I used burst mode to capture sharp images.

After ladybugs, I stuck with the bug theme and saw the bumblebees pollinating our chives. A handheld camera was again the best solution for these fast-moving insects. Luckily, the clouds rolled in which provided soft even light. I knelt on the ground and kept moving with the bees until I got several photos that pleased me. My favorite image was when the bumble bee looked straight at me! Now, I find myself checking out my yard several times a week looking for other things to shoot. A few days ago, I noticed bees pollinating our red hot pokers so I got out there and captured more images. If you are ready for a photo project, just get out in your own backyard. It is important that you have fun and spend time with your camera.

bumble bee image


Creative Mobile Photography

iPhone image with external lens

iPhone image with external lens

For those who know me, know that I use my iPhone camera quite a bit. So, when my family went to Catalina Island a few weeks ago for a short trip, I decided to take only my iPhone. Of course, I brought my clip-on lenses which included wide, macro, and telephoto lenses along with a circular polarizer. Shortly after arriving, we were at the beach and I was searching for my first shot. After a quick discussion with my son, I unscrewed a wide-angle lens from the clip and held it in front of the camera. The first image was not perfect, but after placing the lens about 6 inches in front of the camera, I captured a good image. I learned that if I held the lens too close, the camera would focus only on my hand or only in the distance and not through the lens. I did experiment with each of my lenses, but was happiest with the use of the wide-angle lens.  So, think outside the box and try something new…you never know what you might create!

Zoo Photography – Shooting Through Fences

f/5.6, 1/500 sec, 300mm and patience for behaviors.

Capturing images of zoo animals should be easy. After all, they are waiting for us to take their photo in their enclosures. But the trick to capturing great zoo photos is to capture a photo that doesn’t look like it was taken in a zoo. To get these strong shots, you don’t want to see fences or food bowls and you want to capture expressions of the animals, otherwise your images will look like snapshots. So, here are five tips to improve your zoo animal images. To keep this simple, I have focused these tips on enclosures with fences.

1. Long lens – Use a long lens to blur out the fence in the foreground. Focal lengths from 200-400mm are great lenses to use in zoos. It isn’t as simple as just using the long lens though, you also need to position your lens as close to the fence as possible. So, lean in, zoom and shoot. As you setup your shot, you will want to pay attention to light hitting the fence. If there is light on the fence you are shooting through, that light may become a reflection in your frame. Try to shoot through an area of the fence that is in shade.

2. Wide open aperture – Using a long lens is only half of the formula for shooting through fences. The second half of the formula is to use a wide open aperture. Setting your aperture at f/2.8 or f/4 for example, will blur the fence in the foreground. If the animal is touching the fence, you won’t be able to blur out the fence, so start shooting when the animal is several feet away from the fence. Combine this with the long lens and your fences will be unnoticeable.

F/5.3 and at 180mm focal length.

F/5.6 and at 400mm focal length.

3. Background – Now that you have the technical aspects of a strong zoo photo, it is time to finesse the details of the shot and that starts with the background of the image. Can you see fences in your frame? How about food bowls? Are there sticks or trees creating unnatural attachments in your frame? Move yourself around the enclosure to omit these items from the background or foreground. Shooting from a higher angle can minimize the amount of background in the photo and shooting from a low angle will accentuate the animal and minimize the foreground. Using both of these techniques will create an image focused strictly on the animal and omit other distractions.

f/5.6, 1/2000, 400mm, now baboon is several feet away from the fence

4. Shadows – Every enclosure is unique and shadows in the enclosure can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If the shadow is positioned behind the animal, your image will pop due to the juxtaposition of contrast. However, if the animal is sitting in shadows cast from fences or other distracting elements, the image doesn’t work because the viewer can see the fence shadows and these shadows are not natural.

5. Patience – This last tip is patience. Patience is what brings the image together. Whether you can be patient enough to sit for hours or minutes is up to you. If the animal is sleeping, come back later and often they will have moved to a better location in the habitat. If a docent from the zoo is nearby, ask them when these animals are most active (feeding times always wake animals). If the animal is awake, be patient and wait for an expression. Capturing images of sleeping animals is nice, but not as interesting as images exhibiting behaviors.

That’s it. Five simple tips to improve your zoo photography! If you want personal attention you can always join me on my zoo workshops at the Wildlife World Zoo. Happy Shooting!

Weather or Not, Get the Shot

The Grand Canyon is one of the most majestic places on earth, but what do you photograph if fog and rain envelopes the canyon and all that is visible is a big, white cloud? On a recent visit to the Grand Canyon, I struggled with this challenge. No vibrant colors, no depth of field, just white fog. While standing at the south rim, I wondered how long I would have to wait for the fog and rain to clear. The storm was at its beginning stages, so it could have been hours or days before the canyon would be visible again under these weather conditions.

Cheops Pyramid by Amy Horn

Cheops Pyramid

I noticed that the gray skies and soft drizzle created strong saturated colors in the foreground foliage, so I framed a shot with a tree precariously hanging from the rim in the foreground. I hoped the obstructed view of the Cheops Pyramid would be visible in the photo. Through the clouds the pyramid was faintly decipherable but not with enough clarity to be a strong composition, so I moved on.

tree silhouette image

Underexposed image

Further along the cloudy rim, I found myself staring at a tree with strong artistic lines and a unique little clump of growth that I thought was whimsical. I set up my tripod, camera, and shutter release; I carefully adjusted the rain cover to protect the lens from water drops. After framing several shots, I found the composition I wanted and starting experimenting. I find experimenting with photography to be very relaxing. My first thought was to accentuate the lines of the tree so I underexposed the image forcing the shape of the tree to be a strong silhouette; I liked this. Looking past the tree, the canyon was still invisible, so I continued experimenting. This time, I changed my white balance setting on the camera to tungsten mode. Applying a tungsten white balance in this cloud cover allowed me to create a strong blue image. This was different, but I wanted more.

Still seeking a truly unique image, I used a technique called “zoom pull.” “Zoom pull” is exactly what it sounds like: while using a slow shutter speed zoom your lens for the duration that the shutter is open. To make this effective, I had to really slow down my shutter speed. I was shooting at .5 second f/8, but I needed a much longer exposure to allow more time to zoom, so I changed the exposure to 2.5 sec at f/16. Evening was approaching and the loss of light worked to my advantage in slowing down the shutter. With a shutter release in one hand and the lens zoom ring in the other I started the exposure. When using the “zoom pull” technique, I like to pre-focus on the subject and hesitate momentarily before zooming. This hesitation allows the subject to record on the sensor so I don’t just have an image of movement.  See the faint tree silhouette? Zooming in and out during an image creates a different look, so I make sure to zoom both directions. One thing is certain – every image is unique! My camera was in manual mode and I kept adjusting the shutter speed to increase or decrease the amount of time I had to zoom. I finally switched my shutter to bulb mode and then held down the shutter manually with my shutter release to have a little more control on the timing with zooming the lens. This worked well. After each shot, I would view my histogram and if it appeared underexposed, I would zoom slower and hold down the shutter longer. There wasn’t much light with all the clouds and rain so the final image was captured at f/16, 3.5 sec and the shot began at 44mm and then zoomed in. I was happy that I fought through the bad weather and got some good images.

When I got home and downloaded the images to the computer I took my favorite image and applied some post processing effects. First, I converted it to black and white (Photo 5) trying for a more traditional abstract image. I liked this treatment, but I also like to experiment with Adobe Lightroom presets. Photo 6 is a result of applying a purchased preset called Fallout Split Toned. This preset added back the cool blue tones I liked from the original image but also applied a creamy warm light in the highlight areas. Whether my photography is traditional or experimental, in the camera or in software it is fun for me. So, if you find yourself at the Grand Canyon in a drizzly rain (or anywhere for that matter) don’t walk away…weather or not, get the shot!

Black and white conversion

Final image with Lightroom Preset

Final image with Lightroom Preset

Entertaining Reflections

Entertaining Reflections

Entertaining Reflections

Capturing night lights is one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Sometimes the temperature is cool (especially in Flagstaff), but the photos don’t disappoint. Last fall, I met up with my Northern Arizona University student photo club to photograph night lights. We stuck to a two block range on Aspen beginning at San Francisco and ending up in front of the Orpheum Theatre at Beaver Street. We bundled up in our winter jackets and kept warm except for our cold hands holding the metal tripod legs. When we approached the Orpheum some young men were in front of the building hanging out. Adding people to the photo can add a sense of scale to the image, so I took the shot. Then reviewed it on my LCD panel and decided it was boring. So, I looked around for something better. There was a car parked in front of the Orpheum limiting my view from the front side. I knew I had to work the subject, so I walked around the car anyway.

Night reflections

Night reflections

Then, I saw a great refection in the windshield of the car. I took a shot of the bright sign and the reflection in the car window. The photo still wasn’t working for me so like I often do, I thought to myself, “What interests me here?” It was the reflection. I recomposed to include the reflection of the Orpheum sign only. This image works. My final adjustments in post processing included a little spot removal of bugs on the windshield. Although my students weren’t sure what I captured in my frame, once I shared the image with them they understood. It was another successful evening capturing the night lights in Flagstaff.