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Kaibab Kottage

A test shot at the Kaibab Kottage, Grand Canyon Junction

When given the chance, I enjoy helping people out, especially if it is using my camera. So, when our son came up with the idea of building a tiny house on a trailer, we helped. As he finished the build, instead of selling it, he bought property in Grand Canyon Junction (Valle) and set up the most unique off-grid, glamping scene. Now known as Kaibab Kottage. Although I moved bricks, rocks, limbs and dirt; I was happiest when he asked me to photograph his pride and joy.

Starting with a few interior shots that he captured with his GoPro. The house is built on an 8′ x 5′ trailer, so it is small. It was much easier to hold up the GoPro to capture these wide angle shots than use my camera.

After finding used treasures like Trex decking, table and chairs, and a propane grill, we set everything up including a compost outhouse! He added solar panels to power the lights.

An HDR image of the whole campsite.

Listing/Instructions

This Airbnb listed property needed photos for the listing and the instruction binder. Showing how the bed converts from a couch to a bed through images is beneficial to international visitors. I cropped tight and captured a clear subject.

And here are the last images I captured. Using off camera flash to light up the camp kitchen area I captured sunstars and the whole site. A tripod was used for all of these images since my priority was to capture “sunstars” with the lights. This was a fun project and it felt great to help.

Find a Foreground

Clearwater Beach, FL, find a foreground
Clearwater Beach at Sunset

While in Florida this winter visiting family, we stopped for sunset at Clearwater Beach. We were running late, so as soon as we parked, I scanned the area to find a foreground and was pleased to see a lifeguard tower. While walking toward the beach, I extended my tripod legs and checked my camera settings (we were really late for sunset!)  I stopped before the lifeguard tower and took a quick shot to test my composition and realized there was a trash can in the photo (see the first image below). So, I moved a bit closer and captured another frame, but the people walking toward me were too close (see the second image below). Then I waited for the ship to enter my frame and got my final shot above. With digital cameras, it is ok to take several images to “build” your photo.

Paper Project Update

Finding new ways to photograph paper became easy when we bought a laser cutter. Our years teaching high school taught us the many uses of a laser cutter and now that we have one, my husband, Rod, produced several new “pop-up” patterns for me to photograph. Click here to read my original blog and get caught up to speed. Otherwise, keep reading to view the new images.

Setup

Just like before, I used two off-camera flashes with gels with a snoot on one flash and a grid on the other. I used the snoot and grid to control the flashes from “spilling” light onto the background, leaving me with a rich black background. Flash power was 1/64 power and manual exposure settings were 1/60 sec, f/11, ISO 200. The images below include the paper pattern, shooting setup with two gelled off-camera flashes, and the finished image.

The new paper patterns are three-dimensional “pop-ups”. The laser cut the lines, then we folded diagonally across the slits, then slid the two ends together to the desired height and taped it down. Once a pattern is ready, I can print as many times as desired.

The images below demonstrate how different perspectives/angles create a completely different photo. Not to mention the gel colors changed too. If you want to see this method demonstrated, here is my YouTube video.

Be watching for more of these images in the future. We have many more pop-up designs to print! And if you want to try it in person, check out our April Macro workshop. Of course, if you need help with your flash, check out my April Flash Fundamentals workshop.

New Nikon Z6ii

Amaryllis captured with the Nikon Z6ii

Most of you know I shoot with an Olympus camera system, well, now I’ve added the Nikon Z6ii. Before the Olympus system, I used Nikon gear but when I decided to switch to mirrorless, Nikon didn’t have a great camera, that’s why I moved to Olympus. There are many features to my Olympus system that still impress me like: focus bracketing, focus stacking, in-camera ND filter, focus shift, and starry sky focusing. Not to mention the smaller sensor doubles the focal length of each lens. So, when I head to Florida next month, I will take my OMD1 Mark III and 300mm F/4 lens which is an equivalent focal length of 600mm. And it fits in my camera backpack, along with an extra camera body and two more lenses. My Olympus gear is compact and of high quality.

But, I love cameras and found myself a little jealous when so many participants were shooting with the new Nikon mirrorless cameras, so I purchased the Nikon Z6ii, 50mm macro, and 24-70mm f/4 lenses. I still use my Olympus, but I am loving the new Nikon. But buying a new camera is not simple. Not only is there research before purchasing, but there are also a lot of extra costs involved. Here is a list of items I purchased in addition to the camera:

  • Shutter release
  • L – bracket
  • Tethering cord
  • Camera bag
  • Extra battery
  • Luckily, my Yongnuo and Godox flash units already work with Nikon.

You might be wondering why I purchased the Nikon? Well, to be honest, sometimes it is fun having something new! Frequently I shoot in low light and wanted the full-frame sensor for that purpose. Whether I am shooting night skies, events, or even extensive focus stacks, a full-frame sensor with less noise is always welcome.

What’s different

Compared to my Olympus, this new Nikon camera has a similar grip, and the menus don’t throw me off, so it has been an easy transition. However, the new focus bracketing feature is different. I’m still testing it, but mostly I notice the interval spacing is different. Setting a focus stack on my Olympus with an interval of 5 is a much larger spacing than the same setting on the Nikon. As I use the feature more, it should become more intuitive. I’ve used the internal focus bracketing feature and can’t imagine a camera without one.

Overall, I am very happy with my new Nikon Z6ii. The full-frame sensor does offer less noise but that also means less magnification (macro and telephoto) than the Olympus system. Now with multiple systems, I can pick and choose the right tool for the job. And for now, I plan to use both tools.

Mung Beans Sprouted

Mung bean sprouting
Macro image of a mung bean sprouting.

Recently, I took on the challenge to sprout my own mung beans. You might be wondering why or when to use these beans; well, I put them on top on our bowls and salads. Like other sprouts in the grocery store (ex: alfalfa, broccoli), mung beans are easy to sprout. The steps below take you through sprouting your own beans.

  1. Purchase mung beans. I purchased beans in bulk from our local health food store.
  2. Find a jar with a screen or cheesecloth top. A pint canning jar works great and I use a small piece of screen then screw on the top without a lid.
  3. Next, fill the jar ¼ full of beans.
  4. Soak the mung beans overnight.
  5. Drain the beans and from here on out, rinse the beans twice a day draining all standing water. Within a day or two you will see sprouts!   
sprouted mung beans
After four days, the sprouted mung beans turned into plants.

Mung beans are high in vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber and sprouted – they have more antioxidants and amino acids. (https://www.healthline.com) Eat them quickly or they may turn into full plants. When that happened to mine, I ate them anyway.

Lastly, for the photographers, I used my Olympus 60mm macro lens, window light, and a piece of black plexi glass. This is a single image (not focus stacked).

Zoom Pull (and other Intentional Camera Movements)

Zoom pulls image of maple leaves
1/20 sec zoom pull

Beauty surrounds us daily but every now and then I still need inspiration. For me, getting creative is the solution. One of my “go to” creative techniques is intentional camera movements. Generally, I put these in three categories: zoom pull, up/down, and spin. One of my favorite times of year to use these techniques is at the end of the year with holiday lights. Let’s look closer at these techniques:

Zoom pulls

Preferably on a tripod, set your camera to a slow shutter speed and after pre-focusing, press down the shutter and zoom your lens. Sounds simple, right? Well, it really is. You can zoom out or in, fast or slow and each option returns a different result. When you find the combination you like, capture a few more shots. Sometimes, I use a shutter release and bulb mode, really mixing up the shutter speeds. Take a look at these examples:

Up/down

For this technique, I prefer to hand hold the camera. My tripod isn’t a gimbal head, so moving the camera up and down isn’t smooth unless I hand hold. Again, with a slow shutter speed tilt the camera up and down. Generally, I use a ¼ sec shutter speed as a starting point and then adjust from there. Like the zoom pulls, move the camera fast or slow until you get the look you desire. Here are a few examples of up/down intentional camera movements:

Spin

This technique is more complicated and difficult to master. Personally, I don’t try this technique much. The only difference from the previous techniques is the spinning of the camera. But, this time spin the camera in a circle with your subject in the center of the frame. If you really like this technique and have a hard time capturing a photo you like, there is always the radial filter in Photoshop that would create the same effect.

spin camera movement of aspen trees

There you have it, several approaches to intentional camera movements. Give it a try!

Morro Bay Women’s Workshop

Waiting a year for the Morro Bay Women’s Workshop didn’t stifle any of our fun. We spent four fantastic days photographing the ocean, wildlife, harbors, and of course, Morro Rock. We spent four days capturing sunrise, sunset and everything in between. Don’t worry, I always offer a little down time and image critiques. We managed to schedule three image critiques throughout the four days.

A highlight to many photo workshops (and definitely the Morro Bay Women’s Workshop) is the time bonding behind the camera and in social settings like meals. For example, we found many great restaurants to taste local seafood and baked goods. We had a blast! If you haven’t been on a women’s workshop, here is a photo gallery of our trip. To learn about our next workshop visit ahps.org.

Wildlife Photography – Practice

Wildlife Photography image of a cormorant
Practicing at local ponds prepare me to capture this Cormorant in Morro Bay, CA.

Photography is like any other hobby – to improve you need to practice and this is especially true with wildlife photography. To practice my wildlife photography, I love to visit local ponds and zoos in my area. After all, I’m not much of a tracker, so I go where it is easy to find the animals. That way I can practice camera settings, technique, and composition to prepare for when I see animals in the wild. Fortunately, there are several ponds near my house with a variety of waterfowl and birds to practice photographing.

My Gear

Along with my camera, I pack a long lens (100-500mm range). My favorite Olympus lenses are the 300mm f/4 and the 40-150mm with a 1.4x extender. If I am photographing at a zoo through fences, I prefer the 300mm. Longer focal lengths eliminate the fence better. My gear is in my hand, or my backpack and I make sure to include extra camera batteries, memory card, water, and snacks. Sometimes I will use a monopod, but not if there are a lot of people around.

My Settings

African Lion image from a zoo.
This lion image was captured through a fence at the Wildlife World Zoo.

Setting the shutter speed correctly is crucial in wildlife photography. Generally, you have two options – a fast shutter to stop the action (like wings in flight) and the shutter speed should be at least 1/2000 sec. The second option is a slower shutter speed for panning shots. Panning requires a little more practice and the shutter speed changes depending on the speed of your subject. For example, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 sec are shutter speeds I have used on wildlife. So, once you decide on the vision of your photo, set the shutter speed.

Focus is most often in continuous and either a single spot or a small group of spots. Birds flying in the air are easier to focus on using multiple spots. But to focus on a bear’s eye, the single spot is best. Get eye level with the animal to capture the strongest possible image. Below are a few images from zoos, ponds and my backyard.

Next time you have the opportunity – go out and practice!

Dandy Dandelion

Every spring we remove those pesky dandelions from our yard. This year, before the weed & feed came out, I picked a dandelion to photograph.

As a child, I enjoyed blowing the dandelion seeds everywhere, not grasping why it upset my parents. As an adult, when I look at a dandelion, I imagine myself wandering through those tiny seed pods; maybe it comes from reading The Borrower’s or Dr. Suess’s, Horton Hears a Who. So, I spent a few days photographing dandelions from my yard and I thought I would share my process with you.

Olympus OMD 1 Mark III, 60 mm macro, with Raynox DCR250 close up lens, 1/200 sec, f/4, ISO 200, two off camera flash, 50 image focus stack.

I started with a perfect, fluffy dandelion. But the image was busy and I struggled seeing into the seed pods, so I removed some of the seeds to gain a better vantage point. Using my macro lens, tripod and a Raynox DCR250 close up lens, I captured the above image at approximately 2.5x magnification. The off camera flash units were at 1/64 power with diffusion (copy paper). At this magnification, I chose to focus stack so that the closest seed pod would be in focus.

Next, I moved in closer keeping my exposure and flash settings the same. By adding extension tubes to the macro and Raynox lenses, I isolated an individual seed pod achieving almost 4x magnification. When using the Raynox, I use a plastic container on the end of my lens to diffuse the flashes. Anyone that has taken our Arizona Highways PhotoScapes Super Macro workshop (ahps.org) has used this diffusion technique. For these next images, I included my super macro setup and the single seed pod image.

Then, I continued to play with the dandelion seeds, pulling some away to reveal less seed pods drawing me to different compositions. The colored paper background added variety and I chose to capture single images with varying depths of field.

No Flash

Dandelion with green background
1/60 sec, f/4, ISO 200

While setting up the next shot, I added a continuous light to the background and loved the silhouetted dandelion. So, I turned off my flashes and captured silhouettes with and without extension tubes. Much to my surprise, I found a bug crawling around in the dandelion. It took a lot of twisting and positioning in front of my lens, but I finally captured the bug in the seeds. The final bug image expressed my original intent – as if I was that bug within the dandelion.

So, if you are looking for a project, find something simple around your house and keep “working the subject” by changing settings, lighting, backgrounds, etc until you achieve what you want. These images were captured over the course of three days. When I take on new projects, I like to review, reflect, and then reshoot several times. Regardless, have fun and I hope you enjoyed reading about my process.

dandelion in grass
iPhone photo.

High Key Effect

Some days, I just need to play in Photoshop. After spending a couple of hours at Lake Mary with my son and his new dog, Ryder, I had many fun images, but, the lighting was harsh. We went in the middle of the day and to compensate for the harsh light, I used center weighted metering to expose for the shadows. The images were okay, but I decided it would be challenging and different to create a high key image.

After making basic adjustments in Lightroom, I pulled the image into Photoshop. Here I opened the Silver Efex Pro plugin and chose the high key preset. That gave me the basic look but I felt it needed a few finishing touches. So, I added a dodge/burn layer to lighten and darken areas at whim. If you haven’t created a dodge/burn layer, it is very easy.

Hold down the Alt/Opt key while adding a new layer in Photoshop. change the blend mode to Overlay and then check the box to fill the layer with gray. Now, use a white brush to dodge and a black brush to burn in details. You will want to drop the opacity of your brush to 10-15% so that your dodging/burning is subtle.

That’s all it takes to dodge and burn in Photoshop. Next time you are working on images, take a few minutes to try something different – maybe you will like it?