Category Archives: Inspiration

Buttonbush by Amy Horn

Buttonbush

When we saw the “Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary” on our Google search, we knew it was a must visit location. The name is almost as good as the Great Dismal Swamp (we’ve been there too!) It is located in Southwestern Florida and is known for alligators, waterfowl and other swampy visitors. We arrived shortly after they opened to capture wildlife in soft light. What we didn’t expect to see was a buttonbush shrub (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Resembling a Dr. Seuss tree, this unique bush caught our attention quickly. I used my 300mm lens (it was attached) and focused on the button closest to me. Although I had my macro lens, I really like how the buttons fill the frame from using the 300mm lens. Buttonbush plants are found from Mexico to the Artic and mostly in wetland areas.

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary didn’t disappoint. In addition to the buttonbush, we saw a red-shouldered hawk, barred owl, woodpeckers, and a green anole. Next time you are in Southwestern Florida stop in to the swamp!

Tanque Verde Falls, Tucson

My college years were spent in Tucson studying at the UofA. Now, many years later I returned for 1.5 weeks to take a workshop, teach a workshop and enjoy all Tucson has to offer. Now, I’m a hiker so I discovered many new places one of them being Tanque Verde Falls. Fortunately, another workshop attendee and local Tucsonan joined me for the morning. After a short hike and scrambling over boulders we arrived at the lower falls. Luckily, clouds were intermittent providing softer and more even light. We ran short on time, so we didn’t scramble to the upper falls but it sure was great scouting a new location. Notice in the images below the difference of cloud cover versus direct sunlight?

Macro Wildflower Tips

It is an amazing wildflower season in Arizona this spring. These five tips will improve your success in capturing macro wildflower images.

  1. Light. Great photos have great light. Arrive at your destination before the sun comes up to catch the soft light. Scout the day before so you know where the great flowers are located otherwise you might miss the great light.
  2. Tripod & shutter release.  Use a tripod and shutter release to avoid camera shake. Macro photography requires sharp focus and the slightest movement from no tripod or pressing the shutter can result in a blurred image. If you don’t have a shutter release, place the camera on a 2-second timer to avoid touching the camera during the exposure.
  3. Blur the background. Open your aperture as much as your lens will allow (f/2.8 – f/5.6) to blur the background. Long focal length lenses (100+mm) have a similar effect. If you don’t own a macro lens then use the longest focal length lens you own and capture a “close-up” image. See the samples below.
  4. Diffuse the light. So, you like to sleep in and won’t photograph flowers until daylight. Then, take a diffuser or scrim (basically a sheet on a frame). Place the diffusion material between the sun and the flower to soften the light. See the samples below.
  5. Have fun. If all this is too much for you, then go straight to step 5! After all, it is about being out in nature and having fun.

I hope you make use of these macro wildflower tips and enjoy this amazing season! It will be gone before we know it.

What, When, Why, and How to Keyword

Yellow flower with keyword
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60mm, ISO 200, f/3.5, 1/640 sec.

Before talking about how to keyword, I should discuss photography workflow which is the process a photographer uses for their images from capture to output. This includes culling, developing and posting images. Although there are many differences from photog to photog, there are also many similarities. Many photogs include keywording as part of their workflow, as do I. I am not always the best at it, so I have spent the last month applying more discipline to keywording.

Why keyword?

leaf with waterdrops
Potential keywords: leaf, raindrop, cloudy, green, etc.

When images have a keyword attached it becomes searchable. Imagine searching your images by your child’s name, a color, location, or specific lighting situation. If you take the time to add keywords, it is that easy. I use Lightroom to catalog my images, so to search for a macro image, I type “macro” into the search box and tada, all my macro photos appear. That is, if I added the keyword to each image. If you have not been keywording, don’t fret, just start now. Someday, you can go back and tackle past images but for now, start with today.

When to keyword?

A better question is “when not to keyword”! Don’t wait to keyword! Adding keyworks when you download or very soon afterward helps you to remember the details of the shoot.  For instance, I went to Boyce Thompson Arboretum in January after a rainstorm and captured a few hundred images (many were focus stacked). When I downloaded, I immediately added keywords that applied to all images such as: Arizona, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, desert, raindrops, cloudy, etc. Then after culling my photos and removing obvious images to delete, I added specific keywords such as: focus stacking, cactus, specific plant varieties, etc. To remember the plant varieties, I take a reference photo on my iPhone of my setup with the plant label so I can add the keyword later.

How to keyword?

Adding keywords in Lightroom is very easy. Upon import, scroll down the righthand bar to the keyword tab and start adding words to describe your photos (separate with commas). Remember, these keywords will apply to all images being imported, so start generic first. Then, to add additional keywords once the images are imported, switch to grid view (G) and locate the spray can on the tool bar at the bottom of the page. Once the spray can is selected a text box becomes available to add keywords. Add several keywords with commas in between and “spray” them on to the respective photos. Change the keywords as needed and respray. When you are done, tap the spray can back to its spot and you are finished.

Lightroom screen capture with spray can and keyword tags highlighted.

It really is that easy. The hardest part is taking the extra few seconds/minutes to add the keywords. But for searching after the fact it is a blessing in my opinion.

Liquid Art

Liquid Art – paint, oil and milk

For the past two months I’ve captured studio images of liquids or liquid art. Instead of water drop collisions (I will do more soon) capturing macro images of paint, oil and milk are my new passion thanks to Jason Cummings. Jason shared his setup with me and I couldn’t wait to make it my own. Changing the liquid quantities and thicknesses create very diverse images. The above image followed the steps in this article and the gear used for this project is in the image to the right: two off-camera flash units with diffusers, shutter release cable, macro lens, extension tubes, plastic table cloth, solo cups, paint and a disposable plate. Not pictured: camera and tripod.

Gear used in liquid art photos
Gear used in liquid art photos

Make your own masterpiece

Step One:  Water down acrylic paint. Using a disposable cup, water down cheap acrylic paint. The thicker the paint, the longer the paint balls stay intact.

Step Two:  Pour milk, half and half, cream, etc into a water resistant or water proof plate/bowl. I prefer using disposable plates or Petri dishes.

Step Three:  Pour oil in a new cup and add drops of paint. Use all the colors you want in your image.

Step Four:  Pour oil and paint into milk substance. Pour fast, pour slow, make circles/squares, etc; these differences in technique add to the individuality of the final image.

Step Five: Capture images. When setting up your gear, be sure that the macro lens is parallel to the plate of liquid. I use a toothpick on the surface of the liquid to pre-focus. After pouring, I manual focus in live view, at 3x enlargement or more, to fine tune focus. Snap the shutter and rotate the plate for different compositions. The liquid will move on its own as the oil, milk and paint interact. If you have paint “balls” they will burst at some point, so shoot fast. Since the liquid mixture is moving, I recommend using a flash or other strong light source to create sharp images at a fast shutter speed. Here are a few examples from different paint colors. Give it a try, it is a lot of fun.

Water Drop Collisions

Creating water drop collisions keeps me entertained for hours. For the last year, I have been very busy completing and publishing the book, The Art of Macro Photography and my drip kit was neglected. So, I blocked a few hours and went to work in my make shift studio (spare bedroom). I kept the setup simple and started with single drops of water. I didn’t use any additives, just wanted to practice making drops and fine tune the timing of the flashes. After a successful single drop, I added the second drop.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60mm, ISO 400, f/16, .5 sec.

In all the time I have been shooting water drop collisions, I’ve never seen the second drop hit next to the original drop as you can see in the image to the right. After several minutes problem solving, I tapped the valve and all subsequent drops collided. Why does this entertain me for hours? I love the challenge of focusing sharp and the varied final images. With a small change on timing of the flashes, I can achieve several different looks. The last image is of my setup for this series.

Stay tuned for more images next week!

 

Waterfalls of Michigan

Munising Falls. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/14, 6 sec., Singh Ray Bryan Hansell Waterfall Filter

Waterfalls of Michigan

Munising Falls. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/14, 5 sec., Singh Ray Bryan Hansell Waterfall Filter

Three days into my Michigan trip, I received a FedEx package from a good friend with a Waterfalls of Michigan book. A guide to more than 130 waterfalls in the Great Lake State. Of these 130 waterfalls in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is only one in the lower peninsula, how will I photograph them all? Well, I am sure I won’t, but I will enjoy the ones I get to. For my two weeks in Michigan, I am spending a week in the Upper Peninsula, this is new territory for me and I love it. I rented a small AirBnB apartment in Munising and have six waterfalls within five miles! Originally, this trip was designed to be with my husband but last-minute changes didn’t allow it. So, I am off solo again travelling through the state where I was born in search of water images. I selected two waterfalls a day to

Chapel Falls. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/11, .8 sec., Singh-Ray Waterfall Filter

photograph.

At Munising Falls yesterday, a sweet retired man said, “You look like a professional, can you help me? When I view my photos, how do I delete one?” Not that he really needs a professional photographer to answer that question, but I helped him with that and a few more questions on his digital camera. Then, I hiked 2.5 miles round trip to Chapel Falls. I think I stopped every 50 yards to photograph all forms of fungi. My macro lens got a great workout. Even other hikers stopped me and said, “I saw you photographing fungi on the way to the falls. Did you see these yellow mushrooms?” Michiganders are such nice people! He directed me to the yellow mushrooms and I spent 30-minutes capturing images with my tripod up as low to the ground as possible.

Yellow Mushroom. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60mm, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/3 sec.

Today I drove to Wagner Falls, two miles from my apartment. There was one car when I arrived and they left soon thereafter. I scooted under the deck to get a few images from the rivers edge as well. Although it was raining, it is more on the misty spectrum than pouring; much preferred for photography. Tomorrow, I start a meetup through Olympus Mirrorless Adventures and we will photograph six more waterfalls in the area. I can’t wait!

iPhone capture of my setup.

For the Photogs:

So, what does it take to capture a “milky water” waterfall photo? Here are a few pointers:

  1. Do your research. Find out the direction the waterfall faces. If it is in direct sunlight, go early or late in the day so the sun won’t be on the waterfall. In Northern Michigan, the sky is graced with clouds frequently, so sun is not an issue.

    Chapel Falls. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/6.3, 1 sec., Singh-Ray Waterfall Filter.

  2. Gear. In addition to your camera and len(s), don’t forget a tripod. The milky water is captured by using slow shutter speeds and a sturdy tripod is a must. Last, bring a circular polarizing filter and neutral density filter or get a Singh-Ray Bryan Hansel Waterfall Polarizer (combines polarization with neutral density in one filter).
  3. Try all angles. Some waterfalls have viewing decks, others are best viewed at the river’s edge. Regardless, look at all the angles. When I went to Munising Falls, there was the main accessible path then two paths that branched off. The path to the left stepped up 30 stairs and only 1/3 of the viewers when up to see that angle. The path to the right stepped up 100 stairs and had the best view of all! I had this view to myself for a long time, most visitors did not climb these stairs. Be careful if you are on a viewing deck any foot traffic on the deck will result in vibrations that move your camera.
  4. Take your time. When other visitors are at waterfalls also, I make a point of setting up my camera, tripod and filters in the background. When the crowd thins down, I step forward, reframe my shot and capture several images at different focal lengths and different orientations (horizontal & vertical). Then I step back again and review. I make sure all the other visitors have a chance at a good image too. I often take a moment and think to myself on what else I can do to make a better image. Then do that something different. I just keep shooting. That is the advantage of travelling alone.

La Push

James Island, La Push. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 1/160 sec., Using high-res mode creating a 50 mp image.

One last fun story from my trip. Throughout my trip I have spent many hours practicing the ukulele. Since I can now change chords quick enough to play a tune, I decided to practice on my last night while I waited for sunset. Normally, I practice when campers around me are away. As soon as I tuned the uke, my neighbor came out asking if I was a musician. Well, that is not what I would call my playing to be and I don’t sing. Well, he and his wife are musicians and they asked me to play with them. So, we had a jam session with a guitar, autoharp, concertina and my uke. Lauren traded off on the guitar and concertina (like an accordian), Shery played the autoharp. Good thing Lauren would tell me when to change chords. We played two songs and Lauren sang, he also kept the chord changes simple for me. Then, the fog settled around James Island and the sun began to set and I ran off to photograph my last sunset on the Washington Coast for now.

Enjoy this image from La Push, Washington. Oh, and one of the best meals from the entire trip was here in La Push at Rivers End Restaurant. I ate the Seafood Louie salad with shrimp, crab and smoked salmon along with a cup of clam chowder – delish. Excellent finish to an excellent trip!

Seafood Louie Salad. iPhone

Ocean City

ocean city beach sunset

Cloudless Night. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/20, .8 sec.

My tarp finally got rained on as I packed to leave Cape Disappointment. On the way to Ocean City, I drove through rain, fog and mist. It was beautiful. In Ocean City, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was only 80 miles from Cape Disappointment. What a difference. After setting up camp, I sat in the sun and read for an hour just to soak up some rays. The Ocean City campground was two blocks from the ocean so I shot sunset for two nights here. The first night without clouds and the last night with excellent clouds.

falls creek falls

Fall Creek. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 6 sec., with Bryan Hansel Singh-ray Filter.

Ocean City is a short drive to Lake Quinault, part of the Olympic National Forest and there are many waterfalls. I was so excited to photograph there, I woke up very early and was on a trail by 7:30am after the 1-hour drive. My first location was Falls Creek which is on the edge of a tent campground and I was very quiet to not wake up any campers. It was a pretty fall, but I struggled getting a composition I liked. So, I hiked to Gatton Creek Falls. It was a mile to the falls and a bridge crossed over the top. The only problem with this tiered fall was access to it. I could not find a trail I was willing to walk down without going swimming so I headed back a little discouraged.

Even though I wanted to photograph waterfalls, I reminded myself how beautiful the trail was and tried to find other things to photograph. I came across chicken mushroom and moss growing on the side of a tree stump and pulled out the macro lens.

chicken mushroom and moss

Chicken Mushroom and moss. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 60 mm, ISO 200, f/9, 2.5 sec.

Mosquitos were buzzy around, but my deet must have worked as I survived without a bite. Capturing the macro shots reinforced my thoughts of the beautiful trail and improved my mood. I took off in search of more falls.

Waterfalls

willaby creek falls

Willaby Creek Falls Final Photo. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/8, 5 sec., with Bryan Hansel Singh-ray Filter.

The trail to Willaby Falls was non-technical and I didn’t feel that I was going to fall in. I stepped off the trail slightly to get a better angle and had fun capturing images here. In the photog section below, I discuss the first photo upon arriving at the scene to my final photo. When I am photographing beautiful falls like this, I try to remind myself to look not only through the camera but with my eyes as well. So, often I will pause and just admire without looking for a composition or changing an aperture. I just take in the beauty.

merriman falls

Merriman Falls Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/10, 8 sec., with Bryan Hansel Singh-ray Filter.

Lastly, I drove to Merriman Falls. The 40-foot drop contrasted with Willaby Creek Falls and required a different approach to capture an image. Next to the side of the road with only a pullout (no sign) this waterfall was magnificent. The entire falls were hard to photograph because by this time, other people were around. Another photog was there capturing couple’s photos as well, so I worked around them and captured small scenes of the falls.

Comforts of Home

Amy selfie

I’m waving hello! iPhone photo.

I watched Neflix! This campground had free wifi and I enjoyed it thoroughly: backed up photos, caught up on email and watched a few movies on Netflix. This was my first TV for almost 6 weeks. After six weeks, my car and trailer are dirty. Even though I was rained on, the dirt roads and sea spray have done a number on my car. It still surprised me when a total stranger said, “That is a dirty car,” to me at the gas station. Peer pressure worked and I drove through a self-serve car wash 15 minutes later. Of course, the sea spray hit again that night shooting sunset. After 4500 miles, what do you expect?

car on sand

Car on beach, iPhone photo.

Oregon’s beaches are public property and the state owns them. In Washington, it seems similar and they let you drive on the beach! So, I had get my Renegade on the sand. When I sent the photo home to Rod he was concerned that I would get stuck. But, I didn’t.

I spent an afternoon in Ocean Shores a few miles away and walked several miles along Damon Point. Damon Point has spectacular crashing waves, agates, shells and driftwood. I even found a marble that I’m taking home for our cats. I grabbed fried oysters in town to complete my west coast seafood checklist and headed back to camp to prepare for sunset.

For the Photogs!

willaby creek falls

Willaby Creek Falls First Photo. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/10, .8 sec.

When I photograph waterfalls, I like to start with a sample image once I am setup. I often use aperture priority mode and take a sample shot to help me view the scene. Once I take a shot, I am more successful on composing by analyzing if that is the story I want to capture. I say to myself, “what can I do to make this better.” With the image on the right, there is a lot to do to make it better. At first, I shot from the trail with the tripod above a bush. Then I noticed a dirt path off the trail and I examined what would be the best location to capture the photo. If your tripod isn’t as tall as you, make sure you view the scene the same as your camera. I often pull out my iPhone to “view” the scene at different heights to determine where to setup the tripod. Once I was away from the bush, I put on my Bryan Hansel filter from Singh-ray. Yes, I love this filter! I played with horizontal and vertical orientations until I found just the right composition. I knew before I captured the photo I would crop a small portion from the foreground because there was a distracting reflection that I could not avoid otherwise. View the final Willaby Creek Falls photo above in this post.

Ocean city beach at sunset

Ocean City Beach. Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, 12-100mm, ISO 200, f/10, 1/80 sec.

Cape Disappointment

Cape Disappointment Boat Launch. Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 12-100 mm, ISO 400, f/18 @ 1/640 sec.

Cape Disappointment

Light house

North Head Lighthouse. Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 12-100 mm, ISO 400, f/16 @ 1/500 sec.

It was a relaxing 40-mile drive from Astoria to Cape Disappointment. I ran a few errands on the way out of town (ice, food, gas, etc) and arrived at Cape Disappointment in time to check in and set up my trailer. Fifteen minutes later, I was ready to explore. The ocean was a short walk from my campsite so I checked it out. The view included the North Head Lighthouse but the weather was cloudy, and a lighthouse in the clouds wasn’t working for me, so I drove around the park to scout other areas. Slowly, I sunk back into a discouraged photographer. These clouds were not what I wanted to capture. So, I bailed on photography (sort of). I went to town, sat in a McDonald’s parking lot and streamed my favorite Mirrorless Minutes podcast from the McDonald’s wifi. Normally, I listen to it from iTunes, but this was their 100th episode and I watched it live. Karen, one of my friends from Phoenix was in the podcast chat too. I felt a little more inspired.

After the podcast, I got a text from Karen. Thanks to some fun discussions about photography and what to shoot, I flipped the switch to wanting to take photos and couldn’t wait to get back to the beach. Without phone service at the park, I talked to myself the entire time on the beach. Once I took a shot, I would ask myself how it could be improved. Initially, I thought I would photograph macro subjects that are perfect for cloudy weather. But as I looked at the sky, I noticed clouds with highlights and shadows. I saw definition in the clouds. Maybe it was there all along and I wasn’t noticing…either way, I was ready to capture images. I rotated between wide and long lenses capturing reflections on the wet sand. The tide was heading out, so I continued to creep up on the waves. My final images are abstract and I like them. Thanks Karen for the inspiration. The lesson I learned: there is always a picture to be made.

Cloudy Reflections

Cloudy Reflections. Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 7-14 mm, ISO 200, f/16 @ 1/10 sec.

World’s Largest Frying Pan!

frying pan photo

Largest Frying Pan! 14 ft tall.

Day two at Cape Disappointment was spent sightseeing. I went to lighthouses, beaches and Long Beach. Long Beach had many unique finds: Cranberry Museum, Marsha’s Free Museum with Jake the Alligator man and the largest frying pan in history! How have I lived almost 50 years and not known where the largest frying pan in history was located? I found a taco bar and had a halibut taco – it was yummy! I took the evening off from photography and read a book. All in all a great day.

Cranberries on the vine. Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 12-100 mm, ISO 400, f/8 @ 1/200 sec.

My days are relaxing but lonely at times. I don’t over talk to people like I did my first week (good thing) but often want to talk more. Other than my daily conversations with my sister and husband I often don’t speak. Hopefully, this doesn’t have a negative side effect on my vocal chords….otherwise my family won’t recognize me when I get home.

My next stop will be further up the Washington Coast in Ocean City.

For the Photogs!

In case you are looking for a great solution to transfer photos to iPhones or iPads, a workshop participant told me about Sandisk’s iXpand. It is a usb drive with a usb on one end and lightning on the other. So, I save photos to it, put the other end in my phone and transfer images instantly. Works like a charm, thanks Pat!

Clouds with details

Clouds with details. Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II, 7-14 mm, ISO 200, f/18 @ 1.6 sec.

When I saw the details in the clouds, I also thought this would make a strong black and white. So, using Nik Silver Efex Pro, I did just that.