December 8, 2017

2018 Seasons of Trees Calendar Now Available

I'm pleased to announce my 2018 calendar Seasons of Trees. This 13-month calendar contains full-page photographs of trees for all four seasons. You can see a preview and order copies at the link below. Enjoy!

December 1, 2017

New 2018 Winter Classes

My latest round of camera and photo editing classes are now available through the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. These classes meet once a week in the evenings for several sessions. There is also an occasional Saturday course.

Rainbow over Ninepipe Wildlife Refuge, Montana

On tap for January and February 2018 are the following courses:
  • NEW! Digital Camera Basics
  • Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera
  • NEW! Advanced Camera Controls
  • Black & White Photography
  • Better Close-up Photos
  • Better Photo Composition
  • Advanced Black & White Photography
See the web site for descriptions and registration

November 16, 2017

Advanced Digital Photography Class in Missoula

Frequently classes on using your camera and editing your photos are taught separately. But the two processes are intimately linked. In my Advanced Digital Photography class in Missoula, Montana, you have the chance to combine shooting and editing to see how your choices in the field affect what you can get from your image in processing.

Sunset near Harper's Lake, Montana

You get a review of basic exposure, composition and lighting techniques before going out to shoot. Then you return to the classroom for a review of basic editing steps using Adobe software such as Lightroom, Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. I am on hand to help in the field as well as with editing in the lab.

The course takes place at the Lifelong Learning Center on Wednesday evenings November 29 -- December 13 with two Saturday field shoots. See the link for more details and to register. NOTE: The printed course catalog lists the class time as 8:30-11am; this is the time for the field shoots on Saturdays. The evening sessions are 6:30-9pm.

November 10, 2017

Photograph Falling Snow

Have you ever tried to capture snow as it's falling? Maybe you got a shot that shows the snowfall, but you're not sure how to repeat it. Two things are key to capturing falling flakes: 1) a dark background and 2) a fast shutter speed.

A dark background contrasts with the white snow, revealing the snow moving through the air. Pine trees, a dark building or a person wearing a dark coat can all serve to show the snow.

The dark barn allows the falling flakes to be visible since they disappear
against the snow on the ground and the clouds in the sky.

A fast shutter speed of 1/125 second or 1/250 second stops the snow in mid tumble. Depending on the strength of any wind, some flakes may appear as streaks while others show up as white dots. It depends on their speed and their distance from the camera. Closer flakes blur more than distant ones.

A1/250 second shutter speed recorded the blowing snow
visible against the horse's brown coat.

Learn how and why to change the shutter speed in Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera which meets Saturday, November 18, in Missoula, Montana, at the Lifelong Learning Center. Click here to register.

November 8, 2017

The Sharpest Pictures Come from the Sharpest Apertures

Maybe you've learned that closing down the camera's lens aperture can help make your entire photo sharp. But sometimes using an aperture of f/22 actually isn't necessary for a crisp image.

An aperture of  f/16 was necessary to keep the foreground ice
and background mountain both sharp.

Due to engineering limitations and the physics of light, your lens's sharpest aperture is usually the setting two full stops from wide open. If your lens's maximum aperture is f/2.8, then the sharpest aperture is f/5.6. If your lens's widest opening is f/5.6, then the sharpest aperture is f/11.

If your scene is all the same distance from the camera, without both near and far objects, then using the sharpest aperture gives you the sharpest results.

Because these snowy pines are all the same distance from the camera,
an aperture of f/8 was sufficient to keep them sharp.

Learn how and why to change the lens aperture in Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera which meets Saturday, November 18, in Missoula, Montana, at the Lifelong Learning Center. Click here to register.

November 6, 2017

Improve Your Winter Pictures with Exposure Compensation

We received our first significant snowfall in western Montana today, turning the world around us into pristine white. Photographing all that snow can be a challenge for your camera, though. It makes the snow a dull gray instead of bright white because it doesn't recognize the snow you see. Using +1 or +2 Exposure Compensation ensures your snow will appear pristine in your photograph as well as outside.

Regular exposure leaves snow looking dull gray.

Adjusting exposure by +1 makes the snow record bright white.

Learn this and other camera controls in Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera which meets Saturday, November 18, in Missoula, Montana, at the Lifelong Learning Center. Click here to register.

October 24, 2017

The Power of Layers

Perhaps the most powerful tool of photo editing software is the ability to use layers to adjust exposure and color, add text, combine images and many other effects. Photoshop Elements (and Photoshop, but not Lightroom) allows us to create different effects, each on its own layer, so they can be changed or removed later without affecting any other things we did to the image.

Using layers, I adjusted the contrast of the original photo, removed an unwanted element along the left edge, converted to a sepia tone, added the border, and typed a title. Because each effect is separate from the others, I can return to the changes at any time and revise them. For example, I could eliminate the sepia tone, select a different font for the title, or remove the border.

Becoming proficient with layers can greatly expand your creative photo editing options. Learn more about this feature in my Photo Editing --- Layers & Masks class beginning November 6, 2017, at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click this link to register.

P.S. The class is taught using Photoshop Elements, but all the techniques apply to Photoshop as well.

October 23, 2017

Infinite Undo's in Adobe Camera Raw

Have you ever edited one of your pictures and then wondered the next day, "What was I thinking?" By that time, it was too late to revise your changes unless you started over completely.

Doe and fawn nursing
National Bison Range, Montana

Using Adobe Camera Raw means you can always go back and readjust the edits you made to a photo the next day, next week or next year. Regardless of whether you capture your images as JPEG or raw files in the camera, this "non-destructive" editing ability makes learning to use Camera Raw worth the effort.

Camera Raw is included in Photoshop Elements and Photoshop as well as the Develop module of Lightroom. So if you have one of these programs, you already own Camera Raw.

There's still time to join my Shooting & Processing Digital Camera Raw Files class starting October 26, 2017, at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click this link to register.

P.S. You don't need to own a copy of the software to learn about it. All work is done on the school's Windows computers.

October 20, 2017

Wonders of Raw

All digital cameras capture raw data of the scenes we photograph. But when we tell the camera to save a JPEG version of our shots, the camera adjusts and compresses all that raw data into a (relatively) small, ready-to-use picture. In the process, much of the data about brightness and color is discarded.

If you save your pictures as raw images, you can access and adjust all that additional information and often produce an image with more detail and color yourself. The drawback is that you have to take the time after your shoot to develop the raw file with specialized software such as Adobe Camera Raw or the Develop module in Lightroom. But the time is worth it as this before and after view illustrate.

The raw image file straight from the camera.
The photo is tilted and the mountains overexposed
along with dust spots in the sky and lots of noise.

After processing the picture is straight, color
has been restored to the mountains and the
noise and dust spots retouched.

Learn the power of editing raw files in Shooting and Processing Digital Camera Raw Files beginning October 26 at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

Filters for Digital Photography

In the days when photographers shot slide (transparency) film, they recorded accurate color under daylight (sunny) conditions. If they needed to compensate for the blue of overcast skies or the orange of incandescent light bulbs, they had to attach a color correction filter to fix the color cast. If they used print (negative) film, color was corrected in the printing process.

No Color Filters Necessary

In your digital camera, the White Balance settings take care of this color correction for you. Instead of adding an 81 series warming (yellow) filter to your lens to correct a blue color cast, change the White Balance setting to Cloudy or Shade. This adds yellow to cancel the blue.

Cloudy skies create a blue color cast.

Using Cloudy White Balance removes the blue cast without a filter.


October 19, 2017

Galen Rowell and Landscape Photography

At the North American Nature Photographers Association (NANPA) blog is an article sharing five things the author learned from working for famed photographer Galen Rowell. They apply equally well to digital photography as film.

Rainbow over Ninepipes Wildlife Refuge, Montana

Also check out this post of tips for all types of photography from Galen's suggestions.

7 Things Galen Rowell Can Teach You About Photography

You can learn more about Galen Rowell from the website of his Mountain Light Gallery which is closing at the end of October. Be sure to watch the video featuring Rowell.

October 13, 2017

Learn Your Camera Settings

If you are disappointed with the sunset pictures you get from your digital camera, try changing the White Balance setting from Automatic to Daylight for colors more like you saw. Learn this and other camera controls to improve your images in Getting to Know Your Digital Camera beginning October 24 in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

October 2, 2017

The Power of Raw

Saving your images in the camera's raw format instead of JPEG gives you much more flexibility to produce a photo as you saw it. In the glaring midday sun of the Augusta, Montana, rodeo, that extra editing room allowed me to reveal all the information in the highlights and shadows of this barrel racer.

Raw image straight from the camera

Raw image after editing with Adobe Camera Raw

You can learn how to get the most from your camera's image in Shooting & Processing Digital Camera Raw Files that begins October 26 at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

September 29, 2017

Precise Local Changes with Layers & Masks

It's relatively easy to make changes to our pictures overall. But some photos need adjustments to specific areas without affecting the image as a whole. Using layers and masks in photo editing software like Photoshop Elements lets you precisely apply changes to only those areas that need them.

In this photo of fireweed and burned tree trunks, the bright yellow wood where the bark had fallen off distracts from the plants. Using adjustment layers, I darkened and desaturated the color. Using layer masks limited the effects only to those areas, leaving the rest of the image untouched.

Image before adjustments to tree trunks

Image after specific local changes to the tree trunks

Becoming proficient with adjustment layers and masks in Photoshop Elements opens up another layer of creative control and finesse. You can learn these and other layer techniques in my Photo Editing - Layers & Masks course beginning November 6 at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

September 28, 2017

Get Better Color with White Balance

All digital cameras use a setting called White Balance to try to reproduce colors as we see them. However, the automatic white balance setting, which every camera is set to by default, removes the very intense colors of the sunset that inspires us to take the picture in the first place.

To change this automatic setting, you need to switch your camera from total automatic exposure to the equivalent of Program exposure mode, indicated by the letter P on the exposure dial. Program is still automatic, but it's more adjustable than basic automatic.

Canon Exposure Dial set to Program (P)

In Program mode you can change the White Balance from automatic to daylight (indicated by an icon of a sun). The daylight White Balance setting does not try to change the colors in the scene; it records them just as they are. The White Balance control may be a button on the outside of the camera or a choice in the menus.

Sunrise with automatic White Balance

Daylight-Sunny White Balance Icon

Sunrise with daylight (sunny) White Balance

So switching to Program mode and daylight White Balance when you want to photograph a sunset should give you much more colorful results. Learn more about the controls on your digital camera in Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. You can take a single-day Saturday class on October 14 or a five-session class beginning October 24. Click here to register.

September 27, 2017

The Second Best Landscape Photography Accessory Part 2

Using a polarizing filter enhances the colors of your landscape photos, as I described in yesterday's post. An additional benefit of a polarizer is that it can remove reflections from wet surfaces, such as rocks and water, to reveal both richer color and what lies below the surface.

If you are photographing a waterfall,  river, or pond, there are often reflections of the sky on the water's surface or the wet rocks nearby. These reflections or glare disguise the true colors underneath. Using a polarizer, you can reduce or eliminate these reflections.

With no polarizer, the reflection of a cloudy sky obscures
the rocks below the water's surface.

With a polarizer, the gray haze reflection is gone and
the rocks are clearly visible along with being more colorful.

A polarizer is also helpful when photographing waterfalls where the splashing water wets the surrounding surfaces. These reflect the sky and hide the rich rock hues. A polarizing filter can remove the glare.

With no polarizer, the wet rock at the top has shiny reflections.

With a polarizer, the reflections on the wet rock at the top disappear.

Learn about more filters and practices to improve your images in my Better Landscape Photos class that begins Thursday, September 28, at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

September 26, 2017

The Second Best Accessory for Landscape Photos

If the first best accessory for improved landscape photos is a sturdy tripod, the second best is a polarizing filter, or polarizer. A polarizer eliminates glare and reflections. In turn, the colors in your image are richer, clouds pop out of the sky, and haze is diminished.

This dark filter is two pieces of glass combined. After you attach it to your lens, turning the outer portion of the filter creates the effect. This allows you to dial in how much polarizing effect you want. And you can see the results as you look through the viewfinder or at the Live View screen.

Without a polarizing filter

With a polarizing filter

In broad landscapes the polarizer is most effective when the sun is at right angles to the lens; in other words, when the sun is to your left or right relative to the camera. The filter has little or no effect when the sun is behind or directly in front of you (such as photographing a sunset).

You need a circular polarizer (not a linear one) to work with your camera's auto exposure feature. And to find out the right filter size for your lens, look at the number printed on the inside of the lens cap.

Using a polarizing filter for your landscape pictures can make a dramatic difference. Learn more helpful practices in my Better Landscape Photos class beginning Thursday, September 28, in Missoula, MT, at the Lifelong Learning Center. Click here to register.

September 25, 2017

When Bigger Is Not Better

Traditional advice for sharp pictures is to set the camera's aperture to the smallest opening, or the biggest F-number. But this is not always necessary. If the subject you are photographing is all at the same distance from the camera, then you do not need lots of depth of field. This means you can use the lens's sharpest aperture instead, which is usually one of the middle apertures, such as f/8 or f/11.

In this photo of an old door on a historic building, my subject is flat; everything is the same distance from the camera. I made sure my camera sensor was also perfectly square to my subject and then set my aperture to f/8. I did not need to stop down further to get a sharp image.

A flat subject can be photographed with the lens's
sharpest aperture, in this case, f/8.

Learn this and other depth of field approaches in my Creative Camera Techniques class that begins Monday, September 25, in Missoula, MT at the Lifelong Learning Center. Click here to register.

September 22, 2017

Enhance Your Images with Adobe Camera Raw

Learning to shoot and develop raw image files gives you the ability to refine your vision for the picture the way master wet darkroom printers do. In the before and after versions of this backlit group of autumn trees, I was able to adjust the cropping, exposure and color to create a photo that reflects the qualities in the scene that appealed to me.

Original image before processing

Final image after processing with Adobe Camera Raw
Learn how to get the most from your camera's raw photos in my Shooting and Processing Digital Camera Raw Files class beginning October 26 at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

September 21, 2017

Strong Foregrounds Make Strong Landscape Photos

When we're shooting a beautiful landscape, we often focus our attention on a distant part of the scene. Including a relevant and appealing foreground subject in our composition helps the viewer feel part of the environment and increases the feeling of depth or distance in the photograph.

In this image some lupine beside a pond reflecting the clouds in evening light makes an interesting foreground to draw the viewer into the scene before their gaze moves on to the distant trees and sky.

Learn more techniques in my Better Landscape Photos class beginning September 28 at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

September 20, 2017

Be Smarter Than Your Camera

We often assume that the camera records our subject as it appears to our eyes, but this is not always the case. When our subject is very dark or very light, the camera gets fooled and makes an inaccurate exposure. Using exposure compensation to override the camera's choices can give us a better picture of dark and light subjects.

In the two photos here, the black urn tricked the camera into making the wrong exposure. By setting exposure compensationto -1, I got an image that better reveals what the urn looks like.

Camera's Exposure
No Exposure Compensation

Adjusted Exposure
-1 Exposure Compensation

Learn how and when to use the exposure compensation control in my Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera class starting October 24 at the Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. Click here to register.

September 19, 2017

High Key & Low Key

Photographing the same subject to make a high key and a low key version can produce strikingly different moods. Much of the effect comes from the background and subject itself as well as the lighting and exposure. In the two photos here, a white and a black background serve to enhance the exposure effect.

You can learn this and other fun approaches in my Creative Camera Techniques course beginning September 25 in Missoula, MT, at the Lifelong Learning Center. Click here to register.

September 18, 2017

More Winter 2017 Missoula Classes Open for Registration

I'm happy to announce that I've added several more photo editing classes to go along with the camera skills courses already available at The Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana. These new courses are designed for more experienced photographers and concentrate on advanced photography and editing skills. I still have seats in beginning and intermediate camera courses designed primarily for people with interchangeable lens models (DSLR or mirrorless). Read the descriptions below for more information.
  • Advanced Digital Photography
  • Advanced Camera Raw Processing
  • Photo Editing: Layers and Masks
I hope you can join me!


August 22, 2017

Getting Started with Lightroom Videos

Adobe Lightroom Library Module

If you are new to Adobe Lightroom, you may feel overwhelmed by all the choices in the many sections, or modules, of the program. I recently discovered a series of short videos on the Adobe web site that explains how to organize, edit and share your photos using this great photography software.

Take Your First Steps with Lightroom and Photoshop

Most of the presentations are hosted by Ben Willmore, one of the best Photoshop and Lightroom instructors out there. He demonstrates using a Mac, but if you're a Windows owner, don't worry. All the sliders and steps are the same. You only have to be aware of two differences: 1) When the instructor mentions the Command key, substitute the Control key, and 2) When the instructor talks about the Finder, that means Explorer for Windows.

Take a few minutes to watch these videos. Along with essential organizing and editing information, there are also great tips and answers to common questions that you are sure to find useful.

P.S. If you would like to see more of Ben's videos, check out his classes on Creative Live!  I am not affiliated with Mr. Willmore in any way.

August 17, 2017

Practicing Photography for the Solar Eclipse

You've no doubt realized by now that a total solar eclipse will dash across the continental United States next Monday, August 21, 2017.  If you plan to photograph the show, you should already have your solar filter for your camera and a pair of solar glasses for viewing the eclipse directly. Now is a perfect time to test your equipment and accessories to be sure you know where to point your lens and what settings to use before the excitement begins.

First Test Exposure of the Sun
2 seconds, f/11, ISO 100

Evaluative metering
168mm equivalent focal length

Check NASA's web site for when you can see the eclipse. Where I live in western Montana, the sun will be about 92% eclipsed. The eclipse begins at 10:15am with the maximum effect at 11:31am and ends by 12:52pm MT.

Best Test Exposure of the Sun
1/25 second, f/11, ISO 100

Spot metering
448mm equivalent focal length

I took my equipment out to a local park where I have a clear view of the eastern sky and tested for exposure and framing at the time when the eclipse will occur. Here's some of the things I discovered.


July 31, 2017

Improving Your Photographs

The PBS show Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark  highlights the efforts of National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore to document the world's endangered species with studio style portraits. It is a worthy project and watching the show provides you with insight into what professional photographers do to capture their images.

On the program's website, Joel provides a dozen tips for better photos. Among my favorites are #2 Good photographs have nice light, a clean background and an interesting subject.

#4 To get good nature photographs, you need to shoot before sunrise and after sunset. And #5 you need a tripod and a cable release to ensure a sharp photo under these conditions.

Sunrise, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
Las Vegas, Nevada

Check out the complete list at Joel's Photography Tips.

July 24, 2017

Great Photos in the Middle of the Day

If you've read very many articles either online or in books about the best time to photograph outdoors, you have no doubt heard the recommendation to photograph during the "golden hours" around sunrise and sunset. Most of these articles suggest you use the middle of the day to scout or take a nap. But you can make great photos in any kind of light, even that of midday sun.


July 20, 2017

Understanding Color for Creative Effects

Many photographers make color images without consciously paying attention to the relationship of different hues in their pictures. Understanding the basics of color theory can help you create photographs with more impact. The opposite, or complementary, colors of blue and yellow in the picture below are a large part of its appeal.

Understanding color theory also helps you edit your photos more effectively. Keeping the RGB/CMY color wheel in mind helps you know which color to add to your picture to neutralize an unwanted color cast, for example.

Combining equal amounts of opposite colors creates a neutral color of white, gray or black, depending on the original brightness of the colors. Adding the appropriate amount of magenta to the first photo below removes the green color cast that makes the second photo more appealing.

Color Theory and Photography: A Primer on B&H's Explora web site gives a great introduction to basic color theory along with examples to illustrate the ideas. Well worth the read!

July 17, 2017

Fall 2017 Classes in Missoula Open for Registration

I'm happy to announce my fall camera and photo editing classes at The Lifelong Learning Center in Missoula, Montana, are now available for registration. I have a full schedule of beginning and intermediate courses designed primarily for people with interchangeable lens cameras (DSLR or mirrorless). Read the descriptions below for more information.
  • Getting to Know Your Digital SLR Camera
  • Better Landscape Photos
  • Creative Camera Techniques
  • Photography Challenge
  • Shooting & Processing Digital Camera Raw Files
I hope you can join me!

    July 13, 2017

    Photographing the Solar Eclipse 2017

    As you may know by now, on August 21, 2017, a solar eclipse will occur whose path of totality spans the entire United States. Even if you are not in the complete shadow of the moon hiding the sun, you can still get interesting photos of this astronomical event.

    May 1993
    Partial Solar Eclipse
    Las Vegas, NV