Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Tips & Techniques Fri, 31 Jul 2015 17:50:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Second Season of Shooting Dragonflies in Natural Light: Three New Lessons Learned – Guest Article by Steve Russell Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:04:48 +0000 8H7A5680Dragonflies have survived since prehistoric times with their extraordinary hunting prowess and prolific procreation (I highly recommend the excellent You Tube video, “Sky Hunters,” to drive home just how remarkable they are). But as a macro photographer I am drawn to them because of their vast array of colors, their always-surprising behaviors, and the fact that with their size they can fill the frame of a telephoto lens shot relatively close. It is the peak of my second full season of shooting dragonflies and the opportunities for variety still seem endless.

There are three upgrades I’ve made this year that have upped my game:

  1. I am using Canon’s 100-400mm II lens this season as opposed to using my very capable 70-200mm last year. My new lens has increased my range and number of opportunities, which means that I can shoot from further away (or shoot as close as 30”) and I don’t scar off nearly as many dragonflies getting ready for the shot.
  2. I routinely add on a 20mm extension tube to my lens to magnify the subjects even more. The trade-off is that the lens will not focus on subjects in the far-off distance like flying birds, but it will still reach halfway across a decent-sized pond and in the macro world that’s plenty.8H7A8184
  3. Shooting with a relatively heavy telephoto lens from further away makes holding it steady that much more important, but there is rarely enough time to use a tripod. I had been using a collapsible hiking pole to brace my lens against, which served me well, but I found something better! A Sirui aluminum monopod (manufacturer’s #BSRP2045) with feet that fold out, a pole that expands from 27” to 63,” and a base that allows the pole to flex in any direction (or not). It’ll hold up to 17 lbs. but don’t count on it for landscape photography. At 2.9 lbs. it’s light enough to lug around and the base can be separated from the pole (and also easily converted into a mini-tripod). Manfrotto makes a similar product and there are others, but the research I did pointed toward the Sirui for its build quality, flexibility and price (~$160) and I haven’t been disappointed.


R22A4927With these three improvements my opportunities for shots have increased and the overall quality of images I can get has improved. I still pull out my 90mm macro lens once in a while (mostly for the smaller damselflies or some fearless dragonflies), but the bulk of the opportunities is further away. It’s been a bumper crop for images this season and many of these simply would not have been possible without the upgrades, which reminds me that one of the things I like most about photography is that there is always something new to learn.

Steve Russell


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EXPERT ADVICE: LinkedIn FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS Mon, 22 Jun 2015 15:00:21 +0000 WonderfulMachine-logoTo bring a new voice, a valuable perspective, and great advice for all photographers to our blog, we have teamed up with the fine folks at Wonderful Machine. Once a month, a blogger from the WM team will be contributing to this expert advice column. For this month’s installment, Dana Ratliff contributed this article on using LinkedIn as a marketing tool.


As a photographer, you may have overlooked LinkedIn as a marketing tool. Maybe because it’s not as visual as some other forms of social media. Maybe it seems too daunting to recall and write out your entire work history. Maybe it’s still a site that you just haven’t taken the time to explore yet. Whatever the reason, here’s some information to change your outlook on one of today’s greatest – and most undervalued – resources for photographers.



LinkedIn is an incredible virtual resume allowing you to emphasize your abilities in great detail. The best part of all–your personality and interests become the icing on the cake! This is your opportunity to stand out from the competition.


Your headline counts. Instead of writing “Photographer” or “Freelance Photographer,” make it specific. Try “Photographer Specializing in Corporate and Architecture Photography.” Quick changes like this can take you from one of many to one that’s above the rest.

Make sure your profile image is of you, not a model you’ve photographed. Keep it professional and in-line with the rest of your branding. Clients want to see who they’re talking to without having to guess.

Customize your URL to make it even easier to include your link on promo materials and emails.

Use your summary to share your background and tell your story. Be personable and speak to the reader – engage them so they’re interested in learning more about you.

Upload your resume or type out your work history. Include relevant links, photos and projects from each job and be sure to thoroughly list what you did in each role. You can also include clients you’ve worked with in this section.

LinkedIn allows you to include images, documents and links throughout your page. You can post a direct link to your website (or specific pages within your site), upload photos, include video, and connect your Behance portfolio to your page to show off full projects.

Add Sections is a recently added feature that gives you the option to showcase even more work by including projects, organizations, publications, etc. you’ve contributed to in the past. For example, use Publications to show off your writing samples, it could prove especially beneficial for reportage photographers and documentary journalists.

Include interests and hobbies, certifications, causes that you’re interested in and volunteer work you’ve done; even if it was years ago, it may work in your favor. Like here for instance, a client’s narrowing down the candidates for a shoot, all of them have the desired skills they’re looking for and they can’t make up their mind. A common interest or passion could change that indecisiveness into a no-brainer and land you the job. Remember, everyone’s more than just a photographer or an art buyer, and showing you’re multifaceted will give you an edge.



Handling your LinkedIn network is much different than other social media outlets. It’s not about adding as many people as you can. It’s about making genuine connections with the people you’ve worked with or would like to work with in the future. LinkedIn is the perfect platform to reach out to creatives at ad agencies, magazines and other businesses to get you on their radar.

Use the advanced search option to search job title and find photo editors, art buyers, art producers and creative directors – these are the people who are most often in charge of hiring photographers.

If you’re a corporate photographer, you can reach out to businesses to offer your services for staff headshots. For larger companies, this could mean over 100 portraits at a time and could easily turn into a recurring gig. If you’re going to try this approach, the most appropriate contacts to make will be within the HR department.

Be sure to add a personal note when you reach out – let the person know that you appreciate their work or hope to build a professional relationship with them. Treat each connection with care, just like you’d treat a potential client if you were to meet them in person. You can see San Francisco-based photographer Vance Jacob’s LinkedIn below:



With each connection you add (these are your 1st connections), your 2nd and 3rd connections will also grow. You can ask someone in your immediate network for an introduction to a 2nd or 3rd connection if you see a connection that has great potential. As your network expands, more people will see you and your searches will yield more results.

Follow companies that interest you. Once you follow a company, you’ll receive updates including job opportunities and other news that it shares on your LinkedIn homepage.

Join groups that align with your interests, profession and goals. There are groups available for professional photographers with Q&A and then other groups that will have the clients you’re looking to target. Try searching a few keywords and see what comes up. For example, when searching photography jobs and choosing Groups, this came up in my search:



While Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are incredible for building a following, showcasing your images, and casual interaction; clients may not be able to get a sense of what it will be like to work with you. LinkedIn serves as a recommendation letter. Users can easily endorse the skills and expertise you list on your page, in turn, it’s an easy way to confirm what you can do. Even better, users you’ve worked with in the past can write a recommendation discussing their experience with you. Nothing is more valuable to a client than seeing that you’re professional, experienced and a pleasure to work with.

So, how do you get a recommendation? You can contact up to 3 connections at a time to ask them to recommend you. Try writing a thoughtful recommendation for some connections you had great experiences with. This might inspire them to do the same! Recommendations double as a great way to say thank you and make an impression that will help you stay on someone’s mind. Not only will recommendations show up on your LinkedIn page, they will be visible on the page of the user who wrote it for you – allowing all of their connections to see you shine as well.

To request recommendations: hover over your profile image in the top right corner. Choose Privacy & Settings. From there, click on Helpful Links and then Manage your recommendations. Here you can ask for, give or view existing recommendations.

LinkedIn is full of networking opportunities to help you find the right professionals. And like many other social media sites, you have access to it right at your fingertips through its mobile app making it easy to stay connected and active almost anywhere in the world.

StephensStantonJ_LinkedIn_A free account offers all of the great features above and if you decide to upgrade, you’ll gain access to even more connections, have the ability to make more targeted searches and receive more information on who’s viewing your profile. You’ll also be given a number of InMail messages– these allow you to directly contact people even if they aren’t in your network. There are a few different options available and LinkedIn sometimes offers free trials to see if an upgrade is right for you.

LinkedIn is essentially marketing you can do yourself as a photographer and your profile is a representation of your professional self: keep it current, let your personality shine through and dedicate a little time each week to update its content, search for new connections, and send personalized notes.


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From Larva to Lunch: The Brief Life of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell Tue, 09 Jun 2015 15:33:13 +0000  

8H7A2866Nature can be cruel. After living three years in the muck of a marsh and finally crawling out and miraculously exploding out of its larval exoskeleton in the course of an hour, the life of the brown-eyed dragonfly I had been photographing up close was cut short by the beak of a bird. From larva to lunch in and hour and 14 minutes.

It was last year about this time when I witnessed my first dragonfly “birth” but the larva had attached to my bike tire, not exactly the most natural setting for photographs but fascinating nonetheless. It was also mostly in the shade and I shot it with my macro lens and twin flash. This year’s encounter was in a small marsh and I shot 5-6 feet away in natural but high, mid-day light, and I used my Canon 7D II and a 100-400mm Mark II lens and a hiking pole for additional stability. Dragonflies are big enough to fill a telephoto lens if shot close and with this lens I can get as close as 30 inches or so. As far as I know, nothing beats the versatility of the new 100-400mm II lens for both birds at a distance and dragonflies up close.

At any rate, this year’s shoot was a total surprise – within a few minutes of arriving at my favorite local spot, the larva crawled out of the water and up about six inches on the marsh grass across the tiny pond area and I knew right away that magic would happen. The challenge was finding a sight line through the wind-blown grasses that was compatible with the location of the sun (behind or to the side of me) and low enough to keep my lens parallel to the larva. All this while trying to keep my feet out of the water and timing my shots to when light splashed on the subject as the surrounding grasses waved in the breeze. Photography is hell sometimes.

8H7A3200The event was truly remarkable in and of itself, but reliving the detailed images afterwards had my jaw dropping and it hammered home once again the power of photography. Oh, the bird. After the show was over and I had moved on to other things, I happened to glance over and see a bird land about 20 feet away with a winged insect in its mouth. I snapped a few shots before it flew off and later discovered it had the same variety of dragonfly in its beak as my newly born dragonfly, the only one of that type I’d seen in the area that day. Could it be the same one? Maybe. If so, I hope it enjoyed its 14 minutes of freedom before becoming that bird’s lunch. Nature can be cruel for sure, but I don’t think that’s the way the bird saw it.


Steve Russell
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EXPERT ADVICE: HOW TO BUILD YOUR WEB PRESENCE Fri, 22 May 2015 15:03:16 +0000 WonderfulMachine-logoTo bring a new voice, a valuable perspective, and great advice for all photographers to our blog, we have teamed up with the fine folks at Wonderful Machine.  Once a month, a blogger from the WM team will be contributing to this expert advice column. To kick things off with this newfound partnership, Alex Rudinski contributed this article on building your web presence.



Years ago, simply having a good website was enough for a photographer. Updating your site once every year was okay, and it basically existed as a digital version of your print portfolio. It was not the primary way that potential clients evaluated you.

Today, it’s a vastly different landscape. You’re no longer limited to just having a website – or at least you don’t have to be. The web offers savvy and ambitious photographers dozens of possible avenues to make themselves known to potential clients. To take advantage of them, you need to build an online presence. Self-promotion is essential to creating an online presence – increasing your visibility and establishing yourself as an authority, expert, ninja or whatever. After all this time, you finally get to tell the world how great you are!


One point that bears mentioning – a lot of people dread self-promotion. It can feel arrogant, or tasteless to some folks, and others just have no clue how to do it. Maybe this is not you – maybe you’ve never feared public speaking, had stage fright or dreaded cocktail parties. But if this is you, resist the impulse to simply wait for the clients to appear. Promoting yourself is a core part of any modern freelancer’s business. There is no one in the world who can do it quite so well as you, and if you don’t do it, you are handicapping your business significantly.

You can politely and tactfully promote yourself online by sharing content that’s interesting or useful to your audience, and avoiding over-the-top self-promotion. Don’t try to be an orchestra, but if you don’t blow your horn a little, no one will know you have one.


You’re competing against thousands of other people who want the same connections and the same jobs. So what makes you different? There’s a lot to be said for just showing up, but that’s not quite enough. You need an intelligent, clever strategy for building your online presence, or you’ll risk being lost in the great heap of mediocrity – and you’re not mediocre, right?

The key is to make stuff that people find useful, insightful, interesting or funny and then share it with everyone you can. By establishing yourself as someone worth listening to, you drive traffic to your main site and hopefully increase the number of leads that your website produces. Your topic or strategy doesn’t need to be unique, but you do need to make something your excited about. Don’t dwell on whether or not your plan is perfect or different – just execute it, and improve it as you gain more experience and expertise.

At the end of the day, you are the person most interested in who you are and what you think, and the responsibility for promoting yourself rests on your shoulders. You’ll be creating something out of nothing, but there will be a pay-off and it may help target certain clients without any direct effort.



Every photographer has a website showing what he or she feels is their best work. As much work as that is, it just isn’t enough to create a superior business. Even if you follow our recommendations and consistently update your site with new, high-quality work, people are unlikely to become repeat visitors. For this, visitors need content that’s valuable and useful.

So, what can you give people in addition to your portfolio? In virtually every case, the first step is a solid blog.

It takes a lot of work to have a good blog. Lots of photographers heaped in the middle of the pack have a blog they update once or twice a month with a few behind-the-scenes photos from their most recent shoot and a quick blurb about how much fun it was to shoot with so-and-so and such-and-such. This is better than nothing, but the possibilities available to you are exponentially greater.

For inspiration, here’s some top photographer blogs:



A blog can be many things – you’re not limited to text posts. Write in the style that suits you best – or write very little and post mainly videos (Google loves videos). Or make your blog a collection of the best snowboarding/fashion/beer photography. Write about trends, personal experiences and industry events. Figure out what you’re excited about, what you enjoy talking about, and tell people about it. If you try and write about things you don’t care about, you’ll find a thousand ways to avoid it. So stick to making something that your excited about.

Publish substantial posts at least once every two weeks, but preferable more frequently. Unless you decide to become a full-time blogger, don’t post more than once a day. Make sure your content is useful, insightful or interesting – both to you and your readers.

Ideally, your site’s navigation or visual language should not change too much when the user visits your blog – this can be confusing. The page layout may need to change a little, since a portfolio site and a blog need to perform different functions, but make sure key elements like the logo, navigation, background and font stay consistent.

Be certain to include a link in your navigation bar to your portfolio. It’s is still your primary tool for sharing your work with potential clients, so don’t neglect it. Make significant updates to your site several times a year, and once a year reconsider the website as a whole, including your site format and organizational structure. Don’t forget that the reason you have a blog is to get visitors to your portfolio, so make sure that when they do arrive, you’re showcasing professional, marketable work.

The best way to get visitors to your blog is to share great stuff frequently and make sure people see it. Create quality content that people want, update it frequently, engage with your followers and blow your horn as loud as you can – without being a jerk. Create something that people want to see and share – enthusiasm spreads. Seth Godin, author and professional cheerleader, sums up your mission well:

“Connect, create meaning, make a difference, matter, be missed.”



When it comes to creating content, a lot of fledgling bloggers focus on writing about their own lives and experiences. This is okay when you’re still trying to find a voice or theme, but it’s a mistake to devote your entire blog to your own photography projects or awards you’ve won. It provides little benefit to readers, and doesn’t compel visitors to share your content.

If you’re not a great writer, don’t stress about it. You’re not writing literature, or for a school assignment. Do your best, and have a writerly associate edit your work. Play to your strengths – if you don’t like to write, don’t make it your goal to produce 1,000 word posts. But if you think you have a novel inside of you, now’s your time to shine.

Take a break from selling yourself when you’re writing your blog. Readers dislike content that’s really self-promotion in disguise, and they won’t come back for more of that. Instead, establish your identity as an expert and leader on the web, with a voice and tone that reflects your personality. Don’t try to imitate anyone else, or adopt a persona of Most Valuable Photographer – let your potential clients see who you are. People want to work with people they like, and no one has ever been best friends with someone who has no opinions, passions or expertise. It’s like what your over-indulgent teachers told you – follow your heart.

If you’re short on ideas, here are some possibilities:

  • Aggregating top content (photographs, photographers, articles on photography, gear)
  • How-to posts or videos
  • Smart lists
  • Self-assigned projects that aren’t appropriate for your main portfolio
  • Traveling posts
  • Industry news
  • Analysis of industry happenings
  • Photographs or photographers that you appreciate

Every working professional has something unique to contribute. Don’t be afraid to (politely) express strongly held opinions; people love to argue and debate topics in their own profession. Even better, pick one or two very niche topics and become a de facto expert in them. It will help increase your visibility to search engines and provide an indispensable resource to those who are interested in the same things.

If you’re having a hard time getting started, read this great guide from KISSmetrics on the foundational aspects of writing exactly the kind of posts you’ll want to create:


Writing alone is only half of the circle. To be complete, writing must be read. And the grimy truth is that getting your work in front of an audience requires a basic understanding of SEO, or search engine optimization.

When talking about search engines, let’s be clear – Google is really the one that matters. It’s also the one we know the most about, and the one that other companies try to emulate. So, here’s a rudimentary introduction to Google’s functioning.

A search engine keeps its users happy by providing the best content for their search terms. So, when a user searches for a particular term, the search engine keeps track of what site the user clicks on. If 80% of users searching for “Best Mac & Cheese” click on the fourth link rather than the first, the fourth link will soon be at the top of the macaroni heap. The way to get yourself higher in those search rankings is to make your website worth visiting and relevant to those searching for content like yours.

User visits aren’t the only thing that we care about, though. Sophisticated machine that it is, Google also has a team of robots crawling the web, looking for new and updated content. When it finds this content, the robot reads it (and the robots can only read), evaluates it, and uses that information to adjust search rankings accordingly.

When the robots read, they are on watch for posts filled with spammy characteristics. If the robot finds none of that, then it will use the words in your article to decide what it’s about, and attach it to the appropriate search results. This updated content refines Google’s understanding of what your site is about, but it also gives your page rank a bump – the more often you update, the better. Frequent updates alone will not get you to the top, but they are part of a good strategy. Other parts of a good strategy include accurate titles, clear URL text, proper META tags and a host of other details. You can get more info on how to optimize your site for Google from Google itself – get it from the horse’s mouth here.


Generally, we’ve found that people either love social media or they hate it. Regardless of how you feel, it’s another vital tool for online marketing.

At minimum, you’ll want to share your new blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. WordPress and other blogging platforms offer this sort of cross-promotional tool built in, so it’s not hard to set up. But going beyond the bare minimum, you should engage with your audience of followers. Strive to be a regularly visible, well-known presence in the world by posting to social media frequently.

Try to have status updates just for Facebook and Twitter – you don’t want all of your channels to host identical content. For example, you might share a quick snap on Instagram, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be on the blog. Having unique content in various channels encourages people to keep tabs on all of your digital personas. This stuff doesn’t have to be brilliant, but if you don’t keep up with it, you’re potentially leaving your Internet storefront dark and abandoned. We generally recommend interacting with your social media accounts at least two to three times a week.

Make sure you’re engaging with other users. Follow other photographers, like and share and retweet and favorite and comment. No man is an island.

Being at the top of your game requires doing some hard work. By staying on point with social media, you’re standing out from the pack, making yourself better known and easier to hire than those less visible. As much as talent matters, art buyers want to work with photographers they can get along with on set. If they feel like they already know you and like you through your blog and social media presence, you’re going to be the first pick in that triple-bid.

One tool that can make this all a little easier, Buffer, a smartphone appbrowser extension and website. It allows you to post to all your social media accounts from one place, saving you the trouble of recreating the same post on all your social media sites.


Don’t delay. Even if you don’t have the perfect marketing plan, and even if you’re not sure how to approach your web presence, starting now is better than starting tomorrow. Follow your mediocre ideas until you get a great one – the perfect idea may not fall from the sky.

At its core, building your web presence is about putting yourself out there, and the possibilities are endless.

Establish your personality and voice then speak with it. The web is a place of little bureaucracy and incredible depth. The barrier to entry has never been lower, but that also means there’s more noise than ever before. When starting out, you might be part of the noise yourself, but the more you work at it, the more attention you’ll get and the more rewarding your hard work will be. As Dale Carnegie, the original social media maven, wrote:

”Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”

While we’ve tried to lay out some general guidelines, this is far from a definitive marketing handbook. There are nuances that haven’t been addressed and whole channels we’ve skipped over. Regardless of the channels you choose for promoting yourself, inventiveness and dogged determination are always your ticket to the top. And remember to focus on what you care about – enthusiasm is infectious.


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From Birds to Bugs – Guest Article by Steve Russell Tue, 19 May 2015 19:01:44 +0000 8H7A1794Spring has sprung and as the weather transitions to warmer and sunnier, I am transitioning from photographing birds to shooting mostly bugs. It’s not all or nothing – there are still birds to shoot, mostly babies – but there are way, WAY more bugs than birds out there now that the sun has come out.

In the past month the baby great blue herons, Canada geese and mallard ducks showed themselves in local parks. But the bugs are slowly taking center stage for me: the butterfly that landed peacefully on the top of my knob-less hiking pole/monopod after I’d unsuccessfully chased it for 15 minutes; the alien-looking, five-eyed, orange, wasp-like bug; the brown-eyed, bug-eyed damselfly watching me from behind a blade of grass; a feather-headed mosquito; a foraging ant; a tiny inchworm on the fence I’m building; a jumping spider in my garden; a pile of dozens of baby spiders; my first dragonfly and mating damselflies of the year, and more. Subjects galore. New, interesting and unique every single year.

R22A3901Equipment-wise my primary macro setup includes the Canon 5D III, Tamron 90mm VC lens, Canon twin flash, and my handy hiking pole/monopod that I use more as a stick to brace the camera better. For birds and larger bugs I’m using the 7D II, 100-400mm II, and a tripod or the hiking pole sometimes. I can pack one setup or the other on my bike ride to the park but I can shoot either dragonflies or birds with the 100-400 setup when I get there.

Another year of transition and new life and the opportunities once again seem endless. It’s a great time of year to be nature photographer.

Steve Russell
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Using Lightrooms New Photo Merge to HDR Tue, 12 May 2015 17:48:22 +0000 Like many photographers, I am super excited to find about the news of the new Photo Merge>HDR capability in the latest release of Adobe Photoshop® Lightroom® CC. Adobe has designed an especially simple and effective HDR process that takes advantage of Lightroom’s ability to tone map HDR files. In the past we selected our images and exported them to Photoshop to merge the files into an HDR image. Next we would re-import the HDR file into Lightroom and use the powerful Develop module to translate the file into visible tonalities. Now, we can accomplish the whole task with Lightroom itself. Here’s the easy workflow.

  1. In the Library module, select the exposures to blend together.
  2. From the Photo menu choose Photo Merge > HDR…
  3. From the HDR Merge Preview box, choose a Deghost Amount and click the Merge button. (Figure 5.1)
  4. Your newly created HDR file will return to Lightroom with the suffix –HDR.dng
  5. Process the image using Lightroom’s Develop module.


Figure 5.1 The HDR Merge Preview box

Let’s take each step in their turn. Begin by selecting the images. Click the first image, then Shift-click the last image of the series (this is called a contiguous selection and selects all the images in that series). To select non-adjacent images, click the first image, hold down the Option/Alt key, and continue to click the desired images.

While Lightroom (and most HDR programs) will merge JPEGs, using RAW files is a better choice. RAW files with their high bit depth withstand more severe editing and produce photos with smoother tonal gradations. For this reason, most professional photographers choose to shoot RAW files.

Once the images are selected, go up to the Photo menu and choose Photo Merge > HDR… (Figure 5.2). You’ll notice the keyboard shortcut Control+H listed to the right. For Apple computers, the ⌃ symbol designates the control key.


Figure 5.2 Choosing Photo Merge > HDR from the Photo menu


Your separate exposures are now sent to Lightroom’s HDR Merge function. The HDR Merge Preview Box appears showing you the merged file (Figure 5.1). Adobe has done a great job at keeping this preview box uncluttered and easy to use.

  1. Check the Auto Align box. This function performs just as promised. If your images are slightly out of alignment, this option will attempt to align them. For best results, use a tripod when capturing your exposures. If you are unable to use a tripod, ensure your camera is set to High Speed Drive and Auto Bracket. This will help minimize the difference in alignment.
  1. Checking the Auto Tone check box allows Lightroom to initially set the various exposure and contrast controls. These applied settings are not permanent and can be easily adjusted back in the Develop module. Figure 5.3 shows the Basic panel of a file that had the Auto Tone box checked. To reset the settings to their default values, double click the word “Tone” circled in red in Figure 5.4. For photographers just starting out, keeping the Auto Tone box checked is a good way of learning the various tonal adjustments. Advanced users may wish to keep this box unchecked so they can adjust their images from scratch.
  2. The Deghost Amount is the next option. Ghosting occurs when objects such as blowing leaves, moving clouds or people are in different places in different frames. If blended together without deghosting, those objects appear semi-transparent-ghost like . The process of deghosting, then, is to (1) identify the areas where ghosting may occur and (2) fill in those regions with data from one of the images.
  • The first part of the this process occurs when you choose a Deghosting option. Clicking “None” identifies no areas of ghosting. The “Low” option is fairly conservative in identifying areas that will be ghosted. This means only obvious areas of motion will be identified. The “High” setting is less discerning and will choose more areas that could cause ghosting. Check the Show Deghost Overlay box to see a red overlay where the deghosting will occur. Each time you click another Deghosting option, Lightroom will take a few moments to refresh the preview. Figure 5.5 shows an image with the Low deghosting setting. Figure 5.6 shows the same image with the more aggressive High setting chosen.



Figure 5.3 The Auto Tone settings back in Lightroom


Figure 5.4 Double click the word Tone to reset all of the sliders back to default positions


Figure 5.5 The Low deghosting setting in this image picks up almost no ghosting


Figure 5.6 The High deghosting setting identifies more motion in the leaves in the center


  1. The second part of the deghosting process happens behind the scenes. After choosing a deghosting setting, click Merge at the bottom of the HDR Merge Preview box to begin the processing. At this point the Low, Medium, and High settings don’t make a difference. Lightroom is now filling each identified region with image data from one of the uploaded photos. The source for each region is chosen to minimize noise without clipping the highlights. Unlike Photomatix, we have no choices at this stage. Simply click Merge and Lightroom performs its magic.


Once you click Merge, the preview box disappears and Lightroom begins processing your image. Progress is marked by the task bar in the upper left corner of the screen (Figure 5.7).


Figure 5.7 The task bar in the upper left portion of the program

The newly created HDR file can now be found in the folder with the source images. Look for it next to the last or first image in the group. In Figure 5.8, you see the new file is named DSC_3179-HDR.dng. Lightroom automatically took the last file name in the series and added a hyphen and HDR. This makes it easy to differentiate from the surrounding files. You’ll also notice that the new image is a .dng file, which is Adobe’s RAW file format. This is a great new feature in Lightroom’s HDR workflow. Most (if not all) HDR programs will return either a .tif or JPEG file.   Returning a 16-bit .tif file is fine when the tonemapping/tonal adjusting is occurring in the HDR program. This means that most of the heavy lifting has already been done. When blending with Lightroom, however, the Merge command is simply including all of the tones of the various source images into one file. This HDR.dng image is now ready for tonal adjustments back in the Develop panel.


Figure 5.8 The newly created HDR.dng image is selected back in the Library module.



I prefer having the image name above the thumbnail in the grid view to easily identify my photos. Because Lightroom does not include this information by default, you have to alter the View Options. Tap the keyboard letter G to take you into the Grid View of the Library Module. Next choose View > View Options. Choose Show Grid Extras: and Expanded Cells (circled in red in Figure 5.9). Under Expanded Cell extras, check Show Header with Labels and from the drop down choose File Name. The rest of the box is also set up in a manner that makes it easier to identify and work with your images. Experiment with these settings to see if they fit your needs.


Figure 5.9 The Library View Options box.


Developing Your HDR file

The fact that Lightroom returns a .dng file makes for a very flexible workflow. This means it is unnecessary to make any changes to the images before merging them. Every possible edit you can perform before merging can be performed after. When using Lightroom to Merge, I prefer to leave my images un-edited before blending. Once the HDR.dng returns, I treat it as I would any other raw image. As mentioned earlier, there are several edits I perform on just about every image: Clarity, Sharpening, and Chromatic Aberration.

If you chose Auto Tone back in the HDR Merge box, your image may already look pretty good. If you unchecked the box, you may see an image that shows very little or no shadow detail (Figure 5.10). No problem. The HDR file contains plenty of information that the sliders in the Basic panel can retrieve.

  1. In Figure 5.11, I have adjusted the Exposure up to +1.20 and the highlights down to -100. Think of the Exposure slider as a brightness adjustment. Are you midtones to dark? Raise the Exposure slider. Too light? Lower the Exposure slider. Here the image contains highlight detail but is overall a bit dark.
  2. As you raise the exposure slider, you are likely to see the highlights start to overexpose. Increase the Exposure slider until the midtones are satisfactory and then lower the Highlight slider. If the Highlight slider goes to -100 and the highlights are still blown out, you may need to lower the Whites slider. Care should be taken with lowering the Whites slider, however. Decreasing this control too much reduces the overall impact of the photo. Take a close look at the histogram. Notice how the highlights are retaining detail without being overly dark. It’s important to keep a bright white with detail in most photographs.
  3. The midtones and highlights now look good, but the shadows are still a bit dark. In Figure Figure 5.12, I raised the Shadows slider to +89. This move makes shadows look good but now I lack a deep black. Just as its important to keep a bright highlight, its also important to keep a nice rich black.
  4. Next I move my blacks down to -53 to anchor the blacks. Don’t be afraid to clip the blacks. Let there be some black without detail in your images. The last tonal adjustment is an increase in the whites to +8 to ensure a crisp bright white. The Histogram in Figure 5.13 shows the whites coming right down into the corner, and some clipping in the blacks, but well within our tolerance.

The Tonal adjustments should always be made first, as they have a significant effect on saturation. Increasing exposure and whites and decreasing blacks is another form of adding contrast into an image. Adding contrast to an image always increases saturation. The engineers at Adobe placed the Saturation slider at the bottom of the panel so that we adjust the tones before we adjust the saturation.

As you might realize, making adjustments as dramatic to these to a typical RAW image or a JPEG could really reduce the image quality. Because this is a RAW file created from an HDR merge, though, the file remains pristine.


Figure 5.10 Unadjusted HDR.dng file in Lightroom’s Develop module


Figure 5.11 Increasing the Exposure up to +1.20 and decreasing the Highlights down to -100


Figure 5.12 Raising the shadow slider to +89


Figure 5.13 Adjusting the Blacks down to -53 and increasing the Whites to +8


For this next example we’ll blend together six exposures made in a tunnel in Bruges, Belgium (Figure 5.14 ). Our eyes perceive this tunnel as dark, with a very bright courtyard. Our adjustments back in Lightroom need to enhance this perception while still providing important detail.


Figure 5.14: A series of six images to be blended using Lightroom

Figure 5.15 shows the image after returning to Lightroom. In this case, the shadows have a bit of detail but the highlights are too bright. I feel that overall my brightness is about right, so I’ll skip the Exposure slider. My first step increases the Shadows to +88 and Highlights down to -40. As you can see in Figure 5.16, this gets the histogram looking good, but the image still feels a little flat. Increasing the Whites +20 and decreasing the Blacks to -30 increases the overall contrast (Figure 5.17). The histogram now shows some clipping in the shadows. As mentioned earlier, a little clipping in the shadows is just fine. Clicking on the Shadow Clipping Triangle circled in red in Figure 5.18 shows a blue overlay to indicate exactly where the shadows have lost detail. As you can see, this small loss of detail occurs in unimportant areas but does add the pure black necessary for a dynamic image. Local contrast is another consideration when processing your images. Setting a deep black and bright white with the Blacks and Whites sliders sets the Overall Contrast. Local contrast is controlled by the Contrast slider and the Clarity slider. The Contrast slider increases or decreases contrast in the midtones of the image. The Clarity slider increases or decreases contrast around tight edges. It is similar to sharpening but not as refined. I typically add +5-+20 points of clarity on most of my images. Too much however, gives your images that crunch look. Figure 5.19 shows the final image after adding +5 Contrast and +16 Clarity to increase the local contrast. I also used the local adjustment brush to lower the contrast in the courtyard. Highlights in an image (especially those at a distance ) should be lower in contrast and saturation than midtones and shadows. This helps keep the sense of reality



Figure 5.15 Unadjusted RAW.dng file in Lightroom’s Develop module


Figure 5.16 Shadows increased to +88 and Highlights down to -40


Figure 5.17 Decreasing the Blacks to -30 and the Whites to +20


Figure 5.18 The Shadow clipping warning turned on


Figure 5.19 Final image after increasing Contrast to +5 and Clarity to +16


Using Photoshop and Lightroom together to blend and process images is a powerful way to capture high dynamic range scenes. The Photoshop portion of the workflow is effortless, and the adjustments back in Lightroom are intuitive. So why then would you need anything else? A couple of answers come to mind. First and foremost, the deghosting function in Lightrooms Photo Merge > HDR does not work as well as I would like.

Figure 5.20 shows a comparison of the image from Figure 5.6. The same series of images were merged in Lightroom and Photomatix. The enlargement on the left showing obvious artifacts was blended using Lightroom. The clean image on the right was blended with Photomatix. In both cases, I had fixed chromatic aberration before merging. The Lightroom merge was the best choice from a series where I had tried Low, Medium, High and None for deghosting.


Figure 5.20 Photomatix is better at reducing ghosting artifacts.
Lightroom image on the left and Photomatix image on the right.


The second reason to use Photomatix is the ability to adjust the tonality of photos in Lightroom before they get Merged. This ability allows for an unprecedented amount of control over the final image. When either of these considerations becomes an issue, I turn to Photomatix.


Want to learn this and other Lightroom techniques directly from Tim?
Join him in our Summer Intensive course!


This post was condensed from Tim’s Upcoming book “HDR Photography-From Snapshots to Great Shots”.
You can pre-order the book by clicking here!

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Printing On Acrylic Is A Gorgeous Way To Present Your Images: Here’s A Great Resource! Wed, 15 Apr 2015 20:52:24 +0000 We have so many options for ways to present our photographs to the world. Many of us share our images via the web (email, social media sites, personal websites). Sometimes, though, we forget how wonderful it is to see our images printed and hung on the walls of our home or in homes of people we care about or for many of us in galleries and other alternative exhibition venues.

One of my favorite subjects to teach in our Career Training Program is Presentation. Having worked as a professional picture framer for a number of years as well as having had my fair share of exhibits, I am passionate about how our images ‘live’ in the world. In my class, I share with our students every option that I can think of to help get their juices going. Some of us are do it yourself craftsmen and some of us are loving the myriad of options for outsourcing the full printing and framing process. And labs are becoming more and more innovative all the time.

Two framing/printing processes that I am not equipped to do myself but am thoroughly enamored with are acrylic and metal prints. I have always loved flush mounted framing, but have had a few unfortunate accidents with bent corners with the most common form of mounting images to gator board or wood. Framing images behind acrylic is a bit more safe and what I REALLY love is the extra sense of depth the image has sitting behind a ¼” of plastic. The presentation style is clean, sexy, and modern and truly when I come across an acrylic print all I want to do is touch it! I wanted to give it a try but none of my current outsourcing labs offered this option.

Then I met Mark Alper, the owner of Big Acrylic. First of all, he has amazing customer service. He is extremely personable and is sincere when he says that he wants to make sure that you are 100% happy with his work. Big Acrylic treated me with special care and are very quick at responding to questions and their shipping is fast as well. I think it took a total of 6 business days for my piece to arrive. Their prices are very affordable (a 16×24 with 1/8” thick acrylic panel is $116. I highly recommend paying the extra $36 for ¼” thick acrylic…I chose it and it’s gorgeous!!!) The online ordering process is easy to follow. And for me, the color matching was perfect. Mark works a great deal with professional artists and is invested in helping to bring our art to life through the craftsmanship of his team. I chose to frame this image by RMSP alumni and fabulous artist, Heather Gill.


I chose it for two reasons. First I wanted to see how such a historically inspired image would look with a modern presentation method. Second, I also noticed how much black there was in the image and wanted to see how well that would come out mounted to acrylic. It came out perfectly! I have many prints on my wall, but this is the image that everyone notices when they come into my office. The modern presentation method adds rich dimension to the work as well. The fruit comes to life behind the acrylic!

Give yourselves a Welcome to Spring gift of printing one of your favorite images on acrylic. Mark is giving all of our RMSP students a 15% discount. Use the following code: mywork when you are ready to try it. But be ready to get caught by the acrylic printing bug. I know I am. And while you are at it, you might want to try his prints on metal, canvas and wood as well.

**And a special THANK YOU to the fabulous Heather Gill for providing the image for me to experiment with. It inspires me every day! And dang, I’m already putting together another order for Big Acrylic!

p.s. Lots of care went into the shipping. The framed piece is absolutely flawless!



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Subject, Light, Background: When it All Comes Together – Guest Article by Steve Russell Mon, 13 Apr 2015 15:00:50 +0000 _MKE1046-2National Geographic photographer, Adam Jones, simplified the elements of a good wildlife photograph for me in a presentation last year: subject, light and background. Light that is soft, warm, low (as in the sun low to the horizon), front- or side-light; a subject that is compelling, crisply focused, well-exposed, with catch-light in the eye(s), and that tells a story; a background that is complimentary and/or not distracting. Of course, there are exceptions, but I have thousands of “good” photos in my catalogues with one or two of the three elements that would have been “great” had the light, focus, action or background been better. But when the elements come together in a shoot, it’s worth celebrating as it was for me recently when shooting Great Blue Herons at a rookery in Seattle.

8H7A8582Armed with a new Canon 100-400mm II lens on a 7D Mark II camera, I followed up on a good friend’s tip about a large stand of tall trees with over 40 heron nests in them along the Ballard Locks canal and an accessible walkway and hill to shoot them from. It was a rare sunny Spring day and the first-light bathed the normally bluish-gray herons in a golden light. The male herons went about their business of finding and breaking off a branch, bringing it back to the nest, “handing” it off to the female who then found a place for it in the nest, over and over again. Subject: check. Light: check. Background: well, challenging with all the tree branches, although sometimes they helped tell the story.

There was an unexpected bonus event: inexplicably, nearly all the herons flew off their nests simultaneously and circled the locks as a flock, returning to their nests a minute or two later. Whether it was induced by an eagle or by instinct, it was a sight to behold.

8H7A8749Fortunately, my new lens tracked and focused admirably, enough so that at least one and sometimes many more in each series of rapid-fire shots were sharp. I set my camera on Manual mode, 1/1000th shutter speed, f/8, and Auto ISO (generally between 100-800).

Judge for yourself the accompanying images for subject, light and background. Not every photo has everything and that drives me to take another crack at these majestic birds, perhaps when the babies start appearing. There’s nothing quite like knowing at the time of a shoot that the circumstances exist for the chance to capture something special. Now I know the three simple elements to look for.

Steve Russell


8H7A9077 8H7A7225 8H7A7292 8H7A7316 8H7A7332 8H7A7470 8H7A7504-Edit 8H7A7536 8H7A7758 8H7A7854 8H7A8280 8H7A8433 8H7A8582 8H7A8588 8H7A8651 8H7A8749 8H7A8751 _MKE1046-2




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10 Places to Photograph in Raleigh/Durham This Weekend Mon, 06 Apr 2015 16:00:17 +0000 LewisWendy_shoesRMSP will be in Raleigh/Durham on April 11th and 12th as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test. We thought it would be a fun idea to do a little e-scouting in Durham from Montana and give a few suggestions of places to photograph once classes are over.

To scout from Missoula, we used Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area. And don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely new by going at night!

Do you know of great places to photograph in North Carolina that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

  1. Downtown Durham: Brightleaf Square in the west end of downtown has two historic Romanesque-style tobacco warehouses parallel to each other with a courtyard in between. The city has revitalized the area and the buildings have been renovated to accommodate shops and restaurants.
  2. Durham Central Park: This is an arts-themed park located in downtown Durham. There are open spaces, gardens featuring different types of flora and fauna, local art and a skate park. It is also host to the Durham Farmers’ Market, Craft Fair and the Full Frame Documentary Film Screening.
  3. Duke University West Campus: If you are interested in architectural photography, the Duke University West Campus is a great place to go. Known for its gothic architecture, the West Campus has amazingly detailed stonework buildings and landscaped grounds. The Duke University Chapel’s tower rises 210 feet above the West Campus and houses the Flentrop Organ (5,200 pipes), 50-bell carillon, and 77 stained-glass windows.
  4. Sarah Duke Gardens: 54 acres of gardens divided into four areas: Historic Core and Terraces, H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, William Louis Culberson Asiatic Arboretum and the Doris Duke Center Gardens. This is a very popular location for local portrait photography.
  5. William B. Umstead State Park: Over 5,000 acres of hiking, biking, boat rentals, camping and picnic areas just four miles from the hotel where the Photo Weekend will be held.
  6. WRAL Azalea Gardens: A.J. Fletcher created these 5 acres of azalea gardens in 1959.  He said “I did it because I knew it would be beautiful.  It was simply my way of paying a tribute to beauty for beauty’s sake”. I think that explains it better than I can.
  7. Duke Lemur Center: If you’re a fan of lemurs but can’t make the trip to Africa, you’re in luck, because Durham has the largest collection of lemurs anywhere in the world outside of Madagascar. This is a non-invasive research facility where you can take tours, join a research session, shadow a lemur keeper for a day, or even paint with lemurs.
  8. The West Point on the Eno: This is a 404 acre park on the Eno River with three historic buildings including a rebuilt working grist mill, the restored house of the one-time mill owners and an old tobacco packhouse. There are also five miles of scenic hiking trails and an amphitheater for festivals and concerts.
  9. Historic Oak View County Park: This is a 19th-century historic farmstead that features a farmhouse, livestock barn, cotton gin barn, and tenant house dating back to the early 1900s.
  10. Outer Banks: If you’re in the mood for a road trip, the Outer Banks are an amazing place to photograph. A two hundred mile stretch of small barrier islands that cover most of the North Carolina coastline. A great place to play with long exposures and capture the wide expanse of open beachfront.




If you photograph in Raleigh/Durham this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!

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Let’s Get Close Up Part 1: Equipment Wed, 01 Apr 2015 15:00:03 +0000 In the past, RMSP has published blogs from Steve Russell and Tony Rizzuto on creative ways to shoot close-up, from insects to using achromatic filters and double exposures. In this post I’ll discuss an easy and cost effective way to get closer to your subject using one of the most versatile pieces of close up equipment called extension tubes.

Eliot Porter was very well known for his intimate portraits of nature, but Eliot’s quote about intimacy within the bigger picture definitely captures the attention of what all close-up or macro photographers strive for as well.

“A detail is quite capable of eliciting a greater intensity of emotion than the whole scene evoked in the first place…because the whole of nature is too vast and too complex to grasp quickly, but a fragment is comprehensible and it allows the imagination to fill in the excluded setting.”

Close-up photography allows us to go on a journey into another world we never see with just our naked eyes.




To enter this “close-up” world we need to use some specialized equipment like a macro lens or some supplemental tools, because most standard fixed or zoom lenses physically can’t focus close enough.

One of the easiest options (although “relatively” expensive) to achieve “up-close” photography is to purchase a “true” macro lens with prices ranging from $300 to $1,800. These lenses all have very fast apertures at f2.8, are super duper sharp (did I just say super duper?) and allow very close focusing to achieve a 1:1 magnification ratio or greater. Canon’s MP-E 65mm can achieve a 5:1 magnification ratio … Wow!

Before we go any further, a quick definition is needed. A 1:1 magnification ratio (MR) is defined by a side-by-side comparison of a subject’s physical size to its actual size in the image (on the sensor), and they would be the same. This quarter is an example:



A great alternative to buying a macro lens is using extension tubes as a supplement. Extension tubes are relatively inexpensive, you don’t sacrifice image quality compared to using other supplements like close focus filters, telephoto-extenders or converters. The extension tubes are hollow, meaning no lens glass is involved in the design. They mount between the lens and the camera body and allow you to focus closer with any lens you own. Extension tubes are available individually or in a set of two to three different sizes (length) depending on the brand. The difference in size allows various distances of close focus … more extension = closer focus. The more common sizes in a set of three are 12, 20 and 36mm.

extension tubes DJ


*The only mild annoyances when using these tools is some light loss of up to two stops (if all the tubes are used at one time) and stability because the lens will be further from the camera body. So … keep it steady grasshopper. In my next blog two weeks from now I’ll discuss stability when shooting really close up.

Canon, Nikon and other major brands make these, but they’re a little pricey (~ $100 each), not sold in sets, and since no glass is involved, not worth the dinero in my opinion. Save the $$$ for some other photo gadget you want or a nice meal out. Consider a third party manufacturer like Kenko ($130) or Vello ($80). I use the Vello extension tubes for Nikon. They are very well-made, tight, light and just right!

If you want to know the precise magnification ratios using extension tubes, use this simple equation:


Magnification Ratio (MR) = Extension size / Focal length


If you want a life size subject (1:1 MR) use 50mm of extension on a 50mm focal length.

The sequence of shots below show a 50mm shot all at the minimum focusing distance with no extension, 12mm, 20mm, 36mm and 48mm of extension (approaching life size, right?).




If you’re still hungry, here’s a little more food for thought. If you want ½ life size (1:2 MR), use 25mm extension on a 50mm focal length … you get the point.

If math wasn’t your favorite subject growing up, the most important thing to know is that when you add a bigger extension tube with any focal length it allows you to focus even closer.

The two images (below) were taken with a 200mm focal length lens. Image 1 is at the closest focusing distance at about 3.5 ft without extension tubes. Image 2 was shot using the full set of extension or 68mm and now the closest focusing distance is 10 inches. Coolio!


However, when you put on enough extension tubes, a journey to the really up-close world awaits you. Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise described it best at the beginning of every show,when he said … “Our mission is to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”  So … climb aboard!

Shots captured with a 50mm focal length and 50mm of extension or a 1:1 magnification ratio:


Shot with a 24mm focal length and 12mm of extension or a 1:2 magnification ratio:











These references are good reads on the techniques and art of close-up photography:

Close-Ups in Nature by John Shaw
How to Photograph Close-Ups in Nature by Nancy Rotenberg
Digital Nature Photography: The Art and Science by John and Barbara Gerlach

Live long and prosper!


To find out what courses Doug Johnson

will be teaching in 2015, click here!

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Flash Photography Made Simple Wed, 11 Mar 2015 17:17:07 +0000 Most photographers tend to shy away from using their on-camera flash and external speedlights. This is understandable given the fact that an uncontrolled flash often causes fake looking pictures with overexposed subjects and harsh shadows. The truth of the matter though, is that flash is easy! Understanding a few simple concepts will allow you take control of your flash and begin to create realistic and satisfying images.


Two Exposures

The easiest way to control the look of your images is to consider the flash exposure and the ambient exposure separately. The ambient exposure is controlled by the Fstop, Shutter Speed and ISO, while the flash exposure is controlled by the Flash Exposure Compensation setting.

Ambient Exposure

Ambient exposure refers to light that is constant rather than instantaneous. When you make a normal photograph outdoors, you are using ambient light- the light that is available to you. In addition to sunlight, this could also be room light, moonlight, stage light or any other continuous light source. The most important thing to understand about ambient light is that it is continuous- unlike our flash that only lasts 1/1000 of a second. To make an exposure with ambient light we must consider our shutter speed, aperture and ISO. These settings combine to control the amount of light hitting the sensor. Shutter speed controls the duration of time it hits the sensor and aperture controls the amount of light hitting the sensor. The sensor controls the sensitivity of the sensor. These settings should be the familiar dials that we all use to control our exposures.

Flash Exposure

Illumination from a flash unit comes via a quick burst of light. The duration of this exposure is very short- about 1/1000 of a second. If a camera’s shutter speed is set to it’s sync speed or slower (such as 1/60,1/30, 1/15, etc.) the burst of light will expose the sensor. The 1/1000 duration of the flash is just a blip compared to the much longer shutter speed of 1/60 that is set on your camera. This shows us that as long as we have our shutter speeds set to the sync speed or slower, the entire duration of the flash will record on our sensor. If our flash is too bright, we can lower the Flash Exposure Compensation setting. Too dark? We can raise it. Most flashes have the ability to raise or lower the power of the flash by1/3 stops from -2 to -1 to 0 to +1 to +2. 

Sync Speed

Sync Speed is the fastest shutter speed available during flash photography. Typically this is 1/200 or 1/250 of a second on modern cameras.

Full Flash

Full flash is a term used to describe a scene that is fully or mostly illuminated by your on-camera flash. In the example below you’ll notice the illumination comes almost entirely from the flash.


Fill Flash

Fill Flash is a term used to describe a photograph that is primarily illuminated by ambient light (sunlight, room light, etc.) but the shadows are filled in with flash. In the example below you can see the hint of flash illuminating the folds of the monuments poncho.


TTL Flash

TTL means Through The Lens which typically refers the way the camera meters the flash exposure. TTL flash units are the most sophisticated, convenient and easy to use. Most middle and high-end cameras have TTL flash units that are designed specifically for that camera. They are built to talk to each other. Each one knows what the other is doing. This makes things much easier for the photographer. In addition to the added communication, these units are usually more powerful and come with more features. Pop-up flashes on the top of the camera are also TTL, although significantly less powerful than the external Speedlights placed in the hotshoe.

As soon as your flash is turned on, it will set itself to the cameras settings. Therefore, if you are using ISO 100 with an aperture of ƒ-8, your flash will set itself accordingly. These flash units may come with various shooting modes. The most common and useful setting is Automatic TTL. This may also be called E-TTL or TTL-BL. With this setting, you can make both fill flash and full flash pictures.

Flash Photography made simple

As mentioned earlier, the easiest way to control the look of your images is to consider the flash exposure and the ambient exposure separately. Begin with the ambient exposure. This is the exposure that controls your background. Set your Shutter speed and aperture to produce an acceptable exposure. The ISO can also be changed to affect the brightness. Here to illuminate this shot of the Civil War Memorial, using a tripod, I set my Shutter to 13 seconds with an aperture of F/9 at ISO 100. This gives an overall good exposure but leaves the Monument a little dark. Time for some Fill Flash.


I placed the flash to the left of the statue using a sync cord and set my flash to TTL mode. The TTL mode means the camera will communicate with the flash and turn it off when it receives enough light.


So the trick is to set your ambient exposure just like you always have. Fstop, Shutter and ISO. Next add in the flash and set it to TTL mode. This allows the camera to control the flash and shut it down when it receives enough light.

The same approach was taken here. The first shot was made at 1/125 at F/11, ISO 100. This exposure made the scene a little darker than usual. Adding in the flash will make this a Full Flash Photograph. Two flashes set to TTL were added to the scene to illuminate the truck.


Adjusting Flash Power

If the flash is too bright or too dark, you can use the Flash exposure setting to lower the flash power. This setting, seen below, can be found on your flash or as a setting on your camera. Consult your camera or flash manual to find the location for your make and model.


For this first image of the butterfly I set the ambient exposure to 1/125 at F/8, ISO 200. This illuminates the background but leaves it a bit darker. In the next shot, I placed my flash on camera and set the flash mode to TTL. In the second image, the flash overexposes the butterfly. Time to reduce the flash exposure compensation. For the third image, I set the flash exposure compensation to -1. Notice that background exposure stays the same because the I didn’t change the ISO, Aperture or Shutter Speed. Only the flash exposure has changed.

In the following examples, I set my shutter speed to 1/100 at F/4, ISO 100. As you can see, each images has a different flash setting. Each setting provides a different look and feel. Simply choose the setting that best expresses your intentions!


No Flash


Flash at 0- Default setting


Flash at -1


Flash at -2


So the goal is to set your ambient exposure (background exposure) with your ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Keeping the background a little darker makes your foreground subject stand out a bit when flash is used. Once you’ve set your ambient, it’s time to place your flash on-camera. Set it to TTL to use its automatic setting. If the flash is too bright or too dark, adjust the Flash Exposure Compensation dial! As with all photography, experimentation and practice is key!


To find out what courses Tim will
be teaching in 2015, click here!



If you want more training on using your flash to its full potential, consider these upcoming courses:


Flash Photography
with Syl Arena

June 6 – June 12, 2015



Summer Intensive

Summer Intensive
with various instructors

June 1 – August 14, 2015

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10 places to Photograph in Ft. Collins This Weekend Mon, 02 Mar 2015 23:49:13 +0000 TwetoHalvor_TreeAndCowRMSP will be in Fort Collins, Colorado on March 7-8 as part of our 2015 Photo Weekend Events program.

After a day or two spent learning how to improve your photography skills, there’s nothing more exciting than heading out to put those skills to the test.

We thought it would be a fun idea to do a little e-scouting in Fort Collins from Montana and give a few suggestions of places to photograph once classes are over. We’ve tried to keep the locations near the Hilton Fort Collins, where the event will be taking place. However, there were a couple of places that looked great and would require a bit of a drive.

To scout from Missoula, we used Google Maps and Panoramio to see what other people had photographed in the area. And don’t forget that you can make any location feel completely new by going at night!

Do you know of great places to photograph in Fort Collins that we didn’t mention? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.




  1. Horsetooth Reservoir: 1,900 acres of water surrounded by 2,000 acres of public land. It is popular for fishing, boating, camping, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, and water skiing.
  2. Old Town: There are 23 well-preserved historic buildings in this particular part of Fort Collins. This area is such a picture of the early 1900s that Disneyland modeled Downtown USA after Old Town Fort Collins. Take a walking tour of downtown to learn more about the history of this neighborhood.
  3. New Belgium Brewing Company – Fort Collins is considered the Napa Valley of beer in some circles. While this delicious beverage may attract some people to the tasting rooms for the variety of hops and color, I would suggest taking a tour and photographing the equipment, the bottling plant, the vats, etc. The Breweries of Northern Colorado are a great place to photograph.
  4. Riverbend Ponds Natural Area: Birders enjoy Riverbend Ponds for the over 200 species of birds that feed, rest, nest, and migrate through including green herons, a wide variety of ducks, American white pelicans, double-crested cormorants and others.
  5. Fort Collins Music Experiment:  Fort Collins will be host to over 200 Northern Colorado Bands at over 30 venues April 24th and 25th. This event is a great opportunity to photograph live music and get a taste of Fort Collins’ night life.
  6. Hot Air Balloons – Apparently there is quite a bit of hot air ballooning going on in Fort Collins. There are multiple companies that take people on rides which would provide a great areal prospective for a photographer. However, just photographing the balloons taking off from one of the city parks would make for great images.
  7. City Park Lake – 85 acres that include ball fields, tennis courts, a playground, a lake, paddle boats, mini-train, fitness course, community outdoor pool and trolley rides. There is also a very cool sculpture next to the lake that is illuminated at night.
  8. The Farm at Lee Martinez Park: The Farm at Lee Martinez has various farm animals, a farm-history museum, working water hand pumps, Silo Store for crafts and novelties, and children’s garden. You could spend hours here with your camera.
  9. Colorado State University Campus: From modern architecture to large historic buildings, this campus has it all if you are interested in photographing structures. There is also a ton of activity at any given time. This is great for photographing people running, walking or on their bikes.
  10. Bishop Castle: Jim Bishop bought 2.5 acres when he was 15 years old and started the lifetime process of building a three story castle in the San Isabel National Forest.



If you photograph in Fort Collins this weekend,
show us your favorites by posting them on our Facebook page!



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Shoot For The Moon! Wed, 25 Feb 2015 16:00:52 +0000 The invention of the telescope certainly brought some of the mysteries of the moon closer to us, but it was Apollo 11 that brought it within arms length and with the words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong allowed us to imagine the cosmos at our feet.

Since most of mankind will never have the opportunity to actually walk on the moon, we’re left with viewing, contemplating, and if we’re photographers, creating that imagination with our cameras from our own beloved celestial home.

Moon1 DJ

Moon3 DJ

Moon4 DJ


One of the challenges of capturing great moon photographs is exposure. It’s not a problem when the sun is up, but if you decide to shoot before sunrise or after sunset things get a little more complicated. The auto features on the camera like Night Mode or any of the exposure modes (Program, Aperture or Shutter priority) normally overexpose darker scenes and result in loss of detail and color in the moon.


Moon overexposed


With a simple rule or using the accuracy of the spot metering system in the camera, proper exposure for the moon is pretty simple, but we have to take control using manual exposure mode.

One solution is to modify a guideline for sunlight called the Sunny 16 Exposure Rule. This rule states that on any given day when the sun is up and unimpeded by clouds, the exposure can be set with the shutter speed at 1/ISO and an aperture of f16 for any subject illuminated by the sun. The moon is nearly as bright, but because it’s so far away we need to open up a little bit … meaning we can set an exposure for the moon using a shutter speed at 1/ISO and an aperture between f8 and f 11. Some professionals call this the Moony 8 or 11 Exposure Rule. To simplify the discrepancy let’s split the difference by a half stop and call this the Moony 9.5 Exposure Rule, using an aperture of f9.5 at 1/ISO for the exposure.

The most accurate way, however to get the right exposure for the moon is to use the camera’s spot meter. It’s easy, just fill the spot meter with the illuminated side of the moon and open up 1 ½ to 2 stops… Bingo, perfect exposure!




Moon2 DJCreating great moon shots also require shooting at the right time to retain the beautiful tone and color of the sky. If you shoot too early (before the sunrise) or too late (after sunset) and you get a good exposure on the moon, your sky will be without color … meaning black. Try shooting within about 20 minutes on either side of sunrise or sunset during Civil Twilight. The sky will be amazing and your moon will too!







Now that we have a good idea about getting a good exposure for both moon and sky, knowing what phase the moon is in and where & when it will be in the sky will also help us become more successful. With a couple of web and smart phone applications, all of these moon questions can be answered.

TPE screen shot

My favorite web application for the computer is The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE). The TPE shows us the moon’s phase and describes where and when the moon will be on any day we choose at any given location. Beyond all that great information, it also analyzes terrain features around that location using Google mapping technology. This help’s you determine when the moon will be above certain geographic features from mountains to mesas … brilliant! There a PDF tutorial on how to use the application accessed in the tab I highlighted (red) in the above screen shot. The app is truly amazing and better yet, it’s free! If you find yourself using this application please donate once in awhile. They definitely deserve it!


MoonSeeker1My go to iPhone application when I’m scouting a location in the field is the Moon Seeker ($3.99)

This great little application calculates the moon’s position for any time, on any day at your present location. Moon Seeker has a phase, calendar, compass and real time 3D view.





















The full moon is by far the most desired phase to photograph, so just for fun I researched when would be the best time to capture the next one from my house in Missoula, Montana. Using the TPE, here’s what I discovered:

The moon is technically “full” on March 5, and it officially rises 15 minutes after the sunset. Initially that seems good. It’s certainly in the ideal time frame I discussed previously (within 20 minute after the sunset), but Missoula is surrounded by mountains, so by the time it rises over those mountains at ~7:30pm, a good exposure for the moon will render the sky pure black… not so good.

On March 4, the moon is at 99.5% full (looks full to us). It officially rises at 5:50pm (35 min before the sunset) and rises over the mountains at ~6:15 (10 minutes before the sunset) … absolutely perfect! We can now capture the moon with the last warm light on the landscape and or we can shoot it with the beautiful tones and color of the sky until about 6:45pm.

Here’s a little homework for you: What’s the best time to shoot the full moon at your location this month? When you have it figured out … have fun, be safe and imagine yourself as Neil Armstrong on July 21, 1969!


To find out what courses Doug Johnson

will be teaching in 2015, click here!




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Photographing (almost) 40 Super Bowls Thu, 29 Jan 2015 01:00:10 +0000 MillerPeterRead_PRMHeadshotFor many years, our Summer Intensive students have been fortunate enough to have sports photographer and Canon Explorer of Light Peter Read Miller pay them a visit to talk about his career and show off some of his (many) standout images. Having been a Sports Illustrated photographer for most of his career, Peter is no stranger to photographing the biggest events in sports, including the Super Bowl.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Peter via email this week to ask him a few questions about this weekend’s Super Bowl and to get a few “behind the scenes” tidbits about his routine.


How many Super Bowls have you photographed in your career?
This will be number 39.

Who will you be shooting the game for on Sunday?
I am currently shooting for Associated Press (AP) Images. I retired from Sports Illustrated two years ago. AP Images holds the commercial license for the NFL, so my images go to the sponsors including Microsoft, Direct TV, Pepsi and Nike to name a few.

Describe how you mentally and physically prepare for a big game like this?
I try to see it as just another game … but not always successfully.

Briefly describe your “before.” How many days early do you arrive? Do you scope out the field in advance? How much on-the-ground prep is there?
I’ll arrive in Phoenix on Thursday. This is pretty standard unless I’m working on a special project. I have shot in the University of Phoenix stadium many times, so there is really no pre-game prep necessary.

Briefly describe your “after.” How long of a day is it? How much recovery time do you need? What and when is the next scheduled event you have to shoot?
I will be writing a guest blog entry for Scott Kelby’s “Photshop Insider” blog that is due on Tuesday morning, so I will start writing directly after the game. My schedule is fairly open for the few weeks after that, but I will be teaching a Canon Digital Learning Center Destination Workshop in Phoenix Feb 27 – March 1 and my own Sports Photography Workshop in Denver in April (check for more info).

After this many years, is the thrill of shooting football’s biggest game the same as it was before the first time?
The thrill comes from the game. Some Super Bowls have been great games, some … not so much.

What are the biggest differences between shooting your first Super Bowl vs. the game today?
My first was outside in the rain in Tulane stadium. There were far fewer photographerss and much less hoopla.

© Peter Read Miller © Peter Read Miller © Peter Read Miller © Peter Read Miller ©Rachel Murray ©Rachel Murray ©Rachel Murray

Describe the gear you will have on you during the game. Do you have a “go to” system?
I will have 3-EOS 1D X camera bodies, I-EOS 7D Mk II camera body, Canon EF 200-400 f4 w/built in Extender, Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 IS Series II, Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 Series II and Canon EF 16-35 f2.8 Series II

Will you be shooting with any remote cameras on Sunday?

What size cards do you shoot with? What format do you shoot in – RAW, JPG? Why?
16 and 32 GB cards. Always RAW only (no JPEGS). The RAW format allow you get the most out of a file in terms of sharpness and exposure. After my edit I convert the RAWs to JPEGs for upload.

Any idea how many images you will create during the game? Is there a “normal” or “average” amount?
4000-5000 images

Do you have an assistant with you throughout the day? What is his/her role? Is this person someone you have worked with in the past? Briefly describe your relationship with this individual.
No assistant this year. In the past assistants have carried my extra gear and held spots for me on the sidelines or in the end zone.

What are the expectations as far as file delivery throughout the day? Do you upload files each quarter? Each half? Walk us through the behind-the-scenes workflow a bit.
This year I will edit my take after the game. In the past at SI we had runners pick up cards after every major play and download them on site, then uploaded them to the office in New York for editing.

For you personally, what is the best possible outcome from the day? Cover shot?
Good action on the significant plays and the impact players.

What sports moment are you most looking forward to, or hoping happens, on Sunday? (IE: Lynch spikes ball in front of you? Brady looks into your lens as he’s diving across the goal line?)
The winning touchdown catch right in front of me!

How “in touch” are you with the game? Do you feel like you experience every little moment since you are so close to it, or is the opposite true? Do you feel you miss most of the game since you are so close to it?
I definitely follow the “feel” of the game though not always the exact score.

We all know the Seahawks are going to win, but are you rooting for either team?
They better start better than they did against Green Bay. The Patriots aren’t going to let them back in the game like that!

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Winter Photography Tips Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:20:37 +0000 Undisturbed, peaceful and beautifully white, winter is a season like no other. From the smallest ice crystal to the great expanse of a snow-covered field, winter’s cold is the visual architect for an endlessly evolving storyline. For photographers it is a pure white canvas for contemplation and creativity. Winter is a wonderland!


logoIt can also be pretty darn chilly and one the biggest reasons many photographers choose to stay inside. Comfort is the key to success and working camera equipment is too. Here are a few suggestions to help you prepare for even the coldest days of winter, so you can concentrate on creating great winter photos. Staying warm and dry is critical and layering with the “right” clothing is the solution. REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) is one of the best non-profit outdoor retailers in the country with the most technologically advanced clothing options, a “no questions asked” return policy and an expert staff to find out what’s best. If you’re a member you also get 10% back from your purchases at years end… Sweet!

One of the best little clothing options for keeping your hands warm and toasty are gloves made by companies like AquaTech and Freehands. These handy winter gloves were designed for photographers, allowing your thumb and index finger access to adjust dials, press buttons, etc.

Another handy little accessory for cold weather photography is the disposable hand and foot warming packets. You’ll get hours of warmth from these safe little products. Besides your boots and gloves, they fit just about anywhere, like under your hat or in a pocket. … and don’t forget, hydrating yourself and eating well will keep you warmer too.

Camera equipment and tripods are certainly much more resistant to the cold than we are, but when temperatures get well below freezing certain precautions should be taken to keep those happily working too. One of the biggest concerns when it gets really cold is condensation after you come inside from a shoot. Condensation on equipment surfaces is no logobig deal it can be wiped off. The problem is condensation will occur on the inside of things too. This can be a real nuisance with lenses, taking up to a day or more to dry out. Condensation and electronics is even a worse combination, so lenses, cameras, memory cards and even batteries should be warmed up before they’re exposed to room temperatures. I keep all this stuff in my camera bag (zipped up) until everything is at room temperature, which could take a couple hours.

*If you’re anxious to download and look at your images (and who isn’t), here’s a little tip. Before you come in from the cold put the memory cards you’ve used in a zip-lock sandwich bag, remove as much of the air as possible and seal it. Store it outside the camera bag. This will help the cards to reach room temperature quicker. Batteries should be included too if they need a charge and you’re going back out soon.

Speaking of batteries … cold temperatures drain power. Carry a couple extra batteries and keep the spares in a warm pocket close to your body. If your camera shows low battery power, install one of the spares and put the drained one back in your pocket. It will acquire a little more power after it warms up.

Be gentle with anything plastic when it’s really cold. It might break if you drop it or hit something with it. Carbon fiber and metal can also become brittle in really cold temperatures, so be aware of your gear. Seriously, I saw a metal tripod break in -20 degree weather.

If you use a tripod, treat yourself to some leg covers. They not only protect the legs, but handling the tripod will be warmer for your hands.

Photographing in cold snowy weather is certainly a labor of love, but with a little preparation, you’ll fall in love with the winter wonderland and your photographs will be glorious as well.


To find out what courses Doug will
be teaching in 2015, click here!

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