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Archive for March, 2013

How to save enough money to buy a Canon 5D Mark III (or a Nikon D800)

Canon 5D Mark IIIThe Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 are two of the hottest cameras of 2012 for professional and serious amateur nature photographers; many serious amateurs and pros in other fields of photography would love to have one too. While not outrageously expensive in terms of camera bodies, they’re not cheap — the $3000 you’ll spend for the Nikon D800 and the $3500 you’ll spend for the Canon 5D Mark III is hardly chump change. If you’re a budget-minded hobbyist or aspiring pro or if you are simply a budget-savvy full-time pro, there are some easy ways to save money on key gear and software choices.

Please note that I’m well-aware that trying to buy cheap can sometimes end up costing more money in the long-run. Believe me, I’ve been down that road many times when I was starting out in photography. I’ve learned, however, that there are times when buying the most expensive option may not be necessary.

Here’s why I don’t always buy the latest and greatest and most expensive gadget or service. As a full-time working pro photographer, I look at new gear and software as a business expense. That means three questions for me. Does this new gadget/product allow me to do things I couldn’t do without it? Are those things I could now do going to make a difference in the quality of my work and thus my income? And is there a cheaper but equally or sufficiently good alternative to the new gadget/product that would still allow me to do what I want now and in the future?

In this little article, I offer a few digital photography-related purchase choices that could add up to enough savings for one of these beautiful new camera bodies from Canon or Nikon and perhaps even leave you with enough cash left over for dinner.

 Read the full article here

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Greg Basco

Like many nature photographers, I started my career doing something else. A political scientist by training, my research focused on the politics of the environment in Latin America. I researched environmental politics and ecotourism in Costa Rica and worked here for a number of years as a conservation professional, having first come to the country in 1992 as a Peace Corps volunteer. I now dedicate myself full-time to my own photographyand my Costa Rica photo tour company. I work out of my home office in Costa Rica’s central highlands, where I live with my wife, twin boys, our dogs and cats, and various hummingbirds and songbirds that visit our backyard feeders.  



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My D800E Story (And I’m Sticking to It)

I received my Nikon D800E camera body in July of last year, so I’ve had it for nearly nine months now and I think I’ve used it enough at this point to share my thoughts.  Just to be clear, this isn’t meant to be a formal review or a recitation of the camera’s features; there are plenty of both of these scattered all over the Internet (a search engine is your friend).  My intent is simply to muse on my thoughts about how well the camera has met my expectations and perhaps discuss some of the anticipated (and unanticipated) consequences of moving to this camera body.

Nikon Camera D800E

The Nikon D800E Camera Body

The Back Story

First, some background.  My primary camera body prior to purchasing the D800E was the Nikon D700, which I had used since late 2008.  (The D700 remains in my camera bag as a backup body.)  The most important difference between the two cameras is found in the sensors, principally the number of pixels.  The D700 sensor had 12 (and change) megapixels; the D800E has 36 (and change) megapixels.  That’s a big difference.  The D800E also does an end run around the anti-aliasing filter that the vast, vast majority of digital SLRs possess, as a means to reduce digital artifacts that are inherent in the capture process with cameras using Bayer sensors.

Illinois Canyon

Autumn’s Remains, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

The camera cost me more than $3000; I had to think very long and very hard about whether to commit that kind of money to replace a camera (the D700) that I was basically satisfied with.  What was the new camera giving me that I didn’t already have?  Pixels, mostly, and a whole lot of them.  And a breathtaking amount of dynamic range.  (The D700′s DR is impressive; the D800 series is even better.)  I print quite large, at times; I’ve had orders up to 24×36″ for conventionally oriented images (i.e. those with a 2:3 ratio).  For images with a lot of detail, that’s beginning to really push it for the D700′s files.  (In fairness, though, I had a commercial client who was thrilled with 20×30″ prints that were produced from shots I took with the D200 and its 10 MP (and generations old) sensor.  To some degree, this how-large-can-you-print matter is very much in the eye of the beholder.) I also often occasionally push the envelope in terms of dynamic range with my shooting.  I knew I’d use every bit of the alleged 14 stops of DR that the 800 series has at base ISO, and then some, from time to time.

I was ultimately able to get myself to pull the trigger by telling myself that the D800E might well be my “last camera.”  Let me briefly explain what I mean by that.  It doesn’t mean that I’d committed myself to never buying another camera, ever.  What it meant was that, barring some incredible path breaking new capability that I can’t even imagine coming down the pike some day, I saw nothing in the way of incremental improvements that would have me lusting over another camera if the D800E lived up to its billing.  Not more pixels; not more dynamic range, not any other features.  This was it…and it was, without question, the first time I had ever thought this since I first started shooting with a DSLR back in 2003.  With the purchases of each of my previous cameras–the D100 in 2003; the D200 in the spring of 2006; and the D700 at the tail end of 2008–I’d bought in fully knowing that there were existing cameras (sometimes produced by Nikon, sometimes by other manufacturers) that had capabilities that I wanted myself.  I’d never purchased a digital camera thinking “this is it.”  But this time was different.  Had I not felt that this very well could be “the last camera,” I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger.

The $64,000 question was–would I still feel that way after actually using the camera?

Matthiessen State Park

Giant’s Bathtub, Matthiessen Sate Park, Illinois

Camera In Hand

When I received the D800E last summer, I immediately conducted some controlled (but relatively informal) tests with the camera and my lens lineup, and compared the results with images shot with the D700.  What I expected–and discovered–was that, when pixel-peeping (looking at images at 100% magnification in Photoshop), the effects of diffraction barely became visible at f/8, and were increasingly visible as I stopped lenses down further.  By f/16 they were quite apparent when pixel peeping.  In other words, all other things being equal (which they rarely are, but I digress), it was best to shoot the camera at f/7.1 or below.  (This is not always practical, to put it mildly, in the real world; more on this below.)

I also noted that–again, when pixel peeping–the camera revealed every optical flaw in my lens lineup.  As a refresher, I shoot almost entirely with high(ish) end zoom lenses–the Nikkor 14-24/2.8; the Nikkor 24-70/2.8; the Sigma 70-200/2.8; the Nikkor 80-400/4-5.6.  I also shoot with one prime lens, the Nikkor 200mm micro.  The 80-400 is the weakest optic in my quiver; the 200mm micro is the sharpest, by far.  I saw no obvious flaws with the prime lens, even when I was scouring around looking for them.  With the others, there was some corner softness visible in all of them, with the 80-400 being the worst offender (as expected).  Without careful viewing, all were perfectly acceptable, but images shot with this camera and these lenses, if upsized enough, would reveal the flaws, even at fairly reasonable viewing distances.  How much of an upsizing was “enough”?  That depends, both on the lens in question and the personal opinion of the viewer.

Sunset Volcano

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

Reviews of the camera that I’d read prior to pulling the trigger on the purchase consistently discussed what needed to be done “to get the most out of the sensor,” including avoiding shooting at f/8 or above and exclusively using high end prime lenses.  I pretty much knew that I wasn’t going to do either of these things, particularly the latter.  Maybe it’s laziness on my part, but I really like the convenience of carrying an assortment of zoom lenses that cover all of the focal lengths I’m likely to shoot; I like being able to minimize the amount of lens changing I engage in as well.  I’ve already touched on the aperture part of the matter above.  So I was pretty much acknowledging that I wasn’t going to be getting “everything” there was to squeeze out of the sensor in terms of image quality.  The operative question was whether I was going to be getting enough out of it to justify the purchase of the camera.  My speculation was that the answer was yes, but the proof would be in the pudding.

And what about the huge files that the camera produced?  I was looking at 1/3 as many shots per memory card compared with the D700, not to mention (obviously) longer write times.  The D800E has two card slots, one for CF cards and one for SD cards.  I’d never had a camera that accepted SD cards, but given the file sizes I was looking for, I felt that a card upgrade was in order.  I found a sale at Amazon and picked up a 32 GB SD card and a 16 GB CF card which allowed me approximately 600 shots without card swapping (significantly more than I’d ever had with the D700–my biggest card for that camera was an 8 GB CF).  I also spent some time experimenting with file downloads and image processing.  Needless to say, both were significantly slower than what I was used to with the D700 files.  This, too, was anticipated, but could I deal with the added wait times when I had a bulk of files, from multiple days worth of shooting?  I would soon find out.

In the Field/On the Road

I shot with the camera outside in the field a couple of times, and at a botanical garden in Indianapolis, before taking the camera on its first “road trip” to northern Arizona for a workshop in August (which was chronicled at length beginning here).  This was when the pedal hit the metal, so to speak.  I would be dealing with the camera (and the resulting images) all day, every day.

Banana Tree Leaf

Banana Tree Leaf, White River Gardens, Indiana

As an aside, it’s worth pointing out, I suppose, that I shoot off a tripod at least 99.99% of the time.  (Literally every one of my images that has appeared on this blog was produced with a tripod-mounted camera.)  As a result, handheld ergonomics have never been a particularly important issue to me.  Also, as followers of this blog know, roughly 95% of my imagery can be classified as landscapes/scenics, with almost all of the remaining 5% closeup work (mostly of plants and flowers).  In other words, I’m rarely shooting moving subjects (other than running water and blowing foliage), so a camera’s operational quickness isn’t a prime consideration for me either, particularly given my circumspect (some would say “plodding” or “sluggish”) photographic style in the field.

So, how did the camera perform?

The answer was quite well, thank you.  There were a few differences in the camera’s controls, compared to the D700, and with the menus as well, but the similarities greatly outweighed the discriminating points.  It wasn’t a difficult adjustment to go from one camera to the other, particularly given the sloth-like nature of my in-the-field workflow.  I did notice that the D800E was, on occasion, a bit slower to complete the card-writing process than the D700, but that was to be expected and it really wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated.  And the dynamic range was absolutely breathtaking.  Even with scenes possessing an exceptionally wide contrast, it was often necessary to underexpose images–often by several stops–to produce silhouettes of objects against bright dawn or dusk skies.  In fact, I stopped trying, with the full knowledge that the effect could easily be teased out in postprocessing.  So using the camera wasn’t a problem.

Monument Valley

Mittens Dawn Silhouette, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

What about the image quality?  That was always the main issue.  Was I seeing a meaningful, real world improvement over shots from the D700?  The short answer is, yes.  Regardless of the lenses I used, apples-to-apples comparisons of images (i.e. when D700 images were up-sized to the equivalent of D800E shots or D800E images were binned to the same size as D700 photos) revealed that the shots from the D800E held more detail–period, end of report.  And they should; 36 MP really ought to trump 12 MP, particularly when the former is of a newer generation than the latter.  The point of obtaining the D800E was to up the ante when it came to printing large, and based on some tests I did after returning from Arizona, that holds up.  I up-sized a detail-filled D800E shot to the equivalent of 24×36″ and printed a cropped 8×10 section of it; I did the same with a D700 shot.  (Both were taken with the same 24-70 lens.)  The D700 version was actually pretty decent; not phenomenal, but quite good.  But the D800E shot…it was almost as though it hadn’t been interpolated at all.

What about the lenses?  Given my options, how had images held up?  It was essentially as expected.  Shots with the 200mm macro (i.e. micro, in Nikon-speak) held up from corner to corner, even when pixel peeping.  Shots with the other lenses still held up very nicely, even when enlarged.  Yes, the corner degradation could be spotted when pixel peeping, but large prints, seen at a normal viewing distance, were immaculate.

Grand Canyon

Wildflowers, Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona

And the aperture issue?  I had decided to shoot for the needed depth of field and live with the incumbent diffraction, even if that meant f/16 (though I didn’t often need to go beyond f/11).  This paid off, in my opinion.  With adjustments made to postprocessing sharpening techniques, the effects of diffraction were mitigated to the point of effective irrelevance.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I concluded that this may very well, in fact, be my “last camera” (in the sense described above).  I’m extremely happy with the performance; I’m completely satisfied with image quality, even with the limits of my current lenses (though I may end up replacing the 80-400 with Nikon’s recently announced new version of that lens, if it pans out in real world tests and if I can get past the price!), and I didn’t even have to compromise my in-field shooting choices with regard to aperture selection.  File sizes and computer requirements will become non-issues as I naturally upgrade hardware over time (though I hasten to add that, despite shooting with the camera for the better part of a year now, I’m still using computers that are 3-5 years old).

This is more camera than most people need; if you don’t have the intention to print large, you really have no need for it, in my view.   It’s arguably more camera than I need myself.  If the D3X had come with the same price tag as the D800 when the former was released four-odd years ago (instead, it cost $8000!), I might well have bought one and, if I had, I’d almost certainly still be using it, even though that would mean leaving 12 MP on the table.  (The D3X has a 24.5 MP sensor.)  But if you’re going to buy your “last camera,” you may as well give yourself some headroom, I think, and that’s what the D800E gives me.  Would have I been satisfied with the non-”E” version of the D800?  Almost certainly, yes.  But again, I gave myself a bit of extra sharpness, particularly when I use my macro lens.

Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

I look forward to having the camera with me during a planned trip to the Smoky Mountains in mid-April.  During my last extended trip there, six years ago, I was still shooting with the D200.

The D800E won’t make me a better photographer–that was never part of the consideration–but it will allow me to print larger with considerably more effectiveness.  Since that was my hope when I bought the camera, I couldn’t be more satisfied with the purchase.
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Kerry-LeibowitzHi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

copyright Kerry

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Canon or Nikon?

Canon and Nikon CamerasI guess I kind of left you all hanging on what I decided; staying a Canon girl or crossing to the dark-side? Life has just been moving right along and then someone brought it up on FB a few weeks ago…. I giggled and said, “ Oh yeah, I forgot to tell everyone.” If you have missed the debate of my long agonizing quandary about switching systems, take a moment to read through this past post.

I used the Nikon D4 in the Mara this past August, thanks to Borrowlenses; so I know I can take sharp images! I loved the D4 and the low light capabilities and it felt great in my hands. As a woman, I find the Nikon lenses are a little sleeker, making them easier to hold.  The desire to possibly make the shift has been there for many years. However, the practical side of me needs a huge reason to make both the investment of time and money.

When the 1DX was released the reviews were good. A few wildlife photographers that I highly respect were raving over it. I wisely decided it would be foolish not to test the 1DX before making the jump.  Once again, Barrowlenses, came through for me and I took the 1DX for a spin. My prayers were answered, giving me the perfect horrible shooting conditions for the ultimate test. I went to Bolsa Chica wetlands to photograph the lightening speed, grey, pelicans, diving into the grey water, on a grey day. I thought to myself, it will never get sharp images in this scenario and I can make the switch guilt free. I was wrong.

When I saw the below images on my computer, my jaw dropped open! Sharp images of a moving subject from a canon camera …revolutionary!! I had not experienced this since my 1DMark II and my 20D… yes that means about 5 years ago. Well…. not exactly true, my 5DMark II is great, but I use this mostly for people and not wildlife.

I am not one that gets super technical. I don’t get into the mico-technical issues of why one brand is better than the other. My philosophy about photography that is that it should be an expression of how you experience and see the world. The creativity of that vision is what makes a compelling image. Of coarse you must have the technical knowledge to correctly capture your vision, but without the artistic side, you are just turning dials and pushing buttons.  Almost everyone can study long enough to technically master photography, but it is the photographer that creates a stunning image, not the gear.

I share this because someone will make the comment wanting a list of all the technical comparisons, but I did not have a long list of technical problems and there are plenty of these type reviews already available. My biggest complaint over the past several years is the flawed AF system and the way Canon did not stand behind their products.

I have heard enough, to believe Canon is getting back in the professional game. However, if this new camera creates soft images when I have technically done everything right…..lets just say I will roar loud and clear until Canon does right by me this time. Then I will switch with no regrets, but for now, I will remain a Canon girl.

My 1DX canon body arrived yesterday :)

Purchased from Hunts Photo – give Gary a call if you need anything photographically, you will get the best service worldwide!

All images were shot at F8 and a shutter speed over 1,000

1DMark II
professional photographers

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PiperMackayPiper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and  The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries.  Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund.  She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing.   Please visit Piper’s website at 



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Four Favorite Images from Valley of Fire State Park

A few weeks ago I found myself in Valley of Fire State Park once again leading a photography workshop. Valley of Fire has become  a favorite location of mine for it’s unique and colorful sandstone geology. No other location, as far as I know, has such a rich concentration of dramatic sandstone in one place.  The great thing about Valley of Fire is that you can simply park your car and walk out across the sandstone in any direction and find your own unique images. Running a workshop however requires getting clients to some of those “iconic” locations, and it’s my pleasure to do so. All the more so when the weather and light cooperate. Over the workshop the light certainly was dramatic at times!

Vally of Fire State Park

The first image I from the very first field session we had as group. We hiked out to Fire Wave under partly cloudy skies in hopes that we might catch some dramatic light at sunset. Fire Wave has become a popular spot in the last couple of years. So popular in fact that the park decided to put in a maintained trail to the location. In the past, you had to know where to go and simply choose a route across the stone until you arrived at this small yet dramatic parcel of swirling color. We arrived well before sunset and waited and studied the light until it reached it’s most dramatic point about 10 minutes after the sun had set and the sky caught fire with dramatic light. I was immediately drawn to the symmetry between the shape of the clouds and the swirling sandstone in the foreground.  The light was pretty intense and required a blend of two exposures to capture the full dynamic range of light –Nikon D800 DSLRNikon 14-24mm f/2.8, ISO 50, F11 @ 2 seconds for the sky and 8 seconds for the land.


The image above is from a incredibly surreal area of multi-colored sandstone near White Domes. The formation is unofficially known as “Crazy Hill” and it has become a favorite spot to visit for me in the past couple of years. In fact some of my finest images from the park have been captured at this location. I have been trying to capture a traditional take on this formation for some time, but the light and clouds never have cooperated, not until this last trip that is! Nikon D800 DSLR14-24mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1 second @ f11. 


I captured this image above after the workshop had ended. I had an early flight the next morning out of Vegas and considered driving into Las Vegas in the afternoon, getting a room and sleeping the rest of the day. I was exhausted after ten days of shooting, camping, hiking and finally leading a workshop. Instead I decided to stay the night in Overton and finish up the trip with one last session out in the sandstone. I stumbled on this location about two years ago and immediately fell in love with the swirling s-curve of color. it wash;t until this time around that I got good condition, color and some clouds to capture the image.  Nikon D800 DSLR14-24mm f/2.8, ISO 50, 4 second @ f11.


On the way out of the park, the full moon was rising at twilight. I rushed over to Elephant Rock to try and capture the moon coming up through the opening of the arch. The sky to the east was bathed in a deep blue glow from the Earth shadow and a few clouds on the horizon were still catching some soft pink light. The moon was rising quickly and the stars were beginning to shine. I had time to only shoot three images before the moon was above the arch.   Nikon D800 DSLRNikon 24-70mm f/2.8,  8 seconds @ F8, ISO 800.

I’ll be posting more images from the trip soon. In the meantime, we have some opening for a few upcoming photography workshops if you are interested in chasing the light with me in some of the most beautiful locations in the U.S.






JosephRossbachJoseph Rossbach has been photographing the landscape for over fifteen years. Joe’s photographs and articles have appeared in a number of books, calendars and magazines including Outdoor Photographer, The Nature Conservancy, Digital Photo, Photo Techniques, Popular Photography, Blue Ridge Country, Mountain Connections and many more. Joe is also a staff course instructor for Nature Photographers Magazine, and writes a regular blog column for Outdoor Photographer Magazine online edition. Joe is also a co-author and contributing photographer two print books, The Ultimate Guide to Digital Nature Photography (Mountain Trail Press) and 50 Amazing Things You Must See and Do in the Greater D.C. Area, The Ultimate Adventure Guide. Joe continues to travel extensively producing new and exciting images of the natural world as well as leading several photography workshops and photo tours each year.

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Four Top Photographers Share Insight on Processing Images with Nik Software

You all know I’m a huge fan of Nik Software plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.  I’ve written often about my affection for Silver Efex Pro 2 and it’s powerful but intuitive controls for converting color images to black and white, and how Viveza 2 makes it effortless to to make local and global adjustments to light and color, and don’t get me started on all the amazing filters in Color Efex Pro 4 that allow me to make creative edits without logging endless hours at my desk.  Now throw in Dfine 2 for noise reduction that doesn’t sacrifice detail, Sharpener Pro 3 for painless sharpening of images for web and print and HDR Efex Pro 2 for creating stunning images with expanded dynamic range and you’ve got an unparalleled collection of imaging software.  But you expect to hear that from me.  So instead of writing another blog post about how I use the Nik Software Complete Collection, I thought I’d ask a few of the most talented photographers on the planet to share some insight on how they use these tools in their workflow.  Read on to learn how Laurie Rubin, Mike Moats, John Batdorff and Peter Tellone take control of their images with the Nik Software Complete Collection.

Nik Software Laurie Rubin – Laurie is a well-traveled nature and wildlife photographer with an impressive portfolio of stunning imagery.  I found her “Animals of East Africa” web gallery to be especially impressive.  Laurie’s been using Nik Software plug-ins for about 8 years.  I asked Laurie why she prefers to use Nik plug-ins instead of a more traditional approach like Photoshop.  Her response? “The Nik Software products make it so easy to make adjustments without having to make layers and masks. Using Dfine 2.0 to remove noise from images that are shot at high ISO is a simple click of a button and having the ability to use Control Points within any of the Nik products allows for quick and easy selective adjustments. Whether you are trying to bring up details in shadowed areas with Viveza 2 or creating global enhancements throughout your image by adding a soft, moody effect, with Color Efex Pro 4 and the Midnight filter for example, you have total control how you want your image to look.”  Laurie’s two favorite plug-ins are Color Efex Pro 4 and Sharpener Pro 3, which she uses on wildlife images to selectively sharpen the eyes because she believes “an animal’s eyes can speak volumes in an image.”  Some of Laurie’s favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters include Tonal Contrast, Midnight, Vignette Lens, Darken/Lighten Center, Image Borders and Detail Extractor, which she enjoys because it makes it easy to bring out details in feathers on a bird or within a lion’s mane.  Laurie also likes the Glamour Glow filter – even for animals!  To see more of Laurie’s fantastic work, please visit her website at

Mike Moats – Simply stated, Mike Moats has mastered macro photography.  His website, Tiny Landscapes, showcases what I consider to be the most inspired collection of macro images you’ll ever see.  Mike learned of Nik Software’s Complete Collection nearly two years ago from a student at one of his wildly popular (and usually sold out) “Macro Photography Boot Camps”.  Mike watched as the student used a Control Point in Viveza to selectively adjust exposure and color without having to resort to complicated layers and masks.  He was intrigued and downloaded the software as soon as he got home.  Mike’s workflow usually begins with Color Efex Pro 4 to achieve “the look he wants using one or more of the filters”.  Then he fine tunes the image using Control Points in Viveza 2.  I asked Mike to name a few of his favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters and he rattled off several that he uses on a regular basis, often with four or more used on one image.  His favorite filters include Detail Extractor, which he likes because it “pulls out the details in the textures, and also enhances the colors” and the Midnight filter, which he finds “slightly softens the details and adds a nice dark moody look to an image”. He also uses the Dark Contrast or Low Key filter on images that are a bit too bright, the High Key or Skylight filter on photos that are a bit dark and the Brilliance/Warmth filter to enhance colors (I also use this one often).  Other favorite Color Efex Pro 4 filters include Solarization, Polaroid Transfer and Glamour Glow.  Be sure to check out Mike’s blog at for inspiration in the form of beautiful macro images and frequent tips on how he makes these stunning images.

John Batdorff – John is a talented landscape and travel photographer, author of several books including the fantastic “Plug In with Nik“, an in-demand workshop leader and all-around great guy.  John has been using Nik Software for six years and though he still uses Lightroom and Photoshop to some degree, he finds that Nik’s plug-ins are “very intuitive and the tools are so powerful that it allows me to focus on my creative vision without the technical “how to” distractions”.  As a nationally recognized authority on black and white photography, it should come as no surprise that one of John’s favorite Nik tools is Silver Efex Pro 2.  He says, “Nothing gives you as much control over your black and white images”.  He’s also a “big fan” of HDR Efex Pro 2 because of the ease with which it allows you to create natural looking high dynamic range landscapes and Color Efex Pro 4, which he describes as the “Swiss Army Knife of plugins that can be used to deal with a flat sky or add a cool border around an image and many other important edits”.  I’ve never heard it put that way but I wholeheartedly agree!  Stay in touch with John on Facebooktwitter and Google Plus.

Peter Tellone – There aren’t a whole lot of photographers who produce truly spectacular HDR landscapes but Peter Tellone is one of them.  Peter’s images are masterfully composed and expertly processed, resulting in stunning HDR photographs based in realism.  He’s been using Nik Software’s plug-ins for about two years.  I asked Peter if he had any tips to share with photographers about using HDR Efex Pro 2 that would help them avoid “overcooking” their HDR images.  He said that the most common problem he sees is that “with all of HDR Efex Pro 2’s controls in front of them they think they have to use them all” when in fact, doing less often results in a much more natural image.  Peter typically adjusts only the overall exposure, saturation, compression and structure.  The HDR process can often add noise to an image, which Peter deals with by using Nik’s Dfine plug-in.  He likes using Dfine because it allows him to easily eliminate noise while maintaining important detail.  He also uses Nik Sharpener Pro 3 to sharpen his images for web and print.  I asked Peter why he prefers to use Nik Software’s plug-ins instead of Photoshop.  He said that he’s been using Photoshop for a very long time and “knows his way around it very well, so when he reaches for other software he needs to do it better and faster than Photoshop can.”  That’s a sentiment I echo.  Be sure to check out Peter’s excellent blog, “The HDR Image“, for great tutorials, tips and more.

There you have it, folks.  Insight from four top photographers about how they use Nik Software’s Complete Collection of Lightroom and Photoshop plug-ins to take control of and streamline their digital darkroom workflow.  For even more in-depth training and tutorials, I can’t recommend enough the great videos and webinars on the Nik website.  I owe a huge thanks to Laurie, Mike, John and Peter for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts and advice with me.  Please take a moment to check out their websites and get inspired by their photography!

Don Zeck Lens Cap

bret edge

 Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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Through the Grama

For February at 6500′, it’s a warm day–about 40 degrees–and the sun makes it feel even warmer as we hike across the windswept grassland plateau.  Snow still blankets the north-facing slopes, but the rest of the ground is free of snow, soft, and slightly muddy in places.  Everywhere, almost literally, signs of elk abound; I have never seen so many turds and tracks in one place.  This small plateau must be great winter ground for them.  I haven’t seen (or felt) any invasive Drooping Brome (Cheat Grass) in my socks all day, only native Bouteloua (Grama Grass).  Here on the Colorado Plateau, where some areas have been grazed extensively, that must be one sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Through the Grama we hike, our heavy packs weighing us down more and more, until–finally–the east rim of the Grand Canyon reveals itself to us.

Reflected light in the Colorado River

Reflected light in the Colorado River

Last weekend, Jackson Frishman invited me to join him on a trip to visit the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers.  Jackson’s proposal was ambitious: nearly 40 miles of hiking in 2.5 days, with no water along the route (we had to carry our own water cache).  He introduced it to me as a hare-brained plan, and honestly that’s all he needed to say to get me on board.

Jackson told me he wanted to visit the confluence because the Grand Canyon Escalade–a proposed tourism development on the western edge of the Navajo Nation, which overlooks the confluence.  If the project passes, it would include a tram from the rim down to the Little Colorado River (read more about Escaladeherehere, and here).  For me, it was a good time to familiarize myself with this area, learn a little more about the proposal, as well as to visit the Grand Canyon again; I began my backpacking life there, and the Grand Canyon evokes many special memories for me.

On Friday night, we discussed the final plans over beers and enchiladas, and it was clear that the stress of planning the trip had turned into excitement for what lied ahead.  We started out on Saturday morning; our packs were weighed down with a couple of extra gallons of water for the return hike.  We dropped the water underneath a couple of stiff piñon boughs to keep it from freezing, as well as to keep it away from the ravens which were surely watching us.  As we got closer to the park service boundary with the Navajo Nation, we found an old hogan, with a missing west wall; the doorway of a Navajo hogan faces east to receive the morning sun and it’s good blessings, and when someone dies in a hogan they are carried out through a hole that has been knocked in the west wall, then the home is abandoned.

Little Colorado River Arizona

Little Colorado River Arizona

After several more miles, we crested a hill and scared a large herd of maybe 200 elk out of a drainage.  They must have known about a water source that we didn’t.  We watched the elk until they disappeared into the horizon and would see them several times over the next couple of days.   The final push to the east rim was tortuous; buttes on the north side of the Colorado River were visible, but they never seemed to get any closer.  However, finally, after what felt like hours we arrived at Cape Solitude.

Solitude indeed.  We had not seen any other human footprints all day, and aside from a windbreak built from rocks, our campsite showed no sign of other humans at all.  In the second-most-visited national park, solitude can be tough to come by.  It’s a special feeling to have a piece of the Grand Canyon all to yourself.

Sunrise at the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers

Sunrise at the confluence of the Colorado and the Little Colorado Rivers

We woke up to a windy but beautiful sunrise the next morning and hiked back to our water cache (thankfully untouched) from the day before.  After rehydrating, I was happy to hike to our second night’s camp, closer to our trailhead, but with another private view of the canyon’s rim.  Horned larks flitting through the sagebrush and elk were our only company.  The next morning Jackson and I returned to our cars, shared a couple of cold beers, and parted ways.

We hiked through the Grama–through a healthy ecosystem–to a part of the Grand Canyon only a few people get to see.  Elk tracks went right up to the rim.  I wonder if they admire the view from time to time?  In my twentieth year of visiting the Grand Canyon, I still stand in awe of the vast landscape, and can’t help but wonder if some of that awe would be diminished if I could take a tram all the way to the bottom, or if–consequently–the elk tracks didn’t go all the way to the rim.

sunset on the little colorado river gorge

Sunset on the little colorado river gorge

P.S. You can also read Jackson’s post and see his image of Cape Solitude at his blog here.  His blog is always worth a visit, with fantastic writing and wonderful imagery.
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Greg RussellWendell Berry wrote, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.”  This notion of Sense of Place–our geographic location partly defining who we are–resonates with me.  Because I was born and have lived my entire life in the American West, the landscapes, people, culture and values of the West have helped shape who I am today.  I feel at home in the mountains and canyons I grew up exploring.

As a photographer, I continue exploring the wild places I fell in love with as a child.  Through my images, I want to foster in the viewer an authentic sense of attachment and belonging to the environment.  I make images of landscapes that connect me to these places; often they are intimate scenes whose beauty may not be immediately obvious to the casual observer.

I very much hope you enjoy the images on my website and I encourage you to subscribe to my blog.  If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me!  Greg Russell

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