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BEHIND THE LENS – Lizard King

I’ll confess right off that I really love this image as I think I succeeded in making something nice and dramatic out of an animal that is not especially pretty and doesn’t really do much, the green iguana (Iguana iguana). In Costa Rica, there’s a pretty well-known restaurant where wild green iguanas hang out in the trees over a meandering river, and I stop there with many of my workshop groups as it’s a great place to get eye level with these interesting creatures. Plus the place has great ice cream cones!

iguana king

Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) often hang out together, dozing and eating leaves (they’re vegetarians). I liked the way these guys were stacked up, and when I saw one iguana begin to become active, I quickly shot at a wide open aperture with a telephoto lens for shallow depth of field as the “iguana king” surveyed his little domain 🙂

Here’s the thought process I went through while taking this photo.

First, in terms of gear, my 300 mm with a max. aperture of f2.8 was a great choice for me here because it allows for the shallow depth of field look that I love and it gives me a fast shutter speed when handholding. In this case, one sometimes stands on a bridge over the river while pineapple-laden trucks roll past. Your tripod might well end up as a bipod or monopod if you’re not careful!

Second, I needed to consider which camera to use. At the time of this picture, I had a full-frame Canon 5D and 1.6x sensor 40D. The latter body would give me more effective magnification at a given working distance but a small sensor body offers two disadvantages in this situation. First, larger sensors offer less depth-of-field (see here for a fantastic, thorough explanation of this phenomenon). Plus the image quality of the full-frame body is always nicer than that of a 1.6x sensor body in my opinion. The 40D did have better autofocus but in this situation, fast autofocus wasn’t an issue. So, 5D it was.

Third, I had my flash mounted. Did I want to use it? When I came upon this scene, I knew I’d want to shoot through some foreground iguanas. When shooting through a foreground object, flash tends to light it up, and that’s not what I wanted here. Fortunately, I had nice bright overcast light to work with, which was perfect.

Fourth, what about my settings? I knew I wanted to use f2.8 to get the shallowest possible depth of field for that dreamy deep forest look. Plus a fast aperture would help to get me a decent shutter speed. I decided that 1/200 was good enough as my lens has pretty good image stabilization, and I was able to rest my elbows on the bridge’s guardrail. That put me at ISO 320, which was just fine. I could have gone up more in ISO but even with the good high ISO performance of the full-frame 5D, I decided that it was better to keep the decent shutter speed I have and be able to produce an image with lower noise. The shutter speed/ISO noise tradeoff is always an important issue to consider.

Fifth, the composition here was key. There were a lot of iguanas! I walked around a bit until I saw this iguana lifting his head a bit while the others napped. I composed carefully to have the out of focus iguanas all contribute to making the main iguana really pop out, and I made sure to have the main iguana’s eye right by one of the thirds of the frame (the power points — see below). Composing according to the rule of thirds is not an ironclad rule, but I thought it would work well for this situation.

Sixth, to meter the scene, I decided to work in aperture priority and evaluative metering mode. Most of the tones in the scene were darker than the face of the main iguana. So, I knew that I would have to apply a bit of negative exposure compensation, in this case, -1/3 stop did the trick.

Seventh, from there I simply selected the autofocus point closest to the iguana’s eye and used that to autofocus. I have my autofocus on one of the back buttons of my camera, totally decoupled from the shutter button. Thus I was able to lock focus and recompose before snapping the shutter.

Lizard Photography

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and the thought process behind the image. Successful nature photography is all about previsualizing an image (even when shooting action or capturing a fleeting moment), analyzing the tradeoffs that your previsualized image entails, and then making choices. Hopefully this little article will give you some ideas for the next time that you’re out in the field photographing.


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About the author Gregory 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 photography and 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. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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TECHNIQUE – Top 5 Tips for Quality Image Files (part 5)

SET YOUR WHITE BALANCE IN-CAMERA

This is one piece of advice that most pro nature photographers won’t give you because RAW files do offer you the ability to change white balance in the computer without degrading the image. There are three reasons that I urge you to set your desired white balance in the field, two of which are perhaps a bit capricious but one that has technical importance.

Before I get to the reasons, let’s take a quick look at what white balance means. Every kind of light has a color temperature, which is actually expressed in degrees Kelvin. The light outside on a sunny day is somewhere around 5000 to 5500 degrees Kelvin. For our purposes, we can consider this to be a neutral light. A tungsten light bulb, on the other hand, has a color temperature of around 3000 degrees Kelvin. This is a relatively “warm” light. The light on a cloudy day, especially at higher elevations will have a higher color temperature, say somewhere between 6000 and 7000 degrees Kelvin. This is cool light.

Back in the film days, most films were daylight-balanced, meaning that they were set to record things at a sunny day white balance. Thus, if you used this film to photograph a wedding hall lit by tungsten light bulbs, the resulting images would have an orange color cast. This can be a nice look but if photographers didn’t want it, they would use a blue filter over the lens to increase the color temperature of the light entering through the lens, thus resulting in a more neutral-looking image. By the same token, nature photographers shooting landscapes on a cloudy day in the mountains would often use a warming filter. These amber/orange-colored filters made the cool, bluish light warmer, resulting in a more natural-looking image.

Today’s DSLR cameras handle these issues through the use of white balance settings. You’ll notice that there are a number of presets for tungsten, flourescent, daylight, cloudy, and flash (among others). These presets simply tell the camera to record a given scene at the color temperature that corresponds to each preset’s value. So, daylight white balance on most cameras will be around 5500 degrees Kelvin, cloudy around 6500 Kelvin, and tungsten around 3000 Kelvin. So, if you shoot a daylight beach scene using the tungsten white balance setting, you can get a bluish, moonlit kind of look. Alternatively, you can punch up the colors of a rather cool and anemic sunset by setting your camera on cloudy white balance to bring out more yellows and reds. Of course, you can also set the color temperature manually on most cameras. So, if one of the presets doesn’t work, you can set the camera to record at 2200 Kelvin or 5700 or 9800 — anywhere between 0 and 10,000.

Many people, even many pro photographers (!), use auto white balance, in which the camera tries to evaluate the light and make the best judgement on color temperature. I never use auto white balance for nature as it nearly invariably gives an unattractive bluish/gray look. Others are fans of custom white balance but setting a custom white balance is a cumbersome chore and is best suited, in my opinion, to studio work.

white balanceAbove is a comparison of how different white balance settings affected my image of a chestnut- mandibled toucan. My original choice was daylight, which I still think is the best. Cloudy is too warm for this scene, and tungsten obviously is absurdly cool. Auto white balance, which is how many people shoot, doesn’t look bad but it’s too gray and cool. Daylight brings the muted green colors of the background and the bright yellow colors on the toucan the closest to how the scene actually was when I took the picture.

Still, auto white balance did a respectable job and, as we’ve been discussing, having shot in RAW would mean that I easily could adjust the white balance in post-processing. So, why worry about setting the white balance in-camera? Why not just use auto as it’s one thing we don’t have to worry about in the field? Here are my three reason for why I think it’s important to set your preferred white balance in-camera.

First, I consider it one of those things that keeps you in the zone as you’re photographing. I’m much more satisfied with my effort if I’ve considered every photographic variable in the field. Not convinced?

Second, I just don’t enjoy looking at auto white balance images on my screen. They look strange, and I have a hard time evaluating if I’m getting what I want. Better, but not quite?

Ok, here’s the third and most important reason. You’re shooting RAW. You know how to interpret your histogram. And you’re exposing to the right. You’re doing everything to get the maximum possible image file quality. The problem is that the histogram is derived from a JPEG. That’s right, even though you’re shooting in RAW format, your camera needs to interpret that data into something you can see, which is the little image on the screen on the back of the camera.

This little image is a processed JPEG that takes into account things such as white balance. The histogram is derived from this little processed JPEG, which means that if you shoot in auto white balance even though you know that’s not the look you’re going to want, the histogram is not accurate. You may be clipping highlights or blocking up shadows sooner or later than what the RAW data show because you are evaluating an auto white balance JPEG.

Let’s take a look at the figure below. This is my toucan shot, with my preferred daylight white balance on the left and auto white balance on the right. The difference is subtle but you can see that auto white balance is actually showing us a brighter histogram. Most values are shifted slightly to the right. This is especially apparent when we consider blown highlights, which is crucial because in this image I wanted to push my exposure as far to the right as possible in order to bring out feather detail in the toucan’s black feathers.

Pay attention to the tuft of white feathers just above the toucan’s tail. Do you notice the bright red areas? Those aren’t on the toucan but rather are blown highlight indicators from Lightroom. I have just a couple of blown spots in the daylight white balance version but quite a bit in the auto white balance version. Though I want to bring out feather detail in the blacks, I’m also very concerned about blowing out the whites.

white balanceHad I evaluated the auto white balance histogram in the field, I would have thought “Man, the whites are really starting to blow out. I’d better back off a bit on my exposure.” That would have been a mistake because I wanted the colors that daylight white balance would produce and by evaluating that histogram, I can see that I’m fine — a couple of slightly blown highlights in those white feathers but nothing that can’t be

dealt with in Lightroom. Had I backed off on my exposure as the auto white balance histogram was indicating to me, I would have blocked up the dark tones a bit, robbing me of some fine feather detail in the black feathers. I would have ended up lightening the black a bit in post-processing, and this probably would have introduced some noise.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Perhaps, but remember that it’s a competitive world out there, and I want to make sure that I produce the cleanest files possible so that the images I send to magazines are as good as they can be. And I want my fine art prints to be beautiful and full of detail. In a competitive business, every edge that you can give yourself counts. Many photo buyers are quite discerning, and I want them to know that I’m going the extra mile.

By the way, not only does the little JPEG on the back of your camera (and the resulting histogram) take into account white balance but also variables related to picture style. Setting picture style to Vivid in Nikon or Landscape in Canon tends to produce snappy, saturated files that look great on the back of your camera. But if you have sharpening (which increases edge contrast), contrast, and saturation set high, you might think that you are clipping highlights or shadows when in fact the RAW data (which don’t have a white balance or picture style encoded in them) have more latitude than what the histogram is showing you. That’s why most pro nature photographers will have their picture style setting set to neutral or faithful so that their histograms are more representative of the RAW image data.


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About the author Gregory 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 photography and 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. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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TECHNIQUE – Top 5 Tips for Quality Image Files (part 4)

USE ABODE RGB COLOR SPACE

In a digital photography workflow, a principal axiom is that you can start with more and get less but you can never start with less and get more. (It’s not really a famous axiom; I just made it up.) A prime example is taking a tiny 72 dpi JPEG and trying to blow it up to print a poster. It’s not going to work.

Another area where this rule applies is with color spaces. A color space refers for our purposes to a system for representing colors in a numerical form. Adobe RGB and sRGB are the most common color spaces used by today’s DSLR cameras.

adobe RGBThe figure above, which is borrowed from the Eizo website (Eizo makes what are probably the best monitors out there but you’ll pay for it), shows how these two color spaces relate to the broader color space that encompasses all of the colors and tones that the human eye can discern. You’ll notice immediately that Adobe RGB is a wider color space or gamut than sRGB, particularly for greens and some shades of blue. By setting your camera to capture your RAW files in Adobe RGB space, you’ll be taking advantage of more color information than if you shot in sRGB. As with the next two parameters I discuss in

the following sections, choosing the best setting in-camera will allow you to accurately judge your histogram.

Note that the choice of in-camera color space (again, as with the following two sections below) when shooting RAW does not affect the actual RAW data. If you use Adobe Camera RAW, either in Lightroom or Photoshop, a color space is not truly applied to a file until you convert it to say a TIFF, a PSD, or a JPEG. If you use your camera’s own software (e.g., Capture NX for Nikon, or DPP for Canon), the choice of in- camera color space will be read directly and used as the basis for your photo processing.

Just remember, Adobe RGB is the best choice for in-camera setting when shooting RAW for two reasons. You’ll have a more accurate histogram and you avoid any potential for being fooled into working with less information in post-processing.

So, does this mean that sRGB is always to be avoided?. On the contrary, whenever you convert an image to a JPEG for use on the web or for a presentation, you’ll be outputting the file as sRGB because this is the color space that best corresponds to the screens on most modern electronic devices. Files sent to the web with an Adobe RGB color profile embedded won’t look as good. I save files destined for print (magazines, large prints, etc.) in Pro Photo RGB (an even wider gamut than Adobe RGB) and files destined for electronic distribution in sRGB color space.

 

 


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About the author Gregory 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 photography and 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. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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TECHNIQUE – Top 5 Tips for Quality Image Files (part 3)

EXPOSE TO THE RIGHT

Exposing to the right is a practice that many people don’t follow precisely because RAW files do stand up so well to post-processing. But shooting RAW doesn’t give us an excuse to be sloppy, and exposing to the right is important for two reasons. The first is simple. If you underexpose an image and then have to pull out shadow detail from the darker areas of an image, you’re going to be introducing noise. But darkening slightly overexposed areas will not give you a loss in quality. This is true because of the second reason.

This second reason is even more compelling but requires a bit more explanation. DSLR cameras in general have about five stops of dynamic range. Recall from above that a 12-bit RAW file has 4,096 possible tonal values in each color channel. If we array the stops of dynamic range along our monochromatic or luminance histogram, we’ll notice that each stop (from left to right) contains two times more information than the previous stop. And notice also that most of the possible color values are in the brightest areas. That is, our camera can capture only a relatively few dark tonal values and lots of bright tonal values.

photo exposureAs the figure above illustrates clearly, fully half of the tonal values are in the brightest fifth of the histogram. So, if you don’t have at least some pixels heading out into that rightmost fifth of the histogram, you’re wasting half of the potential tonal information that your camera can capture!

Exposing to the right does not mean overexposing to the extreme though. It simply means that you should expose your image so that the brightest tones in your scene display out into the right fifth of the histogram. If you want detail in the whitest or brightest parts of the scene, however, you need to take care to take them just to the edge of the histogram but not over.

Take the image of a Montezuma oropendola below. This is one of the tougher birds in Costa Rica to expose properly because of the white skin on the face and the black feathers around the head and neck. Underexpose this one, and you’ll have no feather detail in the blacks. Overexpose too far, and the white skin will be blown out white with no detail at all.

Below is a screen shot of my untouched RAW file and the resulting histogram. Notice that there is some space on the left edge of the histogram. This means that the dark feathers are not pure black. And notice that the brightest pixels go right out to the right edge but not past. This means that I made the image as bright as I could in order to capture feather detail in the blacks but without blowing out the white skin. You’ll note also that there is a large amount of pixels clustered toward the middle right of the histogram. This is the background, which is represented by brighter than average mid-tones. The background in this shot was distant forest but there was some fog moving through, which meant that the background was indeed a bright but fairly dull green.

photo exposureIn terms of exposing to the right, there is a caveat that applies especially to the rainforest, where light is usually scarce. Let’s say that I’m shooting a monkey that’s moving around a bit. I have my lens
aperture set wide open, I’m getting only 1/60 of a second, and I’m already at ISO 3200. That is, I’m doing everything possible to get just barely enough light for a sharp image. I take a shot and check my histogram and find that I really should be pushing my exposure one stop to the right to get good detail in the monkey’s dark fur. I have a bit of a dilemma now — how to get that extra stop of light.

I can’t open up my aperture any further; it’s already wide open. If I adjust my shutter speed to let in one stop more light, I drop to 1/30. I think that’s going to make it hard to get a sharp image in this situation, and it’s also placing me into the territory where mirror vibration becomes a concern. So, I don’t want to take my shutter speed any slower. I could take my ISO from 3200 to 6400 but, even though my Mark IV is quite good at high ISOs, I’m not enamored of 6400. So, this is a case where not exposing to the right and brightening the exposure in post-processing may actually be a better or at least equally valid choice. I want a sharp image so I need that shutter speed. And going to ISO 6400 will introduce noise, perhaps just
about as much as taking the image at ISO 3200 and brightening it by one stop in post-processing.

This, of course, is a fairly extreme situation but it’s worth noting because there are some potential tradeoffs involved when exposing to the right. Still, it’s a good habit to have and will help you to get the cleanest image files possible in the vast majority of shooting situations.


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About the author Gregory 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 photography and 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. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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TECHNIQUE – Top 5 Tips for Quality Image Files (part 2)

 

histogram

Cloud forest vegetation, Costa Rica

KNOW YOUR HISTOGRAM

If you don’t use your histogram, you’re putting yourself at risk of underutilizing the information that your fancy DSLR camera (which truly is an amazing machine!) can capture. The histogram allows you to ensure that you’re getting as much tonal information as possible in your images, and it also allows you to focus on capturing the detail you want for certain important parts of any scene. As discussed above, the amount of information in RAW files does allow for a fair amount of post-processing without degrading the image too much. Nonetheless, getting the best exposure possible in-camera is going to mean a better final image, and you’ll also be more satisfied with your effort when you get it right.

The histogram is a big help in this regard but many people seem mystified by it. It’s actually quite simple. The histogram is basically a bar graph in which the x-axis represents the total range of tonal values in a given image from 0 to 255. That is, even in color images, there are 256 possible shades of monochromatic tonalities or luminance values, from pure black (0) to pure white (255). The y-axis indicates the number of pixels having a specific luminance value.

You’ll also see color histograms but most professional nature photographers will tell you that they don’t use these very much if at all. The only time I use them is to check the red channel in a scarlet macaw or maybe the blue in a specific flower or a hummingbird like the violet sabrewing. The consensus among the other pro nature photographers that I know, however, seems to be to master the use of the monochromatic/luminance histogram. Indeed, I have my camera set to display only this histogram by default.

histogramOne often hears that a classic bell-curve is a “good” histogram. Nothing could be further from the truth, and as an aside I think the obsession with having no bright highlights and no dark shadows has led in part to the current HDR craze (that’s a story for another post though!). That said, there are many images for which a bell-curve will indeed be a great histogram.

In the nesting toucan image above, for instance, you can see that the majority of the luminance values are clustered in the center of the x-axis. This makes sense because there are a lot of middle-toned greens
and earth tones in the image. At the tails of the graph (the left and right edges), there are many fewer pixels with extreme dark or light luminance values. And indeed, the values stop just before the left and right edges of the histogram, meaning that I have detail in the darkest and brightest parts of the image.

histogramAs this glass frog image shows, however, there is no one “good” histogram. The correct or optimum histogram will vary depending on the image. Glass frogs are nocturnal so the black background, in addition to being graphically pleasing for this image, is perfectly natural. It gives a very different histogram than the more classic toucan image above but one that is equally correct.

Note that there is a big spike of values pushed up against the left side of the histogram. This means that there are quite a lot of woefully underexposed, pure black areas. I wanted the background to be black, and so it is. You’ll also notice that there are varying luminance values represented by the dark greens and lighter greens in the image but that, importantly, there are no pixels at the right edge of the histogram. Again, this is fine for this image as there are no values that are white or even close to it. Had I put a flash on the leaves in the background in order to make the background green, the histogram would indeed have been closer to a bell-curve. That’s not what I wanted for this image though

histogramAbove is another example of a non-traditional histogram but one that is entirely correct for this image. Note here that there is a big spike that bumps up against the right edge of the histogram. This means
that there are lots of overexposed highlights; in fact, a spike this big and this close to the edge means that these values are pure white and that they contain no recoverable detail. If I had wanted this image to be a silhouette of bird and tree against a cloudy sky, I would be in big trouble because the whites are blown. Of course, that wasn’t the intention here so the overexposed whites are just fine.

 


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About the author Gregory 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 photography and 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. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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TECHNIQUE – Top 5 Tips for Quality Image Files (part 1)

Active crater of Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

Active crater of Poas Volcano, Costa Rica

If you’re looking to take your photography to the next level, maybe even becoming a part-time or full-time pro or perhaps selling some prints, I think there are five things that you should be doing in-camera to ensure that you take advantage of the image quality that your camera has to offer. So, without further adieu, here are my top 5 ways to get great image files.

SHOOT RAW

You don’t have to shoot in RAW; JPEGs are quite capable of producing good images. If you’re a hobbyist and want to produce pictures ready to print and share, get out there and shoot some great pictures in JPEG. But if you’re looking to take your nature photography to the professional level, RAW is for you. Why? JPEG files don’t make use of the vast majority of the information that modern DSLR cameras are capable of capturing; RAW files do and that translates ultimately into more control over image optimization and higher-quality large prints.

Here’s how it works. Each pixel on your camera’s sensor consists of three color channels — red, green, and blue. JPEGs are 8 bit files, which means that 8 bits of binary information (1s or 0s) are possible for each color channel. Raising 2 to the 8th power (for each channel, either a 1 or a 0 is possible 8 times) gives 256 possible combinations for each color channel. Since there are three colors, we take 256 to the 3rd power (red, green, and blue), which yields a total of around 16.7 million possible color values in a JPEG image. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

But now let’s look at RAW files. Most cameras these days capture RAW files with 12 bits. Using the same math as above, we have 12 possible binary outcomes for each color channel. So, 2 to the 12th power is 4,096. If we take those 4,096 possible tonalities for each color channel and look at all of the possible color values for the three color channels combined, we can take 4,096 to the 3rd power. This yields over 68 billion color possibilities. So, a RAW file has over 4,000 times as much potential color value information as a JPEG file. Put another way, if you shoot JPEG, you’re only using about 2.5% of the possible color information that your camera is capable of recording!

In addition, JPEG files are compressed in a lossy fashion, which means that some of the relatively limited information captured in the first place is thrown away to keep file size smaller. So, on top of the fact that JPEG files start with less information than RAW files, they then throw away some of that information during the compression process. Do note that RAW files also are compressed but using mathematical algorithms that are lossless, meaning that no image data are thrown away in compression in order to reduce file size.

Since JPEG files offer less information for editing in the computer, you’ll most likely want to have the images come out of the camera with saturation and sharpening already applied. Unfortunately, you may or may not like how your camera handles this “post-processing.” Most pros want to be in control of how their images look when they go on the web, for fine art printing, or for a magazine or coffee table book. RAW files take advantage of your camera’s sophisticated image capture capabilities and allow you to stay in control of optimizing your images in the computer.

Posterization is a common symptom when processing a JPEG file of a picture with a colorful sky. Because such skies, especially if the sun is in the frame, exhibit a myriad of very subtle tonal gradations, making changes with limited information can result in image degradation. Because a JPEG file contains much less information than a RAW file, processing it can turn these subtle gradations into abrupt transitions. By way of example, take a look at the comparison below of a sunset image I took in the mountains where I live in Costa Rica. I needed to bring down the highlights and up the saturation in the sky a bit. Processing the RAW file was no problem. When I processed a JPEG version of the RAW file (remember the JPEG has much less color information and is being processed in an 8-bit environment), however, posterization started to become evident. And when I processed a 16 color GIF version of the file, well, let’s just say that only Seurat would be happy with the result! The lesson, the more information you start with, the better your final result.

processed raw                              Processed RAW file

3_processed raw_1435011443455Processed RAW file, zoomed in

presentation_templateProcessed JPEG file

5_processed zoom_JPEG-closeupProcessed JPEG file, zoomed in

presentation_templateProcessed GIF file

processed raw photo

Processed GIF file, zoomed in

In addition, RAW files, with their vastly greater information, also give better results when upsampling a file beyond your camera’s native sensor resolution, a necessary practice for selling large fine art prints or doing a gallery exhibit. By way of example, I shot the cloud forest image above with a Canon 20D, an 8 megapixel camera. I was able to work from the RAW file and upsize it for printing at 30 x 45 inches for my gallery exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Garden in the US a couple of years ago. This is fairly extreme upsizing, but the image looked great in the exhibit hall.


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About the author Gregory 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 photography and 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. Visit Greg’s galleries, store, and workshops at Deep Green Photography.

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Review: Western Digital My Cloud EX2

Western Digital my Cloud EX2 Western Digital my Cloud EX2[/caption]

As a photographer, I capture a lot of photographs. Surprising, I know. Before digital cameras I had boxes and boxes of film and slides. In the digital age that means a lot of files that need to be stored. The upside of this is that I store thousands of photographs in a space that would only hold about 100 slides previously. The downside to all of this is that photography now requires IT skills and your photographs are susceptible to power blips, heat, lightning strikes through the power lines, and let’s not forget strong jostles or downright falls from 3 feet or so. In the slide days if you dropped your images you would just pick up your slides, curse a bit and put them back in order. In the digital age that little fall could mean life or death.

Don’t get me wrong, the digital age is great, I wouldn’t trade it for all the free slide film in the world. The real challenge I’ve found is finding a way to keep my data secure, backed up, and easy to access. Until now I’ve collected a myriad of USB drives which I replicate from one to the another. It’s been crude, but effective. I had recently been researching other storage options when Western Digital offered me the chance to try their My Cloud EX2 NAS. I jumped at the chance. Besides being on my short-list, I liked the feature set and felt that it could potentially improve my workflow in the future. If I can be more efficient in AND away from the office, that gives me more time to do what I love, capturing images! Below are five reasons why I recommend the My Cloud EX2 for a photography business.

Easy Setup

One thing I’ve learned to love is simplicity, both in photography and in life. As a business owner with a million things to do so I don’t have time for complicated setups. I want things that just work. The setup of the My Cloud EX2 was just that, simple. I plugged it in, went through the easy setup and bam, I was up and running. The interface was intuitive and easy, something I can always appreciate.

Additional USB Drive Support and Backups

The feature set, however, was anything but simple. First off, I love the ability to plug in additional USB drives directly into the My Cloud EX2. This allows you to either add more storage on the network or use the plugged in USB drive as a backup destination. My main concern with using the additional USB drive as additional storage was that it was going to be transferring data over the same link as the My Cloud EX2. Since I’m always transferring large amounts of data at once through viewing photographs or saving large Photoshop files, I wanted to maintain my network connection only for the Western Digital NAS. As such I configured the USB port for backups, that way the My Cloud EX2 was going directly to the USB and bypassing the network. Setting up the backup was super easy, I just went through the wizard, configured the destination, the time and hit finish. I cannot stress this point enough, back up your data!!! I’ve seen lots of people lose valuable information and never recover. The backup configuration is easy so use it! There are lots of other backup options available including cloud backup to Amazon so explore them all.

RAID Configuration

One item I do want to mention here is that the My Cloud EX2 comes with 2 drives. You have the ability to setup these drives in different versions of what is known as RAID. You can have one drive constantly mirror to another drive or have them become one big drive. The pro of making it one big drive is almost twice the storage space. The tradeoff is that if either drive fails you’ve lost everything. The pro of mirroring the drives is that if you lose a drive you should still be operational. The tradeoff is that you pay twice as much for the same space. After debating I decided to leave the drives in the “RAID 1″ configuration, or redundant. Keep in mind, this is NOT considered a form of backup. I’ve seen plenty of configurations on other devices like this go completely south, like “Antarctic put your business in a deep freeze” south. See the point above for information regarding the easy to use backup! Anyway, I’d prefer being able to keep working if one drive does fail as opposed to scrambling to go to a backup to retrieve everything if either drive goes.

“Cloud” Storage

Everyone has a different definition of “The Cloud” which can frankly become a bit well… cloudy. In fact whenever I hear, “The Cloud” I often think of an ominous unseen announcer saying “The Cloud” with a booming voice. What “The Cloud” means here is that the My Cloud EX2 creates storage on your home or business network which you can access from anywhere. The benefits here is that when you are locally on the same network as the NAS the speeds are fast and you aren’t paying a service a monthly fee to store the information. In order to use this you’ll have to setup your router or network to allow external access to the device. There are some setup options that make this configuration a little easier, but there might be a bit of technical knowhow needed. Once setup, you can generate access codes for phones, iPads, tablets, notebooks, desktops, servers, well you get the idea. Basically, any device that you might want to access the information can. Additionally, users and access rights can be created so if you want Aunt Cindy to see your family friendly Disney photos, but not images from your weekend bender, no problem. On tablets and phones you can download WD Photos which will allow you to view photos from your MyCloudEx2 and even post them to Facebook. Personally, I can always use something that makes me a more effective social networker.

Besides the photography, I had to try it with some music. I placed some music files on the storage, took off and was able to seamlessly access it. Now I could access both my tunes and my photos easily from numerous devices. Not bad.

App Support (and the ability for future development)

Lastly, one of the features on the list I wasn’t expecting is the ability to install apps. These apps enhance the functionality of the My Cloud EX2 and allow for future development. The options are fairly limited and nothing that really excites me. Most of them deal with torrents and downloading which might excite some of those peer-to-peer sharers out there. I’m not one of them, but I hope to see more of these cool add-ons in the future.

Overall, I was pleased with the experience, I loved the ease of setup and the performance has been good. The ability to access my files from outside is a plus and the backup features are very welcome and from what I’ve seen a much under discussed bonus of this little device. For the advertised price, it provides the storage with a feature set richer than I’ve seen in similar devices.

Be sure to check out more of the features at Western Digital’s website. I’m sure you’ll find something I missed that might benefit your business!

don zeck lens cap

 MEET THE AUTHOR

Derrald_Farnsworth-LivingstonWhile growing up, Derrald’s parents took him on several trips across the United States to numerous national parks. It was on these trips that Derrald grew a love for the outdoors which we wished to explore and share with others. Photography was a natural result, an endeavor that Derrald began at a young age and continued to explore in years to come.While pursuing a Bachelors degree at Creighton University, he enrolled in all of the photography courses. With these courses he learned the fundamentals of chemical darkrooms, light, balance, and exposure. After college he continued to explore the art and develop his own technique and style and choose to focus on nature and scenic photography as his primary subjects, although he is not hesitant to point the lens at anything.Amongst the images of majestic mountains and the crashing waves of the ocean, one can find photographs of the prairies, lakes, and wetlands of the American Great Plains and Midwest. Some of these images are the artist’s favorites as they show the expansive heartland of the United States and the subtle beauty of the area surrounding his home. Through the right balance of subject, composition, and light, Derrald strives to transport the viewer into the composition.Derrald has won numerous awards and exhibited in several solo and group shows regionally. His work has also appeared in several regional and national magazines, calendars, websites, and postcards. He continues to live and work in Omaha with his family.Visit Derrald’s website Journey Of Light Photography http://www.journeyoflight.com/blog/ to read his other articles.   His images may be ordered from his store at http://store.journeyoflight.com.

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Magnifying the World with the Canon 100 f/2.8L IS Lens

 

Canon 100 f/2.8L IS

Macro photography, what better way to make a praying mantis look like a huge evil invader.  Or to make water droplets look so big that you feel like you could swim around inside of one.  When I first ventured into nature photography, macro was something that interested me, but I was determined to make grandiose images with spectacular light that would awe people with the glory of landscape photography with intense light.  What I found as I began my photographic journey was that there were neat things I would see by the side of the trail or field.  Maybe it was a little flower, or a cool pine cone scene, or mushrooms on the bottom of the forest floor, regardless, I would stop and take in these scenes and wish I had a way to capture them.

Phlox at Fontenelle Forest

It  was not long until I purchased the 50 CM.  A solid macro lens, I really got it for the size, and the price. 

I also needed something to capture portraits of the kids.  There’s only so many cute portraits you can get of your children with wide-angle lenses before the grandparents start asking for a view that’s a little more “normal”.  It was a workhorse lens for me capturing thousands of macro images (and hundreds of portraits).  After a while though, and after one too many times in the forest where a slight breeze moved my subject before the sloooooowwwww autofocus of the 50 CM could lock on that I decided to purchase the 100 f/2.8L with IS. This article are my subjective experiences with the Canon 100 f/2.8L IS Macro lens.

Upon purchase, I immediately took the lens home and mounted it to my Canon 5D Mark II and was amazed at how fast the autofocus locked on my subject, and in low light too!  I then placed it on my SL1 and loved the combination with the added crop.  I could now lock autofocus almost twice as fast.  The 1:1 magnification of the 100 f/2.8L IS allowed me to focus closer than ever before on my subjects and without my extension tube.  With my extension tube added, I was getting so close that I felt like I was actually being miniaturized when I looked through my viewfinder.

Tulips

Of course, as they say the proof is in the pudding.  Actually, I’m not really sure who says that and what proof you can find in pudding, but no matter.  I downloaded my photographs and loved the crispness of the images and the bokeh, outstanding.  Don’t get me wrong, the 50CM had decent bokeh and crisp images, and it never held me back from making salable images, but the 100 2.8L I felt opened new possibilities for me.

The next test?  Portraits.  One of the advantages of macro lenses, especially in the 100 mm range is that they are at a good focal length for taking portraits.  On an unseasonably warm February day I took my daughter out to the park to capture some photographs.  Using theCanon 100 f/2.8L I experimented with various lighting and poses.  I was pleased with the autofocus and the bokeh at portrait ranges and felt the flare was well controlled.  It was almost as good as my 135 f/2L.  Almost.  By the way, I recommend taking a look at my 135 f/2L report if you are interested in seeing the best portrait lens at 135mm that canon has to offer or one of my favorite lenses of all time (even though it is one of the most rarely used in my collection).  Anyway, I digress.  the 100 2.8L IS Macro performed admirably.  The IS was a really nice addition with this as well and the focal length worked well on my full frame like the Canon 5D Mark II, but it was a bit close on a crop camera like my Rebel SL1.

Riley

Overall, I highly recommend Canon’s 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens.  Of all the macro lenses I’ve used this one by far was the one that has consistently performed for me.  Fast autofocus, close focus, IS, crisp, and a great portrait lens to boot.  Please take a look at my images and if you decide to purchase the Canon 100 f/2.8L macro lens please do so using the link below.  B and H has been a great provider of photography equipment for me and I recommend their services.

W-_Valentine---May-2014_prints_IMG_3749-droplets-snake-river-falls

A snail shell rests on a leaf at the bottom of the forest at Fontenelle Forest in eastern Nebraska.

Branch of Blossoms

Tulips

 

don zeck lens cap

 MEET THE AUTHOR

Derrald_Farnsworth-Livingston

While growing up, Derrald’s parents took him on several trips across the United States to numerous national parks. It was on these trips that Derrald grew a love for the outdoors which we wished to explore and share with others. Photography was a natural result, an endeavor that Derrald began at a young age and continued to explore in years to come.

While pursuing a Bachelors degree at Creighton University, he enrolled in all of the photography courses. With these courses he learned the fundamentals of chemical darkrooms, light, balance, and exposure. After college he continued to explore the art and develop his own technique and style and choose to focus on nature and scenic photography as his primary subjects, although he is not hesitant to point the lens at anything.

Amongst the images of majestic mountains and the crashing waves of the ocean, one can find photographs of the prairies, lakes, and wetlands of the American Great Plains and Midwest. Some of these images are the artist’s favorites as they show the expansive heartland of the United States and the subtle beauty of the area surrounding his home. Through the right balance of subject, composition, and light, Derrald strives to transport the viewer into the composition.

Derrald has won numerous awards and exhibited in several solo and group shows regionally. His work has also appeared in several regional and national magazines, calendars, websites, and postcards. He continues to live and work in Omaha with his family.

Visit Derrald’s website Journey Of Light Photography http://www.journeyoflight.com/blog/ to read his other articles.   His images may be ordered from his store at http://store.journeyoflight.com.

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In the Field with the Canon Rebel SL1

 

Canon Rebel SL1

This review is purely written subjectively. Here you will find no photographs of walls, stuffed animals, or ISO charts. I will not hit every feature of the camera, there are plenty of other sites dedicated to technical reviews. By writing this, I hope to answer any questions or concerns regarding using the Canon Rebel SL1 in the field that you might have.

A snail shell rests on the leaves of the forest foliage at Schramm State Recreation Area.

Why did I purchase the Canon SL1?

I currently own a Canon 5D, a Canon 5D Mark II, a Canon 50D, and a Canon G10. Because of it’s full frame high megapixel sensor, I currently use my 5D Mark II as my scenic landscape and close-up nature camera. Because of its frames per second and crop, I utilize the 50D for my wildlife photography. The G10 is my walk-around and movie capture camera. The SL1 is a crop sensor with 18 megapixels so the photo quality will not best the Mark II. The fps and buffer is worse than the 50D so my potential of missing a great wildlife shot is higher. It’s bigger than the G10, not really by much, unless you’ve got a big lens on it. So, where does the Canon Rebel SL1 fit? Simple, I needed something with a decently high resolution, something with what I could capture images with high enough quality that I could sell, but at the same time as small and light as possible. For sometime, I’ve been looking for a camera that I could grab at moments notice, in an unassuming kit to grab some images. When I go to the College World Series, for instance, those cameras stand out way too much, and are big to lug around. When I hike in the backcountry of Colorado for days on end, losing weight in the pack is essential and I hate leaving the wrong lens behind. The SL1 is the perfect balance of weight and picture quality.

How is the capture experience?

Once I received my SL1, I decided to take it out and photograph subjects that I would have normally captured, nature and wildlife images. I loaded it up with my 50 mm macro lens and my 500 f/4 and headed out to Schramm State Recreation Area to see how it would perform.

Two goslings huddle together as a third keeps watch at Schramm State Recreation Area in eastern Nebraska.

During this time of the year at Schramm, the flowers are blooming and goslings are waddling around the ponds. For most shots you can get close enough to the goslings without bothering the parents with just a 300mm. On this day I went all out with my 500 f4/l and walked around without a tripod or monopod. At first it was different getting used to having the only a little more than weight of the lens, but I found the reduction surprisingly nice. With less weight I felt I was able to move around easier to get low and get some shots of them. In this case I hit the limit of 4 fps quickly, but the buffer emptied in enough time to not cause me too much pain.

A blue heron stands silently at Schramm State Recreation Area in eastern Nebraska.

After working with my fuzzy, young subjects for a while, I saw a heron had come to visit the ponds. Quietly, I moved a bit closer. This made him a bit nervous and he would take off and fly to the other side of the ponds. When he took off, I tried multiple times to capture him in flight. Here, one limitation of the camera affected my ability to get a good flight shot – the viewfinder size. The SL1′s viewfinder is small, especially in comparison to a 5D Mark II and it makes tracking moving subjects more difficult. I’m sure it’s something I can adjust to a degree, but it is a disadvantage. I also reached the buffer on the shots and it just would not empty fast enough. Of course, this isn’t a 1D Mark X or even a 50D so I didn’t expect that, but I still wanted to see how it would handle this real-world situation.

A row of redish bleeding hearts grow outside the museum at Schramm State Recreation Area.

Lastly, I moved on to the blooming flowers, bleeding hearts and columbine. For these images, I mated Canon’s newest camera to Canon’s oldest EF lens, the 50 CM. The autofocus on the 50 CM isn’t the best, scratch that, it’s terrible, but on the SL1 it seemed to perform well on the static subjects, almost better than on my 50D.

How is the picture quality?

Of course, everything hangs on the picture quality. On these images, I didn’t really push the ISO and I didn’t really test the dynamic range, but from my experience the picture quality on these images was top notch. I was impressed by the sharpness and color fidelity. I had always hoped that my G10 would be my compact image capture device, but I never felt the quality was there, especially above ISO 200. On the Rebel SL1 I used ISO 200 to 800 and could barely tell a difference. I did not test the JPG as I never use JPGs and am a firm believer that once the basics of photography are mastered that is the first thing that should change in a workflow.

How was the movie capture?

One of my defined primary uses of the SL1 was to capture HD movies, mainly home movies. The G10 was solely standard definition and although I could get movies with the 5D Mark II, I found that it was a bit bulky to carry to my daughters’ events. The SL1 fits nicely into a small bag and allows me to get the quality video I want without going gear overboard. I am mainly a stills guy, but I feel like the quality of video is high and has a lot of potential. Filmmakers will be a little more discerning in this area, but it was a big step up for me from my G10 for sure.

What are the negatives?

The downsides I ran into when using the SL1 are the buffer, which I expected, the small viewfinder, the lack of AF micro adjustment, and the lack of ISO choices. I’ve heard you don’t need the AF micro adjustment when using contrast AF, which is fine, except when photographing moving subjects, then it’s too slow and traditional AF is what you need making this a negative for me. Also, although I don’t use the incremental ISOs much I sometimes choose them when I need just a little more speed without going to the next full ISO.

What are the positives?

Since I’ve only used Canon cameras that had a quickdial, the interface on the Rebel SL1 was a little different for me. Once I realized the capability of the SL1′s touchscreen, I was sold. To be honest, when I first read about it, I thought it was a novelty and wouldn’t really change how I use the camera, but I was wrong. I loved being able to quickly choose my settings or pinch-zoom my photographs to quickly check for sharpness. So much so that I would look for the feature on any new camera I purchase. Lastly, I like the range I can compensate for exposure. On my previous cameras, I could only go down or up 2 stops, on this camera I can move 5 stops in any direction, although bracketing is still limited to 2 stops.

A singular Columbine grows in the shade of a tree at Schramm State Recreation Area.

Do I recommend the camera?

If you’re a novice, this camera has everything you would need and more from. If you are a professional looking for the lightest weight camera with the highest quality image files, this is the camera for you. The SL1 will not replace my other cameras, it is only meant to compliment them when I need a small, light kit. Using this camera is a joy and I look forward to seeing what can be done with the Canon Rebel SL1.

don zeck lens cap

 MEET THE AUTHOR

Derrald_Farnsworth-Livingston

While growing up, Derrald’s parents took him on several trips across the United States to numerous national parks. It was on these trips that Derrald grew a love for the outdoors which we wished to explore and share with others. Photography was a natural result, an endeavor that Derrald began at a young age and continued to explore in years to come.

While pursuing a Bachelors degree at Creighton University, he enrolled in all of the photography courses. With these courses he learned the fundamentals of chemical darkrooms, light, balance, and exposure. After college he continued to explore the art and develop his own technique and style and choose to focus on nature and scenic photography as his primary subjects, although he is not hesitant to point the lens at anything.

Amongst the images of majestic mountains and the crashing waves of the ocean, one can find photographs of the prairies, lakes, and wetlands of the American Great Plains and Midwest. Some of these images are the artist’s favorites as they show the expansive heartland of the United States and the subtle beauty of the area surrounding his home. Through the right balance of subject, composition, and light, Derrald strives to transport the viewer into the composition.

Derrald has won numerous awards and exhibited in several solo and group shows regionally. His work has also appeared in several regional and national magazines, calendars, websites, and postcards. He continues to live and work in Omaha with his family.

Visit Derrald’s website Journey Of Light Photography http://www.journeyoflight.com/blog/ to read his other articles.   His images may be ordered from his store at http://store.journeyoflight.com.

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Why I like the Nikon 300mm f/4 0D ED-IF AF-S Lens and the D800 Camera

My last two weeks have been about testing lenses because in just seven weeks I will be off to Kenya for 10 days of safari shooting. So, I have been out practicing for the trip.

Nikon 300mm
One big change has been the availability of the Nikon D800 camera. One can switch between FX and DX shooting quite easily, which means if you have a 300mm lens, by shooting in DX mode, one is now shooting at 450mm! But, of course, in so doing one is giving up lots of resolution.

The settings yield different resolutions.

  • FX format (36 x 24): 7,360 x 4,912 (L), 5,520 x 3,680 (M), 3,680 x 2,456 (S)
  • 1.2x (30 x 20): 6,144 x 4,080 (L), 4,608 x 3,056 (M), 3,072 x 2,040 (S)
  • DX format (24 x 16): 4,800 x 3,200 (L), 3,600 x 2,400 (M), 2,400 x 1,600 (S)
  • 5:4 (30 x 24): 6,144 x 4,912 (L), 4,608 x 3,680 (M), 3,072 x 2,456 (S)

So, a DX format shot will yield a 15.3 Megapixel image, as compared to a FX format shot which will yield a 35.1 Megapixel image. The DX format is a tradeoff, but it is there for those of us who simply cannot afford to buy a 400mm lens.

There are other choices as well. One can choose the 1.2x mode, shoot in FX format, and get a 25 Megapixel image. This means that a 300mm lens becomes a 360mm lens.

Or, if you really need reach you can shoot in 1.2x mode, FX format, use a 1.4x extender, and wind up with a 882mm lens! (300mm X 1.2x X 1.5x X 1.4x = 882mm). Cool, huh?

In sum, the D800 and 300mm f/4 Lens along with a 1.4x extender is one heck of a great combination. And, what I like about it, is that the combination is thousands of dollars less than buying a Nikon 400mm lens alone.

So, how good is the 300mm f/4 lens? Well, I gotta tell you, it is simply awesome, one of the sharpest lenses I have ever used. It is simply superb.

Read The Full Article Here

Don Zeck Lens Cap

 MEET THE AUTHOR

Bill LockhartBill is a retired Courts Administrator of one of the largest trial courts in the United States. He is also a retired Lieutenant Colonel, US Army National Guard, in which he served for 30 years.  He holds a BSJ from the University of Florida School of Journalism, is a Fellow of the Institute for Court Management, a graduate of the US Army Command and General Staff College, and the US Army Inspector General School.  His photographic experience spans four decades; his photographic awards are too numerous to list, but include well over 100 photographs of the day, photographs of the week, and photographs of the month, at many Internet forums.  He travels extensively throughout the world, his most recent trips include journeys to South Africa, Tanzania, Alaska, Scotland, the Farne Islands, Poland, the American North West, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Slovenia, and Orkney.  From the jungles of Panama and Honduras, to the mountains of Europe, to the awesome islands of Scotland, to the islands of the Galapagos, from the coastal regions of Alaska,  to the intense heat of tropical Africa, Bill constantly searches for the “light that dances.”

Click here to visit Bill’s website. 

All photos and content Copyright © 2013 Bill Lockhart Photography, all rights reserved. Unauthorized duplication of photos and content is strictly prohibited.

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