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Managing Light

Recently another photographer was kind enough to rework one of my photographs. I learned through him that Photoshop CS6, specifically ACR, was a game-changer.  Why? Because one can manage light much more effectively when opening a RAW file.

Soon thereafter, I upgraded from CS5 to CS6. I am glad I did!

One of the single most difficult issues in processing digital images is the continuing issue of highlights and shadows. If one exposes for highlights, shadows overpower the photograph. If one exposes for shadows, highlights are almost always blown out.

Photoshop CS6, specifically when working with ACR, one gets the following options, which differ dramatically from what one sees in CS5.

image001

Note the “Highlights” and “Shadows” sliders. These differ from CS5 where one has options for “Recovery” and “Fill Light.” The new sliders in CS6 make a world of difference in containing highlights and pulling details out of darks.

Here are some examples, click on any one of them to see a larger image:

Cheetah in Grass

In the original image of the Cheetah, the whites were very bright as were the highlights in its body. Using CS6 I was able to save the details of the whites while pulling out more detail in the Cheetah’s body.

A Different Point of View

In the image of the four Giraffes, the lone Giraffe was blown out and when trying to compensate by changing the exposure the details in the foreground Giraffes were lost. Now both are saved.

Two Cheetahs

In the above photograph, the Cheetah on the left was overexposed as were the highlights on the Cheetah on the right. Using CS6, I was able to recover the whites and pull out more of the details in the shadow areas.

Grazing Cape Buffalo

In the last example, I was able to pull out more details of the Cape Buffalo’s dark skin yet keep the highlights of the grasses in check.

OK Bill, show me an original shot and how CS6 changed it.  Here we go:

Original Shot

Original

After Editing in CS6 ACR

After, Edited With CS6

Kinda cool huh?

What has me excited is that I can now go back to old photographs I shot years ago and pull out details I never thought were possible. As in this shot of a Big Horn Ram, photographed in Glacier National Park.

Eyes on Me

In sum, as software continues to improve, many of our older photographs can be revisited because what was not possible two years ago is today.

If you haven’t bought or upgraded to Photoshop CS6, I highly recommend that you do so. Please note that I do not use the Creative Cloud, I simply upgraded CS5 to CS6 for $200. It was well worth the price. Hopefully, Adobe will allow users like myself to upgrade from time to time without getting into the Creative Cloud concept. I detest the new Adobe business model, but I do have a great deal of respect for Adobe’s engineers, they are the best in the world. Too bad Adobe does not match its engineers with good managers – I know, that is too much to ask.

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 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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BEHIND THE LENS – Art of Desertification

Aerial photography allows us to present a totally different perspective of nature to the viewer. Complicated habitats and ecosystems are simplified into patterns, and the world looks to be a series of graphic designs. Some are well-done, and some are not, and finding scenes that combine light and composition is the challenge of the aerial photographer.

I’ve had the chance to photograph from a helicopter, from an ultralight, and from a gyro plane. Each has its pros and cons, but all will get you up above your scene and offer the chance to capture stunning images. For the image featured here, I was shooting from a Gyro. The freedom of shooting is great since there are no struts, and it’s easy to shoot out either side. But, these things bounce around like a rubber ducky in a bathtub! I shot the whole first session while fighting back nausea. Of course, the motion sickness is made even worse when one is looking through the camera viewfinder than fixing on the horizon. The second day I took a dramamine, and that was much better!

GB858_Snapseed

During these sessions, I was photographing the tropical dry forests of Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province. In addition to some wider scenics, I wanted to produce an image or two that had really strong light and would make the viewer think twice about whether they were actually looking at a picture from Costa Rica. If the image could also tell a story, that would be the icing on the cake. The image below, which depicts a scrubby patch of ground at last light, looks like it might be from another planet or maybe another continent to me. But desertification is exactly what happens over time when tropical dry forests are cut down for cattle and then overgrazed, an all too common story in northwest Costa Rica.

 

 

TECH NOTES: Canon 5DII, Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 L IS zoom lens, polarizer, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO 1000, handheld (duh!)

PROCESSING NOTES: Full-frame/no cropping, standard tweaks and a bit of vignette in Lightroom, cloned out one small bush at the top right of the frame. I couldn’t avoid this bush in-camera so, unfortunately, this makes this image a no-go for contests but I think it’s still a success for my coffee table book.

GEAR & SETTINGS

For aerial shooting, it’s good to have two camera bodies with different lenses. Generally, you’ll want to have coverage from about 30 mm to 300 mm (in full-frame sensor terms) in my experience. Going much wider than 30 mm often means including aircraft parts in the frame, and going longer than 300 mm just has never seemed necessary. For this reason, I chose to pair my Canon 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 L IS zoom lens with my full-frame Canon 5DII body. I then used my 17-40 mm L wide angle zoom with either my Canon 1D Mark IV or my son Chris’ Canon 60D, giving me the equivalent of 22 to 52 mm and 27 to 64 mm coverage, respectively.

GB859_Snapseed

Image stabilization (or VR or OS, depending on your lens brand) is helpful, particularly at longer focal lengths. At wider focal lengths (where subject magnification is less), I don’t think it’s as important. I’ve found that keeping my shutter speed above 1/500 or so was fine for most situations. If zooming in tight, however, I tried to keep the speed a little faster because any shake/vibration would be more visible at higher magnifications, though I still was taking advantage of the very good IS on my 70-300 mm zoom.

A controversial issue surrounds the use of polarizing filters for aerial photography. Some argue that the loss of light (2 stops with most polarizers) and/or the potentially uneven polarization effects across wide areas of skies makes use of polarizers problematic. Nonetheless, I’ve found that the benefits in removing reflections, cutting atmospheric haze, and saturating colors outweigh the aforementioned drawbacks.

I choose to shoot in manual mode when doing aerial photography for two reasons. First, it’s what I shoot most of the time, so it’s the most automatic for me in terms of manipulating the dials and buttons. Second, though aperture priority or shutter priority could have merit in maintaining basic parameters even while light changes, I liked the consistency of manual mode. In most cases the light falling on my scenes was constant. Once I had set my exposure via partial metering (partial seemed best to me to meter off larger tonal areas than spot would allow) off of some reference point (forest, ocean, etc.) I would not have to change my settings except in a gradual fashion as the sun rose in the sky (for morning shoots) or began to set (for the afternoon shoots). The exposure situation did change radically, however, depending on whether I was shooting into the sun or with the sun behind me. To deal with this issue, I simply knew that I could dial in a set number of clicks on shutter speed when shooting into the light. Once I resumed shooting on the other side of the craft, I would dial the shutter speed back down. Of course, in some instances I would work ISO or aperture as needed for different framing situation (e.g., due to changing magnification when zooming in or out) but in general, I was pretty well set with my configuration for the two basic scenarios of sun in my face or sun at my back.

Another consideration with aerial photography surrounds focus. I actually like the old AI focus mode for aerial shooting as it’s somewhere in between servo and static shot modes. But, many camera bodies these days don’t have this choice. As a result, I tend to use servo focus mode, particularly when zooming in for tighter shots as movement is magnified. I used expanded points around the center point, and this has always worked out fine. I shoot in continuous low burst mode and fire off a controlled burst with each shot I’ve lined up as I’ve found that at least one out of three is likely to be tack sharp.

When shooting from the air, your space is often limited. In addition, anything that is not strapped down can fly out of the craft, meaning you will lose it but more importantly, creating a possible safety issue. Take only what you need (no lens hoods!) and make sure everything is easily accessible but secure. Here’s me below looking like a dork but actually quite well-prepared for my aerial photography session over the tropical dry forest. In my little hip pack I also had rain covers for my cameras and a rain jacket for me.

Greg-Blue-Steel

COMPOSITION

When doing aerial photography, you’ll have a nice headset communication with the pilot. The pilots with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work have all been great at getting me into the position I want and super patient when I’ve asked them to go around and around again when I see something I really like. For the image featured here, I wanted be absolutely straight above my scene to avoid depth of field issues (light was fading fast as you can see from the long shadows) but also to keep a flat perspective for this graphic shot. Great positioning and a quick tilt by my pilot allowed me to get the shot.

GB865_Snapseed

With my exposure dialed in and with the Gyro positioned to taste, it was now time to think about composition. I knew I wanted a pleasing arrangement of scrubby bushes and shadows and after a bit of zooming in and out, I was able to find a patch of ground where these elements conformed loosely to an S-curve. I think this really helps the viewer’s eye to move through the frame from bottom right to left middle and then up again to the top right.

s-curve

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 technical 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 (or up in the air!).

RESOURCES

EJ Peiker wrote a great article a few years ago on photographing from a helicopter. The suggestions are great for any type of aerial photography. I suggest youcheck it out at NatureScapes.

Vincent Laforet’s awesome aerial work is always an inspiration. I just love his eye for design from the air. For some examples, check out this gallery.

You can see more of my own aerial work here on this website.

 

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 MEET THE AUTHOR

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 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.  

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Seeing in the Field, Part II

The introduction to this series of collaborative entries was posted in mid-August; the initial series post, where Tom’s image was dissected for it’s in-the-field cues, can be viewed here.

This time around, it’s my image that we’re working with; Tom will be asking the questions that form the skeleton of the dialogue that succeeds the scene setting aspect of the post.  The goal, again, is to try to determine what it was about the scene that caught the photographer’s attention and encouraged him to photograph the subject in the presented manner.

As always, we encourage remarks and questions.  Please post them in the comments section below.

Setting the Scene

Kerry:  When I was in the Smokies this past April I decided to explore a trail that I’d never hiked previously.  The Middle Prong Trail emanates from the end of the road at Tremont and extends for miles into the back country.  I wandered along it, ultimately, for a couple of miles before finally turning around and heading back.  I knew that the trail paralleled a tributary of the Little River, but that’s about all I knew about it.

For about half a mile the trail runs along a bluff, well above creek level.  You can see the rushing water below you and to the left (as you hike up-trail), but there’s a tremendous amount of scattered foliage and snags that eliminates most clear views.  Eventually, I heard what sounded like a waterfall and came upon what I later determined was Lynn Camp Prong Falls.  The waterfall is visible from the trail, but I didn’t much care for the composition from bluff level, so I decided to investigate more closely.  I had to do some scrambling down a hillside and over some boulders to get down to creek level, and I found myself at the base of a gusher of a waterfall with a gradual drop of about 35 feet.  The power of the falls was impressive, but from the bottom I couldn’t find anything in the way of a composition that I found appealing, so I decided to climb up the rather steep rock facing on the right-hand side of the waterfall to see if I could find a workable comp.  (I should note that it was a partly to mostly cloudy day, with the sun disappearing from view for occasional lengthy stretches of time).

The position was a bit precarious, but I found a spot with a much more compelling–to me–perspective.

Lynn Camp Prong Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Image Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved

From this spot, the water had split into several discrete flows that ultimately rejoined in the crescendo that poured into the creek that is Lynn Camp Prong.  This amounted to looking downstream, which is a perspective I usually eschew when photographing moving water, but there was something particularly evocative about it, I thought, in this instance.  In addition to maintaining a discernible contiguous line through the frame–which was very much on my mind as I positioned myself–I felt this view demonstrated the power of the cataract–perhaps not as emphatically as a spot at the bottom or the side might have done–without losing the sense of depth that was only available from atop the falls.

Obviously the waterfall was the center of interest; that was revealed from up on the trail.  But the exercise ultimately became a quest to find a way to reveal the subject in a manner that I found at least somewhat aesthetically and compositionally pleasing while still revealing the true character of the place.  Whether I accomplished that goal is in the eye of the beholder.

The Dialogue

Tom:  The main element, to my eye anyway, is the sinuous stretch of running water at the center third of the frame. That flow makes an abrupt turn away from the viewer at the lower left. Water always follows its path, so this works as illustration of the topography of the rock. Did this apparent incongruity influence your composition?

Kerry:  I was definitely influenced by the path of the flow, though not necessarily by any incongruity caused by it.  I liked the way the path of the water helps to naturally encourage the eye to zigzag through the frame.

Tom:  A secondary element is the presence of what appears to be lichen on the rock. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Since it usually grows in dry places, its presence within the flow of water suggests that this falls is dry most of the time. Is this correct? If so, then the flow of water here is an unusual event.

Kerry:  The main part of the waterfall–the part that’s represented in the image by the particularly powerful area of flow toward the top-center of the frame–is never dry.  But the part in the foreground is only wet when the water level of Lynn Camp Prong is particularly high–as it was this spring (these were the highest water levels I’ve ever seen in the Smokies, a function of an especially wet winter and early spring).

By the way, lichen is ubiquitous in the Smokies; it’s all over rocks and trees throughout pretty much every section of the park.

Tom: I agree with you about downstream views of falls generally not working all that well. They tend to have a past tense “been there, done that” quality. However, would a wider downstream view have provided the viewer with a denouement to the drama of the cataract, or do you feel that all of the important elements available were included?

Kerry:  I don’t think a wider downriver view would have even been possible.  The creek bends roughly 90 degrees behind the large boulder you see in the upper left-hand quadrant of the frame.  To the extent this shot works, I think it’s a function of the rather unique perspective that’s afforded here; you’re perched nearly at the top of this particularly waterfall tier (there are several distinct tiers above this one).

Epilogue

Kerry:  Sometimes, some fairly prosaic matters can impact how something is shot.  It was the waterfall that initially attracted me to this scene, obviously.  But I found the initial, straight forward perspectives unappealing.  I might have shot a head-on, upstream shot of Lynn Camp Prong Falls, but I couldn’t find an appealing perspective from alongside the creek and, possibly critically, since I was on an extended hike, I didn’t have my knee-high waterproof boots with me, making the investigation of (possibly) intriguing spots in the water impossible.  You can’t tell by glancing at the above image, but the waterfall had kind of a right-to-left flow, when looking at it from below, so I would have to get quite wet to get most of the falls in a shot from below.  The inability to explore in-the-creek shots surely played a role in my decision to climb up to the top of the cataract.

Next in the series:  Attempts to Identify Common Themes

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Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, 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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Seeing in the Field, Part I

In an entry, posted about two months ago, I provided an introduction to a series of collaborative exchanges planned between myself and my friend, photographer Tom Robbins.  For more information about what we hope to accomplish, broadly speaking, check the prior linked post.

Here’s the first installment of the series.  The basic exercise was to introduce a single image that was produced from an excursion to a place ostensibly unfamiliar to the photographer.  The notion was to flesh out the ideas behind recognizing a photo opportunity that wasn’t preceded by any obvious preconceptions.  In other words, the purpose of the excursion was to see what popped up–it wasn’t a case of going to a location to photograph something specific.

We started by having Tom present an image that resulted from one of these excursions, and he’ll set the scene.  We then engaged in a dialogue to hopefully expand up on and clarify aspects of the in-the-field thought process that followed.  The image itself will be included below, as will a link to a larger version that resides on his Website.

In the next installment in the series, we’ll switch roles; I’ll provide the image and set the scene and Tom will ask the questions.

We heartily encourage readers to post remarks and ask questions in the comment section below, and hope you get something out of this entry.

==============================================

Setting the Scene

Tom:  The leaves have several weeks to go yet in the Midwest [this was originally written in late September — KL] before they reach peak color, so I spent this morning atWhite Pines State Park, in Ogle County, Illinois to explore the landscape possibilities. I remembered the general layout of the place from visits as a kid with family a few decades ago, so this was essentially an exploration of new territory. Tripod and camera with 45mm and 90mm tilt shift lenses were on hand—I’ve forgotten how to hike without that gear—but only for chance opportunities. The primary goal was to establish familiarity with the area.

Late Summer, Ogle County, Illinois Image Copyright 2013 Tom Robbins, All Rights Reserved

I chose a trail that ran along the eastern edge of the park. The choice was not random as the morning sun had cleared the horizon just a few minutes earlier. A forested area with direct sunlight, even early in the morning, will present dynamic range problems more often than not. The east edge of the park would hopefully allow an unobstructed wash of early sunlight over farm fields, and so reduce the likelihood of “hot spots.”

The strategy didn’t really work within the park itself, but things turned around when I hopped over a maintenance gate and found a gravel county road running north and south. The view southward was OK, but the northward view drew me in. A railroad crossing was off in the distance, and there was no particular subject beyond that. However, the disparate elements of the simple scene seemed to fit together like the tumblers of a lock. Such a gestalt may work as a photograph, or not, but it will certainly be a logical construct. Very often the appeal at first sight is subconscious, with analysis following later.

Link to larger image:  http://www.pbase.com/image/152551879/original

In this instance, the warm oak trees and grass alongside the road on the left are a starting point; a home base for the eye. The backlit scruffy woods on the right provide some late summer color, and the cool blue sky mirrors the path of the road. Aside from that, I just can’t seem to pass up young shadows crossing a road.

The Dialogue

Kerry:  For me–strictly as a viewer of the image, the first thing that catches my eye–and the “center of interest” (for lack of a better term)–is the road.  It’s lighter in tone than virtually all of the other elements, so it has a natural tendency to draw my attention first, but there’s more to it than that, in this case.  It’s providing a kind of entryway into the image, both literally and figuratively.

Tom:  You’re absolutely right. Oddly enough, I tend to take the existence of roads for granted these days. After the number of my farm and rural photographs grew into a sizable collection, I noticed that most of them included roads, lanes, and such. My first thought was that I’d fallen into a rut, but then realized that the Midwest is covered by a network of roads, most of them in quarter to half mile grids wherever the terrain allows. They were originally created in the early to mid 19th century, and are an essential and common part of the landscape.

Kerry:  Did this principle figure into your decision to make this image when you were in the field–either consciously or unconsciously?  Do you see the road as a crucial element (meaning, in your view, can you see having made an image here at all without its presence)?


Tom:  Yes, the road is a key element, but at this stage it’s an almost subconscious one. Good question about its being crucial. I’d say it is absolutely crucial. Not only is it a means of transportation, it also provides a lane for the utility poles. The open sky above the road would not exist but for the road.

Kerry:  I like what the light is doing here, but I can also imagine this shot working in, say, even light.  Would you agree with that assessment or do you feel that these lighting conditions were a necessary component to the shot?


Tom:  Ah, it may very well work in even light, especially with fog or mist. I doubt the scene would have captured my interest to the same degree without the direct early light, however. The light ran through a gauntlet of trees and brush at the right side of the frame and enough made it through to light up the road and the woods on the left side. The direct lighting was a necessary component for recognizing the composition at a glance. The composition in even light light would require a more subtle and contemplative eye to appreciate, and would have resulted in a completely different photograph, of course.

Kerry:  Finally, re your (in my opinion, entirely correct) assessment that “very often the appeal at first sight is subconscious, with analysis following later.”  Is that what happened here?  Was this just a case of your finding the scene inexplicably appealing at the time of capture or were you aware of the why(s) of that appeal when you saw it?

Tom:  Yes, I’d say so. I’m out with the camera just about every day now, and seem to hike around on auto pilot most of the time. Then, smack dab in the middle of thinking about my neighbor’s dog waking me up last night, a scene will stop me in my tracks. Without any apparent thought at all, the pieces of the jigsaw suddenly fit together and the tripod jumps off my shoulder for the shot. I can’t say how unusual this is, but it has evidently become my m.o. these last couple of years.

Next in the series:  Seeing in the Field, Part II:  My image and answers, Tom’s questions

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Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, 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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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.

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 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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Photographing a Waterfall in a Flash Flood: A Lesson in Visualization

Flash Flood in Entrajo Canyon, Utah

Several years ago, even before we moved to Moab, I discovered a little side canyon while exploring one of the many four-wheel drive roads in the area.  As I do with all locations I stumble across that have photographic potential I made a mental note and went on my way.  A few weeks ago I returned to the canyon to determine if it still held the potential I remembered from my first visit.  While there I couldn’t help but imagine a torrent of water pouring over the cliff and landing in the pool in a great swirl of mist.   I knew it would only take one good thunderstorm to produce the flash flood that would make it all happen.  This being monsoon season in the desert, I didn’t have to wait long for rain to fall.

On Friday my family and I decided to visit the canyon to see if the recent bout of precipitation was enough to kick start the waterfall.  We arrived in a light sprinkle and I was disappointed to find a dryfall where I’d expected to see the falls.  We stuck around for a while, I threw rocks in the pool with my son and we left to drive down the road to the creek.  Less than ten minutes later we returned to the little canyon.  As we approached I heard the distinctive roar of a powerful waterfall emanating from the canyon.  At the wash I caught my first glimpse of the red, muddy water quickly filling the pool and then rushing toward us – a formidable creek appearing where seconds earlier there had been a dry wash.  I whipped out my iPhone 4S and recorded about 30 seconds of video as the water approached and then passed directly under our vehicle.

Waterfall in Entrajo Canyon II, UtahI parked on the other side of the knee deep creek and started scouting for a way to get back to the waterfall that didn’t involve crossing the flooded wash.  There wasn’t one.  I decided that if I wanted an opportunity to make the photos I’d visualized I would have to cross the wash not once, but twice.  The water wasn’t deep and the wash was wide enough that the flow wasn’t dangerously swift.  I crossed with ease and walked up stream to the second crossing.  This one was narrower, which meant the water was deeper and with a stronger current.  I entered the stream and found myself knee deep at the mid-point.  At the other side I was excited to discover that I had a splendid view of the waterfall!  I set up my tripod and went to work making images for half an hour from beside and in the middle of the flooded wash.

Though I certainly don’t advocate standing in the middle of a flooded wash, the lesson here is simple:  Keep an open mind and think creatively when you’re out exploring.  You never know what photographic wonders you might discover!

If you’re interested in watching a 30 second clip of the waterfall and resultant floodwater here’s a link to it on YouTube.  It’s just a handheld video on my iPhone 4s with no editing but still it depicts some interesting weather phenomenon.

Equipment Used: Canon 5D MKII, Canon 24-105mm lens, Induro CT213 tripod, Acratech GP ballhead, Singh-Ray Ultrathin Circular Polarizer, Adobe Lightroom 4, Nik Software Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

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 www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.  Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

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TECHNIQUE – 15 TIPS FOR RAINFOREST MACRO

Macro photography, defined loosely, is the photography of small things. In temperate zones, where habitats tend to be more open and blessed with nice morning and afternoon light, macro photographers often use tripods, small apertures, and natural light. This approach can produce wonderful images.

In tropical rainforests and cloud forests, however, light is at a premium, particularly in the deep forest where the interesting plants and creatures live. Costa Rica, where I live and work, originally was 99.5% forest. That number is a lot smaller these days but the areas outside of forest are cities, towns, agricultural fields, and cow pastures. To photograph the abundant macro subjects here, you have to get into the forest!

The lack of light means that the traditional temperate zone approach, even with the improved high ISO performance of modern DSLR camera bodies, can be applied only sparingly in the rainforest. The rainforest macro photographer needs to experiment with other techniques. The advantage is that this experimentation can open the door to creatively fresh images.

Any photographic portfolio is made more interesting by showcasing a diversity of image styles. In this little article, I offer fifteen ideas to help you deal with the challenges of rainforest macro photography while at the same time producing original, artistic images of the stunning biodiversity found in tropical rain forests.


1. Use diffused flash

The low light levels mean that flash can be your best friend in the rainforest, as it allows you to obtain good depth of field with reasonable shutter speeds. This also gives you great flexibility as you can work handheld rather than trying to thread tripod legs through the tangled underbrush while your subject just hopped away to the next leaf. Rainforest creatures and flowers are wet and shiny though, so you’ll want to make sure to diffuse your flash. This suggestion stands whether you’re using a built-in flash, a dedicated macro flash, or a larger hotshoe flash. Work carefully, and you can achieve full-flash images that look like they were taken in daylight.

beetle

 

I took this photo of a small beetle in a lowland rainforest with one diffused flash. Flash was the only light source; no ambient light influenced the exposure. A natural light shot would have been impossible due to a slight breeze and the fact that the subject was moving around. Flash allowed me to work handheld.


2. Combine flash and natural light

You don’t always have to ditch your tripod. I still use mine when I can. Even when working from a tripod and using natural light, however, a bit of fill-flash can really help to make your subject pop and to add extra sharpness at marginal shutter speeds.

cloud forest orchids

 

I used a touch of fill-flash (flash exposure compensation was -2) for this image of tiny Epidendrum orchid flowers shot at 1/15 of a second.


3. Get your flash off-camera

Though at first glance, rainforests are just a bunch of smooth shiny leaves, there’s actually a lot of texture out there. Using flash on-camera, that is directly from the front of the subject, tends to wipe out texture. In addition, frontal flash is rarely very interesting. Getting your flash off-camera, either with a TTL cord or a wireless flash trigger, is a great way to add interest to rainforest macro photos by bringing out the texture in your subject and also adding micro-contrast, which makes photos appear even sharper.

rainforest textures

 

One flash held off-camera above and behind the subject allowed me to highlight the texture on both the Heliconia inflorescence and the moth caterpillar for this image. I liked this image because the lighting looks very much like what one would get on a sunny day in the rainforest – directional lighting and deep shaded backgrounds.


4. Use shadows for a mysterious look

Rainforests rarely have even, open light. Shafts of light piercing the canopy and the resulting mix of light and shadow is more typical. Sometimes the natural light works in our favor and can give really dramatic images. Other times we can achieve a similar effect with our flash. Remember, in these cases and in the case of nocturnal creatures, black backgrounds can be completely appropriate and can add a dramatic though natural-looking element to rainforest macro images.

rain forest

Please click this link to continue reading Greg’s post.

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 MEET THE AUTHOR

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 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.  

 

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Namena Soft Corals 5

What can be better than photographing sunset? How about photographing sunset while underwater? A number of variables had to perfectly come together in order to shoot this scene, including the soft corals, colorful anthias, and dramatic low-angle sunlight. I especially like the dramatic sunbeams penetrating beneath the waves. I created this image using my Canon

Coral Photography

5DmkIII and a Tokina 17mm f3.5 lens inside my Ikelite 5DmkIII housing with an 8″ dome port and dual DS160 strobes. I processed the RAW file using Aperture 3 and Photoshop CS6, plus Nik Software’s Color Efex 4‘s white balance filter.

 

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MEET THE AUTHOR

Jon Cornforth photographing surf on the North Shore of OahuJon Cornforth is an award-winning wilderness photographer whose images have been recognized internationally for their masterful composition and incredible detail. He’s compelled to express the beauty of the natural world through his photography, traveling all year, challenging himself in new locations and documenting the unique creatures who live there. All of his images are captured in the wild. He believes in supporting environmental groups and raising awareness through photography. He lives in Seattle, WA with his wife, Daisy, daughters, Maddy and Chloe, and Boston terrier, Buni.   

Click here to visit Jon’s website.   

Cornforth Images are copyright protected. Cornforth Images are available to be licensed for a fee and can not be used without permission.

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The Rest Of Spring

As the last few posts have surely implied, my main photo opp this past spring was my trip to the Smokies in mid-April, but I was able to get out with the camera closer to home on a few occasions and I thought I’d share a few of those images.

Virginia Bluebells

I was wandering around the Morton Arboretum, located about 20 minutes from my Chicago-area base in DuPage County, Illinois on an unseasonably warm day in the first half of April.  This was very, very early in the spring blooming season, so as the trail I was on that traverses the Arboretum’s East Woods snaked its way along, I was treated to a mostly brown and gray landscape.  There were some small, early wildflowers in bloom, but not many.  This was, in any case, not a photo excursion; I didn’t have my gear with me.

 Kerry morton_arb_2602-2611_hf

During that hike, I spotted a large patch of green–which stood out like the proverbial sore thumb–well off the path, and I wandered over to take a look.  I had to hop a small stream, but I was able to get close to the sprouting plants, and I could tell that these were Virginia Bluebells in a very early stage of growth.  I was aware of several stands of Bluebells in other parts of the Arboretum, but I’d never known about this stand.  This was a far larger spread of plants than the other areas I was aware of, and I made a mental note to check back another time, when they were likely to be in bloom.

Photography

 

You can read the rest of Kerry’s blog post by clicking here.

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Kerry-Leibowitz

 Hi, 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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A Bird’s Eye View of My Workflow with Lightroom 4, Nik Software Plug-Ins & Photoshop CS5

Shafer CanyonA few weeks ago I was asked a question about my digital darkroom workflow by one of my private photography tour clients.  He enjoyed making digital images but admitted that he wasn’t sure what to do with them once they landed on his computer.  I asked if he was using Lightroom and learned that he wasn’t.  I explained a few of the major advantages in using Lightroom to process RAW images and he was instantly sold on it.  I also explained that I make extensive use of Nik Software plug-ins from within Lightroom.  My client went home and purchased Lightroom 4 as well as the Nik Complete Collection.   Soon thereafter I received an email from him asking me to describe how I use Lightroom, the Nik plug-ins and Photoshop within my workflow.  He didn’t need a tutorial on how to use each product.  Rather, he was curious what part each one played in the overall scope of my workflow.

I’ve been using Photoshop since 2002 and Lightroom since it launched in 2007.  I discovered the Nik plug-ins about two years ago.  Though I don’t consider myself an expert with any of them, I do admit that I take for granted my ability to use them to accomplish my artistic goals.  I hadn’t given much thought to how each piece of the image processing puzzle fits together until my client asked me to define how I use each one in my own workflow.  It occurred to me that I figured it all out on my own, through a process of trial and error.  Surely there is a more efficient way to learn how and when to use each tool.  With that in mind, I decided to share a macro look at my workflow with the hope that it will help other photographers who may be struggling to put the puzzle pieces together.

The first thing you should know is that the process I’ll describe is not the right way.  It’s not the wrong way, either.  It’s justmy way.   It’s what works for me and it’s taken a number of years to get here.  I’m offering this as a jumping off point.  It’ll give you the boost to get started and when you’re up and running, you’ll develop your own way of doing things.  If your way works for you, it’s the right way.  Find what works and run with it.  Now, let’s get on to the good stuff…

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4

Lightroom 4 is the workhorse of my workflow.  It does all the heavy lifting.  Lightroom 4 is the very first step in my workflow.  I import my RAW images from the CF card directly into Lightroom 4 using a folder hierarchy organized by state.  One of the biggest timesavers in Lightroom 4 is the ability to apply a keyword set to all imported images, which is a step I never, ever skip.  Once the RAW files are imported I embark upon the tedious and time consuming task of weeding through them to separate the keepers from the trash.

Once I’ve identified images that make the cut the next step is to add more specific keywords and titles.  I do this before I start processing the images simply to ensure that I don’t get so excited about the final image that I forget to update the metadata.  Hey, I’ve got a short attention span!  Now that the digital asset management crap is out of the way, the fun begins – processing those RAW files.

Lightroom was designed in such a way that, for the most part, you start at the top of the adjustment panel and work your way to the bottom.  This is not a “how to use Lightroom” tutorial and I’m not going to go into detail about each and every tool.  If that’s what you’re looking for I highly recommend Piet van Den Eynde’s excellent e-book, “Lightroom 4 Unmasked“.   Here’s a partial list of the adjustments available in Lightroom 4: dust spot removal, white balance, exposure, highlight and shadow recovery, white and black point, vibrance, saturation, contrast, curves adjustments, HSL (hue, saturation, luminance) color channel adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and more.  Lots more.  After making these global adjustments I’ll move on to fine tuning the image with local adjustments using the adjustment brush and/or graduated filter.  Global adjustments are those that affect the entire image as a whole.  Local adjustments target specific areas of the image.  Dodging and burning (selective darkening and lightening) are classic examples of local adjustments.

When I’m done making local adjustments the image is getting very close to final form.  For those of you who like percentages, let’s call it 75% to 85% complete.  Next up: Nik Software plug-ins.  I use these plug-ins on every single imageI process.

Nik Software Complete Collection

I prefer to make most of my creative edits using Nik Software plug-ins, primarily Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.  Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 shoulders the load for all of my black and white conversions.  The best analogy I can relate is this: I use Lightroom 4 as a broad brush would be used to paint an entire wall while the Nik plug-ins are akin to using a detail brush for trim pieces.  Ever notice how much more impact a door has when the trim is painted a contrasting color?  I find that my images are much more impactful when I use the Nik Complete Collection to make small creative edits.

Every image pays a visit to Viveza 2, where I often use Nik Control Points to make precise selections that allow me to make highly targeted adjustments to brightness, saturation, contrast, structure (very fine detail enhancement) and more.  I commonly use Viveza 2 to easily resolve white balance conflicts.  I also use Viveza 2 for more precise dodging and burning than is possible with Lightroom 4.  One of the major advantages in using Viveza 2 for this lies in the power of Nik’s Control Points, which allow you to select a certain color or tone with ease and without having to create complicated masks.  I don’t know what kind of insane algorithms are at work behind the scenes but the whole process is simple, powerful and very clean.

After Viveza 2 I’ll often bring an image into Color Efex Pro 4 for final creative edits.  Color Efex Pro 4 is essentially a collection of digital photo filters, some of which mimic the effects of their analog brethren like circular polarizers or graduated neutral density filters, while others exist only in the digital darkroom.  Contained within this amazing plug-in are filters that give foliage extra zing, landscapes more warmth and clouds more definition.  Every once in a while I’ll find myself flummoxed by an image with an odd color cast.  Luckily, there’s a Color Efex Pro 4 filter that zaps color casts in about 4 seconds flat.

In most cases, this trip through Nik Software plug-ins is the end of the line for my processing workflow and always takes place inside Lightroom.  When working with the Nik plug-ins you have the option to use them as a Lightroom or Photoshop plug-in.  The major advantage to using them inside Photoshop is the ability to save a layered file that allows you to go back and re-edit the image at any time.  This is not something that interests me.  It’s a personal choice and if you’re new to using the Nik plug-ins I encourage you to try both ways to gain an appreciation for your own workflow preference.

Adobe Photoshop CS5

Why not CS6 or CC?  Because I’m cheap, that’s why.  I work so infrequently in Photoshop that I see no need to upgrade to the latest and greatest version when the one I have now does everything I need it to do.  So, what do I need Photoshop to do?  If I’m working with multiple images to increase dynamic range or depth of field (exposure blending or focus stacking), Photoshop is the only way to get it done.  Very rarely do I ever have a need to do any kind of complicated cloning but when I do, it’s in Photoshop.  As I write this, I just learned that Lightroom 5 was released tonight and it now offers a more advanced heal/clone brush than has been included in any prior version.  I haven’t used it but I suspect it is still rudimentary when compared to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill capabilities.  Lastly, I still use Photoshop for printing.  Yes, you can print from within Lightroom 4 (and now, 5) and as I understand, it’s a pretty fluid process, but Photoshop still has its hooks in me when it comes to printing.

So, there it is.  A birds eye view of my digital darkroom workflow.  Remember: this is not the right workflow, nor is it the only workflow.  It’s a starting point for those of you who are just digging into Lightroom, Nik Software Complete Collection and/or Photoshop.  Try it out for a while and you’ll soon find yourself falling face first into your very own workflow.  It may be similar to mine or it could be completely different.  Either way, it’s not better or worse – just different. The most important thing is that you take that first step and allow yourself the freedom to experiment and create. Have fun!

 don zeck lens cap  

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 www.moabphotoworkshops.com. To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit www.bretedge.com.

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

 

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