A Lesson in Greek

So I’ve been saving this image for a rainy day… but seeing as it never rains here, I’ll just go ahead and post it. We happened to stop at an unnamed beach along the Oregon coast. OK, I’m sure the beach has a name, but I have no idea what it is. And it happened to be a super moon low tide, which means the tide was way out. Waaaaaaaaay out. I’ve never seen anything like it!!! The experience was positively magical.

If you’ve seen any of my previous posts, you probably know two things about me. 1. I LOVE to shoot the light. Any light. I’m quite obsessed with it. and 2. Every image needs an infusion of purple. I can’t help it. I’m quite obsessed with purple, too. But enough about purple, let’s talk about the light first.

Here is the original image (SOOC), shot just before sunset. This is an interesting time of day because it is not quite the golden hour, but the sun is not directly overhead, either.  A custom white balance would be ideal, but I didn’t bring an Expo Disc and in my excitement, didn’t bother to manually balance the color. After a few test shots, the daylight setting looked the closest to reality, so I went with it, knowing full well I would add some warm hues in post processing.

The super moon tide was incredible. The water level was so low, we could find anemones and starfish on the rock above eye level!

The super moon tide was incredible. The water level was so low, we could find anemones and starfish on the rock above eye level!

The purpose of this shot was not so much to capture the rock- although it IS amazing (and did I mention I am also obsessed with rock formations?) My main intent was to capture the LIGHT.

Now a word about light. If your subject is backlit, don’t be afraid to shoot it! Light is glorious! It is the source of life. It is energy. It is our friend.

In case you were wondering (which I’m sure you were), the word Photography has its roots in the Greek language. Photo means light. And Graphia means writing or drawing. So as Photo Graphers, we are literally “light writers.”Capturing light is our job, so let’s embrace it!

Besides, backlighting can make ordinary images extraordinary!

To capture this image, I employed that little light trick I’ve been telling you about. Position yourself so that the sun is JUST peeking out behind  your subject. You will probably need to maneuver around a bit to get it just so. I usually set up the shot by hiding the sun completely behind my subject, and then slowly allowing more and more light to peek out. Suddenly, BAM! Sun beams will shoot out all over the place when you’ve got it just right.

As for camera settings, the smaller the aperture (higher f-stop number) and the slower the shutter speed, the more light beams you will see. This was shot at 1/30, f/14, ISO 320. Take note: 1/30 is below the recommended shutter speed for hand holding, but if you exhale deeply and stiffen your arms against your chest, you can get the shot. Just make sure it’s not the ONLY shot you take in case you blur it.

Although sun flare does cause you to lose contrast and definition on  your subject, never fear. Sunflare does NOT plunge your subject into a dark, featureless silhouette. (In fact, silhouettes shots are quite intentional; they don’t happen by accident.) As you may have read in previous posts, the explosion of sun from behind your subject does something magical. It illuminates the front of your subject!

As for the edit, all I did was tweak the colors with a few of my favorite actions. If you shoot it right in camera, the editing is easy! First, I ran an MCP Fusion action called Ellie’s Field of Dreams, The color portion of the action increases the cyan, blue and magenta tones, particularly in the shadows. The One Click portion allows users to customize richness (brown gradient map), brightness, color intensity, etc. So I played around with each setting. Next, I ran a few actions from Oh So Posh’s Bohemian Symphony Collection. First up was Live Happy, which adds red tones and (surprise) purple. These I turned down very low, but you can see them in the shadow on the sand. Next I ran Petite Treat which basically adds a warming tone. Again, LOW OPACITY.

For the finishing touch, a little selective color pop on the sunbeams, and some sharpening.

Voila! Another fabulous experience in Light Writing!

Oregon coast flare

Reviving History

Wow! Three blog posts in one week! I LOVE SCHOOL VACATION!!!

So often I hear photographers say they are stuck in a rut, restless for the next photo opportunity. Believe me, as a nature photographer stuck in a city, nobody feels that way more than me! Too often photography is, “On the the next shoot!” After all, most of the thrill in this game is capturing the next image.

Someone once asked Henri Cartier Bresson which of his photos was his favorite, and he answered, “The next one.”

Too True.

I liken it to finding a really sweet deal on designer jeans at the mall. Ladies- you know what I mean. It’s that fantasy of the perfect fit, the “makes-me-look-two-sizes smaller” pair of $300 denim for only $40 bucks that keeps you pushing on, always hunting for a great bargain. Photography is no different. In fact, the neurological  “search” mechanism that gets activated in our brains, when hunting for the perfect photo (or the perfect Italian leather boots,) is the exact same neural pathway activated by crack/ cocaine. Not kidding. I read a book on it. We literally get “high” from searching. Much like shopping, it is totally possible to get addicted to photography.

…So NO WONDER we get so depressed when we haven’t used our cameras in a while! It’s withdrawl!!!

As for me, since very few days are filled with scenic vistas, and my camera sits gathering dust, I’ve had to find new ways to satisfy that creative urge and soothe the withdrawal effects.

Part of my photo therapy often involves delving into past photos and breathing new life into them via Photoshop. It takes a bit of determination as photographers often dislike culling through old photos. So I grit my teeth and wade through all my mediocre images until I find something that, with the right amount of love, might truly shine. I try to let that image speak for itself. How does it want to be edited? And as long as it wants a touch of purple, I let it have its way. Ha

Here’s a photo from Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA. It’s certainly not an imposing lighthouse, which is why I love it. It’s humble. Understated. And charming in every way. It has a fabulous history and it’s hard to capture a good  image. But a good edit, that’s a different story!

Battery Point-2

Battery Point Lighthouse, SOOC. It was dark, gray day, typical of Crescent City

It was a beautifully dreary day when we visited this little windswept island. You could hear the sound of the distant foghorns over the waves which crashed against the cliffs below. There is really no vantage point from which to view the lighthouse, so my goal was to shoot the path leading up to its door. Two paths, really.

I kept thinking of Robert Frosts poem. Except the paths were not diverging. And we weren’t in the woods. But I digress..

First off, this sky needed some drama. So I found a sky texture from my collection and masked it in place.


I believe this image was made by Ginny Haupert, though I’ve since made quite a collection of my own cloud images. The trick to adding a sky is making sure the depth fits your image. I only used the bottom third of this image as I wanted my clouds to fill the distant background, over the ocean.

Next I needed texture. I wanted a heavy, chunky texture, to give a faded, dreamy feeling. Joel Olives has a fabulous texture club that you can join for $10/month. But he often has freebies on his website. His textures are BEAUTIFUL and they are enormous! So you never have to worry about stretching or enlarging them to fit your image.

Joel Olives Rustic Woodlands texture

Joel Olives Rustic Woodlands texture

I picked this red texture because I knew it would compliment the green grass well, and add lovely purple tones to the sky once the two images blended. The best blend mode I tried was Hard Light. Soft light was too… SOFT. Overlay mode mage the colors pop but didn’t show much texture. I wanted heavy texture, so Hard Light was perfect.

Just a word about textures. If you’ve ever used them, you probably have areas of the image you want to remain UNTEXTURED. But if you merely erase the texture from those areas, or mask them off, you will lose the texture’s color

Never erase texture off your image!!!

Never erase texture off your image!!!

Here you can see how I’ve erased texture in certain areas. The pink tones on the pathway disappear, and the original green/gray color shows through. In the grass, you can see where the texture has been masked off, revealing a much cooler shade of green.

The trick with texture is to PAINT over the places where you want the texture to be smooth. YES, PAINT. Use the eyedropper tool (I) to select a mid-tone color from your texture. You may need to turn the texture opacity to Normal blend mode at 100% to see it clearly. Next, go back to your original blend mode and opacity. Then, paint that eyedropper color directly on the texture layer. Your texture will magically disappear, but the color tones will be preserved.

Battery Point

Here I’ve painted the texture over the lighthouse and the path. Next I ran my all-time favorite MCP action, Jenna’s Sweet Shop, though I turned it down to 10% opacity and customized all the settings under One Click Color.

Next, it needed a frame.

Here’s the rub. I can not find this template for you online. It’s in a file called itty bitty. So I assume it was made long ago by ittybittyactions. I can no longer find frames on their website. This psd file is AMAZING! It’s a completely customizable frame with over twenty different layers. Each layer can be turned on and off, so there are literally hundreds of style options! If you find a psd frame by ittybitty called Vintage… snatch it up! It’s really fabulous.

Last, I intentionally overcooked the clarity and sharpness of the path and the lighthouse. I really wanted them to “pop” in a magical way, out of the image.

Battery Point Lighthouse

Battery Point Lighthouse

So now I’m happy with this simple little image. It has charm, a little mystique. It’s faded yet not inaccessible. And dreamy. Like an old fairy tale. A magical heirloom leftover from a different era. In reality it’s a rather sad, lonely little place, but this image brings it back to life. This is the way, I think, it used to be. The way it wants to be.

And the best part is, through this edit, I’ve traveled to a foggy, rugged coastline where I stood alone, looking over the precipice, out at the vast ocean’s majesty. And I’ve made a new (old) friend in this lighthouse, who silently harbors untold stories and secrets of ages past.  I’ve stepped through time and place. Without ever leaving home.

Winterize It

Everyone talks about having the winter blues. The biting cold. The endless shoveling of snow and ice. The bleak landscape whose gray skies and barren trees cause depression. People miss the colors of spring, the lengthening of days and the warmth of the sun.

And then there’s southern California.

Every day is sunny with blue skies. Never a cloud in sight. Never a drop of rain. The eternal sunshine beating down mercilessly, the endless dry and dusty land. The ever-in-bloom foliage. Spindly trees whose leaves never fall.

Every single day is practically, perfectly THE SAME.

Which leads to a different form of winter blues. That is, the utter LACK of winter! No crisp autumn nights. No fall colors followed by leaves to rake. No naked trees. No scarves, no sweaters, no mittens or hats. No low- hanging clouds or snow blanketing the ground. No anticipation of the season to come.

For a four-season gal who thrives on change, this is a challenge for me, so I escape through my photography.

This year, Jessica Drossin, has released an incredible action set that allows photographers to mimic winter in their editing, (which makes her a hero in my book, as she has provided me “winter” at the time I need it most!)

This is my first experiment with transforming a summer image into a winter landscape. While it may not be the most striking photography, I though the image would work well for practice. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed!

Here’s the original SOOC. Taken in Colorado last summer.

Photo taken mid July in Grand Lake Colorado.

Photo taken mid July in Grand Lake Colorado.

I thought this image  might work well because of the texture in the foreground. The abundant white highlights help the snow overlays to “blend in.”  Of course, the evergreen mountains in the background are quite fitting for a snowy scene!

Call me crazy, but a SoCal landscape with snowy beaches and palm trees might have looked a little bit odd!

Not to mention the 10,000 sunbathers in their swim suits. Haha!

Here’s the transformation. I just played around with the entire action set, and absolutely every setting looked beautiful!!! The hardest part was deciding when to quit :) Not a bad problem to have.

CO cattails winter

Edited with Jessica Drossin’s Endless Winter action set

I could look at this picture all day (in fact, I pretty much have been) and it soothes my craving for seasons. A HUGE thank you to Jessica Drossin for the much-needed winter photo therapy!

Super Charged

_Desert flowers-Edit

Close your eyes and try to imagine:

You and your family take a vacation to a place you’ve never been, and will likely not return any time soon. In anticipation of the new scenery, you tote along all your camera gear, dreaming of the dramatic photos you will take on the journey. In preparation for a day of sightseeing, you try to pack efficiently. After all, you’re carrying not just your 80lb DSLR, but the  water bottles, snacks, a first aid kit, sunscreen and the kids’ sweatshirts, just in case.

You are, in essence, the family pack mule.

As is often the case on such family adventures, it will be the extra camera gear that (sadly) stays home. So you pick the best lens, format two 8- gig memory cards and fully charge not one, but TWO batteries. After all, how could you possibly need more than two fresh batteries?

Finally, after a day of touring, snack breaks, trinket shops and potty stops, you find yourself in an exquisite location. The sun is angled just so, and the light is positively glowing. You excitedly set up your dream shot and fire away… until your battery unexpectedly dies. Of course you have no idea HOW it died because you charged it the night before, but, no problem. You brought a backup, right?

After a little digging through your messy bag (What? Yours isn’t messy?) you grab, with relief the fully charged second battery, smugly giving yourself accolades for bringing a spare. Then, to your horror, after only a few shots, this battery poops out, too. WHAT?!??!??? How could this be?!?

Panic ensues. You dig frantically through your bag, hoping against hope you accidentally dropped a third battery inside, knowing full well you did not. No battery equals no photo. No photo equals crushed hopes and dreams.

Despair sets in. And desperation.

So you reach for your husband’s iPhone, weird color filters and all.

Desperate times call for desperate measures…

Fabullous cross- processed iPhone picture (not!) Check out the pack- mule. Little room for the camera, but it had to be stowed  safely for climbing!

Fabulous cross- processed iPhone picture (not!) Check out the pack- mule. Little room for the camera, but it had to be stowed safely for climbing!

Well, I know what you’re thinking.

That will never happen to me. Real photographers always are prepared for a camera crisis. We’re talkin’ backup memory cards, multiple batteries AND a spare body just in case…

And then there’s the rest of us.

Picture of me BEFORE the great battery crisis (which is why I'm still smiling)

Picture of me BEFORE the great battery crisis (which is why I’m still smiling)

SO my question to you is this: When was the last time you checked the DATE on your batteries? In other words, how old are they? In a perfect world, rechargeable batteries last forever. In reality, each time you charge them, they lose just a TEENSY bit of their staying power. By the time you’ve charged and recharged them (over the years) they eventually poop out. The rub is how they do it. You pop in a freshly charged battery, and  the image on your LCD  reads full power. Terrific! But it’s a half truth.The battery may be at full charge, but it’s the AMOUNT of charge that is in question. You see, both my batteries were fully charged, but neither one held more than 25% of their original capacity.

Here are a few ways to help yourself out, since DSLR batteries are expensive!

1. Always deplete your battery ALL THE WAY.  How many times have you recharged a 50% battery in anticipation of a shoot? After all, there’s nothing worse than missing the perfect shot in order to change batteries. However, your batteries will live longer if you follow this simple rule and allow them to drain completely. On a shoot, try keeping your  backup battery in your pocket so you can presto-change-o in a few seconds flat. Or save your half empty batteries for non-essential shoots such as kids birthday parties or still-life images.

2. Mark the DATE on each new battery. I always use a Sharpie and write the YEAR on my batteries when I purchase them. If you have several batteries purchased in the same year, give them an additional identifying feature- A, B, C or something like that. More often than not, you will discover that Battery 2011-A is performing better than 2011-B. Come up with a system to rotate them. As my batteries get older, they become secondary, and then tertiary backups, etc

3. Don’t wait until you need ‘em to buy new batteries! At $40-$60 each, they are an investment. So set a schedule. Buy a new battery each year, or every six months, etc, depending on frequency of use

4. Keep your batteries out of the cold! When shooting in cold weather, you will notice your battery life is half of what is normally is. Keep your spare batteries in your coat, or up against your body somehow (as opposed to in your bag) as their power depletes rapidly in the cold.  Of course we were in the desert, so cold was NOT an issue!

 On a positive note, I DID get a shot that I’m proud of- before my battery died.

This was a time when it sure paid to know my camera settings!

ISO 250, f/8, 16mm, 1/50

ISO 250, f/8, 16mm, 1/50

My main goal was to capture the sun flare coming through the Joshua Tree. Smaller apertures coupled with long exposures allow a camera to capture the light beams as they travel.  Since I didn’t bring my tripod, I had to hand hold the shot. So I knew I didn’t want to go below 1/50 shutter speed. Otherwise I would risk camera shake & blur. For this shot I maneuvered myself so the sun rays would burst forth from behind the tree. I got two decent shots before the battery died.

Theres No Place Like Home

Today is a day of mourning for me.

If all goes according to plan, a piece of me will die this afternoon and everyone around me will be celebrating. It’s a long story.

For me it’s much worse than the sale of a house. It’s not even my house. But it was my home. My home away from home.

We wander the earth like gypsies, but until now, there was always a place to return to.  A place of peace and refuge. A place of dreams and wonder. A place to play in the trees, climb through the hayloft, breathe the fresh county air and feel truly ALIVE. The smell of fresh cut hay, the sound of a distant tractor, the feel of the low-lying fog on your face. The warmth of the wood burning stove. The brilliance of a sky full of stars. The horses grazing out the front window. The cat curled on the end of a quilt-covered bed. Vintage photographs hanging on the walls. An old piano missing an ivory key. Antique typewriters. Homemade apple pies. The hammock under the walnut tree. The ticking of the grandfather clock. Dust swirling lazily in the afternoon sunlight. The iridescent spray of farm irrigation at sunset. The last vestiges of childhood- both mine and my children’s. Gone.

I suppose we all have to let go at some point. That feeling of “home” is something we have to make ourselves. Home is not something we can return to. Life marches on

No, I wasn’t born in a barn, but this is my tribute to the last place on earth that felt like home.

There's no place like Home

There’s no place like Home


Today we are going to start off with a little counseling session. Bear with me- the dog was not sitting on the couch (for once) so I thought I’d lay down for some self-help therapy…

Here goes.

Normally I want to be outdoors as much as possible. I love open spaces, big shade trees, winding rivers, majestic mountains, skies full of clouds… none of which exist in southern California.  And since I don’t “do” cities, crowds, or traffic, I prefer to stay home. Especially on weekends!

Now for the good news. I’ve discovered there is a way for scenic photographers to live peacefully, even happily, in uninspiring locations so long as they spend time working on beautiful, inspirational images.

If you are like me, you probably have a huge backlog of photos to edit. You probably have photography projects that have been sitting on the shelf for years. So what are you waiting for? If the weather is bad, (or in my case, the weather is TOO sunny!)  If suburbia has you bored to tears, or the city has walled you in… just start editing. You’ll be surprised how liberating it can be.

Editing is my way of coping with the guilt of spending an entire weekend shut indoors. And after several hours of gazing at sweeping vistas and gorgeous sunsets, I feel almost as if I have been there in person… far away from the crowds, the congested freeways, the bustling shopping centers… Even better, I have satisfied the creative urge that all artists feel. The only thing better than TAKING a great photo is making that great photo truly sing!

On that note, here are a few edits from my most recent Photoshop Therapy session

The following is an original picture taken at sunset at Moonstone Beach.

Moonstone coast orig

Original SOOC image- exposed for the distant coastline

I LOVE the northwest coast for its huge rocks, but as you can see, they are challenging to photograph. How do you choose an exposure?  If you expose for the background scenery, the rocks become dark and contrasty (pictured). If you expose for the rocks, everything else washes out.

In many high- contrast cases I use my sunflare trick, which you can read about in my last post.

Another good alternative for high contrast situation is to convert your image to black and white.

Moonstone coast BW

B&W is high contrast by nature

While I LOVE love love black and white images, I am still a sucker for color. So I decided to try my hand at High Dynamic Range, or HDR, which blends multiple exposures of the same image together. Essentially HDR increases the exposure of the darkest regions, while simultaneously decreasing the exposure of the lightest. Real HDR requires a tripod and multiple exposures of the same image. And real HDR post processing requires some definite skills which I do not currently possess.

So, I’m chose to go with “fake” HDR. Ha!  Fortunately for me, Adobe added an HDR adjustment panel to it’s latest version of Photoshop Creative Cloud. While I still have a lot to learn, here’s how the image turned out with a little Adobe Alchemy!

Moonstone coast 2

High Dynamic Range

Encouraged by the results, I immediately turned another shadowy image into photographic gold…

Moonstone rocks orig

original SOOC image

Moonstone rocks

High Dynamic Range edit

And another… this time using sun flare and a small amount of HDR.

You may also detect a slight color tweak in the following images. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know how much I LOVE purple. I always like to add blues, pinks, or purple tones to my images. These were no exception. I have a favorite action from MCP called Jenna’s Sweet Shop. It adds deep blue tones to the shadows and pink to the highlights. In these images I turned the effect waaaaaay down, and then added a warming filter to counter all the cool blue. I also made some major adjustments to the action’s One Click color component.

Moonstone tree

Sunflare and Driftwood

One thing I love about MCP actions is their architecture. Each action in the Fusion set has a color component which is separate from the basic image adjustment folder. So it is easy (and obvious) how to fine tune any action to fit your image.

Moonstone river

A perfect end to a perfect day

There you have it! And there’s nothing like a FREE therapy session – if you are stuck in a creative rut, bust out some Adobe Alchemy. A little gold can brighten up even the darkest days!!!

Rays of Hope

We just returned from a breathtaking trip to my absolute favorite place in all of creation- the Redwood Forests of Northern California. If you have never been there… you simply MUST GO!!! Never will you set foot in a more mystical and wondrous part of the world. I have visited this region as often as possible over the last ten years, trying to capture its beauty on film… a daunting task for any photographer, let alone one with the entire  family in tow!

Redwood K

“Hey Mom, look at me” snapshot

(and now for the semi-philosophical rant)

As much as I dream of being the next Ansel Adams, I have learned to be content working within the confines of my daily life. Otherwise photography would still be a distant dream!

I realize that most die-hard nature photographers hike to remote locations, stake out their scenic vistas, time the lighting and pack all the proper gear. And then there’s the rest of us… walking the well-trodden pathways through the park, kids racing ahead, dog wrapping its leash around the bushes, and the husband, a hundred paces behind, diligently studying his smart phone, (presumably mapping our way through the wilderness, oblivious to the myriad of signs that read “Stay on the Trail.”) And in the midst of this chaos we wander, eyes focused through the lens, dreaming of all the amazing images we will take home.

Even worse, have you ever gotten home and found that 90% of your shots were bunk? Too light, too dark, too much contrast- and always a blurry kid, or a dogs tail somewhere in the corner of the image? Face it. It’s hard to shoot when people are running circles around you. It’s hard to shoot while walking. Or when distracted. Or when you step in dog poo because you were focused on “the amazing light” overhead.

Sound familiar?

Redwoods BK

Typical Family Vacation Snapshot

Hopefully this post will offer a ray of hope to photographers like myself, who have to make the most of shooting within their “real” life.

Afterall, few of us can quit our day jobs and chase sunset vistas. But you CAN do amazing things in these crazy situations, if you follow a few basic rules.

Rule #1.

NEVER (I repeat…NEVER) go exploring at mid-day. The light is harsh, the contrasts are fierce, and worse- the entire family will be HUNGRY as soon as you get to your destination!!! If you can, wait for late afternoon light, especially if you are shooting in the trees. Shadows will be longer and softer, and you will have more room to “play” with the available light.

Typical "Mom, watch this!" blurry snapshot

Typical “Mom, watch this!” blurry snapshot

Rule # 2.

Slow down. Breathe. So what if everyone else has made it back to the parking lot already? Give them the keys and a good snack- you can catch up with them later. It’s hard to switch between vacation snapshot mode and serious artistic work. So get your kid pics out of the way and then focus on really “seeing” through the lens. Even if you only come home with a few good shots, it’s better than a hundred mediocre ones.



Redwood poo

Photo Courtesy of my husband and his ever-ready iPhone

Rule #3.

Make somebody else walk the dog. And make ‘em pick up the poo, too. ‘Nuff said.

Now a word about sun flare.

Sometimes sun flare can be your worst enemy. Other times it can be your best friend!!! If you are shooting in a high contrast area such as dark trees against a bright sky, use the flare to your advantage. When the light source is hidden behind the subject, the obvious result is a silhouette- or extreme contrast. If you boost your exposure on the tree, you blow out the sky. On the other hand, if you allow too much bright sun to fill the frame, the resulting image is rather dull, lacking drama. And the giant Redwoods are nothing, if not dramatic!  In this shot, I kept making micro adjustments to my position until the sun magically illuminated the space IN FRONT of the tree, even though it was peeking out from behind. You can see the subtle difference in the images below.

Redwood sunflare diptych

a little sun flare can help illuminate an otherwise high contrast image

In both images, the camera settings were the exact same- the only difference was a slight readjustment of my position and VOILA! The sunflare magically illuminated the forest. Of course these images are slightly underexposed. That’s because I wanted the aperture small enough to capture the light rays. Too much light would ruin this effect. So I erred on the darker, more dramatic side, expecting to do a few touch ups in Photoshop.

So here’s the final image! Gotta LOVE those glorious sun rays!

Redwoods sunflare


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