Monday, December 23, 2013


Do I like snow on the mountains, iced-over lakes, colorful wildlife against white snow, and skiers on the mountains? You bet. However, don't limit yourself to the tried and true. Have fun with your winter shots, as in this image of dogs having fun in the snow. It might appear like a simple shot, but there are several ingredients that go into creating this type of fun photography.

Let me show you the image first, then I will explain what list I went through to maximize my chances of getting it "correct." Notice I put "correct" in quotation marks. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, there is no such thing as "correct." What I look for is what looks right  to me.

On this day, I had already photographed the snow sculptures during this year's annual International Snow Sculpture Competition held in Breckenridge, Colorado. I knew of this dog park in town and decided to check it out. Intuition, if you have it, can really come in handy in the field of photography. I wasn't disappointed. There were a lot of owners letting their dogs run free in the park. I saw dogs chasing, and catching, frisbees; some were chasing after colorful balls. It was just fun to watch. Here's that cute image of dogs playing in the snow. 

 Now, for the think-through list. First, the technical left brain stuff. Snow can fool the built-in light meter in the camera. I took a few test shots at different spots in the dog park, and made adjustments, using the exposure compensation dial in the camera. I decided that a +1/3 exposure was going to work pretty good. I didn't want to over-expose too much because I would lose the feel and texture of snow and end up with a lot of white in the photo. I knew I needed good depth of field (I couldn't predict where or how the dogs were going to be when I got my shots), yet fast shutter speeds because I had moving targets to photograph. So, shooting in aperture priority, I decided f/10 would get me enough depth-of-field regardless of where I got my shots, then decided on ISO 500 so I could have my cake and eat it too---get enough depth-of-field, yet get a fast shutter speed too! This image was at f/10 and a 1/2000th shutter speed. White Balance was on "daylight."

Now, for the none technical stuff. For these kind of shots you've got to be prepared. Have all the technical stuff set and ready to go, then watch the action for awhile to get a sense of what the challenges might be. Anticipation, speed (have your finger ready on the trigger), and continuous shooting (4-8 frames per second) are crucial. For this shot, I saw the guy throw the ball. I just followed the action, the dogs, and when they stopped all of a sudden, click-click-click!!! I was able to get the action of all three dogs, the frozen splatter of snow, and "freeze" the fast-moving dog on the right--the one with the green ball in his mouth. I got several good shots that day. This was one of my favorites because it gave me the essence of what the dogs were doing in the snow--having fun!

So, go out someday and, like these dogs, have some fun in the snow.....with your camera.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


I talked about this about four months ago, but it is worth repeating, especially since winter is upon us. 

All cameras have what's called a built-in light (or exposure) meter. The good news is that they usually do exactly what they are engineered to do. The bad news is that what they were engineered to do is often not what we want in our photographs. To keep it simple, if we photograph something dark or black, the meter will try to lighten it up as close as possible to gray. If we photograph something bright or white, it will try to darken it as close as possible to gray. That doesn't sound good, huh?

The good news is that there is a simple way to override your built-in meter. It's called the exposure compensation dial on your camera. Look for it in your camera manual. It will either show you something like -.3, -.6, -1 or +.3, +.6, +1, etc. On some cameras, you'll see a scale that looks like this: -3. . .-2. . .-1...0...+1. . .+2. . .+3, etc. What these numbers mean is that if you move your exposure compensation dial toward the minus side (from zero, or 0), your are underexposing your picture, or darkening it. If you move it toward the plus side (from zero, or 0), you are overexposing your picture, or lightening it. 

Now, here is where this really becomes meaningful and useful, especially this time of year. Let's say you are photographing a winter event where most of what you see in your viewfinder is snow! Well, snow is white; the built-in meter will give you gray, just what it was engineered to do. The solution is your exposure compensation dial. By just adjusting it to a +1-2 stops, you will negate that nasty meter. The meter cannot think; it does not know that you want that snow to look as it does to your eye--white. 

How much over-exposure you will need depends on how much whiteness or brightness there is in the scene. Look at these two images. Since the scene was not 100% covered with white snow, an adjustment of just +1 stop was needed to lighten the gray look. Notice the added detail on the horses when given just a 1-stop more exposure. 

Maybe this will help to further explain what happens when we overexpose. When I overexposed the first image by 1-stop, I didn't add more whiteness to white snow, I added more whiteness to an image which my built-in meter had rendered gray.   

                                        No adjustment to the built-in meter result

+1-stop overexposure (from gray)

So, when you are out shooting this winter, just take one shot at a +2/3, another at +1.3 and compare the two. Then, just make one more adjustment, depending on your results.
Happy winter shooting. Shoot me an e-mail if you have any questions.             

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

ROI And Photography

We've heard the term: Return On Investment, an economic term that has direct 
application to photography. The investment is in time, dedication, commitment, and 
tenacity. The return is in the quality of images we come home with. I look for places 
that have great potential for those images that are absolute "keepers." I will revisit 
certain places, either on a periodic or annual basis, depending on when I am most 
likely to get the highest ROI.

One of those places is Mapleton Avenue in Boulder, Colorado, in October. I have 

had such success there that I go back annually, like clock work. It's like going on an
Easter egg hunt. I look high and low until I find the right combination of compositions,
shapes, texture, and colors. My favorite timing is right after a snowfall. This is what 
I found this  past October.

I got several shots of leaves against snow, which I liked. But, it was this particular
grouping really got my attention. The combination of color, texture, melting snow, and
nature's arrangement was just too good to resist. My job was to create order out of 
chaos. There were so many of these leaves, covering a large area, most covered by
snow and ice. It took me a few minutes to carefully scan the area, ensuring that I did
not disturb the leaves. What I was looking for was the best composition that would 
give me the strongest impact, interest, and design. 

After getting several good images on the ground, I decided it was time to see what was above me as well. I saw this great combination of yellows, reds, and greens against the
blue sky. I liked the diagonal lines created by the thin branches, which I knew would 
come out dark (I know how that built-in meter works!). As luck would have it, I saw the
sun peaking behind some leaves. I knew instinctively that I just had to include a sun 
burst as part of my composition. I also knew that if I hid it behind some leaves, it would
not be overpowering. In order to get the sunburst, I chose a small aperture (f/22). I've
used this technique in similar situations with great success. Careful with your your exposures though--these situations can give you ugly, dark results because of the bright  light. You will need to overexpose as needed.   

So, next time you visit a place and go home with a collection of "keepers," revisit 
that area again. You might get a good return on your investment.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Based on a lot of photography I see today, there seems to be an obsession with everything having to be absolutely, totally sharp. For a lot of images, doing just the opposite can produce some of the best, most intriguing images--especially when they're done intentionally. Here is but one example.

I was in the middle of a festive, colorful, and fun-filled Mexican celebration in Boulder, Colorado.There was a lot of dancing. This particular event was an Aztec dance. There was a lot of color and movement. I could have tried to freeze the action, in order to photograph the dancers. But, I decided to do just the opposite--to depict, not the dancers, but their dancing, and the movement of their dancing

You'll need a relatively slow shutter speed to get the blurred interpretation of any scene. 
The exact shutter speed depends on how fast the action or movements are, regardless of the subject. With my photo art, I don't ask, "What shutter speed should I use?" I ask, "What do I want this to look like?" In this case, I wanted it to be blurred, to reflect the movement of the event, not the event itself. My shutter speed for this image was around 1/60th of a second-- slow enough to give me that nice blur, but fast enough to give me some detail.

I call this piece, "Cara En SueƱo," or "Face In A Dream."

So, go out and experiment photographing movement at different shutter speeds. 

For more samples of my photo art visit me at 

Sunday, August 18, 2013


I will be expanding on this theme in my upcoming book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY
(Be an artist first). Students who have taken my right brain photography classes and workshops know me by this mantra: I don't see with my eyes; I see with my imagination.

Here is but one example of how I use my imagination to "see" the end result. I can imagine, or visualize, what my images will look like way before I depress the shutter button. Sometimes I create my image, i.e., get my shot, several hours after I see the subject with my eyes. I often see a subject with my eyes, but can "see" what it could look like with my imagination. Such was the case with the following image.
I was in a little town in Arkansas when I "saw something" early in the morning. I didn't like the direction of the shadows--the part of the scene that grabbed my attention in the first place. I figured that if I walked around town and did some more shooting for a couple of hours or so, the shadows would be where I envisioned them to be. So, I did just that. About two hours later, I went back to create my image. It was perfect timing--the shadows were exactly where I wanted them to be.

Now for the question. What is it? If you guessed light fixtures and shadows, you're right.
If you guessed light fixtures on the side of a Taco Bell, you are reading my mind. If you are like one of my students in my recent Rocky Mountain National Park workshop, you see three dogs, and your imagination is more surrealistic than mine!


Friday, July 26, 2013


I have talked about this before, but it is worth repeating. 

All cameras have what's called a built-in light (or exposure) meter. The good news is that 
they usually do exactly what they are engineered to do. The bad news is that what they 
were engineered to do is often not what we want in our photographs. To keep it simple, 
if we photograph something dark or black, the meter will try to lighten it up as close as 
possible to gray. If we photograph something bright or white, it will try to darken it as 
close as possible to gray. That doesn't sound good, huh?

The good news is that there is a simple way to override your built-in meter. It's called the exposure compensation dial on your camera. Look for it in your camera manual. It will 

either show you something like -.3, -.6, -1 or +.3, +.6, +1, etc. On some cameras, you'll 
see a scale that looks like this: -3. . .-2. . .-1...0...+1. . .+2. . .+3, etc. All these numbers 
mean is that if you move your exposure compensation dial toward the minus side (from
zero, or 0), your are underexposing your picture, or darkening it. If you move it toward 
the plus side (from zero, or 0), you are overexposing your picture, or lightening it. 

Now, here is where this really becomes meaningful and useful, even to the most amateur 
or beginning enthusiast. Let's say you are photographing rows and rows of beautiful white aspens.The meter cannot think; it does not know that you want to photograph white 
aspens. It is engineered to give you "gray" aspens. And, trust me, It will give you gray 
aspens, as in this photo.

Psychologically, we are programmed to "see" aspens as white. These Aspens, 
therefore, may not look gray.......until, you compare them to these....

The very simple solution, to bring these Aspens back to white, is to move your 
exposure compensation dial toward the plus side, anywhere from a +1 to a +2, 
until it looks right to you. This image was shot at approximately a +1.3. 

Think of it this way: minus means less; less means less light; less light means 
darker. Conversely: plus means more; more means more light; more light means 

Experiment and have fun with it. You will need to use this in 2-3 months when you 
photograph snow, skiers in the snow, people in the snow, etc.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Why buy an expensive camera, then use it like a point & shoot? Don't listen to the salesperson who says, "All you have to do is shoot; the camera does the rest." If you believe that, ask yourself how many bad photos you came back with during your last vacation. The camera takes pictures; we create images.

A lot of photo enthusiasts come to me for 1-on-1 in-the field lessons. Many of them want to get better before their next vacation or out of town trip. Whether they're leaving for a trip, or just want to improve their photos, I help them raise the bar for themselves. 

Such was the case when I recently met one of my students at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Among the different tips I shared with her, one of them was how to go from "taking pictures" to creating images. I taught her how to make one key in-camera adjustment to enhance her photographs. She was so excited when, after a couple of hours of connecting the dots, she could see the difference in her camera monitor.

I was so proud of her achievements that day. See for yourself. 

We came across this nice scene at the Gardens. She "took" a picture based on what her nice DSLR camera thought she needed for a "correct" exposure. This is what she got.

I then showed her how to make an adjustment to her camera to get the "desired" exposure. 
I was teaching her how to create an image, rather than just taking a picture. The result was dramatic. This is what she created!

Big, big difference, right?

The "before" photograph is a good example of what I believe is the #1 killer when all we do is "take pictures." This happens so often during our vacations, day trips, family outings, trips to the zoo, etc. 

If you are in the Boulder/Denver, Colorado area, contact me to learn more about getting the best results from your camera. Visit me at


Friday, June 21, 2013


 I have read this a lot lately: ISO is part of the exposure equation. Not so. What determines exposure is the built-in meter. First, a basic overview of the term "exposure." We hear about a photograph being "under exposed" or "over exposed." Basically, we are saying that the film or sensor received, respectively, not enough light or too much light. When dark, light, and medium tones look good, we have a properly exposed photograph. It is the built-in light meter, not the ISO, that determines what f/stop or shutter speed it thinks it needs to produce the "correct" exposure. The problem is that it does not know what we want.

Here are three images that show that ISO does not affect exposure; it is not part of the exposure equation. All images were shot at f/20, with the lens set at 50mm. The only difference between the three images is the ISO setting. Bottom line: The exposure for all three is the same, as you can see. The only photographic variable that changed when the ISO was changed was the shutter speed--camera was set on Aperture Priority. As expected, every change in ISO (example from 200 to 400) increased the shutter speed by a factor of 2x.

E-mail me if you would like more detailed information about this photographic principle.

ISO 200 (shutter speed: 1 second) 

 ISO 400 (shutter speed: 1/2 second)

ISO 800 (shutter speed: 1/4 second)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


We have heard this before: "Wide angle lenses have more depth of field. Telephoto lenses have less depth of field." Landscape photographers love those wide angle lenses--to get as much depth of field as possible. Wild life photographers, on the other hand, love those 400mm/500mm telephotos--to blur those ugly and unnecessary backgrounds. The truth is that it is the size of the opening, not the f/stop per se, that makes the real difference. Wide angle and telephoto lenses have different size openings, given the same equivalent f/stop number. 

Here are some interesting in-the-field examples. All four images were taken from the same exact spot, same perspective, and the focusing point was exactly the same. As they say, seeing is believing.

 24mm lens, at f/8
300mm lens, at f/8

24mm, at f/22
300mm, at f/22

From an artistic perspective, I take advantage of these inherent lens characteristics.
For examples of my photo art, visit my website.... 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

What Is This Thing Called WHITE BALANCE?

When it comes to learning photography, I can see why some photographers get baffled and misled by the term White Balance, often written as WB. It can be very confusing. White balance has more to do with exposure issues—getting whites white. I wish digital photography manufacturers would have used “CC” for color correction, or “TC” for temperature correction.

Before digital, the concept of “light temperature” was a common discussion. Without getting too technical, the sun’s temperature is said to be about 5,500 degrees Kelvin (or 9,440 degrees Fahrenheit)— now, that’s hot! It is that temperature that gives us natural-looking colors; colors we are used to seeing. However, regular light bulbs, often described as incandescent or tungsten lighting, are obviously not the same temperature as the sun, and neither are florescent tubes. And that is where the problem begins, with both film and digital cameras. Colors shift when we photograph interior scenes lit by light bulbs or fluorescent tubes, when we shoot with daylight film or have our digital cameras set for “daylight.” Before digital, we would simply attach a color correction filter (not white balance filter) to correct the yellowish colors of incandescent lighting or the greenish colors of fluorescent lighting.

Today, most photographers shoot with a digital camera. Enter the term White Balance, which is designed to correct for that ugly color shift--we don’t need filters anymore for that. Instead of color-correction filters, we simply change our White Balance to either Incandescent (or the light bulb icon) or Florescent (the funny-looking fluorescent bulb icon), depending on the lighting situation. We do this to get more natural-looking colors, not just whites.

Below is a Before & After comparison. The scene is the beautiful and luxurious lobby of the Boulderado Hotel in Boulder, Colorado, which is lit by incandescent lighting. The first example was shot with my camera WB setting on “Direct Sunlight.”  The second example was shot with my camera WB setting on “Incandescent” lighting. Notice the big difference between the two!

I think you will be pleased with your future photos when making incandescent or fluorescent adjustments. But, don’t forget to re-set your WB to ‘direct sunlight” or “daylight” when shooting outdoors!

Example #1: Incandescent lighting, with “daylight” WB setting. Notice that, although whites look reasonably white, there is a strong yellowish tint to the overall image.

 Example #2: Incandescent lighting with “Incandescent” WB setting. Notice the more natural colors, like the brown leather upholstery, the marble pillars, the wood accents throughout the hotel lobby, etc.


Monday, March 25, 2013


You might say, "What in the world is that?" Have you ever tried taking photos in the snow, or of a subject that is very bright and they turn out too dark? More than likely, the problem was with your built-in light meter. I spend a lot of time in my classes talking about exposure meter problems and such. But, for this blog, let me just say that the exposure compensation button is a quick-fix solution. 

I call this little button "a life saver." If your photos come out too dark, you can use the exposure compensation button to lighten up the photo. If your photos come out too light/bright, you can use this same button to darken them. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it's true. And, you can often find it in your basic point-&-shoot cameras and
sometimes on cell or "smart" phones. Read your camera/phone manual--you might surprise yourself.

You can find the exposure compensation button either on your camera body or in your menu settings. It allows you to adjust your exposure, or how much light your film or sensor
receives.On the camera bodies, the button or icon will look like this +/-  The exposure compensation scale looks something like this:  +..............0...............The zero is the 
starting point. If the photo is too dark, you simply move/toggle from the zero to the + direction (more light) to lighten the photo. If the photo is too light, you simply move/toggle to the - direction (less light) to darken the photo. Then, with your chosen setting, you just re-take the photo. If it's better, but still too dark, go back and move the setting one or two more "clicks" or steps and re-take it. Your manuals will give you more details as to how many increments your camera setting will give you. There is no magic to this. Simply keep moving the setting left or right until you get what you most like. Some cameras have the + on the right side of the scale, but it will work the same way, just the opposite direction. Another term for this, which you might have heard, is "bracketing."  

Here is an example. I saw this "Townie" (that's what they call them in Crested Butte, Colorado) half buried in the snow. With this much snow in the scene, I knew I was going to get a darkened photo, unless I adjusted my exposure to the + side. For this particular image, I compensated + .67 or 2/3. In other words, I gave the original setting almost 70% more light! If I didn't have the bicycle and part of the brown wooden building in the photograph, I probably would have had to make a  + 1 or 1 1/3 adjustment.

So, while winter is still with us, go "play" in the snow and try this "life-saving" technique and have fun with it. How much compensation you decide to make is strictly a personal choice.  

If you're like many of my former students who have learned this quick fix solution, you're going to say OMG!!
"Townie Deep In Snow" 


Friday, February 15, 2013


I made a presentation to the Boulder Colorado Nature Camera Club on January 24, 2013, with this title.

I majored in art for three years at Texas Tech University. Although I did not get a degree, those three years served, and continue to serve, as the artistic foundation for my photography today. I always start my photographic process from an artist’s mindset, which forces me to quickly get into my right brain and ask myself questions like “What do I want this to look like?” “What do I feel?” “Why did I stop?” “What will my composition be?” “How do I want to interpret this?” Only after I have entertained those questions do I begin asking myself the dry, mechanical, and technical questions, like, “What f/stop will I need to achieve that?” “What shutter speed should I use?” “What exposure do I want to apply to get me what I see with my imagination?”

I don’t see with my eyes. I see with my imagination. My camera features and lenses are only the tools I use to achieve what I want. They are the means to an end, not the end. I use my right brain to create what I imagine, and then my right brain shakes hands with my left brain and says, “I have an idea. Now I need your help to help me achieve that.” The two work hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other, but it is the right brain that controls, directs, and gives my photo art life. In this particular slide show, I began with four Before-and-After images. I show what the average eyes see, then I show what my imagination created from that scenario. Here are a couple of examples:

                            BEFORE                                                AFTER
Learn Creative Photography 1  Learn Creative Digital Photography 2

        Learn Creative Digital Photography 3       Learn Creative Digital Photography 3  

Both of the “after” images are on my website. I use them to stress that if we only see with our eyes, we will miss a lot of great opportunities. We typically walk around waiting for something, whatever that “something” is, to hit us between the eyes and yell, “Here I am!” We have to see, not what our eyes see, as the little flowers and the lake on the left represent, but see what our imaginations can create. I prefer to see and create my artistic images in-camera, as opposed to using photo editing software. I always tell my students, create your images in camera. Use your photo editing software to fine-tune your images, not create them. But that is my style and it has served me well all these years.

After I showed fifty images to the Boulder Club, I received a lot of positive comments and several questions. One of the most common questions asked was, “If you don’t use HDR, what do you use? My answer has always been the same. I begin with determining my composition, then my depth of field, and then I use the entire range of exposure metering modes, not just matrix or evaluative metering. My favorite metering mode to create really dramatic images is spot metering, which is what I used for the image below.

So, go out there and have fun taking your artistic eye for a test drive! Visit my website for more examples, and e-mail me with any questions.