Saturday, December 20, 2014


I spend a lot more time in my upcoming book on this one topic. Some of us have that internal sense of intuition, that internal tug that tells us there is something over there, or over there. If that's not you, then think about this--next time you're out shooting, stop, just stop. Look around you slowly, left, right, around your feet, above your head. There is usually something there. When you stop, and use your imagination, you will not only look, but you just might see some hidden gems you hadn't seen before.

What do these three have in common: A flower arrangement, Taco Bell, and light bulbs? They were fodder for my right brain photography, after I followed my intuition that whispered, "You know, there might be something there. can you find it?" 

This is part of my right brain photography approach to photography. Let's start with this first of three scenarios. I was delivering a flower arrangement to a seriously ailing friend who was in an assisted living community. As I grabbed the arrangement from the backseat and started walking to the front door, my intuition kicked in and made me pause. I looked at the arrangement in my hands and realized I was holding on to a piece of art. I placed the arrangement on the parking lot, close to my car. I grabbed my photo gear and took out one of the props I carry with me-- a piece of black art board, which I used as my backdrop to separate this one flower from the others in the bouquet. The rest came easy.

I was walking along Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado. In an old red brick building, I found a unique cafe/bar. There are a lot of cool, old, iconic buildings on Pearl Street. My intuition led me up the steps into the eclectic cafe and bar. It didn't take long to spot my photo trophy. I quickly asked one of the workers if it was okay for me to "take some pictures." I never "take" pictures, but say that to use the more commonly understood vernacular. After I got approval, I went to work, and created this. I was looking almost straight up to get this composition.

I got up early one morning while on a photo trip in Arkansas. In the small town of Russelville, I saw a Taco Bell as I drove down a narrow street. My intuition kept me from just driving by. Although it was just a Taco Bell, my intuition guided me to take a closer look. I saw something on one of the exterior walls, but didn't like the way the shadows looked that early in the morning. I decided to keep shooting around town for another two hours, hoping that when I returned, the shadows would look better. I'm glad I went back.

Intuition, if we listen to it, can guide us to spots, places, locations that, on the surface, may not even seem worth looking at---like a Taco Bell. Listen to it. If you don't think you've got intuition, do you ever get a gut feeling? Does your head suddenly turn to your right or left when you're out shooting? You might not know why, but follow those instincts--they're telling you something. Stop. Listen. Look. See. You might surprise yourself.   



Thursday, November 13, 2014


This combined skill and ability in photography is worth repeating. During all my years of teaching photography, one of the disconnects I have seen is the one that exists between knowledge/understanding and skill/ability. For example, it's one thing for a photographer to say, "Oh, yeah. I know photography is art. I know all about interpreting versus documenting." I have seen the weak results of some of those who say they "know."

I can best explain what I mean by sharing a real life story. I was with one of my students in  the quaint town of Hygiene, Colorado. We were photographing in and around a shop where the owner paints and restores old farming equipment. As we were setting up one shot, my student pointed at something and said, "See that? You might think I'm weird, but I'm attracted to that." I told her, "No, I don't think you're weird at all." Then I taught her how to create art from something dull and mundane.

Below is what she was pointing at. Not pretty huh? I give her credit for thinking that this was cool. On the inside of this window was the owner's shop. He used a table platform to paint smaller pieces of farming equipment. Throughout the years, paint had splashed on the inside of the window and had dried. By shear coincidence, the splattering of paint had created some unique designs, shapes, forms, textures, and colors on this window. However, years of hot sunlight had taken its toll on the outside of these windows.

I could see the art that attracted my student. I taught her my CDE mantra, a formula I have followed for years. I first pointed out what Composition I thought would work best. Then I told her what f/stop would be enough for the needed Depth of field. I then showed her the third piece of the formula, which was critical for this particular scene--Exposure.  

Below is what the composition looked like before I taught her the E part of the formula. 
I liked the way the shapes and colors came together in the middle window pane. But, there was still a problem--the window looked dull with so much sunlight and grunge. The next step was to see what we could do to turn this interesting but still dull composition into something more interesting, maybe a piece of art.

I told Pauli we were going to intentionally under expose this image to make the colors "pop" and darken the background, using the exposure compensation dial, which most cameras have today. She was curious as to how much under exposure we needed. After a couple of test shots and making some adjustments, I concluded that by underexposing this scene by two complete stops we had created a piece of art. Two stops is the same as giving this scene 200% less light than the built-in meter thought I needed. Yes, 200%.

Both our images looked very similar. Pauli was so excited about her results that she posted her image on her Facebook page! This is my interpretation of the window above.

Here is the lesson, which I talk about in my workshops and upcoming book: I look with my eyes, but see with my imagination. If I only saw what my eyes looked at, I would have probably not photographed that ugly and dirty window. Best case scenario, I would have maybe photographed it, but would have ended up with the middle photo above. 

Seeing with our imagination means imagining what and how we can make anything look uncommon, no matter how dull or common. We can even make the sane insane.

Question: Without having read this blog, would you have guessed that the final image was just a dirty window?

So, go out there and see with your imagination! You might surprise yourself. Contact me if you would like to enhance your skills and abilities to create this type of photographic art.    

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Do you ever wonder how professional photographers get those nice soft and blurred backgrounds? Well, you don't need to apply photo editing software tools after the fact--that doesn't require photography skills. You can create what I call "backdrops" easily, in camera!   
All you need to do is understand some key concepts regarding f/stops, those numbers like f/2.8, f/8, f/16, f/22, etc. F/stops, as you might know, are used to control for depth of field. In other words, by understanding how f/stops work, we can either get everything sharp (in focus) from the closest subject to us to the farthest subject from us, OR, we can decide to get only the closest subject(s) from us sharp and blur the background.

There are two basic concepts to understand. I go into detail in my upcoming book, RIGHT BRAIN PHOTOGRAPHY, but for now this is all you need to know to create your magic in camera.

Concept #1: The larger the f/stop number (f/16, f/18, f/22, etc.), the smaller the lens opening (diaphragm), therefore MORE depth of field. More depth of field means more subjects, from closest to farthest, will be in sharp focus.
Concept #2: The smaller the f/stop number (f/2.8, f/4, f/5, etc.), the larger the lens opening, therefore LESS depth of field. Less depth of field means fewer subjects, from closest to farthest, will be in sharp focus.

Now are you ready for some visual examples? This is what you will see when you apply these two basic concepts. Please don't try to memorize rules. It is more important to understand concepts. By understanding concepts, you can apply the same concept to any scene you run across! If you try to understand rules, you will always be asking, "What f/stop should I use?" Know the power of understanding concepts.

Here is what happened when I applied these two concepts.

In this first image, I focused on the closest subject, with an f/stop of f/22. Read concept #1 above. Not only was my main subject, those red autumn leaves in the foreground, in focus, but also some of the background. In other words, my background is not blurred enough and therefore distracts from the leaves in the foreground. The background "competes" with the foreground for attention.
This is what can happen when you rely on your camera to auto focus for you. The camera, no matter how expensive, cannot think for you. It doesn't know what you want. In this case, the camera randomly focused on the background. Although this image was also shot at f/22, it was not enough to render both the background and the foreground leaves in sharp focus. In fact, my main subject, the leaves, are out of focus!! That's not what I wanted.
I bet you've seen this before in some of your photos, right?
Okay, let's try this again. What I wanted was to blur the background. This time I focused on the foreground leaves and used an f/stop of f/5. I chose that f/stop for this demonstration because most lenses allow you to use at least f/5, or something close to that. So, how did I do? Well, this time, my leaves in the foreground, especially that first one, are in focus, AND I got a nice blurred background. Re-read concept #2 above.
See how simple it is to get it right at the time, in camera? So, go out there, apply these two basic concepts and have fun with it. If you do it right, your family and friends will ask you, "Did you take that?"    


Wednesday, September 17, 2014


This tip on extracting the uncommon from the common is a preview to what you will read in my upcoming book, Right Brain Photography (be an artist first). It begins with understanding that when viewers see our photography, our art, they were not there. We can take advantage of that obvious fact. Given that advantage, we can create illusions. When people see our images out of context, they will try to fill in the blanks: What am I looking at? What's happening here?

There are several key points which I go into detail in my book abut making the common uncommon. In this piece, however, I will just summarize some of the key elements. It begins with not just looking at what our eyes see, but also what they don't see. To accomplish that requires some creative photography detective work. 

Here is a real-life scenario. I was on Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado. I was among several admirers who were impressed with a musician who used wine glasses to create classical music, like Mozart's compositions. I asked him what he called his instrument, the glasses. He said this form of music is over 300 years old and the instrument is called a Glass Harp.

So, from a photography perspective, here is how I got from here to there. I first befriended him, asked questions about his art, and complimented him on his unique music. I also dropped a tip in his jar. Once I broke the ice and felt a sense of comfort and trust, I started shooting from different perspectives. The key camera features and photographic principles I was constantly focusing on included: lighting, necessary f/stops, shutter speeds, ISO, and exposure compensation. It was one of those rare moments when I did not use a tripod, to  allow me the freedom to quickly adjust my perspectives. I used ISO 640 in order to get fast shutter speeds, which compensated for not using a tripod.

Let's start with what I saw with my eyes. This is a good photo, but just a simple snap shot.

Now, here are three variations of those glasses. I was no longer photographing "glasses." 
I was looking at form, shapes, color, light, etc. Try to imagine what you would have thought if you had not seen the photo above.

Seen out of context, these glasses seem to go on forever--that was the idea. It is also impossible to know where these glasses are and why there are so many of them.

For this one, I included the human element. Including the hands in the image adds mystery because the viewer doesn't know why those hands are there or what they're doing. I intentionally added the larger glasses in the foreground in this photo, and the one above, to add a touch of mystery and perspective.

I chose a horizontal for this one, to draw attention to the larger glasses in the foreground. This perspective also picked up several colorful reflections, which, again, add that touch of mystery--what am I looking at? What is that bright orange-like area between the two larger glasses?

So, next time you come across a group of glasses, ask yourself, "Besides glasses, what else do I see?" How can I make the common uncommon? Exercise your right brain.


Thursday, August 28, 2014


Here is the scenario. You are inside a dimly lit church. You want to get a photo of a side alter. You have your camera set at ISO 100. You've set an f/stop which you need--you won't settle for any other f/stop. Problem: Your camera is talking back to you. It's saying it's just way too dark in that corner of the church and doesn't know what shutter speed to give you for a good photo. It just can't do it. You don't want to use a higher ISO because you don't want to take the chance of getting discernible "noise." What to do?

You have two options:
1) Increase your ISO, get the shot, but risk the chance of unwanted noise.
2) Don't change your ISO, and go home without a photo of the alter.

Or, take this third option so you can have your cake and eat it to.

Here's a real scenario of how I talked back to my camera. I wasn't getting a "reading," so here's what I did. I increased my ISO from 100 to 200. My camera told me I needed a shutter speed of 30 seconds, at ISO 200. Here's the simple math: 200 is twice as much as 100. If I multiply 30 seconds by 2, I get 60 seconds. 60 is twice as much as 30. That is how much time I need to get this shot at ISO 100--60 seconds!!!! Easy huh? Just set your camera to BULB and go for it!

And here is the photo my camera didn't think it could take. I had to talk back to it.

I had a similar situation a few years ago, but the church was much darker. I was shooting at ISO 100. I kept increasing my ISO. My camera didn't give me a reading until I had reached ISO 800!! It gave me a reading of 20 seconds. I did the math: 800 is 8 times greater than 100. 20 seconds x 8= 160 seconds, or almost three minutes. I rounded it off and took the photo at three minutes--it worked! I got a great shot at ISO 100.

Try it. You will be amazed at what a simple solution this is!!! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


I like what Jackson Pollock said about his splashing and splattering paint on his canvasses on the floor. He liked not having complete control of the outcomes. Such is the case with shooting fireworks--but therein lies the challenge. 
I always say that photography is more art than science. My right brain shakes hands with my left brain and says, "Hey. I've got an idea, and this is what I need from you."

Let's start with the idea. The idea for me is to get, during the 30 minutes or so of fireworks displays, single, double, and even triple exposures. In other words, photograph single bursts in the sky, maybe two different bursts in the same "frame," and even three bursts in the same "frame." So, what what does my right brain tell my left brain to do? Here are the steps.
1) Tripod-- this is a must. I prefer a user-friendly ball head on my tripod.
2) Lens: Depends on how far I am from the fireworks and whether I'm going to include any foreground or just the 'works up in the sky. This year I used my 17mm-50mm because I was close to a lake in Estes Park, Colorado and also close enough to the fireworks that my 50mm could get those close-ups too.
3) ISO-- 100 to minimize "noise" and get more crisp details.
4) F/stop--- f/8 (that seems to be a good standard for me--since the 'works are far enough  from me that I don't need f/16 or higher).
5) Focus mode-- Manual. Fireworks, because they're moving, will confuse my auto focus and I'll miss some great displays. I just focus roughly where most of the fireworks are coming up--- f/8 will do the rest, i.e., cover most distance changes between bursts.
6) Exposure setting: BULB. Read your manual on how to set your shutter speed to BULB.
7) Cable release-- this is a must to eliminate camera shake caused by depressing the shutter button with my finger.
Now, here's where the fun begins.
8) I use any piece of opaque material as my "shutter"--This year I used three 8.5"x11" pieces of paper folded in half. That allowed me to get some double & triple exposures during the night. This is how I use it as my "shutter."
A) I open the shutter with my cable release and keep it open, but cover my lens with my 
     "shutter"--no light coming in. As soon as the first display shows, I take away my 
     "shutter," i.e., remove my faux shutter and leave it off until the first burst begins to 
     dissipate. Then I quickly put it back (in essence, "close" my "shutter"). Then I release    
     my cable release---I just got my first shot.
B) For my double exposures, I follow the same as above, except I don't release my cable 
     release after the first shot, but I quickly cover my lens with my "shutter" after the first 
     burst. When the second display comes up, I again take away the "shutter" for my 
     second shot, then release my cable release. For my triple exposure, I do the same, 
     except repeat the process two times. 
This technique allowed me to keep my real shutter open for up to 19 seconds for one triple exposure shot without overexposing the end result. Although my real shutter was open for 19 seconds, each of the three exposures really received one to five-second exposures.

And here are some 2014 results from my technique. Try this next time. It's a lot of fun!!
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I am a color photographer--I favor those awesome brilliant primary and secondary colors. However, sometimes some images just lend themselves well to B&W renditions. As you might expect, I don't have too many of those. However, I have some in my collection, even a few I display in my gallery on my website. 

Here are a couple of scenarios when I might decide to convert to a B&W image. Sometimes there just isn't much color to play with, but if the subject appeals to me, if I can create an appealing and interesting composition, and if I see a lot of contrast between lights, darks, and mid-tones, I will sometimes get the shot, knowing that I am going to convert it. Whew, that that was a long sentence. I almost ran out of breath writing it!

Here's another scenario. Sometimes, it doesn't occur to me to convert an image to B&W until I see it on my computer monitor. At times, the image, though it may look good in color, 
I sense that it could also look good in B&W. As in the example in this article.

One thing I like about this type of conversion is that I can add contrast and vibrance without negatively affecting colors and hues, which can happen to color images.

Here are some of the different photo editing software tools and commands I like to use. Everybody has his/her own preferences, but these are the ones that work for me.

> Black & White image adjustment. I prefer this to 'desaturate' because I get to experiment with filters like reds and yellows the way black & white photographers did in the olden days.
> Brightness & contrast. Results can be better with black and white than with color images.
> Vibrance. I find that I can add contrast without adding contrast when working in B&W. 
> Shadows/Highlights. This tool is deceiving because I can not only increase or decrease the variance between highlights and shadows in the image, but also for the mid-tones. I like to see gradations of darks, mid-tones, and whites in B&W images--they're more dramatic. 
I don't mind deep shadows in areas that are not key players in an image. They give the image a sense of three-dimensionality that is often missing in HDR applications.
> Filters. Primarily, I use 'noise reduction'--'despeckle' and 'reduce noise' per channel. If the sky is the only area needing noise reduction, I might select the sky and leave the rest of the image untouched.The 'sharpen' filter I use only as needed, and not too much.
> Tone Curve (highlights/lights & darks/shadows). I only use these if I cannot get what I want by using Shadows/Highlights mentioned above.

I intentionally did not recommend how much of this or that to apply. That is strictly a personal choice, depending on what and how we want the image to look like. Experiment. Every image will need different degrees of applications.

Okay, now let me show you the results of the above mentioned applications to one of my many images of The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Enjoy.




Thursday, May 22, 2014


My favorite use of f/stops is to convert backgrounds, especially ugly ones, into nice, pleasing backdrops. Given the right conditions, those converted backdrops can look like 
I was in the studio and pulled down a backdrop to suit my subject. 

There are a few factors to remember that will help us achieve that illusion.
1) Select wider f/stops, like f/2.8, f/4, f/5. Your choice will depend on exactly what it is you 
    want your image to look like.
2) Don't get too far from your subject. The closer you are, the easier it is to blur the 
    background. Different lenses create different-looking blur effects. But, any type of blur is 
    better than too much depth of field. Caution: be aware of how close your lens can focus!
3) The distance of the background from your main subject. The farther the background 
    elements are from your subject, the easier it will be to blur them out.
4) A 100mm lens will create more blur than a 17mm lens, given the same f/stop. The   
    reason for that is that the actual f/stop diameter size is larger in the 100mm lens, or any 
    large focal length lens. I take advantage of that when I want to distance myself from my 
    subject, yet still get some nice blurred backgrounds.
5) The focusing point is very critical. It doesn't help, even at an f/2.8, if I focus on the 
    background, or close to it, instead of my subject. The technique I use to maximize the 
    amount of background blur is "selective focusing"-- I shoot in manual focus, so I can 
    carefully and selectively choose the point within the scene which I want to focus on.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the above points. I could have blurred the background even more for the second image. Ordinarily, I would have chosen f/2.8 or f/3.2.  Additionally, I could have done some selective focusing on the first example to increase the non-blur effect. However, I chose the f/stops I used to illustrate that, even with less expensive lenses, you can still blur the background. The focus point was on the center of the yellow flower, for both images, because that would be a typical thing to do--not the way 
I would do it. Again, I did so to illustrate that anyone can do this.

At f/22, the flower doesn't stand out like I would like. The background is not blurred sufficiently to give me that backdrop effect. Therefore, the background competes with the flower for attention. Also, the image looks too one-dimensional with that minimal blur in the background.
Much better, even at f/5.6. The flower really stands out. The background doesn't compete for attention the way it does in the first one. And, sharpness in the foreground, contrasted against the blurred background, gives this image more of a two-dimensional effect. 

This simple technique to photography is a great way to make a one-dimensional object, a photograph, appear to be two-dimensional. Through the creative use of f/stops, we can produce artistic results which we are not used to seeing with the naked eye--and therein lies the beauty and fun of photography!
You can find other examples of this technique on my website, in my Abstracts & Close-Ups room. See if you can spot them.

So, now go out there and explore, experiment, push the envelope, and have fun with it. Enjoy! 



Wednesday, April 23, 2014


One of my favorite "props" is my loyal diffuser. First, what is a diffuser? As the name implies, it diffuses, or softens, harsh bright light. I am mostly an available light photographer, so my favorite type of diffuser is a circular diffuser. It is made of very thin translucent material, almost parachute-like, and serves as a "soft box" for the sun. Diffusers come in different sizes/diameters--22"-42" and bigger! I use a 32" diffuser, which serves my purposes. 

Here is a photo of what mine looks like when fully open. It collapses to a utilitarian size of 12" in its light flexible black casing with a zipper, which fits nicely into my camera bag. When collapsed in its "pouch," I use the pouch as my lens "hood" to minimize and sometimes eliminate that ugly flare in photography. 

My most common use is to soften harsh sunlight hitting my subjects on a bright sunny day. I use my diffuser enhance, thus improve what my eyes actually see. I simply place it between the sun and my subject. Let me show you a couple of examples.

No diffuser. When we look at something like this, it wows us at the moment. However, look at how deep the shadows are in the folds of those leaves. The flowers look very contrasty. Also, the colors on them, though bright, have shadows that are too harsh for my taste. Granted, in some situations, all that can work, but not in this particular scenario. 

With diffuser. I prefer soft colors over harsh contrasty colors. I prefer colors that "pop"--not colors that "jump" at me. Notice also how smoothly the hues and tones merge within the folds of those greens. Diffused lighting also makes it easier for that nasty built-in light meter to give us a more consistent look throughout the scene. It also eliminates the need for one-hour "post processing" or HDR work.

I also use my diffuser to serve as a backdrop. This small sculpture was surrounded by bamboo. When I placed the diffuser between the statue and right up against the bamboo, the shadows from the bamboo created interesting and intriguing patterns. 

Sometimes I use the diffuser to create the illusion of a studio shot. First, notice how "busy" this iris looks without the diffuser, even with a shallow depth of field.

I did not realize how beautifully translucent irises really are, until I introduced the diffuser. It looks like an image created in a studio, with a white backdrop with slight folds. Yes, this is the same identical iris, at the same identical location, at the same time of day.

Now that you have learned some new tricks of the trade, go out and get yourself a diffuser. My kit is called a 5-in-1: Diffuser, white backdrop, black backdrop, silver reflector, and gold reflector. 

I heard a great comment from a college basketball coach that applies to photography/art. He was asked why one of his players was so good at shooting 3-pointers. The coach quickly replied, "He's not afraid to miss." So, play, explore, experiment...and don't be afraid to miss!


Saturday, March 22, 2014


Most of us have heard the stand-by idiom regarding f/stops and depth-of-field (DOF): For more depth-of-field, use a larger number f/stop (e.g. f/16, f/22, etc). That is true, and I follow that idiom myself. I always tell my students that when you want a lot of depth-of-field and are not sure what f/stop to use, when in doubt, f/22. And that is also true. I would rather get more DOF than I need, than not enough.

However, did you know that it is not only the f/stop used that gives us more depth of field? Among other factors, the size of the opening, or diaphragm in our lenses also gives us more, or less, depth-of-field. For example, wide angle lenses, by design, have smaller openings, at any equivalent f/stop setting, than non wide angle lenses.

Let's look at a comparison. These two photographs were taken from the exact same spot (about 3 feet from the closest subject), same perspective, and with the same f/stop (f/11). The only difference was focal length. One photo was made at a 17mm focal length setting; the other at 70mm. Now, keep in mind, the comparison was only 17 vs. 70. As you will see, a variance of only 53 mm can make a big difference.    

F/11 @70mm. Note the blurred background

 f/11 @17mm. Note the depth-of-field coverage.
(I cropped the wide angle shot to show the difference)

So, what does this mean in actual in-the-field application? For me, I do use the old stand-by rule of thumb. However, if I am in a situation where I want a lot of depth of field AND a fast enough shutter speed to get what I want (assuming I'm shooting at 17mm), I might sacrifice a little f/stop (say f/16 or f/18 vs. f/22), in order to get a faster shutter speed, knowing that I am still going to get the depth-of-field I need. By doing so, I will also get a faster shutter speed on top of that, without having to increase my ISO. I can have my cake and eat it too!! Where does that saying come from anyway?