Wildflower Photography



One of the most important aspects of wildflower photography is controlling the background. Finding a clean background, that is not distracting, can be challenging.

Controlling the background can sometimes be easy and sometimes difficult.  Thinking about it just now, here are some considerations just off the top of my head.

  • Inspect around the flower to understand what will appear behind the flower
  • Choose if you want additional flowers in background or foreground
  • Watch out for distracting twigs or blades of grass; you can push them out of the frame
  • If the flowers are on long stems, you may be able to nudge the stem, either to achieve a better background or to place the flower in a more flattering light.
  • To fix a problematic background, consider placing some object behind the flower.
  • Consider placing the camera near the ground and shoot upwards at the flower
  • Consider filling the entire frame with the flower – no background
  • If you can’t achieve a good background, look for a different flower nearby
Canada Mayflower

Canada Mayflower

Canada Mayflower

Canada Mayflower



One more thing … In your zeal, try not to trample the flowers. Leave them for someone else to enjoy.

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Tree Silhouette At Sunrise

Balsam Fir and sunrise (final)

Balsam Fir and sunrise (final)

At 4:30am, I hiked out to the coastal headlands and arrived at White Head shortly before sunrise.  Although the weather was hazy, the pre-dawn light in the sky was interesting and beautiful.  As the sun rose to the horizon, the colors begain to fade and I believed the show was over, so abandoned my perch atop the cliff, 160 feet above the sea, and hiked north along the coast.

Fifteen minutes later, I spied this oddly shaped tree atop an exposed cliff and made the image shown here, a silhouette against a grey sky.

Balsam Fir silhouette

Balsam Fir silhouette

The hike to the north had brought me down to sea level and the cliffs now loomed above me. Unexpectedly, just to the left of the tree, the sun was beginning to rise behind the cliff.  The show wasn’t over yet.  The time was almost 6 a.m.

Scrambling along the coastal rocks, I positioned myself such that the tree was in front of the rising sun.  The second shot here is 15 minutes after the grey-sky shot.  Then, the final image is an additional 5 minutes later, about 6:20 a.m.

Balsam Fir and sunrise

Balsam Fir and sunrise

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Demystifying Cameras … DSLR, Mirrorless, EVIL, etc

Three common camera designs

Three common camera designs

Let’s clear the air. Is the DSLR dead? And what exactly is a DSLR anyway?

Ten years ago, most people assumed that DSLR meant “really good camera”. (Some folks still believe this.) Over the past three years, numerous commentators have pronounced that mirrorless cameras have killed the DSLR. Both these sentiments are a mix of truth and falsehood.

First of all, DSLR means Digital + SLR. It is the digital successor to SLR film cameras. If we all agree that we’re talking about digital cameras, then the “D” is superfluous.

SLR (DSLR) = single lens + reflex mirror.

These cameras have two distinguishing characteristics. “SL” means single lens. “R” means reflex mirror. An SLR allows the photographer to optically see through the exact same lens that the camera uses to capture images; it does this using a mirror to redirect the light. In general, the mirror must be moved out of the light path when capturing an image; that’s why it is called reflex. (There are some exceptions; E.g. Canon EOS RT, circa.1990.)

System camera = camera with interchangeable components.

The most common system feature is choice of interchangeable lenses. Second most common system feature is a “hot shoe” for external strobes and other accessories. While interchangeable lenses implies “system”, the reverse is not entirely true; some camera systems do not include interchangeable lenses. Some camera systems offer lens accessories to make the built-in lens more telephoto or more wide-angle; for example: Olympus C5060 (2003), Fuji X100 (2015).

Compact system camera.

A system camera that is smaller than a typical DSLR. As mirrorless cameras are commonly half the size of a typical DSLR, mirrorless + system camera is often referred to as a Compact System Camera.

Mirrorless camera.

Mirrorless cameras eliminate the mirror found in SLR designs. There are two practical implications: the camera is smaller than comparable SLR and it lacks an optical viewfinder.

The term mirrorless camera generally implies a digital camera; however, I must point out that many older film-based cameras do not have a reflex mirror. View camera, twin lens, and rangefinder are all examples of mirrorless camera designs.

Eye-level viewfinder.

To see through the camera, you place the camera near your eye. There are three types of eye-level viewfinder. (1) Optical viewfinder, typical of a DSLR / SLR; (2) rangefinder (or possibly a twin-lens camera) which employs a second lens, separate from the lens used by the camera to capture the image; (3) electronic viewfinder which displays the image using a tiny digital display within the viewfinder. The first two are “optical” and require no electrical power, while an electronic viewfinder relies upon electronics.

Alternatively, a large display panel can substitute for an eye-level viewfinder. For example, a camera phone does not include an eye-level finder. But if you’ve ever struggled to use such a camera in bright sunlight, you may appreciate that an eye-level viewfinder can have advantages.  Additionally, optical viewfinders do not eat your battery as digital display panels do.

EVIL = electronic viewfinder + interchangeable lenses.

Electronic viewfinder implies mirrorless. Typically, the combination of EV+IL implies a mirrorless camera system, which in turn implies compact system camera. However, as mentioned previously, a system camera may not have interchangable lenses. The term EVIL is more specific.

TTL = Through The Lens

This refers to an electronic exposure meter built in to the camera. A TTL meter measures the light coming through the lens used to capture the image.  TTL is common for many different types of cameras, including SLR and mirrorless.

Let me give you one specific example where TTL is important.  If you place a dark polarizing filter on the lens, the light entering the lens is diminished.  TTL metering is immediately and precisely aware of this.  If the meter is not measuring the light through the lens, then you have to manually adjust the camera controls to compensate.

Is the SLR “dead” ?

No, not yet.

As we said earlier, some people have equated SLR with “really good camera”. In that respect, the venerable SLR no longer stands alone.

Recognizing the technical meaning of the SLR acronym, mirrorless designs eliminate mechanical moving parts inside the camera. That is a compelling feature. And mirrorless designs tend to be much smaller, which is also compelling in many circumstances.  However, the concept of an optical viewfinder + single lens … is still amazing, stunning, cool, and practical.

Honestly, I choose and use both SLR camera systems and mirrorless camera systems.  They each have strengths and weaknesses.  Did you know that “compact” isn’t always a good thing?  But that is a subject for another day.

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Print Your Custom 12-month Wall Calendar

Photography wall calendar

Photography wall calendar

You can create your own custom books and wall calendars by uploading your photos to an on-line Print On Demand (POD) service, which prints the product and ships it to you. Order as few or as many copies as you like. This is in contrast to traditional offset printing which is used for print runs over 200 copies.

More than a year ago, I printed my calendar in two separate print runs, each with a different provider, VistaPrint and Photobook America. As the calendar was essentially identical, I can offer you an apples-to-apples comparison.

First off, I have to say that both calendars provided very good image quality. One was a touch better than the other – the color on the cover image is not perfect. But nobody would know without placing the two side by side.

The Photobook calendar includes 15 images, including front cover, rear cover, and a page (following December) which shows 12 months of the subsequent year. The VistaPrint calendar includes 13 images, including the front cover. Score one point for Photobook.

Both calendars are spiral-bound. When opened, a photo appears on the upper page and a one-month calendar on the lower page. The Photobook calendar pages are 8×11” and each one-month grid is 5” high by 9.75” wide. The VistaPrint pages are 8.5×11” and each one-month grid is 6” high by 9.25” wide. As this grid offers more space for writing, score one point for VistaPrint.

VistaPrint includes an easy to use interface for assigning holidays and other special days. Photobook does not. Score one point for VistaPrint.

In the October-November time frame, both companies offer promotional discounts that brought the price per calendar to less than $9 each. Don’t pay full price; discounts of 40% or more are quite common.

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Waterworks – rowboat drifting

Drifting rowboat, Deer Isle Maine

Drifting rowboat, Deer Isle Maine


A print of this image will be exhibited in a juried art exhibit this month.  The framed print is 18×24 inches.  The uframed print is 12×18 inches (because that is what I can print on my 19″ Epson printer).

This is a composite of three images while the camera was fixed on a tripod.  As I was working, the row drifted around its mooring. The reflection at the top of the frame is from a lobster boat.  I feel that the lobster boat serves to anchor the image, while remaining abstract enough not to be a distraction.

The exhibit at Maryland Federated Art is entitled “Waterworks”.   With a total of 580 pieces submitted, the jurors selected 54 for the exhibit.  I submitted two, one of which was selected.  Here is a link to all the works in the exhibit:

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Photography Workshop with Craig Blacklock


Sunrise in fog .

Photography books on my bookshelf include Eliot Porter, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, David Muench, and Craig Blacklock. I expect every nature photographer knows the first four names. The name Craig Blacklock (pronounced black-lock) is probably not as well known, but his photography ranks among the very best.  Imagine my amazement when I learned that Craig was leading a photography workshop very close to the time and place where I was planning to travel.

I normally prefer to discover a location through my own explorations and, as I have many years experience with my photography, I rarely participate in workshops. But after the name Craig Blacklock caught my attention, I learned that he is an expert regarding the Apostle Islands, the location for this workshop. Furthermore, this workshop would include boat transportation as well as canoes. My feet and my car would not be sufficient to explore the Apostle Islands.

In retrospect, I can report that it was an excellent workshop … educational, enjoyable, and in the company of a great group of talented photography enthusiasts. As participants ranged from inexperienced to very experienced photographers, Craig individually provided as much or as little instruction as was desired. This is one of Craig’s strengths, the ability to tune-in to each individual’s needs.

Most days, we were up at 4 a.m. and on location shortly before sunrise. Locations included a bog where we photographed sundew, pitcher plants, dew-covered spider webs, and more. A long-distance boat cruise brought us out to the famous sea caves which are prominently featured in Craig’s published images of the Apostle Islands. However, we did not go inside the caves, as this requires kayak expertise and incurs substantial risk.

While I have a fair amount of experience photographing macro (I have self-published an 80-page book of wildflowers), Craig advanced my technique so I can achieve better results.  He brought us deeply into the use of focus stacking, which achieves a depth of sharp focus that is beyond what a camera can capture in a single image and therefore requires multiple captures, subsequently combined together. Sometimes related to this, a diffusion tent allows isolating a subject from the movement of wind. As I own and carry only a medium-size piece of diffusion cloth, I had never before seen or used a full tent.

Workshop led by Craig Blacklock

Workshop led by Craig Blacklock

(click on the image for a larger view)



Participants spent many hours post-processing our captured images. Our headquarters for such activities was Madeline Island School of Arts (http://www.madelineartschool.com), the location host for the workshop. While most participants lodged at MISA, I parked my pop-up camper down the road at Big Bay Town Park.

Craig Blacklock is author of more than a dozen books, including Lake Superior Images, Minnesota’s North Shore, and the Apostle Islands from Land and Sea. Craig’s gallery is located in Moose Lake, Minnesota (http://blacklockgallery.com). Additionally his images can be seen in many exhibits, but he currently has an excellent set of large prints on display now at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center in Ashland Wisconsin (http://www.northerngreatlakescenter.org). Upon leaving the Lake Superior shore, I stopped by the visitor center myself, to see the exhibit.

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The ONE Filter Every Outdoor Photographer Needs

Clockwise from top left: Singh-Ray cir.pl., Tiffen cir.pl. (77mm), Rodenstock Digital HR cir.pl., Hoya pl., Tiffen HT Digital cir.pl.

Clockwise from top left: Singh-Ray cir.pl., Tiffen cir.pl. (77mm), Rodenstock Digital HR cir.pl., Hoya pl., Tiffen HT Digital cir.pl.

We need polarizing filters and I am not going to explain why.  Many other photographer-authors have already done that and I see no need to put my own spin on it.   But there may be differences between two polarizing filters, either from two different manufacturers, or from the same manufacturer.  That is what we’re going to look at here.

Frankly, choosing a polarizing filter from a dozen or more options is a pain.  If you have a limited budget, you might select the cheapest filter.  If you have used filters before, you will likely stick with a brand that you know and trust.

The photo above shows five polarizing filters. All attach to the front of a camera lens; four include a screw thread to attach directly to the lens and one is designed for a filter holder.  Most are constructed from a glass element and a metal ring, but the most expensive filter is mostly plastic.

Clockwise from top left: (1) Singh-Ray LB Neutral Circular Polarizer for Z-Pro holder, (2) Tiffen circular polarizer 77mm, (3) Rodenstock Digital HR circular polarizer, (4) Hoya polarizer, (5) Tiffen HT Digital circular polarizer.

In true Sesame Street manner … which one of these does not belong with the others?  While Singh-Ray does offer standard screw-in filters, this version shown here is designed specifically for a Cokin Z-Pro filter holder.  Filter holders such as this allow the use of rectangular graduated filters.  If you need both grad filters and polarization, you have two choices: attach a polarizing filter to the lens and then add the filter holder onto that, or use a special filter that fits directly in the holder.  The Sing-Ray LB series (LB = lighter and brighter) isn’t quite as dark as most polarizing filters – you lose less light compared to others.  And, while some polarizers have a color tint, the LB Neutral does not.  This filter is ridiculously expensive.

Next, consider the silver-ring filter, which is a Tiffen Digital HT circular polarizer (HT = High Transmission).  Like the Singh-Ray LB, this filter is not as dark as most polarizers, so you lose less light through the filter.  Unlike the Sing-Ray LB Neutral, this filter has a color tint.  This filter is low-profile; however, while “low profile” usually implies there is no female thread on the front, this filter does have a front thread.

In the specific case of the Digital HT, the front threading and the rear threading are both shallow, allowing the filter to be thinner. But after eight years of use, the rear thread has worn and this filter sometimes does not stay attached to the lens – that’s a problem.  I recently replaced this filter with the Rodenstock HR Digital filter.  The color is more neutral compared to the Tiffen Digital HT.  However, it is not HT or LB, and I do miss that.

What is a low-profile filter?  It is simply thinner than usual, in order to solve a particular problem.  The problem with adding filters to the front of a lens is that they can cause vignetting, particularly if you stack multiple filters together.  Low-profile filters often omit the female thread on the front, meaning you cannot attach another filter in front of it.  The thinnest filters I have seen are from Vu Filters (http://www.vufilters.com).  Frankly, unless you are experiencing a vignette problem, I suggest avoiding low-profile filters.

In addition to the Tiffen Digital HT, the photo here shows another Tiffen.  This is a basic circular polarizing filter.  It is good quality and I have relied upon frequently.  However, I am replacing it with a B+W F-Pro circular polarizer (not shown), which I think is a bit better.

Just as lenses often have optical coatings on the glass, the same can be true for filters.  The second photo (below) shows a telephone pole reflected on the filters.  You can see that some filters are less reflective than others, which is achieved through coatings applied to the surface of the glass.  From the top of the photo, first is the Singh-Ray, followed by the 77mm Tiffen, and then the 67mm Rodenstock Digital HR.  See how the Rodenstock is a bit less reflective than the others? It has multiple coatings on the surface of the glass.

(Click on the image below to view it larger size.)

Singh-ray, Tiffen cir.pl., Rodenstock HR Digital cir.pl., Hoya pol., Tiffen Digital HT cir.pl.

Singh-ray, Tiffen cir.pl., Rodenstock HR Digital cir.pl., Hoya pol., Tiffen Digital HT cir.pl.

The one polarizing filter that I have not yet mentioned is an old Hoya filter, which is a linear polarizer, not a circular polarizer.  Any linear polarizer can interfere with electronic auto-focus.  Circular is generally preferable because you can always use a circular polarizer in place of a linear polarizer, but the reverse is not true.  None-the-less, I did use this filter quite recently in a situation where I was relying upon manual focus.  I have owned this filter for twenty years … since before I owned autofocus lenses.

Once upon a time, photographers needed an array of color-correction filters to compensate for peculiarities in the light.  However, with the advent of digital cameras that include a color temperature adjustment, color correction can be done in-camera, largely eliminating the need for such filters.  So, today, I carry only three types of filters, polarizing, neutral density, and graduated neutral density.  While ND and grad ND are rather specialized devices that many folks do not need, the one filter every outdoor photographer needs is a polarizing filter.


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Tall Ships

Schooner visits Boston Harbor - OpSail 2012

Schooner visits Boston Harbor – OpSail 2012

The phrase “tall ships” means tall-mast rigged sailing ships.  Historically important … modernly fascinating … and just plain fun.  These ships remind us of the golden age of sail, before the rise of motor power.

The largest tall ships are referred to as Class A, having a length more than 40 meters. (The bowsprit is Not included in that measure.)  Vessels shorter than Class A are designated as Class B, C, and D; these are not the largest but are still very impressive.

Today, we have more than sixty Class A tall ships across the globe.  More than half are European and eight are American.  This includes the U.S.S. Constitution, which is based here in Massachussetts.  U.S.S. Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides (a nickname earned in active battle), is retired from service but retains the title “the world’s oldest commissioned naval ship”, meaning it is officially staffed with Navy officers and sailors.

A gathering of tall ships is often referred to as Operation Sail or OpSail; but these events do not happen very often. The largest gathering in my memory occurred in 2000 under the moniker Sail Boston. We last saw OpSail on the east coast in 2012, in part to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Sail Boston happens once again in 2017 – more than fifty tall ships!
>>   SailBoston.com


Upcoming 2015 tall ship events

Philadelphia PA … June 25 – 28, 2015  … more than a dozen ships

Tall Ships Challenge 2015
• Greenport NY … July 4 – 7   www.greenportvillage.com/tall-ships-2015
• Portland ME … July 12 – 20  www.tallshipsportland.com/invitedships

And more
• Boston MA … July 1 – July 5
Maybe four ships (Liberty Clipper, Liberty Star, USCG Eagle, USS Constitution)

Hermione :
• Baltimore MD … June 19 – 21, 2015
• NYC … July 2 – 4, 2015

Kalmar Nyckel :
• Provincetown MA … July 10 – 19, 2015

USS Constitution stands watch as a parade of sail passes by

USS Constitution stands watch as a parade of sail passes by

Posted in New England, Photo | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sand Sculpting Competition

Dawn at Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Competition

Dawn at Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Competition

Among dozens of annual sand-sculpting competitions across the United States, some are open to amateurs, some are limited to proven master sculptors, and some include both.  Of the master competitions, two occur within New England.  By invitation only, master sculptors participate and compete to win cash prizes.

You can visit during the competition and see the artists at work, or you can visit during days following the competition.  Sculptures are created at a distance away from the surf, so that they will not be washed away. Barring rain or strong winds that erode the sculptures, the completed works may remain on display for a week or more.   A visit at sunrise or sunset can be particularly rewarding as the warm light of the sun rakes across the beach.

Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Competition (Hampton Beach, NH), June 18-20, 2015. Now in its fifteenth year, this competition will bring together ten master sculptors.  Also, one giant sculpture will be created by a team of sculptors on behalf of one corporate sponsor.
Website:  www.hamptonbeach.org/sandcastle-competition.cfm.

Revere Beach Sand Sculpting Festival (Revere, MA) , July 24-26, 2015.
An annual event since 2004, this festival also includes live music and a fireworks display. Revere is close to Boston and you may choose to visit via the MBTA public rail system; Revere Beach Station is only one block away from the beach.
Website: reverebeach.com.


More master sand sculpting events beyond New England:

AIA Sandcastle Competition (Galveston, TX), American Sandsculpting Championship (Fort Myers Beach, FL), Arts In Action (Port Angeles, WA), Blue Water SandFest (Port Huron, MI), Cannon Beach Sandcastle Contest (Canon Beach, OR), Headlands BeachFest (Mentor, OH), Navarre Beach Sand Sculpting Festival (Navarre Beach, FL), SandSations (Long Beach, WA), Sandcastle Days (South Padre Island, TX), Sanding Ovations Sand Sculpting Competition and Music Festival (Treasure Island, FL), Siesta Key Crystal Classic (Siesta Key, FL), U.S. Sand sculpting Competition (Sand Diego, CA), Virginia Beach International Sandsculpting Championship (Virginia Beach, VA).

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The Next Phantom Quadcopter Drone – Phantom 3

Last October, I listed Drones for Under $2000.  A week later, DJI announced a new quadcopter drone, Inspire 1, which was notable, but far above the $2000 price point. This week, DJI announced the third incarnation of it’s original Phantom, which now incorporates some features from Inspire but retains the more affordable price tag of the Phantom line.  Here are the broad brush strokes.

Phantom 3 (DJI press release photo)

Phantom 3

  • Improved camera system supports video and stills. Phantom 3 “pro” supports 4K video resolution.
  • 3-axis gimbal, similar to Phanom 2 Vision
  • The new gimbal seems to pan, unlike its predecessor on the Phantom 2 Vision+
  • Digital video downlink sends live video feed to your mobile device on the ground (up to 720p)
  • Downward-facing visual and ultrasonic sensors allow position hold without GPS (indoors), like the Inspire 1
  • Improvements in motors and motor control provide better stability and longer battery life.

Phantom 3 vs Inspire 1

  • Inspire 1 is larger than Phantom and can fly faster
  • Inspire 1 allows unobstructed 360 degree camera rotation – retracting landing struts will not obstruct the view.
  • Inspire 1 supports dual pilot operation.
  • Phantom is theoretically much more durable than Inspire
  • Phantom costs far less than Inspire
  • Phantom provides a slightly longer flight time.

Not to be left behind, 3D Robotics will soon release their new quadcopter, currently known as SOLO.

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