Monthly Archives: January 2012

Brazos Bend State Park, Texas (Eliminating the Stir Crazies and Testing A Telephoto)

Normally, I like to stay home and go nowhere during my weekends and days off (when I don’t have a plane ticket to someplace out West, that is), because I commute 84 miles round trip to and from work every single day.  It gets old and I’ve been doing this for a little short of 14 years.  However, after an extended series of weekends at home, I began to get a little stir-crazy with cabin fever and needed to get out and about somewhere with my camera.  So this past Saturday (Jan 28), I took my cameras and a couple of lenses (including a rented Canon 70-300mmL IS lens) and hit the road to Brazos Bend State Park.

I used to joke “if you’ve seen one alligator, you’ve seen them all”, but I don’t really mean it.  This little photographic oasis out in the middle of nowhere is a wealth of photo ops – particularly of the winged kind.  Herons, birds of prey, moorhens, grebes, ibis, egrets – they all make this place their home (or at least, their stopover).  Deer, armadillos, snakes (poisonous and non-) also make their home in this park.

I don’t have much experience, really, with bird photography (or any wildlife photography, actually), but I’ve been looking at a number of birders who post their photos on Flickr, and I also had the pleasure of traveling with a bird photographer during my 2011 Ireland trip.  So I figured I should probably work on my photo techniques pertaining to wildlife.

During the winter months at the park, the birdlife is not as varied as it is during spring and summer.  And the alligators don’t really come out unless it’s a warm day.  So I have decided I should make at least three more trips out to the park: spring, summer, and autumn, and blog about the differences I see during each of the seasons.  This post is the Winter post.

I left my home at about 6:15AM and arrived at the park a few minutes prior to 7AM.  The park doesn’t open until 7AM on Saturdays, so I just sat in the car outside of the entrance and listened to all the birdsong, including the deep hooting of a nearby owl.  After paying my $7 entry fee, I headed down the road at 30mph, stopping along the way to allow some deer to cross.  This image was taken looking outside of my windshield.  Not the sharpest of images, but I didn’t yet have the correct camera settings and was in a hurry to get the shot before the deer scampered away (yes, I had stopped and the emergency brake was on – no photographing while driving for this kid).

My first stop was at Creekfield Lake, across from the visitor center.  Aside from the crows, my first wild fowl view was of what I call the “Buzzard Tree”.  Buzzards (aka vultures) are not a pretty bird, but their wingspans and appearance in the air certainly are impressive.

Creekfield Lake is a small lake but has the prettiest scenery around it, I think.  Although the day was forcasted to be clear, sunny, and in the upper 60’s, that morning at 7AM, it was overcast, very windy, and downright chilly.  I was pretty tickled because cloud cover always makes for interesting scenery shots.

Note the leading line of the trail and the fact that I used the rule-of-thirds for placement (ahem).

My next birdlife view (and audio experience) was of the coots (the bird kind, not the old men kind).  Those birds are on every lake in this park.  During this time of the season, they outnumber the other birdlife around the lake.

So I walked around the paved .5-mile interpretative nature loop, stopping now and then to photograph the coots and the various vegetative life, of which there is a wealth in that park.

They call these stumps “cypress knees”

Tree fungus

Spanish moss drifts and lands everywhere (for those of you who have read my posts regarding “rules” of photography, you will note that I not only did not use the rule-of-thirds with this image, but I placed it smack dab in the center (as I have done with a number of other images in this post).  Hah!  So much for “rules”.

I was hoping to spot a heron or egret or duck, but I didn’t see any of that this early in the morning around this lake.  I figured it must be the time of year.  I did see a bright splash of red from the corner of my eye while walking and I spotted a couple of cardinals (or “redbirds” as the locals call them).

I also had the good fortune to see a little blue bird high up in the tree limbs – I was told that – like lady bugs – to see a bluebird means you will have good luck.

Having used my tripod only for the landscape shots of the lake, I realized it was going to be a bit of a hindrance for me.  I tend to photograph “on the fly”, using a tripod mainly for landscapes and preferring to handhold the camera and lens when it comes to capturing images of moving subjects.  These little cardinals, for instance, were constantly moving.  So I lay the tripod down and began to test the handholding IS capability of this Canon 70-300mmL lens.  I like it!  Combined with a full-frame camera, the clarity of the images is wonderful – even after  75-100% crop.  And it’s a light lens (compared to the 70-200 lens).  I have small, arthritic hands, so this lens was great.  I’d use it for weddings (I have an upcoming wedding shoot) except that the lowest aperture on this lens is 4.5; unless the wedding is held outdoors during the day, they are usually interior, low-light affairs calling for a lens with the capability of at least f2.8.

For almost all of my images, the ISO was set to 640.  I learned this trick from a Flickr contact.  I set the ISO relatively high so that I could get super-fast shutter speeds in the sunlight in order to freeze a bird’s movement.  My aperture was set to 6.3 and the shutter speeds varied from 1/500 to 1/2000.

After circling Creekfield Lake, I returned to the car and drove back toward the park entrance and 40 Acre Lake.  While I am of the opinion that Creekfield Lake has the prettiest scenery, I believe 40 Acre Lake has the best wildlife viewing opportunities.  I ended up visiting this place twice – once during the early morning hours, and then again between noon and 2PM.  Turns out my second visit was a good choice; by then, the temperature and sun were warm enough to elicit the American Alligators to come out and bask in the warmth (I didn’t see them earlier in the morning, when it was much cooler and windier).

40 Acre Lake has a 1.2-mile trail encircling the water with an observation tower at the northeast corner.

As I was walking around the trail, a couple of photographers passed by, each one carrying two of the biggest Canon lenses on tripods that I have ever seen in my life!  Good thing those men were large themselves, because it would take a large person to lug one of those things around.  For a split second, I had “lens envy”, but after the two men passed on, I happily went about the business of testing the “little” telephoto lens I had rented.

Again, I saw plenty of coots,

but I also saw ibis,

roseate spoonbills (here’s an example of the great crop capabilities of the camera/telephoto combo about which I wrote earlier in this post),

The original image:

The cropped image:

a snowy egret,

a blue heron,

Original – can you spot the heron?

Crop #1:

Crop #2:

Fishing for breakfast:

another cardinal,


a cormorant,

plenty of Spanish moss,

fish (boats are prohibited but it’s free to fish, so many people were out with their poles and tackle boxes that morning),

and of course, alligators (6 different ones along the shore).

I saw a number of these “gator wallows” (my term, but maybe that’s what they actually are called) along the shoreline.

And another original vs. 75% crop:

While perambulating around the path, I naturally climbed up the observation tower for some views:

To the West

To the East

To the North

To the South

And to the Southwest (all of these observation tower images exemplify another one of those “rules” of photography: perspective)

During my walk, I saw the effects this long Texas drought has wrought.  All along the non-lake sides, what once flowed with dark water and brilliant green pond scum was now a dry dusty green and brown.

As I continued along the trail back to the parking lot, I stopped to photograph some tree bark, thus bringing to mind another one of those “rules” I have written about:  pattern (and texture).

Another stop I made while in the park was to Hale Lake.   I didn’t stay long there, though, because I was beginning to poop out and feel the effects of my slightly sunburnt face.  I had a little trouble finding the lake (drove right past the trail) and hiked about half a mile out of my way before realizing my mistake.

Hale Lake is what I call an “oxbow” lake – a part of the Brazos River that was eventually cut off and bypassed in favor of an easier route for the river water to flow.

By 2PM, cars and crowds had multiplied exponentially – time for me to head home and process the photos.   I had a great day at the park.  Cabin fever and stir crazies are banished and I came away with some wonderful images.

Plus, I know now that Spring is just around the corner (in Texas, that is).

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Filed under birds, Brazos Bend State Park, nature, Parks, Photography, wildlife

On Being A Nice Photographer

I’m going to be visiting Brazos Bend State Park tomorrow (Jan 28) using a rented telephoto lens and I hope to get some nice bird images.  So, this particular post is a sort of interim post reflecting things I have been thinking about for quite a while but haven’t put in print.

I admit it – sometimes I am a snobby photographer concerned only about me, me, me and my images, not taking the time to thank people for their kind compliments (why, I deserve those nice words, don’t I?  It’s a given!), and not taking the time to encourage other photographers and their work.  That not only embarrasses me, but it pisses me off!  How could I be that way?  I hate seeing it in other photogs, so I should keep my own self accountable.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I know I will either break them, or something else will occur to negate the original resolution (sort of like the mandatory annual setting of my goals and objectives for the year at work – nothing ever stays the same through an entire year, it just doesn’t).  Nonetheless, I have made a couple of resolutions that I can keep through not only this year, but for the remainder of my years on this planet.  One resolution deals with the images I see on Flickr and on various blogs here at WordPress, and in galleries, craft stalls, classes, etc.  I try to go through each day (or every other day, or sometimes just once a week) and actually look at other photographers’ images and comment on them, telling them how good this or that photo is and what a good job he/she did with the lighting, composition, etc.  And this is for anybody who takes up a camera to capture an image – for the point-and-shoot enthusiast, for the pro looking to earn a living with their photos, for the serious hobbyist who takes photos as good as any “pro” but who has a day job other than photography.  I notice on Flickr that those photographers who have “made it” in some shape or form – be it having an article they wrote (with photos) published in a major photo magazine, or selling a bunch of photos to a stock agency or some other entity, or winning a huge award in some contest – become so competitive-minded and immersed in themselves that they tend to get condescending to other photographers, neglect any encouragement or constructive criticism (unless, of course, they are getting paid for it), and basically expect the accolades to come to them because – well – they deserve it, don’t they?

Don’t misunderstand me – I know photography is a highly competitive business with a gazillion awesome photographers out there all reaching for that golden ring.  I know it’s extremely difficult to make it in the biz and make a decent living from it; it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, photographically.  Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean a photographer can’t be professional towards other photographers and wanna-be photographers and the occasional picture-taker.  Arrogant, dismissive, condescending, rude, ignorant photographers give all photographers a bad name.  This applies not only to a photographer’s attitude toward others, but also their attitude toward such things as the right to privacy, personal property rights, and the environment.

Another resolution I plan to keep is to not be snide to other photographers (I hope in my photographic lifetime I have never been snide, but maybe I have and just not recognized it for what it was) – if I don’t like a photograph, I simply won’t comment on it (and please remember, photography is a subjective medium – one person may like what another person does not).  What good comes from some snippy snide remark (and I’ve read alot of them on others’ Flickr photostreams) made by some guy (yup, it’s usually a guy, but gals are not totally exempt) who basically denigrates the image and infers that the picture-taker is an idiot who shouldn’t even be holding a camera – especially if that camera is not an SLR.  I got my start with photography using a point-and-shoot.  Those people should follow the examples set by such photographers as Grant Brummett, Claudia DomenigJohn Hamilton, and Jeff Clow.

I know – some of you reading this are saying to themselves “she’s writing this becausee she isn’t published in a magazine and hasn’t won anything and isn’t recognized in some form and is not even trying to go pro because she has a day job already – she’s never had to compete and she’s apparently not worried about copyright infringement.”  Not true (read my post about copyrighting your photos).  I do have a day job that may drive me nuts at times, but it pays the bills, allows me to take nice vacations, and I am not opting to live solely off of my photos just yet.  I have sold several photos from my website, I’ve acted as official photographer for the company that employs me (read my post about the Dilley Office opening in South TX),  I’ve actually been published in a couple of online sites (admittedly eons ago, so I don’t even remember the name of the sites – sigh), I’ve had a photo published in the Oct 2010 edition of the Seattle Met magazine, am a contributor to Getty Images, and thanks to Blurb, am published and a number of people now have my photographic journals and weekly planners.

I’ve got an upcoming wedding shoot and an upcoming engagement shoot (both paying gigs).   I think rather highly of my photographic talents, thank you very much, but that’s as far as my hubris should go.

I’ve gone on too long about this subject, but it’s important to me (and it’s my blog anyway) and should be important to you other photographers out there as well.  Take time from your photo biz (or budding photo biz) to be nice.  Say nice things not only about your photographer friends’ photos, but about strangers’ photos as well.  Ask first before traipsing onto private property.  Be mindful (and respectful) of other persons’ rights to privacy.  And be observant of the environment and ecosystem around you, so that you leave it the way you found it, in order that others may enjoy the same scene.  By being nice, you are being professional, are acting as a role model and representing the photographic profession in a good way, and you may even learn something from others which you can apply to your own work.  That’s not a bad thing, really.


Filed under Attitude, photographers, Photography


The first time I ever really took notice of hummingbirds was when I was married and still living in Seattle some 17 years ago.  My then-husband was looking for some recreational property and we took a boat ride with a real estate agent (who seriously believed he had the power to read minds and make people do what he wished…..) out to an island off of Anacortes.  We were investigating a beautiful log house under construction at the top of a hill (while trying to keep our distance from the nutty agent), and I was looking out the huge then-glassless picture window.  All of a sudden, I heard a loud buzzing noise which I attributed to a large bumble bee I couldn’t see.  Like magic (practically scaring me out of my wits), this little creature with loudly humming wings zipped up and hovered a few inches from my face before just as quickly disappearing, leaving me enchanted.

Now that I live in Southeast Texas, I actually have greater access to these busy little creatures….in September (I’ve since learned they come across my area in the spring too, but I’ve never really noticed them before except during September).  SE Texas is a sort of “stopover” for  the Ruby-Throated hummingbird on their migratory trek from the far north of Canada down into South America.

By September, they are hungry, their energy reserves rapidly depleted but with still a very long way to travel.  So my parents would set out two to five feeders filled with nectar (do NOT use honey and do NOT use food coloring).  Anywhere from one to 19 birds would flock around the feeders’ flower-shaped feeding funnels.

I learned then just how territorial these little guys are.  Often they would spend more time chasing away interlopers than actually stopping to sip from the straw.

Getting a great photo of these teeny little birdies is quite the trick sometimes, unless you are very patient and have lots of time to stand around or sit nearby a feeder.  Hummers are skittish, but because they soooo want that sweet stuff in the feeders, they get over their shyness pretty quickly and will ignore you if you don’t move around much.

What I discovered during my various hummingbird photo shoots is that my two best friends are a telephoto lens you can handhold, and a flash.  I’ve tried the tripod route, with some small measure of success, but handholding a lens with image stabilization allowed for a greater number of good photos.  For me, a flash was necessary to stop the wing action and get a clear shot under normally shadowed circumstances, since my images were usually captured in the morning hours (one of the few times I actually like using a flash).  Oh, and it goes without saying that fast shutter speeds are quite helpful – especially if you aren’t using a flash.

The images in this post were taken between 2006 and 2009.  I didn’t take any photos during 2010 or 2011 (Dad died in 2010 and neither Mom nor I thought to set out any feeders in 2011).  I’ll try to remedy that this year.  One thing to remember if you are going to set out feeders yourself:  change the sugar solution often (if it hasn’t been emptied out by hungry hummers, that is).  The solution has a tendancy to go sour pretty quickly, which can make the little guys sick.  Nobody wants that!

So read up on hummingbirds, look at other photographers’ images, find out the best places in your area to see these cuties, and have some photographic fun with them!


Filed under hummingbirds, nature, Photography, wildlife

InfraRed – IR a Fan of this Medium (get it?)

While digging through my photo archives for images to use in the previous post, I happened upon several CDs with Raw 2007 files taken with my IR-converted Nikon D40  (camera long since sold).  Neato, I thought to myself, I now have another subject for a blog post!

What is IR photography, and IR (infrared) in general?  Without getting too tech-y (I’m not really a tech-y kind of person), this refers to the infrared (or, near infrared) spectrum of light which the eye cannot see.  Let’s just say that the resulting images can look pretty funky/dreamy/spooky and definitely out of the ordinary.  Skies and water are so dark as to be almost black, foliage is a dreamy white, and clouds are out-of-this-world detailed.

Back in the pre-digital days, the only way to achieve images like the ones you see here, was to affix an infrared filter to the lens and use infrared-sensitive film.  Because of the opaque-ish blackness of the IR filter, focusing was difficult, to say the least, and the camera needed to be on a tripod since long shutter speeds were necessary to let in enough IR lightwaves.  Even with the advent of the digital camera, the same issues are encountered because the in-camera filter over the digital sensor blocks IR light rays.

I never tried the lens filter route, because by the time I discovered IR, there were places out there (like Life Pixel) that would actually convert one’s camera’s sensor by replacing the IR-blocking filter with an IR-friendly filter.  And Life Pixel isn’t the only IR conversion company around. (my favorite rental place for lenses and cameras) has their IR cameras converted by MaxMax.  And there are a host of other conversion companies out there, including Precision Camera.

I thought the whole idea of a digital camera I could hand-hold, use regular ISOs, and capture IR photos without long shutter speeds was a pretty cool thing, so back in ’07, I purchased a used Nikon D40 on eBay and sent it off to Life Pixel.  I purchased the straight IR filter conversion (they have other types of conversions, of varying costs).

Here’s the deal, though.  With the typical IR filter conversion, your images straight from the camera are red!

You must bring them into your photo editor and from there convert them to black & white, or play around with the red, green, and blue channels for some funky results.

I had alot of fun re-processing these older images, and this is a good opportunity for me to remind all of you photographers out there to NEVER get rid of your photos;  editing technology and your expertise with post-processing improve with time, allowing you to return and rescue images once thought to be total losers (but which now turn out to be incredible winners).

How did I process these photos?

First thing I did was bring the raw images into Lightroom 3, where I applied a preset I created and saved to the program:  I clicked on the Enable Profile Corrections, moved the Recovery slider all the way to the right (100), and applied some Clarity (50).

From there, I tweaked/cropped/straightened or rotated as I saw fit.  Then I chose which images I wanted to convert to black & white, and went up to the menu bar to select Photo-Edit in-Silver Efex Pro (a plug in I use in Lightroom).  After playing around with selected images and converting them to monochrome, I exported all the images (the red ones as well as the monochrome-converted ones)  as TIFs to a folder I titled “IR”.

I opened up Adobe Photoshop CS5 and brought in the TIF files – easy to open up lots of files at once because these were taken with a Nikon D40, with an effective resolution of 6.1 mp (as opposed to my Canon 5D Mark II, with an effective resolution of about 21 mp).  At the end of all my edits, I applied a teeny bit of Unsharp Mask to these photos (instead of my regular 85%, I dialed it down to 60%).

I also had a little more fun with the IR photos by using the Channel Mixer (Image-Adjustments-Channel Mixer).

Here’s the Original:

Channel Mixed one way:

Channel Mixed another way:

or just Monochrome (as converted with the Silver Efex Pro plug-in):

Next to one side of my sister’s home is a little hidden area with a bench, surrounded by trees and plants – I call it their Secret Garden.

En route to Mt. Rainier (or, as the locals call it: The Mountain).

At a view area not too far from Tipsoo Lake in Mt. Rainier NP, I stopped to capture this image of the moon.

A view of the valley on the way from Ellensburg WA toward Wenatchee.

An image of an old barn located on the road to Wenatchee WA.

Scenery at the Sunrise area of Mt. Rainer NP.  I didn’t realize I hadn’t cropped out the people, but decided to leave them in since they provide a nice scale.

The Mountain, framed.

I believe this is a Jimson flower.

IR photography is like HDR – it’s another medium allowing the photographer to express and improve upon their creativity.  Unless you plan on working with infrared extensively, it is somewhat pricey to have a SLR camera converted for IR photography.  Instead, why not rent a converted camera for a few days and enjoy experimenting with this medium to create something new and a little out of the ordinary for yourself and your viewers.


Filed under IR, Photography


Spring – I’m wishing for it.

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of year here in Texas, and the weather is pretty much perfect:  not humid, not too hot, not too cold.  The bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush, spider lilies, and primrose pop up to blanket swaths of fields, boulevards, and front and back yards with blues, pinks, purples, reds, and whites.

At the same time the wildflowers are coloring up Texas, they are also popping  up in my favorite state in the whole US:  Washington.

I lived there for 10 years (Seattle), I have family there, and I hope to retire there.  I try to make it out to WA to visit family and favorite sights every year, but last year (2011) I didn’t make it because of my big Ireland trip (see my previous posts about that trip).  I generally like to visit Washington in April, to celebrate my and my brother-in-law’s birthdays.  I also like to visit during that month because my bro-in-law is a flower grower extraordinnaire and their front, side, and back yards sport tulips, daffodils, iris, and other spring flowers of every shape, kind, and color grow-able in that state.

Since the flowers are not in bloom yet down here (it’s January 21 as of this post), I’ve been digging through my spring flower photos (I’ve got a pretty large archive of stuff through which to dig) and thought I would post these reminders of the season in which I was born.

For most of these images, I used a macro lens or a wide-angle lens, depending on how I wanted to  capture the images.  The cameras vary, from the Mamiya medium-format images and Canon film cameras (which were then scanned years ago to digital format) to a Nikon D70 and D40X to the Canon 5D and 5D Mark II.

Spring is not only lovely in color, but in monochrome as well.

Spring – I’m wishing for it.

Hey – if you like this photoblog, please click on this link to vote for me for the Photoblog Awards .  And THANKS! 😀


Filed under nature, Photography, Seasons, Spring

Dance! Capturing The Art

While I may not necessarily be that fond of Texas (I’m a Montana mountain gal), I willingly admit that living in this state has afforded me some great opportunities to make the acquaintance of and photograph some very interesting people:

Entertainers out at the Texas Renaissance Festival such as the Gypsy Dance Theatre,

various performers within the King’s Feasthall at the Texas Renaissance Festival such as The Cannibal Tudors,

and performers with the Colombian Orchid Ballet.

I enjoy photographing dancers working their magic, but capturing a dance image can be a tricky task.  For me, it’s mainly because the lighting is not always optimal, and during those times when the lighting is pretty decent, the stage setting may not be the prettiest.  I would love to try photographing performances of the Houston Ballet and downtown Hobby Center musicals – especially since I don’t use flash – but the ushers are eagle-eyed and I would rather be able to enjoy the performance sans camera than risk being kicked out of a show for which I paid alot of money.

So, how do I capture the art of the dance?  In addition to aperture, shutter speeds, and ISO adjustments, I also use the rules about which I have written in previous posts:

5 Rules of Photography In No Particular Order

A Few More “Rules” Of Photography (To Be Followed Or Not)

Following are some images I’ve captured over the past 3 years with tips on how I took them as well as other tidbits you may or may not find interesting.

The photo below is of Soraya during the fire dance performance of the Gypsy Dance Theatre out at the TX Renaissance Festival.  For this image and the fire dance image shown near the beginning of this post, I used my Canon 85mm f1.8 lens (I’ve since traded it in for the Canon 85mm L lens, but this 1.8 lens is a good lens – light and easy to handle and produces wonderful images).  I used a high ISO of 5000 in order to get some faster shutter speeds (this one used a shutter speed of 400).  While the photo looks like night, the actual surrounding area was more like dusk, so the trick of using a high ISO in order to apply some really fast shutter speeds is a trick that rodeo photographer John Hamilton uses for his fantastic daylight rodeo action images.  I didn’t even have to use any noise-reduction software to these images.  Soraya’s dance was slow, so it was easy to capture some nice clear shots.

I used a Canon 17-40mm lens and a less-fast ISO and shutter speed (1000, 1/125) for this shot of Florita and her fire arcs.  She moved around a bit more, and what I ended up doing was just holding down on the shutter release button and letting the camera click, click, click; I do this alot, actually, when photographing dancers – with both IS and non-IS lenses – because I am generally assured of at least one nice, clear image out of the series.  I cropped out extraneous crowds.  Most of the dance photos I have captured are usually against less-than-desirable backgrounds.  Just the nature of the location.

His character name is Istan Bull-kebobs and he was one of the acting cast members in the King’s Feast show back in 2009 at the Texas Renaissance Festival.  A former Houston ballet dancer, this young man was wonderful to watch (how often does the King’s Feast get a real live ballet dancer in its midst??)  Photographing him was realllly difficult.  The lighting in the Feast Hall sucks photographically.  Oh, if I had used flash, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but I HATE using flash in that place.  The light is harsh, it bugs the hell out of the performers and the Feast patrons, and it elicits icky shadows.  So, I used an ISO of 1500 with a 24-105mm lens at a shutter speed of 1/30 and aperture of f4 and held down on the shutter release.  In retrospect, I should have used a higher ISO with that lens so I could have gotten a bit of a faster shutter (although I would have had to apply more noise reduction).  I made it my mission throughout that renfaire season to attempt a relatively clear capture of Istan dancing, and I managed to pull off a couple of winners.

The fan dancing image below was taken at the 2010 Graduate International Culture Night at Rice University in Houston.  The stage setting for these wonderful dances was terrible – an awful background for photography.  And the lighting sucked – basically it was provided by a couple of colorful strobes.  I used a Canon 70-200 telephoto (with IS, since the photos I took that night were all hand held), and ISO of 6400, shutter speed of 1/80, and an aperture of f2.8.  The resulting photos definitely needed noise reduction applied.  And in the case of this photo, I cropped the image in order for the viewer to focus more on the lovely dancers (I’ve included the before- and after-cropped images)

Below is Gypsy Dance Theatre performer Soraya and her snake in the King’s Feasthall of the TX Renfest, using my Canon 50mm (f1.4) prime at an ISO if 1600, shutter speed of 1/60 and aperture of 2.5

Below is a new-age dance performance by Top Cat Dance during the Houston Fringe Festival (a performing arts festival) at the Hope Stone Center.  I managed to get one single decent image of this particular dance because the only light source I had was the black light used in this performance.  No tripod because the movement was constant (I’ve never used a tripod for any of my dance shots).  Lens: 70-200, ISO 6400, shutter speed 1/80, aperture f2.8.  Focusing was a bitch.  Noise-reduction software applied.

Below is a demonstration of Cumbia (a Colombian dance) by the Colombian Orchid Ballet in Houston’s Rice University student center.  I cropped this image because I wanted to focus on principal dancer Dalila.  I also wanted to eliminate as much of the less-than-desireable background as possible.  As usual, lighting was not the best, I did not use a tripod, and movement was constant, so I held down on the shutter button and used a high ISO.  This image I also converted to monochrome, as you can see below.  I like the use of monochrome with people and with landscapes because black & white is wonderful at showing the subtle nuances of light, shadow, and texture – stuff that color images don’t always delineate as well.

Ah, now the lighting in the photos below was prime, but the stage setting sucked and sometimes it was just not worth it to try and clone out the crap (although I did managed to clone out some intrusive microphones – and this was prior to Photoshop’s Content Aware Fill).  This image and the other two below were taken at the Houston iFest during a performance of the Colombian Orchid Ballet.  They demonstrated the Cumbia, along with some wonderfully energetic dances featuring the Marimondas and El Hombre Caiman (Colombian Folkloric dancing).

The image with the hand prints on the background was taken in a large ball-room area of the Rice University Student Center.  Lighting was better than usual, but still not optimal.  I like this image, but it may be a little bit too “busy”.  I try to stick (more or less) to a photographic rule which I didn’t list in either of my posts:  simplicity.  That rule is totally optional, and it’s probably not even a “rule”.

These next images were taken during the Houston Fringe Festival mentioned above.  The Colombian Orchid Ballet performed at two different venues on two different evenings.  This venue was at the Houston Met Dance Center.  For that evening, I was all dressed up nice and pretty (I always try to put forth a professional appearance, although I was probably over dressed for this one event as it was during a Houston summer).  The venue was a large gymnasium.  I discovered a series of stairs leading up to a dilapidated balcony overlooking the performances and I made full use of my 70-200 and 24-105mm lenses.  The balcony was used for storage and I had to watch my step in my heels.  Oh, and it was sweltering up there!  I captured not only the Colombian Orchid Ballet, but also another new-agey sort of dance company whose name I cannot remember.

So there you have it – my attempts at capturing the art of Dance.  For the most part, I’ve been successful in capturing some pretty good images.  And I’ve had some wonderful models with whom to work.  Maybe my information will give you the impetus to go out there and try your hand at dance photography.


Filed under dance, Photography

A Few More “Rules” Of Photography (To Be Followed Or Not)

As I mentioned in my last post, there are really quite a number of “rules” of photography.  Some of them you really do need to follow to ensure a decent shot, but others are more or less optional (so I don’t know if that means they really aren’t rules, or if they are rules that can be broken with no repercussions). The rules listed in this post are optional, but still quite helpful.

Fill The Frame

This is definitely an optional rule, depending on what you want to see.  Filling the frame means getting as much of your subject into the frame as possible, without any extraneous, distracting background or useless “dreck”.  For the mushroom photo, this works quite well.  I don’t want a whole bunch of grass in the photo (ok, you might, but I don’t).

However, for the photo of the man and the handprint background (which, btw, uses another rule I mentioned in a previous post), filling the frame is optional, depending upon what you wish to convey.   As you can see, filling the frame can totally change the focus of a photo.


I don’t think many landscape photographers care much for scale, because that usually involves including people in the photo, and the object of most landscape photogs is to to capture the vista sans humans.  I like scale.  I like showing the magnitude of the main subject by including lesser subjects – even human ones – in the photo.  It tells a story and gives the viewer a sense of the vastness that might not otherwise be comprehensible.

See the little photographers along the road?

See the little cars in the right lower corner of the road?

See the people standing at the viewpoint to the left of the image?

See the little rider standing on the horse’s back, holding the American flag from which fireworks are spewing?

Perspective (aka Viewpoint)

Perspective (or viewpoint) may mean you are taking the photo from below looking up, from the top looking down, or simply changing the photo from a horizontal to a vertical, rather than capturing the image full-on.  Perspective adds interest and focus on the subject, even if the photo isn’t facing the subject full-on.

This photo of the Glacier Park Lodge lobby also uses the sense-of-depth “rule” that I mention next.

Sense of Depth

Landscape photographers are always trying to convey a sense of depth to their scenes.  Photography is a 2-dimensional medium (well, unless you are using a stereographic camera), and the photographer wants to show the viewer as much of the same sense of depth (3-D’ness) as they themselves witnessed when they captured the shot.  This is created by including a foreground, middleground, and background.  Sense of depth is also created when you overlap things, like layers.  The viewer sees one layer, which leads their eye to another layer, which leads their eye to another layer – kinda like taking a mirror and facing it toward another mirror so that you get reflections (layers) going on and on and on to give you a sense of deepness (aka depth).


I actually wrote a previous post on just this rule, alone.  It’s a good one (both the rule and the post).  Be aware of the background against which you capture your image.  Sometimes the background helps to tell the story, but at other times, it may be no more than an annoying distraction that takes away from your subject.  In that case, you might think about changing your background by either moving your subject a little, using a professional backdrop or one of those digital backdrops, cropping out the offending parts – if possible, taking the background in your photo and blurring it, or, a combination of the above.

Carry A Camera With You

This rule is totally optional, but totally helpful.  I don’t carry my SLRs with me to work on a daily basis – they don’t fit in my purse and are heavy to lug around constantly.  I do carry my smartphone and a point-and-shoot (Canon Powershot G11) in my purse – originally just to capture any fender benders I might have the misfortune to experience (I’m a good little driver – dunno about all the other Texas crazies out there), but now, I carry it with me for those “just in case” moments, because as a photographer, you never know what experience is out there ready to be captured on the spur of the moment.


Filed under Photography, Rules

5 Rules of Photography In No Particular Order

I was wracking my brains for a new post since I have had absolutely ZERO opportunities to actually go out and find something to photograph, and I happened to read a post from The Incredible Lightness of Seeing who read a post from yet another photographer’s blog, which gave me an idea for a post of my own.  This whole photography-rules-thing goes on and on, with the same set of rules written differently depending upon the photographer’s writing style.  Below are five rules I consider important, not in any particular order, and in my own writing style….well, ok, actually, there are more rules than that  – depends on what a photographer considers to be a rule.  These five rules I use for my own photography work, and I’ll save the other rules (that I use) for future posts (so I won’t have to wrack my brain as much).

Leading Lines

The idea with any image is to capture the viewer’s attention and interest (in addition to capturing a memory of the scene ).  One way to do this is to choose a scene (or arrange the scene) in such a way that lines within the image lead the viewer’s eye from one thing to another – be it from the foreground to the infinite horizon, or from one end of a maze to another, or from a pointer to the thing at which the pointer is pointing.  The lines may be roads, fences, a pointing arm, or just something leading the eye from Point A to Points Onward.

Rule of Thirds

This is one of my favorite rules.

The Rule of Thirds goes something like this:  If you divide your camera’s viewfinder into thirds – be it thirds horizontally or vertically – then place the subject of your image in one of those compartments (just so long as it’s not in the middle), it creates more interest, sometimes more drama, and it also focuses the viewer’s eye more on the subject.  That’s not to say that sticking something smack dab in the middle of your photo isn’t interesting – it can be, depending on the subject or the story told, and it’s also nice sometimes just to screw with other photographers’ mindsets.


Patterns add interest, symmetry, and focus to an image.  The patterns can occur naturally (snowflakes, frost on a limb, cracks on a frozen river), or they can be man-made (as in the following photos).


Framing a scene focuses the viewer’s eye on a particular point or subject within the image; it adds emphasis to the image.  A “frame” can be anything from a window or door, to tree limbs, to something as goofy as your own hands or fingers.  And it doesn’t have to be a complete frame.  As you see in my photos below, I added parts of tree limbs and such to just one portion of my image, and yet it helps to frame that entire image and focus your eye even moreso upon the subject.

Horizons (keep ’em straight – unless you deliberately don’t want to)

Something that elicits quite a bit of (oftentimes derogatory) commentary is a tilted horizon; did the photographer simply slap that photo onto Flickr without any QC, or did they actually mean for the horizon line to be skewed like that??  Sometimes, the tilt is intentional and actually adds more interest to the image.  Other times, though, it’s an annoyance, as when a land/mountain or water/land horizon is tilted even just a little bit, thus causing a distraction.  One way to remedy this is to use your tripod’s built-in level, or to purchase one of those levels that snap into the camera’s hot shoe (that thing on top of the camera where you place your flash unit).  I use a combination of my tripod’s level and – believe it or not – just “eyeballing it”.  I have a pretty good eye for these things.  If the horizon is just a teeeeensy bit tilted, it’s easy to correct during the post processing.  Adobe Lightroom has a cropping/rotating tool that I really like, and Adobe Photoshop CS5 has a straighten-and-crop tool that allows you to draw a line from Point A to Point B, then will straighten and crop the extraneous portions of the photo for you.  Pretty cool, actually.

Ok.  That’s it for now, folks.  Next post will deal with other photographic rules, so stay tuned!


Filed under Photography, Rules

Good Food Is A Good Way To Start The New Year

Nothing says “Celebration” better than great food.  Nothing says “Holiday” better than a traditional meal.  So naturally, I had some photographic fun with our New Year’s Day lunch.

Every New Year’s Day, the traditional meal in my family consists of black-eye peas cooked in ham juice with chunks of ham (The peas represent money in the form of loose change),

boiled cabbage cooked in a little ham juice and liberally sprinkled with little pepper flakes (The cabbage represents money in the form of paper dollars),

and cornbread (the non-sweet kind over which we spoon the peas and ham).

Homemade pickled beets were a side dish accompanying this year’s meal

and I fixed French vanilla cupcakes with milk chocolate frosting.

Nothing beats a boxed cake mix (I’m serious!).  There are even a series of cook books out there (I have most of them) by The Cake Mix Doctor that uses the basic boxed cake mixes and embellishes upon them.  Cakes from a box mix always come out moist and tender (IMO).

Everything else is icing on the cake (pun intended).

Happy New Year, Everybody!!

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Filed under food, Holidays, Photography