Catching some rays

Now that summer is finally here, we’re seeing some sun and lots of color! I’ve decided to embrace the sun rays and make them part of my pictures while I can. (Here in upstate New York, winter will be here before we know it.)

I took this picture yesterday morning and posted it on Facebook and Flickr:

Morning at the Plantations

Good morning, sunshine!

Several people have asked – how did I get the sunrays on the dew drop? Did I use a special lens or filter? Did I use any Photoshop trickery? Nope. It was just my Canon 100mm macro lens, with the camera in aperture priority mode, set at f/10.

The secret is: point the camera at your subject, towards the sun. The dew drop will contain whatever is behind and above the subject, and the sun rays will reflect off the edges. You can even see them in the viewfinder!

The second secret is: crop the heck out of the resulting photo.

Here’s another, taken this morning:

Morning Bluebells

Sparkly bluebell

Fun in the sun doesn’t mean just macro, though. I’ve had some fun with sun rays in some wide angle shots recently, too.

Sunshine on Tower Road

The world is aglow

For this type of shot, you should set your f stop as high as possible (i.e. use as small an aperture as possible). In this case, the settings were f/22 (that’s the highest f stop for this lens), ISO 250, shutter speed 1/30.  The key was to be careful to not overexpose the shot; when I got home, I loaded it into Lightroom, upped the shadows, and sharpened it a bit.

I hope this inspires you to catch some rays of your own!


I’m taking a class through PPSOP called “Photography Magic II”. This week’s lesson included instructions on making cinemagraphs. Here’s my first attempt:

Follow the bouncing ball

Follow the bouncing ball

It took me most of a day – partly because I was having problems with Photoshop crashing – but I learned a ton, especially about video capabilities in Photoshop (and in my camera – it was the first time I’ve taken video with it)!

The output is an animated gif, which won’t play in Flickr*, Facebook, or any of the other places I usually share my photos… so I’m not sure if I’ll spend a lot of time on these in the future. The cinemagraphs on this site are pretty inspiring, though… and if I ever want to do another, at least now I know how!

*they actually do display on Flickr if you click through and display them full size, but I don’t think a lot of people bother to do that.


Update! Here is a more successful attempt at this technique. I still need to find out how to make it less jumpy from the end to the start:catForever

Sibling Rivalry

A short story, told in 5 photos.

Heron Story 1

Heron Story 2

Heron Story 3

Heron Story 4

Heron Story 5

Photos Only

When I bought my first DSLR, in November 2010, I started this blog as a way to document the things that I was learning about photography. I’m still learning plenty, but there are photos that I’d like to share that don’t necessarily have any words of wisdom to go with them.

So, I’ve started another blog. You can find it at My goal for the new blog is to just share pictures, and keep the words to a minimum.

I’ll still update this blog when I learn something and want to share it.

I hope you’ll visit the new site!


Life in 3D

I’ve been taking a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on Archaeology at for the last month or so, and have really been enjoying it. Each week’s lesson includes a set of videos, readings, exercises, and a quiz. For this week’s topic, “What do you do with what you find?”, I chose an exercise that involved installing and using a (free!) 3D modeling program called 123D Catch.

The estimated time for the exercise was 2 hours, and I suppose I could have stopped after spending  just that. But of course I needed to create more than one model, and then I needed to tweak-tweak-tweak. I’m guessing I have about 14 hours into it by now.

The best of these models was of a sundial at the Cornell Plantations. Here’s a screen print of the output. The software provides an embed code to publish a navigable version on your web site, but the embed doesn’t work on… so here’s a link to the manipulable 3D: or you can watch a video of it at

Sundial 3d screenshot

Sundial Screenshot

To create the model, I took 64 shots from about 5 feet away from the sundial. The software has an option to show the camera angles:

Sundial screenshot with cameras

Sundial screenshot with cameras

There is also an option to manually stitch the photos, so if it’s missing something, you can let it know where to get the information. The automatically generated version of the sundial was pretty good, but the smaller items required a lot of manual stitching.

The end result was a little like a Quicktime VR with a lot more detail, and a little like a video game. Lots of fun, in a nerdy way.


Like many photographers, I take lots and lots of pictures that get deleted (probably 5-10 deletions or more for every keeper), and many more that never make it out of Lightroom. I keep some of those because I like them, but there’s a problem that I just don’t know how to deal with — too much noise, perhaps, or something that’s in the frame that I can’t get rid of.

One such shot I took in spring of 2012. I loved the subject – magnolia blossoms reflected in the chapel window – but the angle was just too awkward. You can see the original at the bottom of this post. Because of the placement of buildings and trees, shooting it straight on meant that the bottom of the window appeared to be twice the size of the top; so I took a longer shot from the side. I’ve revisited the photo a few times over the past year but wasn’t able to do much with it.

In my web wanderings today, I read about the new “upright” feature in Lightroom 5. Like magic, this feature modified the photo to look (mostly) like it was taken straight on! Here it is:

Sage Chapel Magnolias

“Upright” version

While it’s not perfect – for example, you can see more levels of detail in the bricks to the right of the window, and the circular window on top is a bit distorted – it does an amazing job of modifying perspective.

The steps I used in this example were:

  1. Under Lens Corrections / Basic, click Enable Profile Corrections and Constrain Crop
  2. Still under Lens Corrections, under Upright, select Full.
  3. Under Lens Corrections / Manual, I used the Aspect slider to make the window look wider.

Here’s the original:

Sage Hall Magnolias


Note that using the tool requires losing parts of the image around the edges, but this shouldn’t be a problem if the original has enough fluff to compensate.

The Upright tool works similar magic on uneven horizon lines, photos taken with wide angle cameras, and more. What a great addition to an already great program!


The new Photoshop was released yesterday, as part of the new subscription-based Creative Cloud. Because it seems that Adobe is holding all of its users hostage by making them pay a monthly subscription for software titles that could previously be bought off-the-shelf, I had considered making a statement by not continuing to buy Adobe. But the new Photoshop CC has that one to-die-for feature: Camera Shake Reduction.

And of course I had to test this feature out on a shot that I took on Saturday. All of the wildlife photo opportunities that have come my way recently have been a major test for my 70-300mm lens: those hawk, fox, and heron babies are generally kept away from the paparazzi by their watchful parents. So, I’ve been zooming in as far as possible, which unfortunately leads to camera shake. (Either that, or I get so excited by the photo opportunity that I can’t keep still! I’m not sure which of these is the cause.)

Here’s the shot that I took Saturday – since the shake is difficult to notice in the small size displayed in a browser window, I’m presenting the “unshaken” version:

Heron Landing

Heron Landing

Look a little closer. The pre-camera-shake-reduction-filtered version is on the left; the processed version is on the right.

before after

The verdict? Yes — the shake goes away, differently than if I had just sharpened the photo. The result is a bit more noise and some loss of detail. Do I think it’s worth it? Yes… and it will be more worth it once the other plug-ins that I own are updated to work with CC!

Flying higher

I spent yesterday afternoon at a rodeo, and had a really fun time, but photographically things didn’t turn out so well. I spent much of the afternoon trying to get a good panning shot of a nice graceful horse flying across the arena, but ended up with a lot of close-but-blurrys. Action shots are tough for me! I get so excited when it’s time to snap the shutter that I move the camera. (I may break down and subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud just so that I can get that camera-shake reduction feature in the new Photoshop!)

Today I planned to take some nice, slow flower macros, but was drawn in to the excitement of watching the baby hawks fledging from the light towers over the fields nearby. I got a few nice standing-still hawk photos, but the birds were far away enough that I would have to crop quite a bit. I was just about to head home for dinner when “Big Red”, the mother, decided to deliver some food to one of the babies who was stuck in a tree.

Big Red with chipmunk

Big Red Delivery Service

There it was, my panned shot! And I took it without thinking twice. If you look closely, you’ll see her talons clutching a chipmunk.

As a bonus, I caught this shot as Big Red flew overhead moments later:

Big Red and the Chipmunk

Look! Up in the sky!

Two keepers in the space of about 5 minutes. I don’t know how to explain it, but I’ll take it.

If you’re interested, there’s a bird cam on Big Red (and hubby Ezra)’s nest. Two of the three babies have fledged (one of them has not managed to make it back to the nest, but is alive and well). When I checked just now, there were 2133 viewers – this family has quite a following!

One more shot to leave you with. While I was waiting, waiting for some hawk action, a mother skunk and her two babies emerged from the bushes across the street and went food shopping in the garden where I had just taken my flower photos.

3 Skunks

“To get to the other side”

Timing is everything.


The picture within

In my web wanderings last week, I came across this article which talked about the virtues of using the “Tonal Contrast” filter in Nik Color Efex Pro.

I used this newfound knowledge yesterday on this shot of a small waterfall near my office, taken from underneath my umbrella while walking through the pouring rain.

Tower Road Waterfall

The enhanced version

As part of this experiment, I also used the “Detail Extractor” filter. Each of the filters made a significant difference; used together, they provide rich, colorful detail.

For comparison, here’s the original:

The "before" image

The “before” image

My guess is that some people might prefer the unprocessed “before” look. I kind of like the Thomas Kinkade look, personally – at least for this kind of shot.

I was already a big fan of the Nik collection – this just gave me one more reason to love it.


Warning: unbridled cuteness

I live on a small road at the edge of town, with a gorge and small waterfall behind my backyard. We see deer on a regular basis, and other  common wildlife such as wild turkey stop by from time to time. As I wrote recently, some fox have recently moved in nearby; my neighbors tell me that there’s a mom and 4 cubs. But no one has seen mom in the last few days, and the cubs seem to be wandering about on their own.

Two mornings this week, we found one of the cubs sleeping on our back deck. The first time, he was just on the other side of the sliding glass door (with a decidedly unphotographic screen between us); he got up and wandered off when my dog started pawing the door. The next morning, though, he was asleep in the far corner of the deck. He woke up when I opened the door.

Fox cub


After his photo shoot, hubby chased him off – per instructions from our local wildlife guy. Halfway across the backyard, the cub – “Decker”, as he’s been named by a colleague – looked back longingly at his cozy deck. He hasn’t been back in the last two days.

Yesterday, though, I was on my way home from taking some spring flower pictures, and saw my neighbor’s car stopped in the middle of the street. Two cubs were playing in front of his driveway.  One of them ran off, but the other was unconcerned.

Fox Cub

Too cute to chase away

I’m not sure if it was Decker – if not, there’s a strong family resemblance!

I’m hoping their mom is around so that they can celebrate Mother’s Day with her.

Speaking of Mother’s Day, my daughter posted this on my Facebook Timeline the other night. ;)

Sleepy fox stuffed animal

Sleepy Fox

I’ve bought a new camera! Although I love my Canon 5D Mark II, it is very heavy, I have small hands, and I don’t always need full-frame. I pre-ordered one of the new Canon Rebel SL1‘s in March, and it finally arrived last week (followed by 3 days of rain, of course). It’s tiny! I used it, along with the Canon 70-300mm IS Lens, for the two (live) fox photos above.


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