I Just "Have" To

When you're out with your camera trying to decide on compositions, do you ever stop in your tracks and say "I just HAVE to photograph that!"?  This has happened many times in my years as a landscape photographer. In the beginning, it was rather infrequent. This was because of lack of experience and experimentation. I simply didn't know how to make a scene look great on my little two dimensional piece of paper that I got back from the developer. Yes...that was called film! 

I didn't really understand in the beginning, that switching to a wide angle lens would emphasize distance and create space. Nor did I know that using a telephoto would compress my scene and bring elements visually closer together. When these skills are learned, and preferably practiced ( have to practice), you start to see the world a little differently. You start to pick up on possibilities before even raising the camera to your face. You start to look at objects not just for their obvious traits, but for their relationships with the objects and light around them. So when I was working with my photography students in the Narrows of Zion National Park, even though the day was getting long and we were all exhausted, I stopped at one point and said..."We simply have to photograph this wall! I'll kick myself all the way back to Charleston if we don't photograph this wall." But to simply take out a 50mm lens, which is considered the range at which things look "normal" to us, would be a disservice to this wall. It needed to be shot wide angle. I'm sure my macro lovers would spend hours photographing the minute details...and I wish I could have too...but when you just have a couple moments, emphasize the awesomeness of the scene by stretching that wall further than it actually was. A wide angle lens will accomplish this. Draw the viewer into the scene by placing it at an angle and increase the apparent size of the foreground by getting close to it. My 10-18mm (Sony a6500 1.5 crop) was the perfect tool for the job, and conveniently, the only lens I brought. Hey...this is a tough hike...carry light!

I think it was worth the stop on the way back. What do you think?

Narrows Wavy Wall lg.jpg





Are We Saying Goodbye To NIK?

Are We Saying Goodbye to NIK?

I'm sure some of you, if not all of you, have heard about the imminent death of one of my favorite Photoshop and Lightroom Plugins...NIK. Yes, it's true, NIK is not going to be never again...I mean really not at all...not ever. It's going the way of the Dodo! Some folks have already reported it being "glitchy" while others have told me that it has stopped working altogether on their systems. 

I've been exploring other software options to possibly replace some of my favorite tools in NIK's Color Efex Pro4. I have Topaz Black and White Effects which I will likely do my b/w work since Silver Efex will cease to work one day...but Color Efex was my "go-to" plug-in. I used it all the time...for practically every image. 

While it may not "have it all", there is a partial replacement for Color Efex, and that is Luminar by Macphun. A few of the creative folks at NIK are now working with Macphun and some of the technology is spilling over, albeit with a new face. 
Luminar has a good number of the filters that Color Efex had but with different names for those filters. Soft Focus is similar to NIK's Glamour Glow and "Golden Hour" is just like Nik's Skylight Filter for instance. Playing with the filters will show you the effects and some are pretty darn impressive. The new AI filter is nothing short of amazing. It's artificial intelligence analyzes the entire photo and with a push of a single slider, it can dramatically change an image. 

Here is an image of the basic interface. In case you're curious, this is a zoom blur of a peacock feather which is why it looks a little...odd. 

As you can see, the interface is pretty sleek and not at all intimidating. 

Here is an image of the interface with one of the many preset lists available to you. The presets are really great for people wanting a "quick fix" to an image without getting too involved. Hey...not all of us want to spend hours on a photo...sometimes we just want it to look better and send it out to our friends. This is a wonderful program for beginners, intermediate, and advanced photo editors.

It has a choice of workspaces with pre-determined filters that would most often be used for that type of image. For example, there's a "landscape" workspace which brings up filters such as hue/sat, color temp, tone, clarity, foliage, golden hour and more. You can make changes and save your own workspace that includes your most often used filters. It's kinda like "recipes" in Color Efex. 

Remember that AI filter I mentioned, here are some before and after photos.

Here is a RAW photo from an HDR set and this is the under exposed image. I would either process this alone or combine it with another exposure to get a balanced image. 

Here is the same image with NOTHING but the AI filter applied...this time at about 50%. It has analyzed the photo and made adjustments to color, exposure, contrast, and I honestly don't know what else. It's a mystery. But it's a cool mystery that does wonders!

Here is the same image with AI applied at 100%. Unlike saturation, contrast, vibrance, or Dehaze in Lightroom or Camera RAW, this filter seems to be able to be pushed quite far before the image starts to look "bad". I kinda like the 50% on this image or perhaps 75. 100 is pushing it a bit too much for my taste but each image will respond differently. I tried 50% on the peacock feather and it got over saturated. But honestly I have yet to see a single slider in any program make so many changes at once.

This program is currently only available for MAC but they're supposed to release a PC version by autumn. It's a plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop as well as a stand alone program. Luminar is non-destructive and can batch process. It is not, however, an organizer like Lightroom.  It can incorporate all of the other Macphun software tools you own and it works with layers and masking. You can work with textures in this program, blend different exposures, replace a sky, or simply make easy adjustments in record time. The main thing that is missing when considering it a "replacement" for Color Efex are control points. That technology has not been introduced in this software. If it is someday, it will likely turn into my "go to" plug-in when NIK stops working. I'm hoping I've got some time before that happens but in the meantime, this is a viable option. 

There are links for the software at the bottom of any page on my web site as well as within this blog post. They're running a special right now for 75% off of a bundle that includes the software, 500 overlays, several e-books by Ian Plant and Andrew Gibson, preset packs, and more. 

I don't often suggest specific software to folks as everybody has their own workflow and preferences but I've gotten a lot of questions lately about NIK and where to go if the plug-in stops working altogether. I thought if there was so much interest that I should share it with everybody. 

I hope you all enjoy your day and I thank you for your support and encouragement. 

Best of light to you all!


2017 Workshops are filling and I'm working on 2018 right now. Any special requests? I'm creating a couple new workshops to expand creativity that I'll offer in 2018. Stay tuned!




I got a lot of great comments on my images that I posted this past week on Facebook and I thank you for that. Yes, I get some good images as does everybody. But I have a lot of total failures as well. Just because I don't post the bad stuff on Facebook and Instagram doesn't mean that they don't exist. Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody has something to learn. Everybody's photography will grow and change with time.

I went out on my paddle board to visit Crab Bank in the Charleston Harbor last week. It's an easy paddle out of Shem Creek and at low tide, I can anchor my feet on the seafloor in 1 foot of water. I took hundreds of images. I have thus far posted two of them. They're pretty good and I'm proud of them, especially since I'm not a "birder" and I don't have big glass. These were taken with my Sony a6500 and a kit lens, the 55-210mm. I don't bring the really expensive gear out on the water...but what I do have is still a huge step up from my iPhone!  But those that I posted are a couple of the best images of the entire outing...and literally hundreds went into the trash bin. Why am I admitting this humiliating information? Because I think it will help. I think it will help everyone to understand that just because you see something wonderful on social media, something that you envy, doesn't mean that the person who took it is a genius behind the camera 24/7. Everybody has to start at the beginning. With me, birds are not something that I seek out to photograph often...pretty rarely actually. So if I get a couple great shots out of hundreds, I'm fairly satisfied.

Just so I don't feel totally humiliated in this blog post after that first image, I'll share the two that I'm proudest of.

Your "winners" and "keepers" will increase with time, education, and practice. But don't forget, even those of us who shoot all the time and are even professionals in the field still make mistakes and totally bomb a photo...or two...or a couple hundred!

Best Light to you all!!

Never stop learning!

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The Vertical Swipe

Hello everyone! I hope you are enjoying the onset of spring. I thought I'd share a quick tip on getting creative with camera movement. I was teaching a workshop a few weeks ago and taught a group of beginners how to do this technique. They were shocked about how easy and fun it was to do...once they got their cameras out of "Auto" mode!  This technique is something that cameras simply will not let you do in auto mode under normal shooting conditions because the camera is trying everything it can to prevent blurry images. But in this case, that's our goal!

Let's get blurry and have some fun!

Here's how it's done followed by a few examples.

This can be achieved hand held or on a tripod with the head loose to allow fluid movement. 

Start by finding something in even light with repeating patterns. This is tough and pretty difficult to get a good result if the light is broken and harsh. A shady area or an overcast day work best. Look for stands of trees, long grass, architectural lines in cities, clumps of flowers with long stems, etc...

Next, set your camera up so that you can get an exposure of 1/2 second to around a full second. There's not an exact number that works for all subjects and you'll have to experiment a bit. Put the camera in Manual shooting mode and turn off Auto ISO and autofocus. You can use autofocus to achieve the initial focus if you have trouble focusing in manual, but turn it off just before the exposure so autofocus does not try to achieve focus while the camera is moving.  Lower your ISO as low as it will go, stop down your aperture to f/18 or smaller, and see if that gets you the shutter speed you're looking for. If it's too bright and you can't get a slow enough shutter speed, use your polarizer or a neutral density filter to make the whole scene darker and then adjust your settings accordingly. 

Turn on your 2 second timer if you have one or use a remote. Pressing the shutter button can create a jerky appearance in the final image instead of smooth lines. I will usually turn on my timer, count one second in my head and then start panning the camera up before the shutter opens and continuing the fluid motion after the shutter closes. This helps you get used to the motion while avoiding possible zig zags or mismatched lines. You can also move in a downward motion, or even side to side depending on the subject. Zoom in on your subject, pan slower, pan faster, and try different shutter speed and ISO combinations to get the "look" you're going for. IT takes a little practice. 

This image was taken at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston, SC. It's bamboo. Shutter speed was One second. f/16, ISO 250. I had to bump the ISO to 250 because it was actually too dark in the bamboo forest to get the one second that I was looking for. I chose to include some of the dirt in the bottom of the image to act as a visual anchor which helps give it a sense of place. Shot on a tripod with the ball head loose.

This next image was taken at Shem Creek Park in Mount Pleasant, SC. The shutter speed here was 1/15 second. I did not have any filters with me and was just out for a walk with my mirrorless camera. I moved the camera up pretty fast to get the motion with that shutter speed.  Shot handheld. 


This next image was taken at Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, SC. I loved the reflections of the cypress trees and included the actual reflection in the movement. The shutter speed was 1/2 second at f/18. Shot on a tripod with the ball head loose.

I hope you have fun with this technique. It's great to play with on a windy day when normal macro or foliage photography is difficult. 

Have a great day!

Best of light to you all!


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