Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Benefits of Being a Macro Photographer by Mike Moats

You don’t have to travel far for macro
Macro subjects are everywhere. You can find them at the local parks, in your own yard, and even inside your home. I have four great parks within twenty minutes of my house, and probably sixty percent of my images are photographed in those parks. A few of my best selling images were shot in my backyard. Most people have flower gardens in their yard, so they can walk outside their home and shoot. This close convenience saves on fuel, wear on our vehicles, and time when we just have an hour or two available. In the winter here in Michigan, I do most of my shooting indoors. I buy flowers from the local florist and also go online to order from websites that sell feathers, mounted butterflies, sea shells, and slab agates, all of which can be arranged into artistic compositions.

Subject matter changes every month
With the four seasons, we have an ever-changing environment month by month and sometimes day by day. I can revisit the same areas every couple of weeks and find new subjects. It is a constant cycle as nature transitions from life to death. Depending on where you live, your seasons may vary and the environment may be totally different from the rest of the country. Learn about the subjects and life cycles of the plants and critters in your area, and make sure you are in the field when subjects come into season.

Shoot any time of day
Landscape and wildlife photographers have limited control over lighting and tend to shoot in the early morning and late evening which offer the best light. Because of the small subject’s macro photographers work with, we have the ability to control our light by using diffusers and reflectors, so we can shoot any time of the day. I carry a 12” diffuser which I use to control harsh overhead light from hitting my subjects, and a 12” silver/gold reflector for bouncing light into shaded areas of a subject. I will occasionally hand hold a special LED box light that is tuned for daylight to add light where needed.

More Creativity
One of the challenges for a macro photographer is working with depth of field. Because we are shooting very close to our subjects, the depth of field is very shallow causing out of focus areas in our photos. The closer we get to the subject, the less that will be in focus. We can use this shallow depth of field to our advantage in creating artistic compositions. If you like soft focus dreamlike images, shoot in the lower f/stop range and use this shallow depth of field to produce some beautiful artwork. If you have a subject with interesting lines and textures, you can set your f/stop to the highest numbers in order to bring everything into focus. We have the ability to cause everything in an image to be in focus as well as to use a shallower focus range for creative effect.

Your own personal art
The ability to create personalized art is an important benefit. Every image on my website is an original. These subjects were present for only a brief moment in time, until the environment erased them forever. None of my images can be reproduced again because the subjects do not exist anymore. Mountains, rivers, and lakes exist day after day and can be photographed over time by many photographers. Because my subjects have been eliminated by Mother Nature, the photographic images now exist as my own originals.

Each year, more and more photographers discover the benefits of macro. The internet has allowed us to display our images on the many websites geared to nature photography; macro is growing and becoming a very popular pastime. Take some time and explore all the local parks and your own backyard. Enjoy the fun and unique experience that macro photography provides.

Mike Moats is one of our main speakers.  He is a stunning Macro Master photographer and an award winning artist who has an unparalleled ability to capture nature close-ups.  His incredible photography shows us what lies beyond the surface of things we see every day: flowers, leaves, water, trees, rocks and shells are transformed into brilliantly detailed pieces of art.  
website:  Mike Moats | Award Winning Macro Photographer | Sterling, MI

Mike will be speaking on "The Art of Creating Successful Macro Images" on Saturday, November 18th.  Then  on Sunday, November 19th he will be doing a mini macro boot camp workshop.  There will be tables set up for you to photograph and practice macro photography.  Mike will be there to assist.  So bring your camera and have fun.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Milwaukee Art Museum Abstracts by Angie McMonigal

A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon at one of my favorite buildings - the Milwaukee Art Museum designed by Santiago Calatrava.  When I teach, people often ask if I revisit locations I've previously shot and the answer is a definite yes!

There are many reasons why:
  • The way you see photographically evolves over time and what stands out from one visit to the next may change.
  • The way the light interacts during various times of the year to various times of day, whether the sun is shining or there's a cloud-cover affects how you see the structure.
  • You may choose to use a different lens which affects how the details of building line up and what stands out.
  • And your mood may be different which can greatly affect how you see things.

On this particular visit, I mostly photographed with my telephoto lens (70-300mm), which I haven't done here before.  While details are often my focus, they stand out differently using a longer lens like this than my usual 24-70mm.  The image above is from the parking garage.  Then here are a few from the exterior:

Lastly a few from the interior:

Angie  McMonigal moved to Chicago more than 15 years ago and has been exploring the city with her camera ever since. Raised in a small town in Wisconsin, she approaches the urban environment with the spirit of someone who grew up surrounded by nature, finding moments of meditative calm in terrain that is always transforming. Focusing more frequently on bold architectural details rather than sweeping cityscapes, her photographs celebrate those unexpectedly iconic elements hiding in plain sight. From landmark buildings she distills the essential lines and textures that frame the city. McMonigal sees these structures as actively shaping, and shaped by, human activity; they are never mere backdrop. Steel and brick towers are presented as quilts rich with history, solid structures soar with soul, and concrete edifices echo the lofty ambition of planners and dreamers.

An award-winning fine art photographer, Angie’s work has been internationally exhibited and published. Her photos have been showcased by galleries in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and other destinations. Publication credits include National Geographic, Departures, and SHOTS Magazine. She has received awards from the International Photography Awards (IPA) and Prix de la Photographie Paris (Px3), among others.

Angie will be speaking at CAPS- Chicago Area Photographic School on Saturday, November 18th on "Architecture Photography: A Renewed Perspective."

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home
To register go to:   Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Four Levels of Learning by Rick Sammon

The Four Levels of Learning
Rick Sammon

In looking at the opening photograph for this post, which I took while teaching a photo workshop in Provence, France, you may say something like, “Rick is a pretty good horse photographer. It’s cool that he got a shot of those horses, along with their reflections, running through a pond at sunrise.”

Well to be honest, I took the photograph in a very well set-up situation, and that image is a processed version of the third image below.

In looking at that image, as well as the work of any professional photographer, it’s important to remember this: most pros show only their best work. Believe me, I have tons of outtakes, not only from my Provence shoot, but from many shoots.

So it’s important to remember that when you look at an image, you usually don’t know all the effort that went on behind the scenes to make it – and how much that image was processed. Processing is a very important part of digital photography, for some, like me, it’s equally as important, or even more important, as image capture. That is not new news. Ansel Adams, perhaps the most famous landscape photographer of all time, spent much more time in the wet darkroom working on a photograph than he did taking one. Yousuf Karsh, perhaps one of the most famous black-and-white portrait photographers, also spent more time working on a print in the wet-darkroom that he did photographing his famous subjects.

The idea here is that it’s not always a good idea to compare your work to the work of others. It can be discouraging if you are not getting the kind of images you see in books, magazines and on the web.

It’s also important to remember that all pros were amateurs at one time, and that they followed a path – sometimes referred to as the four levels of learning – to becoming a pro.

I first learned of that path from one of my photo workshop students, who learned of the concept from Gordon Training International, an organization that published a paper called, The Four Levels of Competence.

Here is that learning path, one that I followed (not only with my photography, but with my music). Follow this path and you will see that you are not alone in “your quest to be your best” as I call it . . . in everything you do. 
1.  Unconscious Incompetence. We don’t know we are not good.

When we first get into digital photography, we take some shots, look at them on the camera’s LCD panel, and say something like, “Hey, that’s cool. I did that!”

One reasons is that the image-capture process is fun. It also provides instant gratification. Another reason is that everything looks good on the small screen.

Another reason is that, at this level of learning, just don’t know what makes a “good” photograph: exposure, lighting, composition, subject and, of course, the mood and feeling of the image.

Although this photographed captured a wonderful moment in Provence, it’s nothing more than a snapshot: the horizon line is titled, there no separation among the horses, there is too much dead space in the frame, and the picture lacks impact.

2.  Conscious Incompetence. We know we need help.

The second level of learning can creep up on us, or hit us like a ton of bricks. Either way, realizing that we need help and have potential is the first step in becoming a good photographer. We have hope! We can read books, attend workshops, take on-line training courses and so on to get help. We can also help ourselves, simply by taking more pictures.

Here’s the photograph from which I created the opening image for this chapter. Some beginning photographers get a picture like this and are pleased with the results. Photographers at the Second Level of Learning, however, ask: How could I have made a better in-camera image, and/or how could I process this file to create a better image?

Simple cropping, a bit of cloning, and then warming up the image (by boosting the reds and yellows in Lightroom), was all that was needed to improve this file.

3.  Conscious Competence. We know we are good.

Knowing we are good is a good feeling, for sure. But it takes a lot of hard work to get to this level of learning.

But how do we know we are good? Well, others may tell you that they like your work, they may buy your work, or you may get hired for an assignment. More important, however, is that you know (as opposed to think) you are good. You can’t fool yourself, which some people do unintentionally, when they are at the First Level of Learning.

Here are the reasons why I feel as though this is a good photograph
  1. All the horses’ heads are separated. In photography, separation of the elements in a scene is very important, as you will read in the Making Order of Chaos – Separation chapter.
  2. The highlights, the brightest part of the scene (horses’ heads) are not overexposed and washed out.
  3. There is space in the frame into which the horses can “run.” That space is very important in action photography.
  4. The horses heads are not “decapitated” by the horizon line,” which oven happens in the photographs taken by photographers at the First Level of Learning.
  5. The fast moving animals are sharp in the scene, thanks to the 1/2500th second of a shutter speed I used to freeze the action. I also set my Canon 5D Mark III to AI Servo focus, which tracks the subject right up until the moment of exposure.
  6. And finally, the two horses in the middle of the image have their front legs out of the water in a perfect running position. In horse photography, the position of the legs is very, very important.
All that said, I have called this image one of my best “dumb luck shots” in my presentations. Many elements came together, including one I will share with you at the end of this post, to make this a favorite image of mine.

When it comes to “dumb luck,” however, it is important to remember these two expressions: 1) Luck favors the well prepared. 2) If I had the choice of being good or lucky, I’d rather be lucky.

4.  Unconscious Competence. This is the level that we all want to reach in the things we care passionately about. We don’t really have to think too much about what we are doing . . . we just do it!

This is “it” when all that we went through in Level One, Level Two and Level Three come together and we can just shoot and get a high percentage of great images, and at the same time envision the creative possibilities that await us in the digital darkroom.

The rollercoaster ride of making picture is not over; we will still have creative ups and downs. But being on that rollercoaster is much more rewarding than being on the merry-go-round of being satisfied with pedestrian images.

As a brief aside, that rollercoaster/merry-go-round analogy can be applied to our lives, too. It’s easy to ride the merry-go-round, but the rollercoaster is much more exciting.

Many well-known musicians are at this Fourth Level of Learning. When it comes to jazz musicians, for example, when they are jamming with other musicians, they are not thinking about what key they are in (like the exposure in a photograph), what notes they are playing (like composition in a photograph), the importance of space between the notes (like separation in a photograph) and so on. They are just doing it, exactly like we need to do when it comes to photography.

One of the keys in getting to the Forth Level of Learning is practice. That includes getting to know your camera controls so you can make exposure and focus decisions in flash, just as a jazz musician knows how to improvise – even in the dark.

Knowing my camera controls, understanding some basic lighting and exposure techniques, and knowing some digital darkroom techniques, helped me get this image of a horse running on the beach at sunrise.

I think it’s important for photographers to be honest about what went into the making a photograph, so other photographers, as I mentioned, don’t compare their work to the work of others. What’s more, and this applies to my Camargue horse pictures, a photographer should not create the impression that any photographer can go to a location and simply take, while touring around, the same kind of pictures he or she takes.

Here is a behind-the-scenes snapshot that shows just one of five Provence cowboys who was helping my workshop group make pictures. These cowboys ran the horses toward us for three days at sunrise and sunset, so we all had a very good chance to make good pictures. I, and my workshop co-instructors, acted like movie directors, basically setting up a scene, which was great fun.

That is something else to keep in mind. There is a big difference between taking a picture and making a picture. You can do it, too.

When I teach digital imaging, I mentioned that simple cropping and envisioning the possibilities that await us in the digital darkroom. With a simple crop, and by adding the BuzSim affect in Topaz Simplify, one of the plug-ins I use, I was able to turn my behind-the-scenes snapshot into a creative image, one that looks more like a painting than a photograph.

Good luck in your journey along the path of the Four Levels of Learning. Never give up, and remember what the Buddhist say: Learning is Health.

See you in Chicago!

Rick Sammon is one of our main speakers.  He is a Canon Explorer of Light and award-winning photographer who loves his day job.  He is a tireless, prolific and inspirational image-maker who is called by some "the Godfather of Photography." Rick's enthusiasm for digital imaging is contagious.  He is a man on a mission - a mission to make digital photography fun, creative, exciting and rewarding for others.  He will be speaking on Sunday, November 19th on "Creative Visualization for Photographers."

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

Monday, August 7, 2017

Visual Echoes

For our first article by our CAPS (Chicago Area Photographic School) presenters, I would like to introduce Steve Gettle.

Steve's photography has taken him throughout North America and South America from the woods of northern Canada to the Cloud forest of Ecuador, from the coast of Maine to the high plateau of the desert southwest.  Although he travels extensively, he finds much of his inspiration in the natural areas surrounding his home, in Brighton, Michigan.  Steve leads photo workshops and tours all over the world.  As an instructor, he has taught for such organizations as:  The North American Nature Photography Association, The Rocky Mountain School of Photography, The Adirondack Photography Institute and many more.  He is a great nature photographer and will be teaching "Frozen Moments, High Speed Nature Photography on Sunday, November 19th.

Visual Echoes-
According to Google the second definition for the word echo is: 

A close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style, or event.  

Whenever possible I like to incorporate what I call visual echoes into my work.  In the included image the main subject of the photograph is the relationship and similarities between the two cheetah faces.  Since the face on the left is sharper it becomes the main anchor point in the image.  the second out of focus face becomes a secondary element.  Our brains find the similarities within the shot visually interesting, the comparison between the two faces pulls the viewers eye around the frame and holds their attention.

Of course visual echoes don’t need to be so overt. For an example of a more subtle visual echo, consider the included image of a herd of elephants moving across the grassy plain. In this image the line of elephants, the line of light across the plain, and the horizon line each echo one another, or imagine a shot of a beach and sky where the ripples in the sand and the clouds above are similar to each other. Be on the lookout for visual echoes. Try to incorporate them in your work to add more interest and layers to your photographs.

Image: Cheetah Siblings, Serengeti National Park, Africa
Nikon D4S, 600mm w/1.4, 1/250th @ f8, ISO 400, Image cropped 10% for final composition.

Image: Elephant herd on the move Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Nikon D4S, 24-85mm, 1/125th @ f11, ISO 200, Split ND filter to darken clouds.

Good Luck and Good Light!

Wilderness Images
The Nature Photography of Steve Gettle
8877 River Valley Ct.
Brighton, MI 48116
Office 810-231-8118
Fax 810-231-8119


Steve's program is sponsored by Cognisys - Capture the Hidden World
To see the entire schedule of  CAPS-Chicago Area Photography School classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:  Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Friday, August 4, 2017

CAPS- Chicago Area Photographic School 2017

It is hard to believe that it has been two years and we will be coming upon another CAPS-Chicago Area Photographic School.  This year's event will be two days on Saturday and Sunday, November 18th and 19th at the Elgin Community College Business Center.  We have two great main speakers- Mike Moats a stunning Macro Master photographer sponsored by Tamron; and Rick Sammon, a Canon Explorer of Light who has been called by some "the Godfather of photography."  We will have two days packed with speakers and workshops that you won't want to miss.  We will be using this blog to share articles from our speakers.  So stay tuned to the weeks ahead.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:  Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline