Nature Photography Day 2012

Nature Photography Day, Friday June 15, is the seventh annual celebration of Nature Photography. Established by NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) in 2006 to encourage people everywhere to explore nature with a camera. The day was designated to promote the enjoyment of nature photography and also highlight the fact that nature photography plays a important role in conservation of lands, plants and animals on our globe. Photographs have been a part of our culture since Louis Daguerre and the daguerreotypes of the mid 1800s. Photographs have changed the way we communicate and, with the advent of the Internet and now, Social Media, sharing your images is far easier and more far-reaching than ever before.

Nature photography has had a profound impact on our understanding of the nature world and also the wide spread recognition of need for conservation. Images of beautiful, unspoiled wilderness provides encouragement and inspiration to all who are concerned with the fate of man’s mark on our world. The impact of images that show pollution, man made disasters affecting nature (like the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010), show what effects we are having on our fragile ecology.

Nature photography can also be a healing modality as many people have picked up a camera to express themselves while in nature. And the best way to express yourself well is to understand nature. And the best way to understand nature is to spend time with nature. And the longer you spend time in nature, the more you come to appreciate the beauty of the nature world around us.

So, Nature Photography Day might be a celebration of photography in nature and a way to get people out to appreciate the natural world, but I look at it as a time to hopefully contact people with a the healing powers of nature. Solitude, quietness, inner reflection, and slower pace of life: these are all things you can enjoy while out in nature with a camera. You might even find yourself putting the camera down and just enjoyment the moment with all your senses..


Where to photograph Red Efts!

I was first introduced to Colditz Cove almost 25 years ago. A friend said it was a great place for a hike with a nice waterfall. I went out to explore and the first time there I was amazed to see many small Red Efts climbing around on the moss. This intrigued me and I have made numerous trips back in late spring to enjoy the area and to photograph the Red Efts. Writing about Colditz Cove was my first venture into writing for Outdoor Photographer magazine back in the middle 90s.

Colditz Cove  is a Tennessee State Natural area that has 165 acres set aside for preservation and recreational enjoyment. Located just off SR 52 east of Allardt, TN, it is just a few miles west of historic Rugby, TN. Beautiful Northrup Falls cascades 60 feet down into the gorge from the Big Branch Creek. The bottom of the gorge area contains rhododendron and mountain laurel along the edges of the creek. You can walk under huge stone outcroppings (“rock houses”) and actually walk behind the falls along the trail.

As far as the Red Efts I have found there, more are found down in the gorge along the mossy covered rock walls. They don’t move quickly, so once you find them, you can set up a macro lens or wide angle or whatever you want to use. I’m hoping to go back this year and shoot more video of them crawling across the rocks and moss with the D4, which will make things much easier.

The trail isn’t long, maybe a mile or so down into the gorge and the falls. It is cooler down in the gorge, also, even when the temperature is warmer up on the Plateau. If you head that direction from Oak Ridge and go through historic Rugby, there are several old houses and churches to photograph and a museum and a café if you are hungry. Have fun and take your time down in the gorge, it is beautiful.

How not to get burned shooting Fireflies.

Ok, so Fireflies don’t give off any heat, but getting great images of them is still not easy. Much easier now, though, than when I tried with film years ago. The most interesting fireflies (lightning bugs) are the Synchronous variety found most numerous in the Great Smoky Mountains. Last part of May into June, these luminous insects arise and light their fire for the world to see.

How do you start photographing the faint light at night? Well, here are a few tips.

  1. Get there early (before sunset) and compose your scene. That way you can make sure your focus is good and there aren’t any distractions. If you find a scene after dark, a flashlight helps you find your elements (besides the fire flies) and focus.
  2. Don’t pack it up to early when the fireflies haven’t shown up. They seem to come out 30 minutes or even later after sunset.
  3. Use a high ISO. I find that shooting between 2000- 5000 ISO works well and picks up even faint, distant lightning bugs. I try not to shoot over 30 second exposures, because the noise builds up.
  4. Use a wide-angle lens. Unless you want to do macro, anything from a 50mm and wider will do.
  5. F stop 5.6 or larger (more wide open). If you are using a wide-angle lens, then the DOF (Depth of Field) will still be pretty good except really close to the lens. Using a wide open lens lets you use lower ISO and that means less noise.
  6. Take multiple shots over time. I usually shoot 15-30 second exposures for 30-100 exposures using an intervelometer (in camera for most Nikons, electronic release for Canon). Then I can build up the image I want using Layers in Photoshop and Blend Mode of Lighten.
  7. Light paint some trees or other subjects to add to your blended image. I use a Surefire LX2 Lumamax which is 200 Lumens on high. You can even get a red and a blue filter to fit on front. I also carry a 2 Million Candle Power spot light and a set of filters. This works when your subject is further away.
  8. Glow Stick- This is great to wrap on your tripod leg to help you keep track of it in the dark without having to shine a light around (even using a red light on a head lamp can light contaminate your scene). I use Pre Wrap like athletes use to tape it on the tripod (any athletic sporting goods store, ask for Prewrap).
  9. Red head lamp- helps maneuver around and check settings between shots and doesn’t destroy your night vision.
  10. Filters for your LED flashlight for light painting – I use colored plastic dividers I get at Staples but some people use Rosco Filters and Kevin Adams has designed a plastic filter holder that looks like it works great.

Why use a Leveling Base on your tripod?


Today I was talking to a friend about tripods, ball heads and leveling head/ leveling bases. He was asking if he should get a leveling base on the Feisol tripod he was about to order. From using a Bogen, a Really Right Stuff  and a Feisol leveling base for my ball heads over the years, these are the reasons to consider a leveling base.

  1. Panoramas – Having your ball head pan horizontally in a level position is important if you want to make the most use of your sensor real estate. You can hand hold a pan and a multi image composite, but you will end up cropping more because of the variability in holding. You will also need a high shutter speed and images taken from a tripod always capture finer detail than hand held. I was introduced to a Sunwayfoto tripod head DDY -64mx that David Lawrence has started using. Made in China, it is fabulous quality and has multi indexed stops for shooting pans.. I can mount it on my other ball head and level from there.. No need for a leveling base like this. Thanks David!
  2. Birds in flight with a long lens (or other objects that move quickly)– Shooting with a gimbaled head ( Really Right Stuff   and Wimberly ) makes this chore much easier. But shooting with a gimbaled head on an unlevel tripod means your horizon can become unlevel as you follow your subject. If you use a leveling base before you start shooting, then all is level with the world (as long as you remember to level your camera before you start shooting).
  3. Video – If you are going to use a fluid video head (which you will use if you want to move your camera during filming), then having a level base is imperative. Well, I guess that depends on the artistic license you plan on using. Maybe unlevel scenes are what you’re going for. If you want your scenes to be level, even when panning with the video head, you will need a leveling base.

I do need to mention that just because you use a leveling base doesn’t mean your shots will be level. You still have to make sure your camera is level within the mount (ball head, gimbaled head, video head). A bubble level or spirit level is the key, but many cameras now come with a built in electronic level. My Nikon D4 has one and it is so easy to use (includes 2 axis ) that I haven’t gotten my plastic bubble level out of the camera bag. Jim Clark said he was going to use his plastic bubble level as a door prize at his next workshop.

Feisol Tripods and DISCOUNT

One of the few images of me. Rebecca likes to get me in action at times, even though I try to duck.. This is my Feisol CT-3372 and the older leveling head.

I wrote a little about tripods back in the fall. Since that time I have had lots of experience with the Feisol CT-3372 tripod and want to say just a little about it.
I had always used Gitzo tripods since the early ‘90s. The old aluminum ones were really heavy. The joke was that Gitzo stood for “Get So Heavy” in the field. Then came along carbon fiber. First generation was ok, but they hadn’t learned what glue to use to keep the legs together, so we saw a lot of Gitzo CF tripods literally come unglued in the field.. I stuck with my old, heavy realiable Gitzo. As they improved, I started looking at them in earnest. Staying with the Gitzo, I went through several generations and sizes before I came to the 3541 XLS model.. Boy would it go really tall in the field. And light! Rob Sheppard convinced about the attributes of a travel size tripod (after taking a lot of guff from me about his toy tripod). I also got a Gitzo travel tripod that I still use today.

Then Really Right Stuff jumped into the fray with their CF tripod. They already made the best ball head in the game, so their quality was a known factor. I really liked the RRS CF tripod from them and used it for a couple of years (I still have it and use it as one of my backup tripods). The leg release mechanism on the RRS was a big improvement over the Gitzo.

Then I was introduced to Feisol. At first I wasn’t sure about getting a new tripod, but I was convinced to give it a look. Thanks to Feisol and Michael, I received a CT -3372 tripod. WOW.. Seems as light and well made as my RRS tripod. Leg release mechanisms are the best I have every seen and the legs will go past 90 degrees for really weird setup that we nature photographers sometimes get into. And at a price that is much cheaper than RRS, it is hard to beat. Their new version, the CT-3372LV comes with a new and improved leveling head (you can always switch out to regular plate).  I am thinking about replacing my travel Gitzo with the Feisol CT-3441S. I still haven’t seen their ballheads in action, but I’m told by friends that they are really nice.

I like them so much that I have worked out a deal with Gary at Hunt’s Photo and he will be selling the tripod at a 10% discount. But you have to call Keith directly at Hunt’s photo at 781.462.2340 or email him at to get the discount.

If I ever get my hands on their ballheads, I let you know how they stack up.

All Wet Photography

So many times we give up when the weather becomes inclement. Because we don’t like to get wet, we don’t want our equipment to get wet, it’s a hassle. But have you ever considered the images you can make under stormy conditions? Or being out there as the conditions change? I’m not advocating standing on a beach with Category 4 winds coming at you from Hurricane whomever, but you extend your photographic reach with a little more protection.

  1. Rain covers- Before the advent of specific rain covers for cameras and lens, we used to grab the shower caps that came free in the hotel. Some were better than others. Many would fit a SLR and 70-200 lens. And the price was right. You can still go this route, but basically it protects your investment as you wait out the rain. What about when you want to actually shoot in the rain? I have used at least 4 different makes of rain covers and have settle on the equipment from Think Tank Photo. They make covers (Hydrophobia) for DSLR and 70-200, DSLR and 70-200 and flash, DSLR and 300 to 600 and a set of covers for remote use (Remote Control). The Hyrdophobias covers allow you to look through your viewfinder while shooting. The sleeves allow you to stick your arms inside the cover (and snug down so water doesn’t trickle into your rain coat sleeve). You can even have the Hydrophobia for the long lens pre installed and just pull it back over the rest of the lens and body. To go to Think Tank and order: and then enter AP-619 as the code for a free gear offer with your purchase.


2.Underwater or close to the water photography- Most of us don’t do enough underwater photography to justify spending $2000 and up on an underwater housing for our camera. But if you just snorkel or stand in the water or kayak with your camera with you, then there are less expensive options. I happen to use a EWA- Marine cover which is a plastic cover with an optical glass port for my lens. This works well for snorkeling, photographing kayakers while close to or in the water or photographing in the water at the beach. Just remember to rinse it off and dry off after use.

3. Keeping equipment dry- Think Desiccant. This is material that absorbs water in liquid and vapor form. You can put a small pack in your UW housing while you are working and it will absorb stray water or condensation. Another use is for extremely damp environments (jungle, rain forest). My friend Gabby Salazar kept a Pelican case filled with desiccant material and switched her camera bodies out every other day. This helped reduce the changes of water induced failure. Some desiccants can actually be renewed and reused. Easy way to get started is the Sealife Moisture Munchers.

4. Keeping yourself dry– If all your equipment is dry, but you are all wet, you won’t be thinking about image making at all. So, why not keep dry yourself?  Depending on your environment, a good pair of waterproof boots is a great start. Anything that says waterproof and has a Gore-Tex liner will probably work. I am on my second pair of Lowa boots in 8 years. Add a pair of rain pants (mine are Gore-Tex and now about 10 years old and still going) and a waterproof jacket (Gore-Tex, eVent, or something similar). Being outfitted for outdoor adventure is part of being a nature photographer.

How to Paint with Light

Photography derives its name from the “painting with light”. But the term light painting has come to mean using external sources of light (flashlight, candle, etc) to paint in light on a subject at night. The method I use in Light Painting requires a flashlight and some way to color the light.

First, choose a flashlight. I use everything from a 2 million-candle power spotlight (with color gels) to a small AA flashlight. I even have some even smaller flashlights that use really small batteries, but that is for a follow-up blog. For my AA flashlights, I color the light with pieces of plastic that I get from Staples. Just go look in the notebook section and look for plastic colored dividers. You can even get Rosco gels to put over the light source. The flashlight should have a way to turn on and leave on without having to hold a button, but a button is really nice for starting and stopping your sweeps of light.

Second, choose a subject in very dark light. Because you are going to leave the shutter open for several minutes, you may not want the surrounding area to pick up ambient light and make night into day. Even in the wilderness, we have light from the moon. This takes planning so use something like the Moon Seeker app for iPhone which shows the phase of the moon, the moon rise and moon set times and even the arc, so you can plan to have the moon behind a big obstruction when painting.

Third, set your exposure. I start out at 1 minute and go up to 5 minutes exposure (tip: you need a way to set a long exposure, with Nikon this is the MC-36 controller. Most digital cameras only go to 30 seconds for the longest exposure). Keep increasing the exposure until you start to see a little definition in the image. This will give you plenty of time to paint light into your subject. Now on to painting.

Fourth, paint with light. Pressing the button down on your flashlight, sweep the light to follow the contours of your subject. Don’t ever stop the light in one spot. Time the length of your total flashlight exposure (I use 1 mississippi, 2 mississippi to count it out). Review your image. If the painting is too bright, only paint for half the time. If the painting is too dark, paint for twice the time (see, we are using photographic stops of light). Look at how smooth your painting is. It takes some practice because you will be painting over and over areas to build up the light in the image.

Voila’. You have a light painting. Now doesn’t that make you feel more like an artist with a paintbrush?

Try this with a double exposure. Find a subject that silhouettes against sunset. Expose for the sunset, wait about 45 minutes, then light paint your subject. If this is a true double exposure, you get only one crack at it.. But here’s a tip, photograph the silhouette several times before the double exposure, exposing for the sunset colors. Then do your double exposure. Then do several regular light paintings. You will need to combine these images in Photoshop (the first sunset images with the light painting) and play with them, but it beats just getting one shot at it..

In camera double exposure!

Multiple images and light painting produced in Photoshop.