Photoshop CC Tip-”Clarity”-by Chip Phillips

by Chip Phillips
April 22nd, 2014

I have been using Photoshop CC for a while now, and although it is pretty similar to CS6, there is something that I find myself doing a lot that I wasn’t able to do in CS6.  What I am taking about is adding clarity with the clarity slider available in  Camera Raw (and Lightroom) while in Photoshop CC.  I have some various different techniques in Photoshop that I use to  simulate this slider, and have built actions for them, but in some cases I like the clarity slider better, and miss it in Photoshop.


1st image

Image open in Photoshop CC

Above is an image open in Photoshop CC.  If I want to add some clarity with the clarity slider, the first thing I need to do is make a merged “pixel based” layer.  This is basically a flattened image layer, but on top of all of your other layers keeping them all still in tact.  Someday hopefully Adobe will make all of these types of adjustments available as adjustment Layers, but for now adjustments like this, as well as noise reduction, shadow/highlights, sharpening, etc. need to be done on a merged layer like this.   To do this, just type “Command(Control)/Option(Alt)/Shift+E”.


2nd image-merged layer

Merged layer on top of layer stack

Now you have a merged layer named “layer 1″.  Go ahead and rename this layer “Clarity”.  The next step is to select the “Camera Raw Filter”, under the “Filter” menu up top. You will see Camera Raw open up within Photoshop, and under the first tab of adjustments is the clarity slider.


Image 3-clarity

Image still in Photoshop CC, with the Camera Raw filter active. Arrow is showing the clarity slider.


Make your adjustment, then press OK.  I like to go a bit over what I think will look good for the whole image or the part of the image that I am working on. (+73 in this case).

Image #4-plus 73

Clarity adjustment of +73 made to image.


Now you can leave it as-is, or you can adjust the opacity of the layer to your liking.  Take it a step further by masking out the layer and painting it in to the areas that you want the adjustment.

image 5-mask

Clarity layer with mask and adjustment made to selective parts of the image. These parts can be seen in white a grey on the mask.


Here is the final image with adjustment applied:

image 6-ce Bubble Abstract#1

Final image with adjustments made.

I demonstrate many similar techniques in my image editing videos available here:

Image Editing Volume 1


With Lightroom 5 is Photoshop Really Necessary? by Sean Bagshaw

by Sean Bagshaw
April 14th, 2014

The answer to this question, as with so many questions, is it depends.

Adobe’s release of Lightroom 1 was way back in 2007, but by that time I had already been immersed in Photoshop for seven or eight years. The purpose of Lightroom was to create an application that improved overall workflow efficiency by utilizing an image database (or catalog) to store metadata changes and image developing parameters without actually needing to change the pixels of the original image file. In the early days I found Lightroom’s ability to organize, keyword and search my image collection to be a big improvement over Photoshop’s bridge. I also found that, while the types of raw image adjustments the Develop Module could make were similar to Adobe Camera Raw, I really preferred the Lightroom interface and how it integrated seamlessly with the other Lightroom modules. But that’s about as far as it went. At that time the Develop module had very few adjustment options and all adjustments were global, which meant that they were applied uniformly across the entire image. Like Adobe Camera Raw, Lightroom 1 was good for making base level adjustments to raw files, but any complex, creative or localized image developing work still needed to be done in Photoshop. Seven years on we have progressed to Lightroom 5 (Lightroom Mobile was just released last week). Each new version of Lightroom has introduced improvements and new functionality. I now consider Lightroom to be a very full featured image developing solution in its own right. But does it render Photoshop unnecessary to the outdoor photographer?

Click on each image to enlarge.

Cape Arago Sunrise with base level adjustments done in Lightroom and additional developing in Photoshop for subtle color balance, targeted luminosity work, clarity and fine detail.

Cape Arago Sunrise – The unadjusted raw image.

Cape Arago Sunrise developed entirely in the Lightroom 5 Develop Module as seen in the video below.



I find that more and more photographers I interact with use Lightroom as their complete and only image developing application. In addition to these “Lightroom only” users there are also those who use only Photoshop (including Bridge and Camera Raw) and those who utilize both Lightroom and Photoshop as I do.  A common question from all three groups is, with all the current developing features and abilities that Lightroom 5 has, is Photoshop really necessary? In this video chapter from my recently released tutorials, Lightroom Essentials, I demonstrate developing an image entirely using Lightroom. Hopefully it will help some folks get a better feel for if Lightroom is able to do everything they need or not.

In the end, whether Lightroom is the only image developing application you need or not truly does depend on what your image editing goals and expectations are. Lightroom is considerably more affordable than Photoshop, and for many photographers it now has more than enough image editing power and functionality. The following is a bullet list of some features in the Lightroom Develop Module that allow it to function as a complete developing solution for many of us. I teach how I use these features and many more in my Lightroom Essentials tutorials. Visit my website to get more information and watch additional chapters.

  • Spot removal tool now allows for more complex non-circular cloning and healing.
  • Gradient Filter, Radial Filter and Adjustment Brush make it possible to apply “layers” of localized adjustments and even create basic masks to control adjustments.
  • White Balance controls, Tone Curve and HSL controls provide alternate ways to balance and correct colors.
  • Tone Curve provides powerful and flexible tonal and contrast adjustments.
  • B&W adjustments provide tools for creating dramatic black and white images.
  • Like Photoshop, image sharpening can be applied in three stages (input sharpening with the Detail tab, creative localized sharpening using the Gradient and Radial Filters and the Adjustment Brush and output sharping on export or printing) for optimal image sharpness.
  • The Lens Correction tab has tools for making transformations and perspective corrections as well as for correcting lens distortion and vignetting.
  • Because all adjustments are only recorded as adjustment parameters in the Lightroom catalog, the actual pixels of the original image files are not altered so all Lightroom developing is essentially non-destructive and backwards flexible.

Many photographers find they still need the power, flexibility and precision provided by Photoshop’s multitude of adjustments and filters and its ability to work with layers, selections and masks. Following are just a few of the things that can be accomplished with Photoshop but not with Lightroom.

  • Multi image blending techniques including: exposure blending, motion blending, focus blending, star stacking, pano stitching, white balance blending, compositing and much more.
  • Using channels to create Luminosity Selections and Luminosity Masks.
  • Blending Modes and Blend-if control.
  • Ability to access other color modes such as Lab Color.
  • Multiple ways to create highly refined selections and the ability to target adjustments with selections.
  • Limitless options for creating and combining different kinds of adjustments for color, contrast, clarity, sharpness, saturation and tonal adjustments.
  • High level of control, flexibility and precision in Photoshop (with a lot of knowledge and practice) allows images to be refined to a degree that isn’t possible in Lightroom.

Personally, I find that for many images I AM able to work entirely within Lightroom. But for my very best images I need the expanded and flexible adjustment options and the ability to make highly accurate, refined and subtle selections (especially Luminosity Selections) that Photoshop provides. The ability to combine or blend elements of multiple exposures or frames is critical for many of my images as well. For me, both Lightroom and Photoshop are essential tools in my workflow.

What are your experiences with using one, the other or both? Please share or feel free to post questions regarding the use of Lightroom vs Photoshop in the comments below.

Sony A7r – First Impressions

by photocascadia
April 10th, 2014

By Zack Schnepf

You can read my preliminary article about the A7r here. 

There has been a lot of buzz about this little camera.  It’s full frame, mirrorless, lightweight, weather sealed, 36 megapixels and relatively inexpensive.  You can read an in depth review on Dpreview:  I agree with their assessment for the most part, but I’ll be focusing on my own experience and how it applies to my style of shooting.  Here are my first impressions and how I think it stacks up against current DSLRs.

I intended to really torture test the A7r in tough conditions, to get a feel for how it would compare to the rugged DSLRs that I’m used to, but seven weeks ago I ended up tearing my meniscus in my left knee while snowboarding.  This left me injured for the better part of my testing time.  I finally had surgery just last week.  I had to cancel a few of the more adventurous photo shoots I had planned up in the cascades.  I was still able do several photo shoots, including in pouring rain, below freezing temperatures and in the dark.  Here are my impressions so far.

Image Quality:  The image quality produced by this camera is superb.  The 36 megapixel sensor combined with the Sony FE 24-70 lens produce sharp, clear, beautiful images as long as your technique is good in the field.  I was very impressed with image quality using the Sony FE 24-70 lens, as well as with my existing canon L lenses using the Metabones adapter.  The image quality while shooting night scenes and using high ISO was excellent as well, once I figured out ways to compose in the dark; I’ll elaborate on this in the LCD/EVF section.  The high ISO noise reduction performance of this camera is very good, on par with the D800 and the 5D mark III.  One thing to keep in mind when you are moving up in resolution with a new camera, the higher the resolution of your camera, the less forgiving it is.  Wind vibration, camera shake, as well as choosing the wrong settings are all amplified with more resolution. Your technique in the field has to be that much better to take advantage of higher resolution.


This is a good example of the dynamic range you can capture in one exposure with the Sony A7r. It would have been an impossible single exposure with my 5D II.

One big advantage the A7r has is the dynamic range the sensor is capable of capturing.  It’s a noticeable improvement coming from the 5D II.  This allows me to get away with a single exposure in some cases where I would have had to bracket with the 5D II.  This is one of my favorite features of the A7r.  The overall image quality is truly excellent.

Auto Focus:  This was a big concern of mine after reading initial reviews of this camera.  Even though I don’t use auto focus while shooting landscapes, I do when taking family photos or while taking travel photos.  Luckily, I found the auto focus to be very good while using the native Sony FE 24-70 lens.  However, this is not the case when using the Metabones adapter with my canon lenses.  The auto focus is so bad when using the adapter, I keep all my Canon lenses on manual focus when using them with the Sony A7r.  This won’t be a big deal once I’m able to have a full compliment of Sony FE native lenses.  It did struggle a little in low light situations compared with my Canon 5D II, but pretty acceptable in my opinion.

LCD and the EVF:  The LCD is also very high quality, and a good thing too.  This is your main tool for composing images.  The EVF, or electronic viewfinder works well, but does not sport the same image quality as the LCD.  When shooting in bright scenes it works well enough though.   In general I really like composing with the LCD and the EVF, but there are situations where an optical viewfinder is a huge advantage, especially when shooting in really low light and at night.  Using the LCD or EVF to compose images while shooting night sky images is nearly impossible.  There are ways to work around this, but this is an area where traditional DSLRs have a big advantage.  Bright sunny conditions are also challenging when relying on the LCD and EVF, but this was pretty manageable.

McKenzie River

Size and weight:  I love how this camera feels in my hands, it’s light, but very sturdy.  I could hand hold the A7r with the Sony FE 24-70 for long periods of time and it never felt heavy.  I was also able to use a smaller backpack , the F-Stop Kenti and a lighter tripod.  My overall kit was much more manageable than my standard DSLR kit.  It will become lighter still once I have a full set of native FE lenses.  Unfortunately, many of those lenses have not been released yet, so I’m forced to use some of my heavier Canon lenses.

Control layout:  I found the control layout to be well thought out and easy to use for the most part.  I liked that I was able to switch the function of the shutter wheel and aperture wheel so that it was the same layout as my Canon.  As mentioned in other reviews, the ISO/function wheel on the back of the camera is a little too easy to bump by accident, something that can be annoying if you don’t notice right away.  I like having all the primary controls at my fingertips and I really enjoyed shooting with this camera in the field.  Once I was used to the controls, I was able to change settings quickly and efficiently while chasing the light.

Workflow quality:  So far the image files are holding up very well to my usual processing workflow.  The noise levels are acceptably low.  The raw files are nice and sharp out of the camera as well.  I’m not sure whether it’s the lack of an anti aliasing filter in front of the sensor, or the added resolution, but images are tack sharp out of the camera.  With normal amounts of output sharpening in either Lightroom, or Photoshop images look very clean, and sharp.  The added dynamic range of the A7r sensor means you can get the most out of your single raw files as well.

Crooked River, Smith Rock State Park

Issues: I did run into several issues while testing this camera.  Here is a list:

-The firmware updater failed while running the recent firmware upgrade on my new Mac Pro running the Mavericks OS.  This bricked my camera, rendering it inoperable.  Luckily, with a little research I found others were having this same issue and there was a fix.  Even though my computer could no longer recognize the camera, the updater could.  I was able to run it again and complete the update.  It did freak me out for about an hour though.

-The cable release recommended to me does not work well with the RRS L bracket I have attached to the camera.  When plugged in, the remote blocks the camera from being attached vertically.  I’ve ordered a wireless remote to compensate for this.

-While photographing the McKenzie River, I was caught in a torrential downpour.  The weather sealing on the camera seemed to hold up well, but the EVF sensor that shuts off the LCD when you look through it is a bit sensitive.  When it got wet, it turned off the LCD until it dried off a bit.  I was worried the LCD had shorted out at first, but then realized the problem.

-There are not many native lenses available yet, but the lenses that have been released so far are very high quality.

-There is no built in intervalometer, and no programmable remotes yet available for the A7r.  There is a mobile app that allows for this, but I have not been able to get it installed and working yet.  I’m hoping someone will develop an easy to use intervelometer in the near future.

-The A7r is not a great action camera.  It has a relatively slow burst fire rate and gets bogged down if you capture too many images too quickly.  I’m running the fastest SDHC card I could find at the time.  This seems to minimize the buffering times.

-Battery life is shorter compared to a DSLR.  I was actually expecting it to be worse, so I was pleasantly surprised, but it is still shorter than most DSLRs.  This makes sense, if you’re running the LCD and EVF all the time it’s going to drain the battery.  I do carry four batteries on my photo shoots and a battery charger that allows for two batteries to charge at once which has a car plug adapter.  I also turn off the camera when I’m not using it.

My first impression conclusions:  The Sony A7r is a fantastic little camera. The image quality is wonderful.  I can’t wait to photograph more with the A7r, and see what it’s capable of.  I love the feel of the camera and the layout of the controls.  I also love how light and sturdy it is and that I can carry a very light kit when I want to.  The A7r does have issues, but none of them were deal breakers for me.  I still intend to use the A7r as my main landscape camera, and keep my Canon 5D II for action photography as well as timelapse sequences.  Stay tuned, I’ll be posting images from the Sony A7r and updates throughout the year on my Facebook page:, 500px and around the web.

Preventing Image Loss – Capture to Storage

by Adrian Klein
April 5th, 2014

By Adrian Klein

I wrote a little about this a few years back yet that was more specifically around different backup solutions. I figured that would be the end of it… wishful thinking. After a recent issue occurred during a power outage I realized over the last 7 or so years the issues with image loss from CF cards to hard drives failures run the gamut for me. My wish in sharing these stories is to prevent pain and misery on your end. Every year it seems I learn from an issue and change what I do. What exactly have I experienced? That is a great question. Where do I start I am not sure yet here it goes.

Losing a full CF card covering several days on a trip I likely won’t repeat or cannot repeat in the same way in Alaska. Check. Having a CF card go corrupt with hundreds of images and saying “no image” when trying to download. Check. Looking for images on a hard drive taken during a 10 day trip in Montana and none found and none backed up. Check. Having my so called “mirrored” drives both go out on me incurring hundreds in tech support to retrieve. Check. My supposed surefire RAID like setup with Drobo that should ensure if a drive goes out no data is lost yet having all drives go out and all data lost. Check. Having a PC that won’t boot after a power outage. Check.

The saying “if it can happen, it will happen” seems to be my motto for this topic. I will dive into each these experiences providing more detail and how it changed what I do to ensure I have my files for many years to come.

Dead hard drive from failure

Losing Cards in the Field
I had a horrible system, or no system really, on where I put my new and used cards when I was out hiking or backpacking. This is interesting when I look it now since I feel I have pretty good processes with most things in my life of importance. If I had to guess there still is a San Disk CF card somewhere on Kesugi Ridge in Denali State Park. If you see it, send it my way. It was in my camera bag on day one and on day three it was gone.

Now days I use the exact same pocket for my filled cards and it always stays zipped. Additionally if you have to leave your camera in your car while stopping somewhere on the road and you have irreplaceable images take them with you. Camera gear can be replaced. Not as easy for the images on your cards.

Corrupt Card – No Image Found
I have had this happen in a couple different scenarios. One time was near the end of the card I clicked to take an image and it said “error 99” and then proceeding to image preview said “no image”. Anyway I ended up using Lexar Image Rescue which is very inexpensive. I ended up recovering about 75% of the files. That was a relief.

The other scenario I had is where the card went corrupt while downloading the photos from a CF card reader. I also was able to recover most images yet not all.

Why did this happen. There are reasonable explanations for both, unfortunately. The card that went bad in my camera turned out to be fake San Disk. I bought it new online through Amazon retailer yet according to San Disk the serial number was not a San Disk number. Ouch! Now I only buy from reputable retailers, no more Amazon or eBay. As for the card that went bad on the card reader that was in the old days when I went as cheap as I could for everything. It was a very inexpensive card reader that was failing while trying to download the photos which ended up corrupting the card. Lesson here, buy a decent quality brand name card reader.

Images Not Found on Computer
About a year after a trip to Montana (this was back many years ago) I went looking one day for the images. They were nowhere to be found. Nowhere! At the time I had very lax backup process and I had failed to backup the images before formatting the CF cards. Sigh… How they were deleted I have no idea and may never know.

I learned from this to have a process of how my CF cards flow before they get back into camera for use. Now days it looks like this.

  • Download photos
  • Set CF card on desk near monitor
  • Confirm backup to offsite locations
  • Place CF card in hanging folder

This way I know that the folder that has the CF cards is one I can just pull from when I need more for the next trip.

Relying Solely on Internal Drives
Once upon a time my main “backup” was having multiple mirrored internal drives. This way if one failed the other would be fine. Well I found out that they can both go out together when I got the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) one day. The computer shop was able to retrieve the data yet it costs hundreds of dollars in the process.

I no longer worry about having internal mirrored drives. It takes up more storage and since it failed me once I feel like it can certainly fail me again. Redundancy is now on and off site backups including Backblaze that are not internal to my computer.

Network Attached Storage – Drobo
I still remember buying my Drobo system from the camera store and loved this sleek shiny black box that could house terabytes of data. I had read about it and after seeing the demo I felt this was a must have as a good alternative to a true RAID system.

At first it lived up to the hype and dreams. However over time I realized having it plugged into my PC meant slower performance. Fine, I can deal with that not the end of the world. However a couple years after having it I came down to my PC to see all four green lights had turned red as in all four drives had failed. Sure enough no matter what I tried I could not get my drives working again. Fortunately what I did lose was all client portraits and weddings photos from years back and I never made the guarantee I would have them available after initial purchase. The unit then made it’s way to e-recycling to avoid it’s otherwise destined journey to the landfill.

I am sure there are good systems similar to Drobo (and likely Drobo has made improvements in new generations) yet it burned me and now I stick mainly to external drives I plug in for backup as needed.


Power Outages
Like every other story noted above power outages never concerned me because I never had an issue. I also had a surge protector that I would be fine. Yet it was only a matter of time before this would be an issue.

I woke up a couple weeks ago in the middle of night. I thought it was darker than normal in the house with zero ambient light from the street or neighbors porch lights filtering in. Looking out the window I realized the neighborhood (or what I could see of it) had no power. In my half asleep dazed state I thought about my PC yet said “it will be fine” and went back to bed. The next morning I went down to my office. The PC was off and no matter what I did I could not get the drives to spin up. After an hour I said it needs to go the shop. They ended up getting it going again yet not without some angst of needing new drives, a week without my system and $100 fee.

I realized my power strip surge protector is not that great and I have had it for probably about 10 years. Now I am moving my system to a UPS battery backup and surge protector combo, the APC 350. Something I should have done long ago. There are fancier models yet I don’t need the loaded model with heated seats and moon roof.


As you you can see I had the misfortune to experience plenty of issues loosing images, faulty cards, corrupt files and system malfunctions. My hope is your list of stories is not as long and that it remains short. What stories do you have on this topic? I would love to learn about something I have yet to experience to possibly avoid it happening to me and others reading this post.


Tips for Photographing a Japanese Garden in Spring by David Cobb

by photocascadia
March 26th, 2014

Tips for Photographing a Japanese Garden in Spring

By David Cobb


Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden

Recently I took a stroll through the Portland Japanese Garden to admire the cherry blossom blooms, and I took my camera along in case something caught my eye. When photographing for the book “Quiet Beauty: Japanese Gardens of North America,” I noticed the spring and fall seasons were different in the garden. The light was better, the garden seemed fresher due to recent rains, and there was much more color. Here are a few tips for photographing a Japanese garden in spring.

Get there early: The earlier the better in spring to take advantage of that beautiful light. Gardens are best to photograph in soft light, so mornings, overcast days, and sunset can bring the best light to your garden photography. Mornings are preferable because spring days can bring windy weather later in the day.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

Watch your red channel: The histogram on the back of your camera is an average of your red, green, and blue channels. When photographing the red spring blooms of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias you’ll need to be aware of your red channel. The average on your histogram might look fine, but your red channel could be clipped off the charts. This means you’re losing detail in the blossoms of those flowers, and when you lose detail the flowers look like sheets of color.

Morikami Museum & Japanese Garden

Morikami Museum & Japanese Garden

Backlighting: This can be the best and most dramatic light in the garden, and the most difficult to photograph. When photographing backlighting I often use a lens hood to avoid image flare, but when it’s captured correctly the backlighting adds a beautiful glow to an image.

Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant

Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant

Don’t include the sky: There are few reasons to include a sky in your garden image, unless you’re interested in a sun star or to include a fabulous sunrise or sunset. When you visit a Japanese garden or any garden, photograph the garden and minimalize the sky.

Nitobe Memorial Garden

Nitobe Memorial Garden

Photograph water features: For some reason water features in a Japanese garden seem cleaner and fresher in the spring. Maybe it’s the spring rains or maybe it’s that the gardeners have caught up on all their chores, but spring is a wonderful time to include water features.

Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

Use a polarizer: I can’t stress this enough in garden photography, and a polarizer will make or break a shot in a Japanese garden. There are a lot of reflective plants and leaves in the garden, so a polarizer will cut down on those reflections and help saturate the color of the garden image too.

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Photograph blossoms by structures: There are a number of structures in a Japanese garden, so I always try to compose a few blossoms near them to give a hint of the spring season. A few flowers and a little greenery also go a long way to help soften the harsher angles and elements of a man-made structure.

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Change your perspective: This tip is good for any season or for any type of photography, so change your perspective and quit shooting at eye level. Crouch down, get on your belly if you need to or get high and shoot down, but change the viewpoint to create a more interesting and dynamic image.

Shofuso Japanese House & Garden

Shofuso Japanese House & Garden

Winter Photography in the Palouse-by Chip Phillips

by Chip Phillips
March 18th, 2014

Winter Glow Palouse

I know I have written about this in the past, but wanted to share some images from this past winter that I took down in the Palouse.  Photographing the Palouse in the winter can be kind of tricky.  It seems like more often then not, a good dose of snow will hit the area, and disappear as quickly as it came.  Other times, it will snow really hard, but be so windy that it will blow all of the snow off of the hills, leaving them bare and brown.

Another problem is accessibility.  They don’t plow most of the roads down there, and they never plow the road up Steptoe Butte.  Therefore, the only two options are to snowshoe up, or attempt the drive in a 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance and good tires.  I have snowshoed and skied up the hill, but this year I was able to make it up on each of my attempts in my FJ Cruiser.  It was a bit sketchy a few times, but I didn’t get stuck.

Palouse Winter Afternoon

My favorite time to head out is in the afternoon on a day when a storm system is moving out of the area.  This gives me a chance to catch the sun at a low angle, but still high enough in the sky to light up the hills.  I learned early on that, heading out only just before sunset can result in missing some of the best light of the day.  Often times I find the light more interesting when the sun is high enough in the sky to light up the hills, which just doesn’t usually happen right at sunset.

Winter Tree Palouse

The usual things still apply for photographing the Palouse during winter, such as a good strong setup with enough capacity to hold things steady in the wind.  This means a very sturdy ball head, and very sturdy tripod.  I use a Gitzo 3 series tripod, and a Markins M20 ball head for my telephoto shots.  I also use a tripod collar, and have rigged up a steel plate extension and set screw for added stability to the barrel of my lenses.

Late Spring Snow, Palouse

This last image was actually shot last April, so not really winter but still some snow.  As you can see, snow is a possibility even into April.  This is the first time I have ever seen conditions like this in April.  Usually during March and April, there is heavy rain and hail storms that move through the area.  These are great fun to watch from high vantage points.

Despite the challenges involved in making good images, winter time in the Palouse is definitely one of my favorites.  Last winter, of all the times I went down to photograph, I didn’t run into a single other photographer.  I do see people around though, mostly locals, especially up at Steptoe Butte.  My last trip down I ran into a local farmer and his wife up on their 4 Wheeler just taking a trip to the top of Steptoe Butte.  We had a great conversation on their way down. Winter is definitely a peaceful time of year in the Palouse.

More of my images can be seen on my website: Chip Phillips Photography

Many techniques used on these images are demonstrated in my editing videos available here: Image Editing Videos


Diverse Photography on The Big Island of Hawaii by Sean Bagshaw

by Sean Bagshaw
March 10th, 2014

In February I had the great fortune to instruct a photography tour/workshop on the Big Island of Hawaii. In the realm of winter photography, my experience and images stand out in stark contrast to the ones Kevin McNeal shared of photographing the aurora in Norway in his most recent article. Our Hawaii tour was organized by a trailblazing eco-tourism company from California called Destination Earth. Handling the photography instruction along with me was my good friend and colleague, David Cobb. As we have come to expect, our group of participants were fun, talented and ready for anything. It’s always the people that make our photography workshops such a wonderful experience. It was an amazing week long photography adventure with excellent housing, meals and transportation, as well as an adventurously full schedule, all organized by Destination Earth.

Click on images to view them larger. Use the back button to return.


Receding surf on black sand. Pololu Valley. One second exposure. Four of us made the steep hike into the valley near sunset. The light was flat so we spent an hour running back and forth with the surf, taking dozens of slow shutter speed images and trying to capture dynamic patterns of white foam on the black sand. It was addictive and only the prospect of a hike in the dark pulled us away.

The Big Island really is…well, big. To quote from, “it is the youngest island in the Hawaiian chain and is also by far the biggest, nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. You’ll find all but two of the world’s climatic zones within this island’s shores. This is the home of one of the world’s most active volcanoes (Kilauea), the tallest sea mountain in the world at more than 33,000 feet (Maunakea) and the most massive mountain in the world (Maunaloa). All but two of the world’s climate zones generate everything from lush rain forests to volcanic deserts, snow-capped mountaintops to beautiful black sand beaches. The lush east-side town of Hilo gets more than 130 inches of rain annually, while the Kohala Coast near Kawaihae usually gets no more than five inches a year. Ranging from the fern forests of Puna and the cool, misty breezes of Waimea, to the sunny lava plains of Kona and the dry heat of Kau, Hawaii Island is a place of stunningly distinct environments.”


Looking east, the shadow of Maunakea stretches over the Pacific Ocean at sunset. Did I mention that the Big Island is really big? At the high point, where this photo was taken, the elevation is nearly 13,800 feet above sea level and there is frequently snow. Breathing up here is challenging. If you have ever climbed a 14,000 foot peak you know what I’m talking about.

Stand-out features of the trip were how much of the island we were able to see, how much diversity of landscape and climate we experienced and how varied the photographic opportunities were. We visited both well known and off the radar corners of the island and were able to experience Hawaii in ways that most beach vacationers or tour groups never get to.


Colorful bamboo at a the Hawaii Institute of Pacific Agriculture (, a farm that cultivates a diverse collection of Polynesian crops and operates as an educational site offering sustainable agriculture courses, youth programming, community workshops and events.

While instructing photography in the field I don’t photograph with the same kind of focus and stubborn determination that I do when traveling on my own. My priority is providing instruction, pointing out photo ideas and being on hand to answer questions. But I do make a point of getting out my camera and putting some effort into my own photography as well. I find that I’m better able to evaluate light and composition and provide helpful suggestions if I’m in photographer mode and sizing up the scene through my own viewfinder. I also find that one of the best instructional tools in the field is to teach by example and actively demonstrate my approach and techniques.


A lone vessel, stormy clouds and pools of light off the Kona Coast, viewed from our lodging at 1,500 feet of elevation on the side of Hualalai Mountain. 70-200mm f/4 lens at 183mm. 1/15 of a second at f/11, ISO 100. Tripod.

Thanks to our expert guides and the action packed itinerary I had the chance to photograph locations I might not have otherwise visited and take photos using techniques and lighting which are outside of my usual golden hour light, tripod mounted comfort zone. I find that changing things up and operating outside the comfort zone is important for learning and expanding one’s mind creatively. As a result, I feel that the images I’m sharing in this article represent something a little different than my usual fare. Photographically they stretched me a bit and were stimulating and energizing to visualize, capture and develop. I have also thrown in some sunsets and waterfalls for good measure.  I hope you enjoy viewing them.


Rain forest vines and roots. Glowing light filtered into this jungle scene David Cobb and I found near Hilo. Although it was mid day the light was very dim. With an aperture of f/16 for depth of field and a polarizer to enrich colors in the wet leaves and bark the exposure time was 10 seconds at ISO 100.


Coral fragment on wave tumbled lava rocks. I was intrigued by the graphic simplicity of this bleached coral on the black lava. This was taken handheld at mid day with bright overcast filtered light. I knew that exposing for the light coral would underexpose the lava and further showcase the contrasting tonal values. I developed the image to further enhance this quality wanting the coral to appear to almost float above the inky background shapes.


Health inspection fail. At one beach we explored an abandoned and decaying resort. At one time this stainless steel commercial kitchen gleamed and produced gourmet meals. Now it looks like something from a post apocalyptic sci-fi film. I’m glad that in the gloom I couldn’t see what types of crawling creatures were living there. 30 seconds at f/10, ISO 100.


In the Waipio Valley one of the participants found this old fishing boat in a pool of light filtering through the canopy beside a dirt jungle road. In addition to the moody spotlighting I liked how the red of the boat complimented the greens of the forest. Low light, a polarizer and an aperture of f/16 required a 5 second exposure even though it was the middle of the afternoon.


Fish pond at sunset. What’s a tropical island without palm trees and a beach at sunset?


Flowering banana (Musa ornata). Walking through the rain forest on the wet side of the island I was looking above my head for silhouettes of lizards on the translucent banana leaves. I didn’t find a lizard, but I was enthralled with the quality of light filtering down onto this large banana flower. Apparently, at this moment, the light was streaming in rays through clouds over the nearby waterfall, but I was glad to have discovered this smaller scene.


Go gecko! Sometimes wildlife wanders into my nature photography and steals the show. This gecko was a natural performer. Handheld, 100mm macro, 1/160 of a second at f/2.8, ISO 400. Without a tripod I had to take several frames until I got one with the focus spot on his eye.


Black and white image of hala trees in the Waipio Valley.


The historic, ornately painted and aptly named, St. Benedict’s Painted Church. In the late 1800s, Belgian-born priest and self-taught artist Father John Velge painted the walls, columns, and ceiling of this Roman Catholic church with religious scenes in the style of Christian folk art found throughout the South Pacific.


Northern California? Along the old Saddle Road high above the arid beaches and lava fields of the west side of the island and the steamy jungles of the east side of the island there is a region of open temperate grasslands that make you forget you are in Hawaii. This part of the island is home to one of the largest cattle ranches in the United States. When we passed through the area we found carpets of yellow flowers and dramatic cumulus clouds and had to stop for a photo.


Forest in the fog on the rim of the Waipio Valley.


Kona sunset. Rocks, wave patterns and the last light of the setting sun.


The jungle waterfall, another icon of the Hawaiian landscape. This is the well known and often visited Akaka Falls.


Aquamarine water in motion along the rugged and remote North Kohala coastline.


The abyss. Taken at a turtle lagoon on the Kona side of Hawaii. I shot this handheld from a lava outcrop looking down into the aquamarine water, but I love that it gives the illusion of being taken deep under the sea. A polarizer helped cut surface reflections.


Sunset on the snows of Maunakea, taken on the high point of the island on our final night of the trip. It was a grand send-off to a spectacular week of exploration and photography.

How To Successfully Photograph Northern Lights by Kevin McNeal

by photocascadia
March 3rd, 2014

Northern Lights Over A Winter Cabin

One of my dreams has always been to photograph the Northern lights under a fresh blanket of white snow. A few years ago I got a chance to photograph the northern lights in the Canadian Rockies. I happened to be on a workshop at Abraham Lake shooting winter landscapes when we received an unexpected stunning display of lights. At this point I had no experience and was not sure even how to do it; all I knew was the photography mantra, “expose to the right always”. So I made the mistake of shooting the northern lights for thirty seconds or more to get the scene exposure on the right side of my histogram. During my moments of excitement and panic I did not even think to look at the images, just the histogram. I learned a hard lesson that night as the final result was a series of images that had all been overexposed. This overexposure caused all the Northern lights to blend together with no detail or patterns. A lot has happened since then in terms of camera equipment technology and photographer progress. With the year 2014 being a great year for Northern Lights I thought I would write a brief article on my experience and what I have learned.

Converging Points Of Patterns

When it comes to locations and where to find the right places to shoot the Northern Lights there are a few places that always win the hearts of photographers for their visual beauty. As most know the Northern Lights are called that for a reason, because they are seen in the higher areas of the Northern Hemisphere. The areas that I find the truly most scenic are Iceland, Norway/Scandinavia, Alaska, and Canada/Yukon. Each has its pluses and minuses which are beyond the scope of the article.

Northern Light Pancakes

Northern Light Pancakes


This year has been predicted to be a fantastic year for Northern Lights so I decided to plan several trips based around photographing them. For my first trip I visited the countries of Sweden, Finland, Norway, and more specifically the Lofoten Islands. I had never been there and had seen all the images with fresh snow and snow capped mountain peaks. It was exactly what I had been looking for. From research I knew driving would be extremely difficult in the Lofoten Islands so I decided to take a photo tour where I would not have to worry about that. If you have ever photographed with me you know that was a smart decision. It was nice to be able to just be taken to places without worrying if I would end up lost and frozen somewhere in the night. Some nights it was -28 and a few seconds in this temperature and you felt the numbness already. The other advantage of taking a photo tour is the instructors will know the best places to go when the Northern Lights do happen. The last thing you want to be doing is trying to find a place when the lights occur. Not only was this advantageous to have instructors take you to the right places but they also have the knowledge of where the lights are most likely to happen and when. This was really helpful so that you did not have to stay up all night looking out the window when you have already been shooting all day.

Northern Lights Down At The Shore

So how are you supposed to photograph Northern Lights?  With experience the following is what I have found works best.

The first thing I want to talk about is shutter speed and how long you should expose the image. This depends on the light available at each scene and the elements of the scene. The most important aspect I found to be essential to shooting aurora is to make sure you don’t overexpose. What I found works best to capture detail in the Northern Lights is anywhere from five to twelve seconds. Any more than this and the lights just blur into one another and you lose the stunning movements of the lights. I adjust the shutter speed based on how fast the lights are moving. When you get high action movement in the lights adjust your settings to have a shutter speed of five seconds. This short shutter speed will allow you to capture all the stunning patterns and movement of the Northern Lights. When the lights are barely visible I was up around twelve seconds.  I adjust my ISO so that I would be able to get the proper shutter speed.  I photograph with a Nikon D800 with a 14-24/2.8 lens, a good camera and lens combination for night photography. I found that most of my images were taken at ISO 1600 and a few at ISO 3200 for the short bursts of light. In hindsight most of the images that I took at ISO 3200 are too noisy for large printing. It goes without saying that newer cameras will do better with noise and low light situations. I also recommend using a lens that has an aperture of 2.8 or less. Shooting an f/4 lens I was not able to shoot the lights with minimal noise and fast enough shutter speed. If possible an aperture of 1.4 or 1.8 would be even better. For focal length I always use as wide angle a lens as possible. Using a 14mm lens I was able to capture most of the patterns in one image. I have seen plenty of fantastic images with a fish-eye lens as well.

Frozen Reflections Of Northern Lights

So, what happens to the rest of the elements in the image when shooting specifically for the Northern Lights?

When shooting just for the lights, the rest of the elements went completely dark and had no detail. This meant I had to do another exposure just for the rest of the scene and manually blend the two images together in post processing.  It is vital that you use a strong tripod with a sturdy ballhead to prevent any kind of movement during the shot especially when shooting on the ice. The first night of shooting Northern Lights we visited a frozen lake surrounded by mountain peaks. The creativity of shooting Northern Lights has been improving and the best images today almost always include the foreground. So being that I was on a frozen lake I looked for ice cracks that would provide great leading lines to connect the foreground to the background. To properly expose the complete scene you need to take at least two images. One image should expose for the Northern Lights and a second image that exposes for the foreground and the other elements in the image. A critical consideration for exposure in the foreground is the elements present. If there is plenty of snow, especially in the foreground, your exposure will be much less. After the images are taken I usually shoot another image with my hand in front of the lens to signify the end of the series of images. Later in Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Bridge I can stack those images as the same set or series. This is very helpful later on when trying to sort what image goes with what. So I shot the Northern lights at ISO 1600 for nine second and then exposed for the foreground ice, which was anywhere from thirty to sixty seconds. I then manually blended the two in Photoshop.

River Reflections Of Magic

The next component to photographing Northern Lights successfully is Aperture and focusing. Aperture is a constant from my experience. I need to be at an aperture f/2.8 (lower if I had a faster lens) always to get a fast enough shutter speed to capture the patterns in the Northern Lights. Combining an aperture of f/2.8 and ISO 1600 allowed me to achieve a shutter speed of less then ten seconds. The trickiest part for me was the focusing. I started by focusing on the background first to make sure I got the Northern Lights in focus. I set this up by looking at my LCD live view and focusing on a star in the distant sky. I go in at 100% preview until I find a bright star and then rotate the focus until it is sharp. Once that has occurred you can shoot the background Northern Lights with the assurance you have those sharp. Double check after by checking the LCD review of the image at 100% to see if all the stars are sharp. You know you are in the right area if you are focusing on infinity and then pulling back a smidge from that. If that all seems like too much work you can practice test shots during the day and marking on your lens where the background is in focus and use that mark on the lens later when shooting Northern lights. There are other ways that people use to focus on background stars but I found these methods worked best for me. Once you are confident the background Northern Lights are sharp, refocus for the foreground without moving the tripod or the camera position. If you are going to later blend the two images together in post processing there can be no movement in the camera. In my experience this was the hardest part in the process. I tried a couple of images where I shot one image focusing only on the background but all my foreground elements would be soft. So I would say it is imperative to refocus for a second shot. Once I got the hang of that process I took it one step further and took several images focus bracketing at several different increments blending all the images in post processing.

Best View In The House

How do you focus in the foreground when everything is in complete darkness? The answer is bringing some sort of light like a LED light or your headlamp. Find an object in the immediate foreground you will want to include in the image, shine the your light on it and then focus on that. Use the LCD preview at 100% to make sure everything is sharp. There are many techniques that people suggest when it comes to focusing on subjects in the foreground, but for me I chose the most important element of the foreground I wanted and used that. This works well except if you are in a group or a workshop where everyone is photographing in the same area. Shooting with several other participants in the workshop in a wide open space with head lamps buzzing everywhere lead to contamination of light in most of my images. Even though people are spread out, any kind of light that people use can show up in your images. No matter how far away I seemed to get away from the group I could see other photographers flashlights in my images. So be wary if in a group situation. For this reason I tried to avoid using any light and use my best estimate for focus. This proved to be a big mistake and I lost several images to the foreground being soft.

Mystery Ocean Under The Stars

To overcome this obstacle I decided I needed to wait till the next day. I would practice during the daylight and mark my lens where the optimal sharpness point should be; choosing to focus on something one-third into the foreground scene. When testing I looked for a similar situation that I would find myself in while shooting the Northern Lights. I was looking for something where the foreground element would be similar such as a rock, ice crack, etc. This foreground subject would be right in front of me with the mountain peaks in the far background. Once I found the spot of optimal sharpness I marked this on my lens. I could then go straight to that focus point the next time I was in the dark and shooting in a group situation. I want to note this was not the ideal situation and the focus was not always a 100% but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.

The last thing I did was take some time to just enjoy the Northern Lights without doing any shooting. Just enjoy the amazing show that so few people ever get to see!

If you have any tips that you have found helpful when photographing the aurora consider sharing them in the comments as I’m sure others would love to read them.


by photocascadia
February 24th, 2014

By Zack Schnepf

For those waiting for the review of the Sony A7r, I’m still working on it.  I will finally receive the 24-70 Ziess lens this week.  When I do, I can really start testing this camera.  My initial impression is about what I expected, fantastic image quality, but poor auto focusing.  I’ll elaborate in my next blog.

2014 Mac Pro:


When I saw the product demonstration for the new Mac Pro last summer, I was really excited.  It had been years since Apple had released a significant update of their pro desktop line and I was starting to consider switching platforms or getting an iMac.  Finally, last summer Apple unveiled a radically redesigned machine and I was pretty excited with what I saw.  I do a lot of high end processing in Lightroom and Photoshop, and do a lot of video editing as well.  This machine looked to be a perfect match for these demanding tasks, but would it live up to the hype?

The Hype.  You can see the official Mac Pro page here for all the details of this machine:

I liked what I saw right away.   I loved the new unified thermal core design, it allows for a much smaller machine and is extremely quiet, using just one fan to cool the entire system.   This is impressive, but even more impressive are the components used in this machine.  This is a very forward thinking machine.  It uses top of the line Xeon E5 processors (up to 12 cores),  dual FirePro graphics processors, DDR3 ECC Ram(up to 64 gigs), PCI based flash storage, and a host of IO ports including 4 USB 3 ports, 6 thunderbolt ports, 2 ethernet ports and an HDMI 1.4.  This all sounded great, but I needed to see it for myself?

I wanted to build the ultimate machine for processing photos and video.  Here are the options I decided on:

Processor:  3.5 GHz 6-Core Xeon E5

Memory:  32 GB 1867 MHz DDR3 ECC Ram

Graphics:  AMD dual FirePro D500s, 3GB VRam each

Storage:  500GB PCIe based flash storage

It took a few months to get here, but I’ve now had this computer for a few weeks.  Here are my initial impressions.  This is an absolute beast of a machine.  I’ve been blown away by the speed of every task I’ve thrown at this machine!  Much of this has to do with upgrading to a solid-state boot drive.  The computer starts up incredibly fast, about 6-7 seconds, compared to several minutes on my last 2009 Mac Pro.  Applications launch very quickly, even apps like Photoshop, Lightroom, and Final Cut Pro X launch in a second or two.   Not only that, with 32 gigs of fast Ram I never have to worry about how many applications I have running at once.  Even while doing some heavy lifting, like processing multiple 36 megapixel files in Photoshop, this computer continues to blaze away at startling speed with silky smooth performance.

The Dual GPUs come in handy for me using FCPX, Motion, and high FPS video playback.  The new version of OSX, Mavericks can also leverage the GPUs to help speed system intensive tasks.  You can see some amazing performance editing 4k video in real time using Final Cut Pro X here:

Only a few applications are fully optimized to take advantage this right now, but hopefully apps like Photoshop, and Lightroom will take advantage of this soon.  Even without being optimized I’m seeing huge performance increases in all tasks.

One issue I have, is not with this computer, but apple in general.  Not many displays use thunderbolt yet, and even with adapters, my 30” Dell would not work at full resolution.  Eventually I want to move to a 4k display, but not until they support 60 FPS, and will work with thunderbolt.  For now I’m using an Apple 27” thunderbolt display.  Despite some terrible reviews I’ve read about this monitor I’m actually quite pleased.  The reflective surface is my only real gripe.  This can be a big problem for a lot of people.  Luckily for me, my office has good lighting to avoid any glare.  The image quality is very good, and once I calibrated it, the color is as good as anything I’ve used so far.

External storage:  Because of the tiny form factor of this computer there is no room for internal storage drives except for the PCIe based flash solid state drive.  I have several external thunderbolt drives totally almost 20 terabytes of space including backup drives.  So far the speeds over thunderbolt are fantastic and I have no complaints at all.

Price:  This is not a cheap machine.  The configuration I built added up to around $5000.  I’m sure I could build a comparable PC for a bit less, but the user experience in OSX is worth the premium to me.   I know there are people who are more technical than I am who can build a hackintosh for less as well, but this is such a well designed machine.  I have no regrets at all.

This computer is overkill for a lot of people.  Many would be much better off with an iMac with a solid state drive, or a Macbook Pro, or a comparable PC.  I’ve always pushed my computers to the limit, I like to run several system intensive programs at once.  I’m also increasingly busy.  For me the new Mac Pro is going to save me a lot of time, and less time in front of the computer is more time out in the field and with my family and friends.  I’m extremely pleased.  The Mac Pro lived up to the hype and in my case exceeded my expectations.

Featured Photographer – Paul Marcellini

by Adrian Klein
February 17th, 2014

By Adrian Klein

Starting this month when we send out an updated newsletter we will including a featured photographer. To keep the newsletter itself from becoming too long and large we will include the full interview on the blog and only the initial part in the newsletter.

This month we welcome Paul Marcellini. I got to know Paul and his work through NPN and we met briefly when he was in town a few years back. Like many of us I am interested in work that  helps me experience new places. In this case it’s the swampy parts of Florida. I have respect for someone that can get within inches of strong jawed crocodiles and wade around in swamps. Somehow hiking and backpacking in bear country rarely concerns me yet the thought of crocodiles is not very inviting to me. One of these days I will make it down that way to experience it  myself. Until then I will continue to enjoy Paul’s photos.

Paul Marcellini

AK: You have some pretty amazing images of the Everglades area and associated wildlife. Have you always been interested in exploring the area or did it come after getting into photography?
PM: Actually photography came second. I love nature and photography is my current way of expressing it. Before photography, I painted. The Everglades is my backyard essentially, so it was my first base of exploration and is the “old familiar” but I seem to fall in love with most places I visit that offer a feeling of wilderness.

AK: What do you think is the biggest challenge to being a landscape/wildlife photographer today?
PM: Creating work that stands out and is new and original. I try to find unique scenes and luckily, Florida is not a state full of natural icons. The gear is better than ever so technically perfect wildlife photography is much easier, but getting an artistic image still is very much dependent on the photographer.

AK: I am sure it’s hard to pick one yet do you have a favorite location to photograph and if so why?
PM: Iceland comes to mind immediately. It is like another world over there, even with pretty bad weather, I had a blast. It is the current hotspot it seems, but there is a big reason for that.

AK: What are your top 3 personal favorite images and why?
PM: The three that make me the most money! It is hard to pick, but I would say Holy Sunstar!, Welcome to the Jungle and Wizard of the Hoh. All three depict a lot of mood and I think the compositions really worked. I personally like more complicated imagery, even though the simpler stuff is what usually sells.

AK: With nature photography weather and other elements can be unpredictable. How do you work through these challenges to create engaging photos?
PM: I really enjoy chasing the storms in the summer. These are definitely unpredictable, but knowing the terrain helps to get last minute compositions squared away. I usually don’t have set images in mind, I am very reactionary and I think it helps to keep a flexible mindset.

AK: What is the most important piece of photo or computer equipment that you simply cannot live without?
PM: A wide-angle…it is the basis of my photography. Many of my newer images are stitches of the Canon 17mm tilt shift for what I am guessing is about 10mm view on full frame.

AK: Any tips you are willing to share for photographers new to photography, especially in swampy places like the Everglades?
PM: Anything unknown is daunting but the Everglades is not as scary as everyone thinks. Get your feet wet and be cautious. Slow down and look around. I like the complicated nature of the swamp, digital speeds us up so much, that this forced slower pace is beneficial to my art.

IMG_8249lab Paul Marcellini


To see more of Paul’s work check out his website –