Mark and Anita’s Ten Favorite Photography Websites

Mt Katahdin from the Cribworks with Full Moon in Winter

Katahdin from the Cribworks with Full Moon in Winter

 

In case you have not heard – it is really cold outside.  And, if you are like us, you are spending more time inside – maybe at your computer. Surfing the web we see lists of all sorts. Top 10, Top 20, Must have, Must do, Best this, Best that – the list goes on. So, not to be “listless” in this frigid weather Mark and I offer a list of our Ten Favorite Photography Websites.  Some of the photography websites will inspire and others will help you keep up with the latest photography trends. All are offered to help you focus on enjoying photography more in the coming year. We hope you will sit down with a hot cup of your favorite winter beverage, visit our list of favorite photography websites, and enjoy the New Year!

10 Favorite Photography Websites

  1. Naturescapes.net is a high quality nature photography forum which Mark reads daily with his morning coffee. Thousands of talented nature photographers post to this site and much can be learned from their inspiring images and feedback. It is free to join unless you want to post and then there is a small  annual fee which is well worth the investment for the feedback you receive and the camaraderie that develops as photographers share their passion for nature photography. The site also provides information on upcoming photography workshops and has an online store. Photography friend Jim Borden markets his Borden Steady Foot Extreme thru this site.
  2. Tim Grey is the “go to guy” for post processing digital image tips. We subscribe to his “Ask Tim Grey” daily emails and always learn something. What is great about Tim’s information is that it is concise and comes in small snippets. It is free to register for daily emails – to ask your own questions the subscription price is $35 a year. Tim puts a great amount of time and effort into providing quality technical information. If you find the information useful we hope you will support his site.
  3. In our case the Maine Bird Google Group list serve is invaluable.  However, each state has its own bird list serve to join free where birders will post their recent sightings – often times of rare species. If you don’t want all the emails delivered to your inbox throughout the day (in real-time) you can opt for an archived version and receive just one email per day that includes all of the day’s posts. Archived is the way to go in the spring when bird migration is at its height and the list serves are the most active. As a side Note: Many of you know the United States is experiencing a major eruption of Snowy Owls this winter – one even showed up here near Painted Rock on the Park Road outside of Millinocket a few weeks ago!  Remember many of the birds listed on these sites have traveled great distances in search of adequate food and it is unethical to stress wildlife by altering their behavior.
  4. Now our file sharing site of choice Dropbox is not just for photographers. Good friend, internet wiz, and talented photographer and videographer Jim Boutin put us on to this. We have tried others but found that once downloaded to your desktop sharing files via Dropbox is seamless. A Dropbox folder becomes active whenever something is added to it. Behind the scenes large files are loaded to the site while you work on other tasks. When the file is fully loaded the intended recipient receives an email asking them to join the share folder. Free space is available at no charge and most users will find that they don’t need the larger paid subscriptions.
  5. A global community of nature photographers Whytake.net is much like Facebook.  You can register and upload images for free, commenting is encouraged. Stephen Gingold whose landscape and macro images we admire posts on this site. His images are in good company as there are thousands of quality nature images to be admired on this photography website.
  6. A good source for photographers Lisa’s Photography INFO Blog is always informative. Lisa and husband Tom Cuchara are well known for their camera club presentations and Lisa’s blog provides a wealth of up to date information. Lisa sends one email a day. Subscribing is free – donations are appreciated.
  7. Two sites we frequent when planning new equipment purchases are DPreview and Fred Miranda. They serve as the Consumer Reports for photography equipment and offer unbiased reviews. These sites will save you time and costly mistakes – nothing is worse than purchasing an expensive piece of equipment only to find it does not do what you had hoped.
  8. Downloaded to your desktop for free or uploaded to your phone as an app (for a small fee) Photographer’s Ephemeris is comes in handy. It allows you to check the exact location and time of the rising and setting Sun and Moon on the horizon. As photographers who always ‘want more’ when it comes to interesting elements in their landscape images we find this app really helpful. The location for “Full Moon Rising Over Katahdin” was chosen after consulting this app.
  9. The photography website that keeps night sky watchers abreast of the latest celestial happenings is SpaceWeather.Com . The images are fascinating however their Aurora Alert in particular is invaluable for anyone who would like to catch the phenomenon of Northern Lights on memory card. While you can sign up for their email distribution list for free it is not a daily event. They support their site by charging a small monthly fee to receive Aurora Alerts by text or phone which is well worth the money if you do not want to stand out in the cold or be eaten alive by mosquitoes waiting for a something truly remarkable to happen in the night sky.
  10. Facebook has taken on a life of its own with 350 Million pictures posted per day. Trying to keep up with friend activity let alone which pages post the most compelling images is difficult at best. We suggest Mark Picard Wildlife Photography our official business page. We post at least once a day. LIKE our page, join the conversation, and post frequently. We are happy to answer your photography questions if we can or we will direct you to someone who might be able to better help.

A Few Wildlife Photography Tips

Twin Moose CalvesA few wildlife photography tips or “pointers” you might consider when photographing Moose and other wildlife.

The most important wildlife photography tip I can suggest is to always focus the camera on the eye (or the head) of any wildlife photography subject. If the eye area is not in sharp focus, the general impact of the photograph will be lost.

The second most important wildlife photography tip (unless you want extra work in Photoshop), is try to maintain a level horizon line in the background of your photographs. Refer to actual horizon lines such as a shoreline, a tree line, or another point of reference to help you achieve this.

Third wildlife photography tip –  don’t be afraid to rotate your camera and shoot photographs vertically! In many instances the photo’s composition would benefit greatly from shooting it vertical, especially when photographing wildlife such as a moose from head on.

Fourth important wildlife photography tip –  try to avoid cropping out or “cutting” off the Moose’s limbs when possible. If you must crop, try to crop above the joints (such as the ankle and knee joints). Sometimes, as in photographing close-up portraits, some cropping will be necessary. If you are including all of the Moose’s body and legs, always include the “virtual” area hidden below (as in grasses or water, for instance) where the feet would normally show as well.

Fifth wildlife photography tip –  leave room in the photo on the sides and try to lead the moose or any wildlife subject into the space around it in the direction it’s headed, while leaving some “space” for the Moose or subject to go. This tip usually lends itself to a more pleasing composition in general.

A final wildlife photography tip –  don’t be afraid to take several images at different focal lengths (such as with a zoom lens). Include images that show the Moose or subject’s environment as well. Some of the best photographs that have the most impact are taken with the Moose or main subject occupying only a small portion of the overall photo. This method supplies the viewer with a ton of information! Of course, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t get that frame-filling portrait of a massive bull moose adorned with a huge rack! Try to be diverse and capture both images when time and conditions makes it possible!

We hope you found these wildlife photography tips helpful. Good luck, and we hope to see you at an upcoming Maine wildlife photography workshop!

A Few Basic Digital Camera Tips

Get to know the innermost workings of your camera so it’s like second nature. Learn all the dials and switches on your camera so well that you can work them without looking at them. Don’t get stuck fumbling around trying to locate and change the settings while something great is happening right in front of you and you can’t pull off the shot! I just had to say that……. There, now that I feel better, let’s move on!

Camera Set-up – Initially, let’s start by discussing how to properly set up your DSLR camera internally. Shoot in RAW whenever possible – RAW contains the most file information and range of colors available, with no compression as is the case when you choose JPEG. JPEGs are “compressed” in the camera, which means that many of the similarly colored pixels are discarded in favor of a smaller file size, reducing overall image quality, somewhat. If you need to have JPEGs, select both RAW and JPEG in your camera settings and it will record both for you. Simply store away your RAW files to use later if you intend to print. Set your color space to Adobe RGB, (not sRGB) which will match the Adobe PhotoShop 1998 setting. Adobe RGB contains millions more color variations than sRGB, and you can convert the image to sRGB later if needed.

White Balance – When shooting in raw, I personally set my white balance (the color temperature of the light in the image) to 5560 Kelvin in the camera, which simulates the old film days where the true color of the light in the early or late light turns warm. This setting does not affect the actual raw file, only the view colors on your camera’s rear monitor. If you cannot set your camera’s white balance to 5560, set it to the “Flash” setting (5500) which is only a little off from the 5560 Kelvin setting. Automatic white balance (where the camera determines the correct white balance) also works quite well in most situations. All these white balance settings can be corrected later on in an editing software such as PhotoShop CS, Elements, Lightroom, etc. in raw format, but not so easily in  the jpeg setting. It is more important to get your jpeg white balance settings more accurate than in the raw format.

Histogram – Use your Histogram! This tool is invaluable and is your exposure’s best friend! Keep the histogram graph favoring the right side but  don’t let it “hit” (this is called “clipping”) either left or the right side of the graph on the screen. This will result in a good exposure with nothing blown out in the highlights, while keeping as much detail as possible in the shadows or dark areas (left side of the histogram) of the image. I also use my “blinky” which is a highlight overexposure setting on the camera that blinks black and white on the monitor if an area in the photo is over-exposed (in conjunction with the histogram).

In Camera Sharpening – I don’t do any sharpening in the camera. PhotoShop and other editing programs (Lightroom, Elements, Aperture, etc.) do a much better job of this after the fact. Besides, this is the last thing you do to your image based on size output and resolution before you save and actually use the image.

Post Processing Digital Image Tips

Before you begin post Processing digital images, you must calibrate your computer’s monitor! There are no exceptions! If you don’t calibrate your monitor, the colors and exposures in your final image will not be accurate. Companies such as Color Vision and Colormunki make excellent calibration software. I personally own Color Vision’s Spyder Elite 3 software.
Post processing digital images – I use Adobe PhotoShop CS6 for all my image editing and workflow, plus I use PhotoShop CS6 Bridge for my cataloging, filing and sorting of all my images. There are other companies that also perform these tasks pretty much with the same results, including ACDC, Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Elements (very similar to PhotoShop CS, but much cheaper, around $100.), Aperture, and IView, to name a few. This is just a matter of personal preference.

Camera RAW – First thing to do when post processing digital images is to open your image in your chosen camera RAW converter software. I use PhotoShop Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Make Exposure, White Balance, Color Adjustments, etc., until you’re happy with the results. Adobe Elements  opens in RAW automatically, as does PhotoShop, once you’ve checked off that box in the Preferences dialog box.

PhotoShop – Then open the image in PhotoShop (or another program) and select Image>Duplicate. Once the dupe image opens, close out the original image so as to save it in its’ original form by clicking on “No” when it asks you if you want to save the changes to the original. This is an important step! (Elements  automatically saves your original).Then click on Image>Adjustments>Shadow/Highlights on the duplicate image.

Here are the default settings I use for Shadows/Highlights that seem to work 90% of the time:
Shadows: Amount 50% Tonal Width 19% Radius 300 pix
Highlights: Amount 22% Tonal width 50% Radius 101 pix
Adjustments: Color Correction +20
Midtone contrast 0
Black clip 0.01%
White clip 0.01%
In Elements 6, click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadow/Highlights, move sliders to suit your tastes.

Then adjust Contrast, Brightness, Cropping, Saturation, etc., to your liking. (In Elements , click on Enhance>Adjust Lighting or Adjust Color> gives you contrast, brightness, and saturation adjustments). Cropping the image is basically the same in either Photoshop or Elements.
Once you’re happy with the final result, give it a name and save it as a TIFF file. Do not sharpen this file yet. Each output (internet, digital slide show, or printing) will require a different amount of sharpening. Each time you wish to use the image for either the internet, digital slide programs, or final printing, for example, simply open the file , create a duplicate (click Image>Duplicate), give it a name and close out the original TIFF with no changes to preserve it. Now you can work on the dupe without working on the original RAW image or the revised TIFF.

Image Sizing – After you decide how and where you want to use the image, open the duplicate TIFF image in your editing software, and re-size as needed (such as for the internet).
For the internet, click on Image>Mode>8 bit. Then click on EDIT> Convert To Profile>Destination Space Profile>sRGB IEC61966-2.1>OK. .).(In Elements, click on Edit>Color Settings>Allow me to chose.). Then click on IMAGE>Image Size>Resolution>72 Pixels>then set the pixels to  800 pixels or less  on the longest side, for a nice size for viewing on the internet. Photoshop also has a “save for web” dialog box to automate your settings for saving as a jpeg for the web, and is a time saver.

Sharpening to output – Now you can open Filter>Sharpen> Smart Sharpen and adjust sharpening to suit. I set amount to somewhere around 50-70% usually, with the Radius set to 1 pixel and set to: Remove Lens blur. (In Elements, go to Enhance>Adjust Sharpness). Once this is all accomplished, and you’re happy with the overall look of the image, save it as a smaller resolution file (JPEG), anywhere from 100 pixels to 800 pixels on the long side total (at around or below 500 KB’s resolution), so it loads quicker for fast viewing on the internet.

Re-sizing for a digital slide show is very similar to the internet, except that the sizes will be different in that for the slide show, the resolution will be set at 100 dpi, with pixels on the width of the image not to exceed 1024 pixels (most current digital projector’s native resolution), while the height should not exceed 768 pixels. This is the standard settings for most digital projectors. Sharpen basically just like you did for the internet, then save as a JPEG in sRGB at 8 bits and maximum resolution. Basically, these numbers and settings are good starting points for both the internet and digital slide shows, and normally your own settings will fall within these suggested numbers. Sometimes you’ll need to tweak the settings even more, but that is quite normal to have to do.

For actually printing your images, again make another duplicate image from your original TIFF file, close out the original TIFF, open Image>Size>, set dpi to somewhere between 200 and 360 dpi (normally 240 or 300 dpi for prints). Leave the Adobe RGB setting for color space, and set the bit setting to 8 bits. This will produce the best color rendition and clarity in your final print. After you set the resolution and the actual size of the print in inches you’ve chosen, open the Smart Sharpen dialog box and view the image at 100% on the monitor, then sharpen until the final image looks good and sharp without any sharpening “halos” around the main subject. Sharpening for printing is a completely different animal, in that the image will require even more sharpening, sometimes going as far as 2 or 3 on the Radius, and 200-250% on the Amount. When you’re happy with the image, click “O.K.”, then save again (“Save As”) using the final size and given name in the title (such as “Great Gray Owl Portrait, 11”x14”) as a TIFF so that it is easily found later on when you decide to either print it yourself (another workshop!), or have someone else print it for you. I put all my final print TIFFs in a separate folder in the computer and on external hard drives named TIFF PRINTS where I can easily find them later on.

Conclusion – I know this all sounds complicated, and to some extent it is, but once you’ve learned your image editing software and become familiar with it, you should be able to perform all these tasks in five minutes or less per image. As a final note, back up your images! Computer internal hard drives fail! External portable hard drives fail! All brands, all models! I have four external hard drives that redundantly contain all my images. I keep one hard drive out of the house in case of fire or theft. I back them up regularly. Besides, it’s one of the most inexpensive file storage systems you can buy. Today, a 500 gigabyte hard drive (thousands and thousands of images) of storage space costs around $100.

Photography Workshop Gear – Tripods

Peekaboo Bull Moose in Winter

Peekaboo Bull Moose in Winter

As Spring still seems elusive here in the North Woods of Maine I am making the most of these last cool days to photograph Winter landscapes via snowmobile. With about 4 feet of snow in the woods, the sled makes it possible to get to some otherwise inaccessible remote locations. The idea of being able to photograph a particular spot throughout the seasons is appealing to me and ever present in the back of my mind is the possibility of photographing Moose! Much harder to locate when the snow gets deep, Moose tend to “yard up” where the food and cover are good so they do not have to expend precious energy. “Peekaboo” is an image I am particularly pleased to have captured this Winter as I believe it conveys a real sense of the elements.

While Winter photography is not for everyone, I have received several emails from people planning to attend this year’s Spring and Fall workshops asking about gear and lens recommendations. Let me first say, all skill levels of photographers have taken my workshops from the most advanced to the novice. One of my goals during the workshops is to have each participant learn ways to achieve better images with the equipment they have.  One participant a few years back stands out in my mind as a person who probably had the best time of anybody. Every time we stopped at a location to photograph he took a miniature sized Elf digital camera out of an Altoid’s tin (that he had strung around his neck), took a few shots, then carefully placed the camera back in the tin and smiled. He did not have the most exspensive equipment, he just had a great time!

The other end of the spectrum is a photographer last Spring who had an 800mm lens with tele-converter attached when a cow Moose and her calf unexpectedly appeared just behind us on the board walk. Needless to say he was scrambling for his other camera body and wide angle lens! Most of us fall somewhere in between when it comes to the extent of our camera gear – often times the amount dependent on just how much we are willing to spend and how much we are willing to carry. We tend to invest enough in our equipment to get good results and always have a wish list of upgrades that are sure to help us get even better pictures.

Wildlife subjects don’t always necessarily require the longest telephoto lenses to capture extraordinary images. However, when it comes to photography workshop gear I consider using a sturdy tripod and properly rated ball head a must. Often a “grudge” purchase, a carbon fiber tripod can cost between $200 and $900 USD. And that is just the tripod. You still need a tripod head which come in several styles and shapes. Ball heads usually are used in conjunction with the shorter, non-collared lenses. Don’t forget the camera plate, which attaches to your camera body and then to the ball head. They are in the $40 range. Even more efficient than a flat plate is an “L” bracket which allows you to adjust your camera from horizontal to vertical without changing the center of gravity or having to adjust your tripod. With an “L” bracket, the level and axis remain the same for each position. The” L” bracket secures to the camera body and allows the user to quickly shoot either horizontal or vertical with lenses that do not have a rotating collar. These “L” plates are manufactured by several companies, and typically will set you back about $150.

A good ball head works well for up to about a 300mm lens. Beyond a 300mm lens I recommend a full gimbal style head. Described by a friend of mine that recently purchased one as “a mechanical work of art”, I have to agree with him. A gimbal head cost between $300 and $600 and allows for quick and fluid movement. These heads are also manufactured by several different companies. The gimbal head is able to adjust to any angle while the camera and lens are suspended directly below the center of gravity of your tripod. In my opinion, there is no better way to work a wildlife subject with these longer telephoto lenses than with the gimbal style head.

"Mt Katahdin from the Cribworks Winter"One of my latest purchases was a tripod leveling base. It basically levels the tripod without having to adjust the individual legs on your tripod. I have found this really helpful when shooting several images panning in a sequence later to be stitched together creating a seamless panorama like the landscape image above. That final image is a composite of 12 images (6 across x 2 high) stitched together in Photoshop CS6.

About now you are probably agreeing with my use of the term “grudge” purchase when it comes to camera support. You are right, it won’t get you any closer to a wildlife subject or provide more pixels and the potential for higher ISO’s like a longer lens or upgraded camera body will. However, I can tell you that there is no other single investment that you can make that will have as much of an impact on the quality of your images. A good set up will allow you to capture crisp images with slow shutter speeds as well as track moving subjects with ease.

Photographing Wildlife in the Spring

Yawning Owl Redphase Eastern Screech Owl in Sycamore February 2010We are beginning to see signs of Spring in the hill towns of Western MA but Winter is holding on in Northern Maine where we will be moving to in a few short weeks. Certainly the recent high temperatures are keeping us from photographing the usual snowy landscapes and suspended icicles. In the valleys and lower elevations it is a good time to photograph wildlife. Keep an eye out for Screech Owls sunning themselves at the entrances to tree cavities facing southwest. Finding them is a challenge. This is where your state bird listserv comes in handy. Often times local birders will post locations or word gets out that one of these fascinating creatures has become fond of a particular daytime roost.
If you are lucky enough to find such a spot, patience is the name of the game. What you are waiting for is an opportunity to capture the behavior of anything but a sleeping owl! It can take hours if not days to get an image that I am happy with while waiting for a wing stretch, eyes opened, or a yawn, in just a momentary blink of the eye. If you are really lucky a Blue Jay or an ornery Chickadee, not appreciating the Owls presence, will display its feelings by “mobbing” (as it is called) the Owl. If the Owl sticks around long enough to hold its ground you may get an interesting image. Most times they just drop down into the cavity until the offensive bird gets bored and flies off to its next unsuspecting victim.

Moose Prints Gallery RenovationsAbout now Anita and I are feeling a bit like this “Yawning Owl” – tired! We just returned from Millinocket where we started the first round of renovations on our new home and Gallery space. With the help of trusted friends and talented contractors we raised ceilings, removed plaster and lathe, widened doorways, replaced plumbing, modified wiring and hung sheetrock. As you can see from this image it got pretty messy. Actually we are further along with renovations than expected and plan to have the gallery open for the June Workshops which brings me to the next subject.
It is not too early to register for my Maine Photography Workshops as spaces seem to be filling faster than in previous years. Our workshops offer an unparalleled opportunity to photograph the Katahdin Region of Maine including its spectacular landscapes and magnificent Moose. These all inclusive workshops (lodging, meals, and transportation to and from shooting locations during the workshop) make the most of our time together. There is no formal classroom instruction. Other than an afternoon break, we are in the field from sunrise to sunset. The most difficult decision you will have is whether you should attend in the Spring or Fall.
June (Spring in the North Woods of Maine) and now July provide opportunities to photograph a world coming to life after a long Winter. Moose feed heavily in the ponds this time of year, often times along side their cinnamon colored calves. Bull Moose antlers are covered in velvet and can grow as much as an inch a day. Picturesque indigenous wildflowers, rushing waterways, boreal birds and other fauna also provide inspiration and opportunities to learn new skills.
September and October workshops coincide with the Moose Rut and spectacular Fall color that the region is noted for. Now those 35 pound calves from Spring have grown a bit weighing about 400 pounds. The massive Bull’s antlers are finished growing, the velvet having been shed for the mating season. This is the time to capture these magnificent creatures in courtship and mating behavior with a backdrop of Fall color.
Several hundred participants of all skill levels have already taken my workshops. Whether it is a well planned all-inclusive Getaway Weekend or customized private one on one instruction you are guaranteed to learn new skills while exploring all that is unique to the region. Plan to attend one of my workshops in the North Woods of Maine this year and who knows, you may decide you like the area as much as we do.