Friday Photo Tip: an object in motion…

Sometimes blur is good. In fact, oftentimes blur is good. You can have a blurred subject and a sharp background or a sharp subject and blurred background. There are even times — if you’re feeling impressionistic — you may want everything in the frame blurred. Sometimes you want to stop the action, and sometimes you don’t.

Let’s say your young daughter and her friends are running all over the place having themselves a blast. This is the time to pick up the camera and start shooting. Choose one child at a time and pan with them as they run past, clicking the shutter all the while. Practice it with as many of the kids as possible. Every few kids, check the back of the camera to see how you’re doing. Next, set yourself up in one spot and without moving the camera take the shot as they run through the frame. It’s even cooler when you’ve got one of the kids standing still and another blurred in the same picture.

Too many people with cameras don’t give any consideration to the concept of motion. Commuters on a busy street, cars passing by, children playing games. Everybody is moving. So why is everyone in that box of family photos standing perfectly still? Even the family pet is posed! Photographs of people arm in arm with big smiles are great. Sure. But those people were moving right before that shot, and they began moving again right after it. Try catching them in the before and after.

Getting a good motion-blur shot isn’t easy. There will be a lot more misses than hits in the beginning, but keep at it.

The world is in constant motion. Show it.

2007 Potomac Whitewater Festival

A moderately slow shutter speed (1/40th sec) allowed the
kayaker to blur, but kept the video guy and the rest of the scene sharp.

White Ibis

I was somewhere in the Florida Keys. It was mid-afternoon and hot as hell with harsh, ugly light. But the White Ibis is such a cool looking creature there was no way I could resist. It may appear as if it is looking for a good spot to dig up a few crustaceans for lunch, but in actuality it was just seeking shade. Which is what smart creatures normally do.


White Ibis, Florida Keys

White Ibis, Florida Keys.


Really smart creatures seek shade that also has beer!

photograph by Rachel Klein-Kircher


Friday Photo Tip: Quality of Light.

So you’ve spent a few good hours exploring a new place and you think you’ve finally found that definitive scene. You take care to shoot from various angles and try a variety of lenses. You work the composition until it feels just right.

You scroll through your images on the LCD and a sense of satisfaction washes over you. Start packing it up. On to the next location, right? Not so fast!

Yes, you’re happy with the image. Yes, you’re content with your composition. But how will this scene look later in the evening? Early next morning? What is the weather forecast for the next few days?

If you think something is worth documenting then it’s worth documenting well. You’re pleased with what you photographed in the daylight? Great. Now go back there at twilight and you’ll see something quite different. That brief period of transition between darkness and light called the gloaming will enhance almost any scene. If there is a building in your shot the interior lights can add interesting color elements to the image as well.

Time is a luxury we don’t often get to enjoy, it’s true. In those cases you just have to make the best of it. But when you do have time, take advantage. Go back to the same spot. Shoot it again. You’ll find it’s well worth your effort.

Martin Luther King Memorial

Martin Luther King Memorial


Keep The Parks Open !

According to the National Parks Conservation Association, if congress and the President fail to come to an agreement by January more than 200 million dollars will be cut from an already deflated NPS budget. This will mean various closures throughout the system. It will mean layoffs and work stoppages. As many as 9,000 Rangers could be let go. Park hours will be cut and some parks will be shut completely. The Parks budget today is 15% less than it was ten years ago. Cutting it drastically further would have devastating impacts on the entire system. Not to mention on the millions who love and visit regularly these national treasures.

Please take some time and call your congressional representatives and Senators… or at least visit the NPCA website and sign their petition. You can find it here: Take Action

A bull elk on a snowy morning in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

A bull elk on a snowy morning in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.

The Magnitude of Disaster Relief

It’s been three weeks since Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the New Jersey and New York coastal areas. Clean up and relief for disaster victims continues. Progress is being made but there is still much to do.

This past Saturday in a warehouse in Richmond,VA about 30 volunteers and employees of the American Red Cross filled over 1,300 coolers with food for delivery to the disaster region. On Sunday many more showed up (200, I believe) with the goal of 8,000 more coolers. The aim is to provide a meal for as many as possible this Thanksgiving.

It’s difficult sometimes to comprehend the scale of a disaster relief operation like the one ARC is currently undertaking. There are 300 Red Cross emergency vehicles in the NJ/NY region alone, and starting before the storm made landfall 8,800 disaster responders have been deployed. 6 million meals and snacks have been served. All of this continues today and likely will for weeks to come.

I saw only a snippet this weekend of the organization and logistics involved and it blew me away. If Sunday’s operation in the Richmond warehouse went off as smoothly as Saturday’s (and I have no doubt it did), the 8,000 cooler goal will be met easily.

Update: 8,000 cooler goal was indeed met! Incredible!

Robert Pratt of the American Red Cross moving coolers in a warehouse in Virginia.

Friday Photo Tip: Get Close

One easy way to improve your photos is to get close to your subject. Then get closer. And just when you think you’re close enough, get even closer!

Birthday parties are perfect for this. Also, parades, backyard picnics and weddings. Occasions where cameras and photographers are expected and embraced. Get out there and shoot. But no sitting across the room comfortably clicking away. You need to walk over and sit down among the screechy children or get out on the dance floor with the celebrants. If the barbecue smoke isn’t burning your eyes, you’re not close enough.

And no big, heavy, long lenses. They have their uses, yes, but creating a sense of intimacy is not one of them.

Don’t be shy. Get close.

Washington DC from A Cessna 172

It’s not a view many people get to see nowadays and it requires a great deal of paper work, patience and luck. But when it all comes together, it is still way cool to fly over Washington DC.

This is the view looking west at the National Mall and the various museums and galleries. Capitol Building, Washington Monument, and Lincoln Memorial are easy to make out. Supreme Court, Native American Museum are visible. And that big group of red roof buildings on the right? That’s Federal Triangle, part of the Pennsylvania Ave. National Historical Site.

Love this city!


Downtown Washington DC aerial view. Looking west.

Climate Action

Every other summer for almost 20 years my family has vacationed on the mid-Atlantic coast of Florida. We’ve regularly gathered down there to enjoy each others company and all the diversions the place has to offer: Early morning beach-combing, tracking loggerhead turtle nests, body surfing or boogie boarding, evening surf-fishing, photographing the great variety of shore birds (ok, that’s just me!), or just generally kicking back and letting it all wash over you for a week.

Romance at New Smyrna Beach, FL.

Now, I would like very much for this little cutie to be able to enjoy the same stretch of beach as that young couple above when she’s their age. But I’m not the least bit optimistic it will be the same place. Changes in our global climate are being ignored by far too many in our political class. And attention needs to be paid. These changes, which are well documented and easy to find, will grow significantly in size and in scope over the next 50-100 years if we take no action. The shores we have enjoyed will become unrecognizable if we take no action. In the future homes on the bayside will be beachfront property if we take no action.

It is now an almost daily occurrence that I read about a new climate record being set. I read about extreme weather events, coastline landscapes changing, Arctic ice disappearing, long term droughts… the list goes on. Here is the most recent: U.S. On Track for Warmest Year on Record.

Climate change is happening, it is bad and getting worse, and human activity is largely the cause. But our actions can also be the fix. We can make it possible for future generations to enjoy what past generations have enjoyed. It is still possible to leave a better world for them. But the climate clock is ticking. We have to act. Today.