YouTube: Potomac River Gorge, NPS 100

This is the first in my new weekly series on YouTube celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the U.S. National Park Service. Tune in as I share my favorite National Park entity, the Potomac River Gorge! (Also, photography tips!)

Friday Photo Tip: Fill Flash

Eastern bluebird. 

Don’t be afraid to fish out the flash from your camera bag when shooting in nature. Too often a strobe is used only for lighting up people in dark situations.

Nature should look natural, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enhance it a bit. And that’s what fill flash does. If you want to get those natural colors to really pop and if you want to see a little catch light in the creature’s eye, just throw a little light in there. Makes a world of difference.

I like to expose for the scene and then dial down the flash about a stop and a half. Maybe two stops. Experiment.

Dialing down the flash keeps it from blowing out the scene; keeps it more natural looking.

A male eastern bluebird at the C & O Canal in Maryland.

A male eastern bluebird at the C & O Canal in Maryland.




Friday Photo Tip: “Just take the Picture.”

Todays Friday Photo Tip is something from my friend and mentor David Alan Harvey.

“When the perfect picture situation happens, you may not have time to worry about perfect exposure and f-stop. Just take the picture. Don’t be afraid to experiment — especially in dark locations where you cannot use a tripod or flash. Brace your elbows on a table, lean against a telephone pole, or rest the camera on a fence post or a Coke bottle.”

woman in low light, very dark

Jessica in very low light.

Friday Photo Tip: Composition

Separation. Balance. A sense of ease.

I never set out to find it, but every now and then it reveals itself. I’ll walk around for hours, just watching; being an observer. Shooting a little here and there. Feeling things out.

If I find an interesting scene I’ll stop and take a look through the view finder. I don’t start shooting right away, either. Patience, I tell myself. Let the scene sink in. Try to grasp what’s there; what belongs, what doesn’t. If I shift myself or the camera a few inches an OK composition can morph into a good composition.

And you don’t so much see it as you do feel it. When everything falls into place there is a great sense of relief. Even exhilaration. That’s when you shoot.

Be patient. Look at the scene. Really  look at it. There’s a good composition in there somewhere.



Friday Photo Tip: Inclement Weather

The forecast calls for rain? Very good. Now go out there and shoot.

An atmosphere of gloom. A sense of sullenness… but in a good way! This is what comes with lousy weather. No matter if it’s sleet, rain, snow or fog. There are shots to be made, moods to capture.

Yes, keep your camera as clean and dry as you can — that shower cap from the hotel’s bathroom makes an excellent rain coat for the camera… or maybe shoot from under an awning or from the car window — but do get out there and make some photographs. They’re everywhere.

A foggy morning on Mount Tamalpais.

A foggy morning on Mount Tamalpais in northern California.

Stinson Beach in The Rain

A couple takes a walk on the beach in the rain. Stinson Beach, California.


Friday Photo Tip: “Keep the Sun Over Your Shoulder.”

This is a wonderful, timeless lesson. That high school photography teacher (who also happened to be the basketball coach) really knew his stuff.

I mean, really, think about it. With the sun behind you everything in front of you is so fully and flatly lit. You can see it all. No annoying shadows adding drama or depth. No highlights in the model’s hair. And with family portraits you get the added benefit of squinting eyes! What’s not to love?

And don’t even get me started on silhouettes or soft window light!

little girl with window light.

Window light #1

woman drinking water at national airport, whashington DC

Window light #2

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.