I'll be posting some random thoughts here about my photography: my travel plans, technical information behind some images, stories about how certain pictures were captured, etc.  The timing of the postings will also be random as my priority is capturing new images rather than writing about existing ones.  I hope you will feel free to comment on any of my postings and I appreciate you taking time to read my entries.



"Ko Olina Beach" Wins Photo of the Day!

April 21, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This morning, my "Ko Olina Beach" picture won Imaging Resource's "Photo of the Day". CLICK HERE to view Imaging Resource's Photo of the Day page.

This image was captured during my trip earlier this year to Oahu. This is the second photograph to win a photo contest from my trip to the island.

This marks the 40th time that one of my photographs was recognized by Imaging Resource as its "Photo of the Day". Click here to view all of the winning entries over the past few years.

Ko Olina Beach ParkKo Olina Beach ParkImaging Resource's Photo of the Day for April, 2017

Orangutan Portrait

April 18, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Last month, I visited the Tropic World exhibit at the Brookfield Zoo to capture some pictures of the orangutans.

Below is a portrait of Sophia, a female orangutan that often poses for me during my visits:

OrangutanOrangutanFemale orangutan, Sophia, at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Illinois on February 27, 2017

One challenge with zoo photography is controlling the backgrounds. Fortunately, many of the exhibits at the Brookfield Zoo feature backgrounds that more closely match a natural environment. One approach that I use is to wait until an animal enters an area of the exhibit with an acceptable background before taking any pictures.

When the distance between the subject and the background increases, it's far easier to create background blur. Background blur places more emphasis on the subject--which is a good thing. Using a wide aperture also helps blur the background. I used my Nikon 300 2.8 VR lens for this image. I opened the lens all the way (f/2.8) to create this look for the background. At f/2.8, the Nikon 300 2.8 lens is an ideal "background eraser"!

Another challenge with zoo photography in indoor exhibits is the lighting. I try to use the lowest ISO setting possible to maximize image quality. However, it's also important to select a fast enough shutter speed to create a sharp photograph. For this image, I pushed the limit by selecting an ISO of 500--which resulted in a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second at f/2.8. 1/60th is pushing it. Many photographers don't like to use shutter speeds slower than 1 over the focal length of the lens--which in this case would be 1/300th.

By using a slow shutter speed of 1/60th rather than let's say 1/500th, I'm able to use an ISO of 500 rather than an ISO of 4,000. Additionally, by using an aperture of f/2.8 instead of let's say f/4 (which is still fast), I'm able to save another stop of light. At f/4 and 1/500th, my ISO would have been 8,000 (hardly worth bothering to take the picture with my D800).

Creating a sharp picture would be nearly impossible at 1/60th with a 300mm lens without incorporating further tools. Of course, a tripod is essential. Having my camera locked down on a solid tripod allows me to shoot at lower shutter speeds for maximum image quality. I also used a Nikon SB-900 flash unit. That short burst of light helps freeze any movement at this lower shutter speed.

CLICK HERE if you wish to view more images from my photo shoot.

Backlighting at Polynesian Cultural Center

April 11, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

During my recent trip to Hawaii, I enjoyed capturing photographs at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). The PCC is very photographer friendly. They permitted me to carry all kinds of gear--including my massive 500mm lens. They also allowed me to shoot from a tripod at all locations, including the various shows. The only event that was off limits was the "Ha: Breath of Life" live performance evening show.

My only problem while shooting at the PCC was the sun! I visited the Center on three separate days, and each day the sky was clear. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. This might sound ideal for the ordinary visitor. But, this direct sun is a photographer's nightmare. The lighting is very harsh. Shadows go black and highlights get blown out. It's particularly unappealing when taking pictures of people--and people were my primary subjects at that location.

During my first visit, I selected a location where I could capture pictures of the Canoe Pageant with a clean background. However, the sunlight was so harsh and the shadows so dark that most of my pictures weren't worth the time to process them. I returned for a second time in hope of some cloud cover. Earlier that day, the sky was cloudy and the light was soft and diffused. But about 15 minutes before the Canoe Pageant started (it starts at 2:30 PM every day), the clouds cleared and the sun once again made the light impossible to manage. My approach was to only take photographs during the brief time that a canoe entered some shade cover. This severely limited my photo opportunities.

Following is one of the images that was captured in this unappealing light:

Polynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural Center at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie, Hawaii on January 26, 2017

On my third visit, I used a very different approach. This is an approach that most portrait photographers would probably have thought of to begin with! My approach was to set up in a location where I was shooting directly into the sun. That way, the light would be even on the faces and people wouldn't be squinting while looking toward the bright light. This approach worked well for me.

Here are a couple of examples of how I used backlighting to create more appealing images in the same conditions that the above picture was taken:

Polynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural Center at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie, Hawaii on January 28, 2017 Polynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural CenterPolynesian Cultural Center at 55-370 Kamehameha Highway in Laie, Hawaii on January 28, 2017

This solution worked for me. I only wish I had thought of it sooner.

My Next Great Adventure

April 06, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Planning is already underway for my next major road trip! This summer trip will cover a wide loop around the western portion of the United States. This journey will take more than a month and over 7,000 miles to complete.

Here's my preliminary itinerary (with just a few of the attractions noted):

1- Minneapolis, MN - revisit MN State Capitol

2- Bismarck, ND - revisit ND State Capitol

3- Billings, MT

4- Helena, MT - revisit MT State Capitol

5- Kalispell, MT - Glacier National Park

6- Kalispell, MT - Triple D Game Ranch

7- Kalispell, MT

8- Kalispell, MT

9- Spokane, WA - Manito Park

10- Colfax, WA - Steptoe Butte

11- Crater Lake, OR

12- Crater Lake, OR

13- Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

14- Fresno, CA

15- Los Angeles, CA - the Broad, Petersen Automobile Museum

16- Los Angeles, CA

17- Oceanside, CA

18- San Diego, CA

19- San Diego, CA

20- Las Vegas, NV - Neon Museum

21- Las Vegas, NV - Valley of Fire

22- Las Vegas, NV - Fremont Street

23- Tucson, AZ - Mission San Zavier del Bac

24- Tucson, AZ - Saguaro National Park

25- Tucson, AZ - University of Arizona

26- El Paso, TX - Mission Trail

27- El Paso, TX

28- Amarillo, TX

29- Witchita, KS

30- Witchita, KS

31- Hannibal, MO

32- Orland Park, IL

Brushing in Some Sharpness

April 02, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Last month, I attended the Out of Chicago Winter Conference. During this photography conference, a few hours were set aside for the conference participants to shoot various subjects. Several photographers congregated around many of the flowers that were on display.

One of the photography decisions to make when shooting these orchids is to select an aperture. Like many of the photographers, I wanted a narrow depth of field. It's a challenge selecting an aperture in which the front orchid is in sharp focus while the other flowers drop out of focus. If I went with a wide aperture, the front flower wasn't in focus enough for my liking. But if I narrowed the aperture, the background became too sharp.

Here's how I solved this problem. I used two apertures! I used the extremely narrow aperture of f/20 to ensure that the front orchid is entirely in focus. Then, I used a nearly wide open aperture (f/4.2) to allow the background to drop out of focus and become less distracting. This approach involved taking two exposures--one at each aperture:

Then, I layered these two frames in Photoshop:

Note that the f/4.2 layer is my base and that the f/20 exposure is placed on a layer above that. From there, I painted in the f/20 sharpness (white reveals, black conceals) on the mask to the right of the f/20 layer. The end result is that the front orchid is sharp at f/20 while the remainder of the image is soft at f/4.2. In my mind, I ended up with the best of both worlds!

Here's the final photograph:

OrchidsOrchidsPink and yellow orchids at the Out of Chicago Winter Conference at the University Center of the College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois on February 18, 2017

Captivity Galore...

March 29, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Over the years, I have visited the Brookfield Zoo (as well as many other zoos from around the country) countless times. For the most part, the Brookfield Zoo has been a paradise for photographers. Interesting subjects are relatively close by. And, the Brookfield Zoo generally uses moats (rather than more obstructive glass, cages, fencing) to separate visitors from the animals.

In recent years, I feel that the zoo experience has diminished. Perhaps it's that I'm gaining a greater appreciation of the price that's being paid by a wild animal being held in captivity. Most animals yearn to be free. And, animals that know nothing other than captivity (that's even sadder) eventually lose their purpose for being--they no longer practice the productive skills that they utilize in the wild.

Zoos serve a purpose. Zoos are critical for educating people on the necessity of preserving our wild places and our wild animals. But, when I see a majestic lion or bear pacing endlessly in a small loop (as I did today)--I feel sorry for the animal that is paying the price for our education. Also during my visit today, I was saddened to see a giant anteater pacing in a tight circle for nearly 15 consecutive minutes. I feel even sadder for the animal after I've witnessed how much this contrasts with how they behave in the wild.

But, let's make the assumption (a valid one) that zoos play an important role in educating the public and in promoting conservation. Even so, I would like to see our zoos allocate more space to the animals and a bit less to the people. Earlier this week, I visited the Brookfield Zoo--and noticed that many of the recent renovations are all about the people and very little about the animals. For example, the biggest money right now is being spent on expanding the entrance road and stations into the zoo. Other recent initiatives that are evident are the restroom renovations and event spaces.

As I walk around the Zoo, I notice many exhibits that have been closed for quite some time--or have transitioned into something else (not allocated to animals). For example, the old bear exhibits have sat empty for many years. A while back, the Zoo covered these empty exhibits with colorful plywood. The baboon island has been empty for years--and will eventually be replaced with something else I suppose. The jellyfish exhibit disappeared in favor of a peacock statue after thousands of jellyfish died there. The Pachyderm House sits half empty--and there hasn't been an elephant housed in that exhibit for years. The old Reptile House has been converted into administrative offices.

So, as you look at the map of the Brookfield Zoo, you'll notice that most of it is RED...those are areas devoted to people activities: parking lots, a carousel (really?), restrooms, parks, restaurants, concession stands, an event area, playgrounds, fountains, etc. The area where the captive animals are free to roam are colored in YELLOW. WHITE represents areas within box that are not controlled by the Zoo.

So, what percentage of this area is allocated to the animals? Maybe 5-10% of this already relatively small area in the western suburbs of Chicago? How much of the Zoo's property is dedicated to parking? Maybe 20%? I think we can do better than this.


"Sandy Beach Sunrise" Wins Photo of the Day!

March 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

This morning, my "Sandy Beach Sunrise" picture won Imaging Resource's "Photo of the Day". CLICK HERE to view Imaging Resource's Photo of the Day page.

This image was captured during my trip earlier this year to Oahu. This photograph was captured early in my trip and was the first beach that I visited on the island during my two week stay.

This marks the 39th time that one of my photographs was recognized by Imaging Resource as its "Photo of the Day". Click here to view all of the winning entries over the past few years.

Sandy Beach SunriseSandy Beach SunriseImaging Resource's Photo of the Day for March 24, 2017

Microstock Earnings through February

March 21, 2017  •  4 Comments

This morning, iStock reported earnings for February. So, I've updated my earnings report through last month.

My monthly microstock earnings once again exceeded $1,000. For the third month out of the last four months, iStock posted revenues in excess of $200. Fotolia generated $124 during the month--which is the highest monthly revenue from that agency since I started uploading there back in June.

Following is a summary of my monthly earnings:

African Wild Dogs Go Wild on Microstock!

March 18, 2017  •  1 Comment

Yesterday, one of my African wild dog photographs sold under Shutterstock's "On Demand" category. The photographer usually gets paid $2.85 for an "On Demand" upload. Shortly thereafter, five more pictures of African wild dogs sold.

Unfortunately, $2.85 is a decent amount of revenue these days for a microstock sale. Although I have averaged over $1,000 per month in microstock revenues over the past few years, my average commission per download is around $1.00. That means that it takes a lot of volume to make any money at all in microstock. I have to sell more than 1,000 images a month to generate that revenue stream!

Yesterday, the six African wild dog pictures generated $17.10 of revenue in a time period of just a few minutes.

The African wild dogs went wild on Shutterstock!

Unexpected Hawaiian Experiences

March 16, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I recently visited the island of Oahu in Hawaii. In my last blog entry, I wrote about several instances of when I experienced the Aloha Spirit.

This was not a typical photography trip for me. I almost always take road trips. It's been years since I boarded a plane. And, this was my first time in Hawaii.

Hawaii was not always what I expected. In many ways, it exceeded my expectations. At times, it fell short of being a paradise for me. Following are some random thoughts about things that surprised me:

  • I expected everything in Hawaii to be very expensive and much higher priced than on the mainland. So, I was surprised that I could order the hotdog and soft drink at Costco for the same $1.50 that its priced here in Chicago. The two taco special at Jack in the Box was just $1.09!
  • Gas was priced a bit higher than where I live in the Chicago suburbs. But, $2.95 per gallon in Honolulu wasn't nearly as expensive as I was expecting at a time when gas in Chicago was priced at $2.49.
  • I didn't expect to see cars with out of state plates in Hawaii! A car parked next to me had California plates.
  • While visiting the Honolulu Zoo, I was shocked to see people of all ages completely ignoring the sideways rain that was coming down (or should I say across). Families with young kids, grandparents and many others were walking through the zoo as if it wasn't even raining. Only a few people carried umbrellas. People were soaked, yet continued to leisurely view the various exhibits.
  • Having worked at the global headquarters of McDonald's Corporation for many years (and several years ago), I was surprised when I entered the restroom of a McDonald's restaurant somewhere just outside of Waikiki. It was a rather large restroom without privacy barriers of any kind. Generally, the toilet is surrounded by some kind of stall. Yet, this wasn't the kind of restroom where one can lock the door for privacy.
  • I was stunned by the traffic. Having lived in Chicago, I thought the reports of bad traffic in a city like Honolulu must be exaggerated. They're not. I experienced the most horrendous traffic imaginable--and that includes my trip to Los Angeles. This heavy traffic was not isolated to Honolulu. I experienced long delays while driving on the far west side of the island as well as on the North Shore. By long delays, I'm referring to 45 minutes to drive 5 or 10 miles. I think the most frustrating drive was the 2.3 mile drive from the State Capitol to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific ("the Punchbowl"). That 2.3 mile drive took 45 minutes due to lane closures! Thankfully, I was on the island long enough to make some adjustments and eventually worked around some of the traffic and parking challenges.
  • Many of the locations that I visited were overrun with crowds. At Pearl Harbor, I took the Navy tour of the USS Arizona Memorial. Every 15 minutes, a boat leaves for the memorial with about 200 people. When the boat arrives at the memorial, 200 people enter the memorial as 200 people exit to board for the return trip. That's a lot of people on a relatively small platform. And, that's not a lot of time to be out there. The USS Arizona Memorial is a national cemetery. I expected it to be a very touching experience--and to a certain extent, it was. But, experiencing it for such a short time with that many other people diminished the experience. It was disturbing to see so many people snapping selfies, laughing and generally having a great time right over the burial site of over 1,100 sailors. The ranger on site shook his head and said that most people are far more interested in getting a selfie than learning anything about the men who died there.
  • During my research, some photographers recommended that I visit the small surfing town of Haleiwa. It was suggested that I enjoy the best shave ice on the island at Matsumoto Shave Ice. I envisioned taking a leisurely walk through a town with a lot of character and capturing photographs of some interesting people. As I approached the town on a Monday afternoon, the traffic came to a halt. There were so many cars heading into Haleiwa that there simply wasn't enough parking to accommodate them. I was determined to try the shave ice, so I circled a parking lot for 10 or 15 minutes until a space freed up. Then there was the long line at Matsumoto's. I didn't bother trying to get any photographs of the town. There were so many people on the sidewalks that it would have been nearly impossible to stand still for a minute to capture a picture. And, the streets were so packed with traffic that it was a challenge just crossing the street!
  • Never before have I seen a parking fee for a scenic overlook on a highway. While driving northeast from Honolulu, I noticed a scenic overlook sign for the Nuuanu Pali Lookout. I decided to pull over to take a look. I parked my car and took the very short walk to the overlook. It was raining, so I didn't spend more than 30 seconds there. As I was walking back to my car, I noticed a kiosk to my left. I was surprised to see that it was a parking fee station. As it turns out, there is a $3 fee to park the car at the scenic overlook! Then, I noticed that a woman was walking by the cars and writing down license plate numbers. So, I'm expecting to get a $75 ticket any day now.
  • I experienced something early in my trip that I never experienced before. While driving on the very wide H1 highway (I believe it was 14 lanes across 15 miles outside of Honolulu), I was stuck in very slow traffic. All lanes were moving at about 5 mph. To my left, I noticed a young boy of about 12 years old trying to get my attention. I wasn't sure why he was waving toward me--perhaps there was an issue with my rental car? As his car moved even with mine, the boy leaned out the window and gave me the finger (his middle finger). In the meantime, what I assume was his father (the driver) was doing the same thing. To this day, I have no idea why they would do that. There was nowhere to go in that traffic, so I couldn't possibly be driving too slow. And, I've never seen a kid at such a young age do something like that--especially along with an adult! And no, it wasn't the shaka sign!
  • Parking can be a challenge in Honolulu. I discovered an inexpensive parking lot near Ala Moana Park. After parking, I attempted to make payment. Credit cards are not accepted. Fortunately, I was carrying enough cash...five singles for the $5 fee. I was surprised to see that the cash box had such a small opening for depositing the payment. The circle was a small fraction of the size of a cigarette butt. So, I started rolling my first dollar bill as tightly as possible, yet it wouldn't fit through the opening. After laying it on a flat surface and rolling it even tighter, I was able to deposit the first dollar. I only had four more to go!
  • I stayed at a Hampton Inn for some nights. The facility was brand new and was very comfortable. Having stayed at well over 100 Hampton Inns over the years, this was the first one that is located inside a mall. It shares its parking lot with mall visitors. This made it challenging at times to find a suitable parking space.
  • I didn't realize that there was such a high rate of vandalism on the island. I was warned by many to leave nothing in my rental car. Some suggested that I leave the windows open so that vandals wouldn't break them. I was told repeatedly that nothing should be left in the trunk. This situation was most inconvenient for photography. Typically, I keep a lot of heavy gear in my trunk. In Hawaii, I had to pick and choose which lenses to bring with me for the day and then leave the rest of them at the hotel. Most of my lenses weigh a couple of pounds each...and one weighs closer to 7 pounds. So, having to carry everything all the time isn't fun. As a result, I lost out on some good photographs because sometimes the lens that I needed was at the hotel.