Stellar Weekend

Blog, Photography


There are many reasons I love this hobby of mine.  On the top of that list is that there’s always something new to learn… something to explore.  Once a year, in September, we visit a little valley in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.  It’s a weekend filled with long walks and paddling around a pond during the day, and sitting around the bonfire and star gazing at night.  Oh, and of course, spending time with the family ~priceless!   I have been documenting this weekend for over 16 years and as my technical skills grow, so do my photo projects/challenges… from macro to light painting to family portraits.  So this year, with the help of some new gear, I wanted to take on universe.

This is what I learned about astro/night photography.  1) It really helps to be prepared.  Um, should have thought of this before I got to the land of no cell service.   With what little cell service there was, I was able to Google “how to photograph star trails,” and got some very basic settings.  2) Patience.  I’m not sure why I thought 4 minute exposure would be enough (it’s not) to capture good trails.  The above shot is 15 minutes.  I’m guessing 30 might have done it… but I was running out of patience, standing in the dark, just outside the woods, alone, where I am sure creepy things await (at least, that’s what was going through my head as the timer seemed to take forever). 3)  There’s a lot more light out there than you think.  I always thought this would be the perfect place to do night photography, the center of Pennsylvania, where there’s nothing around for miles.  Maybe that’s just what it feels like given the rustic setting, but in reality State College is only about 30 min to the North and Huntington, another college town, is just to the South.  Of course they are not metropolises by any stretch, but apparently big (and bright) enough for the camera to capture their light on the horizons. 4) Wait for the world to go to sleep.  This may have worked better had the cabin lights been turned off, the bonfire burned out… (neither of which I could see from where I stood, but the camera could) and the towns in the distance dimming some of their lights too. But, I’m not a night owl…

The Unexpected

Moving on from the star trails, when I turned around, I saw the cabin light had lit of row of trees.  It was like “light painting” without all the work.  So I took some shots based on a nighttime landscaping setting I found by DPS.   Satisfied after a quick check on the display, I packed it in for the night.  While enjoying the bonfire and reviewing my images more closely, I got one heck of a surprise! I actually captured the Milky Way (you know, like in those Nat Geo kind of shots).  I could see it looking straight up overhead; it just didn’t occur to me that it reached across the sky… and I never dreamed it would turn up in the shot.

So there you have it.  With a little guidance on the post-processing, I have my first ever shot of the Milky Way.  Okay, so maybe there are some way, way more amazing photographs of this amazing astronomical wonder out there, but there are none quite like this one… because this one is mine.

I can’t wait to see what next year’s stellar weekend brings,

Feeling a little blue…

Blog, Photography

… there is nothing like getting out in the garden with the camera to fix that.

The garden is also where I head when I’m feeling a little artistically and photographically stuck (which also makes me feel a bit blue).  The natural beauty, perfect palate of color, and ever so soft flow and movement in a single bloom is simply…breathtaking.  Capturing all of that is such a delight and a good exercise for tackling a rut.

Even as the season wears on, when the blooms are a bit more scarce, and their the petals a bit faded and weary,  capturing the beauty that remains by creating a still life is another great exercise to reignite that creativity.

I’m a bit obsessed (there I said it) with learning all sorts of new techniques… and there’s a lot out there!  So much so, I tend to skip around a lot, never really feeling like I mastered one before I move onto another, and this can lead to a very big pile of… frustration… and a rut.  So dialing it back a bit, choosing a simpler subject (simpler in that it is not moving, travel is not required, and it is ready when you are) and using a familiar platform to practice techniques that are still a little unrefined or experiment with new ones… is key and starts by returning to the garden.

Tech Tip

New techniques used in the images above Curves!  I never used this before, honestly because I had no idea how it really worked.   But now that I do, I use it to boost/change color, lighten/darken ~ all over or just by selecting the most minute areas.  Curves has moved to the top of favorite tools!  Who knows maybe I’ll try a curves how-to video post… uh-oh, there I go again.  On second thought, maybe it would be better if I just go find a good one to share with you 🙂

Is that a painting?

Blog, Pennsylvania Center for Photography, Photography

First, just let me say Happy September 1st!  This means my favoriteHello Fall season is right around the corner… 21 days and counting! Shorter days, dropping leaves (probably from the hot days and overly dry spell), and mums showing up in the garden centers are all signs of FALL!

Back to the question.  Is that a painting?  I was asked this a lot this past weekend when I had my photography on display at a local arts fest.  More times than not, I stumbled over my words whenever I tried to answer the question or an even harder question to answer was “how do you do that?”  Although, I particularly enjoyed when a child asked me “is that a painting?”  Because when I said “no, it is a photograph,” they looked as though I had just performed a magic trick.  However, young or old, they are not easy questions to answer when terms like Photoshop, textures, layers, plug-ins, blend modes, etc… sound like a foreign language.  After a few lame attempts at trying to answer this question, I finally heard myself say “sometimes my photographs just need a little extra something”  and that’s what I do, “I give them a little extra something.” 


I did a post on these gazelles a while back… obviously not an ideal background


That’s more like it. Don’t you think?

As a photographer, there are so many elements out in the field, so to speak, that we have no control over.  Sometimes the background is all wrong for the subject, sometimes all there was to work with was a gray drab sky and a white puffy cloud or even some snow would make all the difference.  Even in a controlled studio, it may take a little extra something in post to make that vision appear (like the pumpkins above).  But there is one thing that remains a constant… in all my images… it is the subject ~ whether it is the pony in the field pony-power-2, the barn that looks like it will topple over with a soft breeze, the little white house with the blue roof, or how the tall grass sways on a warm summer day.   It is always about the subject and the reason I stopped to take the photo in the first place.  So is it a painting, no.  I can’t paint.  Is it my interpretation of a photograph… or 2 or 3 or… photographs.  You bet!

Just a reminder, September also means the deadline to enter the Transformations Exhibit is fast approaching (yikes! note to self, too).  Get all the details HERE.


Until next time,

Five years later…

Blog, Photography

Five years ago, I did a photo project for a family member and just got a request for some reprints, and (after finally finding them ~ I feel there’s a future post on the topic of storage) it struck me how flat they looked.  Then I realized, it wasn’t the photos, it was that I was viewing them from a fresh perspective.  Five years later… with so many more tools at my disposal and better yet really knowing how to use them, as well as absorbing whatever I can from all types of art mediums… it is my style that has changed and evolved…


One of my biggest changes… much more time and thought is put into an image.  Not just in post-production, but when the shutter is clicked.   I used to take hundreds (well, maybe not 100s, but you get the idea) of photos at a time in the hopes of getting a “lucky” one.  Now, I pay closer attention to all the elements (camera, composition, etc) and get more right taking fewer photos (oh, and another advantage ~ the growth of my library has slowed down considerably).  I also have a pretty good idea… a vision… for where to take it in post when I have taken it.  The horse image above is a perfect example.  This image has been in the works since May.  There was actually very little to do to the original image… the horse just needed to be able to run free.   What I was waiting for was the right mood.  No, not my mood… the mood that accompanied my vision.  I just needed to figure out how to get it there.  gray-horseA few month’s later, while looking for those other images, I came across this one and then that elusive mood hit me.   And those images I was looking for, they got an a slight update before being reprinted… but (shh) I’ll never tell.

I’m very excited to see what the next five years brings as this photographic/artistic journey continues to evolve.

Until next time,

Some Like It Hot

Blog, Photography

It’s not hard to see why these are the flowers of summer. . . the hotter the better.

Hard to believe the 4th of July has come and gone…  but here we are in the thick of summer, some of us surviving the summer heat better than others.  I know two golden retrievers that are just fine lounging in the AC all day…

However, it’s stifling being stuck inside all day and a quick trip to the quaint town of Chester, Connecticut, over the 4th of July weekend, was just what I needed.   Beautiful weather and seasonably mild summer temps (for July) kept me outside and the photo ops were bountiful… from the beautiful roadside flowers, to the annual Chester 4 on the 4th run, to8-J-and-J-1-mile the family traditions of running the race (or for me photographing it), cooling off in the pool, and celebrating the 4th with, what else, sparklers and fireworks in the driveway.  Now that’s summer!

PHOTO TIP:  If you have Photoshop CC and haven’t tried it yet, check out the Shake Reduction feature (found under filters/sharpen).  These two “action” shots were taken from a pretty good distance with a 70-300,  hand held (a pretty hefty weight for me, so stability is always a challenge).


What I like about the shake reduction filter is that it does not over sharpen the entire image, it let’s you control the area and the amount…and it’s quick! No masking, layers, etc.   A great little feature.


Rested and inspired…


I don’t mind so much lounging in the AC with a couple lazy golden retrievers.

Until next time,