Soft Light is Portrait Light

Ava in soft light

Soft light is the most flattering all purpose light for most portraits. It enhances good features and minimizes flaws in the skin. Some of the best soft light is outside on “cloudy bright” days. Those are the days that there is enough cloud cover that you don’t cast a shadow but not so many clouds that it is dark and gloomy. Another test of a good cloudy bright day is to see if you can look at the sky without squinting. If you squint there aren’t enough clouds.

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Beth Presler at Lake LaShane

Beth Presler, Lake LaShane.

Beth and I were on a mission to create fall color water portraits. Shooting at Lake LaShane was not part of the fall color plan. In advance of the day of our shoot I scouted several lakes, steams,and rivers in the area to find the best fall color. Only one location had the kind of fall color by the water that I wanted, Slip Bluff Lake.

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How to Photograph A Recital and Other Stage Performances

Beth Presler, Senior Violin Recital, Shaw Auditorium, Graceland University, Lamoni Iowa

The first thing to do is to ask permission ahead of time. Some places do not allow photography during the performance or they limit the number of photographers. In this case, Beth asked me to photograph her recital and I was the official photographer. One of the keys to photographing an event is not to become a serious distraction from the main event. That means not doing a lot of wandering around, and certainly not getting in front of people who are watching the event. Be as discreet as possible. If you need to move during a performance, if at all possible do it during the applause between numbers.

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The Best National Parks to Photograph in Spring

 Ocotillo. Big Bend National Park. Texas.

Ocotillo. Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Which national parks are at their very best in the spring? If I could go on a fabulous spring photography trip to the national parks of my choice, all expenses paid, which ones would I pick? Here are my choices, grouped by state from west to east. This list includes the favorites I have been to and want to go back to again, plus the ones I haven’t seen and most want to photograph.

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A Guide to Big Bend National Park

Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas.
Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Big Bend National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet. My photography guide to Big Bend is here. March and April are good months to go. You will see more flowers in mid to late April but it will also be hotter. Fall is a prime time also. If you don’t mind the chance of a sudden cold spell and maybe some snow, I like winter in Big Bend too, but most people prefer spring and fall. Summer is ungodly hot.

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Sami Lynn, A Valentine Portrait

Sami Lynn with rose petals.
Sami Lynn with rose petals.

It was a week and a half after Valentine’s Day and most of the dozen Valentine’s Day roses in a vase on the dining room table were done and had been thrown away, but a few were still looking good. I asked Sami to lay on the floor, handed her a long stemmed rose, and I carefully arranged her hair. Then I stood up and pulled the best looking petals off of more roses and randomly dropped them on her. Some didn’t land quite right so I re-positioned a couple of them.

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Violinist in the Snow

Beth playing her violin in the snow.

This is one of my all time favorite winter images. On a prior photo shoot, Beth and I went out into the cold and snow to create images. She played her violin while I took pictures. It was her first time shooting in the cold and snow and she was a real trooper. For that shoot she wore her long black concert dress. The snow melted not long after that, but we decide if another day came along with the right conditions we wanted to shoot in the now again.

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Purple Finch

Male Purple Finch

I’ve been waiting for a sunny day for a while to photograph the Purple Finches that started coming to our bird feeders a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I finally got my chance. This fellow landed on top of our deck umbrella before heading for one of the feeders.

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House Finch in the Snow

House Finch with Sunflower Seed

Thanks to the weather and the recommendations from U.S. medical experts that this is not the time to be traveling, I have been doing much more photography than usual of the birds visiting our bird feeders. This male House Finch had just grabbed a black oil sunflower seed and was getting ready to eat it.

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Series: Channeling My Inner . . .

This series of articles is devoted to several photographers and one painter that inspire me. Some of them I have known for decades. Others I have discovered in the last few years. Books by and about them line my bookshelves. Each article has examples of my work and their work. That does not mean I am as good as they are. But I keep trying. Their work has somehow become a part of me. We can all learn from people who do such outstanding work.

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Channeling My Inner Galen Rowell

Last Light on El Capitan
Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park. December 30, 1990.

Few photographers have had as much of an influence on me for as long a period of time as Galen Rowell. When I became seriously interested in nature photography I read his articles in Outdoor Photographer and his book Mountain Light was one of the most important books in helping me up my game as a nature photographer. I still consider it one of the three most important books any budding nature photographer should read. So my first visit to Yosemite was like a trip to the Promised Land and I felt like I was walking in Galen’s footsteps.

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Channeling My Inner Josef Muench

Grand Canyon at Dawn
Grand Canyon at Dawn, Arizona. December 2, 1985.

It was a beautiful winter morning and Bob (my brother-in-law and photo buddy) and I were up long before sunrise to capture the early morning light at the Grand Canyon. It was our good fortune that it had snowed a bit overnight. The light was beautiful. With the coming of the sun the snow disappeared, as did the magic of the light.

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Channeling My Inner Edward Weston

Lela Rae, Columbus Ohio, December 13, 2007

I have been a fan of Edward Weston for decades. Late in the fall of 2007 I saw an announcement that January 1, 2008 would mark the 50th anniversary of Weston’s death, was fast approaching. I wanted to do an homage in honor of his work. Lela Rae is an art model who is also a Weston fan so we decided to work together to create some images similar to some of Weston’s classic images.

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