Creativity Doesn’t Always Follow the Rules

Waterfalls are easily one of my favorite natural features and favorite things to photograph. I enjoy them so much that I even authored an eBook called The Essential Guide to Photographing Waterfalls back in 2011. In it, I share a number of tips and recommendations, one of which is that generally I prefer to photograph waterfalls on overcast days, when cloud cover softens the harsh contrast of glittery water flowing over dark rocks.

Well some rules are meant to be broken and this is one of them. Given the right conditions, the right setting, and the right tools you can create beautiful waterfall images when the sun is shining.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Smoky Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains, national park, waterfall, Tennessee
Waterfall in Sunlight : Prints Available

The sun shines through a canopy of trees framing a waterfall in the Great Smoky Mountains.

I took this photo while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains with photographer Greg Downing in Tennessee back in 2013. It had rained hard the previous day, and I was excited to go find a good waterfall to photograph because I knew they would be flowing. By the time we reached these falls, the weather had improved by normal standards, but it proved tricky for waterfall photography. It was partly cloudy and breezy, which meant the slow shutter speeds I would typically use the blur the moving water would also show any movement in the leaves from the wind. It also meant the light kept changing, from full sun, to partial sun, to complete cloud cover. I took a lot of shots from different angles, trying different techniques, hoping to capture something memorable.

For this image, I snapped the shutter as the sun emerged from behind the clouds, purposefully allowing highlight details to blow out. I was aiming for the bright, fresh feeling of spring, which I think translates well. It took several years of reworking this shot to get it to the point where I feel comfortable sharing it, but even if it isn’t the best waterfall shot I’ve taken I like how its so different from many of my other photos of similar subjects.

Branching Out

Washington D.C., Keystone XL, pipeline, protest
Back in 2011, I attended a protest opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline at the national’s capital and brought my camera with me. Being immersed in a crowd of like minded people helped me feel less vulnerable as a photographer and step out of my comfort zone try try and photograph new subjects. I don’t just photograph nature and sports all the time!

Fifteen years ago, I published my first photograph in my high school newspaper. I ended up winning several awards for photojournalism every year of high school after that. I remember at one point a friend came to my house and saw a second place award certificate and said “Wow second place in the whole state! Who got first?”

“I did,” I told her.

In college, I landed my first paid photography gig, shooting athletics for my school’s Sports Information Office. Throughout college and every year since, I’ve earned at least a little bit of money every year from photography, whether it be shooting assignments, selling my work, or photography related writing and instruction. Over the years my photography career has grown, changed, and at times, plateaued. I created niches for myself, first shooting primarily high school and college sports, then focusing on nature and wildlife. While there are a few subjects I’ve managed to avoid altogether, like weddings and product shoots, I have dabbled in many genres at one point or another.

It’s easy to gravitate towards one subject or genre as a photographer, and as a professional it is almost always encouraged. You build your brand around what you shoot best, and it’s easier to be better at something if you specialize in it. This is how you market your business and attract clients.

Does focusing on one genre of photography make you a better photographer? Yes.

Does shooting one subject limit your creativity, professional, and personal growth? Yes.

Shooting subjects you are not comfortable with and don’t shoot often will make you a more well rounded and creative photographer. I’m damn certain I can take a better wildlife photo than Annie Leibovitz because I’ve spent many hours practicing the specific skills that I need to shoot wild animals, such as finding and approaching wildlife and using a long lens. However, I don’t feel comfortable coaching human models into great poses or using artificial light so my portraits are overall quite mediocre, especially if taken indoors. As a photographer there are things I’m good at and some of these things apply to a wide range of subjects, such as noticing great natural light and creating balanced compositions. There are also many more things I need to work on, some of which I may not use that often in my chosen area of expertise but that might prove helpful from time to time. When I only shoot the things I am good at and comfortable with, I don’t improve the skill areas that need the most work and ignoring those makes me less capable overall.

American Alpine Club, benefit dinner, Henderson House, Massachusetts
I was asked to take photos at a fundraising event for the American Alpine Club in exchange for free admission, which included a fancy dinner, auction, and slide show presentation and speaker. The organization only needed a handful of web publishable photos, so it was a task I felt I could manage even though I rarely photograph events or people, and since it was an exchange of services instead of a paid assignment, I didn’t feel as much pressure as I would have if I was hired to photograph the event, so I said yes. There were challenges I didn’t anticipate – the main room had many different light sources that were all different color temperatures and even though the space was large it was crowded and more confined than I thought it would be – so I ended up improvising quite a bit. This ended up being my favorite shot of the evening – a black and white photograph of the main hall that I snapped with a fisheye lens. The fisheye is both the widest and fastest aperture lens I own, and converting the image black and white eliminated the weird color issues I was having from the mixed light available sources. I’m sure a photographer with a background shooting weddings or similar events and gear suited for poorly lit indoor spaces would have taken a much different approach, but I made it work. The shoot lasted just a few hours and was very different from anything I had done before, so it was a great learning experience for me.

I am also a person who likes to learn. Learning is fun! I want to be able to capture images of all the things I want in the ways that I want to, and that isn’t just limited to college students playing soccer or the beach at sunrise. While I may have focused mostly on sports and nature subjects in the past, different things are important to me now and I want to be able to photograph them with the same level of expertise and passion I have when I shoot subjects I have had more practice with. Just because I don’t photograph people doesn’t mean I don’t like people or photographs of people.

I’m also not the same person I was in college or even five years ago. I have a job and responsibilities that make getting up before the sun rises and shooting all day until dusk not very practical. My financial resources are allocated in different ways, towards home improvements and retirement savings instead of a faster computer and new gear. Things like wild animals are not so easy to photograph in the spare hour or two I may have on a given day. So I can either not shoot at all or shoot differently. I’ve been doing a little of both, but I’m trying to shoot more, even if its subjects I’m not great at.

prom, gown, teenager, high school, field, sunset, suit, formal
People photography is not my thing but when a group of teens I am close to asked me to snap photos before their prom, there was no way I was saying no. The teens made the perfect clients and subjects – they didn’t have lofty or unrealistic expectations, I felt comfortable around them and they felt comfortable around me, and they were delightfully confident and goofy and came up with some of their own poses and ideas. I really struggle with directing people for photos because it just seems awkward for me, so this was great practice. Both the teens and I had a lot of fun with this shoot and were really happy with the resulting photos.

I don’t know if the best photographers ever shoot other subjects, but I imagine that they do. Annie Leibovitz might not be able to resist a gorgeous sunset, and I bet David Doubilet takes a snap above water from time to time. Sure it makes sense to specialize in certain genres, especially if you have a photo business, but that doesn’t mean you should never shoot anything else. If we only shot specific subjects, we’d miss out too often on other incredible ones, and that just seems wasteful. There is so much to marvel at in this world. Beauty is everywhere. I am inspired and amazed by things all the time. So why wouldn’t I photograph them when I feel compelled to do so?

If you feel inspired to take a photograph, do it! It doesn’t matter whether its your subject or not, whether or not you can sell it or have a client for it. Shooting different subjects will make you a better photographer instead of just a good [insert specialty here] photographer, and we all want to be better at our craft.

GoPro Hero 5 Black: First Impressions

Update: Please read my updated review GoPro HERO5 Black Review Update: Doesn’t Play Nice With Water published July 11, 2018.

I really love point of view (POV) cameras. As an adventurer, there are many times when a lugging around and shooting with big DSLR camera isn’t practical but I still want to be able to share my experience with others. Small, wearable action cameras make shooting on the go much easier and allow you to focus on your adventure and capture images at the same time.

GoPro has been a leader in consumer priced wearable action POV cameras since they became a thing. I was so psyched with the concept that I bought an early generation GoPro back when they first hit the market, but I ended up rarely using it. The first GoPro cameras were not user friendly – switching settings on the camera was not intuitive at all – and the image quality left much to be desired. With each new model GoPro made changes to the camera menus, settings, and operating systems as well as improvements in performance, and they started to become more popular with professional and amateur athletes, photographers, and filmmakers but I still refused to upgrade.

For a GoPro to be useful to me as a professional shooter, I really wanted the ability to shoot RAW photos not just JPEGs. Enter the GoPro Hero 5 Black with RAW still photo capability. Recently introduced, this camera finally had everything I wanted in a wearable POV model – ease of use, small size and low profile, a variety of mounting options, waterproof, and RAW shooting capabilities. I’ve now owned one for about 24 hours and can say this camera is truly night and day from my first GoPro. I can easily see this becoming an essential part of my regular kit as a photographer and everyday excursions as an outdoors enthusiast.

Here are my first impressions:

Image Quality – So much better. The GoPro Hero 5 Black handles high contrast and backlit scenarios much better than my first GoPro, as one would expect. Details are sharp, colors are accurate, and both shadows and highlights are nicely rendered. The camera does a good job of balancing details in light and dark areas while still producing an image with natural appearing contrast and saturation.

RAW Files – The Hero 5 Black produces JPEG files with sidecar .GPR files. Originally I thought the Raw files would be .DNG (Adobe Digital Negative) but it turns out the .GPR files are an extension of the .DNG format. You’ll need the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to open and process these files – I had to upgrade from Lightroom 4 to Creative Cloud – or you can download GoPro Studio for free. Viewed in Lightroom, the .GPR files are ok. Compared to the native jpegs from the camera, the .GPR files are more saturated and have funky color vignetting caused the exagerated wide angle perspective of the lens – the edges of the frame are not only darker, but bluer in color. This was very evident in the photos I took of white snow – the jpegs did a better job of representing the snow as an even white color across the entire frame. Colors of the jpeg also appeared more neutral and natural – flesh tones and the magenta fleece I was wearing appeared a little greener compared to the RAW file. After tweaking sharpness and noise/masking levels in Lightroom, it was possible to get more fine detail in the RAW file. One nice thing is that the GoPro creates both a full size jpeg file and .GPR file when writing images to the memory card, so you have access to both. The jpegs straight from the camera are honestly quite good, but it’s nice to have access to a file with greater editing latitude. It is also important to note that RAW files are NOT created when the camera is in burst mode – something I didn’t realize until after my test run yesterday – and there are a few other scenarios where GoPro RAW doesn’t work, explained on GoPro’s website. Overall, I think the RAW files are slightly disappointing when viewed with the default settings in Lightroom, but things like color rendering and light falloff should be easy to fix in future software updates and better profile settings from Adobe. For the company’s first foray into RAW the quality is acceptable, and the fact that you get high quality jpeg images alongside the RAW files is a big plus. You can definitely take good images with this camera!

Menu Navigation and Settings – The Hero 5 is easy to use, something you could not say about GoPro’s first POV cameras. When you first start up the camera, there is a tour that explains how to do most things, and nearly everything on the camera is controled by two buttons and an LCD touch screen. Changing from photo to video mode is easy and adjusting important features like resolution and frame rate is simple and intuitive. The menus are well organized and make sense and give access to the most important things without being cluttered and confusing. The LCD provides a very clear image and appears to be high quality. The touch screen is responsive.

Voice Control – This feature is AWESOME. I haven’t exactly nailed the commands yet – I tended to make them overly complicated and said things like “GoPro Capture Still Photo” which is not a recognized command whereas “GoPro Take a Photo” is. Even so, it worked most of the time, and it’s possible that nearly all the times it didn’t were because of user error. The ability to take completely hands free photos is a game changer, especially when paired with a number of GoPro’s wearable mounts. I can think of so many scenarios where this is helpful – when paddling a kayak or helping your kid pizza down a ski slope. If you set beeps to on, you can tell if the GoPro heard you even if you aren’t looking at it thanks to audible cues.

Smartphone Apps – I downloaded all of the apps GoPro makes to my iPhone, but so far have only tested the Capture app. Setting it up with my camera was pretty easy. I synced the two via Wifi. The camera is also supposed to sync via BlueTooth but every time I connected to the camera I had to use the Wifi connection, which mean I could not connect to both my camera and internet at the same time – I’ll have to play around with it more to see if that can be fixed. When I was connected, it was easy to see the camera’s view on my phone, and I could also go through and look at all of the media I took and download photos or videos directly to my phone. This made sharing snapshots on social media a breeze – once I switched my Wifi connection back to the internet. I didn’t try using the app to shoot and control the camera out in the field because my iPhone’s battery life drains quickly in cold temperatures, so I only used the app briefly when I returned home to share a snap to Instagram.

Battery Life and Performance – My camera shipped with a battery about 15% full, which died pretty quickly upon me fiddling around with it, but I was very excited and probably fiddling a lot! It comes with a USB charging cord and you have to charge the battery in camera (unless you get a supplementary charging port from GoPro). The media I read said it would take 2 hours to charge plugged into a wall and 4 hours plugged into a computer – I plugged mine into a wall and had a full charge within 1 1/2 hours. After about an hour of use, worn on a chest mount in temperatures right around freezing with the GPS on the entire time, I had about 55% of my battery life left. I wasn’t recording the entire time but did take a fair number of stills, bursts, and some video. Because so many factors affect battery life, including environmental factors, recording mode, and other things it’s impossible to say how long the battery will last in “normal” conditions. To better understand the many factors that affect battery performance and anticipated battery length in different recording scenarios, check out GoPro’s website.

I’ve only taken the camera out on one trip, a hike through the snow covered woods with my dog, and tried a limited number of settings during that time, but so far I really am enjoying the new GoPro. I look forward to using it more and can definitely see it becoming my “have everywhere” camera. It makes a great portable pockable point-and-shoot to complement my iPhone, and the fact that it shoots RAW will give me added opportunities to shoot professional quality work with a tiny, easy to use camera that I can have on me at all times.

Update 7/11/2018: Unfortunately, my beloved GoPro died a sad death on its second in water adventure. I cannot recommend this camera for extreme water sports or in water use. Please read my updated review here.

Picking the Right Size Print

I’m not an art consultant or interior designer, but I do know a thing or two about choosing and displaying photographs on walls.

Many people struggle over picking out the right art to enhance their living or work space. They focus on picking pieces with colors and a frame that matches their furniture or compliments their rug, often overlooking one of the most important aspects of buying art to fit a specific space – size and spacing.

In order for artwork to have a meaningful impact it needs to be the right size and have the right proportions. Art should complement the other objects in the room, either filling the space provided for it or purposefully juxtaposing the area in inhabits. A too small picture looks incredibly out of place over a giant couch, and a horizontal image doesn’t work well in a vertical space.

Art that is the wrong size just doesn’t work, no matter how beautiful it is. This image of St Marys Falls is way too small for my office, and it looks out of awkward and out of place even though its nicer than the drooping banner and wrinkled poster on either side. The poster to the right is a much better fit for the amount of wall space and large bricks.

Photographs, like wall mounted TVs, also need to be hung at the right height. Too high and they make a space look unfinished and incomplete, too low and they are awkward to look at. In general, photographs hung on blank walls should be centered at around eye level. Since people vary in height, a good rule of thumb is 60-66″ from the floor to the center of the photo. This of course varies with artwork that is long and vertical or artwork hanging near or around other objects, such as furniture or over a fireplace.

My advice when purchasing a photo:

1) Don’t skimp on size. Too big is almost always better than too small. Unless you have a clutter free home and very minimalist decorating style where empty space is a thematic design element, art that is too small for the space it occupies will nearly always look cheap.
2) Prioritize proper proportions. Many people spend a lot of time matching colors when they should be focused on balanced proportions. If you are one of those folks who have a long sectional couch, don’t put an oddly tall rectangular art piece over it. This is where a panoramic image or triptych really stands out. If you are hanging artwork over furniture, it is generally recommended that artwork should be 2/3 to 3/4 the length of the piece of furniture in order to provide the right balance, although I think you can play around with those numbers a bit.
3) Don’t forget the frame. If you plan on matting or framing your art, keep in mind that this will not only add size to the finished piece, but will also change the proportions slightly. For example a 20×40 inch photo with has a ratio of 1:2 without a frame, but if you add framing that is 3 inches thick, the overall artwork becomes 26×46 inches with a ratio of closer to 1:1.4. Plan for the frame when buying your piece.

Art that is proportional to other objects in a space makes the space feel balanced. This photograph has a similar amount of above and below it as it does from side to side and is a litle less wide than the small couch.

If you aren’t sure what size to buy, I suggest creating a mock up. It may sound silly and it certainly takes a little time, but the 10-15 minutes and inexpensive supplies this exercise involves are definitely worth it, especially if you are considering spending upwards of several hundred dollars on art for your home or office. Here’s what you’ll need:

1) Large piece of paper or cardboard. This can really be any material, as long as it is big enough to represent the artwork. If you are considering a really big piece you might want to use something larger or more durable, like a thin sheet of plywood, but for smaller pieces cardboard, foam core, or wrapping paper should be sufficient.
2) Measuring tape.
3) Straight edge.
4) Scissors, box cutter, or any tool sufficient to cut clean edges of the material you are using.
5) Hanging supplies. Painter’s tape is perfect for lightweight materials, because it leaves no residue on the walls.

You can go about this one of two ways. Either start by making the mock up the size of the artwork you are considering, or design the mock up to be the ideal size and then find art that closely matches. Essentially you are going to make a cardboard cutout of the art and hang it in the space you envision it. If supplies are limited, start big and gradually trim your stencil down until you get the ideal size. You’ll quickly get an idea of how the size of the artwork plays with its surroundings.

Adding art to your home is a beautiful way to make a space feel lived in and loved, and in a work setting art can help liven up dull spaces and make them feel welcoming. Resist the temptation to buy art you love in a smaller size to keep the price affordable. Make your investment count by choosing art that compliments the space it is given. If you really must stretch a tiny budget, buy something big, inexpensive, and mass produced from a box store like Ikea to fill the space temporarily, then save up for a truly incredible piece by your favorite artist in the right size that will last for years to come. You won’t regret it.

PS: I really love articles by interior designer Emily Henderson and she did a great one about hanging art. Check it out for many awesome examples of art that is the right size and art that isn’t, as well as additional tips on how to measure and select properly sized pieces.

For Sale: Lensbaby Composer + Close-up Lenses

Lensbaby Composer for Canon mount for sale. Includes lens cap, rear cap, kit with removable aperture discs, and close-up lenses for close focusing and macro shots.


The Composer allows you to create blurred areas simply by moving the outer ring – there are no knobs or dials, and the magnetic aperture rings are easy to change. These particular products are discontinued from the Lensbaby line-up in favor of newer lenses with autofocus, integrated aperture adjustments, and other advanced features, but the original Lensbaby Composer with aperture ring set and close-up lenses will allow you to get the same affect at a fraction of the cost.

This setup is what I’ve used to capture a number of dreamy, close-up shots of flowers like the one below.

yellow tulip, abstract
Tulip Abstract : Prints Available

This is one of my favorite flower abstracts of all time. My mom had planted over 200 tulip bulbs in her garden, knowing they are my favorite. Wild deer ate all but a couple of them, and this soft yellow tulip was one of the few survivors. I photographed it near sunset using a Lensbaby Composer. The pink and yellow in the background are the only other tulips that weren’t eaten.

These items retailed for well over $200 when new. Willing to sell the whole bundle for $50 plus shipping and fees. Continental USA buyers only.

Using Websites to Sell Your Work Online

I’ve been selling photographic services and work for more than a decade. Finding a niche price point and marketing my photos to potential buyers has always been somewhat of a struggle. There are two general strategies when it comes to making money – you can sell fewer, more expensive items (generally with higher markup) or a greater quantity of lower priced products. Either way, people need to be able to know your product exists.

I know one photographer who has built his entire brand around limited edition, fine art collectors prints. He only sells large prints, mounted and framed, and operates his own gallery where he hosts fancy parties when he reveals a new piece and exclusive receptions for collectors complete with wine and hors d’oeuvres. His work is gorgeous and outrageously expensive, and he caters to the rich and famous; several of his clients are well known celebrities or socialites. He has won contests and appeared on local TV – his name is out there among people with money who want to spend it.

Then there are the photographers that sell a higher volume of lower priced work. Maybe they sell inexpensive post cards, calendars, and greeting cards at local gift shops, shoot school photos or toddler portraits at the local box store photo studio, supply photos to royalty free stock agencies for a small fee, or deal exclusively in online digital image sales. Buyers might not even know who they are, but their work is readily accessible and affordable.

Many photographers fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, hoping to sell their photos for a modest fee. How do you know which model is right for you? And how do you get people to find and buy your photographs?

While I’ve never demanded an exorbitant amount of money for my photographs, as I simply don’t have the ego to support the mystique of uniquely talented artist nor the temperament to indulge wealthy society types, over the years I have sold a number of larger fine art pieces for what amounted to a very nice unexpected bonus for me. Those buyers have generally found my work through my website. However those sales are few and far in between, and most years I generate very little revenue from photograph sales.

Last year, after a career of demanding strict control over my work, I decided to sign with the stock agency Tandem Stills + Motion and see if they would have any luck in moving my photographs to a larger market. One of my photos sold rather quickly and I was optimistic about more sales. I received a small check fro the usage of the image, then nothing for nearly a year and a half. While my work is no longer represented by Tandem (the relationship was a positive one and ended amicably), I suspect the single sale I got through the agency is one I would likely would not have gotten on my own.

Recently, I started to sell digital files on a website where amateur athletes can purchase photos of themselves participating in an event – the site I use, Roots and Rain, is for mountain biking but no different than websites I’ve seen that sell photos from obstacle course races, town 5Ks, or high school track meets. The price for each photo is very low (less than $10) and since the website takes a cut and payments are processed through PayPal I don’t get very much per image sold, but the visibility is high and in just one event I have made a profit equal to what I have made from selling art prints this year.

In the past I may have frowned on sales like this, but the reality is this: at this point my photography business is more of a hobby on the side than my career. I have another unrelated job to support myself and don’t rely on my income from photography to pay bills. Ideally each year I make enough money from photography so that the hobby supports itself. The less money I make from it, the less I put back into it, and if I have a particularly good year, I’m more likely to buy new gear or upgrade my equipment. So selling work, at whatever profit margin, makes it easier for me to keep shooting.

Also, the photos that I am selling on this website don’t have much other value. While good photos, they are mostly unremarkable – I won’t likely be selling them to ad agencies or winning any contests with them. I currently only sell 3000 pixel high resolution photos for personal use; my buyers are guys who ride mountain bikes and want to show off pictures of themselves racing, usually on social media, which has the added bonus of getting me more publicity when they credit me as the photographer. Since I’m already at these races supporting my boyfriend and taking photos of him, there is no added cost to take photos of other racers, and once those photos exist, why not sell them? While I do spend some time editing and processing the images before they go on the website once they are there the site handles everything for me – sale, distribution, and payment. Once the images are loaded and tagged, I literally have to do nothing but get a paycheck. Overall its a pretty easy way to generate a little extra money from photography and a great confidence boost to see others liking, buying, and linking to my work.

Every photographer needs to decide for themselves what works best. I’ve found that by being flexible with my image and being willing to try new avenues, I’ve succeeded in selling images I never otherwise would have. By giving up a little control, I’ve made sales through my stock agency and Roots and Rain, without the headache of handling every detail of the sale. For me, the reach to more customers and the efficiency of the selling process makes the commission I pay to these websites more than worth it.


I miss fall foliage pretty consistently. The season is usually pretty short, I’m often busy, and the colder temps and shorter days don’t motivate me to try to squeeze photography into my already packed schedule. Even though I live in one of the most beautiful spots in the whole country for fall color and landscapes are one of my main subjects, I’m good at making excuses why not to go shoot – the dog has been home alone all day and needs playtime, I’m carpooling, its too windy, too rainy, there isn’t a single cloud in the sky or the sky is completely overcast, the colors aren’t at peak, the colors are past peak, blah blah blah. I stare at the beautiful trees from my car and wish there were pull-offs near wetlands next to busy highways, but that’s often the extent of it.


Well tonight on my drive home from work I noticed some wispy clouds in the sky. It was a warm, perfectly still, perfectly blue day, and I almost went straight home, but I thought it was possible the clouds would do something so I drove to the only spot I could think of with a clear view of the sky, maple trees, and no hike. I got there minutes before sunset and… got skunked! The sun went down without much excitement, the clouds never lit up with color, and the light was cold and blue. I could have went home disappointed but I decided to shoot a little anyway and got some decent, different new shots. Not every photo needs to be dramatic or have killer light or perfect foliage to work. Sometimes just getting out there and making due with what you find is good enough.

I guess my motto for today is “It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.” Sometimes, you make out okay.

A Print’s Journey

When I moved to New Hampshire six years ago, I decided I wanted to decorate my first apartment with some of my own artwork. I had my image “Glowing Fern” printed and mounted 30×45 inch canvas gallery wrap and hung it above our $15 sofa bed in the living room, where my roommates and our guests could enjoy it.


One of my best friends from grad school took a liking to the image and asked her parents to buy it from me for her as a graduation gift. It ended up being the gift that gave twice – I got a nice sale and Molly got some great artwork for her own place.


Her first house after grad school was a quaint stone cottage in rural Pennsylvania, where the canvas not only looked perfect but accentuated the cottage atmosphere while adding a contemporary touch. Last year she moved into a house and brought her “Glowing Fern” canvas with her, this time hanging it in her dining room.


Seeing the journey of this piece of art is pretty cool. I always ask customers to share photos of their artwork in their homes, but Molly is the only person to keep me updated on her canvas when she moves. It’s also incredible to see how well this particular piece has worked in different settings. One of the things I really like about canvas is that it’s super portable – stretched canvas wraps tend to be much lighter than prints framed in glass so they are easy to hang just about anywhere, even the bigger pieces. The lack of frame also allows the artwork to stand on its own, although I’ve had customers frame canvas as well and the right frame can really help the artwork stand out. It all depends on the individual piece.

Bad Light? Try Black and White

This weekend, I photographed a friendly mountain biking event called Broduro. The Broduro is a casual enduro style race between friends “just for fun” featuring with four timed downhill stages. As a photographer, I like shooting enduro because you get to explore different terrain and angles – the action is a bit more exciting and faster paced than xc style mountain bike racing but you generally get the opportunity to shoot the same riders a few times on different trails, unlike downhill where riders race and practice on the same course over and over again.

The not so fun part of shooting enduro is that the lighting isn’t always great. Sometimes it’s pretty horrible actually, and often the gnarliest and coolest features of the course are in areas with the worst light. This course was no exception, with super thick hemlock forests (meaning really dark) in some spots and small areas of direct bright sunlight between sections.


Light like this presents a few problems. The most obvious one is dynamic range and contrast – most cameras aren’t capable of simultaneously capturing details in areas of really dark shadow and really bright light. When you try to fix that in post, using HDR software, blending exposures, or selective editing, you can recover some detail but the images start to get an HDR look about them, which isn’t always desirable. Anything involving multiple exposures is also a huge challenge when it comes to action photography.

The more subtle problem you run into with mixed light has to do with color balance. All light has a color temperature (measured using the Kelvin scale). Areas of shadow and shade have a cooler temperature and appear more blue to the eye whereas areas with bright, natural sunlight look whiter, and some sources of light, such as sunlight early or late in the day, candlelight, campfires, and incandescent light bulbs have a warm, yellow/gold hue. So when photographing a mountain biker riding between areas of sunlight and shadow, you can get some really funky white balance issues. Additionally, some lenses produce artifacts known as chromatic aberration (CA) which appear as a colored fringe around high contrast edges. I see this often in shots of riders wearing a flashy kit or where tree branches appear against an open sky. This phenomenon appears more frequently in photos with high contrast and harsh light.

I sent a colleague of mine some quickly edited photos from the Broduro, including some color images and ones I converted to black and white. He asked “Why do the B&W look so much better?”


The reason is because sometimes the color funkiness from shooting with multiple light sources is really hard to manage, and even when we can’t name what is wrong with the photo, it clearly doesn’t look right. Taking out the color altogether eliminates this subconscious confusion and makes the image easier to accept. My photos from the event also have a bit of noise, because the low natural light forced me to shoot wide open with a pretty high ISO in order to get enough shutter speed to freeze the action. Since we are used to seeing grain in traditional black and white photos, monochromatic luminance noise doesn’t bother us as much as noisy color images, whether we realize it or not. Similarly, we don’t mind black shadows and blown out highlights as much in black and white, because it mimics the look of contrasty film; and muddy whites and faded blacks also are less offensive than because they replicate an antique or aged look. Our tolerance for noise and contrast imperfections in black and white images is much higher because they look similar to what we have seen before in history books and old newspapers. Most of us see our world in color every day, so we expect a higher level of clarity, perfection, and realism from color photography.

Next time you end up with a file that has potential, but you find yourself struggling with harsh, uneven light or balancing the color of light from different light sources, try converting your photo to black and white. Sometimes it beats the effort required to otherwise salvage your photo.