John Soulé: Blog en-us (C) John Soulé | All Rights Reserved | | 2020 [email protected] (John Soulé) Mon, 21 Mar 2022 19:06:00 GMT Mon, 21 Mar 2022 19:06:00 GMT John Soulé: Blog 80 120 Acadia National Park – A Photographic Journey Jordan Pond (13x26)Jordan Pond (13x26)

Acadia National Park is located in Maine less than an hour’s drive from Bangor.  One of the oldest National Parks on the East Coast, Acadia offers an abundance of opportunities for outdoor activities and a wealth of subjects for the photographer.  The park is spread throughout Mount Desert Island and extends to the mainland’s Schoodic Peninsula.

The purpose of this article is to highlight some of the areas that I found should be on a list of places to photograph when traveling here. Having said that, there is so much to see and do, I am not sure it can covered in less than a week.  Please keep in mind, what I have stated below is my experience which will vary based on the season, weather and other conditions.  We were there in September 2015.


Photographing Acadia

Bar Harbor SunriseBar Harbor Sunrise


Over 80% of my ‘keeper’ photos, you know the ones that I like to display and sell, are taken either in the early morning or late evening – "The Golden Hours".  This is when the sun is low and produces the ‘golden’ glow that makes photographs just pop with color.  The only problem is that there are so many wonderful places in Acadia, it becomes a challenge to pick which spot to mark for the sunrise/sunset shot.

And, for a number of locations, getting there early can be a challenge when slippery rocks, steep inclines and darkness can make getting around a bit interesting. Then, there is always the group of tourists that seem to end up in frame with the shot you have set up for over an hour.  That is why you need to have a backup plan – just in case things don’t go as planned.


  • Take a tour of the island first.  You may want to hire a tour guide (i.e. to drive you around when the sun is high and photography is not optimal.  You can get an idea what works for a shot and what does not (and get some background about the island at the same time).  Look at the position of the sun for best lighting conditions. Reference what others have posted on the internet to get an idea of different POVs and look at the terrain so it will not come as a surprise if you come back in the dark.   Check tides.  High tides will make for more crashing of waves on the rocky shores.  Low tides will reveal sand bars and tide pools.  Check out the sunrise/set and moon rise/set times.  There is nothing like the dark skies in Maine for Milky Way shots – or a rising full moon over the cliffs.  Have a plan. 
  • Know what equipment to carry before heading out.  You will not want to negotiate some of the trails with heavy backpacks.  You should only take what you need. In the early morning hours you will need a tripod – that goes without saying – but you may not need all of those lenses you brought.  As the light gets stronger, you may want to consider using a Graduated Neutral Density Filter (Reverse at sunrise) to counter the brightening sky and add a Circular Polarizer to reduce water reflections.  
  • Have a wide-angle lens always handy.  The majority of my ‘keeper’ coastline shots were taken with a wide-angle lens.  I carried either a 14mm-24mm or a 20mm Prime at all times (on a full frame body).  I often found my standard zoom, 24mm-70mm, was not wide enough at a number of locations.  (Remember to include some foreground in your image to add perspective and effect)


Getting There

You may think it odd that I would address getting to Bar Harbor when it is only about an hour’s drive from Bangor.  The issue is not Bar Harbor – it is Bangor.  Only a few airlines actually fly to Bangor.  And, if your flight gets cancelled – as was ours both going and coming, you may find it more difficult than you imagine getting to and/or from this location. Bangor is a small airport and only supports ‘shuttle’ style aircraft.


Where to Stay

_JS16338_JS16338 There are many fine places to stay in and around Bar Harbor.  I generally do not like to single out specific places to stay in my articles, but, I felt that I had to mention Harborside Hotel Spa and Marina was fantastic in terms of location, accommodations and had a great restaurant on property.  Here you are virtually steps from the harbor, shops, restaurants, tour companies, Bar Island Sand Bar and Shore Path.  We found the ground floor – oceanfront to be perfect.  

We could virtually open our door and were steps from the harbor to watch the sunrise and lobster boats getting ready for the day.  Most of the harbor shots posted here were taken steps from our patio door.  Another top rated hotel with great views and that is centrally located to the town is the Bar Harbor Inn. 


Where To Eat

Bar HarborBar Harbor




This is Maine – and if you don’t try the lobster, you won’t know how great it is here.  Most every restaurant has some form of lobster dish – from whole lobster to lobster roll.  



Lobster RollLobster Roll













As mentioned before, the restaurant at the Harborside Hotel Spa and Marina,  “La Bella Vita” had one of the best lobster rolls I tried – and I tried a lot of different ones while visiting Maine!  


TripAdvisor is always a good source to reference.  You may find some great photo opportunities of lobster dishes. 

Oli's Trolley Bar HarborOli's Trolley Bar Harbor



Getting Around


In addition to walking/hiking, biking and using your own car, tours can be arranged through Oli’s Trolley and free shuttle bus service (in season) is provided to major points within the park.  If you use your own car, the fee is $25 for a 7 day pass. Boat are available for whale watching/puffins, (be warned you go out 15 miles and it gets really, really cold and puffins go on vacation mid-August), lighthouse tours and nature tours.


Plane rides are available at the nearby Bar Harbor Airport that can provide some great positions for areal photography.






Bar Harbor


Bar Harbor Panoramic (12x36)Bar Harbor Panoramic (12x36)


Bar Harbor, founded in 1796, is a world renowned for its blend of seashore community, Downeastcharacter, and Maine Lobster.  Bar Harbor is pronounced like “Bah-Hah-Bah” and lobster sounds like “lob-stah!” The town consists of residences, hotels, shops and restaurants – most everything is in just a few blocks.  In the photo above, the island to the left is Bar Island and during low tide a sand bar is revealed (seen here) making it possible to walk across to the island.  You can also see two cruise ships that are docked.  Cruise ships, such as the majestic Queen Mary, visit this Maine harbor town providing their passengers with one of the most unusual visual experiences available on the east coast of North America. You will want to avoid going into town from 10-5 when cruise ships come in.  After 5pm, it is becomes quiet again.


Bar Harbor BoatsBar Harbor Boats


Lobster Boats, Bar HarborLobster Boats, Bar Harbor








The harbor is very quaint and is the home to fishing boats, tour boats, yachts and, yes cruise ships. 
















Lob'stah Boats in Ba'Ha'Ba


Throughout the waters of Maine, you cannot help but notice brightly colored lobster trap markers dotting the waters.  And, as you sit on the cliffs, you may be able to watch the locals at work.  (Here I would use a long telephoto > 200mm to get in close.)












































































Maine Fog


Bar Harbor FogBar Harbor Fog




Fog can make for some very interesting images – both in the harbor and cliff side.  It generally does not last long but can give you enough time to capture some creative images. 






Bar Harbor Fog - Heading outBar Harbor Fog - Heading out










This is a good time to play with B&W as well.


























Be careful your lens does not get damp from the fog.

Otter Point, AcadiaOtter Point, Acadia













There are really no bad photo opportunities along the Maine coastline.














Bar Harbor Sunrise 3Bar Harbor Sunrise 3


Sunrises and sunsets can be quite spectacular in Maine.  But, it does require knowing where to be to catch that special moment.  














Bar Harbor Red SunBar Harbor Red Sun
























Sun over the ocean, sun from the cliffs or sun in the harbor?  Just keep in mind that it is very possible fog and clouds can shut down the best made plans - so have a backup plan.










Bar Island




Directly north of the town pier is Bar Island. This island is accessible by foot at low tide and provides a spectacular view of the town of Bar Harbor with the mountains behind it. Be sure to plan ahead and allow enough time so that you do not get stranded or wet!  Check the tide schedules – you have about a 3 hour window, one and half hours before and after low tide to make your journey across to the island.  There is a trail on the island, steep at times, that goes through the woods to the summit overlook of Bar Harbor.  (You will use a wide-angle and possibly a telephoto, making this a good opportunity for a zoom i.e., 28-300).








Bass Harbor Head LighthouseBass Harbor Head Lighthouse




Bass Harbor Lighthouse


The Bass Harbor Lighthouse is located in the village of Bass Harbor (about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor) and marks the entrance to Bass Harbor on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island. The lighthouse was built of brick in 1858 on a stone foundation, stands 56 feet above mean high water and is accessible by car off Route 102A. Parking is free and is open daily from 9:00 AM to sunset.


The path down to the water’s edge is at the back of the parking lot and marked with a small sign “Lighthouse Trail”.  Once on the trail, you are brought to some steep steps and then you are on your own climbing over boulders to get a good angle of the cliff and lighthouse.  If you are too close, you will not capture the beauty of the cliff.  It is better to take this shot either early in the morning for a warm light on the cliffs or just before sunset with the sun behind the lighthouse and hope for clouds and color  (take a center weighted exposure on the lighthouse/cliffs if the sun is behind the lighthouse.  The photograph above was taken at 24mm.  You may want to try an even wider shot.)






Cadillac Mountain


Cadillac Mountain Sunrise, AcadiaCadillac Mountain Sunrise, Acadia Cadillac Mountain is a short drive from Bar Harbor.  It sits at 1,530 feet (466 meters) and is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view sunrise in the United States from October 7 through March 6. It is one of over 20 mountains on Mount Desert Island that were pushed up by earth’s tectonic and volcanic forces millions of years ago. Were it not for the once enormous glaciers that sheared off their tops, they would be even higher than what we see today.  The glaciers crept across the land here from the left to the right (in a southerly direction) and stretched out to sea as far as 400 miles (644 kilometers)!  You can hike up the mountain or drive to the top (my first choice of course.)




During the normal season, there is a free shuttle bus service available that connects most important points on Mount Desert Island as well as to a few on the mainland.


If you do go for sunrise – you will not be alone.  It is best to stake out an area early that will potentially have no one in front of you.  This is one location that you should absolutely scope out before you arrive in the dark.  During the daytime, visitors are only allowed 15 minutes to park – the view is wonderful, but the sun can be harsh mid-day and can make it difficult to get a good shot of anything.  Before sunrise, however, there is no limitation on parking and the small parking lot soon fills to capacity.  When shooting directly at the sun, I would bracket your exposures for use with HDR since you will have truly have a high dynamic range of light between the dark shadows that surround you and the bright sun.  I would stop down to f/16 to try get a starburst – I wasn’t so lucky with a bank of clouds just filtering enough light to prevent a starburst from appearing.  This is also a great location for Milky Way shots.




Carriage Roads


The Carriage Roads and stone bridges were financed and directed by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., between 1913 and 1940.  Not wanting cars in these areas, the Carriage Roads were designed for hikers, bikers, horseback riders and carriages. The network includes 57 miles of woodland roads free of motor vehicles, of which 45 miles are within Acadia National Park.   These allow seasonal cross-country skiing and limited snowmobiling. Twelve miles are on private land.  Time ran out before we could explore the Carriage Roads with their unique bridges, streams and water falls.




Gardens (Asitou and Thuya)


Thuya Gardens, AcadiaThuya Gardens, Acadia




Thuya Garden is a gorgeous flowering garden located on a granite hillside overlooking Northeast Harbor.  It was originally designed and built in 1956 – 1961 by Charles K. Savage, a long-time resident of Northeast Harbor, along with financial support from John D. Rockefeller. The garden exhibits an English style influence with special input from Beatrix Farrand so that it will incorporate the unique character of the Maine coast. A variety of annuals and perennials line the two long sides of the garden. An open observation pavilion sits at the top of a slight incline on the north end overlooking the main garden that cascades down to a shallow reflecting pool below.


This garden is in bloom most of the Spring through Fall. The Asitou garden, located nearby, consists mostly of azaleas which are not in bloom in the Fall.




I should mention that there are over 200 steps leading from the parking lot to the top.  There is a small parking lot at the top if you are not looking for anymore exercise.




Jordan Pond


Jordan PondJordan Pond


Jordan Pond is a glacier formed tarn with a maximum water depth of 150 feet (46 m). There are steep inclines on the left and right sides (West and East). The water is exceptionally clear with an average visibility depth of 46 feet (14 m) but this has been measured as high as 60 feet (18 m), the most ever recorded in the State of Maine. Swimming is not allowed. However, non motor boats such as canoes and kayaks are permitted. The kayak and canoe launch site for this is via the Jordan Pond North parking lot, a short distance from the restaurant. Carriage Roads are adjacent to the restaurant and pond area.


Jordon Pond BoardwalkJordon Pond Boardwalk


Auto access to the restaurant is provided via the Park Loop Road.  (There are three parking lots – always crowded).  If you expect to have lunch there (before or after your 4 mile hike around the lake), I would call for reservations. The food is good – but the ice cream is to die for.


For most all shots of the lake, a wide-angle lens is a must. Be sure to use a Circular Polarizer to cut the glare so you can see the rocks below the water surface.


The hike around the lake consists of a "board walk" for a good portion of the left side before you come to boulders that you will need to negotiate.  If you that the trail in the afternoon, you will be shaded on the left side (clockwise) but must deal with the sun on your way back.   


It takes about 2 hours to work your way around.




Otter Cliff


Otter Point, AcadiaOtter Point, Acadia








Otter Cliff is considered one of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard. On the east side of the Park Loop Road, about .7 miles past Thunder Hole, is the famous 110 foot high Otter Cliff – one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands north of Rio de Janeiro.












Beach at Otter Cliffs, AcadiaBeach at Otter Cliffs, Acadia






Just before Otter Cliff is a beautiful spot called Monument Cove. Right after this, the road begins to curve to the left. To the right is a small parking area with portable rest facilities for the Gorham Mountain Trail. On the other side of the street is a path that leads a steep trail down to the water.  This area is best seen early in the morning and the closer to the water you are, the more color will be revealed by the rocks. (I would use a wide-angle lens with Circular Polarizer.  If you have a 10 stop filter and tripod, slowing the water down can make for a great shot here.)








Seawall is a naturally occurring granite and loose boulder and rock seawall located on the southwestern side of Mount Desert Island about four miles south ofthe main city section of Southwest Harbor. This is a beautiful spot for viewing the sunrise over Great Cranberry Island. There is a nice picnic area right next to the ocean and space where you can park and view the ocean waves from your vehicle if desired.




Shore Path


Shore WalkShore Walk




There is a picturesque and historic Shore Path you should walk on at least one morning during your visit or anytime during the day. The path, originally created about 1880, begins near the town pier and Agamont Park, and continues for about 1/2 a mile along the eastern shore of town. Off shore to the east are the four Porcupine Islands which are especially beautiful at sunrise.






Thunder Hole, AcadiaThunder Hole, Acadia






Thunder Hole


Thunder Hole is the place to experience the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores of Maine! To get the impact, you need to be there when tide is near high and the waves are rough. When the tide is low, you will see little excitement.  It is a small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks, where the waves roll into. At the end of this inlet, down low, is a small cavern where, when the rush of the wave arrives, air and water is forced out like a clap of distant thunder. Water may spout as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! Hence the name: Thunder Hole.  (A parking lot is nearby.)


Getting an unobstructed shot is a matter of time at this popular tourist location.  (A wide-angle lens is a must.)
















Ocean Path


Otter Cliffs, AcadiaOtter Cliffs, Acadia Acadia National ParkAcadia National Park


































There is a 3 mile or 3.8 km (round-trip) long ocean side walking trail called Ocean Path that begins at the Sand Beach upper parking lot directly to the north of here and follows the eastern coastline of Mount Desert Island in a southerly direction past Thunder Hole and then continues until it reaches Otter Cliff to the south. You should consider doing this walk as it is highly recommended for its unrivaled coastal beauty on the eastern seaboard of the continental United States. The Park Loop Road follows in the same direction but is one-way on this side of the island.  (You will use the wide-angle lens the most.)










But no matter you do, take some time to just sit, listen to the waves crashing on the rocks and enjoy nature at its finest.  You will be glad you did.
















Bar Harbor Sunrise 5Bar Harbor Sunrise 5








There are a number of areas that I was not able to visit or mention here such as Bubble Pond, Eagle Lake, Sand Beach and Schoodic.  But those will be left for another adventure.






I hope this brief article gave you some ideas of what this amazing National Park has to offer.  We were there for less than a week and did a lot – but there is a lot more still to do – especially if you are active.  I am ready to go back.








For more photographs, please see


For a good reference on Acadia, see AcadiaMagic


Equipment I used: Nikon D810, 14-24, 24-70, 80-400, 20 prime, 28-300, RRS Tripod + various filters

[email protected] (John Soulé) Tue, 15 Sep 2015 22:41:57 GMT
National Aquarium Dolphin Count 2015 _JS15538-Edit_Title_JS15538-Edit_Title



Each summer, teams gather to take a look into our planet's future.  The health of our coastal waters is an indicator as to the health of our ecosystem that affects all marine life.  And the impact on marine life can affect us all.  As part of the strategy to continuously monitor the coastal waters, an annual dolphin count has evolved over the years along the eastern seaboard to help marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot view of the coastal ecosystem by studying dolphin populations, reproduction rates and the abundance of prey.  

The annual counts have now been part of the National Aquarium’s programs for more than a decade.  The marine mammal specialists look at the dolphin population and reproduction rates as an indicator as to the state of our ocean in general.


Just passing through . . .

FB_JS15537-EditFB_JS15537-Edit Atlantic bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding, and feeding along their way.  During the Spring and Summer months, the dolphin travel from the Carolina's up the East coast to Delaware waters.  Then in the Fall, they travel back down to the warmer waters of the Carolinas.  

“The annual count is a great snapshot into the health of our dolphin population off the Maryland coast and helps us to discover trends,” said Jennifer Dittmar, manager of animal rescue at the aquarium. “It’s also a great opportunity to get families on the beach to answer questions for them, enjoy hands-on work and it’s an outreach to folks who want to help these animals.”





Another very important purpose of this event is to bring awareness to the public.  “It’s a great opportunity to connect with families and other demographics to get the message out there about what we do and why it’s important,” Jennifer Dittmar said in a statement.  It is with great enthusiasm that the National Aquarium includes families in these events to educate everyone on the importance of the ecosystem to our future.





Taking the count

Aqua_JS46901-EditOcean City Coastline

The Dolphin Count involves teams of National Aquarium volunteers and the public stationed at three locations along the Ocean City Maryland shoreline. They scan the waters waiting for passing dolphin and then record the sighting on data sheets. Each station has Aquarium representatives on hand to set up and answer questions.  Approximately 10 aquarium volunteers and an estimated 25-35 public volunteers take part in the counting over a three-hour sampling period.











Positioned three miles off-shore, a National Aquarium research vessel patrols the coastal waters taking counts as well.  Radio contact is made with the shore-based stations and GPS coordinates are logged for each sighting from the research vessel.












Keeping our waters clean








Another important service that the National Aquarium team provides is to clean up, as possible, any floating toys, bottles, and other items that pose a threat to marine life.  During our brief time onboard, several bottles, a plastic jug and several inflatable toys were retrieved.  










The results FB_JAS1950FB_JAS1950


Due to a variety of conditions, results have varied greatly over the past few years. 


  • 2012,   31 dolphins were counted - due to factors ranging from the weather to bigger swells and food availability.
  • 2013, 113 dolphins were counted - a typical number according to aquarium officials.
  • 2014,   53 dolphins were counted - a lower number than expected, likely resulting from limited visibility due to fog.
  • 2015,   33 dolphins were counted – resulting from large schools of fish far offshore that drew many of the dolphins out of sight of the land-based teams.




About the National Aquarium in Baltimore




National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program is a member of the Northeast Stranding Network (NERS) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Aquarium is one facility among a network of nationally recognized facilities that work cooperatively to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.  Since 1991, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program has been responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along Delaware, Maryland and Virginia’s shores.


The Animal Rescue team works directly with NOAA, USFWS, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and regional and national stranding partners to respond to stranded animals and collect data used to better understand aquatic animals that are still very much a mystery to modern science.



[email protected] (John Soulé) National Aquarium Dolphin Count 2015 Thu, 23 Jul 2015 15:03:38 GMT
Nikon 85Mmm f/1.4 D vs G - Review _JS46341_JS46341

Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G vs D


For years I have owned a Nikon Nikkor 85mm f1.4 D lens that I just loved for portraits.  After a recent photoshoot, I decided to try the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 "G" which I thought may yield even better results than I had been getting with my current lens.  With a street price of nearly $1,700 and very positive reviews, I knew it must be a really great lens.  (They say you get what you pay for - right?)  But how much better could it be? What I found out came as bit of a surprise.


Nikon 85mm, f/1.4G (left)   Nikon 85mm, f/1.4 D (right)


85m f/1.4 D (Production ended in 2010)


First let me address the “D” version.  This lens is "old school" in terms of build quality.  For it’s size, it seems heavy (20 oz), lots of metal construction – right down to the hood.  (I should mention that the hood screws on and cannot be attached in reverse - making transporting this lens less convenient than the Nikon bayonette hoods that can be reversed with the lens cap attached.) The glass looks to be of high quality and very professional. Standard 77mm filters can be installed if so desired.  For portraits I shoot naked – well the lens is (with no filters to degrade the image quality.)  I found the lens focuses quickly and can be clearly heard from a short distance (which is not always a good thing if you are in a quiet environment).  In the end, the overall image quality is most outstanding - and that is what counts.

Being a f/1.4 lens, the viewfinder has a welcomed, nice bright image - of course brighter than an f/2.8 lens.  To turn the focus ring, the AutoFocus Lock must be disengaged.  This may be an issue if you like the convenience of overriding the AutoFocus by just turning the focus ring at any time.  (With the lock engaged, the focus ring is locked and cannot be moved.)   This lens will work with just about any Nikon camera body made in the past 40 years with the exception of AutoFocus on the  D40, D60, D3000, D5000 and D5100. 

The "D" can produce smooth bokeh and contains no distortion. Originally this quality piece of glass came in at near $1200.  Used it sells for under $700.


85 f/1.4 G (Still in Production)

The “G” version is the replacement of the "D".  It is a physically larger lens but at first seems to be lighter in comparison to its older brother.  It is mostly plastic and just 'seems' lighter. (it is actually 1 oz heaver than the “D”.) The plastic construction continues right down to lenshood – which can make this lens seem a bit less well made.  It too takes a 77mm filter (if so desired). 

Focusing has been reported by some to be slower on the “G” series. However, I found little difference between the two lenses in real-world situations.  I found the initial focus of the "G" to be quite quick.  In a portrait photoshoot I continually checked focus before each shot and never had a moment when I felt the lens was hunting or just taking 'too' long to lock on focus.

The "G" produces a very smooth bokeh and there is no noticeable distortion.  (However, I always run distortion correction as part of my workflow in Lightroom and any distortion a lens may have is quickly removed based on the camera profile.) This quality piece of glass comes in at near $1700.

There is much more I can speak to about these lenses, such as coma, and chromatic aberration at 1.4, etc.  However, all of that can be corrected for the most part for any lens in post processing.  I have also read the corner resolution is better on the "G", but my tests did not support that.  This is more of a practical comparison in terms of what I found in real-world shooting environments rather than what I read on paper.



Nikon 85mm, f/1.4 G with lenshood (left)  Nikon 85mm, f/1.4D with lenshood (right)



So what were the real differences between these two lenses that made a difference for me and, most importantly, would it make sense to  spend $1700 for the G series?  That was I had to decide.

In comparison, the “G” had Nano-Coating to increase contrast and color saturation - the "D" did not.  What I found was that some images that where taken at the same setting, appeared to be a tad brighter with more saturation on the "G".  (An easy fix in Lightroom to make the the two lenses look the same).   The “G” had a MaualFocus override that could be engaged at any time.  The “D” required a switch to be disengaged to move the focus ring (which, if you forget to set it back, will make you wonder why none of your images are in focus.)  I rarely needed to override the AutoFocus - so for me this was not a major issue.














            Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G - Manual/AutoFocus Switch                              Nikon 85mm f/1/4 D - AuoFocus/Manual Override button


Both lenses were made in Japan.  However, the newer construction on the “G” seemed to be less rugged with so much plastic construction.

The “D” focused a ‘tad’ faster than the "G" – but not significantly enough to be an issue. 

The "D" was much louder when it focused.

The “D” images were a little cooler when compared to the “G”. (easy fix post processing)

The “D” had a less accurate focus hit than the “G”. (could be an issue if focus speed/accuracy is a factor - for portraits not so much)

Colors seemed to be richer and contained more contrast on the “G” (probably due to the Nano-Coating)

The newer “G” has been used as a baseline by some labs when it comes to lens image quality comparisons.  In my own test shots, both lenses were very comparable in terms of sharpness and overall image quality.  In fact, one must pixel-peed to see any real differences.  I should also mention that both lenses were calibrated for back/front focus using Focal and all test shots were taken on tripod.  For my tests I used a Nikon D4s mounted on a tripod and a variety of common test objects.


Based on my experiences with both lenses, this is a quick summary table.  (No specs here - just what I experienced):

Feature "D" ""G"
Lens Coating - Nano-Coating
Focus Override Switch Continuous
Construction Metal Plastic
Lenshood Metal (non reversible)  Plastic (reversible)
Feel Solid - pro-grade Fragile
Focus Fast / Loud Quick / Quiet
Accuracy Very Good Excellent
Bokeh Excellent Excellent
Color Cast Cool Warm
Sharpness Excellent Excellent
Cost < $700 used $1650 new

Based on my experience, the “D” performed really well and was so close to the "G" in terms of picture quality, I can see why it has become a favorite portrait lens for professionals. I found it to be that good.  The “G” is marginally better, but pricing is really quite high for this type of prime lens.  If given the opportunity, I would wait for one of the Nikon Rebates before going in that direction.  I have seen the "D" on eBay for less than $700.

I must say, though, you cannot go wrong with the "G" - it does have, on paper, better resolution (center and corners), better saturation and contrast with Nano-Coating, more accurate focus and of course AutoFocus override.  If money is not an issue, the "G" is the way to go and it will not let you down.  However, if cost is an issue, the images between the "G" and "D" were very close and the big difference was the price.

Below are some example shots taken using a Nikon D4S, with the same settings.  Compare the quality of what each of these two lens captured and judge for yourself.  The "D" is  shown first in each case.  Is the new "G" worth the additional cost?


Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D (100% crop) - shot at f/6.3

_JS46345_JS46345 Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G (100% crop) - shot at f/6.3


Nikon 85mm f/1.4D (200% crop) - shot at f/6.3

_JS46347-Edit_JS46347-Edit Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (200% crop) - shot at f/6.3


_JS46309_JS46309 Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D 0 - shot at f/8

_JS46310_JS46310 Nikon 85mm f/1.4 G (a tad warmer than the "D") - shot at f/8



Nikon 85mm f/1.4 D (200% crop) - shot at f/8




Nikon 85mm, f/1.4 G (200% crop) - shot at f/8 and color corrected to match cooler "D"

[email protected] (John Soulé) 1.4 85mm Nikkor 85mm Nikon Nikon 85mm 1.4 D vs G Nikon 85mm 1.4 G vs D Nikon 85mm f/1.4 nikon f1.4d vs g nikon f1.4g vs d Mon, 22 Jun 2015 21:02:33 GMT
2015 Washington DC Global Race For The Cure - RACE FOR IMPACT Global Race for the Cure 2015 - RACE FOR IMPACT

Race For the Cure DC 2015Race For the Cure DC 2015

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Series is the world's largest and most successful education and fundraising event for breast cancer ever created, a fundraiser for breast cancer sufferers, survivors and their families to fight against breast cancer.  This is the 26th year the Race for the Cure has been held in Washington D.C.


Local Need

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women worldwide and the second-most common cancer overall. In 2015, an estimated 231,840 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. alone. Every 60 seconds one woman, somewhere in the world, dies from breast cancer.  That’s about a half a million people who will die this year from breast cancer, according to the Komen organization. No matter who you are or where you live, understanding breast cancer is important. But the most important thing to know is this: a diagnosis is not a death sentence.  Breast cancer can be treated. 

Race For the Cure DC 2015Race For the Cure DC 2015 Washington, D.C. has the highest incidence rate of invasive breast cancer in the United States: 126 women per 100,000. While significant progress has been made thanks to the incredible fundraising of participants, the local need is still great.


About the DC Race

Race For the Cure DC 2015Race For the Cure DC 2015

In the early morning hours of May 9, 2015, Mother's Day Weekend, about 15,000 participants, including 1,500 cancer survivors, gathered on the National Mall in D.C. creating a sea of pink near the Washington Monument.  They were there to run or walk in the Race for the Cure.

Runners and walkers wore pink shirts and were joined by family members and supporters in teams who raised money for the cause.  As participants prepared for the start, lively dance numbers and driving music added to an already pumped up atmosphere.

Dancing DiamondsDancing Diamonds

The Dancing Diamonds

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) superstar Hulk Hogan served as Grand Marshall.  “It is an honor to join survivors, volunteers and participants and serve as Grand Marshal for Susan G. Komen’s D.C. Race for the Cure,” said Hulk Hogan. “I am proud to represent WWE as we continue to use our global platforms to raise awareness for the fight against breast cancer.” 

Hulk HoganHulk Hogan

Grand Marshall, Hulk Hogan

There was also an appearance by Jimmy Hart, close friend and manager of Hulk Hogan and best known for his work in the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling under his nickname "The Mouth of the South."  (Also the head of 'The Gentries' - a 1960's rock group that had the hit 'Keep On Dancing' - for those of us that remember the 60's.)

Jimy Hart - Hulk HoganJimy Hart - Hulk Hogan

Jimmy Hart with Hulk Hogan

Layal El, English dancer, model, professional wrestling valet and WWE Diva performed lively dance routines.  Layla's own mother passed at the early age of 48 due to breast cancer, facing three battles in two decades.  She has been a strong supporter promoting awareness for finding a cure for breast cancer.

Layla ElLayla El

Layla El

British singer-songwriter and musician Matt Goss performed “Strong”, a song he wrote and recorded in honor of his mother’s strength as she fought and eventually lost her own battle with cancer.  "This Mother's Day I am so honored to begin my partnership with Susan G. Komen as we share our strength for all those battling this terrible disease,” said Goss. “I lost my mother to cancer last year, and it was her strength, as she never gave up, that truly inspired me to be strong and to do everything in my power to help prevent others from going through this. As a son, my mother would be so proud that they are using my song ‘Strong’ as the official anthem for Komen."

Matt GossMatt Goss

Matt Goss


Dr. Judy Salerno - Nancy Brinker - Layla ElDr. Judy Salerno - Nancy Brinker - Layla El

Dr. Judy Salerno, President/CEO Susan G. Komen • Nancy Brinker, Founder Susan G. Komen • Layla El, WWE Diva


Aladin - Prince of the AirwayzAladin - Prince of the Airwayz

DJ Aladdin Prince of the Airwayz keeping the energy alive 


Footsteps Heard Around the World



Members of Maryland's Prince Georges County Police Department show their support


In 2015, the Komen Organization will have 16 international Races in 8 countries with more than 150 Races globally. International Komen Race for the Cure events are unique in each country, however they all share the common goal of a world without breast cancer.




National Capital Region Grants Program


Since its inception in 1990, funds raised from the Komen Washington, D.C. Race for the Cure have provided more than $35 million to support more than 300 community grants to local programs in the National Capital Region, aimed at low-income, minority and uninsured women in areas where breast cancer rates are the highest. An additional $30 million has funded 98 research grants to scientific researchers in the National Capital Region, including Georgetown University, The Institute of Medicine, Howard University and The George Washington University, among others. 


Nacy Brinker - Matt GossNacy Brinker - Matt Goss


Nancy G. Brinker, Founder Susan G. Komen • Matt Goss


In all, over $2 billion has been invested by the Komen Organization to play a critical role in virtually every major advancement in the battle against breast cancer.






It is most likely someone in your family, or someone you know has been touched by some form of cancer.  My daughter-in-law's mother lost her battle to breast cancer a number of years ago.  It is donations from the survivors and friends and family of those who have fought and lost their battle from this disease that make these events so successful thoughout the world.  


Race For the Cure DC 2015Race For the Cure DC 2015


Christina Scarlato (holding her dog Luna) attended in honor for her mother, Maria Elena Bartlett


Race For the Cure DC 2015Race For the Cure DC 2015


Race For the Cure DC 2015Race For the Cure DC 2015


 I also lost my mother to breast cancer less than 7 years ago.  Together we can win this battle.


For more photos, please visit

[email protected] (John Soulé) breast cancer Hulk Hogan Jimmy Hart Komen Layla El Matt Goss photojournalism Race for the Cure Susan G. Komen Sun, 10 May 2015 22:30:38 GMT
Traveling with a Full Frame Camera: Nikon 28-300mm and Nikon 20mm lenses _JS14435-Edit_JS14435-Edit Background

When my travel involves photography, it is either for relaxation (vacation) or a specific photoshoot.  When I travel for a vacation, my photographic needs are somewhat different and I want to carry the least amount of camera gear as possible - but yet still come back with some really nice photographs.  When I travel for a photoshoot, however, I want to bring as much camera gear as I may need to capture photographs for display.   A number of years ago, I moved into the full frame camera world and left my point-n-shoot and cropped sensor (DX) behind.  I now shoot with either a Nikon D810 or D4s.  Traveling with either of these professional camera bodies often requires bringing along a wide range of lenses – and thus a lot of weight and bulk to deal with.  The results are often worth the effort - if public display is your end game.  But what are alternatives?

The purpose of this article then, is to address those who have full frame cameras and would like some suggestions as to what to bring on excursions.  I should mention that there are some really good images out there taken from cellphones (but that is another topic altogether) and sometimes a point-n-shoot is the only way to go if you need something that is not to be so obvious (like at dinner). Addressing the pros and cons of point-n-shoot and cropped sensors (i.e. DX) cameras is a totally different discussion.


Travel - Photoshoot




On a dedicated photoshoot where air travel is involved, I often carry a Think Tank Streetwalker HD backpack and a Think Tank Airport International carry-on.  Both bags are specially designed to carry photographic equipment and they get packed with little room to spare.  I pack into them two camera bodies/grips (Nikon D4s and Nikon D810), Nikon 14-24mm, 24-70mm and either 70-200mm or 80-400mm plus a number of filters, chargers, lens cleaners, a flash, remote shutter release, memory cards, tripod bullhead, MacBook Air and more.   I then pack into a rolling duffle bag, my full-sized Really Right Stuff Tripod, hiking gear and hiking clothes.  The rolling bag gets checked in and my other two bags (backpack and carry-on) come with me on the plane.  Since this type of travel is solely for photography, I make sure I take everything I may need with me.




Travel – Vacation/General

For vacation when air travel is involved, I often carry one camera body (without the grip) and have to decide what lenses I should bring – often having to make compromises in my selections based on anticipated locations/subjects and available storage.   It really pays to plan a little in terms of photographic expectations.

Before I travel, I try to map out the locations and subjects to consider for photography:  Low light?  Indoors? Wide angle? Telephoto? Action? Moving water, etc

I had used the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 (about $1300) on a recent trip overseas, and although many of the images were decent, I felt that the zoom range was limited which meant that there were some images I just could not capture.  As it happened, our vacation changed into a news story stemming from a Category 4 Hurricane disaster and followed by an evacuation.  Having just one lens was great for photojournalism which came in handy as I often found that I did not have the opportunity to change lenses to capture the action.  I did find that being limited by the reach of 120mm was limiting.

I should also mention that I often pack a Giottos Travel Tripod w/ballhead in my carry-on luggage for those times that require long exposures.

_JS13489_JS13489ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

Hurricane Odile destruction in Los Cabos and the Baja  (Shot with Nikon 24-120mm)


Nikon Travel Lens Combination


Nikon 20mm f/1.8 prime  with Nikon 28-300mm f, f/3.5-5.6​

Looking at a variety of options from Nikon, as well as other vendors, I decided to try something a little different from what I had in the 24-120mm.  This time I decided to select a "general purpose" zoom lens that had a "reasonable" wide angle (less than 30mm) but had a reach to at least 250mm.  I also wanted to carry a light-weight, ultra-wide angle lens for the occasional wide-angle shot.  The wide-angle lens would need to be below 24mm and at least f/2.8 for sunsets, indoor and night shots.  

After some research, I selected the Nikon prime 20mm, f/1.8 (great for low light and dramatic wide shots) to work with the Nikon 28-300mm, f/3.5-5.6 VRII (a "general" lens and telephoto).  The 28-300mm could cover most of my needs as a general purpose, walk-around lens and also provide the added reach when necessary.  And, on occasion, the 20mm could be easily switched out when I needed a very sharp wide-angle lens.  I now would have 20-300mm covered.  (I also have the larger 14mm-24mm which I find is somewhat sharper in the corners and more versatile than the 20mm - but is  beast to carry.)



I knew the 20mm lens should give very reasonably results based on reviews but the 28-300mm had very mixed reviews and was of concern.  Although having just two lenses covering 20-300mm could be the answer I was looking for, I was concerned whether the image quality was going to be there.  The potential space savings in packing I knew was going to be a real plus.  I could now pack my D810 without the battery grip plus add the 20mm lens, 28-300mm lens, filters, memory cards, Black Rapid Strap, GoPro and still have room in my Think Tank Shoulder Bag.  There was no need for a large backpack and the dedicated camera carry-on.  I could actually take my regular carry-on and pack clothes in it. 

And, if this combination did not perform as expected – back they could go for a refund on my credit card.  By-the-way, this combination set me back $800 for the 20mm and $1046 for the 28-300mm for a total of $1846 – about $500 more than the 24-120mm f/4 I had tried before.  Could I have purchased a point-n-shoot for less? - of course.  But not one with 36megapixels and with the kind of potential image quality this setup could have.  But a few tests were in order to determine if this was a go or not.



Before our trip, I conducted a series of calibration tests to fine tune each lens in terms of back focus and front focus for each of my camera bodies.  (I used both LensAlign and Focal).  I also conducted a number of sample field tests and pixel peeped at 100% to determine if the resolution was acceptable for prints up to 8x10 for each lens.  After all, what good is a lens if the images are not good enough to show anyone.  After conducting calibration tests to fine tune my camera/lens and viewing comparisons with my reference lenses (14-24, 24-70 and 70-200), I felt that my proposed combinations were worth a go - and off we went.


First Impressions

I can say carrying this equipment was no problem.  Also, in that the 20mm and 28-300mm both take 77mm filters, I could now limit the amount of filters to carry (Circular Polarizer, Neutral Density, and Graduated Neutral Density).   And, just knowing I had a wide coverage (20mm~250mm) within easy reach was wonderful. (I say ~250 because I would never extend the 28-300mm all the way to 300mm). 






In using the 20mm, I found that lens was sharp and results were comparable to my 14-24mm at 20mm.  Any minimal distortion was easily corrected in Light Room.   I appreciated the light weight (but honestly seemed like a toy at times) and the fact it took 77mm filters.  I did not get a chance to shoot any night sky but was able to get some really nice sunset shots.  The lens is small enough that it can fit in a jacket pocket (or small camera bag.)  It also worked well indoors.






In shooting with the 28-300mm, I found the VR worked well and was fast.  There was some image quality inconsistency during testing when action was involved so I often shot in bursts of 3 or more if the subject was moving.  It also produced some Chromatic Aberration that was corrected 'for the most part' by Light Room. I never extended this lens to 300mm, but rather backed down to around 250mm.  At 300mm I found the 28-300mm to be too soft for my taste but was quite acceptable up to 250mm.  This additional reach was a big plus over the 24-120mm that I had tried before.  And, on a D810 capturing 36megapixels images, I knew I could crop in even more as needed. 


Since most of my daytime photographs are shot at f/5.6 – f/8, the limiting f/value inherit to the 28-300mm lens (3.5-5.6) was never an issue.  And, with the low-light handling capabilities of the D810, I knew I could bump up my ISO if necessary when ample light was not available.  Overall, I was pleased with the performance of this lens but I knew I would not use it for any professional work that would be enlarged over 16”x24” as I often do.  For albums and the web – this seemed perfect.


Final Impressions

The 20mm f/1.8 prime is a very nice, low-cost lens.  Being a prime lens, it is very sharp and is a welcomed addition to my collection.  I look forward to trying it out for astrophotography in the future.  For the majority of my professional work, however, I will most likely stick to my 14-24mm for the capability of zoom and the 14mm dramatic effect.  That is, when the added bulk is not an issue when transporting this lens.  Still, only needing one set of filters is quite appealing on the 20mm.  The filters for the 14-24mm are huge!

The 28-300 makes a great ‘one lens’ choice – especially when changing lenses is either not possible or when the time needed to change lenses can mean missing a shot.  To me this lens is of consumer grade quality and does not come up to the standards of the professional lenses I normally carry (nor at the much, much higher price tags).  But for a vacation and some photojournalism - the 28-300mm is more than adequate.  When on vacation or in situation when it is not practical to have multiple camera bodies or lens changes (such as in a vehicle, on a plane, at an event), the 28-300mm along with the occasional switch to the 20mm prime works very well.  For me this may be the best overall compromise for a full frame Nikon camera when getting the shot matters, images are not going to be displayed over 16"x24" and when transporting the least amount of equipment is of concern.

For most professional work, I will still carry two camera bodies – one using either the 14-24mm for really wide shots or 24-70mm for general purpose. The other camera body will use either a 70-200 or 80-400mm for tight shots. Your experiences may vary.  Just my 2 cents worth.


Image Samples


28-300 @ 68mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO 90 [D810]


_JS14460-Edit28-300mm @ 180mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 720

28-300mm @ 180mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 720 [D810]


_JS41652-Edit-Edit_JS41652-Edit-Edit 28-300mm @ 250mm, f/8, 1/1250, ISO 1100 [D4s]


_JS14111-Edit_JS14111-Edit 20mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO 125 - GND Filter ​[D810]


_JS13841_JS13841 20mm: f/2.2, 1/100, ISO 640 [D810]


The following were shot during the Baltimore Riot using the Nikon 28-300mm.  There was no time to change lenses.


28-300mm @ 100mm, f/8, 1/320 ISO 160 [D4s]

_JS41838-Edit_JS41838-Edit 28-300mm @ 28mm,  1/320, ISO 160 [D4s]


_JS41743-Edit-Edit_JS41743-Edit-Edit 28-30mm @ 28mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 100 [D4s]



20mm with 28-300mm (fully extended)


[email protected] (John Soulé) Wed, 29 Apr 2015 19:18:25 GMT
Nikon TC-14e III Quick Look Nikon-TC-14E-IIINikon-TC-14E-III



Teleconverters are a cheap way of extending the reach of a lens, and thus have become most popular to many photographers - amateur to pro.  Not only scan they extend the reach of certain lenses, they often bring new life into some lenses and have the added benefit of allowing the photographer to carry a small converter to extend the reach of a lens and thus remove the need to carry yet another heavy piece of glass into the field.

In August of 2014, Nikon updated their popular 1.4x teleconverter to the third edition, "III".   This is a quick look at their new offering.

The newly introduced model, TC-14e III, is thiner and lighter than the prior model, the TC-14e II.  Designed for some of the higher-end Nikkor prime and zoom lenses, the new lens features front and rear optical surfaces with fluorine coatings, which repel water droplets and is weather-resistant to suit working in inclement conditions.  (The teleconverter was introduced at the same time the $11,000 Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 lens was announced - a great pair if money is no object.)   So has this little gem really improved with this new release?


A Closer Look

Where this teleconverter really stands out in the series of Nikkor teleconverters, (TC-14, TC-17 and TC-20), is that it offers a 40% increase in reach while just losing one f-stop.  The old one did that but the glass elements have now been improved for better purity in light transmission.  Translation - better image quality.  The issue with the prior version was that there was a slight loss of sharpness - as is inherent with most teleconverters.  But not nearly as bad as the other in the series.    Although both the TC-17 (1.7x) and TC-20 (2x)  both increase reach, the cost of light loss and poor overall image quality turns most pros off.  But not the TC-14e models.

The TC-14e III maintains full support for autofocus, exposure metering, and VR image stabilization with compatible lenses.  Ah the rub - only some of the Nikkor lenses are compatible with the new teleconverter (please see Nikon's website for the complete list.)


TC-14e Teleconverter Comparison

Nikon TC-14E III (new version) Nikon TC-14E II (old version)


Lens Design TC-14E-III-designTC-14E-III-design


Lens construction 7 elements in 4 groups  5 elements in 5 groups
Minimum focus distance Same as that of a prime lens Same as that of a prime lens
Diameter x length
(distance from camera lens mount flange)
64 x 24.5mm 66 x 24.5mm
Weight 190g  200g



Just how much better is this teleconverter over its predecessor is the focus of this 'quick look'.  I took controlled test shots using a Nikkor AF-S 70mm-200mm f/2.8 ED VR II and a Nikkor AF-S 80mm-400mm f/4.5-5.6 ED VR Lens.  The test camera was a Nikon D810 mounted on a tripod and a remote shutter release was used with MirrorUp with Front Curtain to keep vibrations down.  There is not much more I could do to ensure there were no variables to adversely affect the samples.  I took ten test shots to determine if the samples were the same.

Each shot was reviewed as to whether any real loss in image quality was visible when viewed at 100% and at 200% magnification.

  • The 70-200, was tested at 70mm, 135mm and 200mm with and without the TC-14e III.
  • The 80-400 was tested at 70mm, 135mm and 400mm with and without the TC-14e III.

In each of these tests, I expected the greatest loss in quality to be at the fully extended zoom position.  So was the case.   For this quick review, I have only posted lenses at their extreme zoomed out positions. All images have been cropped to be the same size for comparison purposes.  Each lens was set to f/8 with an ISO of 64. 


70-200mm Test sample with and without the TC-14e III.

70 - 200 f/2.8 @ 200mm

_JS12295_JS12295ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

70 -200 f/2.8 @ 200mm w/TC-14e III = focal length of 280mm

_JS12296_JS12296ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

At a 200% crop, I notice little to no loss in image quality when using the TC-14e III on the 70-200mm.  The Nikon D810 will certainly bring out any flaws in this lens combination.  From center to edges, I found no issues with this combination.  I often shoot at f/8 for sports, but this winning combination works at f/4.


TC-14e III compared with the TC-14e II

80-400 f/8 @ 400mm w/TC-14e III = focal length of 560mm


_JS12294_JS12294ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

80-400 f/8 @ 400mm w/TC-14e II - focal length of 560mm


When compared to the TC-14e II on the 80-400mm, the TC-14e III is sharper (to me) - especially the edges.

In the end, I found nearly no loss in image quality when I added the TC-14e III to either zoom lens.  

Adding the teleconverter to the 80-400mm did affect quick focus in low lighting causing the lens to hunt at times.  Wide open it is f/8 which is a contributing factor of course.  In bright light, however, I had no problem with quick focusing and my 80-400mm lens becomes a 112mm - 560mm f/8 zoom lens.  

I found no issue with the 70-200mm.  The TC-14e III makes this lens a 98mm-280mm f/4 zoom lens.  


In Conclusion

In terms of contrast, color saturation and overall image quality, I did find the TC-14e III to be an improvement over the TC-14e II.  But is it worth getting rid of your TC-14e II and upgrading to the TC-14e III?  If you are a pixel peeper and want the best teleconverter that the market currently offers for specific Nikkor lenses - then absolutely.  But that's just me.  Will it make a 70-200mm lens as sharp as a 300mm prime.  It is pretty close to the 300mm f/4 (plus now you have the added zoom capability from 98mm ).  But it is not perfect.  Will it make an 80-400mm as good as a 600mm prime.  No, but it also does not cost $10,000. For around $500 - this little guy makes a great investment that you can easily carry and add on whenever you need extra reach and want to retain the image quality of the better Nikkor lenses.  

With a limited number of interesting subjects in my backyard - I decided to shoot each of the next two images as examples of a real word environment using each lens fully zoomed out (200mm and 400mm) with the TC-14e III.  You can decide if you think it is worth having. 


_JS12302_JS12302ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

70-200mm @ 200mm w/TC-14e III = 280mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 250 (tripod mounted)

Basil Plant

(Notice the fine spider's web between these tiny 1/4" leaves)


_JS12309-Edit_JS12309-EditALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014 80-400mm @ 400mm w/TC-14e III = 560mm, f/8, 1/640sec, ISO 320 (tripod mounted)

Before and After 

(focus was on the tiny one inch rose bud)


_JS12426-Edit-2_JS12426-Edit-2ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

80-400mm @ ~ 342mm w/TC-14e III = 480mm, f/8, 1/200 sec, ISO 1250 (tripod mounted)

Silverback Gorilla

_JS12435-Edit_JS12435-EditALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

80-400mm @ 400mm w/TC-14e III = 560mm, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 125 (tripod mounted/MirrorUp mode)

Final Crop @ 150% = 840mm effective focal length























80-400mm @ ~ 400mm w/TC-14e III = 560mm, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO 125 (tripod mounted)


[email protected] (John Soulé) Nikon TC-14e III TC-14e TC14e III Wed, 03 Sep 2014 03:22:24 GMT
31st Annual National Night Out _JAS0437_JAS0437ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

31st Annual National Night Out (NNO)

​Coming to a Community Near You

In August, millions of Americans nationwide joined together for a "crime going away party” - the 31st Annual National Night Out

Along with traditional outside lights and front porch vigils, most cities and towns celebrated the National Night Out with a variety of special citywide and neighborhood events such as block parties, cookouts, parades, festivals, visits from local officials and law enforcement, safety fairs, and youth events.  The events focused on increasing awareness about police programs in communities, drug prevention, town watch, neighborhood watch, and other anti-crime efforts.


_JAS0659_JAS0659ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, John Soule 2014



National Night Out, “America’s Night Out Against Crime”, was first introduced in 1984 by Matt Peskin, founder of the National Association of Town Watch (NATW).  The first event attracted 2.5 million American participants in 400 communities and covered 23 states.  Over the past 31 years it has grown nationwide is now held annually the first Tuesday in August.

NATW was created in an effort to promote the involvement in crime prevention activities, police community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie.  And, most importantly, send a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.   NATW continues to be dedicated to the development and promotion of various crime prevention programs including neighborhood watch groups, law enforcement agencies, state and regional crime prevention associations, businesses, civic groups, and individuals, devoted to safer communities. 

_JAS0435_JAS0435ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

Over the years, the traditional “lights on” campaign evolved into a celebration across America with various events and activities including block parties, cookouts, parades, visits from emergency personnel, rallies and marches, exhibits, youth events, safety demonstrations and seminars.

_JAS0672_JAS0672ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, John Soule 2014


2014 Expected To Have Record Turnout

National Night Out in 2013 attracted over 37.8 million participants in 16,242 communities from all 50 states, U.S. territories, Canadian cities, and military bases worldwide.  National Night Out in 2014 was expected to be the largest ever.

_JAS0703_JAS0703ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, John Soule 2014

Many communities, such as the Villages of Dorchester located in Maryland, used the event as a springboard to expand their Neighborhood Watch program by involving the County Police, Fire Department, Boy Scouts, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Righttime Medical to answer questions and provide health, safety and security information to the neighborhood residents.  For the children there were pony rides and face painting activities.


Community Involvement

_JAS0519_JAS0519ALL RIGHTS RESERVED John Soule 2014

_JAS0702_JAS0702ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, John Soule 2014

Events were typically organized by block watch captains, non-for-profit organizations, companies, and both police and fire departments.


Crime Prevention Awareness - A Yearlong Campaign

_JAS0694_JAS0694ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, John Soule 2014

National Night Out is actually a yearlong community building campaign.  It was initially designed to heighten crime prevention awareness and generate support for, and participation in, local anticrime programs.  Throughout the year it continues strengthen neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships.

National Project Coordinator, Matt Peskin stated, “This is a night for America to stand together and promote awareness, safety, and neighborhood unity. National Night Out showcases the vital importance of police-community partnerships and citizen involvement in our fight for a safer nation."

Peskin continued “It’s a wonderful opportunity for communities nationwide to promote police-community partnerships, crime prevention, and neighborhood camaraderie. While the one night is certainly not an answer to crime, drugs and violence, National Night Out represents the kind of spirit, energy and determination to help make neighborhoods a safer place year round. The night celebrates safety and crime prevention successes and works to expand and strengthen programs for the next 364 days.”

National Night Out volunteers with local politicians.


If your community was not involved this year, check out the National Night Out website:



[email protected] (John Soulé) National Night Out NATW NNO Thu, 07 Aug 2014 12:24:33 GMT
Massive Die-Offs Plague Bottlenose Dolphin Along U.S. East Coast Massive Die-Offs Plague Bottlenose Dolphin Along U.S. East Coast

dolphin death2dolphin death2

Of the 600,000 dolphins world-wide, over 20,000 generally migrate through the mid-Atlantic coastal waters during the summer and fall.  However, a silent, mysterious plague is claiming the lives of these bottlenose dolphin in record numbers.

Since July 2013, nearly 1,400 dolphin carcasses have washed onto the shores from New York to North Carolina – a number roughly ten times what is normal. And, scientists do not know exactly how many have died in the ocean and not washed up onto the mid-Atlantic beaches.  The actual number could be in the thousands. (The average death toll for dolphins should only be a few hundred per year.)

An Unusual Mortality Event

In July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the die-off an Unusual Mortality Event which freed up federal funding for investigators to address the crisis.  The NOAA team began investigating the event along with the assistance from the National Aquarium in Baltimore and state aquariums throughout the Mid-Atlantic. 

National Aquarium Dolphin Count

Captain Andrew Pulver pilots the National Aquarium Research Vessel



Each year the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Team, with the assistance from the public, station themselves at established beach locations along the Maryland Eastern shore to record dolphin sightings.  In addition to the beach stations, in 2014 members from the National Aquarium’s Marine Rescue Team boarded one of National Aquarium’s research boats to assist in the count and to take water samples.









Thick fog hinders 2014 dolphin count



In 2013, 113 dolphin sightings were recorded off the shore near Ocean City Maryland.  In 2014, only 53 dolphins were recorded.  Heavy fog and a lower dolphin population may have contributed to the lower count.  No dolphins were sighted from the research vessel.



The Cause – A Deadly Virus

Brent Whitaker from the National Aquarium searches for dolphins


NOAA believes the source of the dolphin deaths is “Morbilliviruses”, an RNA virus. Morbilliviruses are responsible for measles in humans, rinderpest in cattle, and canine distemper in dogs, coyotes, wolves and seals. 






Spread of Infection

Morbilliviruses are usually spread through inhalation or contact between animals, including mothers and calves, according to NOAA. Animals can also be exposed to the virus through the eyes, mouth, stomach, skin wounds and the urogenital tract.  Dolphin PodDolphin PodImages shot at both National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD and on location off the Atlantic Ocean.

Dolphins are highly social creatures - they even breathe together.  As a group, dolphins may come to the surface, issue a forceful exhalation through their blowholes and then all inhale, sharing aerosolized particles expelled from adjacent dolphins.  Sex, nursing and playing also lead to direct contact.  Moreover, small groups are continually striking off on their own, forming new groups, and latching onto other groups, thereby repeatedly introducing diseases into new communities.

Since viruses continually mutate, swapping and rearranging genes, the explosion of the virus could just be nature at work.  Without additional information, some researchers worry the number of deaths will continue to escalate.

Secondary infections

Due to some secondary infections, researchers are wondering if humans are a contributing factor - specifically whether poor environmental conditions fueled by agricultural runoff and other human activities made dolphins unable to weather the diseases.  

Some dolphins that encountered morbillivirus may have been able to recover from the infection, but secondary infections may have been enough to tip the scale. 

No Cure

Scientists don’t know for sure what sparked the outbreak, but are guessing that affected dolphin populations have lost their ability to fight the virus, an immunity they gained 25 years ago when the virus last struck.

Brent Whitaker and Eric Schwaab of the National Aquarium take water samples

And, though it is spreading, there’s no way to vaccinate dolphins against the spread of the virus. 

According to Brent Whitaker of the National Aquarium, the virus “has to burn itself out.  Animals have to be exposed and survive from it - and become immune to it."  He stated that  " We see events like this periodically…every 10 years or so…and what we think that is happening is - you see it, you survive it, you’ve got immunity to it, you’re good – you’ve lived your life and now the youngsters are coming up - they’re naïve to it. The virus hits again and the naïve animals get sick … And that is the majority of the population at that point.  …There are always survivors – some have immunity.” Member of National Aquarium records GPS location of water sample






Although scientists have no treatment for infected dolphins, they want to track the deaths and identify their causes since dolphins help serve as a barometer of ocean health.


Ocean Canaries



The National Aquarium’s annual dolphin count helps marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot look at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health on an ongoing basis.  Looking at the population numbers over the years can help to determine the health of the coastal ecosystem as well as the abundance of prey.

The high death count and presence of secondary infections has led some researchers to suspect a wider problem—namely, a coastal ecosystem possibly sickened by human activity.  Environmental degradation might be amplifying the effects of a measles-like virus, fueling infections that are propelling the alarming death count.


dolphin death1dolphin death1This photo taken March 31, 2011 and provided Sept. 6, 2011 by the Chicago Zoological Society, shows Nea, a 4-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Ill. Officials at the zoo say Nea died Monday, Sept. 5, 2011, after apparently colliding with another dolphin. A preliminary examination indicates Nea suffered a fractured skull. The accident happened Monday afternoon before the dolphins were scheduled to perform for zoo visitors. (AP Photo/Chicago Zoological Society, Jim Schulz)



Overall, the experts pointed out that the dead dolphins may be an alert to troubles in our oceans - an ominous sign of a larger, ailing coastal ecosystem and the die-off may be reflecting the negative effects lower in the food chain.  If tiny prey organisms are getting sickened and fish eat them, and the dolphins consume the fish, the bioaccumulation of toxins might be serious.

Other factors may have weakened the dolphins' immune systems, making them more vulnerable to sickness. They include chemicals, other disease-causing microbes, biotoxins and expansion of the dolphins' range, according to officials and experts. Most of the East Coast dolphin deaths have occurred in areas with heavy human footprints, like the Chesapeake Bay. 

An ecosystem threat?

Wild pony grazes at waters edge on Assateague Island near Ocean City Maryland

According to NOAA, the virus cannot be transmitted to humans and no cases of human illness have been reported from this dolphin disease outbreak.

However, it is recommended by NOAA that people should not swim with open wounds in the immediate area where a stranded animal is found.  It is unclear if people could get any infectious diseases by touching the sick dolphins, but people and dolphins do share a vulnerability to disease-causing microbes.

NOAA also recommends that people should keep pets away from marine mammals, especially stranded ones.


About the National Aquarium in Baltimore

National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program is a member of the Northeast Stranding Network (NERS) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Aquarium is one facility among a network of nationally recognized facilities that work cooperatively to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.

The Animal Rescue team works directly with NOAA, USFWS, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and regional and national stranding partners to respond to stranded animals and collect data used to better understand aquatic animals that are still very much a mystery to modern science.

[email protected] (John Soulé) Mon, 14 Jul 2014 00:51:35 GMT
HonFest Celebrates 20th Year in Baltimore _JAS5191_JAS5191

HonFest Celebrates 20th Year in Baltimore


Baltimore, Maryland is certainly known for hosting some very wacky, and  fun, events.  And summer is a great time for many of those events.

_JAS4571-Edit_JAS4571-EditAVAM KSR 2014
I had always thought the American Visionary Arts Museum's (AVAM) Kinetic Sculpture Race, where you can see wacky sculptures go through downtown Baltimore and into the Inner Harbor, was one of the craziest events Baltimore had to offer.  But, was I wrong?

Every year since 1994,  an event has been held in Baltimore that features the hairstyle  and dress of the 1960's.  And this event has evolved so much over the years, it has received national coverage and draws over 30,000 participants.




Before "Hairspray"

Years before "Hairspray" was presented on Broadway or in the movies, the City of Baltimore was celebrating its famous "Beehive" tradition with HonFest, an annual homage to all things "Bawlmer" ("Baltimore" as pronounced by locals). The event began twenty years ago as Baltimore's Best Hon Contest, which quickly grew into the HonFest.  Denise Whiting, the owner of the Café Hon & Hon Bar, created both the contest and the festival.  The unpretentious diner soon became a Baltimore landmark - with its two-story pink flamingo and an Elvis mannequin that greets patrons as they enter the diner decorated in a decor of the 1960's.

Hon Cafe
















HonFest, held in June each year, is really both an extravaganza and contest.  It is a flamboyant recreation of the look, attitude and behavior that director John Waters, a Baltimore local, so engagingly memorialized and satirized in the original 1988 "Hairspray". Although Hampden's "Hairspray" celebration brought celebrity to the Hampden neighborhood where the festival is held, neither of the "Hairspray" movies was shot there.  The original  "Hairspray" was filmed in East Baltimore, not in Hampden.  Still, the Hampden community is considered "Hon Central".

National Recognition

The "Bawlmer" term of endearment, Hon, short for "Honey", embodies the warmth and affection bestowed upon neighbors and visitors alike by the historic working-women of Baltimore. HonFest is really an annual celebration in their honor. 

HonFest has grown from a tiny Baltimore's Best Hon Pageant held behind Café Hon, to a nationally recognized festival that covers four city blocks along Hampden's 36th Street and lasts for two days. HonFest has been acknowledged nationally by The New York Times, Rachel Ray's Tasty TravelsNightly News with Brian WilliamsThe New York Post, Southern Living, The LA Times, HGTV, CNN, and The New Yorker. It seems as though all of Baltimore, along with bus-loads of tourists, come dressed for the event.

The Best Hon

Women, of all ages and sizes, wear vintage spandex pants, heavily applied blue eye shadow and any item of clothing or accessory that has a leopard print. And, most importantly, they have outrageous beehive hairdos that are teased as high as possible and supported with layers of hair spray. Visitors who don't have a beehive can get their own hairdo done in the Glamour Lounge, listen to talented local musicians, or view the work of local artists.  

Honettes _JAS8629_JAS8629



It is fun to watch people as they get their fingers sticky with loads of hair spray and receive complimentary makeovers.



Many contestants get last minute touch-ups from anxious parents.

The Glamour Lounge is made available to anyone who wants to become a "Hon" for the day and, perhaps enter one of the contests.  The contest categories include "Little Miss Honette" (ages 3-7), "Miss Honette"  (ages 8-13), "Best Baltimore's Beehive" and the coveted "Baltimore's Best Hon" . The entire event  has evolved into one hugely entertaining 60's- themed costume party and pageant.

The Festival

Lennon LaRicci and the Leftovers
Lennon LaRicci and the Leftovers

The festival is both Saturday and Sunday with some 30,000 visitors flocking to promenade along a four-block strip, fondly referred to as "The Avenue."  The area is closed to motor traffic for the day as the street is lined with outdoor stages where local music groups play nonstop. And, yes, their repertoire features everything from the original "Hairspray" soundtrack to more recent numbers.  The "Hairspray" theme is definitely all about you at HonFest.  Did I forget to mention that there is also a Mustache Contest for the guys?  Something for everyone!

And of course, what would an event be in Bawlmer without promoting the 2012 Super Bowl Champions, The Baltimore Ravens?

HonFest 2013


For tourists coming to Baltimore for the first time, I can only imagine what they must think if they were to see some of the Hons on their way to the festival.  It would be like traveling back in time fifty years. "Bawlmer" can be a really wacky, and fun city.  




So Hon, if you are in Bawlmer during Father's Day Weekend, take a trip back to the 60's at HonFest.  It is a fun event for the entire family.
















More photos are available on under Photojournalism:

/john soulé
[email protected] (John Soulé) Baltimore Bawlmer hairspray HonFest Fri, 13 Jun 2014 18:57:18 GMT
Rock n Roll Marathon - San Diego 2014  

Rock n Roll Marathon San DiegoRock n Roll Marathon San Diego

Rock 'n' Roll Marathon rocks San Diego

This June, over 30,000 entrants from across the United States and forty countries came to the 17th annual Suja Rock 'n' Roll Marathon held in San Diego, California.  Originating in 1998, San Diego became the foundation for the Rock 'n' Roll marathons and half-marathons that are now held throughout the world. The series has enjoyed global appeal, tremendous local support and has firmly established itself as the ideal running platform.  

Organized by Competitor Group, the 17th annual Suja Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon and Half-Marathon raises funds to benefit The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society .  

The original 1998 Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is still recognized as the largest inaugural marathon in the United States.  Over the 17-year history of the race, runners have raised more than $176 million to support blood cancer research and patient services.  This year over $1.8 million dollars is expected to be raised for charity. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series has quickly become one of the most successful charity fundraising events in the world.   

The race consists of a Marathon (26.2 miles), Half-Marathon, Wheelchair Competition, and a two-person Half-Marathon Relay.  For this article, I focused on the full marathon.


The Race Begins...

It was cloudy, and in the 60's, when the marathon kicked off just after 6:15am.  It began with the wheelchair division competition ready to take on the full 26.2 mile course.  These specially designed wheelchairs had to negotiate miles of flat road, hills and some quite sharp turns.


Rock n Roll Marathon San DiegoRock n Roll Marathon San Diego





Runners were given seven hours to complete the marathon. The half-marathon and two-person relay option were given a four-hour time limit.








Jose ZambranoJose Zambrano





Fireman Jose Zambrano, seen here being interviewed by Hannah Mullins of San Diego News10, wore his full gear and helmet while running the full Marathon in honor of fallen firefighters that have died in the line of duty and their families through the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.  His effort would take him just over 6 hours to complete the course.





The Marathon Course


The 26 mile course incorporated a scenic tour of San Diego's neighborhood charm, passing through downtown, Little Italy, Old Town, along the airport, the coastline near Mission Bay and onto parts of the freeway.  Road closures were a massive undertaking as you could imagine.

With the exception of six miles around Balboa Park, both the marathon and half-marathon courses took separate routes. 









The line of half-marathon runners seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.  The course was not without its challenges. In addition to the necessary endurance needed to complete this distance, there were a few upgrade hills to negotiate, especially near the end of the marathon course.  Rising temperatures also added stress for even the best runners.








Cheering for the Runners



Some supporters, such as husband Matt Scarlato, along with the sisters and friends of Christina Scarlato (first-time marathon runner from Washington DC, #52483 below), resourcefully found various modes of transportation to get to locations throughout the course to show their support.  Many supporters walked, rode bikes, took cabs or used the city trolley transportation to get around to multiple locations to cheer on the runners as they passed by.











The runners found inspiration from the cheers of the supporters along the sidelines.  "It made all the difference to see total strangers yell for you" said one of the runners.



In addition to family, friends, and local supporters, there were organized "Cheer Zones" with cheering squads from local high schools positioned throughout the course who were competing in the Spirit of the Course Competition.  The energetic cheerleaders did their best to keep runner's spirits high every step of the way.  The Spirit on the Course Competition was awarded to the top three most spirited cheerleading squads based on their creativity, participation and enthusiasm. 





To support the "Rock 'n' Roll" theme, runners were greeted by either live rock bands or recorded music at every mile along the course.  More than 40 bands and 25 entertainment stages were positioned to add energy and spirit to the race.  



Rock n Roll Marathon San Diego - ElvisRock n Roll Marathon San Diego - Elvis







And what would be Rock 'n' Roll be without the presence of Elvis?   Or ten for that matter.  The Elvis "team" ran together in the half-marathon.



Ben BruceBen Bruce



Ben Bruce Takes Marathon First Place


Ben Bruce had not competed in many marathons.  In fact this was only his second marathon, the first being run in New Orleans this past February

The San Diego hometown boy, and Adidas-sponsored athlete, led from start to finish and was able to complete the 26.2 miles in just 2 hours, 23 minutes and 50 seconds. He had won in New Orleans in 2:21:56, but for the 31-year-old, nothing topped winning in his own hometown.

“It’s always good to win in my hometown,” said Bruce, who now lives and trains in Flagstaff, Arizona. 


Allan Webb with Ben Bruce - _jas7405Allan Webb with Ben Bruce - _jas7405


According to his coach, Bruce had set a personal goal to pace a 5:20 per mile.  As I sat by his coach in the Media Truck, I noticed that both Bruce and his coach kept a watchful eye on his time to see if he was maintaing a pace close to his target.  

Bruce had a running companion, American 1-mile record holder Alan Webb, who paced Bruce through mile post 14.  Once Webb's part was complete, Instead of catching a ride in our Media Truck, he said he had a credit card with him was "going to catching a cab downtown to the finish line". 

“That helped a lot because it gave me some company,” Bruce said. “It was good to have him there. It means a lot to have the American record holder come out and sacrifice himself. It says a lot about his character.”



“It was awesome,” Webb said after the race. “It’s fun to help somebody else. He did great and it was fun to be in the race environment, without the pressure of having to compete.”

The last half of the course had some challenges with elevations and increasing temperatures which impacted Bruce's pace time and became evident on his face as you could see the stress starting to take over.

Bruce, whose wife Stephanie is 38 weeks pregnant with their first child, said that he drew strength from thinking about the upcoming addition to his family.

“I thought about him a lot, my little boy on the way,” said Bruce at the finish line. “It got me through the last few miles when it hurt, I thought of him. The marathon takes a lot, they make you emotional.”


Anna Corrigan Wins Her Debut Marathon in Women's Race



Anna Corrigan of Phoenix Arizona, ran this, her first marathon in just under 2 hours 45 minutes.  At 23, she was able to finish a full 3 minutes before second-place finisher Bonnie Axman, 29, of San Diego.

She stated that she had never run a marathon before and felt she could not have gotten through it without everyone cheering and hearing all of the bands along the course.

A recent illness slowed Corrigan''s training and forced her to readjust her goals heading into the race. All said, she was able to finish less than 90 seconds short of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time of 2:43:00.


World Record Set




Ninety-one-year-old Harriette Thompson, from North Carolina, finished the marathon in 7:07:42. Thompson, who is a cancer survivor, became the second oldest marathon finisher in U.S. history and set a new age-group record.  This was her 15th time running this race. 

 “I’m having radiation on my legs. I just had nine radiation treatments, and they’re being healed now,” she said before the race.  The charity is close to her heart because everyone in her family had died from leukemia or some form of cancer.  Recently, she lost her 99-year-old brother to lymphoma, so keeping up her own health is one of her main motivations to run.  Thompson ran her first marathon when she was 76 after a friend from church had run as a fundraiser for charity.



Ryan Hess and Pam WitteRyan Hess and Pam Witte


An Engaging Moment

As runners crossed the finish line, I noticed one runner, Ryan Hess from Austin Texas, had remained near the finish line - whereas most runners head straight for water, cooling towels or some form of refreshments after the harsh 26 mile run.  After a short while, Pam Witte, also of Austin Texas, crossed the finish line as Ryan cheered her on.  Then what I thought was a kind jester to help Witte to seek rest, Hess took her back across the finish line. Something seemed out of the norm so I got my camera ready and shot a sequence of photos that lead to a very special moment.

I can only assume Hess had rehearsed this moment time and time again in his mind.  As they crossed back over the finish line, Hess got down on one knee and proposed to Witte.  What a shocker - so cool.  Witte found a new burst of energy as she said "Yes!".



Ryan Hess and Pam WitteRyan Hess and Pam Witte


Headliner Aloe Blacc performs




After completing the race, participants joined their friends and families to celebrate with a Finish Line Festival featuring headliner Aloe Blacc in concert at Petco Park.


Blacc's mega-hit, "Wake Me Up", climbed to #1 in 22 countries across the world.






This was my first marathon coverage and I was most impressed on how well this event was organized, considering there were over 30,000 entrants and thousands of spectators along the route.  I would like to especially thank Emily Gibbs of the Competitor Group for providing media access and use of the Media Truck to IPA for coverage of this event.  As I rode the entire course, I found that it to be amazing so many runners did so well - 26.2 miles is a lot longer than I had imagined.

Also a special acknowledgment goes out to Christina Scarlato, my daughter-in-law, who traveled from Washington DC to be in her first marathon and finished in the top 3% out of 2,245 Women.  As posted in PETCO PARK, "Marathoners - You Rock!"

Additional race photos are available on

























[email protected] (John Soulé) Tue, 10 Jun 2014 13:29:24 GMT
How to Photograph: Seascapes Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 3 - 36x12Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 3 - 36x12

Photographing Seascapes: Tips and Techniques

I have been asked the question about how photographers get those 'special' seascape shots that stand above the others and get noticed.  I always state that art is subjective and what one person may like another may not.  The purpose of this "how to' article is to give a quick overview of the 'when, what and how' of seascape photography and explain a few techniques that I have used that you may be of interest.


Timing - the 'when'

A number of factors play an important role in getting that right shot and timing (the when) is first on my list. For seascapes I consider three factors when it comes to timing: Time of Day; Tide; Weather.  Let's look at all three.

Time of Day

Although you can take shots of water any time of day, lighting is an important factor for any photography - especially when you have water and sand involved creating high contrast scenarios.  I generally restrict most of my seascape work to sunrise and sunset - especially around the 'Golden Hour' when the sun is low on the horizon and colors just seem to pop out all around.  The opening photograph was taken a few minutes after sunrise and sunlight was just starting to highlight the jetty (rocks).  Just an hour later, the colors would be gone and the delicate features of the rocks would be all but flattened by the harsh sun's rays.  Within a hour after sunrise, my shooting is complete.


It is helpful to find out when the tide will be high and low and what that would do to the subjects.  Low tides can often yield interesting pools of standing water, and if rocks are nearby, be a great source for reflections.  Depending on the location, you may find some sea creatures that can make great subjects (starfish, shells, sand dollars, etc.)  A high tide, as was the case in the opening photograph, can add impact as the water rushes over exposed rocks and, and with the proper photographic technique (discussed later), can be 'smoothed' out for a wonderfully soft, almost painting-like effect (all done without post-processing). 

Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 1Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 1



From blue skies to storm clouds, the sky can make a big difference as to whether an image has impact.  If the sky is a beautiful blue with no clouds, the image often becomes a bit boring to some - the water, however, will reflect that blue and produce some wonderful color.  This was the case for the opening image and as seen to the right. If I were to leave the crop as taken, my subject (the rocks) would not be quite as dramatic as I wanted it to be - compare the opening image.  In cases such as this, I find it better to crop lower to the horizon and focus the viewer's attention to a specific point of interest. (Here the angle of the rocks draws the viewer's eye from the lower left to the upper right.)  


Hilton Head SunriseHilton Head SunriseSouth Carolina




If the sky is somewhat boring, use more of the water/beach in your overall capture.










Greek Islands 1Greek Islands 1






If the sky is dramatic, capture more of the wonderful structure and colors in your image.







Subjects - the 'what'

When it comes to seascape images, there can be much more for the photographer than just the obvious - sand, water and sky.  Photographs can become more interesting if there are other objects of interest in the capture.  Such items as rocks, shells, weeds, driftwood and even a structure (lighthouse) can add to the image.  Quite often it pays to 'scope out' the area you are going to shoot well ahead of time.  This often either means looking at other photographs from that area on the internet, including Google Earth for rock formations near the shooting location, or being at the shooting location at least an hour before the shoot to determine the best Point of View and find any available subjects.  This step can often make the difference between a seascape photograph that sells and a point-n-shoot snapshot.

Nagshead, NCNagshead, NC







Including foreground vegetation.







Hilton HeadHilton HeadSouth Carolina







Tall weeds providing a foreground silhouette and frame.








Nubble, MENubble, ME






Images captured following a storm can be dramatic such as this one taken the day after a nor'easter hit the Maine coastline.





Techniques - the 'how'

Once I have made my plans as to when and where to shot a seascape, it becomes a matter of 'how' and what techniques can be used to make the images stand out.


Here again, I start off with lighting as a key concern.  For beach/seascape photography, the mid-day sun can be very harsh and reflections off the water and sand can make images very contrasty and, unless you are shooting black and white, difficult to work with.  As stated before, I prefer shooting at sunrise or sunset. 



Waves can easily get blown out in terms of exposure.  If shooting towards the sun, I try to catch the sun's rays behind the wave rather than in front.  If shooting with the sun high in the sky, the contrast between the white foam of the curl of a wave can be high compared to the water and often is shot overexposed by most meters using 'matrix' metering.  (Center or spot metering can help with that some.)





Motion of the Ocean . . .

Whether to freeze the water as in the shot above or smooth out the water in an almost mystic capture is truly a matter of artist taste.  For me, it depends on what I am trying to achieve.  As in the photograph above, stop motion was the effect I was going after.  However, in the opening image, I wanted to capture a combination of a crisp waterline plus the smoothing effect around the rocks.  If water is moving, and the exposure is slower than 1/60th of a second, the water will be blurred.  But how much is should it be blurred for the effect to pleasing? Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 9Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 9


The image to the right was made at f/16, ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second to give just a touch of blurred action by the waves breaking while keeping the waterline sharp.  The waterline I noted stayed in the flat area of the beach for a little over a second before disappearing.  Staying in the same position for longer than my shutter was open would mean that that area should remain crisp. The breaking waves, however, were moving much more quickly and should be blurred, showing motion in the capture.  This result worked as planed.



Here again, the line between what is pleasing to some and what is not, becomes a matter of artist taste.  

In the opening image, (and I should mention that all the shots here were take using a tripod and cable release), I wanted the best of both worlds.  I know that the waterline would remain in position for about 1 second on the flat area around the rocks.  As above, this would yield a sharp image and possibly some reflections.  The waves were constantly in motion and I wanted to really slow down their motion a lot.  For next shot, I set my aperture to f/16 (wanting a good range to be in focus) and my ISO to 100 to keep noise low.  This setup would also force my shutter speed to be slow.  The sun was just starting to light up the rocks.  I took a reading on the rocks and water.  I set my shutter speed to 30seconds. (Turned Active- D-Lighting 'on' (for you Nikon buffs) to bring out shadow detail.)  I took a sample 30-second exposure.

Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 7Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 7

I needed more.  As the sun was making the area even brighter, I added a Lee 10-stop filter plus a Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse Graduate Filter (evens out horizon brightness) to slow the shutter speed down even more.

I also decided to convert the shot to Black and White for a bit of a dramatic effect.  To the right, the image was shot at f/16, ISO100 using the 10-stop Neutral Density filter. The shutter speed was now at a full 4 minutes.

(One of the other benefits to using a long exposure is that if a bird or person were to go through the image, they would not be captured as long as they kept moving.  That can be very useful in crowed locations.)  Note the water motion is completely gone and only a mist covers the area.

I should note that, in addition to the Neutral Density and Graduated Filters that I have mentioned, using a Circular Polarizng Filter can be very useful in controlling reflections and enhancing colors.



I always try keep my eyes open and be prepared - I never know what I may find while at the beach. DSC_0078-2DSC_0078-2


So - there you have it, a quick overview of the 'when, what and how' of seascape photography and some of the techniques I use.   I hope you will find some of this helpful as the summer is now in full swing in the Northern Hemisphere and folks are heading to the beach. Most of us in the US have really had enough winter this year.

Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 14Long Beach Jetty Sunrise 14

Above Shot:

Nikon D800, 24-70 f/2.8 lens, Lee 10-stop ND filter, Singh-Ray 3-stop Reverse ND Filter, Really Right Stuff, TVC-33 Tripod and BH-55 Ball Head, and Nikon MC-36A cable release.   Settings: 60 second exposure at 28mm, f/16, ISO100.

[email protected] (John Soulé) Seascape photography Tips and Techniques Tue, 27 May 2014 19:17:10 GMT
New Nikon 80-400 Lens Comparison _JAS6599-Edit_JAS6599-Edit

The New Nikon 80mm-400mm f/4.5 - 5.6.  Is it worth the cost?  


Recently I took the plunge and purchased the new Nikon 80-400 f/4.5 - 5.6 lens based on reviews and image examples I had seen.  But, I had to ask myself, was it really worth the cost of nearly $3000 for a lens that was not considered to be in the Nikon 'pro' category.  (Well to be honest I sold my Sigma 120-400mm and there was a huge Nikon rebate going on so I actually paid less than $1000 in the end. But I digress…)

I decided to evaluate, based on real-world conditions, this new lens against the two other Nikon zoom lenses that I owned and which were less than the nearly $3,000 price tag for this lens.  I also wanted to conduct the tests on a full frame (FX) camera such as the Nikon D800, with its 36megapixel sensor that often reveals the true quality of a lens and any of its imperfections.

Since I already own the classic pro Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 and the lower cost consumer Nikon 70-300 f/4.5-5.6, I had all three lenses readily available to compare. And, as mentioned, for each test case, the camera body to be used was to be my Nikon D800.  I also intended to mount the camera on a Really Right Stuff TVC-33 tripod (very sturdy).  I decided to focus on my subject using Nikon's LiveView at 100% magnification and also use a remote cable release to minimize any camera shake.  For outdoor tests, the shutter speed was to be set at 1/160sec (on a tripod), aperture set to f/8, the ISO set to 100 and 'Vibration Control' turned off.  For indoor tests, studio lights (Paul Buff Alien Bees 1600) were to be used for controlled lighting, the shutter speed to be set to 1/250sec, the aperture f/8 and the ISO 100.  All images were to be shot in RAW.  In post processing, all images were to be synched in LightRoom to have the same white balance, exposure settings and color saturation.  

should note that this is not a complete review of all of the features of the 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, but rather a few real-world tests to determine if this lens lives up to its hefty price tag.  I should note that there are many reviews both in print and on the internet that go into detail for those that desire a more complete accounting of this lens. 


Test Lenses - a brief background

The Nikon 70-200, f/2.8

The Nikon 70-200, f/2.8 is a de-facto standard in Nikon's pro line - known for its rugged build and high quality images. The obvious advantage of this lens is the fact that, if available light is low, or there is a need for a shallow Depth of Field, this lens stands at the front of the line with an aperture of f/2.8 at all focal lengths.  The 70-200 lens is built like a tank and often is the 'go-to lens' for the pro that needs a high quality, hand-holdable lens that has some extra reach.  Quality comes with a price though.  This lens sells for just over $2,300.  This is the lens I used as a baseline for comparison.

With most outdoor photography, losing a few stops is not the issue it once was - especially considering ISO can be bumped up to compensate for lack of available light. Most modern cameras do a really good job in reducing noise at higher ISOs.  Personally I often shoot events at f/8 for the extended depth of field and overall lens sharpness. 


This brings us to the next two lenses for consideration that have less light gathering capability than an f/2.8 lens has:


The Nikon 70-300, f/4.5 - 5.6

The Nikon 70-300, f/4.5-5.6 offers a very reasonable zoom range (although it cannot take a Teleconverter) and sells for less than $600 new.  It is very light weight and will work on both FX and DX bodies.  It can reach from 70mm (the same as the 70-200) but go all the way to 300mm.  The zoom features and attractive price point makes this lens very popular to many photographers.  It is often paired with a DX body (considering the additional reach factor of 1.5) but also works fine on full frame camera bodies as well.  This is considered to be a consumer lens and does not have the build quality of the pro series.  


The Nikon 80-400, f/4.5 - 5.6

The new Nikon 80-400, f/4.5-5.6, is an update to the older 80-400 lens.  This new lens offers improved image quality, better vibration reduction and faster focusing than the older lens.  The new 80-400, however, is not considered to be in the Nikon pro line either and is considered more to be a semi-pro or 'prosumer'.  It's price tag, may make one think otherwise as this lens comes in at over $2600.  So the question becomes is this lens worth the $2000 price over the 70-300 (which also has VR and f/4.5-5.6, but only reaches to 300mm)?  And, how does this lens compare with the image quality of the pro 70-200?


Size Comparisons

Before I began the tests, I decided to take a quick look at the size of these three lenses, both compressed and fully extended:


Lens compressed _JAS6605-Edit_JAS6605-Edit
Lens fully extended _JAS6607-Edit_JAS6607-Edit

Since the pro 70-200 uses internal zoom, the overall length remains constant at all focal lengths.  (It should be noted that when a lens extends and contracts, such as is the case for the 70-300 and 80-400, problems of sucking in air and dust can be introduced - just be aware.)  Although the 80-400 becomes a long lens when fully extended - it is still manageable.  


Mounting rings (tripod collar)

Most telephoto lenses, due to their size and weight, require a tripod mounting mechanism (tripod collar) to support the weight of the lens coupled to the camera.  And, since it is often necessary to rotate the camera in most photoshoots, the mounting ring should be designed to allow the lens to be easily rotated 90 degrees from landscape to portrait position by just loosing a knob and twisting the camera.  The support mechanisms must be sturdy and able to support the lens/camera while reducing camera shake. 

Many photographers have found the 70-200 Nikon mounting ring to be adequate - however I replaced the Nikon supplied mounting foot plate with a Really Right Stuff  (RRS) foot and plate for extra stability.  The 80-300 lens is light-weight and does not require a mounting ring.  The 80-400 is a heavy lens, (like the 70-200), and requires a mounting ring.  Many photographers have opted to replace the Nikon 80-400 mounting ring - and I must agree.  I personally felt the Nikon mounting ring to be of low quality - especially based on lens weight and the overall cost of this system.  For me, a Really Right Stuff (or Kirk) mounting ring and foot plate were needed replacements.  However, this was another $290 expense that brought the overall price of this lens to just over $3,000.  If you look at the two mounting rings below, (Nikon left, RRS right), you can see why this was a necessary expense.



Image Quality - a few tests

What about Image Quality?  This is the number one concern I have with any lens.  Is the convenience of having a wide-zoom going to provide enough 'keepers' to justify the cost of this new system?  Only if the image quality is there.  To find out if I had a winner with this new Nikon lens, I conducted a few lens comparisons in three environments:

  • Outdoors (controlled settings with tripod);
  • Indoors (controlled settings, tripod and studio lights); and
  • Real World wildlife (hand-held, VR on, variable settings based on subject).

I compared each lens at 200mm, 300mm and 400mm (using the 70-200, f/2.8 as the baseline for comparison).


Outdoor Tests

In the first samples I compared each lens at 200mm.  With all settings the same, the results from a 150% crop are seen below.   For all practical purposes, I would say all three samples were very close to being the same. The pro 70-200 had an edge in terms of clarity (note small text "Nikon HB-40 Made in Japan" on lens hood is easier to read from the pro 70-200 sample, followed by the 80-400.  However, if lighting was good, I would not hesitate to take any of these three out in the field shooting at f/8.


 Focal Length: 200mm, f/8, 150% Crop

1/160, f/8 and ISO 100

Nikon 70-200mm, f/2.8 _JAS6590-Edit_JAS6590-Edit
Nikon 70-300mm, f/4.5 - 5.6 _JAS6591-Edit_JAS6591-Edit
Nikon 80-400mm, f/4.5-5.6 _JAS6592-Edit_JAS6592-Edit


We have now reached the zoom limitation of the 70-200 (a Teleconverter can be added to this lens for extra reaches needed).

The next test was for the focal length of 300mm between the 70-300 and the 80-400 (remember that the 80-400 is over $2000 more expensive than the 70-300).

Focal Length: 300mm

1/160, f/8 and ISO 100
Nikon 70-300mm, f/4.5 - 5.6 _JAS6593-Edit_JAS6593-Edit
Nikon 80-400mm, f/4.5-5.6 _JAS6594-Edit_JAS6594-Edit

Both of these lenses were quite close in terms of Image Quality and either could work well under the same lighting conditions.  No real winner thus far.

We have now reached the basic zoom limitation of the 70-300 (remember ho Teleconverter capability - however it can be used on a Dx body yielding an effective focal length of 105mm - 450mm without loss of image quality).

The last outdoor test was to see how well the 80-400 would do at 400mm (which one would expect to be a tad soft).  I used a cropped version of the 70-200 for a baseline comparison.


1/160, f/8 and ISO 100
 Nikon 70-200mm, f/2.8 _JAS6590-Edit_JAS6590-Edit

(cropped to 400mm equivalent)

Nikon 80-400mm, f/4.5-5.6 _JAS6595-Edit_JAS6595-Edit

(shot at 400mm)

Overall the 80-400 did a relatively good job of resolving the details of the subject.  Large text on the test subject was clear in both samples.  However, the fine wording on the lens hood in the test ("Nikon HB-40 Made in Japan") was cleaner on the cropped image from the Nikon 70-200 than that compared with image from the Nikon 80-400.  As a result, I found for high quality images, the 80-400 should not be used at the full 400mm focal length but rather be backed off to around 380mm.  Not a deal breaker.  Remember that on a DX body, this become 120mm - 600mm without loss of image quality.


Indoor Tests

I now switched to an indoor setup that used studio controlled lighting.  


1/250sec, f/16 and ISO 100.



Note that at a close distance to the subject, the 300mm focal length becomes 280mm in reality



Take a closer look


 70-200 @ 200mm


Nikon 70-200 @ 200 w/TC1.4=


Nikon 70-300 @ 300 Closeup-3Closeup-3
Nikon 80-400 @ 300 Closeup-4Closeup-4
Nikon 80-400 @ 400 Closeup-5Closeup-5
Nikon 80-400 @ 400 w/TC1.4 =560mm Closeup-6Closeup-6

(Note drop-off on edges)

In my opinion, the Nikon 80-400 is sharp for each focal length to nearly 400mm. Image quality suffers when adding a Teleconverter (Note the fuzzy "M/A" on the left side above for last sample, 560mm focal length).  Especially for 300mm and below, I found the 80-400mm to be excellent in terms of clarity in relation to each of the tested zoom lenses.  The controlled tests were conducted to produce the "best" I could obtain from each lens under optimum conditions.  But how would this lens fair in the real-world?  Here are a few examples.


Real Word - Wildlife tests


West African Crowned CraneWest African Crowned Crane

Nikon 80-400 @ 310mm, 1/400sec, f/8, ISO 1000

Lesser KuduLesser Kudu

Nikon 80-400 @ 280mm, 1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 720


Nikon 80-400 @ 260mm, 1/400sec, f/8, ISO 100

Saddle-billed StorkSaddle-billed Stork

Nikon 80-400@ 360mm, 1/500sec, f/5.6, ISO 180


For each shot above my camera was initially at my side - no tripod was used.  When it came time to shoot, I lifted the lens in position and found the it balanced well in the hand, the focus was quick and the VR locked quickly as expected.  With this lens I shot in Shutter Priority mode to keep the Shutter Speed to at least 1/400 -1/500sec.  I set ISO to Auto to allow it adjust to 1000 as necessary based on my aperture of being around f/8 if possible - but that was not very often.  


Note - if the shutter speed was at 1/500 or slower, (and no tripod), turn VR on.  Do not use VR if using a tripod or if the shutter speed is faster than 1/500sec.  In those incidents, VR would actually lower the Image Quality.  



To me the Nikon 80-400, f/4.5-5.6 performed well and, as long as one follows the shutter speed rule, 1/focal length or faster (400mm focal length = 1/400sec or faster), and the aperture is near f/8, the images will be of decent quality.  With the low noise capabilities in today's cameras, pushing the ISO up a tad to obtain the higher shutter speeds is certainly acceptable for sports and wildlife.  In terms of hand-holding this lens, I found it not to be a problem and the VR and fast focus worked to advantage of getting more 'keepers.'  

I also found that the 70-300, f/4.5-5.6 did very well throughout the focal lengths and would make a fine light-weight alternative at several thousand dollars less than the 80-400.  Focusing, however, on the 70-300 was not as consistent and there were times I could not get an auto lock and had to manually focus. For that reason, that lens would not work for me for sports or wildlife.

If available light was good, I found that I went for the Nikon 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 lens instead of my pro 70-200 more often to be able to utilize the wide zoom capabilities and get that 'extra reach' of the 400mm.  This lens, and most zoom lenses for that matter, will never take the place of a good prime lens in terms of image quality.  However, in many situations the advantage of a zoom can be the difference in getting that special shot or not.  And, if the 80-400mm lens is attached to a Nikon DX camera body, you now have a 120mm - 600 f/4.5 - 5.6 without the loss of image quality or light gathering that a Teleconverter will introduce.  

For best results, I do suggest keeping the shutter speed at 1/400 or faster, aperture set to f/8 for sharpness, VR on for shutter speeds of 1/500 or slower and to not go beyond a focal length of 380mm (go to 400mm and back off just a tad).  This should give you nice sharp images. 

If you can get beyond the sticker shock of spending nearly $3,000 for this lens, and you feel the images above are acceptable to you, I would suggest going for flexibility this lens has to offer.



[email protected] (John Soulé) Mounting Ring Nikon Nikon 80-400 Review Nikon D800 Really Right Stuff RRS Tue, 20 May 2014 01:10:25 GMT
Moments of Terror - The Mall In Columbia Shooting myImagez-1830myImagez-1830


All too often we hear about senseless shootings in malls in America and around the world.  You never think it could happen to you.  This article is about a recent mall shooting and the firsthand experiences of the writer as a witness to moments of terror.  This is just one viewpoint, mine.



Columbia, Maryland is a planned community comprised of ten self-contained villages, located in Howard County, Maryland, United States. According to James Rouse, developer: "It began with the idea that a city could enhance its resident quality of life with its lakes, parks and wooded areas.  It was developed in terms of human values, rather than merely economics and engineering. Opened in 1967, Columbia was intended to not only eliminate the inconveniences of then-current subdivision design, but also eliminate racial, religious, and class segregation."  It features a Town Center and Shopping Mall. 

The Mall in Columbia, is a large regional shopping mall with two levels and five anchor department stores (Nordstrom, Lord & Taylor, Sears, Macy's, and JCPenney), a multiplex movie theater, and more than 200 stores and restaurants.  At one end of the Food Court there is a children's playground on the lower level and a carousel at the other on the upper level.   Since 2006, Money Magazine has listed Columbia as one of the top eight best places to live in the United States.




It was Saturday, January 25th. It was a bitterly cold, overcast morning.  A great day to go to the mall and spend some time shopping.  My wife and I arrived around 10:20am - shortly after it opened.  There were very few cars in the parking lot at this early hour.  We parked in the garage and walked together to a store on the upper level before deciding to part ways and meet later - around 12:00pm.

It was now just before 11am so I decided to head down to the lower level to the Food Court for an early lunch.  The Food Court had just opened and there were just a few people passing through, getting food or just sitting at the open table area and relaxing – there seemed to be less than 50 people or so actually seated. To my delight, I had never seen so many tables unoccupied down there.  What I didn’t know was that in about 15 minutes, events would unfold that would bring terror to this peaceful environment.

What I also did not know was that a young man had arrived a bit earlier and was sitting somewhere down there with a 12-gauge shotgun, a bag of ammunition and several homemade explosive devices.



As I was eating lunch, I pulled out my cellphone and starting going through emails.

It was now 11:15am and a very loud “bang” echoed through the Food Court.   As the sound resounded off the tile floor, I could not tell exactly where it had come from.  It reminded me of an extension ladder falling to the hard floor. 

There were a few screams, but for many of us, this just sounded like a loud noise in a construction area and people continued about their business - although curious.  



After about 20 seconds there was another loud bang, bang, bang,…bang! Some people starting ducking under their tables in panic, while others were rushing for whatever protection they could find in a crouched position. Their curiosity had now turned to panic and self-preservation.  It then became silent - no one talked, just listened.  The moment had turned surreal.  

I could see a group of young men had barricaded themselves with chairs under their table behind me.   Food was scattered all around the floor.  Beside me, a couple was lying face down on the ground. I was now on one knee trying to see where the shooter was.  Was the best action to remain down under the table? Tables are not much of a hiding place.  If I move, would I now become the target?  

I could not see anything from my vantage point.  A woman was crouching beside me and said her daughter was in the theater on the other side of the mall and didn’t know if she could reach her by phone.  I looked down at my hand and realized I was still holding my cellphone.  My mind was racing and I tried to call my wife but continually dialed the wrong number as my hand was shaking.

About one minute had now passed - but it seemed like a lifetime as everything was in slow motion.  Was there one shooter? Was this a gang fight? I could smell the sulfur from gunfire in the air.  I could see stores were shutting off their lights and bringing down their gates as they had been trained to do in situations like this.  I later learned that one woman had been shot in the foot outside the store and that the shooter had turned and fired down into the Food Court spraying a wall with buckshot.

I had now counted six shots.  The shots seemed to be too loud to be from a small caliber weapon - more like blasts from a rifle, a big rifle.  After each shot had been fired the screams intensified.  Then there was a sudden movement of people coming away from the escalator located at the center of the Food Court.  I still could not determine if the shots were on my level or the one above me.  Was he upstairs coming down?

There was a pause - more silence.  

The white walled area to there right of the frame (upper floor) is shooter's location.


Then a seventh shot rang out, but was somewhat muffled compared to the others.  It seemed as though the shot was now further away.  I took my chance with some of the others and quickly moved toward Sears that was still open behind me.  As I entered the doorway I heard another muffled shot. This was number eight and turned out to be the last shot I would hear. 

As I approached the exit to the parking lot, I finally was able to make contact with my wife on the phone.  She was ok and told me to meet her at our car. 



The time was now 11:17am according to my cellphone.  This terror had only lasted 2 minutes.

About twenty of us got out of the Food Court and made it into the parking lot as the police had already started to arrive.  A number of people had remained behind under their tables.  Some of the stores had back exits to the parking lot – one of which my wife was able to exit through. Many other shoppers decided to remain hidden in their Shelter In Place - some for as much as 1-1/2 hours. As I was walking through the parking lot I could hear the sound of a store alarm going off.  Groups of people were clustered here and there outside some of the stores. 

Many people had left their packages and other belongings behind in their panic and had to face the bitter cold weather. I saw many faces of disoriented people who did not know where they had parked or what to do as they made their way across the frozen pavement.   


The Aftermath





In the end, tragically, two young employees of Zumiez, (Brianna Benlolo, 21 and Tyler Johnson, 25), had lost their lives in their store located near the top of the Food Court escalator.  One person on the upper level had been shot in the foot, several people had received injuries as the result of the panic and the shooter, (Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19), had taken his own life.  

(We also learned that the weapon used was a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun that holds 6 rounds.  I have to assume the pause after the sixth shot I heard was the shooter reloading.)










When I met up with my wife, police cars were streaming toward the mall.  My level-headed wife had spent many years as an ER Nurse and part of her reaction to these events was to try to help some of the panicked people around her.  She even brought one disoriented person back to our car to help her find own car.  We both realized how lucky we had been.  



There was much coverage about this event online and in the news. Again, the purpose for this article was not to rehash the horrific details of the shootings but to help provide some insight from my own personal experience. 



Although we still do not know the motive for this attack and for that matter, may never know…we do know two things: our hearts go out to the families and loved ones that were part of this senseless act; and our lives will never be quite the same again.  I still can hear the gunfire and at times replay the scene in mind.  I am sure many others do as well that were there.

The mall was closed from Saturday until Monday to allow for the investigation and cleanup.  




Seeking closure, I returned on Tuesday to take the pictures for this article.  When I arrived I saw that the flags around the mall had been lowered to half-staff.  

I parked and walked to the door at Sears that I had used to exit that Saturday morning.  

I then took the short walk to the Food Court and revisited where I was sitting.  For a moment I could still hear the sounds of gunfire in my mind. I looked up at the escalator that was about three stores from where I was sitting.  As I rode the escalator to the second floor, I could see where once was a skateboard store, now had been boarded over.  A printed message was in the center in remembrance of Brianna and Tyler.  As I got closer I could see personal handwritten messages on the board as well.  I walked to the center of the mall.




White flowers were now floating in the reflecting pool and two books were out for people to write their personal messages of condolences. The mall seemed very, very quiet.


I walked back to the Food Court and looked at the patched wall where a shot had hit.

I reflected for a moment as I looked back up to the boarded-up skateboard store where the shooter had been standing.


I walked outside through the entrance that the shooter had come through.  A sign with "Forever In Our Hearts" was attached to a railing. Spread around were flowers, stuffed animals, candles and there was a photograph of Brianna.  As my eyes watered, I said goodbye to two people I never knew.
We really must learn to appreciate our loved ones every day and never take anything in life for granted.
[email protected] (John Soulé) Columbia Mall Shooting Wed, 29 Jan 2014 02:46:46 GMT
Human, Soul and Machine: The Coming Singularity AVAM Exhibit  



The American Visionary Art Museum's 19th original thematic exhibition is a timely and playful examination of the serious impact of technology on our lives, as seen through the eyes of 40+ visionary artists, cutting edge futurists, and inventors. Pleasing to an audience of Nobel Prize winners and schoolchildren alike, this show asks, "Two billion personal computers later, post DNA-sequencing, are we on the road to becoming a better, healthier, happier, less warlike, human race?"



AVAM's newest exhibition takes on its most complex subject yet: examining the rapid and ever-increasing impact of artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, genetics, 3D printing and Big Data on nearly every aspect of human life. This thought-provoking exhibit investigates technology's influence on issues of privacy and surveillance, employment and manufacturing, longevity and health, defense and warfare, farming and food, access to global and personal information, creative invention, and entertainment. This is high stakes, new territory never before negotiated by any prior civilization. Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine, well-defined the unprecedented nature of our times: "Singularity is the point at which all the change in the last million years will be superseded by the change in the next five minutes."

Curated by AVAM founder and director Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, this stirring show harnesses the enchanting visual delights of remarkable visionary artists and their masterworks.   A few of those artists are discussed here:


Rebecca Hoffberger discusses cyborg artist Neil Harbisson's Eyeborg device


Neil Harbisson is a Catalan artist, composer and cyborg activist best known for his ability to hear colors and to perceive colors outside the ability of human vision. 

Neil was born with achromatopsia, a condition that only allowed him to see in grayscale. In 2003, he took part in the development of the eyeborg, a cybernetic eye permanently attached to his head that allows him to hear the frequencies of colors through bone conduction (including infrared and ultraviolet). Harbisson started to feel like a cyborg, a union between his organism and cybernetics, when he started to hear colors in his dreams. Since then, he creates “sonochromatic” artworks and performances that explore the relationship between color and sound, and the relationship between bodies and cybernetics. In 2010, he co-founded the Cyborg Foundation with Moon Ribas, an international organization that aims to help people become cyborgs, defend cyborg rights, and promote cyborgism as an artistic and social movement. (Neil Harbisson bio courtesy the Cyborg Foundation,

   Kenny Irwin, Jr


Kenny Irwin Jr brought a special installation from his Robo-Lights display, glowing inside of a central black box theater at the heart of this exhibition.   Kenny is an incredibly creative artist who has a two acre art park located at this home in Palm Springs, California where his father owns a spa and resort.  









At the age of thirteen, Kenny began his ornate and imaginative RoboLights installation.  In its first year, the installation featured fifteen thousand lights and has now grown to well over six million and draws visitors from all over the world.  Some of the sculptures include over two hundred robots and - some as large as 68 feet tall and weighing in at over 54 tons.


Sculpture for the Conan O'Brien Show by Kenny Irwin, Jr



In 2010, Kenny was asked to create original sculptures for the 'Conan O'Brien Show'.









His sister Carol explained that Kenny has been able to remember his dreams since birth and they have inspired many of his sculptures and drawings. His dreams are always about other forms of life, ultra-advanced technology and tell a coherent story from beginning to end.


O.L. Samuels "Godzilla"



O.L. Samuels works mainly with found wood, such as tree trunks, roots, and old wood furniture, which he will carve for months at a time.  Samuels is color blind yet paints several layers of wild, expressive colors 'using every color so he doesn't leave any out.'  He is known for his imaginative images, featuring dreamlike figures, and mythical creatures, each with a story about its existence.  

His work often has a spiritual message.  Samuels became a lay minister later in life. He is considered one of the most talented self-taught artists in America by museums across the country.  

His 7' tall 'Godzilla', a creation first imagined in response to the devastating use of the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, greats visitors on the second level of the exhibit.



Allen Christian



Allen Christian began crafting art in the first grade.  He continues today making singular works of art fashioned out of everyday objects, from bowling balls to badminton birdies.  Christian says he 'discovered the essence of humanity through four objects, through inanimate objects that are cast-offs...I try and give these inanimate objects a new lease on life, to imbue them with emotion.'

'Piano Family' representing 'String Theory' by Allen Christian














Allen displayed two collections - the life-sized 'Piano Family' representing 'String Theory' (made from spare piano parts) shown above and a robot made from various 'trashed' parts as shown on the right.






Alex Grey, Gaia from 1989 (oil on linen) as presented by Rebecca Hoffberger


Alex Grey began his investigation into the nature of consciousness in the 1970's through Tibetan Buddhism and the study of the human body.  While employed at a medical school morgue led to a unique series of artworks entitled 

Alex Grey, The Sacred Mirrors







"The Sacred Mirrors" which portray an 'x-ray' of multiple dimensions of reality, interweaving physical and biologic anatomy with psychic and spiritual energies.  



Dean Millien's Foil Gorilla
Dean Millien grew up without store-bought games and toys and began at an early age making his own miniature sculptures and animal creations that he called 'tin things'.  Starting with miniature sculptures rendered out of aluminum foil or spine, Millien has only recently has begun to create life-size figures.  
His creations have a wide following and can be found in collections such as Citibank, J. Crew and Paper Magazine.  His giant all aluminum foil 'Gorilla' is part of the AVAM exhibit.
Fred Carter came from southwest Virginia in a area known for its lush wooded mountain area and the legendary woodsman, Daniel Boone.  In growing up, his home was filled with music, books and Native American artifacts from the surrounding area.  
Fred's adopted son died tragically - an event that would influenced his artistic practices for the rest of his life.  At the young age of 72, now in his second marriage, Fred became a father again.  Fred was always a hard worked and had helped run the family farm from boyhood and became a capable stonemason.  


Using his various talents, He founded the Carter Home Improvement Company.  Wanting to educate young people in the ways of their independent pioneer forefathers he gathered his collections of farming, mining, and other artifacts and founded The Cumberland Museum in 1970.  Until his death in 1992, Fred stayed abreast of word news, always struggling  to better understand humankind's addiction to war, cruelty, destruction of nature, and the devastation of so many drug-addicted young people.  'Man is becoming so dehumanized and desensitized' Carter said.  'The Biblical people would call that Armageddon.  Its just the destruction of man by himself.'
Fred's massive wooden carvings were created as a warning of destruction from industry's manipulation of nature.
Dalton Gheti, comes from Sao Paulo, Brazil.  At an early age, Dalton, like most young students in Brazil, carried a small pocket knife to school. While the other children brought their pocket knife to sharpen pencils, Dalton, however, used his to cut intricate patterns into the pencil wood, as well as in soap and chalk.  
Today, Dalton likes carving in pencil graphite because 'it's homogenous, cuts in the same direction (not like wood which has a grain) and is both hard and soft'.  Dalton uses on magnifier when he creates - only patience with some of his pieces taking years to complete.  
All of his works of art are signed in pencil.
Steve Heller grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, New York.   His inspiration came from his father who was always fixing the neighbors small appliances.  After being introduced to Picasso's Baboon with Young, a bronze-cast sculpture in which the figure's head was rendered with toy cars, 'That was it,' said Steve, 'cars have been my life since.'

Steve Heller

As a youth Steve combined parts form model car and airplane sets to create composite machine models.  Later the parts came from scraps he found near the park.  He became a full-time artist by the age of 25, having never studied art.  
Star Trek Flying Saucer made from car parts by Steve Heller


His childhood interests in 'cars, robots, rocket ships and dinosaurs...' continued to be his obsession.  His custom car, the Marquis de Soto, recently won The New York Time Collectible Car of the Year Award. 
As visitors enter the second floor exhibit, they are greeted at the top of the stairs by one of Steve Hellers robots made from car parts.
Adam Kurtzman's "Bride of Frankenstein"
Adam Kurtzman, from the time he could stand, has been drawing and "making" art of some kind.
Kindergarten was a pivotal creative experience for Adam.  Unlimited materials, and lots of approval, for doing what he enjoyed most were available.
The first artistic epiphany he can remember, came in 1966, when, lusting for a "Batman" figure, he discovered paper mache, and created a model for himself. The feeling of power and accomplishment was nothing short of rapturous, and for the next 40 years, Adam has spent his life trying to relive that rush.
Paper mache has been a loyal and challenging ally over the decades, and in his search to expand his horizons, he has worked in a host of other commercial materials, but paper, bronze and glass seem to serve him best, and have held his interest the longest. 
Adam's Bride of Frankenstein is on exhibit represents humankind's historic fascination with control over life and death.

Christopher Moses

Christopher Moses's display consisted of three individual pieces of art which had been hung on a background of computer system boards.  One piece was a glowing box covered with eggshells entitled "Masturbox" (see video below).  There was a smaller piece to the left and a framed oil painting entitled "The Singularity (Unfinished)".  
Chris originally comes from Los Angeles California but now splits his time between the US and the coastal jungle of Mexico where he creates his art in daytime, under the sky and trees, and in the open air at the edge of the sea.
"The Singularity (Unfinished)" by Christopher Moses
"The paintings of Christopher Moses embody a longstanding and ongoing investigation into the relationship between the visual and the actual - between that which the eyes see and that which constitutes reality. 
Moses’ path as a visual artist and the overall thematic thrust of his work may have less to do with the artistic precedents in his own family (his father worked as a commercial artist, and both parents were hobbyist painters) than with the special nature of his visual experience of the world from the time he was born. 
Despite childhood surgery and other medically prescribed procedures aimed at correcting the problem, Moses’ eyes have persisted in showing him a doubled version of whatever is in front of them when they’re open - the “seeing double” that those with “normal” vision can experience voluntarily by crossing our eyes or consuming far too much alcohol. One result of Moses’ inherent, evidently uncorrectable double vision is his lack of trust that what he sees corresponds to reality." - Tom Patterson, author and art critic

Watch Chris create 'Masturbox' as discussed above.


[email protected] (John Soulé) Mon, 14 Oct 2013 21:13:49 GMT
The Lowcountry of South Carolina Hilton HeadHilton HeadSouth Carolina


When one thinks of South Carolina, often the charm of the Old South is what comes to mind.  South Carolina, with it Southern culture, people, history, architecture, food and beaches make for a wonderful location to unwind and forget about the busy world that is left behind.  On a recent vacation to celebrate our anniversary, my wife and I visited the historic 'lowcountry' of South Carolina  - starting in Charleston and ending in Hilton Head.  What we found was that the reputation of the Ol' South was well founded and is very much alive here.

I should mention, our trip was not to be one of my photoshoots.  I did not bring my Nikon D800 FX or my Nikon D7000 DX.  I did not carry a wealth of pro lenses and tripod for this trip.  I only brought my small Olympus point-and-shoot camera. That being said, I was able to capture enough 'candid' images for this brief article and, although the image quality is not optimum, I believe the photographs here will give you somewhat of an understanding of the lowcountry and perhaps a reason to investigate this area on your own.



Charleston, the oldest and second-largest city in South Carolina, is known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, restaurant community, and mannerly people. Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including "America's Most Friendly City".  The city is rich with history that dates back to 1670 when 'Charles Towne' was founded.  In addition to 'traditional' tours and carriage rides, there is much to discover - and if you stay near the center of town in the French Quarter, you will find that much of Charleston is within walking distance.


Any Good Food In Charleston?  Not really.


We were told that it would be hard to find good food in Charleston - because there is only 'great' food severed in quality restaurants in Charleston.  And for our visit there - we certainly must  agree.  Wonderful Southern food was found everywhere. From amazing 'Shrimp-n-Grits' to Southern Fried Chicken - you will leave certainly a bit heavier than when you arrived.  And the baked goods ... yumm!  Take a look on TripAdvisor and you will find most every restaurant has customers raving over the quality of the food and service they encountered as well.  Pack some stretchy pants!

And, along with great food, comes the hospitality and charm inherent to the Ol' South.  Dinning in Charleston is a truly enjoyable and memorable experience.  


The Holy City

Saint Philip's Church




You will notice an abundance of churches in Charleston - almost everywhere you go there is a steeple poking up.  In fact, Charleston is the home to over 200 churches and has earned the title of "The Holy City".  

In the center of town, on 'Church Street' of course, is Saint Philip's Church founded in 1680. Saint Philip's is the oldest Anglican congregation south of Virginia and serves as the mother church of Anglicanism in the Carolinas.




Cemetery at Saint Phillips





And, with many of these churches, you will find a grave yard that just adds a touch of 'spookiness' late at night. 


Saint Matthews German Lutheran Church, 255' tall spire






The beautiful architecture from centuries past is present at every turn.  

Saint Matthew's Church is a must see with its over 255' tall spire.







A darker side of history

Charleston JailCharleston JailSouth Carolina

Many cities have ghost tours and Charleston, with its history of Pirates and thieves, is no exception.  Be sure to take a night tour of the Old Jail.  The jail, which was operational from 1802 until 1939, housed some of Charleston's most infamous criminals, including 19th-century pirates and Civil War prisoners.  

The jail is reportedly haunted by the spirits of deceased prisoners that perished while there - some of which are said to play tricks on noisy tourists.  Over the years there have been several tourists that have reported lost items of jewelry while on the tour - none were ever found.  The jail is in a residential community where it has been reported that sounds have come from the upper floors of the  jail late at night. 

The Ghost Adventures crew investigated here and captured, what they claim to be, an EVP of Lavinia Fisher saying the last two words of her message before she was hung, being the Devil. The crew also saw what appeared to be misty orbs that appeared in front of them throughout the whole investigation.   

I should note that much of our tour inside the jail was in pitch black darkness. As we stood and listened to the horror stories as told by our guide, many of us could not help but wonder if the silhouettes that appeared in the moon-lit jailhouse windows were of those from our tour group or something entirely different.  This would be a great setting for one of the episodes on  American Horror Story.

The jail now serves as a school that teaches about the art of restoration.



From the designer stores on King Street to the flea market on Market Street, there is something for everyone. 

The shops on Market Street feature many unique hand crafted works from local artists. 

On street corners around the Market you will find craftsmen at work weaving baskets and other items from sweetgrass. This tradition was brought to the area by slaves from West Africa and has been passed from generation to generation. Today, it is one of the oldest art forms of African origin in the United States.


Take an Eco-System Tour


There are many guided tours offered in Charleston - from the typical carriage rides to harbor tours.  But for something a bit different, consider taking an 'eco-system' tour.

When traveling through the Charleston area you cannot help but notice that you are surrounded by water and marshland.  Rather than take one of the many 'traditional' boat tours around Charleston Harbor out to Fort Sumter and back, I suggest an 'Eco-system' tour that will take you through the marshlands to Folly Beach and the Morris Island Lighthouse.  One such specific tour was provided by Charleston Outdoor Adventures (COA) located on Bowen's Island which is about ten minutes outside of Charleston.  


Charleston Outdoor Adventures



COA offers a number of tours from guided Kayak/Paddleboard tours, charter boat tours and the 'eco-system' tour that includes a narrated tour through the saltwater estuaries and Barrier Islands.  

I should mention that the boat used for this tour is rather small, (8 person + captain), so reservations are highly recommended a week in advance.  A small boat such as this is to your advantage for a more 'personal' experience.  You are guaranteed a great seat no matter what. 

Egret on oyster bed



The eco-system tour brings riders up close to a variety of waterfowl, such as pelicans, egrets, oyster-eaters, and heron. Actually, there are over 70,000 life forms in the salt marshes - you will most likely see a few varieties during the tour.

Our tour was headed by Captain Joe who went out of his way to lead us to as many 'encounters' as possible with wildlife.  He also was aware of the photographers on board and tried to keep the sun behind the boat at all times so we could get the best lighting for a shot.


Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Strand Feeding


As we traveled through the salt marshland, there were numerous encounters with Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin feeding.  What was most interesting was seeing the dolphin's method of forcing its prey toward the shoreline and then trying to force it on land by a swipe of its tail known as strand feeding.  This adaptive hunting technique has been made famous by the dolphins in the Lowcountry area of South Carolina.

Morris Island Lighthouse




The journey took us to Folly Island near the Morris Island Lighthouse. The Morris Island lighthouse stands all alone about 300 yards off shore and  can be viewed from the northeast end of Folly Island and from the bridge coming on to Folly Beach.  The Morris Island lighthouse is completely surrounded by water but was once sitting on a good sized island with numerous buildings around it. The lighthouse was completed in 1876 and was the second lighthouse to be built on the island.  While on Folly Island we were allowed an hour for beach-combing and just enjoying nature. 

Captain Joe of COA



Why an 'eco-system' tour?  


In addition to the visual sights and sounds of nature you will encounter on your tour, education of the ecological system becomes the focus.  The importance of the marshlands and their benefits to the balance of the ecological system is discussed and supported by real-life examples that are seen along the waterway.

We all gained a better understanding and appreciation for this delicate system and the importance of protecting this environment.  Highly recommended!





Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head

AAs you continue north through the lowcountry, you will come across, some of the most beautiful beaches on the east coast.  And, Hilton Head, famous for its beautiful beaches and lush golf courses, is only a few hour's drive from Charleston and a must see.

And if that was not enough, Hilton Head is less than an hour's drive from Savannah Georgia.  Savannah makes for a nice day trip if you have had enough beach.  A trolley ride around Savannah is a must - and the food, well here again, it is all great.  If you have spent time in Charleston, Savannah you will find is very similar with its old homes and wonderful southern charm.  We found a half-day was all we needed.

Growing from sand




 For the photographer, there are opportunities all around the low country.  Of course you cannot beat the Golden Hour at sunrise/sunset to take advantage of the wonderful lighting conditions and bonus background that this time of day offers.

And if you are a shopper, the Tangers Outlet Mall in Hilton Head  has something for everyone.

Hilton Head Sunrise





Hilton Head Harbor Lighthouse











 It is nice break when a photographer can just sit back and enjoy a sunrise without having to think "ISO 400, f/11, 1/60sec ..."


Hilton Head, South Carolina Sunrise



[email protected] (John Soulé) Sun, 06 Oct 2013 00:39:27 GMT
Photographing Arizona Part 1, Tips and Techniques  

The Wall, Waterhole Canyon, Page, Az


Photographing Arizona often makes it onto a photographer’s bucket list at some time or another.  When one thinks of Arizona, however, the desert area around Phoenix or the Grand Canyon is often what comes to mind - but there is so much more if you know where to look and have the time.

The diversity, vastness and natural beauty of Arizona has made this an ideal location for numerous films and as such, has a lot to offer the photographer.  When it comes to desert photography, however, there are some challenges. Where to go, what time of day, what season, what to bring, and so on are questions that are often asked.  That is a lot, but for now, I will focus on two areas that may interest most photographers - the more iconic locations; and tips and techniques on how to capture those locations.

This, the first part, focuses on some of the tips and techniques that may help you separate your photographs from ‘snap shots.’  The accompanying article focuses on some of those iconic locations for which Arizona is so well known, when to use some of the techniques covered here and also answer some of the other questions mentioned above.

If you are not interested in reading the Tips and Techniques below, you may still find a few of the images interesting...



Technical Tips & Techniques




Starburst Effect


Studhorse Point, Page, AzStud Horse Point, Az

One of the most dramatic effects in photography is the starburst.  The starburst effect can add punch, draw focus to a specific area of the image and add a bit of the wow-factor to any otherwise average shot.  

When I refer to starburst, I am referring to the wonderful spoke-like effect that can be caused by a bright light as captured by a camera.  Although there are starburst add-on filters that are designed for that purpose, we can obtain a very effective result through a simple camera technique. 

First you will need to stop your aperture down to f/16 or preferably f/22.  Next, you will want to start shooting when the sun is just about to get blocked by an object (rock, horizon, etc.)  As you have a very bright sliver of light coming into your lens, the large f/value should result in the capture of a nice starburst.  (The number of rays depends on the number of blades in your lens - the more blades, the more rays.)

When working with dynamic objects such as the sun, timing is extremely important.  You will need to take a few practice shots first to get your position and exposure settings ready.  You will need to start clicking away as the moment approaches - often you don't get a second chance.  Be sure to compensate your exposure (shutter speed and ISO), with the fixed f/value, as the light begins to fade. (You may wish to set your camera in Aperture Priority Mode to fix the f/value).

In that you will be shooting directly into the sun, you may get ghosting (flare) in your image.  You will also may need to do a tad of ‘shadow adjustment’ in post processing to compensate for exposure issues in the shadowed areas – or better yet, shoot a series of bracketed shots and assemble as an HDR image (more on this later.)



Rule of Thirds


Watering Hole, Page Az

The Rule of Thirds is actually a technique that has been used by artists for hundreds of years. In essence, the Rule of Thirds states that an image should be divided into nine equal parts – two horizontal lines and two vertical lines.

The four areas where the lines intersect are ‘points of interest’.  In the image to the left, you can see how photo is divided into the far right open area, the detailed area in the center, and the tallest area to the left.  As we move from top to bottom we have the structure at the top, the waves in the center and then some plants at the bottom for a well balanced image.



Take advantage of natural angles and curves to entice the eye to be led around your image.

Keep key objects directly out of the center of your frame to add interest. And try never to have the horizon split your image in half.  Either have more sky or foreground to emphasize vastness.

That being said, rules were made to be broken and this rule may not work in every case – art is subjective.  Give it a try and decide what you like.  For more information on the Rule of Thirds, please see Photography Talks's more in-depth discussion:



Depth of Field (DOF)

Canyon-X, Page, Az


Depth of Field (DOF) is basically what is in focus between the nearest and the farthest subjects in your image.  Having a shallow DOF can give a very pleasing blurred background effect when trying to emphasize a subject – whether it is a person or an object.  This is especially useful in portrait photography.

Landscape photography can be somewhat different.  Here you may want both the foreground and the background sharp.  For this you will need a deep DOF.

For the iPhone user, two good apps to consider are Field Tools from Brad Sckol Photo & Video and SetMyCamera DF – Essential Tools by Bluestone Pond.  Each of these apps will help you determine, based on your lens and f/value, your near focus and far focus points.  After a while, this will become natural - but it never hurts to have a few tools at hand for reference.  Many cameras also have a 'preview' button to show the DOF that will result from your aperture settings.

When you are using an ultra-wide angle lens you will want to include some foreground for interest and perspective.  Knowing what f/value to use, based on your focal length, will help you capture the main subject and control what else is in focus. 



Controlling DOF is most important when you are shooting inside the slot canyons and the side walls are just a few feet away. Always be sure that the closest point is in focus when going for that nice perspective shot.




Grand Canyon, Az As you set up your shots, always keep composition in mind.   Poor composition cannot easily be fixed after-the-fact in post processing - other than simple cropping and straightening. Take time to walk around the shooting area to come up with the best location and Point-of-View (POV) for your subject.  Look for foreground objects that may frame your subject or add interest.


Again, art is subjective, and what may look good to one person may not look good to another.  Composition is often a subject for controversy. But what is most important is that this is your image and you have to like it.  Often the way we take our shots - compose and expose, becomes our signature.



Point of View (POV)

Point of View can often make a difference between a good shot and a great shot.  Providing a low perspective, unusual angles, including interesting objects in either the foreground or background – all takes planning (or some really good luck). Sometimes it is good to isolate a subject and have a nice blurred background (bokeh).  Sometimes it is good to get down low to show depth using a wide-angle lens. Emphasize leading lines and make use of natural angles and curves whenever possible.



The locations that are to be visited in Arizona are loaded with opportunities for a creative photographer. 


Think out of the box and have fun trying some more untraditional shots.  


It may even mean getting right to the very edge of a canyon rim (within reason of course) to get that special angle.






Black and White By Choice or To the Rescue



There are times that some images may be more artistically appealing when presented in Black and White (B&W) rather than in color. Ansel Adams may have agreed with this statement.  Contrasting levels of blacks, whites and mid-tones can bring both drama as well as romance to many scenes. When shooting desert and mountains scenes, B&W often can convey the tone of the wild west.  And if your colors are off – there is always B&W to the rescue.

For a different look, B&W can add interest to seemingly abstract works of art captured when you are in the Slot Canyons (as seen above).  And the best part with digital cameras, you don't have decide color or b&W when you capture the image.



Cropping, Image Placement and Leveling


As discussed earlier, try to keep the subject off center and remember the Rule of Thirds. It is also important to allow extra room around your subject to allow for any straightening and your final crop.

Cropping, due to poor image placement or straightening can adversely affect your final image. Always check your level (hot shoe bubble or built-in) before each shot.  If your viewfinder has a grid, turn it on to act as a visual overlay of the scene.

And, you are never locked into a ‘standard’ crop – be creative.  Most frame shops will custom cut a mat to fit your cropped image whatever size it may be (for a modest fee of course.)




Understanding the Histogram

Any time you take a photograph you should check your histogram to determine whether the exposure is properly balanced and does not contain 'clipping'.  The histogram displays the tonal range of the image, from dark (pure black) to bright (pure white).

By reviewing the tonal range, it is possible to see if an image is properly exposed or little flat as the result of low contrast.  By looking at the far right of the histogram we can tell if the highlights are ‘blown out’ or clipped.  

Clipped detail cannot be recovered.  The histogram helps us determine what the eye cannot – good exposure.  Without viewing the histogram it is very possible to take poorly exposed images and never know it until too late.

Most cameras can be set to display the just captured image beside the histogram allowing you judge both.  A ‘smooth’ bell-shaped curve is not necessary and there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ histogram.  Histograms represent the scene and every scene is different.  It is important to remember to use histograms as a guide and look at both the histogram as well as the image to determine if the exposure is working as expected.

Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Az


It should noted that images that are underexposed (curve shifted to the left) can often be adjusted in post processing, such as Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), and by as much as +/- 3 stops – assuming you have taken the images in RAW format rather than JPEG.

Having a properly exposed image will become even more critical when you shoot bracketed images for High Dynamic Range (HDR) as discussed later.  If the base image has clipping, the bracketed images may become unusable the more they deviate from your base image.

The histogram for the image to the left is shown above.





High Dynamic Range (HDR) Processing

HDR processing, (using bracketing), can help bring out a scene more realistically. In general, today’s built-in meters work for the majority of scenes we try to capture and provide us with acceptable exposures.  But what if a scene contains a very wide range of light to dark areas?  The camera’s sensor is fixed and we need to make choice of exposing for either the bright areas, dark areas or take an average reading in-between.

The eye for this situation, however, reacts dynamically by adjusting the iris in proportion to the variants of light. As the eye sees bright, it closes the iris somewhat, as the eye sees dark, it opens the iris.  The HDR process mimics these steps by capturing, in bracketed exposures, what the eye sees when looking at bright areas and then looking at dark areas.  

The number of bracketed exposures often dictates how close the final image will be to the original scene.  And, the more bracketed images taken will aid the HDR software with additoinal information to evaluate. The goal is to first capture a baseline shot and then capture a number of bracketed exposures (1-stop) above and below the baseline to be merged and processed.  All HDR shots need to be taken with a tripod and using the same f/value. Again, HDR is used when you encounter a high dynamic range of light and is not applicable for every lighting condition.

Once we have our bracketed images, we use special software, (HDR Efex Pro2, Photomatix Pro, Photoshop, etc), to ‘blend’ them together to yield the full dynamic range of light. Using HDR software takes some training, and often the results can look unnatural and almost cartoon-like.  Over-processing HDR images is quite common and has made HDR the subject for controversy.

However, when used correctly, the final image can be amazing and often undetectable.  Most of the better images in the slot canyons are HDR processed – otherwise delicate light beams become burned out or dark areas will become black. You certainly can shoot in the canyons without HDR processing – but the end result will look a feature rich.



Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, AzOak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Az






A number of images were taken using a Circular Polarizing (CP) Filter to enhance the sky, control reflections or reduce exposure.  

Rather than go into a lengthy discussion here about the CP Filter, I will refer you to my other article on using the CP-Filter.





During the bright mid-day, a Graduated Neutral Density Filter can help rescue an almost washed-out  sky. These filters, unlike screw on filters, require a special holder and slip onto the front of the camera (requires removing the sunshade).  With today's software, the use of these filters is not as popular as they were when film was king.  However, by using them correctly, the final image will be much cleaner than if it had been post-processed. But that to is open for discussion.

For sunrise/sunset, in lieu of resorting to post processing software, a Reverse Graduated Neutral Density (ND.9) is very useful to help balance the contrast of the bright sky around the sun with a dark foreground.

Whereas the Graduated Neutral Density Filter goes from dark (top) to clear (bottom), the Reverse starts dark at the center and fades to lighter density to the top and the bottom is clear.

Camera Protection
When working in the desert, one thing you can count on - dust.  Dust on your tripod, dust around your camera and even possibly dust in your camera.  A few things to keep in mind: 
When using a tripod, be sure to extend the bottom most section a few inches to keep the dust/dirt/sand away from the locking mechanism.  Keep a rag handy and wipe off any debris clinging to the leg before retracting it. Sometimes the sand is deep and only the tip of the tripod and leg should be covered by it - not the locking mechanism.
Camera Exterior
Use an air blower, like the 'rocket blaster', or compressed air to blow off any dust that has made it's way onto the outside of your equipment.  In the slot canyons, you should cover your entire camera with a dust cover such as a Rainsleeve, shown to the right, (or plastic bag).  The Upper Antelope Slot Canyon is especially prone to air-born dust.  Indian guides will toss sand into the air to bring out the iconic light beams. That, plus thousands of tourists kicking up sand all day, can make for a nice coating of dust on your equipment.  Be sure to inspect the exterior of your lens.  Dust that has built up on the outside can easily work its way inside to the focusing and zoom mechanisms - an expensive repair.
Camera Interior
The first rule is to never change lenses in one of the slot canyons.  Never!  Even protected, air-borne dust can work its way into the camera and, once the shutter exposes the the sensor, the dust will cling to the surface.  At the end of day, it is worthwhile to remove the lens and blow out the interior by holding your camera with the opening pointed down so the dust will fall out when you force air inside.  
I also use a loupe, such as "SensorKlear" from LensPen to inspect the sensor (the camera requires a full battery charge - select "mirror up" feature on camera.)  For really stubborn dust specs I may have to clean the sensor with a "Sensor Swabs" and a few drops of Eclipse Optical Cleaning Fluid. (Never clean the sensor with a dry swab.)
For seriious photography, a sturdy tripod is a must.  A entire article could easily be devoted to tripods and the various types, heads, etc.  There are also the issues of traveling with tripods and TSA restrictions.  For the purposes here, be sure that when you take a photo of a spot at a shutter speed below 1/60sec and then take several subsequent shots, the subject has not moved whatsoever in your captures.  This is an exercise you should conduct before you take your trip to determine if your tripod is going to be sturdy enough for the camera/lens combination that you will be using.
In the slot canyons you will have fairly long exposures that will be be overlaid with others during HDR processing.  Each image not only has to free from any 'camera shake' but also must be of exactly the same location as the others in the series. 
Shutter Release - Hands Off

There will be times that even the slightest camera movement will result in camera shake for exposures exceeding 1/60sec.  Just pressing the shutter release on your camera can be a contributing factor at these slow shutter speeds.  A remote shutter release, wired or wireless, is highly recommended.  In a pinch, you can always use the built in timer function to trigger the shutter release.  

Some cameras can be programmed to fire multiple shots from the timer.  This can be very helpful during bracketing.  Set your camera to bracket 7 shots and then set your timer to take 7 shots accordingly.  Press the shutter release when you are set up and stand back and wait.  The bottom line is try not to touch the tripod or camera during a long exposure.



Now that some of the basic tips and techniques have been covered, Part 2 of this article will focus on some of the iconic locations in Arizona and what you can expect to come back with in terms of 'keepers'.  I hope some of these tips you will find useful.



The camera used for this article was a Nikon D800 and 14-24mm f/2.8 , or 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.  (I also am not associated with any of the manufactures/vendors mentioned in this article and have received no compensation whatsoever.  I just listed what I have used.)


Image Descriptions
Feature Image Grand Canyon, Mather Point, Az
Image 1 The Wall at Waterhole, Page, Az
Image 2 (Starburst) Studhorse Point, Page, Az
Image 3 (Rule of Thirds) The Wall at Waterhole, Page, Az
Image 4 (Depth of Field) Canyon-X, Page, Az
Image 5 (Composition) South Rim, Grand Canyon, Az
Image 6 (Point of View) Horseshoe Bend, Page, Az
Image 7 (Black and White) Cactus at Hoodoos, Page, Az
Image 8-9 (Histogram) Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Az
Image 10 (HDR) Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Az
Image 11 (Filters) Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona, Az
Image 12 (Filters Circular Polarizing Filter
Image 13 (Camera Protection) Rain sleeve Dust Cover
Image 14 (Tripods) Inside Upper Antelope Canyon, Page, Az


[email protected] (John Soulé) Arizona Canyon Canyon-X Grand Canyon Page Sedona Slot Canyon Upper Antelope Sat, 17 Aug 2013 13:26:00 GMT
Shark Alert: Blacktip Reef Sharks Found at Baltimore Maryland Inner Harbor

Just in time for Shark Week, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has unveiled its spectacular new 13,500 square foot, 260,000-Gallon Coral Reef Ecosystem featuring Blacktip Reef Sharks, 700 Marine Animals, 3,000 Pieces of Coral and a 518 Pound Sea Turtle.

The National Aquarium, a popular tourist attraction for over 3 decades, draws 1.4 million visitors annually. At a cost of over $12.5, the new "Blacktip Reef" exhibit, a replica of part of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, is now latest showcase attraction.

In addition to seeing the exhibit from all levels of the Aquarium, visitors can experience a dive into the reef without getting wet as they peer through a specially designed 27-foot panoramic viewing window.  It’s a must-see educational experience and, for many, the closest they will get to seeing a coral reef up close and personal.


Ribbon Cutting Ceremony 

On hand for the official ribbon cutting ceremony were hundreds of guests, aquarium staff, Baltimore community leaders, and both Baltimore’s Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the National Aquarium’s CEO, John Racanelli.  It was quite fitting that the ceremony was held during "Shark Week" which also coincided with the aquarium's 32nd birthday.

The Mayor and CEO were taken by an inflatable raft, guided by two scuba divers, to an area directly above the reef.  As they floated past I could not help but think: sharp scissors... inflatable raft ...  shark infested waters ... hmmmm.

“It warms my heart. I’m excited to be here,” said the Mayor. “Blacktip Reef is really one of the first major enhancements to the aquarium in a number of years. And it just felt right to do it on our birthday, our 32nd anniversary,” said the CEO.

New Construction
The exhibit didn't happen overnight and took many years of planning.  To bring this exciting exhibit and revitalize the National Aquarium, the aging infrastructure had to be updated.  The old exhibit, "Wings in the Water", had to be closed during the summer of 2012 to prepare for the year-long renovation.

The design called for reinforcement of the existing infrastructure and the repair of a leak in aging concrete tank.  It also meant the creation of a coral reef area that could be viewed from all 5 levels of the aquarium.  Below ground level, the viewing area was to be nearly 20 feet wide and feature four new clear acrylic windows (4 inches thick) that could offer face-to-face encounters with the marine life.

CEO John Racanelli said in a statement. "This is the first in an ambitious series of innovations here at the National Aquarium, all of which underscore our commitment to inspire conservation of the world's aquatic treasures."
The Coral Reef

Diver at Blacktip Reef Shark Exhibit

The coral is what would make the difference in this exhibit.  The area that once consisted of a sparse, sandy bottom would now filled with beautiful, colorful coral.

The reef was to be made from synthetic materials which were to be hand-crafted and painted to be an exact replica of the real coral reefs found in the Indo-Pacific.

The specially designed coral would also need to be designed to be hollow and hide aquarium piping. Finally, the coral had to be very realistic, but unlike actual live coral, the synthetic coral had to be flexible and not as vulnerable to breakage.   Over 3000-pieces of coral had to be constructed to replicate 50 different coral species.  The effort would take 18 months.


The Blacktip Reef exhibit features one of the most comprehensive recreations of an Indo-Pacific coral reef anywhere in the United States.


"A coral reef like this would take hundreds of years to develop in nature, and it has likewise been a major undertaking to create an Indo-Pacific reef for these blacktip reef sharks to call home," said CEO Racanelli.

"The result tells the same story here in the aquarium as it does in nature – that coral reefs are stunningly beautiful but incredibly fragile ecosystems that need our care." Corel reefs "are really like cites under the ocean" said curator Jack Cover.  "They cover one percent of the Earth's surface, but at least half the fish in the ocean will be found in them.

The Blacktip Reef Shark

The stars of the exhibit is of course the school of 20 fast moving blacktip reef sharks, best known for the prominent black tips on their fins. The 2-year-old, 2-foot long sharks were captured in the wild in Australia under a government-monitored program and brought to the United States.

They can grow to six feet and have been known to live from 25-30 years.  They were transported to Baltimore and held at the aquarium’s animal care center for the last year and half.  “This is a really gorgeous species of shark,” said Jack Cover, the aquarium’s general curator. “We’re trying to get people away from the myths and assumptions of the movie Jaws.”

Shark Training

The sharks had to become acclimated to life in their new home. Over time, trainers worked to get them to accept the presence of divers and flashing lights (all those visitors with their cameras).

Ashleigh Clews, along with other aquarium staff, were challenged with the task of training the young shark to seek out only bony fish and squid. "They can be trained like a dog" stated Clews.  "They are very intelligent".  Food was provided at feeding stations within the exhibit (as opposed to having to hunt for prey) to help control their appetite for the taste of their neighbors.  Although predators in the wild, these captive sharks have now gotten used to being fed chopped-up fish and squid, Cover said.

Most of the fish in the new exhibit would normally qualify as menu items for these shark but none seemed panicked by their presence and remained in schools as they swam peacefully around their new home.

Cover said the sharks may not totally abandon their wild ways and just might be tempted to go after one of their tank mates occasionally.   But not to worry, Cover said.  “The fish are going to do what they do in the wild.  They’ll hide.”
The Big Move
Through the careful efforts of the National Aquarium’s Biological Programs team some of the marine life was transported to other aquariums while some remained locally to be brought back to the new exhibit.


After the construction was completed, it took several weeks to graduallyintroduce the new population for the exhibit.  First it was adding the over 60 different types of fish and then the huge sea turtle. Then, after several weeks had gone by, it was time for the addition of the sharks.

The young sharks were introduced by a team of divers using a net one at a time.  Once the divers felt a newly introduced shark had adjusted to its new surroundings, the next shark was added. One by one - this process alone took two days.  After the last shark was introduced, spectators and aquarium staff alike applauded and shouted in both excitement and relief. 

Calypso, the aquarium’s resident sea turtle for some 12 years, was one of the first new residents to be re-introduced and adapted quickly to her new environment.

Calypso, the gentle giant rescue turtle, has become a crowd favorite over the years.

The Return of Zeke and Zoe

Two zebra sharksZeke and Zoe were introduced to the new exhibit only a day before the ribbon cutting. Curious reef sharks 

could be seen circling Zoe as she rested after a feeding.

Also added back were three reticulated whiptail rays and two black-blotched fantail rays.

Spectacular Exhibit

The new exhibit is truly spectacular - "You're sort of transferred into their world," Jack Cover, the aquarium's general curator, said. "You're seeing it from their viewpoint."

The new exhibit is really an experience, with visitors able to use educational technology to identify each organism inside the 260,000 gallon tank. Viewers can see demonstrations (thanks to the new diving platform) as well as feedings.  The diving platform is a new feature that will be used for demonstrations.

Cover, who has been overseeing the new exhibit since construction began late last summer, says the idea was to replicate a section of the Great Barrier Reef, one of the richest natural habitats, as closely as possible. “We’re very proud of the fact that it’s an authentic re-creation,” he said. “The fish, the species of coral — everything.”

More To Come

CEO Racanelli said the new exhibit is the first of several new components planned for the aquarium; the next, he said, should be ready in early 2015.

Although officials are still working on specifics, he said, it will focus on aquatic life in the Maryland region — that is, in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed or on the Atlantic shores.

CEO Racanelli can often be seen with Aquarium staff looking out for ways to protect marine life and educate the public.

Underwater Cam Now Online
I highly recommend adding a visit to see the Blacktip Reef at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  In the meantime, a live web cam has been installed for your viewing pleasure.    (Turn on your sound and go to full screen for an enjoyable experience.)

Live streaming video by Ustream

[email protected] (John Soulé) balitmore Maryland" "National Aquarium" Blacktip Reef Shark Fri, 09 Aug 2013 21:29:01 GMT
LensCoat LegCoat Tripod Leg Covers - A Quick Look

Are tripod Leg covers in your future?  If they are not part of your tripod now, are they a necessary add-on expense to consider?  Perhaps. 

An often misunderstood add-on to tripods is the leg cover which has several functions:

  • act as a thermal barrier;
  • protection from damage;
  • serve as camouflage; and
  • aid transportation.


From the 'Do-It-Yourself' tape-covered tripod legs to commercially available products, tripod leg covers have different functions that should be considered before you invest time and money in this accessory.


Thermal Barrier

For those that work in extreme temperature conditions, the surface temperature of the tripod leg can become an issue.  From bitter cold to scorching heat, many photographers have found that by covering the upper tripod leg, handling the tripod can be made much more comfortable.  In reality, however, you may never had a need to add a thermal barrier to your tripod legs - especially if the legs are made of carbon fiber.  The idea is good and I know if I was ever in an extreme environment, I am sure a thermal barrier would be a good thing to have.


Protection from Damage

Covering the upper leg can offer protection from nicks and scratches that result from traveling through heavy brush or perhaps when in contact with a rock.  Only the upper leg is protected, however, unless the tripod is collapsed so the other legs are nested.  Many photographers may never really find this to be a real need in their travels. If I travel, for example, from home to a location, my tripod is transported in a specially designed bag.  Once in the field and my tripod is exposed, I try to stay on trail.  But your activities may differ and protecting your expensive investment may be in order.


Serve as Camouflage


Some photographers cover part of their tripod leg along with their camera to 'camouflage' their equipment from wildlife. The idea is to break the lines of the legs and camera in such a way as to have them blend into the surroundings and 'disappear' to the subjects.  In covering the tripod, only the upper leg portion is covered, which assumes the remaining leg sections will be covered by brush or other forms of nature.  The camouflage materials are available for various environments such as snow, fall colors, forest, etc.   If you need to camouflage your equipment, this is the way to go.

For me, I really do not intend to go waist deep into the brush to photograph wildlife.  I know I would be more worried about what was hiding in the brush with me than I would trying to get that perfect shot. 




Transportation Aid

Many photographers leave their camera mounted on their tripod and transport the two over their shoulder for location shots.  Wildlife photographers often have limited time to setup a tripod, mount a camera, and get into position for that perfect shot.  By transporting the camera already mounted and ready to go can often be the difference in getting that keeper shot or not.  Transporting 10-15 pounds or more on your shoulder can become very uncomfortable - unless the tripod legs that rest on your shoulder are padded.  This is a biggie, and for me, this was the function that mattered the most.



LensCoat's LegCoat

In researching tripod leg covers, I came across two from LensCoat.  LensCoat is well known for their specially designed, quality protection for photographic gear.  And, they have two entries in the tripod leg cover department: LegCoat Wraps and LegCoat Covers. Below is a brief summary from what I learned after working with both offerings along some information for your consideration.

Both LegCoat Wraps and LegCoat Covers are available for a wide variety of tripod models with various leg diameters and length.  The LensCoat website has a selection chart to aid the buyer in purchasing the correctly designed version for their tripod model. 


LegCoat Wraps



LegCoat Wraps, sold in a package of three, are made from soft neoprene that are designed to wrap around the upper leg of the tripod.  They are easily affixed with a Velcro closure.



The Wrap's backing is designed to tightly grip the tripod legs so they will not slide. The spongy soft neoprene acts as a cushion when carrying the tripod without the bulk of the traditional LegCoat Cover which has extra foam padding.






Once  wrapped around the leg and closed with the Velcro, a tight bond is formed with a nice finished appearance.  The Wrap has a nice feel and the cushioning is a pleasure when laid across your shoulder.






LegCoat Covers

Unlike the LegCoat Wrap, the LegCoat Cover consist of two parts.  The first is a made of closed cell foam padding and looks much like pipe insulation.  It is split length-wise to allow it to easily slide on the tripod leg.  Attached inside is a piece of double stick tape to keep the tube from freely spinning around once affixed to the leg.



The second part of the LegCoat Cover is a piece of heavy-duty neoprene which  is attached to the inner tube by a strap that runs down the length of the tube.  As with the LegCoat Wrap, Velcro is used to keep the fabric tight around the leg.



The LegCoat Cover option is a bit less expensive than the LegCoat Wrap.  The Wrap retails at $49 for black and $54 for camouflage.  The Cover retails for $42 for black and $49 for camouflage.  However, since the LegCoat Wrap can be folded whereas the LegCoat Cover is more of a tube, shipping is less for the LegCoat Cover - especially for internationally orders.  The LegCoat Cover comes in a package of three or can be purchased in single units.

I felt that the LegCoat Cover does not have quite the finished appearance once installed as does the LegCoat Wrap.  I felt seeing the exposed foam liner was not quite as finished as the smooth appearance of the LegCoat Wrap - but that is a personal opinion.  (I know some photographers will actually wrap their upper tripod leg with bicycle handlebar tape.  For them, appearance is outweighed by functionality.)

 The LegCoat Cover was also somewhat larger in diameter than the LegCoat Wrap which may prevent some tripods from slipping into their custom tripod bags due to the added protective bulk. 


The Cons
With every silver lining . . . The only real con for me was the fact that, due to the Velcro closure being on top of padded material, the resulting seam from the closure was quite obvious.  It was less noticeable on the LegCoat Cover since the cover itself was only a thin piece of material.  The seam on both gave the leg covering somewhat of an add-on look rather than being part of the original equipment. And, the seam on the LegCoat Wrap was much more noticeable since the Velcro had to lay on top of the layered padding (5mm vs 2mm). 
However, the seam in no way affected the function of the coverings - only the aesthetic appearance.  And, this was certainly no deal breaker.
LegCoat Wrap (left)
LegCoat Cover (Right)        


I found that both products protected my tripod legs and shoulders when carrying heavy lenses mounted to my camera which was my main objective. Both offerings could act as a thermal barrier keeping the tripod legs comfortable to the touch in hot or cold conditions.

The main difference I found had to do with the bulk and the installation of each. The LegCoat Covers have a closed cell foam core about 1/2"  (12.7mm) thick with a slit down the side plus a 2mm neoprene shell that is the length of the upper leg. The foam has an optional adhesive strip to be applied to the leg to help prevent movement.  A cover wraps around the foam and has a Velcro closure. The total thickness is nearly 15mm.
The LegCoat Wrap was thinner after installation.  It was one piece made from approximately 5mm of soft spongy neoprene that wrapped around the tripod leg and was also affixed with a Velcro closure (as compared to the nearly 15mm for the LegCoat Cover). The Wrap's backing was designed to tightly grip the tripod leg so it would not slide or turn.

After working with both, I decided that the LegCoat Wrap was the better alternative for my needs.  I was not concerned about thermal protection in that my tripod has carbon fiber legs and the idea of having camouflage was not high on my list of necessities. It was the cushioning of the tripod for those hikes with a loaded camera/tripod combination that sold me.  And, being able to remove the covers at a moments notice meant I could change them out anytime I wanted to.  My choice was to go with black (as shown throughout this article), although offerings include a number of bright colors in addition to the black and camouflage mentioned in this article.

Having used the LegCoat Wrap in the field, I am quite glad I made the purchase.  For more information, please refer to the LensCoat website.



Opening shot:

  • Baltimore Inner Harbor;
  • ReallyRightStuff TVC-33 tripod with BH-55 Ballhead;
  • LegCoat Wrap; and
  • Nikon D800/Sigma 120-400mm lens.







[email protected] (John Soulé) cover legcoat lenscoat tripod tripod leg wrap Thu, 01 Aug 2013 15:35:10 GMT
Dolphin Count for 2013

Staff from the National Aquarium Animal Rescue program joined with volunteers for the annual Maryland Dolphin Count that was held in July of 2013.

Despite rain and the threat of storms, volunteers of all ages came out between 8-11 a.m. to help record dolphin sightings at four locations along the Eastern Shore of Maryland – Assateague State Park Day Use Area, Berlin, MD; 40th Street in Ocean City, MD; 81st Street in Ocean City, MD; and 130th Street in Ocean City, MD.

Annual dolphin counts help marine mammal specialists capture a snapshot look at dolphin populations, reproduction rates and ocean health. Looking at the population numbers over the years can help to determine the health of the coastal ecosystem as well as the abundance of prey.


The Bottlenose Dolphin

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins use Maryland waters as a thoroughfare for migration, summertime breeding, and feeding along the way.  With your help, we will continue to gather and analyze this information and learn more about the state of our waters and the dolphin populations that are found off our coast.


The bottlenose dolphin, sometimes mistaken for a porpoise, is perhaps one of the most commonly seen cetaceans in the world. They are light to slate gray on the upper part (dorsal surface) of their bodies, fading to lighter gray on the sides and pale gray or pink on the belly. The dorsal fin is tall and curves toward the rear of the animal.

Adults reach 6–12 feet in length and weigh 400–800 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.

And, being near the top of the food chain in the Atlantic, the dolphin has few predators.  Major threats come from humans. Dolphins are accidentally caught in fishing gear (gill nets, purse seines, and shrimp trawls) and become entangled in discarded fishing gear or monofilament line. Humans harass and feed wild dolphins, and in some parts of the world kill them directly.  However another threat exists - seismic testing.


Seismic Testing A Threat
Seismic testing for oil and gas off Maryland and other Atlantic coast states could cause widespread harm to whales, dolphins, sea turtles and fish, as well as to fishing and tourism, an environmental group warned Tuesday.
Oceana said the federal government's own environmental impact statement estimates 138,500 whales and dolphins could be injured if seismic "airguns," which generate blasts of noise underwater, are used to explore for oil and gas along the Atlantic coast. 


2013 Count Is Promising


During the 2012 dolphin count, 31 dolphins were recorded, which is lower than average, and likely a result of several factors including the weather, bigger swells and food availability. In 2011, 107 dolphins were recorded, which is relatively normal.


"The entire team from National Aquarium is incredibly thankful to all the volunteers who joined us for this year’s Dolphin Count,” said Jennifer Dittmar, Animal Rescue Program Stranding Coordinator. 

This year, 113 dolphins were sighted to everyone's delight.




National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program

Since 1991, the National Aquarium Animal Rescue Program has been responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula, primarily along the nearly 7,000 miles of coastline in Maryland, including the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coasts.

The Animal Rescue Program has responded to more than 480 animals in distress and has rehabilitated and released more than 100 marine animals back to their natural environment. Many of these animals are endangered or threatened, so every individual introduced back into the natural environment has the opportunity to add to the genetic diversity of the species. All species of marine mammals are federally protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and all seven species of sea turtles are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

Research, satellite tracking and outreach education are also significant components of the Animal Rescue Program. Every animal that is rehabilitated and released is an opportunity to raise awareness and get the public involved in helping to conserve and protect our marine resources. 

National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program is a member of the Northeast Stranding Network (NERS) through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Aquarium is one facility among a network of nationally recognized facilities that work cooperatively to respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.

The Animal Rescue team works directly with NOAA, USFWS, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and regional and national stranding partners to respond to stranded animals and collect data used to better understand aquatic animals that are still very much a mystery to modern science.


For more information on National Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program and how the general public can assist with rescue efforts, visit




[email protected] (John Soulé) Sun, 14 Jul 2013 14:14:15 GMT
Expert Shield Screen Protectors for DSLRs - A Quick Look  

When one thinks of LCD screen protectors, or shields, what comes to mind are those custom pieces of film designed to fit a smartphone or tablet.  However, one of the companies that produces these protectors, Expert Shield from the UK, also has entered into the market to protect the LCD screen on many popular GPS systems, e-readers and, of most interest to photographers, DSLR cameras.





As with any LCD screen, one of the problems is that the screen comes unprotected and can get scratched.  And, most of these LCD screens are very reflective and  can kick in a harsh glare when outdoors.  This is all the more true with today's cameras

I have heard that some folks have actually purchased a smartphone film protector and tried to cut them to fit their DSLR LCD displays.  Often this has resulted in a less than desirable product.

Screen protectors do have their problems though.  Who has not tried to install a film protector on a smartphone or tablet without frustration? Installation often means multiple attempts in alignment and either results in fingerprints on the film, dirt trapped on the adhesive surface or bubbles that can never be removed.  For me, I often just didn't use one out of frustration.



When I was directed to the Expert Shield's website, I was drawn in by one of their claims:


"Let's face it, in a busy, fast moving world you need to be able to count on the little things. The last thing you want to have to do is buy and fit a new screen protector each week. We want our customers to have the peace of mind to adopt a 'fit and forget' philosophy. That's why along with all the bold promises of a scratch free screen and bubble free application, we actually guarantee your Expert Shield for the life of your device. End up scratching it? Simply return for an exchange, what's more we don't hide behind any rubbish small print. Easy.

As well as covering all the latest mobile phones, our range also includes tablets and cameras. You wouldn’t want to leave that massive new iPad screen unprotected. Need a screen protector for Panasonic Lumix TZ-40? We do an ever-growing range of digital camera screen protectors. Feel free to ask if we're working on your model if you can't see it on our site, or if we've not already thought of it we might add it to the range.

Your Expert Shield will be guaranteed to apply without bubbles or scratch for the lifetime of your device. That doesn't mean you definitely won't get bubbles or scratches (although you shouldn't if you follow our helpful tips) but if you do, we'll exchange it."


Sounds too good to be true?  Let's find out.  I tried out both the Nikon 7000 version with anti-glare coating and the standard protector for the Nikon D800.

Each screen protector kit came with a cleaning cloth, two shields (one for the LCD and one for the top control panel) and instructions.

The instructions were on the back of the package and were also made available on the Expert Shield website.

The instructions are pretty straight forward.   Clean the LCD surface, align the film, remove the protective layer, apply the film and smooth out any bubbles.  It sounded simple, so I gave it try.

The key is to start with a clean screen surface totally free of dust.  Dust could become trapped and result in spots that create bubbles that cannot be removed.  One of the suggestions is to work in a very humid environment that would keep the dust down.Step 1: Remove the adhesive protective film layer.  Next, align the film with the edge of the screen on one side.  For me, the alignment took several tries and luckily I did not pick up any dust in the process.  Next, flatten out the screen and push any bubbles to the edge using a credit card.  For any trapped dust, the instructions stated to lift up part of the protector and "use the sticky tape to lift the dust off the underside..."  I didn't have to test this tip.


Step 2, (as it is labeled on the film protector):  Remove the top protective layer.  That is it.

The whole process took less than 10 minutes (due to a few re-alignment tries and pushing out any bubbles.)   The end result appears as an integral part of my camera and not as a vendor add-on.

Installation went well but how does it perform in the field?


Standard Protector:

I installed the standard Expert Shield on the Nikon D800.  I found no degradation in color or optical quality. Not only was this thin protector much more stylish that the bulky Nikon plastic shield, the film was not as susceptible to scratching as the standard plastic shield and still was able to protect the LCD panel from scratches.  Most importantly, it was highly transparent and did not affect my image review.


Anti-Glare Protector:

The D7000 anti-glare film fit perfectly over the LCD as well.  Being anti-glare, there was a slight loss in color intensity as inherent to all anti-glare screens of this type. However, the loss in color intensity was very minor indeed and certainly was not a deal breaker.  The anti-glare surface was a joy to use in the field and images that often were not possible to review due to the strong reflective surface of the standard Nikon plastic, were now clearly visible.










Nikon D7000 with Standard Nikon Plastic Protector showing bulk and scratched surface









Nikon D7000 with

Expert Shield Screen Protector installed




From the manufacturer:

“Our screen protectors are the longest lasting, which means you’ll probably need to replace your device before you replace one of our protectors! We back this up with a lifetime warranty, practically unheard of for a screen protector in this price range.

Expert Shield protectors are made from our special Japanese Optical Grade CrystalFilm™, custom cut to ensure a perfect fit every time. Constructed in three layers; a scratch resistant surface polymer, a hardened protective mask to prevent deep cuts damaging your device and finally a patented silicone gel that creates a vacuum to securely ‘cling’ to the device screen. Expert Shields use no adhesive and there is no spraying anything to the protector or the device.”



The replacement Nikon plastic protectors ranges from $15 – $20.  In July, 2013,  Expert Shield for the D7000 retails at $12.95 and $11.95 for the D800.



The Expert Shield performed as advertised.  It is highly transparent, has an anti-scratch surface, is easy to apply and remove and protects the DSLR LCD.  For me, it is a thumbs-up and a nice option to have for any camera owner with an LCD screen. (The website lists most major brands with new models being updated on an ongoing basis.  I did not see protectors for the Nikon pro 3x and 4.  However, if you have a model not listed, they state they will create one for it in the next release.)  I find these shields especially useful for many of the more popular consumer grade point-and-shoot cameras whose LCD screens get banged around regularly.

For more information, please see the Expert Shield website at 





[email protected] (John Soulé) Sun, 07 Jul 2013 18:02:44 GMT
Mass Grave Site at US Capitol - One Million Bones  


As the sun rose over the Nation’s Capitol on the morning of June 9, 2013, the National Mall appeared to a massive grave site. Over one million bones had been scattered throughout the grass in the shadow of the National Capitol.  This looked like something out of a horror movie - and it was supposed to.

One Million Bones is actually a project of The Art of Revolution - a large-scale social arts practice, combining education, hands-on art making, and public installations to raise awareness of ongoing genocides and mass atrocities in places like Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Burma.




The massive art installation came from Albuquerque-based artist Naomi Natale, who since 2010 has been soliciting the contribution of artisan-made bones as a way of calling attention to genocide and mass killing in Sudan, Congo, Burma and Somalia.  Natale was inspired by Phillip Gourevitch’s book on the Rwandan genocide and upon reading his descriptions of what had transpired there, decided to make the images real for those living in the United States.





This weekend’s event is the largest display yet, and the culmination of the project.  Natale hopes to find a permanent site to house this massive and moving collection.


The bones represent honor victims and survivors.  They also serve as a visual petition against ongoing conflicts and a resounding call for much need and long overdue action.  Scenes like this are to at first shock, then educate, and bring awareness to the public.


The event featured international speakers and performers, educational workshops, a candlelight vigil, and the opportunity to Act Against Atrocities during an advocacy day on Capitol Hill led by the Enough Project. 





The bones are actually not real but have been made by volunteers for this project from made of clay, plaster, wood, glass, metal, paper and other materials in the call to end genocide and mass atrocities with tens of thousands made in the Washington DC area.





In an advocacy video for the project, Desmond Tutu  addressed the significance of the bones.

"The symbol of the bone attests to the impermanence of life," he said. "But I believe they embody so much more. Bones are evidence of a unique individual journey -- each moment of hope and happiness, each dream and passion, each struggle experienced in a lifetime. But also the evidence of a collective journey, the stories shared and the human experience."

Tutu also points out that the grave serves as a reminder of those whose stories have been lost in places such as Sudan, Germany and the former Yugoslavia and reminds people of the collective responsibility to be one another's keeper.

"Each individual’s humanity is inextricably linked to one another’s. We must raise each other up or else we all sink down.”



Last two images courtesy of

[email protected] (John Soulé) Mon, 10 Jun 2013 10:38:46 GMT
Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival

The Preakness Celebration Hot Air Balloon Festival, tagged 'the sky's the limit with Turf Valley' was held in May in Ellicott City Maryland, just outside of Baltimore.  The event is part of the pre-celebration of the Preakness horse race held at Pimlico Race Track in Baltimore each year and is part of the 'triple crown'.  



Some of the teams had driven more than seven hours to be part of this event - which included two new speciality shaped balloons: Stinkey the Skunk and the Purple People Eater.

In all, over twenty hot air balloons participated this year to record-breaking attendance.

A very special part of the event, and a crowd pleaser for sure, is called Balloon Glow as the light from the fire that heated the air in the balloon which caused the entire balloon to glow against the night sky. A truly amazing site to behold as the sky is lit by these 'floating lanterns'.

Each day spectators were offered balloon rides and tethered balloon adventures.









The event was to culminate with the launching of the balloons at 6:30am on Saturday morning.  As a photographer, I decided that this would be the least crowded day allowing me to capture all the balloons as they lifted off for one last time - and, hopefully, with a sunrise behind.

Getting a shot with the combination of the glowing balloons against a multi-colored sky was the plan.  A few clouds is always good to have for a sunrise shot.  And, if the clouds have a bit of structure, the image is that much more interesting.

Again, that was the plan.







To scout out the best shooting locations, I got to the Turf Valley Country Club at 5:30am. Trucks were arriving with their gear and teams were gathering at the field.

Clouds were starting to roll in and it looked like a great setup for the photos I was hoping to capture.  A cold front was fast approaching and the clouds had a nice texture to them.


A few of the teams started to get their 'mini-balloons' ready for a tethered launch as one or two of the full-size balloons were being prepared.

Everything was working out - but . . . 






I had not thought about rain at higher altitudes being an issue.  As it turns out, hot air balloons cannot get wet.  At 6am the 'balloon master' took roll call and then had a vote to see if anyone wanted to risk launching their balloon into the approaching weather.  Radar was showing rain all around the area.


The vote was 'no' and everyone packed up and went home.  Lesson learned - if you want to take pictures of this event, go each day, crowds or not.  You cannot trust the weather forecast.

I did get a few nice shots but, there is always next year.




For the photographer:

All images were taken with a Nikon D800 with either a 14-24mm f/2.8 lens or 24-70 f/2.8 lens.


[email protected] (John Soulé) Sat, 18 May 2013 20:19:14 GMT
Kinetic Sculpture Race 2013 in Baltimore - wacky fun with a few surprises!  


The Kinetic Sculpture Race (KSR) is a unique national competition where the results really do not matter. But kitsch, imagination, and absurdity do. It is not about the fastest - it is about flair and it is about wacky! And this year was no exception.





Every May since 1999, the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore has been the host to the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race Championship. This unique race covers nearly 15 miles surrounding the Baltimore Inner Harbor, lasts about 8 hours and includes negotiating land, water and a combination of both (mud).

In the end, wacky honors are bestowed upon the deserving - the ultimate award being the 'Grand Mediocre Champion'.

During an interview with local TV station WJZ-13, Nick Prevas of AVAM’s Communications, Media & Marketing department, discussed this fun event and stated that everything the museum stands for, the race sort of embodies.





What are Kinetic Sculptures?

Kinetic Sculptures are amphibious, human-powered works of art that have been custom-built for this unique race. The sculptures are constructed out of used bicycle gears and parts, in the garage or backyards and a lot imagination. One sculpture was a giant cannon mounted on 12-foot wheels that won last year's 'People's Choice' award. Many of the sculptures have incorporated clever engineering to meet the challenges of the course. The wheels of 'Lose Cannon', for example, featured pool floats as spokes for extra buoyancy, and the hull of the vehicle formed a boat.


The Teams

This year, each sculpture's crew consisted of teams of returning veterans and/or new entrants - some had finely tuned works of art, others hoped to wing it. Many of the teams had competed in the past and thought that they were well prepared for the challenge.  And there were some that were quite surprised at what work the team had to go through to get their sculpture successfully through an obstacle.


The Course

_JAS1659 IPA The race took place mostly on pavement but also included a short trip into the Inner Harbor and later an obstacle course of mud and sand. Beginning at AVAM, the race went up Federal Hill, around the Inner Harbor, into the Inner Harbor and through the mud at Patterson Park. Although much of the course was flat, there were also a number of hills that the teams had negotiate that added to the challenge.


Hazards by Design

_JAS1821 IPA



One of the highlights of the day was the water event.   Some sculptures eased down the boat ramp into the Inner Harbor as others entered with speed to make a splash. But once in the water, the sculptures had to stay afloat, maneuver around a pier and then make their way up an inclined ramp. And, this was no easy task for many of the teams. Mechanical problems and design flaws are often no stranger to this part of the race. At one point a large green frog and crew were floating sideways in the harbor and later a giant blue crab and crew drifted out of control only to find that their gears were jammed by a sock puppet. Kayakers were on hand to assist 'out of control' sculptures whenever necessary.








The most difficult obstacle was the  mud pit.  This  was especially difficult for many to navigate and required some pure muscle to pull the sculptures through. And yes, you may get a little dirty on this one.








Rules of the course

_JAS1677 IPA




There are rules in the race, and a team of judges, adorned in wigs and black robes, monitored the course.

Bribing judges is expected and actually encouraged (even an award is given for the 'Best Bribes'.)









Dress Wacky and Have Fun




Two of the directives for those participating in the race and spectators "No matter the job, no matter the weather, you still have to dress funny. No whiners."









And dress funny they did...




A Brief History

The first Kinetic Sculpture Race was held in 1969 in Ferndale, California. Local artist Hobart Brown decided to upgrade his son's tricycle, and by the time he was done, he had added a great deal of material including two more wheels. A neighbor, also an artist, thought he could make something better than Mr. Brown's Pentacycle and challenged him to a race during the upcoming town arts festival. The race received national attention after photos were published of a congressman riding the Pentacycle.

In the 1970s, the original racecourse evolved and became more technically challenging. It had now grown to span three days and included major segments on water, mud, and sand dunes along the Pacific Coast. The sculptures became more elaborate and so did the costumes.



The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race (also known as the East Coast Championship) began in 1999 when Rebecca Hoffberger, founder of the AVAM (seen here on the right), heard about the World Championship on television.

She wanted to bring the race to Baltimore, and worked with Hobart to do just that. For the first year, there were just six entries. AVAM built the Cha Cha Bird, the most impressive sculpture that year that served as inspiration to others. Two years later in 2001, the Chicken was rebuilt as Fifi the giant pink poodle—and has been the race’s mascot every year since.

_JAS1572 IPA











After a few words opening remarks,comes the lighting of the symbolic game torch by last year's winner and the blessing of 'de feet'.






A Pink Poodle Surprise








It is not every day a giant pink poodle assists with a marriage proposal.


However, this is the KSR and anything can happen!











During the mud pit event, Fifi delivered a special package to Bob Keefer, 38. The moment unfolded with pure precision and caught everyone by surprise as Keefer took a small box from the giant pink poodle, took off his shirt to reveal a tuxedo shirt underneath, got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Erin Alexander, 30.

KSR - one surprise after another.












By-the-way, she said 'YES'.










The Mediocre Champion and Other Winners
From the sculptures themselves to the prizes awarded at the end of the day, the whole race was run in a spirit of goofy competition. The most coveted awards were not for the fastest finishers, but for those who came in the middle, known as the Grand Mediocre Champion, and who arrived second-to-last at the finishing line. The Grand Mediocre Champion for 2013 was a mousetrap-themed vehicle called Eek!


2013 Grand Mediocre East Coast Champion: Eek!

Winner of the 2013 Grand Mediocre East Coast Championship is Eek!, an amphibious human-powered oversized Rube Goldberg mousetrap. The mouse on the trailer rotated round and round.

Pilots’ Choice, Art: Dr. Vlad’s Mad Lab

A crew of four powered Dr. Vlad’s Mad Lab in commemoration of Dr. Vladisky, claimed inventor of Baltimore’s most famous beer recipe. The ingenious combination of sculptural textures from shiny goggle lenses to beard whiskers won the Art award, and energetic design with sound engineering led fellow teams to award it Pilot’s Choice.  Dr. Vlad is now on display at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Engineering: Agogosaurus

Agogosaurus, returning from last year, seemed to master the kinetic racecourse even more completely this year. This sculpture also completed the 42-mile 2012 Kinetic Grand Championship in Humboldt County, California.

Best Costumes / Sock Creature of the Universe: Holy Grail

The Holy Grail was a last-minute entry based on the Monty Python film and won the Best Costumes award for their distinctive costumes including a fur-clad knight and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.

Next-to-Last, Webmaster’s Delight: Loose Cannon

Loose Cannon was brought back  again this year  - the huge 12-foot wheels with the circus human cannonball motif make for a spectacular sight.  The elevated pilots’ platform—which looks to be a rowboat—provides flotation for the water segment.  Since this sculpture nearly missed major awards, yet is a magnificent crowd and photographer-pleasing spectacle, it was awarded the Webmaster’s Delight.

They also built two new sculptures as scale replicas of the original. Since the new sculptures could hardly get any bigger, they made them smaller. The half-scale Sun of a Gun and quarter-scale Mini Gun formed one group at the starting line, called the Gun Show Collective.

People’s Choice: Go Ask Alice

For its spectacularly designed sculpture, Go Ask Alice from Millersville (and Lewis Carroll) again won People’s Choice, based on a spectator survey conducted by race volunteers.

Speed: Not-So-Angry Birds

Despite all the traffic, the red Not-So-Angry Bird seemed to find a fast way to the finish line. He won the Speed award for fastest time after accounting for time penalties from tickets.

Chipotle Green Award: Back Alley Farm

Back Alley Farm is a new entry from Washington DC designed to commemorate urban gardening: sustainability and environmentalism, a misguided do-it-yourself spirit and other hipster ideals, not to mention rats and alley cats.

“Vegetation without Representation” recasts the Revolutionary War slogan used by Washington DC where citizens pay federal taxes yet have no representatives or senators, so the District’s laws are political pawns of Congress.

Spirit of the Glorious Founder: Frednan

For the insanity to create this sculpture  and walking the entire 15 mile racecourse, Frednan received the Spirit of the Glorious Founder award.

Golden Dinosaur: Desdemona Duck

When the race started, Desdemona Duck did not. They lingered behind until all other sculptures left the American Visionary Art Museum. After amputating their duck’s tail, they began the race. For this breakdown before the starting line, they received the Golden Dinosaur award.

Worst Honorable Mention: Get Tanked

Get Tanked was awarded Worst Honorable Mention. While they crossed the starting line intact and submitted as an ACE entry, they soon broke an axle and couldn’t move except via pushing.

Golden Flipper: Garden of Hedon

From Baltimore’s own Make Believers team commemorates Druid Hill Park as Baltimore’s first center of genetic engineering. Millennia before Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Biopark, druids danced across the hills and sorcerers commanded a fantastic menagerie. Garden of Hedon won the Golden Flipper award for their dramatic entry, perhaps partly because no other team suffered a worse fate this year.



Best Bribes: Byte Me

Byte Me came illustrating how humanity is dependent on technology—whether oil, alcohol, electronics, or nuclear waste.  They won Best Bribes for the eggs they gave to judges and other officials.

Baltimore is the home to some wacky, fun events every year and this is just one of them. I covered this event last year and, to my surprise, this year was even better. You really have to love these guys and appreciate the hard work that goes into this event.

This was just a sample of the full day of this event.  For more information, please see:

For the photographer: D7000 with ultra wide 11-16 f/2.8 or 17-55 f/2.8 lens, D800 with telephoto 70-200 f/2.8 lens





And, if anyone questions your sanity when attending this event  - you can always say the 'Devil Made Me Do It'












[email protected] (John Soulé) 2013 AVAM baltimore KSR Mon, 13 May 2013 19:36:17 GMT
Photographing Northern Italy - Tips and Techniques  





Lago Como

Traveling in Europe can be very exciting for the tourist but can also pose a challenge for the photographer – especially Northern Italy. There has been much written for those who travel throughout Europe, including things-to-do at the various ’tourist’ locations. The purpose of this brief article is to supplement this information and to provide guidance, plus a few tips and techniques, geared toward the photographer that includes ‘thinking out of the box’, so to speak.


This region of Europe, situated between the Alps and the Mediterranean, offers a wide variety of wonderful things to do for the traveler and a wealth of opportunities for the photographer to showcase creativity. And, to capture some of those ‘iconic’ shots can take a little extra effort but that effort can go a long way



Plan Ahead

I pretty much say this in all of my articles.  Spontaneity is fine for some things – but when it comes to getting the most from your photography, you need to plan ahead. Before each day’s shoots you should ask yourself: Como Hillside Church

  • What subjects will I be shooting?

  • Where is the best shooting location for each subject?

  • What time of day is best for each subject?

  • What camera equipment should I bring?

  • What if the weather does not cooperate?

  • and so on.

The more answers you have, the better prepared you will be.  And your images will show it.


Location - Where to Stay

Villa When my wife and I decided to visit Northern Italy, we were drawn to the beauty and central location of Lake Como – less than 1/2 hour drive north of Milan. To the west was the Swiss border and the Alps.  And to the east was Venice and the Mediterranean – all within a morning’s drive or train ride from Como. We considered our options for lodging – book a traditional hotel room or rent a villa. We read many of the reviews on Trip Advisor and HomeAway for recommendations in terms of personal property rentals (villas).  We wanted to be on the eastern side of the lake for a better morning view of the hillsides and to have close proximity to Bellagio (transportation hub or both ferry and train).  And, we wanted an unobstructed view of the lake.


We found that Villa Gabriella, part of the Lake Como Beach Resort and owned and operated by Eric and Robin Arcio, met all of our requirements.  Not only did we find them to take a special interest in seeing that we were satisfied with our accommodations, they also helped us make arrangements for the  ’things-to-do’ in the area such as boat rentals, seaplane tours, dinner reservations and the like.  Having your host speak your native language really helps in these matters more than you can imagine.


Villa rentals can be about the same cost as renting a room in a hotel.  And for a real taste of being a local, this is the way to go.  [Note: most villas do not have clothes dryers - only clothes washers.] Imagine waking up each morning seeing the church pictured above out of your bedroom window.  It doesn’t get much better than this.  Also check to see if a ‘Guest Book’ is in your room.  Quite often other travelers will have made comments about what they loved (or not) about something you might be interested in.



When traveling in the major ‘tourist’ areas in Italy, you will find that English is the second language. However, if your travels take you into the smaller towns, even around Lake Como, you may find that Italian is the only language spoken by many.  If you are going to a local grocery store, you may do a lot of pointing.  If you are out and about away from the typical ‘tourist’ areas, it is good to know (or have access to) some key words for translation.  Be sure to have a map of the area if you think you will need directions. (And if you rent a car – be sure to get a GPS that has been set for your language.)



One of the biggest challenges for any photographer can be the weather.  With Northern Italy’s mountainous regions, lakes, pleasant valleys and proximity to the Mediterranean, the weather can be very different just a short drive away.  I would highly recommend getting updates on the weather throughout the region on a daily basis.  It may be raining in Como and sunny in Bergamo.  You should map out options based on the weather for the areas you wish to shoot.  Also note that wind will be a factor if you intend on taking a sea plane.  Sea Planes often do not go up on windy days.  Be prepared to be flexible enough to make last minute changes to your schedule.


Getting Around

How you will be getting around any new area needs to be taken into consideration.  You can book transportation provided through travel groups or you can do everything on your own and on your own schedule.  As for this region of Europe, there are a number of ways of getting around: by foot; by vehicle; by boat; by train and by plane.


Bellagio Steps

By Foot

When in Italy, especially in historic towns, you will certainly have some walking to do.  And often up and down stairs or winding paths of stones.   Parking is often very limited - if allowed at all. Many of the roads were just not designed for motorized transportation – and it shows.


One thing is for sure – there are plenty of steps everywhere in Italy. You most certainly will need comfortable shoes at all times and need a comfortable way to carry your gear.  Heavy backpacks are discouraged.  Some of the best location shots are made by just walking around, finding unique angles, and capturing wonderful old world colors and charm.  By being on foot, you have the freedom to explore at your own pace – which is a very good thing.


The photographer should be prepared to carry only what is needed.  Here the ‘walk-around’ lens can be a big help as well as an ultra-wide angel lens since you may find yourself in tight locations.


Check to see if a funicular is available to take you to high points for some of the best views of the surrounding area.  A funicular is like a cable car that rides on a track up/down step slopes. The ride is inexpensive and both the view and convenience are unparalleled.  



By Vehicle

You may note that I did not say ‘by car’.  For most of us the most traditional method of getting around is by car. However, the roads in many of the small towns are very narrow and result in driving and parking to be most challenging. You can always hire a driver – but that can become expensive. My suggestion is that you rent a small car and take your time getting around. You will also find that locals use Vespas, motorcycles and bicycles and will be sharing the road with you.


Of note – as you drive through small towns, you may often find that there are no sidewalks causing the locals to walk in the streets. Driving in Italy can be most interesting.   (A GPS is highly recommended!)


By Boat


Traveling around the lake regions, such as Lake Como, you have the option of traveling by Ferry, taking a private tour, or renting a motorboat and travel on your own.



If you want to explore lakes, there is nothing more fun than renting a small motorboat for the morning or afternoon. You should plan on a minimum of three hours (about $300 USD + the cost of gasoline).  The smaller class motorboats do not require any certifications for rental. If you drive a car, they pretty much just show you how to turn it on, make it go and then turn you loose on the lake.  Make note of where you need to return the boat – after a while it all looks the same. Villa on Lake Como


The shots gained by this method of transportation can be amazing and you can get up close and personal to capture some beautiful villas and churches.  Remember where you will want to be and how the lighting will be at that time of the day.  If you are shooting the west side of the lake – do it in the morning.  If you are shooting the east side of the lake, plan for late afternoon.



By Train


Truly the fastest and most relaxing mode of transportation is by train for a quick trip into Milan or to take a scenic trip into nearby Switzerland.The train to Milan is for just for convenience as you go from Como directly to Milan's Central Station.[Note: On most Italian trains, the doors do not open automatically after a stop as they do in the US.  You must push them open to step outside once the train stops or the train will continue after a few moments pause.  I speak from experience on this one.]




For memorial trips to Switzerland, either the Bernina Express or Glacier Express will take you on a winding scenic trip through the Alps. A trip to Switzerland’s St. Moritz can be done in a day (a very long day) as you are taken through the Swiss Alps from Tirano, Italy.




And no mater what the season, you will have some spectacular views of the Alps (often snow covered) and glacier feed lakes. If you have time, a trip on the Glacier Express to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn is without doubt a fantastic journey and one that has more iconic shots waiting than you can imagine. Definitely on my ‘bucket list’ for a future trip and a real blast in the winter.

Basilica Madonna di Tirano






[Note: You will be changing trains in Tirano and most likely have more than an hour to grab a bite to eat.  I would recommend taking a walk around the town and visit the Basilica de Madonna.  Great photo opts here - you will need a wide-angle for your best shots.]




By Sea Plane

Seaplane on Lago Como Seaplanes are available for tour by the 1/2 hour and fly over much of the lake regions.

For amazing  views of the villas, mountains and lakes, there is nothing that can compare to abirds-eye view to gain a whole new perspective on the landscape.  Be sure to take a ‘walk around’ lens that has a wide-angle zoom.  You will not have the opportunity to change lenses very easily and, if you blink, you could miss an amazing shot.  Most of my shots were taken at between 35mm – 150mm full frame.  (On a Nikon DX 18mm-200mm will work well.)

Seaplane over Lake Como





Also be sure that wing of the plane is above the seating position – otherwise you will get some nice shots of the wings and not much else.  Do not use a Circular Polarizing (CP) filter.  Using a CP filter will result in a rainbow effect from the glass that will adversely affect your image.



Iconic Shooting Locations - Day Trips

San Lorenzo, Tremezzo


Northern Italy has a wealth of wonderful subject matter for the photographer.  From historical architecture to beautiful landscapes there is much to consider. Once a subject has been selected, it is important to factor in the shooting location, angle and lighting.

For example, many of the picturesque villas around Lake Como are on the west-side of the lake. Most tourists only get shots of these beautiful villas by using telephoto lens from the eastern shore, using the limited visibility from the ferry routes or by taking a private tour ($$$$).  (BTW – George Coloney’s home is on the western side as well – but you did not hear that from me.)


But what about renting a motorboat, or taking a sea plane?  To get some of the more iconic shots, you often have to do a little extra work.  And, you can have a lot of fun at the same time.  But it does take a little planning.



Italian Lakes

Lake Como is the most famous of the lakes in the northern area of Italy and is less than an hour’s drive from Milan.  This popular destination, nestled in the Italian Alps surrounded by beautiful landscapes, is the home to friendly people, amazing history and good times just waiting to be discovered.

But, Lake Como is just one of the many lakes in Northern Italy.   Lake Maggiorie, Lake Garda and Lake Orta all are worth a visit if time permitted.  So much to see…

You need to think about the sun’s location at the time of day you want to shoot.  For Lake Como, you will want to be on the lake in the morning to get the best lighting of the west side and you would want to be on the lake in late afternoon for the east side.  Renting boats can be done often at the last minute unless you are the height of summer. Seaplanes need to be booked a little more in advance and flights are very weather dependent.  You will need to have alternate plans ready if necessary.


Local Villages and Villas

Villa Balbianello

As you travel around Lake Como, you will find some beautiful villas and wonderful towns.Bellagio, the Pearl of the Lake, has some of the best dinning in the area. It is also a ferry stop and a train stop.  

[Note: Parking is limited AND IS NOT FREE.  I speak from experience here - if you go over, you will get fined.  And it is not a cheap fine!]

If you are a Star Wars fan, you will want to visit Villa del Balbianello which was filmed there.  The shot above was taken from a motorboat.  Tours are offered throughout these villas which feature some wonderful gardens.




Ancient Towns Bergamo - Citta Alta

There are many ancient cities throughout this region.  Bergamo is less than 35 miles east of Lake Como and consists of a modern city and the ancient hill town ‘Città alta’ or high city.  Take the funicular to San Vigilio for some spectacular views of the town and surrounding country side.  And if it is open, take a walk up to the castle.  The best time is early morning or late evening to get the low sun to warm the image.  If the weather cooperates, you may get some mist and/or clouds to help make this look like a village floating in the clouds.

Milan Cathedral



Traveling south from Como is the city of Milan- about 22 miles.  Milan is one of the most iconic sites in Italy and from Como is easily accible by car or train.  Be sure to head to the Piazza del Duomo, the city's main and most central square, surrounded by several palaces and important buildings, such as Milan Cathedral, the Vittorio Emanuele II Gallery and the Royal Palace of Milan.  A tour of the area will include the exterior and interior of the Milan Cathedral.  

Milan Cathedral




Tours generally include the exterior and interior of the Milan Cathedral.  But there is more …

Think ‘out of the box’ – be sure to go the roof of the Milan Cathedral  for some spectacular views and a closeup of the amazing detail in this architecture. Here you will want to capture natural angles and focus on the ornate designs that surround you.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II




And, be sure take a walk thorugh the amazing La Galleria (show to the left), the renowned La Scala Opera House (seen below) and Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous painting of ‘The Last Supper’ which is housed in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. [Note: No photography is allowed inside the  Convent of  the Last Supper.]

La Scala













Venice, with its iconic canals and gondolas, is about 150 miles east of Milan and about 120 miles east of Bergamo and is easily accessible by plane, train or automobile.  This is really an overnight stay, preferably longer.

You will want to take early morning shots as well as evening shots for the sun to bring out some of wonderful colors and eliminate harsh shadows and contrast found later in mid-day.  Venice seems to always be going through phases of construction so you may need to be creative in your shots to block out scaffolding and construction cranes.  For an added touch of romance, try processing some of your shots in Black and White.

The Venice Piazza


When taking  those ‘iconic’ shots of this unique area, remember to look all around for your best locations. Shots of the canal and the gondolas are always classic winners.

It is also good to look at the areas that are off the canals which can be quite good for subject matter as well.  You will find wonderful shades of pastels as bolder colors seem to pop everywhere on walls and doors.  Look for those ‘quiet’ corners and remember composition.


Venice Artist







And be sure to notice the locals that may add to your imagery and help tell a story.




Lake Lugano

Less than 16 miles from Como lies Lake Lugano Switzerland, nestled between Lake Maggiore and Lake Como.  This lovely area is partly in Switzerland and partly in Italy. If you cannot make the train trip to Switzerland as discussed above, Lake Lugano is just a short drive from Como.  Being as close to Italy as it is, you will find a strong influence of Italian culture throughout area mixed with ‘hints’ of the Swiss.

The photographer will want to take advantage of showcasing the clear waters and Venetian-style villages found clinging to its rugged shoreline.  Be sure to take the funicular at Lugano for a great view of the surrounding area.





I recommend carrying a wide/ultra-wide angle lens along with a walk-around lens as you explore the countryside.  Be sure to try different angles, getting low and playing close attention to lighting. You may want to return at a different time of day to gain a more pleasing exposure.  When using your ultra-wide, be sure to include some foreground to add perspective.




A Few More Tips...

Part of the charm of traveling includes dinning.  Our villa was equipped with a full kitchen, so a trip to the local grocery store had us stocking up on some wonderful local wine, cheese and homemade treats for ad-hoc meals.

The area around Lake Como has a number of wonderful restaurants. Fish is a large influence on the cooking here and many of the dishes are truly wonderful.  In terms of photography, many of the dishes are not only delicious, but make great photographic subjects.  Be sure to include the environment where possible to add to the image.  Take a quick tour of the wine cellar in Crotto Del Misto which dates back to the 1700′s.  There are some great ‘old world’ shots of wine barrels and the like here.


My wife and I also found Chef Luigi Gandola of the Salice Bleu restaurant in Bellagio a must to see.  He will often personally come to your table and work his wonders.  (a great photo opt).  

Ask if you can tour the kitchen to take a few shots of this ‘master’ at work.  Chef Luigi is also known for his personal cooking classes.  Reservations are a must.




[Note: In some European countries, such as Italy, businesses  may close from 12-3pm, and will not open for dinner until 7pm.]


The Italian Alps from 30,000 feet


Have your camera ready if you will approach or leave Italy by air.  When the sun is low and its rays just ‘kiss’ the mountain tops, you can be in for quite a treat and could capture a shot that you may be most pleased with.  I have included a few suggestions on how to take some spectacular shots from an airplane in another article on this site.  Just be sure to book your seat by a window and not over a wing. Take a look at your flight path to determine which side of the plane to be on.  (If you are lucky, they may just fly that pattern the day you are on the plane.)


Travel Gear

Whenever traveling, it is always a good rule to carry only what you will need.  And for this reason, it is important to plan ahead and take into consideration your potential subjects and the potential lighting environment.  Also, what is your output and audience going to be – family viewed 4×6′s or pro-grade prints for sale?  This will help determine the minimum resolution you will need.  Do you intend on taking a wealth of high-end lenses or will you rely on the full-range zoom as your walk-around.  Or will you carry a combination of both?  If you own two camera bodies, will you take both or rely on just one?  Is video important?  Will you carry a tripod? What about filters? What about a backup system for your memory cards?  How will you carry your gear – shoulder bag, backpack, strap around your neck, etc.?  There are many considerations that must be taken into account.  Here are a few suggestions from my experience.

Depending on where I am going in Europe, I generally bring both of my camera bodies (Nikon D800 FX and Nikon D7000 DX).  But I only carry one while out and about each day.  Depending on my potential subject and camera body, I often bring an ultra-wide (14-24 FX) or (11-16 DX), a ‘walk around’ (24-70 FX) or (18-200 DX) and possibly a telephoto (70-200 FX/DX).  Each of these lenses is an f/2.8 (with the exception of the 18-200 DX) which are often adequate in lower light conditions.  I found that carrying any of my f/1.4 lenses was not really needed with the noise reduction capabilities in the cameras today allowing me to boost my ISO to well over 16000 if necessary.  I also found that my 18-200 DX lens was very convenient when it came to general shots – especially when changing lenses was not practical.  However, I did find that this lens did not perform as well in low light and  did not provide the overall quality that my f/2.8 ‘pro’ glass did for large prints.  Walk-around lenses are often a trade-off for convenience (shots in this article that were taken from the air were shot with the 18-200 DX lens.)  And, I use a Circular Polarizing (CP) filter to enhance colors, reduce water reflections and bring out the sky.  [Note: Do not use a CP Filter out of an airplane window.]

I also carry a backup unit and do not reuse my memory cards during the trip.  Each day I load a new card (16gig with 16gig backup) and run a format on the card.  At the end of the day, the cards are backed up and stored in a separate location from my other camera gear.

I generally pack in my ‘checked’ luggage a travel tripod that weights less than 4 pounds and folds to less than 17″.  Benro, Giottos, Gitzo, Manfrotto  and others make nice tripods with ball heads that fit this category very well.  If the money is there, carbon fiber is great for travel.  Beware that if your tripod is packed in your carry-on, and your legs have spike, some TSA officials will not allow it to be carried on the plane.  I generally carry two bags – a backpack (be sure to have one that will fit under the seat of your plane and a smaller shoulder bag.  I store all my gear in backpack and transfer only what I need into the shoulder bag



I hope this has helped you as a photographer in some way if you plan to travel to Northern Italy.  Look for future articles to include Central Italy, Southern Italy and Greece.

While on your travels, please take time to look at a sunset and not think ‘Shutter Speed: 1/250, Aperture:  f/8, ISO 100′ but rather take in the natural beauty that surrounds you. Have a glass of wine, sit back and just enjoy life.  Northern Italy is a wonderful place for the photographer to bring out the artist within – but it is also a wonderful place for anyone to visit and just enjoy life.  (By the way – this was the view from our balcony.)


Celebration in Como

La Bella Italia!




[email protected] (John Soulé) Mon, 18 Feb 2013 17:30:41 GMT
Quick Tips: Adding Drama To Your Photo Using Creative Lighting

This Quick Tip addressees how to use a touch of 'Creative Lighting' to add some drama to your photographs.  Light has always played a key role in how an artist captures an image - whether be it a hand-created image or a photograph.  It is often fun to look at images the way a painter would in terms of how to use light to best capture the moment.

There are three basic ways of using lighting for a subject - use existing lighting only, use artificial light only or use a little of both.  When I refer to 'existing lighting', I am referring to what available light is at the location - whether it is from the sun or artificially from an overhead light.  Existing lighting will be covered in more detail in a future article.  For very natural photographs, it is always better to use natural lighting whenever possible.  And, if you need to add bit of 'fill lighting' from a flash - be sure to not shoot the flash directly at the subject which can cause harsh shadows.  

When  I refer to 'artificial light', I am referring to a light source(s) added by the photographer which includes continuous lights, monolights (strobes) or flash units.  


Adding Light

Adding controlled light to a subject offers the advantages of the photographer being able to control how the subject is lit.  It also means that it can be made repeatable - which can be a very good thing. In the opening image, a studio strobe was placed on subject left front with a black backdrop placed in the background.  In order to get a more 'focused' light, a 10-degree Honeycomb grid was added to a reflector.  The Honeycomb grid acted the same way a snoot by concentrating the light in a tight, focused pattern.  

In the next example, three lights were used.  This time the Honeycomb grid was increased to 20-degree giving a broader coverage.  A second strobe with umbrella was placed at the subject right-front for a more even, and soft coverage.  A white backdrop was added in the background and a flash unit was placed on the floor behind the subject's head to provide a soothing glow.  


Adding Drama





It can also be fun experimenting with various lighting patterns when it comes to still life.  Using a snoot or Honeycomb grid can be very effective in controlling shadows and adding interest to  your subject.  By focusing on bright subjects against a dark background can give the feeling of dimension.  In the image to the left, note the nice shadows on the leaves and on the table.  The way the shadows break up the image adds a touch of texture and interest.



Existing Light






Whenever possible, I like to take candid photos rather than posed ones.  I find this often captures the moment and the individual more accurately.  The image to the left was taken while attending a tour of the American Visionary Arts Museum in Baltimore Maryland.  As the artist was speaking I noted that at times he would be positioned under an overhead light that would add touches of light to his face.  Rather than use an on-camera flash, the natural lighting brought the touch of drama I was looking for to capture the wonderful character in the subject's face.







I hope this Quick Tip gives you some ideas to try.  Have fun with creative lighting and experiment with how to add a touch of drama to your photographs.


[email protected] (John Soulé) Wed, 09 Jan 2013 17:33:00 GMT
Quick Tip - The Circular Polarizing (CP) Filter Water Lily


The Circular Polarizing (CP) filter is a simple tool that should be in every photographer’s bag.  And, if you are a serious amateur photographer, or pro, you most likely have one in your bag already.   This unique filter is attached to the front of the lens and can be used to remove unwanted reflections, enhance colors and create dramatic skies.  This Quick Tip is about how and when to use this filter.




Without getting too technical, every object outdoors reflects light from the sky more or less diffused and largely polarized. Often some objects can appear to have a bluish cast and be dull in photographs.  The main functions of the polarizing filter include: enhancing the color of a subject by blocking this ‘blue veil’ of light from the sky; and to control reflections.  The subject that you are shooting will display maximum  polarization at right angles to the sun’s position.


Polarizing Filters

For the purpose of this Quick Tip, there are two types of polarizing filters – linear and circular.  A circular polarizing (CP) filter is for use with all cameras with beam splitters in the light paths of their TTL exposure meter and with autofocus lenses. A Linear polarization filter is for SLRs and rangefinder cameras without beam splitters in their light paths.  Circular polarization has the same pictorial effect as linear polarization, but allows for proper exposure metering and/or autofocus distance settings. Since most of us today use DSLRs (digital single lens reflex cameras), for this Quick Tip I will focus on the CP filter which is a tad more expensive, but is more universal in use than the linear filter.


Using a CP Filter

The CP filter, which consists of two parts, is used by rotating one part of filter to absorb polarized light perpendicular to the lens as other part remains fixed.  Remember that the subject that you are shooting will display maximum  polarization at right angles to the sun’s position.  When the filter is rotated by 90º from its normal reflection-reducing position, it can even appear to increase the relative intensity of reflections on water, glass, lacquer and plastic materials up to a factor of 2.  At 180 degrees, with the sun right behind you, polarization is almost non-existent and the filter will not yield the same results.


Common Uses

White-spotted jellyfish



As previously mentioned, one of the most common uses of the CP filter is to  increase the saturation of the true color and create dramatic deep blue skies with bright contrasting clouds.  Another common use is to control reflections.

Both of these effects can often be seen when using polarized sun glasses.  When wearing polarized sunglasses, as you look at the sky and tilt your head, you will notice how the sky pops at certain angles – this happens when you are perpendicular to the polarized light. If you look at certain surfaces (that are reflecting polarized light) you will notice that the reflections can be removed depending on how you position your sunglasses.

As seem to the left, CP filters cane be very used with great success when shooting through aquarium glass.  The CP filter, by helping to reduce reflections from the glass, will make your photographs of marine life look clearer and their colors more saturated.





Black and White Photography

CP filters are not just for color photography.  In Black and White photography, CP filters can greatly increase the contrast and make white clouds stand out dramatically from an intensely darken sky.


There are a few things to consider when using a CP filter:

Filter Thickness and Vignetting

Since CP filters consist of two parts, one of which must be rotated, the combination can tend to be thick.  The added thickness of the frames to the edge of a wide-angle lens may cause vignetting.   The wider the coverage of the lens, the more noticeable the vignette.  When using a wide-angle lens, it is important to purchase ‘thin’ CP filters which are specially designed for that purpose.  I tend to purchase the thinnest filter, (that is threaded on both ends), that is available.

Wide-Angle Lenses

In addition to possible vignette, there is also the issue that parts of the sky that are not at a 90-degree to the sun will react differently to the polarizer.  The end result can be a most unnatural graduation of color. It is important to keep this in mind when you have a wide-angle lens on your camera.

Installation / Removal

Many folks will have added a UV filter for protection attached to their lens – and then attach the CP filter on top of that.  Not only will this add to the vignette effect but by adding yet another layer of glass between you and the subject can cause ‘ghosting’ (light reflections) and somewhat degraded image quality.  But for some, it may also introduce a challenge in separating the CP filter from the UV filter – remember part of the CP filter rotates.  It is suggested to remove any existing filters and use the CP filter alone.  There is no need to have UV filter plus a CP filter at the same time.

Loss of light

A CP filter reduces incoming light by an average of 1.5 stops.  Although not a deal breaker, this needs to be taken into consideration when making your exposures.


As with all filters, since I am adding another element between my lens and the subject, I do not want to degrade my image in any way.  For this reason, I always go with higher quality filters, such as from B+W, Cokin and Hoya.  Many pro lenses (f/2.8) use the same size 77mm filters – which can save you quite a bit by not needing to have multiple CP filters.  The better quality CP filters cost  $100 – $300 and often have special coatings to enhance the transmission of light, be designed to reduce internal reflections, be harder than regular glass and be threaded on the end to accept lens caps.  And, yes – you do pay for those features.

For me, if I invest over $1000 in a quality lens, I am certainly not going to put a low-cost filter between it and the subject. And, since the filter will fit multiple lenses, the extra investment can be worth it in the long run.  Sometimes you do get what you pay for (but do shop around for the best deal).


Cover Shot – Technique

Now for the opening shot.  The location was the lily ponds at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.  These ponds have wonderful water lilies floating in ink-black water that helps offset their beauty.

As always – I planned my shot. Where possible, I walk around and look for the best angles to bring out the subject. I look for lighting angles, background distractions and the overall composition before I take that first shot.  Yes, I am the guy that walks around making a rectangle with his fingers like a viewfinder.

For this shot, as you can imagine from my discussion above, I used a CP filter.  I positioned myself at an angle so that as I turned the CP filter I was able to ‘fine tune’  just the reflections I wanted to capture.

I ‘spot metered’ on the brightest part of the plant to avoid clipping (burning out white areas) and wanted to take advantage of the wonderful natural light. I took several test shots and reviewed my histograms for proper exposure. (White spikes to the right of the histogram meant parts of the image would be burned out with no detail.) I also shot RAW so I could make any fine EV adjustments in Post Processing if necessary.

Lastly I waited for a breeze to create ripples in the water to add a touch of texture. And that’s it.  What you see is what I saw.  It is the photographer’s desire to capture the shot correctly in the camera rather than to use a lot of Post Processing tricks.  [The camera was a Nikon D700 with 70-200 f/2.8 lens@200mm.  Settings: ISO 200, 1/640, f/5.6.  Tripod mounted using a manual trigger release.]



Polarizing filters can be used in a number of situations – have fun and see how one can improve your shots. 

All shots were taken with a Nikon D700 or D800 using a 70-200 f/2.8 or 24-70 f/2.8 and Schnieder Optics  B+W  77mm XS-Pro Digital MRC Nano Kaesemman CP Filter. All shots are taken from

[email protected] (John Soulé) Sun, 09 Dec 2012 14:01:17 GMT
The Maryland Blue Crab - A Treasure In Troubled Waters  

As the lobster is to Maine, the Blue Crab is to Maryland.  The reason the Blue Crab is such a treasure to Maryland is not just for the special flavor and the way they are prepared, but also for the fact that more than one-third of the United State's catch of Blue Crabs come from the Chesapeake Bay using an age-old technique of harvesting.


Unique Flavor

Most Marylanders can taste the difference between a 'local' crab from those that come outside of Maryland's waters - much in the same manner as a wine connoisseur can tell the source of a fine wine.  There is a special sweetness in the meat of the Maryland Blue Crab and, with the right steaming process and seasoning, the combination can be treat that is longed for all winter long.


Preparation / Pickin’

For the most part, cooking Blue Crabs is fairly simple:   Get a large pot, add the crabs, sprinkle in a variety of seasonings, including Old Bay, a touch of beer, and apply heat to steam them. The next part,  however,  is not as easy.  The crab meat is tucked away behind a hard shell that has to be pried off.  Once the shell has been removed, 6 gills, or lungs, called the 'dead man fingers' must be removed.  Below this, and some other unwanted 'innards', lay the cavities of meat encased in membranes of cartilage.

The meat then has to be ‘picked’ out exposing the ‘back-fin’ and the precious ‘lump’ meat.  Pickin' crabs can be a tedious process that some may find takes much too long.  It is a process that you need to plan on being occupied for possibly several hours.  And for those folks that are with you and not hard shell lovers, this can prove to be a very boring time as they wait for everyone to finish their meal.  But for many of us, this is a tradition and social event that you grow up with and look forward to all summer long.

Pickin' cabs is truly an art, and each person can have a style all their own. You will see some folks use their skills to pick through the crab like a trained surgeon and then there are those that will smash a crab with a mallet and waste much of the true delicacy. It is said that you expend more calories than you get from a crab because it takes about 20 crabs to get a pound of meat. However, there's nothing better than a cold drink, a pile of crabs and fresh corn to make all the world seem right.

Crab meat itself is enjoyed by consumers around the world as the result of workers manually picking through the crab, separating the meat from the cartilage and ‘cleaning out’ unwanted parts.  All this is done, one crab at a time and by hand.  Crab meat is then packed into containers for sale around the world and can be found in various dishes, such as Crab Imperial, Crab Cakes, and so on.


Troubled Waters

For the watermen of the Maryland Eastern Shore, Blue Crabs have become a last hope effort for making a living from the local waters. Crabbing is an industry that is becoming increasingly less viable as this resource becomes more and more limited.

Watermen are faced with several problems in their annual quest for a good harvest of crabs: the crabbing season is roughly only from June through October, the habitat has been declining due to poor water quality and natural predators are on the increase.

As human populations have increased along the Bay, so has the demand for crabs.  Unfortunately adult populations of the Blue Crab are decreasing. The majority of the environmental damage is blamed on the region's large poultry industry and the run-off of nitrogen and phosphorous-rich chicken manure into the Bay.  This has led to debate over fishing quotas, stricter farming rules, and the possibility of increased taxes to help clean-up the Bay. Another side effect is an increase in prices charged for crabs as demand increases and availability decreases.

It is hoped that proper management of the crab harvest, as well as water quality improvements and bay grass restoration efforts, will help restore the Bay's blue crab population and maintain this valuable resource into the future.  Blue crabs are currently managed as a single species, using minimum catch size and seasonal limits on harvests to meet target levels of fishing pressure.


The Location

The home to the Maryland Blue Crab is the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Of the estimated 500 million crabs living in the Chesapeake Bay, an estimated 75% of the adult stock is removed every year.  With crabs maturing after 18 months, the supply has been barely able to keep pace with the harvest.

Yes, you can find Blue Crabs in the Atlantic waters off the Carolinas, and in the Gulf waters off of Texas and Louisiana.  But to a Marylander - Blue Crabs are just not the same as those that come from other waters.  In fact, what makes the flavor of the Maryland Blue Crab unique has to do in part with the water where fresh water and salt water mix.

The word "Chesapeake" comes from a Native American word which means "great shell-fish bay." And there's nothing more “Chesapeake” than the Bay's signature crustacean, the blue crab. Callinectes (“beautiful swimmer”) sapidus (“savory”), a member of the swimming crab family, is an aggressive, bottom-dwelling predator and one of the most recognizable species in the Bay.


The Crabbing Process

The crabbing process has actually as not changed much since the time watermen first came to the Chesapeake Bay.

Commercial crabbers attempt to harvest large numbers of crabs for resale by taking to the waters using specially designed boats from which they will deploy crab pots or drop long baited lines. Recreational crabbers go after only what they can consume themselves and either use small boats or simply drop bait lines down around piers where crabs often congregate.

Crabs are ‘bottom feeders’ and are considered scavengers. Going after them means getting down to their level at the bottom of the water - sometimes not such an easy task.





Crabbing Boat

The typical crabbing boat has an enclosed helm and a long, open, work area with low sides (gunwales). Many utilize a motorized "line hauler" to hoist the crab pots from the water.

Crabbers will either use a trotline, bait line or crab pots (cages).







A trotline is a long line that is knotted at intervals to hold bait.  It is considered to be one of the most efficient methods of crabbing because it allows the waterman to work large areas of water of varying depths and conditions in order to maximize the catch. Commercial crabbers run one or more lines up to a mile in length!







Bait Line

The bait line or drop line method is the simplest way to catch Blue Crabs. The crabber lowers a baited line, (raw chicken parts work well), into the water, waits for a nibble, then slowly raises the line after a bite as the crab hangs onto the bait. A dip net is then slipped under the crab.  A slow process indeed.  Patience is a requirement.





Crab Pots

Crab pots are the tool of choice for commercial watermen - although only lasting one or two seasons. Watermen need a good bait to lure the crabs inside. Eel, herring, and menhaden are the most popular baits. Most watermen check and re-bait their pots daily.  When stacked, the crabs pots look like an abstract work of art.





To weigh the lines down, waterman will often use any heavy object they can find - including parts from an automobile engine.






Going to Market

Once harvested, crabs are sorted by size and placed into wooded bushel baskets for resale.  In speaking with a local watermen, it was stated that once the bushels are packed, he loads them into his pickup truck to transport to the market.  Wise consumers, however, often arrive at  the boat docks while the trucks are being loaded and make their purchases before the trucks take to the roads.  A bushel will hold about 8 dozen medium to large size crabs (less than 8 pounds of meat.)




The Impact of Hurricane Sandy - the 'Perfect Storm' 

Turbulent waters as the result of storms greatly inhibit the ability to harvest crabs.  And the recent hurricane that hit the Eastern United States was no exception and resulted in the extension of the 2012 commercial crab season into mid-November. The days of lost opportunity occurred during the time period when catch rates for female crabs are at the highest because of the timing of the Southward migration of female crabs.



If you have not had the chance to taste a Maryland Blue Crab, it is truly hard to explain what you are missing.  But once you do, you may very well understand why the Blue Crab has become such a treasure to the folks of Maryland and why there is concern over the local crabbing industry.

(For the photographer - all shots were taken with a Nikon D7000 /17-55 lens or Nikon D800 / 70-200 VRII lens. - No crabs were hurt in the making of this article.)


Please see my other articles here or in IMPress Magazine @


[email protected] (John Soulé) Sat, 10 Nov 2012 21:45:00 GMT
The Art of Storytelling Comes to American Visionary Art Museum _JAS5075_4x6

The Art of Storytelling: Lies, Enchantment, Humor & Truth opened on October 6, 2012 at The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore Maryland.  Featuring more than thirty artists, this nearly year-long exhibit is considered by many to be the best hosted by AVAM in five years.  At the exhibit, artists have presented their works in film, embroidery, diorama, sculpture, film graffiti and PostSecret confessions.  And, many of the artists were on-hand to verbalize their story during a special Media preview.





The exhibit was brought to AVAM by the co-curator team of Rebecca Hoffberger (Founder and Director of AVAM) and Mary Ellen “Dolly” Vehlow  (award-winning graphic designer) who together brought works hat included darker, more troubling images than one might expect.  ‘From scripture to fairy tale, cartoons to cyberbullying, the raw power of stories to inspire and enchant, spread lies or to inform, simply has no equal’ according to a press release.

The following article is a very brief recap of some of those artists and their works that are now on display.





_JAS9794 Béatrice Coron's Tyvek Art

Béatrice Coron, whose works include illustration book arts, fine art an public art, provided her characteristic silhouette deigns created in Tyvek to great visitors along the  main staircase to the second floor of the museum and…

AVAM Staicase







above these wonderful works of art hung colorful painted self-portrait stories by Rescued Children of Friends-International Cambodia (upper left).





Frank Warren’s selection of ‘Bullying’ PostSecrets and essay _JAS9816

Frank Warren is the creator of the Post Secret project that has produced five best-selling books based on the postcards revealing a secret that have been sent to him since 2004. Warren, who used to stick self-addressed postcards between pages at a bookstore in Baltimore, inviting strangers to send him their secrets, has received half a million postcards that he has organized into countless exhibitions and five books. He has had exhibits at AVAM since 2007. For this year’s show, he selected postcards around the theme of bullying. It turns out that bullying was his own deepest secret.









Calvin and Ruby Black’s ‘Possum Trot Figures and film 

Portions of Calvin and Ruby Black’s Possum Trot town, which was created in the early 1950’s in the Mojave desert for their rock shop, was on display with a few of the actual dolls that were hand carved by Calvin.  Each doll represented someone important in this life.  The dolls were placed in an animated display to lure visitors into his shop.  A wonderful documentary film of actual footage of Possum Trotwas on continuous display (provided by Light-Saraf Films).


_JAS5097 Esther’s Story - Esther Krinitz 36-piece embroidered tale of her Holocaust survival

The late Esther Nisenthal Krinitz found her own way to deflate painful secrets. As a young Jewish girl in Poland, she escaped the Nazis by pretending to be a Catholic farm girl. She translated those memories into fabric tableaux that are remarkable for their content as well as their visual subtlety. When she depicts a meadow, she gives us not a solid field of green but five different kinds of green thread, sewn in a pattern of sunlight and shade. She sews the lines in the bark and in the leaves of a tree. This is vividly visual art.  Esther and her sister Mania were the only members of their family to survive the Holocaust.

Bernice Steinhardt, one of Esther’s daughters, was on-hand to explain that ”When people see my mother’s work, they are always struck by how incredibly beautiful it is, even as she tells these horrific stories.”
















“Once she realized that she could tell her story through sewing, she never stopped,” Steinhardt says. “She always had a picture in progress. During the last 10 years of her life, she made 34 pictures. It had become an essential thing for her, to introduce the family that she had come from to the family that she created.”




Debbie and Mike Schramer’s ‘Fairy Tree Houses’

Debbie and Mike Schramer provided their vision of Fair y Tree Houses made completely from recycled natural materials such as flowers, moss, leaves, seaweed and stones to sculpt small pieces of furniture and dwellings. The attention to detail was truly amazing.  Each was several feet tall.








Allen Hicks

Allen Hicks creates art, usually in his backyard, whenever he has time. His pieces hang from trees, are attached to the fence in his front garden and inside his rowhouse. “I’m not a trained artist. I’ve never been to art school,” he said.  He displayed a photo of his metal LOVE sculpture made out of old election signs that he has erected on his back fence, the site of a lot of his artwork. “I had to replace them three times,” he said “… because people ‘loved’ them.”  For the exhibit, he provided a head and knife sculpture (inspired by an incident experienced in a bar) and what at first appears to be an official Baltimore City sign but contains the words ‘Madman or Genius’.  (He often attaches it to his truck.)





Patty Kuzbida

Patty Kuzbida came to AVAM as a volunteer and was inspired to create art as personal gifts.  One of her most popular works, ‘What Me Worry’, is a headboard made from glass beads, fake jewelry and beetle wings in an arrangement to depict the gap-toothed, smiling face ofMAD magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman.





Larry Yust’s Streets Tell Stories

Larry Yust, well known for his contributions to educational films, is an avid photographer who is always engaged in new projects.  He makes his compelling images by snapping overlapping photographs of blocks of storefronts and buildings, ensuring that the plane of the camera lens and the plane of the subject always remain parallel. He records numerous pictures for each elevation, and then digitally composes them into one long seamless image, rendering a perspective that cannot be captured by other photographic techniques or even the naked eye.  One such project is on images of graffiti and street art that tells stories from across the globe.




Mathew Williams’ The Crying Child

Mathew “Bay” “Bay” Williams was on hand to talk about his famous painting, “The Crying Child”  which depicts the loneliness he had experienced as a child growing up in the Ghetto area of Baltimore.
















Dr. Phillip J. Merrill

Dr. Phillip J. Merrill discussed Baltimore's Medical Camelot - the story of Dr. George Lennard.  Dr. Phillips's specialties include African American historical research, oral history and collecting and interpreting cultural artifacts.

The owner of an extensive and eclectic collection of Black memorabilia comprised of over 30,000 items, Merrill has exhibited his collection widely at museums, universities and schools, national conferences and a variety of other settings.  In his presentations he uses items from his collection to emphasize the accomplishments and positive contributions that African Americans have made to American society over the course of its history.

Dr. Merrill addressed the many accomplishments of  Dr. Kennard as a brilliant African American physician and minister.





Apache elder Judy Tallwing’s tribal legends

Judy Tallwing, a long-term political and social activist, is a recognized and accomplished fine Native American artisan.  Her works on display, painted with precious metals and adorned with prayer beads, speak to the oral traditions that pass sacred stores to new generations.



















Judy Tallwing's The Pipe Carriers was created in resin, silver, gold, sterling acrylic, copper and sacred piper dust.








Vanessa German’s unique sculptures

Pittsburgh’s Vanessa German broke into an impromptu piece about ‘hands’ to everyone’s delight.  On display were her mixed-media sculptures that were powerful creations and a must-see for the exhibit.










“I grew up in a rough section of L.A. during the ’80s when gangs and crack were taking over,” German says, “and one way mom kept us off the streets and in the house was to have us making things all the time. If we wanted books, we made them. If we wanted dolls, we made them. My first doll was a plastic detergent bottle with a light bulb for a head. When we moved to Pittsburgh, mom asked us to make angels for the tree, but I was depressed, so I made a clay doll and stuck rusty nails into its head. My sisters said, ‘Vanessa, you’re supposed to make an angel,’ but I said, ‘This is how I feel.’ Later on, I found out that, in the Congo, the Nkisi are wooden power figures with nails pounded into them. When I saw that, chills went down my spine, because they were doing things for hundreds of years that I did on my own just because it felt right. I realized if I could make a Nkisi, it just might change my life.”




Timmerman Daugherty – The Selike

Timmerman Daugherty, known for her ‘Weird Garden’ in Baltimore Maryland approaches art outside the rules. After a car accident in 1998, Ms. Daugherty focused her attention on art as a release from pain.  One of the works she displayed was ‘The Selike’, inspired by the traditional folk song from Orkney, Scotland ‘The Great Selkie of Sule Skerry’ .









Footnotes . . .

Often it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and for this exhibit, that is so very true.

However, having the actual artists tell their stories was pretty amazing I must say.

AVAM always has some very cutting-edge exhibits, and this certainly is one of them.   AVAM also sponsors the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race also covered in both myImagez articles and on ipaIMPress Magazine.

AVAM – a recommended stop on your visit to Baltimore Maryland.

For the photographer – Equipment used was Nikon D7000 w/15-55 f/2.8 lens + SB600 flash and Nikon D800 w/14-24 f/2.8 lens + SB900 flash.  Portraits were shot using natural light  and ISO of 3200.



[email protected] (John Soulé) Sat, 13 Oct 2012 17:33:23 GMT
How to photograph: Through an Airplane Window

Photo opportunities that are often overlooked by air travelers are those that can be taken through an airplane’s window.  Often when travelers make an attempt at this special form of photography they become dissatisfied with their results.  I have been asked on numerous occasions 'How did you get that shot?'  I must admit that shooting through an airplane window can be a challenge.

The purpose of this article is to provide a few tips to help with that challenge so you can take pictures such as the award wining one shown above of the Alps at sunrise.  Although the Nikon D7000 camera is a great choice for shooting these images, these tips can be applied to most any camera.


Fascinating Subjects


I find that there are many very interesting subjects that can be captured when traveling by airplane.  Whether it is cities, mountainous landscapes, winding rivers or patchwork-like farms, there is usually something out of the window that can make for a unique scene just waiting to be captured.  And the scene, often framed by blue skies and cotton-like clouds suspended in air, can be amazing.

I would also suggest not overlooking just the clouds themselves which can be most interesting as the subject in a photograph - appearing as waves of cotton balls of varying density.

For me, mountainous regions with white snow capped peaks, winding rivers, and small towns nestled in valleys is hard to beat as the landscape contrasts against a blue sky and everything just seem to pop.

One of the challenges is knowing when you will be approaching a subject rather than spending your entire time looking out of the window.  Other challenges to consider are lighting, location, equipment and technique.




As with any photography, lighting is a very important factor to consider.  Of course, shooting into the sun is never a good idea.  And, as is the case with land-based shots, the higher the sun is above the subject, the more washed out the subject can become. The best shots, in terms of lighting and color, are generally taken in early morning or in evening.  When the sun is low, subjects are touched by its warm glow and the lighting creates contrasts and nice shadows.

Regretfully, by being in an airplane, the outside lighting is one thing you cannot control.  And unless you have a flexible enough schedule to plan your air travel to have you over a subject at a specific time of day, you will just have to do the best with what you are given.  Most travelers do not consider the possibility that they may be taking pictures out of the window of a plane when they plan their travel itinerary.  For the photographer, however, it is nice to plan ahead of time so you are prepared - just in case.



Your shooting location is simple.  Choose a window seat that is away from the wing. There are times having the wing as part of the image can be interesting - and can often be used as a nice transition shot in a slideshow.  But, the wing can also obscure some parts of a subject that you may wish it had not.  And, If you are directly over the wing, you may easily end up with a shot of just the wing itself.  Many will book early and request seats toward the front of the plane, which then avoids the wing in the image.

Sometimes the window glass will be scratched or display other flaws. This, however, is out of your control and may determine whether or not any shots will be possible where you are located.

Your lens will focus at infinity if you are shooting the ground or the clouds and not the wing of the plane and the sky.  If this is the case then the minor imperfections in the window glass will be slightly out of focus and not as noticeable.  Test it out at various lens openings too, the wider the lens opening (smaller the F stop number), the better the chance of not seeing the imperfections.  When you view your image in your camera, zoom in so you can really see what is in focus and what is not. The D7000 and other cameras allow you to do this.

It also helps to know which side of the plane to be on if at all possible.  For example - suppose you will be flying into Reagan-National Airport (outside of Washington DC) coming from JKF in New York and you want to capture the monuments in Washington.  The flight path will take you west of Washington as you come form the north.  You will then want to book a seat on the left side of the plane leaving from JFK.  As the plane is over Washington DC on its final approach, you will have fantastic views of many of the major Washington moments.  And ideally, you will be coming in when the evening sun is adding its warmth to the scene.

You can often look up flight paths ahead of time to help determine your optimal seat location on the plane for your specific subjects.  But, based on weather and other unforeseen factors, flight paths can change.



I would recommend using a high quality lens on a DSLR that will yield an effective 28mm on a 35mm (Full Frame) camera and chose a shutter speed of no less than 1/250sec.  This will help limit any noticeable camera shake and eliminate motion blurs.  For convenience, a DSLR may be replaced by a small 'point-and-shoot' camera.  The loss of capture control and lower image quality is the trade-off for convenience.

I generally have my DSLR camera in a shoulder bag that fits under the plane seat, ready to go at a moment's notice.  It should be noted though, the space under window seats is often smaller than the aisle and center seat.  In that you will have a somewhat smaller space to work with, a backpack that has to be pulled out, maneuvered around your legs and then unzipped to gain access to your camera may not be the best choice.   I speak from experience here.



When you compose your shot, fill the frame.  This can also be accomplished later by cropping the final image.  Also include interesting subjects such as the moon whenever possible for a transition or closing sequence in a slideshow or book.  You may even want to leave some open space for a closing title to be superimposed on the final image.

As mentioned before, I would highly recommend using a quality lens.  Although 'point-and-shoot' cameras are easy to carry and allow for quick access, they often have limitations when it comes to both image capture control and overall image quality.  The lower image quality is more noticeable on prints larger than 4x6.  Their advantage of convenience, however, often outweighs lower image quality.

I use a DX type DSLR camera such as the Nikon D7000 when traveling.  For shots from an airplane, I couple this with a Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 lens for its light gathering capability, wide range and overall image quality (shown on the right). 

Depending on the available light on the subject, I often shoot at 1/500sec (either in shutter priority or manual mode) and adjust my aperture and ISO accordingly.  For low light subjects I often have to shoot with an aperture set to f/2.8.  This is where the quality of the lens really stands out.  Technology has come a long way in reducing noise that is created by increasing the ISO to compensate for low light.  The smaller the ISO, the less noise or grain you will have and the clearer your image will be. And by having a f/2.8 capable lens available, I can shoot 'wide open' requiring a lower ISO than if I had stopped down to f/4.  I rarely use 'P' (Program Mode) and never 'A' Auto Mode.

Keep in mind that your are always moving.  The higher your altitude, the less ground motion will be a factor.  If, however, you are on approach to land, you will be much lower to the ground than your cruising altitude and ground motion will become a huge factor.  Here again, using shutter priority (greater than 1/250sec) will be an important factor to consider.

Reflected light can be a serious problem.  To help eliminate unwanted reflections and to protect my lens from touching the window itself, I shoot with the lens hood attached and use my hand cupped around the lens hood, (keeping it from touching the window surface).  If the lens hood touches the glass directly, there is a good chance vibration from the plane will be transferred to the camera and result in images that demonstrate motion blur.

Lights in the cabin itself can also be an issue. To avoid reflections, I try to shoot as perpendicular to the glass as possible.  If I have to shoot at an angle, I wrap a jacket around the camera lens to block out as much side light as possible that may sneak in through the gap.  Shooting at an angle introduces the issue of going through multiple layers of glass and refraction (not reflection) becomes an issue and can introduce distortion and even a prismatic effect (rainbow) that will have an adverse affect on the capture.

Also - be sure a polarizing filter is not attached to the lens.  This can cause even more issues as light passes through the multiple layers of glass/plastic.

Three more important considerations:

  • Focus - Quite often the autofocus will get confused when shooting through glass.  Switching to manual focussing mode can help a lot.
  • Widow Moisture - Beware of moisture and ice that can get trapped between the two or more layers of window glass.  As moisture or ice builds up during the flight, some captures will be just impossible.
  • Flash - This may seem obvious, but if you are shooting in low light, be sure the built-in flash is disabled or it may fire.


Type of Airplane

One additional consideration is the type of airplane you are flying in.  It is assumed here that the plane is a commercial airliner.  However, some very exciting shots can be taken when traveling in helicopters and small airplanes - such as four to six seaters.  I have found that some exceptional opportunities are provided by spending time in a small plane as you gain a different perspective of the country-side when seen from a 'bird's eye view'.  I would highly recommend considering a tour by small plane whenever possible - and seaplanes are a blast!


In Conclusion

Taking pictures when traveling by air can be both challenging and rewarding.  Hopefully these tips will help make getting those unique captures more of a rewarding experience the next time you fly - and be sure to get a window seat!

For other 'How to Tips', please see my other articles here or in IMPress Magazine:

       More to come . . .


[email protected] (John Soulé) airplane window nikon d7000 photography Wed, 15 Aug 2012 11:25:30 GMT
Washington DC burned by troops. Warships invade Baltimore harbor. Remembering the War of 1812.

The Battle of Baltimore - The Tipping Point

The year was 1814 and the War of 1812 was now in its second year and the untrained militia that was left to guard Washington DC was no match for British troops as they burned most of the public buildings including the Capitol, Library of Congress and Treasury.  George Washington had taken his troops to Annapolis thinking the invasion would be there.  With fires burning throughout the city, another battle was about to take place that would become the tipping point of the War, forge a new path for freedom in America and inspire the writing of a National Anthem.  The stage was being set for the Battle of Baltimore.


With the prior victories in mind, a confident British Royal Navy sailed into the Chesapeake Bay. The only thing that stood in their way from advancing to Baltimore was a few American warships and a star shaped 'Fort McHenry' with just 1000 men standing watch.

However, unlike what happened with the burning of Washington DC one month earlier, Baltimore was more prepared.  The attack was to take place on both land and on water with nineteen British warships set to send nearly 1,800 cannon balls at the fort as 5,000 British troops were on land for their assault.



Our Flag Was Still There

Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner had set sail from Baltimore flying a flag of truce on a mission to secure an exchange of prisoners. The two were allowed to board a British warship and show letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Americans for their kind treatment.

However, fearing that these two would return with information to the American militia about the British plans of attack, it was decided by the British that they were to remain on the British boat until after the battle had unfolded.

The bombing continued for 25 hours.  Lasting throughout the rainy night, and from a vantage point not too far from the battle, Francis Scott Key watched as Fort McHenry was hit by rockets and bombs bursting in air.  He observed that the fort's smaller "storm flag" continued to fly, but once the barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn - either by a surrender flag of white, or the American Flag.

As the weak morning sun filtered throughout the clouds, a huge flag had now replaced the smaller flag and was flying high over the ramparts.  The battle was over and as the British retreated, this moment inspired Key to jot down some verses of a poem on the back of one of the letters he had been carrying.  He titled the poem "The Defense of Fort McHenry" and set it to an old English drinking song, "To Anacreon In Heaven".  In 1931 it became the American National Anthem.


The Star-Spangled Sailabration

In the summer of 2012, nearly a million visitors came to Baltimore to witness the Bicentennial 'Star Spangled Sailabration'  to commemorate the War of 1812.  The largest maritime festal in Baltimore history kicked off with the arrival of more than forty tall ships and naval vessels from thirteen countries from around the world. The Baltimore Star-Spangled Sailabration was part of the national launch of the War of 1812 Bicentennial and consisted of a week-long festival that included naval ships, symphonies, an airshow and fireworks.

The United States Navy partnered with host cities, the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and other government, private and public international organizations to the tell the story of America's 'Second War of Independence.'  The Commemoration will continue throughout the United States into 2013 with events marking the Battles of Lake Erie and Lake Champlain and into 2014 with the bicentennial of the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner and finally end in 2015 with the Bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans.  (For a full schedule of events and a full list of ships participating in each city, please see:


Tall Ships come to Baltimore


The arrival of the Tall Ships to Baltimore kicked off the week-long events.  As each ship passed by Fort McHenry, they exchanged cannon salutes.  The majestic flotilla of more than 40 tall ships and naval vessels from 13 countries around the world was truly a sight to behold as sailors stood precariously on top of the yardarms of the Tall Ships as they arrived to the cheers of thousands of visitors crowded around the docks.  After docking, the ships were opened to anxious visitors for a brief tour of the vessel.  The opening image of this article is of the Pride of Baltimore II that is a reproduction of an 1812-era topsail schooner, the type of vessel, called Baltimore Clipper, that helped America win the War of 1812 and finally secure its freedom.


Navy Seal Extraction

In the shadow of Fort McHenry, the Navy Seals gave over thirteen thousand spectators a first hand look as they sprang into action.  In a mockup situation, a Seal Team took a handcuffed prisoner to the water's edge for a waiting motorized raft.  All of a sudden three assault craft came in 'hot' as they laid down cross fire to an enemy machine gun installation hidden near the shoreline.  As the prisoner was taken aboard one of the crafts for extraction, Seal Teams continued their fire.  This was like watching a live version of the movie "Act of Valor".  Quite an exciting way to start the show.


Spectacular Air Show

Following the excitement provided by the Navy Seals, the air show began with a flyover of F-18 Super Hornets and continued with various air craft from the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.   The stars of the show were the six Blue Angels demonstrating the tight precision flying of their F-18s - often only 18" apart and traveling at speeds of nearly 700mph and as slow as 100mph.

During their aerobatic demonstration, the Blue Angels split into their famous 'diamond formation' (Blue Angels 1 through 4) and the Lead and Opposing Solos (Blue Angels 5 and 6). Most of the show alternates between the Diamond Formation and those performed by the Solos.  The Solos really showcase the high performance capabilities of the F-18 through the execution of high-speed passes, slow passes, fast rolls, slow rolls, and very tight turns.  (See the video slideshow below for more images from the air show and the Blue Angels).




By the Dawn's Early Light


It was quite a packed week of events and with so many visitors in Baltimore, it had been suggested to take public transportation and if possible, book a room near the harbor.  A very good suggestion indeed.  For much of the weekend, the city was in gridlock.  And, if it were not having a room near the harbor and a press pass that got me through road blocks, it would have been most difficult in getting around.  If you are lucky enough to experience one of these festivals over the next few years (the next one in Baltimore will be September 6, 2014), I would highly suggest booking a room nearby, count on public transportation and make dinner reservations well in advance.  The wait for dinner was over two hours for those that did not make reservations as we had.


Notes for the Photographer

Festivals such as this can be a photographer's dream.  From candid photographs of people from all walks of life to spectacular subjects such as tall ships and military air craft - the opportunities are almost endless.  The shots posted here were taken from a Nikon D800 (see my brief review) and a Nikon D7000.  Most days I carried both cameras and used a Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 lens as a 'walk-around' on the D7000 and a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII on the D800 for high-resolution close-ups.  On 'media' days, I also set up a tripod in key locations and waited patiently for the subjects to come to me.  (One of the benefits of a media pass is being given 'inside' information of where and when to be.)  

Getting good shots of aircraft can be very tricky.  Often you will be shooting into the sun and your images will lack contrast.  Additionally, the subject can be traveling at quite a high rate of speed which can make keeping the image focused difficult. This type of photography requires a few special techniques that I will address in a future article.  (also see Space Shuttle Discovery's Final Journey for techniques used for that photoshoot).

With digital cameras, taking a lot of shots can be very easy - sometimes too easy.  For three days of shooting, using two cameras, I captured 981 images.  But with any photography, it is a numbers game - the more you shoot, the more keepers you will have.  Being prepared with the right equipment, in the right location, at the right time of day can make all the difference in the world.


/john soulé, IPA


For a recap of the Tall Ships and Air Show - please see this brief video:

[email protected] (John Soulé) baltimore event photojournalism star spangled sailabration war of 1812 Thu, 12 Jul 2012 10:37:21 GMT
We Will Never Forget - Rolling Thunder 2012

Memorial Day means different things to different people in the United States. For some, it marks the beginning of summer, a time when pools open and we head to the beach. But for some, Memorial Day weekend means parades, visiting cemeteries and honoring fallen soldiers.  In the Washington DC area, Monday marks daylong events, starting with a parade down Constitution Avenue and the laying of the wreath at the the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. But on Sunday, it is the bringing awareness for the recognition and protection of Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Missing in Action (MIAs) by Rolling Thunder,  consisting of over 450,000 motorcycles and one million spectators, as it converges from all across the country on Washington DC.  As hundreds of thousands lined the streets from the Pentagon to the heart of Washington, the thunderous sounds of motorcycles echo off government office buildings as onlookers cheer, wave flags and salute the riders.

Rolling Thunder is an annual motorcycle rally that is held in the nation's capital during the Memorial Day weekend in tribute to American war heroes. The tribute first started out with 2,500 participants and has now grown to approximately a million participants and spectators from 90 chartered chapters throughout the United States and abroad. This year Rolling Thunder celebrated its 25th anniversary with over 450,000 motorcycles coming to Washington.







In the fall of 1987, a group of veterans met to discuss their personal concerns about the POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War. They were deeply troubled by the neglect of attention given to those who did not make it out with their lives or their freedom. It had been reported that more than 10,000 Americans were living in dismal captivity. These reports were generally ignored by the government and mainstream press and was truly a difficult time in America's history.

In 1988, veterans of the Vietnam War rallied together their families, fellow veterans, and veterans' advocates to organize a demonstration in Washington, DC during the Memorial Day weekend. They announced their arrival with the roar of their Harley-Davidsons, a sound not unlike the 1965 bombing campaign against North Vietnam named Operation Rolling Thunder. Approximately 2,500 motorcycles participated in this rally, demanding that the U.S. government account for all POW/MIA's. The group became known as Rolling Thunder and each year since has held an annual "Ride for Freedom" to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

The group is now actively involved year-round in promoting legislation to increase veteran benefits and resolve the POW/MIA issue from all wars. They also provide financial support, food, clothing and other essentials to veterans, veterans' families, veterans groups, and women's' crisis centers


"We Will Never Forget"



While many members of Rolling Thunder are veterans and many ride motorcycles, neither qualification is a prerequisite. Rolling Thunder members are old and young, men and women, veterans and non-veterans.  But, all are united in the cause to bring full accountability for Prisoners Of War (POW) and Missing In Action (MIA) of all wars, reminding the government, the media and the public by their watchwords: “We Will Never Forget.”





25th Anniversary - 450,000 strong! 

This year started with entertainment on Saturday, May 26, 2012 and continued with the motorcycle rally on Sunday, May 27.  The procession began at the Pentagon at noon and extended into Washington D.C. as it passed the Washington Monument, continued around the Mall to the Capital and then ended at West Potomac Park near the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War / Vietnam Memorial Wall hours later.


As thousands of riders made their way to the end of their journey near the War Memorials, you could not help but be moved by the emotion that surrounded you.  As I walked toward the Korean War Memorial, I could hear the names of fallen soldiers being spoken over the loud speakers.  Wreaths and American Flags were laid throughout the memorials and decorated war veterans where standing in groups reliving the days of the past.

The excitement had diminished and those that had made the journey here had come to pay their respect and honor the fallen.  The atmosphere was quiet different from what, just minutes earlier, involved crowds of cheering spectators.

At the Vietnam Wall, long lines formed as many  walked in silence as they looked for the names of their loved ones.  Some, with paper in hand, made a tracing of a name etched into the wall.

Five custom-made "tribute" motorcycles, one for each branch of military service, were built especially to commemorate the Rolling Thunder 25th anniversary. The anniversary tribute, sponsored by the Center for American Military Music Opportunities, featured a variety of musical performances and a series of guest speakers including prominent POW/MIA, military and veterans affairs leaders and activists.

For me, this was an experience that I will never forget and will always appreciate having the opportunity to attend and pay honor to our service men and women.


See the video re-cap of the event:



/john soule, IPA
[email protected] (John Soulé) motorcycle photojournalism pow rolling thunder washington Wed, 27 Jun 2012 23:59:09 GMT
Global Race For the Cure 2012 - Washington DC  

This June, over 27,000 participants gathered at the National Mall near the Washington Monument for the 23rd Susan G. Komen Global Race for the 

Cure.   The event, held annually in Washington, DC, raises funds for community health outreach programs in the Washington Metro Area, while also funding research and global breast health programs.


Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer.  In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement. 

Today, the Susan G. Komen organization works to end breast cancer in the United States and throughout the world through ground-breaking research, community health outreach, advocacy and programs in more than 50 countries.

Komen is now the largest non-profit fund raiser for breast cancer reserach outside of the federal government, contributing more than $740 million in the past 30 years and funding more than 500 grants globally.


Global Race for the Cure 2012

It was a clear morning for this year's Global Race for the Cure.  The annual event had drawn tens of thousands of people to the National Mall for the 5k walk/run around historic monuments.  Participants gathered at the foot of the Washington Monument on the National Mall as the ceremony kicked off at 7:40am with Sarah Charness playing the National Anthem.  Ambassador Gary Doer from the Embassy of Canada gave a few words and then came the parade of survivors - one by one filling the grandstands.  Colby Dee performed a specially written song, followed by a few words from survivor Bridget Spence, actress Gabrielle Union and founder Nancy Brinker.

The race started at the foot of the Washington Monument, continued past the White House and Vietnam Memorial, past National Museums and ended at the foot of the Capital where vendor tents welcomed visitors, bands performed and a survivor costume contest was to be held.  It was quite a full and emotional day.


Survivor Parade

After the opening remarks, names of special individual survivors were called and a parade of pink began to fill the grandstands surrounding the Main Stage. To qualify as a survivor means to have beaten cancer for at least five years.  The survivors' shirts were clearly labeled 'survivor' and many took additional steps to color their hair or wear pink hats to add to their appearance.

More than 100,000 survivors and activists have made this the world's largest and most progressive grassroots network in the fight of breast cancer.


Colby Dee performs

The rising country star Colby Dee performed her inspirational single,  I Will Fight On -  a song specially written for her longtime and close friend, Joni Moore Kanazawa, who is currently battling breast cancer.  This was a very personal moment for Colby as she sang on Main Stage.   Colby stated that she was really nervous singing this song to her 34 year-old friend who was hearing it for the first time live.  Colby said she could not look at her friend who had been diagnosed this past October out of fear of breaking down in tears.

“It is incredible to be part of this year’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure”, stated Colby.  “Not only is it exciting to perform in Washington DC, but this fantastic event is a rewarding opportunity for everyone involved to give back and have fun.”


The Bridget Spence story

Bridget Spence (left) came to Main Stage introduced by WASH-FM's Maureen McLain.  Bridget told her moving story as how, two weeks after her college graduation from Boston University at 21, she was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.  She explained how she had no family history of breast cancer and that now her whole life and future plans had to change as she would be spending much of her time in the hospital for 4 - 10 hours, three days a week.  That was in 2005.

She explained that since her diaganois, the Susan G. Komen organization had helped her every step of the way and wanted to give a special thank you to everyone for giving her more time with her husband.  Bridget calls herself "... a little girl on a scary journey wearing a pair of Big Girl Pants."  A very emotional moment.


Actress Gabrielle Union speaks

Taking the stage next was 39-year-old actress Gabrielle Union who has been vocal in lending her talents to the cause.  After her remarks she put on her running shoes and took part in the race to help raise money in honor of a friend who lost her battle with breast cancer.

Gabrielle said that it was a “...beautiful morning in DC... [and was] ... so proud to be a part of the Global Race and an Ambassador ... in memory of ... Kristen Martinez.”

She is also an ambassador for  a skin health campaign which seeks to raise sun protection awareness and reduce skin cancer diagnoses.



Founder Nancy Brinker speaks

After a moment of silence, the founder of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Nancy Brinker took stage as thousands cheered. Nancy had started the foundation nearly thirty years ago in Dallas, Texas for what is now recognized as the world's largest and most successfully series of 5k run/walk events designed to raise public awareness of breast cancaer.

She has grown involvement from what started with 800 participants to over 1.6 million participants in more that 150 locations globally.  In total, 18 international races are to be held worldwide this year.  Nancy was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009.


Howard University Gospel Choir Performs

As participants headed to the Starting Line, they were greeted by the uplifting voices of the Howard University Gospel Choir.  Many standing in line waiting for the start of the race sang, clapped and danced.  The choir was formed in 1968 and was the first college choir of its kind in the world.  A truly uplifting moment for the participants.


The Participants

There were three types of participants in attendance: survivors, family/friends of someone touched by breast cancer and there were supporters.  Survivors could be identified by their pure pink attire - from shirts to hats with the words 'Survivor' proudly displayed.  Supporters who were registered runners/walkers wore 'Race for the Cure' T-shrits.  Some groups came with 'team' shirts that were made with their organization or loved one's name.  Supporters carried flags, banners and hand-made signs.  There were men and women of all ages, babies in carriages, Kids for the Cure, and of course pets of all kinds.

There were also many corporations, some large and some small, that came to provide their support.  I spoke with Doug Greise and Dave Svec founders of Veris Group, a leading Virginia-based IT corporation, and learned that “Veris Group [was founded] with a conscious commitment to giving back to the community, a mission that we have fulfilled with our employees’ support though our work with various causes, charities and organizations.  Our involvement to raise awareness and funding opportunities for Breast Cancer began four years ago, and our team’s many personal connections to the cause continues to motivate and inspires our employees to participate in the event.”

Veris Group employees, family and friends

There were some very large organizations, such as Adventist HealthCare, Doctors Community Hospital, George Washington University, Holy Cross Hospital, BankAmerica and the list goes on and on.

Christiana Scarlato (left) with friends and family (Luana is being held by Joanne Soulé on far right)

And there were individuals and families that came to show their support as they had been touched by the loss of loved one.  Christina Scarlato and sister Maria have been attending the race for several years in honor of their mother who they lost to breast cancer in 2001.  Christina also brought ‘Luna’, her border collie dressed out in pink too-too for the walk.



With any event such as this, you need volunteers to help keep things running smoothly.  From handing out water to giving directions to just cheering on the participants - volunteers were everywhere and were of all ages.  I found that this to be a very well organized event for the amazing amount of people that had attended.


Protests cut attendance

This year has been a turbulent year for the Komen organization as the result of the decision to eliminate most of its financing for breast cancer education and screening to Planned Parenthood which runs women’s health clinics that also provide birth control and perform abortions. CEO Nancy Brinker had stated that she had decided not to finance grant applications for organizations that were under government investigation.  The protests on this decision caused a nearly 50% reduction in participants this year.


High mortality rates are in Washington DC

In addition to bringing awareness and fund raising to the Nation’s Capital, Washington DC has one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates in the United States, a statistic Komen is working to change with $11 million in community health grants specifically for low-income, minority and uninsured women in the region.  Seventy-five percent of the funds raised at this Race remain in the Washington DC area for programs providing treatment, screening and financial and social support to women and families facing breast cancer.


Encouraging Statistics

With the help of Susan G. Komen, in the past 30 years the breast cancer movement has made tremendous strides against the disease.  The breast cancer mortality rates are down by 33 percent since 1990 and the five-year survival rates are at 99 percent for early-stage breast cancers.  Nancy Brinker is keeping her promise to her sister.


For more information see the Susan G. Komen ‘For the Cure’ website.





/john soulé, IPA

[email protected] (John Soulé) cancer komen photojournalism Wed, 06 Jun 2012 11:39:49 GMT
And Now For Something Completely Different - KSR 2012 Kinetic Sculptures are amphibious, human powered works of art that have been custom built for this unique race. Each May, the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) hosts the East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race Championship at the Baltimore Inner Harbor in Maryland.  The race covers nearly 15 miles and lasts all day. The sculptures compete in a race that takes place mostly on pavement but also includes a short trip into the Inner Harbor and an obstacle course of mud and sand.


In the words of the AVAM, this is "...a race of wacky, imaginative, TOTALLY HUMAN POWERED WORKS OF ART DESIGNED TO TRAVEL ON LAND, THROUGH MUD, AND OVER DEEP HARBOR WATERS constructed out of used bicycles, gears, and parts, created by a lunatic genius who tinkers around in the garage or backyard (Do you know this person?)

The machines can be simple, small crafts, piloted by only one brave soul, or they can be over 50 feet long, extremely well-engineered, sophisticated vehicles powered by a team of pilots..."



The beginnings

The first Kinetic Sculpture Race was held in 1969 in Ferndale, California. Local artist Hobart Brown decided to upgrade his son's tricycle, and by the time he was done, he had added a great deal of material including two more wheels. A neighbor, also an artist, thought he could make something better than Mr. Brown's Pentacycle and challenged him to a race during the upcoming town arts festival.  The winner of the race, neither of them, had created a smoke-emitting turtle that laid eggs. The race received national attention after photos were published of a congressman riding the Pentacycle.

In the 1970s, the original racecourse evolved and became more technically challenging.  It had now grown to span three days and included major segments on water, mud, and sand dunes along the Pacific Coast. The sculptures became more elaborate and so did the costumes.

The tradition continued and spread from California to Maryland.  It is now in six states in the United States and Australia.  With the expansion of Kinetic Sculpture Races to other locations, the original race became known as the Kinetic Grand Championship. More about the history of Kinetic Sculpture Races can be found on Wikipedia


The Race comes to Baltimore

In 1999 Rebecca Hoffberger of the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) first learned about the California events on television.  She thought it would be a great idea to have the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, or East Coast Championship as it is also known, and contacted Mr. Brown as how to bring the race to the East Coast.  Their collaborative efforts resulted in AVAM becoming the proud sponsor of the race every year since.  In 1999 six sculptures entered into the race.  In 2012 this number grew to 36 sculptures.


The Baltimore course - on the land

The 2012 race was held on May 5th and opened to a rousing routine by the Washington DC BATAL Drum Team performed in front of the American Visionary Art Museum.  As crowds quickly gathered and started to cheer, the contestants made their final preparations as the race was about to begin.

The land segments of the Baltimore race now take place mostly on the right-lane of multi-lane roadways, with sculptures separated from traffic by cones or barriers that run alongside the Inner Harbor.  Some roads are completely closed.

At times the sculptures occupy regular traffic lanes - most interesting fr the drivers not in the race. The pavement portions of the race cover the greatest distance, they aren’t the most exciting parts of the race. From some the best part is when these sculptures have to negotiate the various obstacles in Patterson Park which includes mud and sand.  It was an amazing sight to see these sculptures take over the roads as police ran 'interference' for local traffic with the Baltimore skyline in the background.







Imagine if you didn't have a clue that the race was going on an and saw a twenty foot tall canon coming down the road toward you






The Baltimore course - on the water

Since the original course in California included a miles-long crossing of Humboldt Bay, it was thought to be only natural to include a water challenge for the Baltimore race.  When first brought to Maryland, the competitors in Baltimore weren’t prepared for the waves on the Chesapeake Bay.

Entering the Baltimore Harbor requires a robust boat design and, yes, some do sink.   When the race was first brought to Baltimore, the Coast Guard prohibited these unseaworthy crafts from the crowded Inner Harbor waters for fear of endangering other boaters.

In the early days, there was no permanent boat ramp at the water entry, so a temporary ramp had to be installed each year.  The ramp was so steep that most sculptures had to be lowered on ropes and returning up the ramp was such a hard climb that most sculptures needed a great deal of help to exit.  A steep dual concrete ramp has now been installed and sculptures enter the water with a splash on their brief journey that includes a maneuver around a short pier.  The problem is still getting back up the ramp.  


Colorful characters

In addition to the sculptures and wacky looking spectators, on you will also  find:



Kinetic Chickens: Volunteers who keep the race on track, and answer questions from the public.

Kinetic Kops: Officers who issue tickets to sculptures when they break the rules (and sometimes when they don’t). Each ticket carries a time penalty. 

Kinetic Kops are known to accept bribes to overlook all but ACE and safety infractions.

Kinetinauts: The fearless artist engineers who build and pilot sculptures.







A true spectator sport

This truly is a spectator sport.  Many spectators get fully involved and are encouraged to wear something completely different as they cheer on their favorite team.  In fact, in order to not be ticketed by the Fashion Police, the sponsors suggest spectators wear really wacky outfits.

All along the racecourse, one could see all sorts of costumes - and the more wacky - the more fun it was.  And dress up was not limited by age.  Lawn chairs were set up along the course and people of all ages would shout and blow air horns as the teams passed by.


To the winner goes the spoils - sort of

I find that the Kinetic Awards are almost as wacky as the race itself:

ACE The highest challenge is the ACE.  To ACE, pilots cannot swap or have propulsion assistance at any time (cannot get out to push or pull the sculpture)
Art Coveted award for artistic design, reflected in color, humor, costumes, theatrical appeal and kinetic motion.
Best Pit Crew Each sculpture requires a support crew, and this award goes to the best decorated or supportive
Engineering Awarded to the most ingenious technical deign tackling the rigors of the race
Goden Dinosaur Awarded to the most memorable breakdown or the first to break down
Golden Flipper Awarded to the sculpture with the most interesting water entry
Grand Mediocre Champion

#1 of all kinetic awards for the sculpture finishing in the middle of all the entries

Next-to-Last Award for the entry that mangoes to finish, but with only one team worse than were
Sock Creature of the Universe Each sculpture must have a sock creature - this award goes to the best
Speed Award for the fastest entry completing the entire 15 mile course.
Worst Honorable Mention Awarded to the Sculpture whose half-baked theoretical 'engineering' did not deter the pilot from the challenge of the race


What's next?

With contestants such as 'Traffic Jam', 'Loose Cannon', 'Riot-n-Roll', 'Poseidon's Adventure'  and the like, the incumbent, 'El Platypus', faced a real challenge this year.  Champions are eligible for the 42-mile Kinetic Grand Championship over Memorial Day weekend to be held in Humboldt County, California. Some of this year's winners were:

2012 Mediocre Winner

2012 People's Choice Award

You have just got to love these guys!

Check out the video as KSR 2012 invades the streets of Balitmore:



/john soulé, IPA



[email protected] (John Soulé) baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race KSR 2012 photojournalism Thu, 10 May 2012 22:57:02 GMT
Nikon Battery Recall EN-EL 15 for D7000 & D800/800e Nikon has just announced a recall for EN-EL15 batteries used in the D7000 and the new D800/800e.  Just a few weeks after releasing the new batteries, a few users around the world experienced similar problems with overheating.  The advisory is below:

"Nikon Inc. is asking your cooperation in connection with a voluntary recall of certain lot numbers of its Nikon Model EN-EL15 rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. The battery pack can experience a short circuit causing it to overheat and possibly causing the outside casing to become deformed, posing a potential hazard to consumers. There have only been seven (7) confirmed reports of incidents of the problem worldwide, and while no injuries have taken place, Nikon Inc. has initiated this recall of the affected lot numbers as a reflection of its commitment to safety and product quality. We are asking that owners of the affected battery pack return them to Nikon Inc. for a free replacement.

The Nikon EN-EL15 battery pack is provided as a supplied accessory with the purchase of Nikon’s digital SLR D800, D800E, D7000 cameras and the Nikon 1 V1 advanced camera with interchangeable lens. It is also sold separately at retail under Nikon’s model number 27011. The EN-EL15 battery pack involved in this recall was first distributed by Nikon in March 2012 and is still being sold at retail.

This voluntary recall is limited only to those units of the Model EN-EL15 in lots E and F.

To determine whether a battery pack is in lots E and F and among those being recalled, first confirm that “EN-EL15” is written on the name plate on side of the battery pack, as shown on the photo below. Then on this same side of the battery pack, locate the lot number for your EN-EL15 battery pack. Lot numbers are alphanumeric characters printed in blank ink at the bottom of this name plate as shown in the photo below. Tilt the battery pack so that light shines directly on the area to see the lot number. If you have an EN-EL15 battery pack with the 9th digit of the 14 digit lot number with either the letter E or F, you should immediately stop using it and remove the battery pack from the battery compartment. EN-EL15 battery packs with which the 9th digit is an A, B, C, D, G or any subsequent letter in the alphabet are not affected and not subject to this recall.

To return and receive your new EN-EL15 battery pack, click here or call toll free 1-800-645-6687.  Nikon will then send a UPS courier to the address provided, bringing a new EN-EL15 replacement battery at the same time. At this time, UPS will collect the recalled battery for safe return to Nikon. Your EN-EL15 battery pack will be replaced free of charge within approximately 7-10 days of our receipt of your request for a new EN-EL15 battery pack.

If the lot number of your EN-EL15 battery pack does not indicate as determined above to be in lot E or F, your EN-EL15 battery pack is not subject to this recall. No other Nikon battery packs are involved in this recall. Nikon’s digital SLR D800, D800E, D7000 cameras and Nikon 1 V1 advanced camera with interchangeable lens as well as any other Nikon cameras are also not subject to this recall.

Nikon is committed to safety and to providing to its customers only the highest quality products. We regret any inconvenience this matter may cause you and appreciate your continued support of Nikon and its products."

See the Nikon Advisory.

And yes, my new D800 came with the battery that is being recalled.

/John Soulé, IPA

[email protected] (John Soulé) Wed, 25 Apr 2012 22:05:20 GMT
Space Shuttle Discovery's Final Journey

On April 17th, the Space Shuttle Discovery made its final journey.  This time it was from Cape CanaveralFlorida to the Smithsonian's' Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center  near Dulles International Airport in Virginia.  The Center will become Discovery's new home beginning April 19th.  The Discovery was piggybacked on a modified Boeing 747 jumbo jet, with an expected flight plan to take it just 1,500 feet over the monuments of the nation's capital before landing at Dulles International Airport. Discovery is the first of the retired shuttles to be delivered to its final destination.

As late as April 16th, however, the exact flight path had not been released by NASA.  After much debate I decided that the best location to get really close-up shots of the shuttle would be near the landing site at Dulles Airport when it would be at its lowest altitude.  Touchdown was to be around 10:30 am.  In that the physical landing site was off-limits, I found the next best spot was the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center.

I got up at 5am and took the 60 mile ride to be at the Udvar-Hazy Center by 7:30am.  I knew this would allow ample time to plan a shooting location, take some test shots and wait.  When I arrived, however, there were already cars in line, people claiming 'their' spot with chairs and blankets, news media trucks setting up their towers and camera tripods being set up everywhere.  By 8:20am the parking lot had already become full, the road closed off and thousands were positioned around the parking lot waiting to be part of history. It was good to plan ahead.


Camera Settings

Knowing the large size of the plane and its expected low altitude, I selected my Nikon 70-200 VRII zoom lens as first choice to be used on my Nikon D800.  Counting on the Nikon D800's amazing 36-megapixel sensor combined with this very sharp Nikon zoom  lens, I knew I had a good chance for making crops that would retain high image quality.

But, in case my estimates were wrong, and the Boeing 747 was even closer than expected, I brought along my Nikon D7000 with 17-55 f/2.8 lens as a backup.  I could then switch to whichever combination would give the best coverage quickly.  I took numerous test shots to be used as a baseline for image size and rough metering. I knew I would not have time for lens changes and the resetting of my camera once the shuttle was in sight.

I also knew that I will be shooting a moving subject with a very bright background (toward the sun).  I set my camera to 'Manual' used the following baseline:

  • Metering: center-weighted (average metering would create an underexposed plane as the camera would try to balance the bright sky with the plane)
  • Shutter Speed: 1/1000 + (stop motion with telephoto - variable setting)
  • Aperture: f/8 (sharpest setting before diffraction)
  • ISO: 100-200 (minimum noise - variable based on 'proper exposure')
  • Continuous Tracking - 9 focus points (track moving subject)
  • Image stored in RAW (for best control after-the-fact)


"There it is"

Around 9:15am I noticed a number of helicopters appear at various locations nearby.  Standing on top of the museum's observation deck were a group of people with binoculars.  Planes had not landed in a while although this is one of the world's busiest international airports.  The shuttle, however, was not due to be at Dulles for at least another hour.  I  noticed that my cellphone suddenly had no service.  And then someone shouted, 'There it is!'

A cold front had come through early in the morning, clouds had started to roll in and the winds had picked up. I overhead that, out of concern for the shuttle, the flight plans had been changed.  They were now to first take a test run to Dulles and then make a decision whether to go back and fly over Washington.  It only took about a minute from the time the shuttle first appeared, flew directly overhead and then disappeared again. It seemed to be flying at an altitude of about 500 feet at the time.  The site was truly amazing but it was over in a flash.  Everyone started to check their cameras to see if they had been able to catch this moment in history.  And, it still was not known whether Discovery was down and the journey over.


The journey continues

After about about ten minutes, I learned that Discovery was now over Washington and would make two passes around the city before its trip back to land at Dulles - we were going to have a second chance! Since the first pass was almost directly overhead where I had set up, I decided to relocate to gain more of a side view for the next pass.  A little after 10:15am I noticed more activity on the observation tower again and the helicopters where back - a good sign that we could be ready for the final approach for the actual landing of Discovery. 

As the Boeing 747's headlights suddenly appeared in the distance on its approach, I noticed this time it was further to the side of my position - my new location was going to be great.  Thousands started cheering and applauding as it approached.  Then, as quickly as it appeared, it soared past, and disappeared.  As quick as this was, this was absolutely breath-taking and truly an historic moment to be remembered. People started packing up their things and some made their way back to their cars.  As I was walking to the museum for a brief visit, I started to look at my last few photos.

In my excitement in viewing the last flyover, I had not noticed that the landing gear had not been deployed. I looked up at the observation tower and the people were still there with binoculars.  Discovery had not yet landed!  There was going to be a third flyover.


The final seconds

I quickly ran back to find a clearing where I could set up again - and there it was, the Boeing 747 near treetop height with landing gear extended making its final approach.  NASA's T-38 jet escort was just to its side.  I was now witnessing the last seconds of Discovery's twenty-two year service.  All of a sudden everyone began to cheer  in excitement and appreciation again - but much louder than before, nearly drowning out the sound of the jet's engines.  What an historic and emotional moment indeed.   The journey was over and Discovery was down.  What an experience - what a memory.


Welcome home Discovery.  Welcome home.

Festivities will begin at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on April 19th when Discovery will be rolled into the museum's hanger to replace the existing mockup of the Shuttle Enterprise.  On hand will be the Discovery crew members, including space pioneer John Glenn, who returned to space in 1998 aboard the spacecraft at age 77. 

The Enterprise will be flown piggyback as well to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and moved by barge to the Intrepid museum in Manhattan.

For more information on Discovery's missions, please see NASA or the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum websites.



(Shuttle photos were taken with the Nikon D800 using Nikon 70-200 2.8 VRII lens. The Udvar-Hazy Center was shot with the Nikon 14-24 super wide-angle lens.)


/John Soulé, IPA



[email protected] (John Soulé) events NASA photojournalism Shuttle Space Shuttle Thu, 19 Apr 2012 10:47:43 GMT
Quick Look - Nikon D800 There is an abundance of reviews and first impressions throughout the internet on the newly released Nikon D800.  Now havning my new D800 for over a week, and not wanting to repeat the same information I find on the Internet, I decided to share some of my first impressions of this new camera.  I had recently taken a trip to the zoo shooting with both my D7000 and D700 and thought shooting there with the D800 would make a good real world test environment that would have both stationary and moving subjects.

I should note that if one has worked with the D700, the learning curve is greatly reduced.  Most of the menus, switches, buttons, and such are the same as the D700 - with the exception of video.  In that I have little to no need for video, I will address this camera as a photographer rather than a videographer.

36 megapixels means large image sizes

In terms of pure image quality, I must say that the first few images that I took were quite impressive.  And, so was the image size.  In wanting to keep captures truest to the subject for post-processing,  I use 'Adobe RGB' for my ColorSpace, '14-bit' for color depth and 'lossless' for compression.  I should note that I only shoot in RAW.  In doing such, each 36 megapixel image resulted in a file size that was over 40mb in size, 72mb uncompressed.  For these same settings, my D700 12 megapixel file sizes were under 16mb uncompressed.  

                                                  Why 36 megapixels?

Some have asked me why I would ever need 36 megapixels to start with.  The answer is two fold - one is create large prints that rival mid-format cameras that retain high quality and the second is to be able to make crops to compliment the reach of my telephotos.  (And of course, I am a gadget freak and always want the latest technology.) What I found was that for the same shots that I had taken using a 200mm f/2.8 lens on a D7000 (1.5 crop factor), I was able to get better results using the D800 and then cropping to the same output size.  You can also go to the D800 menu and select Image Area to change the crop factor.  By switching from FX to DX (1.5),  you essentially have a 15.4mb D7000 with a D800 sensor! In terms of color, to me the images from the D800 had a new depth and pop to them. In terms of resolution - well this became a whole new experience to see such clarity in the images.  I was quite impressed.

Dual Memory Slots

I found that using an 8gig CF or SD card, I was able to store about 100 RAW images.  The camera has two memory slots (one CF and one SD) that can be used for: primary + backup; raw + jpeg; primary + overflow; or primary and video.  I found that having these two different slots worked out well in that I had both types of cards available (from my D700 which only used CF and my D7000 which used only used SD).                                    

                                     Necessary Accessories

Sticker shock came with the cost of the battery grip.  It was quite expensive (over $600 retail) and really does not seem to offer any benefits over my D700 grip that cost me half as much.  With one exception - the MB-D12 grip will take the new EN-EL18 battery that is reported to last for over 2,400 shots per charge.  Once this battery and charger are available, the estimated cost, however, is another $200 (battery) + $35 (cover) + $350 (charger) - almost $600.  Ouch!  In the meantime, the grip takes the same battery as my D7000 ($72 retail). 

I also always add an eyecup and magnifier to my cameras.  You just unscrew the current eyepiece and replace with the magnifier and eyecup.  For the D800 you will use the  DK-17m ($52) plus the DK-19 ($19) as shown on the left here. This combo greatly helps whenever focusing through the eyepiece - especially in bright light when manual focus is required.

High pixel count demands

more attention to camera shake

I found that to obtain high IQ at 36 megapixels required more attention to precise focus and less camera shake than I had been used to. I found that my sharpest images were shot around f/8 and that stopping down past f/11 the IQ dropped somewhat under magnification.  (This was first reported in the Nikon D800 Technical Guide as lens diffraction.)  I also found that at 36 megapixels, the slightest camera shake had more of an impact than with the D700.  If I shot at 1/125 - I now had to bump that up to 1/250+ or use a tripod.  All shots here were handheld with the VR on.

                                                        Reported Issues

Reported issues:  I should mention a few issues that have been reported by some owners of the D800 and relate my experience with each.

1). AF sensor error.  A few  owners have reported  that the focus points on the left are not as sharp as the center or right side of the frame.  Nikon has reportedly acknowledged this issue.  It seems to be related to a specific batch of Asian distributed units (serial numbers starting with 8.....). My D800 focuses sharp at all points and I have heard the same from others in the US (serial numbers starting with 2..... and 3....).  For me this is not an issue.

2). Green cast on LCD screen during image playback.  It has been reported that after an image is captured, the playback on the LCD screen has a green cast that is not true to the actual colors captured.  it should be noted that this feataure does not affect the actual image.  After seeing the green cast myself, I set my LCD screen to 'Manual' rather than 'Auto' brightness in the Menu. I really do not see the green cast now.  Also, why I use the LCD for playback has little to do with judging color.  

I use the playback for: focus; histogram; and composition.  In that order.  I only shoot in RAW so most other adjustments can be addressed after-the-fact.  Focus cannot really be fixed no matter what.  If the image is soft, it has to be re-shot.  The histogram will reveal if the image has any clipping (over exposed areas). I can usually recover underexposed areas - but not overexposed areas.  If I see that my histogram is too hot, exposure has to be adjusted and the subject re-shot. Lastly I look at composition/POV.  Although I can crop after-the-fact, I cannot add back area to an image that was cut off.  I also cannot change my POV - any problems here require a re-shoot.  And, I take a quick glance at my exposure settings to be sure my DOF and ISO work for my subject..

3). CF cards not working.  No problem noted here.   I use the compatible cards that are listed by Nikon for this camera.

4). The removal of the AF zone switch.  This is a very minor issue and can be compensated through the use of the Command and Sub-command controls in conjunction with the AF button. Although this is no longer a single switch operation, it is not a show stopper and is easy to work around. The area that once was home to the D700 AF zone switch has now been replaced on the D800 with the Live View switch.

5). Lock-ups. I have not experienced a lock-up when the Control Panel screen remains on even after the camera has been turned off.  I have noticed an occasional long pause after taking a series of shots but doing a quick on/off clears this without problem.  This has had no adverse effects on the actual images and has been very infrequent.

                                    Is the D800 right for you?

Some feel that there are too many unresolved issues with the new D800.  Some feel that this is the best camera ever. This is really a personal decision and your budget needs to also be considered.  My D800 plus battery grip, battery and eyecup was over $3,600.  (Still far less than the D4.) But, I have to say I have been able to get far more 'keepers' with the D800 than I have had with my other two cameras.   So far this has been one of the best investments that I have made.  I sold my D700 with grip and will continue to use my D7000 as a backup.


/John Soule, IPA 

[email protected] (John Soulé) D800 Review Sun, 08 Apr 2012 01:19:51 GMT
How to photograph: Winter in Wyoming


Winters in Wyoming can be both beautiful and quite harsh. Weather conditions can change by the hour - creating a real challenge for anyone,  specially the photographer. The area in the northwest corner of Wyoming, which includes the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone, can receive up to fifty feet of snow each year.  The deep snow, combined with high winds and bitter cold, can often make getting around difficult.  Vehicles need to be equipped to handle demanding conditions and often one may need to resort to alternate methods of transportation. 


It may sound rough, but it can be well worth the effort if you are prepared. For my photoshoots, I was to be either driven to various plowed locations, go by foot on snowshoes, drive a snowmobile or take a dogsled.  I knew ahead of time that trying to get around with my camera gear and a tripod in tow could become most interesting.   So I started planning. Part of the challenge was the desire to experience this area of the country while there was a reasonable amount of snow on the ground AND having some days where temperates could be tolerable for a vacation and photoshoot - at least above 20 degrees Fahrenheit. My wife and I decided to make the trip in the first week of March. I had learned that Yellowstone shuts down in mid-March until June, so this is really about the last chance we had go to include a dogsled and snowmobile in our itinerary. 

Camera Gear

I packed two cameras - my Nikon DSLR d7000 and my Olympus 'point-n-shoot'.  I chose my Nikon d7000 over my d700 due to the fact that I wanted the extra reach of the DX sensor for wildlife (1.5x factor) and its lighter weight when traveling.  For lenses, I packed:

  • Nikon AF-S Zoom 17-55 f/2.8 IF ED (very sharp DX landscape)
  • Tokina AT-X 116 PRO DX 11-16mm f/2.8 (super wide angle DX)
  • Nikon AF-S 70-200G ED f/2.8 VRII (telephoto)
  • Nikon TC-1.4 (teleconverter for the telephoto)
  • Sigma 120-400 f/5.6-5/6 DF APO OS HM (telephoto)
  • Nikon AF-S 18-200 f/3.5-5.6G ED VRII (DX walk around)

I intended to use the 18-200 for those conditions that demanded a wide range of focal lengths but hanging lenses would not be convenient or possible (such as when traveling by snowmobile).  For most wildlife, I wanted to keep the TC-1.4 on my 70-200 which,  being coupled with the d7000, would give me an effective focal length of a 420mm f/4 lens (200x1.4x1.5). This setup would be light enough to carry yet provided a reasonable reach for most subjects.  

For a longer reach (but a tad less IQ), I intended to shoot with my 120-400 on the d7000 for an effective focal length of a 600mm f/5.6 lens. The Olympus was to be carried for those times when carrying a traditional DSLR would not be practical, as a backup in case the DSLR ceased to function and to capture video whenever necessary.  (Although the d7000 will capture video, I wanted to keep the l SD cards in the Nikon solely for still captures.)  Of special note is that fact the the d7000 has two User Configurable setting modes. I decided to set U1 to spot focus, 1/500 and ISO to 100.  This would be for stationary wildlife objects with my telephoto.  I set U2 to continuous focus, multiple point, 1/500 and ISO variable up to 1000.  These two modes allowed me to quickly set my camera and switch between a stationary object and a moving object without having to move my eye away from the viewfinder.  For other shots, I knew I could take my time and go with Manual settings.   This simple feature can make the difference in getting a shot or not.

All this gear, combined with CP and ND filters, lens/sensor cleaners, chargers, iPad, etc, was packed into the ThinkTank Streetwalker HD. This backpack worked out very well as my main carry bag.  It allowed me to pack everything - including my Nikon d7000, battery grip attached, coupled with my choice of lens.  I was also able to fit this backpack under the center or aisle seat of my cross country flight.  The total carrying weight was around 25 pounds. (I did learn that it would not fit completely when stowed under the United Airlines 'Economy' window seat.)  

I also packed in my checked luggage, a tripod, ThinkTank Speed Freak (shoulder bag) and ThinkTank Speed Changer Modular pack. I intended to use the shoulder bag once I was settled in at the hotel and could move selected gear from by backpack for the day's shoot.  The Speed Freak allowed me to carry my camera with attached walk-around lens and a two spare lenses for quick access.  I was able to carry the 70-200, 17-55, 11-16 and TC.14 without problem.  And, it could be sealed to keep out moisture.  For shots using a tripod and working from a vehicle, I often brought my fully loaded backpack.  It is important to travel light whenever possible.  However, when working from a vehicle, having everything in one place can be quite convenient.  I also left my tripod fully extended for quick access and ready for action.


Planning is the most important part

of any photoshoot



Before I traveled to Wyoming, I planned out what I wanted to shoot each day.  Since  the Wyoming weather can be very unpredictable, I often had to have a 'Plan B'.  If the mountains were socked in with clouds, I knew the only possible shots were going to be on the ground - that is if I could even get around.  I knew I needed to book any activities in advance.  Arranging for a snowmobile and dogsled should be reserved weeks  ahead - not the day of.  And, Yellowstone has a strict limit as to how many snowmobiles are permitted in the park each day.  So it really becomes a gamble - but can be well worth it if the weather cooperates.  Planning is the most important part of any photoshoot, and Wyoming is certainly no exception.  Trust me on that!



Subject Matter

I decided to divide my photoshoots into three subjects groups to be shot in two different areas - Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone.

The first subject was naturally the landscape in Grand Teton National Park.  When in the Jackson area and traveling north, you will be on the eastern side of the Tetons and will want to shoot early in the day (beginning at first light).  This is when you will gain your best exposure and colors of the mountains.  Images taken much  later in the day will have you shooting into the sun and will result in less than desired images.  The second subject was man's contribution to the area - the town, the people, old structures, etc.  

There are many good locations throughout the Jackson area - especially Mormon Row which became well know for its barns and the subject of a few Ansel Adams captures. The last subject was the wildlife in the area.   For guaranteed shots of Elk, the Elk Preserve in Jackson offers sleigh rides that will bring you up close and personal with the heard.  Just on the other side of the Preserve you may find both Big Horn Sheep and Mule Deer standing along the mountainside.  You may also see Golden Eagles flying overhead looking for a meal.  To see other wildlife, I would highly recommend going on a Wildlife Safari (~$300).  For your best shots: be prepared, keep your eyes open and look all around.  And be patient.

The other location you will want to investigate is Yellowstone National Park, about an hour's drive north of Jackson.  There are really only two ways of getting around in Yellowstone in the winter - snow coach and snowmobile.  If you are up for a little adventure, there is nothing like riding a snowmobile for getting close to nature and the pure excitement of traveling down snow covered passes. Most tours are half day or full day and take you either to Old Faithful or the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  (You can also rent one and go on your own - we went with a guide.)

You will find that the trip to Old Faithful is like going to Disney and the trip to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is truly the 'road less traveled'.  Our journey took us 162 miles at speeds of nearly 60mph.  We were picked up at 6:30am (in Teton Village) and returned at 6:30pm by the tour company.  Quite a full day indeed.  We were provided, (if so desired), boots, body suit and helmet.  For us, breakfast and lunch were included.  (About $300 per person). 


Be prepared to see wildlife

anywhere - at any time


When traveling in Yellowstone, you can see a variety of wildlife including Bison, Coyotes, Wolves, Eagles and possibly much more - or much less. But the real show stopper of Yellowstone is the amazing landscape.  You will encounter beautiful frozen waterfalls, snow covered canyons, bubbling hot springs and steaming geysers.  There is nothing like this area.  The Lower Falls offers a speical opportunity to use a wide angle lens to capture the full beauty of the canyon.  In order to capture the full beauty of the waterfall itself, however, a switch over to a telephoto is necessary. Other popular areas, Inspiration Point, The Upper Falls, and such are generally not plowed and not accessible - even by snowmobile.


Shoot low and wide


Other truly amazing features of Yellowstone, and for which it is really known, are the geysers and hot springs.  A wide-angle is the best here to capture their beauty.  Get down low for an interesting perspective. When using a wide-angle lens - be sure to include foreground and background in your capture.

Be careful - the steam, if blowing in the wrong direction, can easily fog up you expensive equipment.  The colors can be amazing and if you are lucky to catch this area on a day filled with blue sky, the colors will just pop.  Try different angles - be creative and have fun!


Getting Around

In addition to traveling by car and snowmobile, for something really different, take a ride by dogsled through Grand Teton National Park. Togowetee Pass in the Tetons can be both peaceful and offer some wonderful views of the mountains - weather providing. Tours operate either half day or full day and include transportation and meal(s).  A half day costs around $250/person and the sled holds two passengers plus the driver. Although this is a great experience, there are limited opportunities for the photographer.

There are some shots that you may need to take to off road by foot - and here you will need snowshoes.  Without snowshoes, you will posthole through the snow which may easily go up to your waist.  In the winter, although many of the roads are plowed on a relgular basis, there are a number of areas that there is no way to access.  Here you strap on the snowshoes and take a walk.


When traveling to Wyoming, even in March, you will want to wear layers.  I highly recommend thermal underwear such as Hot Chilly - it will keep you both warm and dry. You will certainly need a ski jacket and ski paints - you will get wet!  And of course, a warm sweater, hot and gloves.  I also recommend packing some waterproof snow boots and ski socks.  (Toe warmers are nice - but I never needed them).  Just remember to be prepared.


Take two bags - one to transport all of your grear and one to switch to carry just the gear you need for the day. A quick access belt system or shoulder bag will save you time and your back.  Only take what you will need on your photoshoot.  If you are in a situation, such as traveling by dogsled or snowmobile, it is better to keep a wide range zoom (such as 18-200) on your camera.  The images may not be quite as sharp (due to the inherent poorer optical properties of a wide zoom lens), but you will gain the opportunity of getting that shot while others will be going through their camera bag trying to switch lenses.  If you have the time, you can always switch to the better lens.  But when wildlife is involved, you will need to be prepared at all times. Time will be of the essence.   Especially when in Wyoming, always be prepared for the unexpected.  You will need to look all around and being prepared can go a long way.  

You should also be aware of the Park rules and laws.  Be sure to use common sense when it comes to wildlife by not invading their privacy and keeping a reasonable distance.  Remember that these are 'wild' animals and if they feel threatened, they may attack.  This is not a wide open zoo that provides your protection with cages and fences.  That is why we carry our long telephotos.


Also consider

Another popular time to go to Wyoming is the Spring to capture wild flowers with snowcapped peaks as a backdrop.  You will also be able to gain access to areas that were blocked off in the Winter months.  And, you will find a newcomers to the wildlife community that will be out exploring the area.  Bears will now be up and about - be careful.  You will also now have access to flowing water, amazing reflections and lots of color.  The Fall season is also a wonderful time (mid-September) when the tourists have left.  The Fall foliage, with the backdrop of snow topped mountains, is a favorite for photographers.  Wildlife, can be a bit more aggressive but you catch some great action shots from competing males during the matting season.

And, this was a favorite spot for Ansel Adams - you may want to consider using B&W for adding a tad of romance to your images and take advantage of the wonderful contests that mother nature has given us here.


I hope this helps and happy shooting.

To view some of my images from this trip, be sure to stop by Wyoming under the Travel section in Galleries.


/john soulé, ipa


[email protected] (John Soulé) How to photograph Mon, 19 Mar 2012 10:55:32 GMT
How to photograph: The public zoo Courage

Shooting wild animals at the local zoo can be both fun and a challenge. The best time to catch some of the outdoor subjects is when the temperatures are not so cold that the animals remain indoors and not so hot that they just lay under a shady tree motionless.  As we approach the end of Winter here in Maryland, unseasonably warm temperates have afforded a great opportunity to take advantage of a visit 'off-season' to the zoo. One will also find that there are far less visitors in winter months allowing you more freedom for a photoshoot.

However, as with any photoshoot, one should be prepared. Here are a few tips to help you gain more consistent shots by understanding the: WHY, WHEN, WHERE, WHAT and HOW factors in order to make this a rewarding venture.  For this blog, I will focus on how to shoot outdoor subjects only - no cages or glass are between the camera and the subject. 


WHY... It is is important to understand the 'why' of your visit.  Is this a pleasure visit or a serious photoshoot?  If this is a visit for pleasure, you will most likely want to see everything and will want to carry a camera that can be used in a wide variety of situations - indoors and out.  You will be in ever changing situations demanding a 'point-n-shoot' capability.  This dictates a 'walk-aorund' zoom capability for the camera of choice.  You are there for the enjoyment of walking around and will not want a lot of photo equipment bogging you down.  Depending on the size of your zoo, you could spend most of the day there, walking around, having lunch and just relaxing.  Planning, does not play an important factor and the convenience of having one lens, easy to shoot camera, will be important.  If, however, your purpose is to obtain one or two 'special' captures, planning becomes much more important and you will need to consider each of the photoshoot factors to make this a successful venture in obtaining quality, consistent images. Planing ahead will pay off with better images and can also help you maintain some of your sanity.


WHEN...  It is always best to be at the public zoo when it first opens to gain good parking and research the best vantage point for your shoot.  In the morning you will also find the animals to be more active than they are later in the day.  And, the morning sun can add a special warmth to your shots that is just not possible in the late morning and afternoon. Many zoos open their parking lots hours before the published hours.  I often find that I am finished my shots and ready to leave as some families are just entering the gates.



WHERE...  As with any photoshoot, one of the most important factors to consider is location - location - location.  There are a few factors to take into consideration.  You will want to try to fill the entire frame with your subject so you will need to get as close as possible to your subject. You can do this by carrying a strong zoom telephoto or position yourself at the closest, unobstructed vantage point for a clear shot of your subject. If the background adds to the shot, include it - but do so sparingly.  And, you will want to consider what is in the background.  You should take a moment and walk around the area to select a shooting location that will capture what is least distracting from you subject. To obtain a realistic environment shot, bars, fencing, concrete, etc. should be eliminated from your angle of view.  Getting to the zoo early, surveying various shooting locations and then staking out your spot with a tripod can be a big advantage. Most public zoos will post their information on the internet. You should research the layout of the zoo and what areas you will want to concentrate.  When you plan your visit you will want take into consideration where to park (if the zoo has multiple entrances) and what areas make the most sense to cover most efficiently in the time you have.  Try not to be too ambitious by intending to capture a lot of subjects rather than spending more time getting a few great shots of fewer subjects.


WHAT...  Always bring only what you need - but no more than you need. Trust me on this.   Since many of the subjects will be far away, a good telephoto prime or zoom is a must.  For your best closeups, a  200mm+ zoom should be considered.  The shots on this blog were taken using a Nikon 70-200 VR II with a TC-17e II (1.7 converter) , TC-14 (1.4 converter), Sigma 120-400  and a 18-200mm (walk-around) lens on a Nikon d7000 DSLR.  By using the d7000, the effective focal length was multiplied by a factor of 1.5.  The 200mm became a 300mm and the 400mm became a 600mm.  These were the only lenses I found that were useful for the type of images I wanted to capture.  I carried several for testing purposes - normally I would only take two (walk-around and long zoom).  Also bring a sturdy tripod or monopod.  I found that the monopod, although convenient for carrying, was not as effective for staking out my area and for overall successful shooting


HOW...  For best results consider several factors - composition, light, motion.  




Composition is in part about location.  Try to fill the frame and position yourself accordingly. Tightly cropping the subject's face or body will help add impact. Focus on the eyes as you would in portrait photography.  Position yourself at 'eye' level if possible - which may mean getting down low.  Shooting in a low position can create a sense of closeness and also add impact to your capture. You will have a more 'natural' looking image.





Light is always an important factor.  When using long lenses, the f/value can become an issue as less and less light makes it way into your camera.  There are a few considerations here.  The first consideration is the f/value and available light.  As mentioned earlier, the morning is the best time to catch animal feedings and more movement by the animals.  It is also a great time to take advantage of the warmth of the sun in your images.  However, this often means less available light and the need to lower your f/value, lower your shutter speed or increase your ISO.  The last two adjustments can have adverse effects if not properly controlled.  Also when adjusting the f/value, consider the 'sweet spot' in terms of your lens' sharpness (often f/8) versus having a nice bokeh for a pleasing background which requires a low f/value (f/4 for example).  The 'sweet' spot for sharpness is lens dependent.  For higher-end lenses this is not as much an issue.

Bengal Tiger


Shutter Speed

Motion is another important factor.  Motion will be affected by two factors - the motion of a hand-held lens and the motion of the subject.  We can compensate camera motion by either using a tripod or turning on VR (Vibration Reduction) or IS (Image Stabilization). However, we also need to take into consideration the reciprocal factor of the zoom vs shutter speed.  As a rule of thumb, one should set the shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the focal length you are using.  For example, if you are using a 300mm lens, you should shoot no slower than 1/300.  The other consideration is the motion of the subject.  By using a high shutter speed, the subject's motion will be frozen.  But, again the trade-off is the balance with the f/value to have a properly exposed image when using high shutter speeds.



ISO is also a consideration.  We can adjust the ISO to help accommodate the f/value and shutter speed if the combination of the two does not allow for a properly exposed capture.  The higher the ISO, the less light is needed.  However, the higher the ISO, the more noise will be introduced into the image.  Most cameras today have very good internal noise control and, if shooting in RAW, post-processing software can often mask some of the noise (grain).  As a rule of thumb, it is better to have an ISO less than 400 for your top images.  This is even more important if your image is going to be enlarged as the grain will show up that much more.  The benefit to the higher ISO, however, is there will be times when using a high shutter speed and f/value that there would not be nearly enough light for a properly exposed image.  In these cases, one is forced into using a higher ISO and make corrections in post-processing software.  I limit the ISO to be 100 - 1600.



Most cameras today have a continuous focusing capability that you will want to use.  By setting your camera to single focus, the spot that you have locked in will not be the spot that the subject will be in if the subject is moving. You may have a sharp background, but the subject will be blurred.  The continuous focusing setting allows the camera to track and adjust accordingly as the subject moves. Some systems also have a 3-D focus tracking that is useful if the subject is moving more towards your position rather than across your position. As stated earlier, always focus on the eyes of your subject as you would a portrait.  When an image captures the details of the eyes of the subject, other areas that may be out of focus are not as noticeable.



In terms of exposure, either use spot or center-weighted based on the amount the subject is filling the image.  By using 'average' metering, often the background can 'fool' the meter into creating an exposure that, although o

verall balanced, will not allow for the proper exposure of your subject.  You will want the face of your subject to be properly exposed at all times.






With all of this in mind, patience will be required.  Often I will go to the zoo for four hours to shoot only two subjects - waiting for just the right expression or action.  I will also shoot in bursts of several frames per second.  Sometimes you will find a situation where there is perfect pose, or action that will pay off.  Sometimes you will just have to wait and wait - like fishing - and come back with less than you wanted.  But it is a numbers game - the more shots you take, and the longer you are patient, the more likely you will have shots that you will cherish.




Post Processing

Shoot in RAW for the best results in post processing software such as Adobe Lightroom and CS5.  You will have more control of the exposure, clarity, sharpness, etc. of the image before applying any effects.  There are times where a touch of HDR can bring out details that a traditional 'flat' image loses - but use HDR sparing so as not create a cartoon-like, unrealistic image.  After adjusting shadow-detail, cropping, and other touch-ups, add sharpness last.


Good luck and happy shooting.


/john soulé, IPA








[email protected] (John Soulé) How to photograph Fri, 24 Feb 2012 14:03:17 GMT
How to photograph: The Public Aquarium  


Baby – it’s cold outside!  It is during the cold winter months here in Maryland that I tend to capture more shots indoors where the weather is not as forbidding.  And, what better place than the local aquarium where you are able to capture underwater marine life, be warm and stay dry – what a combination!  But, this type of photography can be a challenge.


Living a short driving distance from the National Aquarium in Baltimore Maryland afforded me the opportunity to take the challenge. With any photography, one strives for repeatable results and not just have hit or miss captures.  And with moving subjects, low light, reflective glass several inches thick and visitors all around, the task at hand to obtain consistently usable images can be difficult.

White-spotted jellyfish


One thing I have learned over the years is that with any photoshoot, a bit of preparation is always in order. Some things we can control – some things we cannot. For now, I will focus on what we can control to help get more consistent shots.


Time of Day. The time of day can make a big difference. The later one goes to a city aquarium, the more visitors will be there to contend with as they obstruct shots, knock into you and often add unwanted reflections. Working around fingerprints spread all over the glass can also be a real challenge later in the day. To avoid much of this, it is always better to be there when the doors open and try to avoid weekends and holidays when it will be really crowded.


Concentrate on a few subjects. Limit your scope. Plan ahead by knowing the facility layout and the location of what you want to shoot to make the best use of your time.  It will pay off in the long run as you will use your time wisely rather than just running around aimlessly looking for that 'special shot'. Most of the larger aquariums will post a map of their facility on the web.  It is better to concentrate on getting your best shots from a few locations rather than try to quickly snap shots without a purpose. Review schedules for the times of demonstrations and feedings.  You will be much better off when you are prepared at a good location before everyone realizes that a feeding is about to begin.  

You can get some very interesting shots as divers become surrounded by hungry fish.


The Right Equipment. It is important to be prepared with the proper equipment for the shoot. Most aquariums will not allow tripods – so expect to shoot everything handheld. In that some of the subjects may be close to the other side of the glass, be sure to have at least one lens that can focus to less than a foot. In terms of lenses, available light will be a factor.  f/2.8 lenses work best but has the trade-off of having a shallow Depth Of Field when used wide-open. That should be taken into consideration for close subjects as only part of your subject may end up in focus.  Although prime lenses will often be the sharpest, quality zoom lenses work best in this changing environment.  And if available, a macro lens for capturing small objects can be extremely useful.  For more stationary objects, a lens with VR (Vibration Reduction) or IS (Image Stabilization) can allow a lower ISO to be used at slower shutter speeds.

A circular polarizing filter can also help cut down on glare and bring out colors – but this will come at a price of even more loss of light in an already low light environment.  And, be sure to include a hot shoe mountable flash than can be adjusted to an angle. Sea Nettle jellyfish


Location. Location.  Location.  Remember that shooting through glass at angles can lead to a prismatic effect resulting in unwanted reflections, distortions and color fringing in your capture.  Find a location where you can shoot perpendicular to the glass.  You will want to try to fill the frame with your subject and if the background compliments the shot, be sure to include it.  It is important to know your environment. Some aquariums are designed to be viewed from both sides of the tank which makes it very possible for photographers to be on the other side of the tank facing you.  Needless to say their flashes will be pointed directly at you.  You need to be flexible and prepared to reposition yourself at any time. Also be aware of the reflection of overhead lights, signs, windows, etc, that may be picked up in the capture.  Shots that are made straight (and close) to the glass will yield the best results. Be careful of having your lens come in contact with the aquarium glass – use a lens-hood whenever possible.  Visitors often come in waves – be patient.  Your purpose of being there is different then many of the others that are there.  You are on a mission for that ‘special shot’ and often it can take time to be in the right location.  And be considerate of others and allow them an opportunity for that 'special shot' as well.


Reef Shark


Camera settings. Try to shoot in 'Manual' mode whenever possible. ‘Program Mode’ and ‘Automatic’ can get easily fooled by the lighting conditions.  Since many of the subjects will be moving, using too low a shutter speed will result in blurred images.  Try to keep as high a shutter speed as possible - no less than 1/125 for moving images – and the faster, the better.  Wide open apertures (f/2.8) will gather more light, but will produce a shallow Depth of Field.  f/8 is often a good starting point for sharpness.  It will often be necessary to bump up the ISO to balance the desired aperture/shutter speed settings anywhere from ISO 400 – 1600.  But, the higher the ISO, the more grain.  Many cameras have a built-in variable ISO that will self-adjust based on the exposure.  Limit the upper range to 1600. Luckily, most cameras today have very good built-in noise reduction to help offset the grainy effect that the higher ISOs create. Additionally, post processing software has also come a long way in correcting the negative effects of higher ISO values.  If you use a flash, shoot perpendicular to the glass with the flash unit set at a 45 degree angle in order to eliminate flare-type reflections.  (And if you use a flash, you will not need to bump up your ISO).  Focusing can also be a challenge. Auto focus (AF) sensors often have problems working through glass - especially at an angle. It is better to focus manually on a specific spot and wait until the subject has moved into viewfinder.  Camera-shake can also become a problem when focusing on stationery objects at slow shutter speeds.  Use a lens with stabilization whenever possible. Finally, shoot short bursts of frames and select the ones that are the sharpest.



Post Processing. For best results in post processing, only shoot in RAW (vs jpeg) in order to retain as much information as possible in the capture. Products such as Adobe Raw and Lightroom allow for viewing the capture at a high magnification (400%) and provide tools for initial adjustments such as Exposure, Color, White Balance, Clarity and Noise Reduction before working in the editing software.  By adjusting the Detail Sharpening in Adobe Raw (Luminance/Masking), much of the noise (grain) caused from high ISO values can be reduced. When adjusting your shots in Lightroom or CS5, start by adjusting the fill light (shadow/highlights) and then the clarity.  Clone out distractions, such as reflections or debris, that you didn’t see and make your final crops before applying a sharpening filter.  (Don’t over sharpen as this will emphasize any grain that was not removed.)


The equipment I used consisted of a Nikon d700, Nikkor lenses 12-24mm super wide zoom f/2.8, 24-70mm zoom f/2.8, 105mm f/2.8 macro and SB-900 flash. The camera was set for center weighted metering, focus was set to manual and exposure settings were set to Manual Mode. ISO values ranged from 200 up to 1600. Although the Nikon d700 could go much, much higher, I felt the noise above 1600 became a factor which required me to limit the upper ISO to 1600 whenever I had that feature turned on. Shots were taken at various shutter speeds and f/value combinations as each situation demanded something a bit different. Light was always a challenge and I wanted to try to capture the natural lighting whenever possible. To enhance the dark background where there was ample light, I used a Circular Polarizing filter. Jelly Fish were captured with a 12-24mm super wide zoom (subjects were within a foot of the lens). I found that the natural lighting from the tank was most effective and f/8 – 1/125 – ISO 800 worked as a nice starting point.


The Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom was used whenever I needed a more ‘flexible’ reach beyond the 12-24 zoom. Fish were shot using this 'walk-around' 24-70mm lens combined with an SB900 hot shoe mounted flash set to 45 degrees. Being close to the glass, and at this angle, flare was eliminated and colors just popped. For very small objects I used the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. Adobe Raw was used for my first level of cleanup and Photoshop CS5 for cropping and final edits.


I suggest that you travel light and only take what you will need for the shoot.  At times, it may get crowded and you may find that a simple shoulder bag is the best choice for quick lens changes.  And be sure to check your coat when you get there - you will want all the freedom you can get and carrying a coat could easily hamper that. You most certainly will need both hands free at all times.


Lastly, as with any photo shoot, be prepared before you go on location.  Do your research first and you will have much more enjoyable, and rewarding, time.  And, as always, the more shots you take, the more likely you will have a nice collection of ‘keepers’.


I hope you can take advantage of your local aquarium and that you will find some of these techniques useful as a guide.


Good luck and happy shooting.



/john soulé, IPA

Image Details
1. 12-24 @ 14mm, 1/125, f/8, ISO 1000
2.  24-70 @24mm, f/5, 1/80, ISO 400
3. 24-70 @70mm, f/3.2, 1/250, ISO 200, SB900 flash
4. 12-24 @ 24mm, f/2.8, 1/60, ISO 1600
5. 12-24 @14mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 200, SB900 flash




[email protected] (John Soulé) How to photograph Thu, 23 Feb 2012 23:47:54 GMT