Archive for August, 2011

Pic of the Month: August ‘11

I’m posting a day early to allow room for a special announcement for the first of September . . .

Raptor in Flight

Raptor in Flight

It’s amazing what memory’s we attach to the pictures we take. Want to guess what this picture reminds me of? You probably will never guess. Believe it or not, it reminds me of Acts 26, the chapter in the Bible where Paul preaches in the audience of King Agrippa with such passion that the King himself said: “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

Though this passage has very little to do with a raptor in flight, it was the passage I was reading for my morning devotions when I saw this hawk fly across the field in front of me. I love to do devotions outside. For some, it might be distracting, but I have found this only to be the case when I am under a specific time pressure. On this particular morning, I was not. Thus, the time I spent in softly going inside to retrieve the camera to snap a few shots of the fleeting visitor only added to the novelty of reading Acts 26.

Bible reading and study are not to be isolated between the hours of 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning, or whenever you do your devotions. Scripture was meant to flow through our minds as blood flows through our bodies, ever present, ever nourishing! Oh wretched photographer that I am! If I marvel at but one picture which reminds me of some Scripture most distantly related, than what of profit am I reminded of for the thousands of others that I take? Will I ever be persuaded to live as a Christian? for Christ, and not for self?

Capture Lightning!

Thank you everyone for your comments; I know how to capture lightning now! Seriously, because I do so much trial and error, and I don’t get to shoot storms very often, I really enjoyed reading your comments.

In all actuality, you probably don’t want to take pictures of lightning the same way I did for that Virginia thunderstorm. Like I said, there are multiple ways of doing things; and this usually means there are better ways than others. However, when circumstances dictate that the best way is not possible, than it is worth the risk to be creative, and do it different ways.

Let me explain. Everyone knows that two things are absolutely necessary for this kind of photography:

  1. A tripod to keep the camera steady
  2. A remote release to keep the shutter opened longer than 30sec.

Well, I didn’t have either! So what did I do? I went inside, opened a window, made sure there wasn’t a screen in the way, positioned the camera on the window sill half inside and half outside, composed my shot, and then closed the window on the camera (albeit gently!) to work as a sort of vise to keep the camera from moving and a shock absorber for my finger as it held down the shutter release. Perhaps this is why the picture is a little soft, Jon, but I figure it was better than nothing. :)

As for technical details, they are all very dependent on the conditions you are shooting under. Is it a very dark night? Is the storm close or far away? What kind of lightning is there? Once you have your camera set up on a tripod and a remote release hooked up, keep the following in mind:

  • ISO: go as low as you can go (no higher than 400). Grain is always a big problem for both dark scenes and long exposures. 
  • Aperture: I set mine to f/8.0. Just like shooting fireworks, if you use a much wider opening, you may loose detail in a bolt because it is goo thick. If you use a much narrower opening, than you may loose detail in the bolt because sections may be too thin to see.
  • Shutter speed: under M mode, set the shutter speed to Bulb. This way, you can hold the shutter open as long as you want. This is the key to cool lightning pictures, because it gives you the ability to capture multiple bolts of lightning in the same frame as well as adding some nice movement in the clouds.

1995_Canon EOS 40D, 17 mm, 62.0 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 400

One of these days, I’ll try putting something interesting in the foreground. :) In the meantime, we can be learning from others who have more experience than ourselves:

How to photography lighting –WeatherScapes

Learn how to take striking lightning images – Digital Photography School

West Virginia storms gallery –WV Lightning

How Would You Take It?

The evening was warm and blustery, the gusts of wind bringing with them the suggestion of an approaching storm. Then feeble flashes of light could be seen on the distant horizon, easily perceived from my vantage point on the front porch of the Wilkes new home in the rolling hills of northern Virginia. Before too long, the night sky was consistently lit up with flashes and bolts of lightning revealing the torrents of rain issuing from the outlying clouds. Yet, where I sat, there never fell a drop. And that is why I concluded that it would be worth it to pull out the camera. Not every day does one encounter a “nonaggressive” summer storm.

Even though it had been a while since I had tried taking pictures of lighting, it didn’t take me long to tweak the camera settings to capture this simple image. Now my question to you is this: if you were in my shoes, how would you have taken pictures of the storm? Do you know what settings on the camera you would use to capture multiple bolts of lighting?


I’m sure there are several different ways of doing the same thing, but in my next post, I will explain what I have found to be an effective way of making the most of a thunderstorm.

Virginia FEW Conference

This weekend I’m in Culpeper attending the Virginia Family Encouragement Weekend, thanks to the warm and energetic leadership and hospitality of the Wilkesteam! I don’t have any pictures from this event yet, but here’s a favorite from the last FEW, in West Virginia.

0024_Canon EOS 40D, 55 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

"We will not hide them from [our] children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that He hath done" (Psalm 78:4). The theme for this year’s conference will be passing on the baton to the next generation so that our children and the generations to follow will be prepared to stand in the gap and rebuild the walls surrounding the family, the churches, and the communities God has placed us in!

Northwoods Tubing

When I get the chance (and when I’m not on the tube), I like to ride along in the motor boat to see if I can capture some of those split-second wonders of tubing. I’ve taken thousands of pictures of people tubing, yet the lure for a better shot is always too strong to resist. I had a 200mm lens with me during the last tubing adventure, so it opened up a new horizon of possibilities. Of the 300 pictures I took, here are my favorite three:

1074_Canon EOS 40D, 70 mm, 1-800 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 400

Even though the horizon is crooked precisely at the point where it’s hard to tell if it was intentional or not, I like this shot the best because not only does it give incredible emotional impact through displaying tack-sharp action in good lighting, but it also shows the Northwoods Conference Center in the background. I’ve tried to get a shot like this for years, and this is the first one I’ve ever seen that I actually liked.

1103_Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

I love this image. It is the perfect depiction of tension. The reason it works (and unlike most others similar to it) is because it is perfectly in focus. With the sutterspeed at 1/400sec., I’m surprised. And by the way, the tube never flipped and the guy never lost his grip.

1110_Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

No, the lighting isn’t perfect, but it’s such a dynamic image! Perfect positioning, perfect posture, perfect expression!

More than Smooth Water

I was going through pictures today and came across two practically identical waterfall pictures I took last month at Bond Falls State Park, Michigan. Notice how the second picture looks so much better than the first one. Both were taken on a tripod only 26 seconds apart from each other on a partly cloudy day. Notice the differences between the two:

Northwoods is one of the most beautiful places to take pictures, but during a Journey, I only shoot a little here and there. Journeys are difficult, and one must lead by example. David Waller asked me to take the Journey group portrait which wasn't too difficult and I stayed up pretty late making sure it was ready to print.


All exposure settings during capture (including exposure bias and focus point) and slight tweaks during post-processing are identical between the two pictures; that is, except for two things: the aperture and shutter speed. A = f/8.0 at 1/200 sec; B = f/22 at 1/10 sec.

Such a small change makes such a big difference. Not only is the waterfall smooth, but the overall impression of the image is smooth. No more shadows on the foreground rock, less contrast in the background trees,  and the foreground stream running off the to the left appears to be velvet. 

My only regret: I wish I had been able to use a 2- or 3-stop Neutral Density Filter to make the shutter speed even slower. I wonder what it would have looked like then.

God Provides

God provides in both small ways and big ways.

At the Conference last week, I lost some small, yet relatively important items. The first thing I lost was the little eye piece that fits over the viewfinder of my camera. I guess this isn’t that important, but it sure was annoying to think that I’d have to go through the whole “purchasing process” for such a small thing as that. However, I choose not to get irritated and thanked God instead, asking Him to make it show up before the end of the week.

But the end of the week came pretty quick without having found the eye piece. Instead, I found that someone had evidently mistaken my cell phone charger as theirs and taken it with them when they left. Now this was really annoying! “Another purchase to add to my list!” I thought.

But I purposed not to get irritated and thanked God instead, asking Him to make them both show up before . . . and voilà! In the process of packing up the camera equipment, I opened a pocket on my camera pack and there was the eye piece! “Thank you, Lord! But don’t You think it will take more than a little ‘coincidence’ to find the charger?”

After asking around for the charger without success, I decided to check the hotel’s Lost and Found. “It won’t hurt to check” I thought. And sure enough, no one had brought a cell phone charger to the front desk within the last few hours. But what I did find out was the fact that many people leave cell phone chargers in their hotel rooms and never come back to get them. Lots of people! The lady at the front desk brought out a big box of left-behind chargers and said “If you can’t find one in there, I’ll dig up another box for you.” I couldn’t believe it! Within a matter of minutes, I had a charger that fit my phone. “Are you sure?” I asked; and more than once I was assured to be sure.

But just as God sometimes decides to show us His provision in small ways, he may also show His provision in large ways. And when both are shown in conjunction with each other over a short period of time, it brings a certain level of excitement and reverence that can not be humanly explained or reproduced. Therefore, when I was presented with several business opportunities during the Conference, I was awed at God’s great provision, ashamed that I sometimes doubt His great care, and encouraged to keep living by great faith!

Perhaps in every situation God’s provision will not be completely visible (I’ve got plenty of those stories too), but we have the assurance that God will work all things together for good to those that love Him.

Northwoods is one of the most beautiful places to take pictures, but during a Journey, I only shoot a little here and there. Journeys are difficult, and one must lead by example. David Waller asked me to take the Journey group portrait which wasn't too difficult and I stayed up pretty late making sure it was ready to print.

Steps to Successful Photojournalism

I was asked to take pictures for the children’s programs presentation slideshows at the Indianapolis ATI Conference again this year. Yippee! I was reminded again of the essential steps in shooting a successful photojournalism event:

  1. Get all the details from the one in charge.
  2. Set up a work station, complete with an “Inbox” and “Outbox” for full and empty memory cards.
  3. Rally the photographers, giving assignments and deadlines.
  4. Enjoy the thrill of taking pictures of the Conference happenings!
  5. Download and quickly edit everyone’s pictures.
  6. Present the pictures to the behind-the-scenes guy, who would appreciate receiving them sooner than later.

I don’t think I got the final pictures behind stage “sooner” but at least it was soon enough. Here are a few of my favorite captures from the Children’s Institute and ALERT Cadet programs:

1495_Canon EOS 40D, 55 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

1476_Canon EOS 40D, 21 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

1472_Canon EOS 40D, 70 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

1484_Canon EOS 40D, 55 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

1582_Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

1773_Canon EOS 40D, 85 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

1572_Canon EOS 40D, 200 mm, 1-320 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 200

1710_Canon EOS 40D, 121 mm, 1-320 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

And for those of you who scrolled to the bottom of the post, here’s a bonus picture. I guess it’s pretty random, but the shadow of the speaker during one of the sessions was just too intriguing for me not to notice from my seat on the front row. Can you guess who the speaker is?

1457_Canon EOS 40D, 55 mm, 1-25 sec at f - 2.8, ISO 800

Be Doing and Daring

Photography is so much fun! It forces me to do things I would never otherwise want to do, takes me places I would otherwise never get to go, and introduces me to people I would otherwise never know.

Last week, at the Indianapolis Conference was the perfect example of this truth as I was once again asked to provide the children’s programs slideshows at the end of the Conference. In putting it together, I put myself in a few awkward situations; but there was nothing like the thrill of working with a small network of dedicated photographers rushing to meet the final deadline to see a finished project projected on the screen at the last minute!

Is it not the same in our work for the Lord? One anonymous poet made the profound correlation when he wrote:

I would rather stumble a thousand times
Attempting to reach a goal,
Than to sit in a crowd
In my weather-proof shroud,
A shriveling and self-satisfied soul.

I would rather be doing and daring
All of my error-filled days,
Than watching and waiting
And dying,
Smug in my perfect ways.

I would rather wonder and blunder,
Stumbling blindly ahead,
Than for safety’s sake
Lest I make a mistake
Be sure, be safe, be dead.

1739_Canon EOS 40D, 127 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200