Welcome to Lenspiration! A wholesome place to learn, grow, & share skills in photography.

Opportunities for photographers to take the next step through online training, hands-on workshops, and interactive forums.


1. FREE Membership

Start learning for free! Join the Lenspiration Community with a FREE membership and get the eBook, interact on the forums and start getting your pictures critiqued.

2. PRO Membership

Keep learning for peanuts! Join the Lenspiration Community as a PRO member for online training, exclusive forums, shooting opportunities and more!

3. Premium Training

Enjoy hands-on practice and one-on-one interaction through on-location workshops across the US, or take advantage of long-distance personal consulting!

What Camera Would You Bring?

27 May
Sea kayaking

Directly after the photography Mission Trip with Lenspiration a few weeks ago, the opportunity came up to go sea kayaking with some friends in San Diego. If you had the opportunity to go sea kayaking, what camera would you bring along with you?

Sea kayaking

I have brought my DSLR out on the water many times before. It’s definitely a risk, but if you’re careful and responsible, and going with careful and responsible people, I’ve not yet experienced any major problems. In fact, the shot below was taken during a photography workshop where everyone in our canoe envoy brought a camera along with them.

7533_Canon EOS 40D, 55 mm, 1-500 sec at f - 3.5, ISO 800

But sea kayaking is a different story. The ocean is a whole lot more rough than lakes or the typical river. And not only are waves and spray a constant hazard, the ocean is salt water! The entire environment is completely hostile to anything electronic. So does that mean I should just give up any idea of taking pictures during very unique excursions if they involve sea water? Perhaps most folks would. But I couldn’t bare the thought of letting such a unique opportunity pass un-photographed. Would you pass up this opportunity? If not, what camera would you bring?


I have posed a very simple question. But it’s a great question for starting discussion! It’s not complicated or sophisticated, but it’s great because it opens the door for talking about a whole slew of photography related topics that will eventually, if not already, apply to you: DSLR dry bags, waterproof cameras, cell phone cases, working with equipment around water, how to deal with salt water, etc. Who knows, it could bring up topics you never even knew existed, or reveal tips and ideas that could help you begin capturing events that you would not have otherwise considered capturing!

The value of a question isn’t in how deep it is, it’s in how deep the answer is. And that’s why I started the Critique and Q&A webinars as part of the PRO Membership. The blog and the FREE forums don’t let me go deep enough. On a webinar, I’m free to take the necessary time to research ahead of time, present a structured answer and, most importantly, get your immediate feedback to make sure it’s actually helping you take the next step.

20160511_180550 edited

Whether we actually talk about what camera to use during sea-water events in the next webinar . . . I don’t know. It depends on if any of the PRO Members ask about it. The idea behind the webinars is to go deep with the questions that the PRO Members ask. But if there happens to be any extra time, you know what I’ll be talking about. 🙂

Click here to learn more about the PRO Membership and the next webinar on June 4.


Moving My Pictures from Bad to Good to Better to Best

10 May

In the PRO Critique and Q&A webinar with the PRO Members last Saturday I talked about what the differences are between a bad, good, better and best image. Once we know these things, we can start taking 5 steps to effectively capturing best pictures in whatever genre we want.

So, what are the differences between bad, good, better and best images?

I think we would all agree that this is a bad picture:

160503-8773_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 20003

Why? It’s got some great potential with an interesting subject there in the foreground, but because it’s out of focus, overexposed, improperly framed and has absolutely no vestige of purpose, message or emotion, everyone would say it’s a bad picture.

So, what about this picture? Again, an engaging subject, but this time it’s captured in a good way. In fact, their Grandma loves this picture so much that she has it framed on the wall and uses it in many different ways. So, because of the message, emotion and expression, we would consider it to be a good picture.


But we want to take better pictures than just good pictures, right? And to do this we must know the ins-and-outs of what the camera can do for us and how to make the camera do what we want. While the picture of the grandchildren shows great expressions, technically there are many things that could be done better with it. Things that were applied in this next picture:

`160421-6731_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 97 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 40021

This shot is applying a lot of technical things that are more difficult to capture with a phone camera or point and shoot camera. The shallow depth of field, the soft bokeh, the crisp focus, the high image quality and the expression-of-the-moment captured in the movement of time. The picture not only tells a story and captures expression, it applies a lot of technical aspects that make it a better shot.

But there’s one thing that keeps this shot from being a best shot, at least in my opinion. There’s no interaction with the viewer or element of artistic creativity. And that’s where pictures like this take the cake for an example of the best sort of shots that can be taken:

160503-8786_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 20003

I don’t think anyone would say this is a bad picture. This shot is good because it tells an emotional story. It’s better because it’s capturing that moment beautifully. But it’s best because it’s engaging and artistic. It’s more than a picture. It’s the portrait of how love can penetrate poverty.

There’s a lot more I could say about this sequence, and there’s definitely better examples that could be given than are in my portfolio to offer. But it gets the idea across. And I think we can all start looking for ways to move our pictures from bad to good to better to best. I don’t have time here to go into the 5 steps that we can start following to effectively capture best pictures in any genre, but if you’re a PRO member you can learn what they are in last Saturday’s webinar, 5 Steps To Capturing Action Effectively.

How The Shot Was Taken: Morning Vigil

30 Apr
160427-JAS_7681-HDR W

I spent the early part of last week in the Columbia River Gorge scouting for the July CAPTURE Oregon workshop. My goal was to finalize the best places to take pictures for sunrise, sunset and any time in between, rain or shine. This shot is from one of the locations I’ll plan on visiting:

160427-JAS_7681-HDR W

Morning Vigil
Portland Women’s Forum Overlook, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

This shot was taken at sunrise on the very last morning of my scouting excursion. At the beginning of my trip, I spent some time trying to figure out which locations I wanted to scout. First I Googled something like “best overlooks in the Columbia River Gorge” and looked around on Google Images and other photographers’ websites to get an idea of what overlooks would offer great photos. As I searched around, I made note of where exactly they were, adding them to a Google My Maps map that I have created for such purposes. I then took some time to figure out which times of day would be the best time to visit those locations.


Once I have a few places scouted out and had figured out what time of day that would be best photographed, I was able to put together a rough schedule of where I should each morning and evening. And depending on the travel times, I would know what time to set my alarm. I generally try to arrive at a location about 1 hour before sunrise, so that meant my alarm was going off between 4-5am every morning. Arriving an hour before sunrise allows me to check out different angles, get set up in plenty of time, and shoot pre-sunrise long-exposures if the location lends itself to such shots.

For this particular location, I arrived pretty late, only about 20 minutes before sunrise. But it wasn’t because I had over slept . . . this particular overlook turned out to be Plan B. Plan A was the 360 degree Larch Mountain overlook. In my online scouting, I was under the impression that it was open, even though the area was high enough in elevation that the road would normally be closed due to snow through the end of April. Well, my impression proved wrong and the road to the overlook was indeed closed about 4 uphill miles from the top. So that’s why I had to come up with Plan B. Because the Portland Women’s Forum overlook was close by and I had not yet scouted it out, I figured it would be the next best option for the sunrise.

And it turned out to be a pretty good spot! Because it was so cloudy, I wasn’t sure if there would be any color at sunrise. But just in case, I set up my tripod and camera settings quickly at the first break in the trees and waited. When the scene didn’t change after a few minutes, I looked around to see if any other vantage point would be better than the one I had started with. This is what I ended up with:


I needed to be as high as possible to be able to shoot above the trees in the foreground. As for camera settings, I experimented with multiple focal lengths, and determined that 150mm was what I needed to include only the elements that were interesting at this particular time. I always keep my ISO as low as possible for quality’s sake, and used aperture f/16 to make sure the entire scene was in focus. This left the shutter speed between 1/10th of a second and 2.5 seconds (depending on what part of the scene I was exposing for) which wasn’t a problem because I had the camera on a tripod. With Drive Mode set to 2 second timer, I was able to trip the shutter without touching the camera to make sure there were no unnecessary vibrations from my own finger pressing the shutter release.

In post, I merged 6 different exposures to help me create a realistic dynamic range that the camera could not pick up in one shot.


To learn more about how I do my online scouting, on-location scouting, use Google My Maps, set up my camera for landscape shots or merge multiple exposures for realistic HDR processing join the PRO Membership and refer to “Morning Vigil” on the PRO Q&A Forum.

Take Your Creativity To A Deeper Level

28 Apr
6428_Salem-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 400

A few weeks ago, I was asked to photograph an old school that was for sale on some property near where I live.

6428_Salem-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 24 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 400

The purpose was purely documentary. To show what existed so potential buyers could know what they were buying. I wasn’t supposed to be “creative” with the pictures. I was just supposed to photograph the raw fact—what simply existed.

Going into the project, I was in the mindset that nothing else but camera knowledge was going to be necessary for the job. For example, I would just need the non-creative knowledge of how to photograph in poorly lit rooms. I would need the non-creative knowledge of how to make sure all my pictures were always sharp and focused properly. I just needed the non-creative skills of operating a camera.

6357_Salem-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 17 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 1600

But now that the job is finished, and as I think back on it, I realize that creativity was actually at play during the entire photo shoot, even when I didn’t realize it. A different level of creativity. Not the kind of artistic creativity specific to what I normally do as a photographer—capturing existing beauty or creating beauty out of ashes—but rather a broader sort of professional creativity that helps one conduct a job with excellence, producing superior results than the person who is there just to do a job.

For instance, while I was on the job, it helped when I would suggest different angles, take pictures from multiple perspectives, request for all the lights to be turned on, look for better vantage points that would give a better idea of what the surroundings were like, rearrange furniture or move things out of the way . . . things that may not necessarily relate to photography specifically but make a difference in how thorough or professionally the job is conducted.

6347_Salem-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 19 mm, 1-160 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 1600

And this sort of creativity—seeking methods of creating superior results—is helpful in every area of life! Everything in life can be done a better way in the eyes of a creative person! As I seek both artistic and professional creativity in the position of “photographer”, than it will ultimately show through in other areas of life.

So, let us continue to think creatively in photography at both levels, as an artists as well as a professional in our field. And to develop both of these levels, let us not forget to remember where creativity actually originates. God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear—timidity, cowardice, just doing a job to get it over with—but instead, the spirit of power to do things well, of love to do it for the benefit of others, and of a “sound mind”, a sort of self-control that allows us to think outside the box of ourselves to look into the world of God’s perspective, the perspective of the Creator.

6447_Salem-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 35 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 400

How to Keep from Missing Good Opportunities for Good Pictures

26 Apr
6545_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

My brother Jonathan and I drove down together from West Virginia to the Big Sandy Family Conference in Texas. It was quite the drive, but when I travel, I try to plan in some extra time to stop for sunrise or sunset pictures.

So, as we were driving along that first day, I started looking for potential places at which we could stop about an hour or so before sunset. The skies were clear so I couldn’t expect there to be a dramatic sunset, but I figured I could plan for be some nice golden hour light.

We were driving through the Appalachian mountains of southern Virginia and there were several points of interest along the way that seemed liked good candidates. Due to timing, we decided to stop at a place called Big Walker Mountain Overlook, about 15 minutes off the Interstate.

Doing my online scouting, I couldn’t find very many pictures of the place so I didn’t know if it would be worth the effort to go there, but there were little blurbs about it here and there about beautiful views from the parking lot of a country store, and even a quarter mile trail out to an overlook called Monster Rocks. It all sounded pretty interesting and seemed like a good spot for sunset.

And when we arrived at the beginning of the golden hour, we found that it was indeed a good place to stop! The main attraction was a 100 foot tower that you could pay to walk up to get 360 views of the surrounding area. However, it was closed, so I figured the next best thing was to hike up to Monster Rocks. A place named like that sounded like it would have good views. And probably better, more natural views and foreground elements to work with than the openings that were there in the parking lot.

Now, it is at this point in the story that I want to pause to throw in my tidbit of advice for how to keep from missing good opportunities for good pictures: if I’m not confident that what is ahead is really beautiful, and I’m currently standing at a spot that is perceived to be semi-beautiful, then it’s usually a better idea to photograph the semi-beautiful place first.

It’s hard to fight the hope that what’s ahead is surely better than where I currently am now, but if I don’t have any proof other than hope that what’s ahead is better, than I have found that it’s worth taking the time to take advantage of where I currently am now—what I know already exists to be beautiful—even if if it may seem to be less striking than what was originally hoped for. It’s the whole concept of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.” I have missed a lot of good opportunities for beautiful pictures because I was greedily looking for something better than what I already had.

So, back to the story, this is what I was presented with at the Big Walker Mountain Overlook parking lot. There were definitely opportunities where I was, but then there was this tantalizing idea that surely it was better out at Monster Rocks.

Well, this time, I fought the urge to set out on the hike immediately, and went down to a little platform at the first overlook to shoot a few shots first. There really was something that caught my eye here at this scene, and I figured it would be better to risk missing what I wasn’t confident existed at Monster Rocks.

So, I shot a few shots.

6545_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-400 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

Then I hiked out to Monster Rocks. I arrived in good time still, thankfully, but instead of the grand vista that I was expecting, it felt more like a little “hole in the wall” sort of place. The angle on the rolling green fields below just wasn’t the same.

6559_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 33 mm, 1-125 sec at f - 6.3, ISO 400

I didn’t have time to go back to the first overlook. And this is usually the case! I probably would have missed both opportunities rushing back to the first one, if I hadn’t taken advantage of the first one first.

So, even though I did shoot from Monster Rocks to get the best shot I could of the sun dipping below the distant mountains, I was glad that I had taken the time to photograph the greener grass on my own side of the fence first. And this is the principle behind how to keep from missing good opportunities for good pictures. Learn self-control, and receive creatively the opportunities that God has already placed in your path.

_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 200 mm, 1-15 sec at f - 16, ISO 100

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