Help Make Lenspiration’s Free Content More Helpful For You

24 Sep

I love to blog . . . if it has to do with photography, I’ll write about it!

But what good is it to blog about photography if it isn’t helpful for other photographers? The blog is my outlet for providing observers like you with regular, useful, free content. But I don’t only want to write about things that I am excited about . . . I want to write about what is really, truly helpful for you.

So, could you help me know what’s helpful for you by taking a minute to fill out this survey?

What would you like to see more of on the blog? What kind of posts are helpful for you? Answer the questions below to help us bloggers know how to make our blogs more helpful for you!

Click here to take the survey

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The Powerful Influence of Visual Media to Change the Course of History

19 Sep

As a photographer, the opening paragraphs of a political news article I read the other day really caught my attention. It put into words what I had always perceived to be true but had not yet ever tried to articulate.

During the very first nationally televised general-election debate in the United States—the showdown between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in 1960—it is said that Kennedy looked great and Nixon looked terrible, and that this visual difference had an unexpected electoral effect. Theodore H. White described in his hugely influential book The Making of the President 1960 that “sample surveys” after the debate found that people who had only heard Kennedy and Nixon talking, over the radio, thought that the debate had been a tie. But those who saw the debate on television were more likely to think that Kennedy—the handsome, tanned, non-sweaty, poised—had won.

This data can’t necessarily be proved, but from a modern perspective, the only surprising thing about his findings is that they came as a surprise. And to quote the author, “Today’s electorate has decades of televised politics behind it, from which one assumption is that of course images, and their emotional power, usually matter more than words and whatever logic they might try to convey.”

So hence a culminating observation: “The most accurate way to predict reaction to a debate is to watch it with the sound turned off.”

Amazing. We all know the pen is mightier than the sword. But who would have guessed what would rise up to be mightier than the pen? The camera. And the warrior who unassumingly stands behind it’s powerful influence on the minds of men in the world of politics.

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The Subtle Difference of HDR

15 Sep

I tinker around with HDR merging every once in a while, but I’m seldom pleased with the results. Like, even after merging a series of photos together, I still feel like I’m limited with the amount of detail I can pull out of the highlights and shadows. All too often, I feel like I could get the same result (if not better) using a single RAW file as I would in a multi-file merge.

But then I ran into a situation where I think I discovered the reason why HDR may still be necessary sometimes. Scouting for pictures the morning after the Green Lake Conference in Wisconsin two weeks ago, I came across this tree that really stood out to me. The curve of the trunk, the buckled root, the branches emanating distinctly, and the bright, pre-dawn glow in the center of it all beckoned me to pause and consider. It was the perfect setup for sunrise. And, silhouetted up against the sky, it was a perfect subject for an HDR merge.

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Notice the detail in the leaves? The smooth look of the water? The lack of grain in the shadows? The softness of the sky? It’s on the verge of surreal, but it still retains some integrity of realism. And I think all these elements point to what makes HDR better than the developing of a single RAW file sometimes. The shot above is the merge of 9 different exposures, encompassing the entire dynamic range. I had plenty of freedom with the sliders in Lightroom.

The following image is a processed version of just one of the shots I took for the HDR merge. Almost identical (which continues to prove to me that multi-image HDR merging truly isn’t necessary most the time) but not retaining the same level of definition as it’s HDR counterpart. I think HDR, when used properly, is still an excellent choice for those ultra-high-contrast situations one might find themselves in.

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Finding the time to break away and spend time behind the camera like I was able to on that morning in Wisconsin is not easy. There always seems to be something more important to do. In fact, a PRO Member recently asked, “Do you have any tips on balancing photography with work, family, daily tasks and time with the Lord? I’m finding it challenging to fit the photography studies in!” I can totally relate to this question! Do you? If so, and you’re a PRO member, then head over to the newly released PRO Report to read my thoughts on the subject in the front page article, Finding Time For Photography Amidst the Busyness of Life.

What We Learned On The Green Lake Photography Team

08 Sep

I just got back from the last ACTION photography workshop of the year in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Like the five other homeschool Conferences from over the summer, it was a blast! Here are some of the photos we took over the week and what we learned in shooting them.

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This is our group shot, taken out by beautiful Green Lake. This campus was a great spot for a Conference! What I learned in this shot was that I really need to clean the glass on my lens more often. I think there were some smudges on it that translate as bluish tinges across the image in various places that were very difficult to remove in LR. If I wanted to really use this picture for anything, I’d have to take it into PS.

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This shot was taken during the ice-cream fellowship on Thursday night. The fact that it was after dark, the only light was a yellow street lamp, the group was seated in a circle, and that there was nothing around for me to stand on to get a higher perspective, made this a very difficult situation to photograph. But I like challenges. So I grabbed my 580EX speedlite, lifted the white bounce-card, flipped down the diffuser panel for complete frame flash coverage, set the focus, lifted the camera as high as I could above my head, shot a few experiment shots, and then asked the group to look up at the camera for the final shot. The Gradient Tool, Radial Filter and Highlights slider helped even out the lighting in post. And of course it really helped that the boy in the front gave me a really big smile too.


This is the group shot of the entire Conference. To keep glare and lens flare eliminated completely, it really helped to have the guys behind stage turn off the main stage lights.

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This is the CI leadership team group shot. I really should have chosen a spot that didn’t have dappled light. But I think it’s better than a shot indoors.

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This is a shot of the COMMIT girls at craft time. Simply addressing the girl by name (name badges are really helpful) and asking her to smile at the camera really helped this shot stand out from the norm.

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Since I was the only “guy” on the photography team, I was mainly in charge of shooting the ALERT Cadet challenge. When I arrived at this particular activity, Captain Warner requested I get a good shot of this special needs kid participating in the River Crossing activity. It was my challenge to capture—all at the same time and during a fast moving event—a clean background, excited expression and a perspective that would show what made this such a heart-warming shot . . . an angle that showed the fact that this kid with no arms was still able to be as involved as everyone else.

We took hundreds of pictures, and there are a million and one things I could say about them, but time fails me. I guess you’ll just have to come to an ACTION next year to learn all there is to learn about event photography!

Behind The Shot: Paths Of The Sea

31 Aug

Even on a Photography Missions Trip, I can’t seem to get away from landscape photography.

I envisioned the shot that eventually became “Paths Of The Sea” days in advance. After a great week of mission work in Tijuana, the missions team planned to cross the border from Tijuana into San Diego on Sunday to go to church State-side. Why go through the hassle of crossing into the States just for a single event in the morning? Why not make the most of it by enjoying the afternoon/evening exploring one of God’s most diverse ecosystems on earth? Mentioning and incorporating the idea several days in advance helped to hurdle the logistical challenge this idea posed. And though not all ideas like this do come to pass, this time it did! And so that’s how a few of us—the photographers, some outdoor-inclined mission team members, and myself—found ourselves with keys to a vehicle in southern California on a Sunday afternoon with nothing planned till after sunset.

Read more about what happens during a Photography Missions Trip in A Story About Mexico Culture . . . Told With Pictures!

In situations like this, it’s nice when you are the one who happens to be put in charge of the itinerary. It wasn’t long before we were on our way up the coast to Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve. This area seemed to be the kind of place this group would enjoy. A quiet, epic sort of place that offered plenty of trails and space to experience God’s creation firsthand.

We took our time. It was a Sunday afternoon. On the trail down to the beach, we stopped to photograph a unique geologic formation and learn about creative perspective in photography.


The sun disappeared behind the bank of clouds on the horizon as the time neared sunset. I wasn’t sure if the sun would ever peep out again before it actually set. Not all sunsets over the Pacific Coast are amazing.

Read about my last attempt at a sunset in Behind The Shot: Lost At Sea

But even when I didn’t know if the sun would ever peep out again, I searched around for different compositions that would accent it if it did. I juggled a few different compositions, not liking any of them until I eventually came across this arrangement of rocks. I positioned myself so that the reflection of sunlight across the water would point right into the gap between the rocks. It wasn’t exactly the best composition, but that’s when the sun decided to come out again, so it just had to do!

In the beauty of that moment, oh how my heart throbbed in worship to the Creator in that unceiled cathedral of creation . . . “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained . . . what is man that you are mindful of him? You have made him to have dominion over the works of your hands: all sheep and oxen, the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O Lord our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth!”


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Paths Of The Sea
Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve
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Note to PRO Members: Just as I did in this shot, learn the details in how you can begin making the most of your travels by following the 19 questions outlined in the latest PRO-exclusive Advanced Topic: Improving Your Photography By Making The Most Of Your Spare Moments.

Winning These Photography Awards Was More Than A Coincidence!

26 Aug

What do you notice about the ribbons in the snapshot below?


How many “big” blue ribbons do you see? . . . the two that happen to say “Best Youth Award” and “Best Of Show”? Two, right? Exactly! Two. And they belong to the only two Lenspiration PRO Member who entered the Addison County Fair!

So, how did they do it?

It all started with a question over a month ago on the PRO Q&A Forum. @hannah asks,

I am planning on entering a photo competition, and was wondering if I could ask advice on some pictures, and if you could give me better ideas, or different critique on them, etc.?

The discussion went on for a good while. The PRO members and I chimed in with our thoughts and we went back and forth on several different photos. @hannah’s sister, @emilym, jumped in with some of her own pictures too. I gave my thoughts and recommendations but left the decisions up to them.

I left it there and moved on to other things. The rest was in their hands.

But then a few days later I got this email:

I won the adult best photograph award! We’ve gone from red or white (bad) ribbons to Best of Show. 🙂

What a thrill it was to hear this! It wasn’t just one of the sisters . . . it was both of them that placed. “This is the first time I’ve ever won an award at the fair”, @Hannah writes on the Q&A Forum in a followup comment. Could it be a coincidence? Perhaps. But I don’t think so. Their diligent study and application of the PRO training over the past year is paying off.

To learn more about how you can become involved in the PRO Community, click here. There’s no better time than now to start preparing for your next photo contest!

Have You Ever Had A Chance To Photograph This Creature Before?

22 Aug

Even though I’ve lived in rural West Virginia for about 14 years, it wasn’t until this summer that I finally felt I had a sporting chance at photographing one of the most elusive creatures that silently frequent our area.

Though I hear their eery call regularly, floating through my open bedroom window as I fall asleep on cool summer evenings, I’ve never attempted to actually track the caller down.

Several times, while hunting or simply going about every-day activities, I’ve seen their black silhouette fly across open patches of only-ever-so-slightly-lighter patches of sky.

But because of the Barred Owl’s elusiveness, I’ve felt that I never had a sporting chance at finding one close enough to photograph with any sort of decent quality. And investing in a telephoto lens just for this purpose simiply hasn’t been high on my priority list.

But then came a morning when the odds turned in my favor.

I was taking a pre-dawn stroll down the driveway when I heard an odd, soft, clucking-like noise coming from the edge of the clearning quite close. I didn’t have a flashlight or anything, so I simply recoreded the call on my phone and resolved to ask my bird-genious brother about it later that day.

When I did, I was surprised that he himself did not recognize the call! That made me curious. So after a lot of digging online, I finally discovered what it was: the call of a young, fledgling Barred Owl. 

Perhaps this was my chance! If it happened to be in the same place the next morning, I would be there to photograph it.

And thankfully, it was. Here are the only three pictures I got before it flew off into the misty darkness of that rainy morning:

To learn about how I actually captured these photos–my approach, how I used the limited equipment I had, technical settings, how I processed the photos, or how I identified the call–PRO Members feel free to ask on the PRO Forums!

A Story About Mexico Culture . . . Told With Pictures!

14 Aug

I’m on the Photography Missions Trip in Tijuana this week! Today, the mission team worked on cleaning out and fixing up what will be a third mission center for MissionTalk. Meanwhile, the construction team was hard at work on a big project . . .













It’s fun to watch how things are done in Mexico. Smile 

Want a listen in on the live update on how things are going here in Mexico? PRO Members join us for the webinar on Monday at 7:00pm ET!

First Time for Everything . . . Like Shooting an Event Close to Home!

10 Aug

I’ve lived in West Virginia for over a decade now, and yet I’ve photographed very few photojournalistic-like projects around here. Sure, I’ve shot lots of WV FEW Conferences, Apple Butter Festivals and various ministry outreaches we do as a family, but those I shoot just for the fun of it—it doesn’t matter whether or not the pictures turn out. Most of the time, I’m shooting events out of state, whether it’s a homeschool Conference or wedding for a friend. But when our country church’s multi-day Church Camp rolled around this year, I would have to consider it the first event I’ve shot more than just for fun of it close to home. Like 3-miles-away sort of close to home!


No, it wasn’t a large event, and was definitely pulled off in regular West Virginia fashion, but it was a great place to be involved as a photographer. I had other roles to play other than photographer too, but now that it’s over I wish I had taken more pictures!

Here are a few of my favorite shots from the few times I pulled out my camera. As usual, I was faced with the typical challenges of indoor action, background distraction and covering an event in general, so if any of the PRO members have questions about how a certain shot was taken, or have a local event coming up that you’re expected to perform well in, let me know here on the forums and we’ll discuss it on the PRO Q&A webinar on Monday!









Behind The Shot: Patriotic Expression

30 Jul

Have you ever spent the 4th of July at an airport?

Travel has it’s unfavorable flavors sometimes. When I dropped off the car at a local hotel for a week of parking near the airport, the lady at the desk asked about my Independence Day vacation plans as she pulled up the paperwork . . . No, not for me this time. After a fun-filled weekend with friends and family for the WV FEW, the 4th of July needed to be a normal day of business. I thanked her for making the 4th of July a day of work herself . . . as well as the fellow who drove the shuttle to the airport. I could feel for them.

I must say, if you’re going to spend a holiday at an airport, Pittsburgh is the place to do it! It’s spacious and peaceful. They play classical music too. After seeing my brother Daniel off on his early afternoon flight to Dallas, I got to spend a few hours there before my late afternoon flight took off for Sacramento.

The layover in Las Vegas, however, was a different story. The annoying sounds of countless slot machines and the unceasing frolic of vacationing crowds was almost humorous.

Watching fireworks from the plane, though, as I took off on that last leg of the journey, actually turned out to be something interesting. Not necessarily photogenic, just unique. Little bursts of light erupting simultaneously from multiple points across the cityscape sprawled out below . . . it was, interesting. With a travel-weary smile, I reclined my seat in an attempt to get some sleep, grateful that the firework show was the only unexpected event of the day.

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Patriotic Expression
Parking lot in Sacramento, California
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As it turned out, though, it wouldn’t be the last firework show of the season.

After a full and fun week leading the ACTION Photography Team for the Sacramento Family Conference (which I wrote about in The Photography Team That Kept Growing), and with the long return flight to the East Coast planned for the next day, I was enjoying the randomness of post-Conference, brain-fried conversation with Jonah, a photographer friend from the Sacramento area, while we cleaned up the classroom together. I may tire of taking pictures (especially if it’s of basically the same thing day in and day out during a Conference), but I don’t ever seem to tire of talking photography (especially when the friend you’re talking with is big into phone-photography and is showing you how to utilize your new phone’s manual camera settings.)

At some point, the topic of fireworks comes up. Any shows going on this weekend? As a matter of fact, yes! The California State Fair is just down the road . . . it actually started tonight. No way. Jonah’s says he’s free for the evening. And has a car. Why not?!

With permission (and after the classroom was all cleaned up), we took off! Before long we found ourselves in a Chase bank parking lot just outside the fairgrounds, chatting about life, photography, cars . . . ah, I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing conclusion to a fantastic week! And the firework show that ensued added a nice, dramatic—patriotic—exclamation mark.


Photographing fireworks is a lot of fun and a Making the Most of Your Vacation video available only to PRO Members is in the works that will explain how to capture them artistically. But for now, here are a few of my favorite shots from the California State Fair fireworks show:







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