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Photography in Cuba

Cuban PhotographyMy trip to Cuba was a dream of a lifetime. People often ask me why Cuba? Why not Hawaii, Europe or another Caribbean Island? As a photographer, I have been fascinated with Cuba for years and decided I wanted to go before everything changed.  I signed up for a group trip under the leadership of Peter Turnley, former Newsweek Photographer.

What I found in Cuba, I don’t thing you could find anywhere else in the world. I was mostly struck by the beautiful color palette of the pastel buildings, the textures, the classic cars and finally the wonderful spirit of the people. There are photo opps just about everywhere.

In my forty years, as a photographer, I have never been exposed to the ‘photo-journalism’ side of the craft. I learned a lot from Peter about how to tell a story within your frame. What I learned was a different way of thinking from being a portrait photographer. I was there the last weekend of Fidel’s mourning, so it was a very historic moment. What I found in Cuba is a treasure of photography moments and I can’t wait until I go again.

I challenge all of you to try something new this year with your photography. Try not to be too stuck in your ways. Capture an image that tells a story and that needs no words. Look through the frame of your camera and examine all four edges. Is your story complete within the frame? Zoom in or out as needed and do not omit anything necessary that will convey your message. Focus on the eyes of your subject.  A more extreme depth of field is sometimes necessary so the viewer can sense the time and place of the story.

Below are some of my favorite photos from the trip. To view the entire galleries from my group you can visit the Cuba Gallery here.

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

Cuban Photography

bike taxi in Havana



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How to Make the Colors Pop in Your Summer Photos

394Summer is settling in with 90 degree temperatures in much of the country. I love to go out on a warm summer night to take photographs. The light is just right about an hour before sunset. This is a great time for landscape photography because the light is not as harsh as the middle of the day. During this time (also know as the Sweet Hour) I look for back light, front light, interesting shadows, transparency in the subject and golden hues in the atmosphere.  Top this off with my traveling glass of wine, and I am ready to shoot! I prefer my landscapes photos to be on the vivid side. The like it when the greens and oranges pop and the subject is tack sharp. This can be accomplished many ways but the way I like to teach beginners is by using settings inside the camera. In this article, I will explain how I handle this in the camera and will also explain how this technique can be accomplished in post processing by using Camera RAW for those of you who are more advanced.

There are just two simple steps to enhance the color of your photos using your DSLR camera settings:
1) Use a Circular Polarizing filter. This is an “old school” technique that was used in the film days. The purpose of a polarizer is to saturate colors.  A polarizer can also improve the skies in your photography.  Polarizers can deepen the blue sky and brighten the white clouds to create stunning and dramatic skies even in bright sunny conditions. A polarizer blocks the light by 1.5 stops therefore should only be used on bright days or evenings. The shutter speed can be reduced resulting in a blurry picture, so it is a good idea to have a tripod on hand.
2) Change the Picture Style (Canon) or Picture Control (Nikon) from ‘standard’ to ‘landscape’ (also ‘vivid’ in some cameras). This setting alone will produce a noticeable difference. The greens, blues and oranges are enhanced and the sharpening is increased. This setting can be found in your camera menu.

IMG_0540For more advanced students who are familiar with Photoshop there are a couple additional steps you can take:
1) Use Camera RAW setting
2) Process in RAW. Change the color space depth to 16 bit (this can be found in the lower part of the Camera Raw dialog between ‘save image’ and ‘open image’).  Click on it and it will bring you to a new dialog where you can change from 8 bits per channel to 16 bits per channel. This change gives you more pixels to work with.  To learn more about why this matters click here.
3) Continue processing in RAW by adjusting the color temperature (increasing it will warm up the image), increasing the vibrancy (this will make all colors more vibrant EXCEPT for skin tones).  Lastly increase the sharpness of the image, being careful not to over-sharpen. For more localized vibrancy you can use the adjustment brush and brush on vibrancy (or saturation) on parts of the image.

If you don’t have a Circular Polarizer yet, go out and get one. They can be purchased online or at a camera store. You will need to get one that fits your camera lens. If you use several lenses, you will need to get one for each lense. The polarizer rotates, so you simply rotate it until the image that you see through the viewfinder looks right. It works better when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the sun. Remember to take off the polarizer when you are shooting in dim conditions.  For the advanced students you will have more options on how to make the color pop in your photographs. Try both methods and find a technique that works best for you and your style

Happy shooting!  For more information on how to use a DSLR camera check the Studio 2.8 website.

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Do You Edit or Enhance Your Photos?

It is very common these days to edit and/or enhance photos using a post-processing editing software. Is there a  difference between editing and enhancing?

I have always felt there was a difference so I went to the dictionary to find out the definitions of both words. This is what I found:

  • Edit To prepare for publication or presentation, as by correcting, revising, or adapting.  The word is most often used for written material.
  • Enhance – The simple definition is to  increase or improve something. A more complex definition is to raise to a higher degree. To intensify or magnify something. To increase the value or price of something. 

Certainly you can increase or improve an image with an edit, so there is a fine line of distinction between the two verbs but there is clearly a difference for me.

Edit – When you edit, you correct exposure, white balance, contrast,  brightness and crop.  Many of these edits could have been handled properly in the camera and that is how I make the distinction. Perhaps using a custom white balance or a targeted exposure setting in manual mode would result in an image that does not need correcting.  The picture style setting in a Canon  (picture control in a Nikon) allows you to make your own presets for sharpness and contrast. Learning these features can definitely assist you in creating a cleaner image that does not require much editing. Using Live View will enable you to view the histogram while you are shooting and get more precise exposure.  Shooting in RAW format, does require more editing than shooting in jpeg and this is the choice you have to make as a photographer.  If you shoot in RAW you will spend more time behind the computer editing the photos.  Certainly there are pros and cons to RAW vs. JPEG.  I prefer to shoot in JPEG so I do not have to spend a lot of time editing.  An image can also be cropped in the camera, by filling the frame, and enabling the grids (not all cameras have this feature) so that the Rule of Thirds can be applied.

Enhance – An enhancement is generally done after the image is edited. This is the time that I take advantage of the many Photoshop plug-ins and actions that I have installed on my computer.

My definition of enhance is “creating a unique image that further improves it beyond the editing stage – manipulating the image to intensify the story behind the subject.”

This can be accomplished through color manipulation, pixel painting, vignetting, retouching imperfections, and much, much more.  I am a big fan of Topaz filters. If you haven’t heard the term “I Topazed it” then you haven’t been around this software yet. It is simply amazing (no I am not a seller of Topaz).  Thousands of plug-ins exist for Photoshop, just for the purpose of enhancing images.  There are no right and wrong answers to the how much you should enhance as beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder.  Enhancing an image is really the icing on the cake.

My advice (and how I teach my class on Take Creative Control of Your SLR Camera) is to get it right in the camera to avoid a lot of editing and post-process to your heart’s content. Enhancing a photo is way more fun than editing one.
Below are some photos I enhanced using Topaz Impression and Topaz Detail.


I used Topaz Detail to bring out the saturation, contrast and texture of the orchids.


I used Topaz Impression to create the painterly look. of this landscape scene at Gibbs Gardens.








For more information on beginner level photography courses check my website.

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Travel Photography Tips

IMG_0084The weather is finally getting nice and many of us will start our travel planning for this summer. If you are like me, you probably love to take photos while on vacation; but how much can you learn about your craft while you are on a ‘vacation?’.  This blog post on Travel Photography Tips, has a lot more do to with what type of trip you should plan rather than what equipment to bring and what techniques to use.

You basically have three choices for pleasure travel:

  1. go by yourself (not very much fun)
  2. travel with a group of non-photographers
  3. travel with a group of photographers

The best choice in my opinion is Door #3.  Although many tours will include a guide and a group, how much time do you actually have for photography when on a whirlwind type of vacation unless it is a photography group?   In this category, others may not share the same passion you have and may not have the patience to photograph the same scene for hours.  Don’t get me wrong, most people do like to take snapshots while on vacation, but the level of detail and time is usually not the same.

I recently met someone who toured a very popular tourist destination but was disappointed there was not enough time to explore all the photo opportunities. She saw “more” than the non-photographer and came back a little disappointed.

While family vacations are important, I always set aside sometime to venture to new places with a group of photographers. I love the camaraderie of being with a group of like-minded individuals. Many opportunities exist for photography travel where you can learn as you travel.  I prefer the smaller, more intimate groups where you share and critique images at night.  Some of the best travel groups I have found are;

Nomad Travel Tours

Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures

Photography Adventure Vacations

Mentor Series

Equipment for Travel Photography

Equipment can range from DSLR cameras to the newer mirrorless cameras. I own both and have found the Sony Mirrorless a6000 or the newer a6300 to be an excellent alternative to the heavy, bulky SLR camera. Pack light, but bring a good range of focal length lenses (18-300mm), a good prime lens, polarizing filter, ND filter, tripod or monopod, SD cards, batteries and charger and a protective covering for your camera in case of rain.  A backpack camera bag is a great choice for travel.

I am so ready for my next photography journey to be Cuba?  Anyone want to join me?




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