Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Three Essential Phone Apps Which Will Make you a Better Photographer

Yes, we've got some great cameras and lenses, and we have some decent photography skills. Let's not forget about the cutting edge information tools available on our PC's, phones and tablets.

It used to be that the only ones with access to cutting-edge technology were top government labs, big companies, and the ultra-rich. It was simply too expensive for the rest of us to afford.
                   --Peter Diamandis

The Grand Canyon from the South Rim.  Talk about being in the right place at the right time!  I happened to be shooting at sunset and -- BAM! -- the moon rose over the plateau in the distance. It shocked me. Getting this shot of the moonrise at sunset seemed like a miracle for me at the time. Why?  Because I took this picture on 35mm slide film back in the days before computers, mobile phones, and digital photography. In those analog days of film, luck played a huge part in getting a good photo.  Not so anymore!

What can you do today to minimize the luck factor?

Download 3 extremely useful apps, that’s what!

1.    TPE -- The first app I'd like to share is called The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE). This free app shows you on a map when and where the sunrise and sunset take place, and the moonrise and moonset as well, FOR ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME.

For example:    Are you going to be at Myrtle Beach at the 2nd Avenue bridge? If so, you’ll want to get the sunrise or moonrise over the bridge. TPE will show the exact line of the moonrise or sunset, and you can frame it with the bridge.

Screen shot - Myrtle Beach

So, before you take your trip, check out the landmarks on Google maps and in TPE. This will help you decide where and when you need to set up to get that perfect full-moon-rising or sunrise shot.

2.    The Google Sky Map –Interested in doing some night-time photography? Then The Google Sky Map app is a must. This free app for your phone is essential for capturing the moon, stars, Milky Way and planets. Once you open the app, go outside and point it at the sky. What you’ll see is a matched overlay of the night stars. Don’t be surprised if you get the added bonus of an out-of-this-world experience!

Take a look at this demo and the instructional video on YouTube:

3.    Star Chart -- Star Chart by Escapist Games is an app for tablet, desktop or phone similar to Google Sky Map, but seems more user friendly. Besides showing you the astronomical heavenly bodies, this app does a super job of showing the astrological constellations with beautiful pictures. Within the app there are many additional options such as a search feature and star locator. Check it out on YouTube:

Would you like to learn more about night photography? I recently took an information-packed course on Craftsy called Night Photography with Lance Keimig. Check it out here by searching in “Photography” at the top of the menu:   

Start your FREE Craftsy Unlimited trial at  

I guarantee that using these apps will minimize the luck factor and have you shooting like a pro in no time!

ADDITIONAL ONLINE TOOLS:   Would you like a good explanation of how to online resources at  I took a Craftsy course called Photographing Coastal Landscapes with Kurt Budliger. Kurt explains the tricks to using weather and tidal charts to predict good sunsets and perfect beach scenes.

If you like this blog and these photography tips, please comment below.  Thanks for reading this!

Here is my Shutterstock Gallery

This is my commercial photo website where photos may be licensed for products or advertising:

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

5 Little Known Tips to Take Great Zoo Pictures

Make the most of your trip to the zoo. Let it be a photography excursion!  Family-album-style snapshots are not what you want. The goal is to try to make your zoo shots look like they were taken in the wild.  

If you can reach out and touch and love and be with wildlife, you will be forever changed, and you will want to make the world a better place.
      --Terri Irwin

You are about to learn 5 ways to add some quality to your own portfolio, and even help you when selling commercially. In any case, the process is challenging and fun!

Tip 1: Use a telephoto lens. It crops out as much background as possible, and...

Snow leopard at the Alaska Zoo (Anchorage, Alaska).

...the telephoto lens blurs the background (because of the narrow depth of focus).

This selective focus accentuates the subject in the meerkat photo (below), hiding the zoo enclosure wall detail.

Meerkat at the Metro Richmond Zoo (Richmond, Virginia).

Tip 2: Shoot from high above when the background isn't good.  Unless you are in a safari-park type of zoo, the background can look fake or distracting.

The bear (below) was photographed at eye-level in a habitat enclosure which is big and wide. It almost looks a bit too perfect, even though it is quite natural. And your attention wanders all over the picture.

Bear at at Maymont Park (Richmond, VA).

Here is the same bear (below) photographed from high above using a telephoto lens which crops and compresses the background.The bear is the center of attention.

Tip 3: When shooting through a glass window, put your camera lens right on the glass pane. This eliminates glare from behind you which might otherwise reveal that you are at the zoo. Ideally, a rubber lens shade works great because the black rubber is flexible and your lens is sealed to the glass window--glare free--while you can angle your camera into various positions. This works extremely well in an aquarium too. 

The white tiger (below) was photographed through thick plexiglass using a rubber lens shade against the glass.

White tiger, Metro Richmond Zoo, VA.
NOTE: When photographing at the zoo through glass, arrive early in the day when the glass is freshly cleaned. Late in the day both humans and the animals will have smudged the glass. 

Tip 4: Return again and again. Multiple visits to your local zoo will show you which animals are in the most natural settings, and you will also get familiar with their habits. I used my annual pass to keep returning to the cheetah habitat. When you identify specific animals as targets with photogenic potential, it is just a matter of time before you get some fabulous photos. If you buy an annual zoo pass at the beginning of the season, it’s worth it. You can return on numerous occasions when the weather suits you (and the animals) and get a variety of shots of the same animals.  

Adult cheetah, Metro Richmond Zoo, VA.
This adult cheetah (above) was photographed only after many visits. About one year later, I finally got some pictures of her cubs (below).  

Cheetah cubs, Metro Richmond Zoo, VA.

Tip 5: Be patient. It takes a lot of waiting--even in a zoo--to get a great picture. It is no different than being in the wild. Along with waiting you will need to take many shots of the same animal. After watching this Bengal tiger for at least 20 minutes, and 50 shots later, he finally yawned at me for this picture.
Bengal Tiger, Metro Richmond Zoo, VA.

I hope you liked these tips and they help you in planning your next zoo photo-safari. 
Useful accessory: For a very reasonable price you can get this great accessory rubber lens good.

When making comments, please attach your own zoo shots!  Thanks for reading. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Zion Nat'l Park & Bryce Canyon Nat'l Park

Having just returned from Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, I’m busily sorting through my pictures. Here are a few along with comments.

Waterfall (far left) in Zion Nat'l Park
I feel like I did have a bit of good luck in the West. Traveling in the spring enhanced the opportunity to see some snow, and fortunately, we had some snow on the last day in Bryce.

Zion is a very pleasant park to visit because there is a shuttle bus which runs all along the park and you can hop-on, hop-off wherever you like. The food is good at the lodge in the park and at nearby restaurants. In Zion, I tried for pictures of unusual rock formations. The biggest surprise for me was that I used my super wide angle lens (Sigma 8mm – 16mm) pretty much the entire time. I did use my 18 – 55 zoom lens for one particular scene where I wanted to bring in a waterfall a bit closer and 55mm was enough. I also used the polarizer on the 18-55 zoom because you cannot use filters practically speaking on the Sigma. Never did I use my telephoto in Zion, and that was new for me.

Cathedral Rock in Zion

For Bryce, I relied on my Sigma super wide angle lens, and I even did a lot of panorama images to be combined later. See below.

Panorama combination of four wide angle shots

I did use my telephoto in Bryce Canyon for some closer shots of windows in the rock formations.  Then, as luck would have it, a chipmunk ran across the path just then and I blasted off five or six shots before he could get away. It was a good thing I had the telephoto on my camera (Nikon 55 - 300mm zoom).

Uinta Chipmunk, common in Zion (Neotamias umbrinus)

The first day In Bryce, I took lots of photos without snow, and had bright blue skies. The second day was overcast, and photos were not impressive. On the last morning in Bryce, however, I looked out the window of the bed and breakfast, and everything was covered in snow! The skies were overcast, but quickly driving up to Bryce Lookout Point, the sky suddenly cleared. I was able to get some snowy canyon pictures with patches of blue sky and wispy clouds.  Just what I’d hoped for.

Sudden morning snowfall in Bryce Canyon

The other intention I had was to get some good night-photography pictures. Zion and Bryce are among the very few places on the planet with truly dark skies. I had booked the trip during the new moon, so the sky would be absolutely at its darkest.

Night sky over Bryce Canyon with scattered clouds
Unfortunately, there were some scattered clouds with a touch of overcast, and I didn’t get any shots of the Milky Way I was hoping for.  I did see better stars than I had seen in Richmond, but better night photography shall still remain on my bucket list. Night photography is always a great learning experience no matter what, and I feel like  this trip improved my technique in any case.

Would you like to learn more about night photography? I recently took an information-packed course on Craftsy called Night Photography with Lance Keimig. Check it out here by searching in “Photography” at the top of the menu:   

Start your FREE Craftsy Unlimited trial at 

More Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon pictures here:

Thanks for looking!