great blue heron taking flight at sunrise with orange water aurora borealis northern lights photo with red bald eagle in flight photo colorado fall aspens photo marshall point lighthouse sunset
First Light Photography Workshops
Home Workshops Photo Galleries Books Online Classes Online Articles Bio Sponsors




When you look at a weather forecast before a landscape trip and it shows clear, cloudless skies for the whole week a sense a dread comes over you. But that's something we would have been fine with after one day as smoke from fires in British Columbia descended upon Mount Rainier and the entire state of Washington casting a layer of haze over the area and taking away our beautiful view of the mountain. We did get great views our first evening and morning but then the smoke arrived. All was not lost though as a combination of filters allowed us to get some quite usable shots throughout the trip. Plus, smoke and haze do not interfere with getting into the forest or with waterfalls and cascades.

What was nice this year were the fields of flowers in lots of places. The flowers were about the best I have seen them in years. The only drawback was the park seems to be putting up more and more barriers as to where you can go to get in position to photograph them. It was so bad at the Sunrise area we were three feet off the main trail on a little path with a log to sit on for a shot that an interpretive ranger said we needed to move because we were actually in an off limits area. Pretty soon they're going to be stopping people at the main gate because everything beyond that will be off limits. I thought the parks were for people to enjoy. Yes, they are set up to protect the land and animals but if you pretty much have to stay on the roads and can't get out and enjoy them what's the sense in having a park with lots of trails designed for people to hike on. There was even one area where a primary hiking trail was shut down for revegetation.

One shoot that was really nice was our first morning at Reflection Lakes - beautiful blue sky, crisp reflection and flowers along the shore. We started shooting a good bit before sunrise but once the sun came up and we waited for even light all over including on the flowers in the foreground is when the best shots were created. One thing I like trying to stress with landscape shots with people is using layers to build a shot and this setting certainly does that with the flowers, lake, trees, mountain and sky. Because of the bald sky it was minimized so as not to have to much empty sky. Also after the sun came up some dew drops appeared on some flowers for some nice macro work. That was followed by a stop at another spot I like with some flowers with the mountain in the background that turned out to be pretty good.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Reflection Lakes and Paintbrush: 24-105 at 24mm, f/18, manual focus at 4 feet for hyperfocal distance, -1/3 EV

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Field of flowers before sunrise on Skyline Trail below Myrtle Falls - smoke cut down by using graduated filter in Camera Raw and Burn Tool in Photoshop

One thing I like to do on this trip is head into the forest a short ways - a very short ways - and have people see what they can find. I start off by pointing out a few interesting shots of small things such as spider webs, details and combinations of ferns or leaves over moss, backlit ferns and things such as this. We rarely make it farther than 30 yards or so from the vehicle but end up spending a couple of hours here as people get so involved with finding interesting stuff on their own and having a great time. Doing shooting like this is a great way to develop the eye to try and search out details and what you find interesting to your eye and then working to find the right angle and composition to bring out what captured your interest in the first place. From what I saw through peoples cameras they all found good shots.

Another great thing about Mount Rainier is all of the cascades and waterfalls. With plenty of these to shoot, the haze did not pose a problem with this subject. Finding nice compositions is something I stress and it seems that everyone sees things differently even with standing just a few feet from each other. I also let people fail as they point out something they think they like and let them go ahead and shoot it only to come back later on and say once it's seen on the computer it wasn't that great of an idea. One of these was with trying to include a couple of small flowers in the foreground that got lost in the overall scene and the magnitude of the area. That's the good thing about digital - you can take a bunch of shots and not feel bad about deleting later if an idea doesn't work out. Sometimes those ideas do work.

After the smoke arrived, it was time to break out the filters in order to try and get some decent shots of the mountain early in the morning. Go down to the Digital Corner section to read about the use of incorporating both a polarizer and a split ND to accomplish this feat. Sometimes you have to go to extremes to get a usable shot but for certain shots here this combination did work. Combine this with a little work in Camera Raw or Lightroom and you can come out with a very nice image. There was one shot in particular where this was very much worth the effort and several others where it turned lemons into lemonade.

The group for this trip, like my previous trip to Colorado for the Flower Techniques workshop, shrunk less than a week before the trip. Two people had to cancel a week before the trip started due to a family emergency. This shows the importance of getting trip insurance. There is a note on my main work workshop page stating trip insurance is highly recommended. Different companies cover different circumstances so search for one that fits what you think works best for you. More often than not it's not needed but there are times it's needed and some trips are quite expensive and if you can recover some of your fees it's helpful. I try to help when I can but I can't in all cases.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Morning dew - 180mm macro, 25mm extension tubes, f/22


The recently announced Kodiak Bears trip set for July 2018 already has three people signed up with numerous others looking at the trip so this is sure to fill up so if you're interested you should act fast and sign up soon. The max I can take is seven people due to plane space getting to the shooting sites. Dates for the trip are July 14-20 from Kodiak and the cost is $6,595. The cost is well worth it as we will do fly-outs to some very unique spots where the bears are located on four days and do a boat trip on a fifth day for shore bears, whales, otters, sea lions, seals, puffins, deer and fox. This year some of the action includes one spot with a sow and three babies, a sow and two babies and a third sow with two babies and one area has what every bear photographer going to Kodiak dreams of, a 10 foot male coming in to feed on the river chasing every other bear out until he has his fill before they return. One spot has been having up to 17 bear a day on a regular basis.

fall color abstract


I still have a few spots left on my Tetons trip if anyone is interested but the Maine Coast trip is full. Tetons in Fall is scheduled for September 17-22. There will be plenty of opportunities for lots of trees sporting their beautiful colors along with a variety of beautiful landscape shots and maybe a little bit of wildlife. Of course, I will teach a variety of fall color abstracts techniques that will add another dimension to your fall color photography. Learn to see beyond the trees to pull out perspectives you did not think were possible. In the Tetons we will be staying out late one night to get some shots of the Milky Way over a setting or two with one of those being one of the barns.


Cradoc Software has been helping freelance photographers succeed for 23 years by providing the tools you need to get paid fairly and excel in your business. To celebrate their anniversary, they are offering a 30% discount on ALL Cradoc fotoSoftware for a limited time. Use your coupon code now to get the upgrade. Visit and use 30off-AL-18547 to save 30% on all fotoSoftware through Sept 1, 2017. Visit the site to see all of the helpful software they have available. I use a variety of their packages from t heir fotoQuote to their fotoKeyword Harvester.


Just for newsletter subscribers - order a copy of my northern lights book through Amazon, send me a copy of your receipt and get $100 off the price of my northern lights workshop for 2018. Take the $100 off when making your deposit by check. This offer is good now through the end of the year. This offer will not be extended other locations so take advantage of this offer now as this trip usually fills up.


If you think I've been doing some interesting different stuff with flowers lately, just wait and see what I have in store for the the Flower Techniques workshop next July. I have some new computer techniques that will take your flower photography to the next level and beyond. I will be spending a bunch of time working on these between now and the trip but will not expose them to people until that time so no sneak previews except for just a shot with no explanation. If you want to learn to play around with some very different flower techniques on the computer think hard about signing up for this trip next July.


There are times when conditions just don't go a photographers way. One of these is when fire smoke invades the area where you are visiting and seemingly takes away a good bit of wonderful landscape shooting. This is the way it was at Mount Rainier when after just one evening and one morning shoot the smoke from numerous fires moved in for the rest of our trip putting a nasty haze in front of the mountain. You can't just pack up and go home so you have to find ways to deal with it and that is what we did. Not everyone with me had all of the proper filters to provide a work-around for this so it meant some shooting one at a time in some locations passing things around in order to get some nice shots. This is why it's best to take more than what you think you'll need on a trip. Filters are small and don't weigh much so these are items that should always be in the camera bag. This example shows how handy and useful they are.

The two images below show the before and after of an area up on the mountain trail one morning of the nice flowers in the foreground and the mountain in the background. The first does not have any filters at all and no post processing work was done to try and help the sky or the foreground. You can see how bad the smoke was in that the mountain almost blends into the sky completely. And this is not very long after sunrise, just enough time for the sun to have cleared a ridge and trees to fill this area with sunlight. This was just a quick grab shot to show what the before conditions were like while someone else was using my filters.

Typically it's not a good idea to stack filters. Plenty of people on trips have heard me say this, but just like everything in photography, some rules are meant to be broken. And this is an instance when it's almost a necessity to stack filters to get the desired result of a good sky and a crisp mountain. Here, the two filters being used are a circular polarizer and a graduated split neutral density. For the split ND I have a three stop Singh-Ray soft edge graduated ND.

Because most shooting towards the mountain is done at 90 degrees from the sun at morning and evening from the south side, the process started with the use of a polarizer. This is a typical filter to use to help pop the sky and can help cut through a little bit of haze at different times of day if any is present. Even with turning this to maximum strength, the mountain still did not become fully delineated from the sky showing how much smoke was present shortly after sunrise when a polarizer should have made the sky a rich blue as with the image above from Reflection Lakes. It made it better than it was without the filter but more was needed.

The more came in the way of the graduated split neutral density filter. I was using a three stop filter and passed it around to people so they could take advantage of this and the results were quite evident. Still, it took both filters together to provide enough separation of the mountain and sky.

The final bit of work was done in Camera Raw with some work with the Contrast, Clarity and Tone Curve sliders although most of the pop came from the two filters. With one other image, I played around with the Graduated Filter in Camera Raw and it did an adequate job but it didn't match the results of the two filters over the lens showing it's better to get it right in the camera than trying to do everything on the computer.

Just because conditions turn south on you on a trip, it doesn't mean all is lost. Knowing some alternative work-arounds can still help you get decent results. No, the sky and ridgleline of the shot below does not come close to matching the image above, but at least it's a fairly nice shot of the mountain and patch of flowers in the foreground with the participants having learned what to do when faced with smoke from fires comes into the area on a shoot.

This was not the only setting where this combination was helpful on the trip. Our first night out we stopped at a small waterfall. If we had just shot the falls there would have been no problem but sitting above the ridge was a nice half moon. The problem was the waterfall was in complete shadows and the ridge and sky were in full light. A quick test of an in-camera HDR sort of got the shot but not fully. Putting on the polarizer and using the three-stop split ND at a sharp angle did the trick and brought out the nice blue sky as well as the moon, although it was a bit small in the sky in the final shot. A little post processing to bring out the shadows helped bring out the details in the foreground. Both filters were needed as the polarizer brought out the blue in the sky the the ND toned down the brightness of the ridge.

Remember that Singh-Ray makes the best filters out there and you will find several in my camera bag. Yes, they may cost a bit more but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Their quality is worth the extra cost. When you do purchase any Singh-Ray filter do so directly through their site and use firstlight10 to get 10% off the price of any filter you get. One couple on the trip was going to get the split ND after getting home after seeing the results from using mine compared to their screw-on fixed horizon line ND.

cattle egret gatorland

cattle egret gatorland