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Cream of the Crop - My Best Photos, with Hints

Updated on August 20, 2014

Rules, When to Break Them, and Other Stuff

The first rule for good photography is to be observant. The second is to study the work of famous photographers you admire, and analyze WHY you like their work.

Since this is simply a collection of my best or favorite photos (including some prizewinners, as I find and add them), I will not always include hints, and sometimes it will be brief, but if you follow the rules I set for myself, you will definitely make progress. At least that is my opinion.

Invest in good equipment. While the PHOTOGRAPHER is the one entity that makes good photos, having poor equipment will definitely not help. Your equipment doesn't have to be EXPENSIVE as those things go. But a cell phone won't cut it unless you are participating in the genre of cell phone photography.

Yesterday I looked at an album of photos taken of the life and work of a dear friend. The photographer came by and said, would you believe I took these with my cell phone? Yes, I would, some of them at least. They were out of focus, too light or dark, and had a myriad of other problems. Sometimes when you take a picture, it will be too dark or light, and it's the best you got. That's where electronic darkroom work comes in. You can do a lot to help a photo if you simply process it for optimum balances, color, lighting, and other things. A little bit of unsharp mask helps a lot, too.

Concerning equipment, I started with a Pentax film camera that my husband selected because he was planning a trip to Malaysia and wanted to take pictures. Little did I know at the time how fortuitous a choice that would be. I was able to buy used lenses for it, for very little money (sometimes as little as $25). When I moved to digital, that's when the choice became really obvious, because Pentax is the ONLY camera that has its image stabilization IN THE CAMERA. It is patented, so no one else can do it that way for awhile. Cameras like Canon and Nikon put their stabilization in the lenses, which makes the lenses horribly expensive, and results in the inability to use lenses formerly acquired, without suffering serious loss of quality.

I will note from time to time what lens I used, with a few details.

Antelope Canyon, Arizona - Plan

Antelope Canyon is a very famous slot canyon. A slot canyon is a very narrow canyon. The sun usually doesn't strike the floor of the canyon. In this case, you have to plan WHEN you visit, if you want rays like these. You can only get these rays in the summer, around the middle of the day. You cannot go in the second half of summer, because if there is monsoon rain even 11 miles away, they won't let you go into the canyon. People have lost their lives going in and getting swept away. So May and June are the only good months for photos like these.

This photo is the single most awarded of my photographs.

A bit of luck doesn't hurt, either. When I went this time, it was very, very windy, which stirred up the dust in the canyon. Good dust is also a requirement. I couldn't have planned for such a dusty day, and as luck would have it, it wrecked two camera bodies. But it was worth it. The second bit of luck had to do with the fact that although I had finished walking through the canyon and was near the entrance, I hadn't seen anything remotely like this. But at the entrance, there was a small group of people. And one of them had set up a tripod. So I looked to see what he was shooting, and this is what I saw.

Sunset - Take a gazillion photos

This sunset was observed from my own yard.

I have probably taken 20,000 photos of sunsets, that I KEPT. Most of them I have never used. When it is something as plentiful as sunsets in Arizona, taking that many pictures becomes important. You choose the best. If you keep 1%, that's a lot. This particular sunset is one of the most unusual I have ever gotten, simply because cloud formations like this, lit up in this particular manner, are not very common.

Taking so many photos is no longer expensive. This is because once you invest in a digital camera and some batteries, the photos are essentially free. So there is no excuse for not taking LOTS of pictures. CULL LIKE CRAZY. I have seen people give me their entire album on a site, including all the bad ones. At most choose two or three. Learn to decide which are your best shots. You will need some kind of disk storage space, and that costs something, but it is trivial, and you can always cull some more when space runs low. I bought a terabyte drive for around $125, if I recall correctly, or maybe $160. And I have just filled it up, with 12 years worth of photographs.

Another Sunset - Look for color

People love fiery red sunsets. The main thing going for this photo is that it is fiery red.

I wrote lots of hints for taking good sunset photos in my lens on sunsets.

Awesome Arizona Sunsets and Sunrises

Sandhill Cranes - Study your subject, become an expert

Plug into groups that share the interest, to get information that you can turn into pictures.

I decided to concentrate on bird photography for awhile, so I joined an email list that posts messages about rare birds and where various birds are found in my area. That's how I found out that there are about 30,000 Sandhill Cranes that winter in southeastern Arizona.

I had to make several trips (90 miles one way) to get this photograph. The first time I went, they had left for the summer. As luck would have it, a hard winter freeze that lasted for many nights had destroyed the water pump at Whitewater Draw, where most of them spent the winter. This scattered them because of insufficient habitat. It was awhile before I learned about THIS location, the Apache Station Wilderness Area. It was the third place I looked.

Be persistent. If you don't get what you want the first time, go back. And again.

American Wigeons - Practice!

Taking photos of birds in flight isn't easy. It takes lots of practice, as you figure out what works best for your equipment and skill level. I didn't get my first DECENT pictures of birds in flight until I had been trying for a couple of years.

No matter what your subject, practice is important. Be critical of yourself to the point of harshness, too.

Poppies at Peridot Mesa - The Rule of Thirds

The Greeks discovered the Golden Mean. This is a ratio that is roughly divided into two segments in a work of art (or a human figure, for that matter), where one segment is 5/8th of the total length, and the other is 3/8th. This works out to .675 for the 5/8th.

The Rule of Thirds is a rule in art that approximates the Golden Mean, because it is easier to figure. If you divide the length into thirds, one will be .333 of the total length, and the other will be .667. Very close, as you can see.

When composing your photo, try to place a particular point of interest on one of the intersections formed by dividing the area into thirds both vertically or horizontally, or along one of the lines.

Know when to break the Rule of Thirds. Sometimes it's not the best possible composition.

But be sure to notice your composition. It makes a difference.

Sunset at Cochise Lake - Look for the opportunity you didn't plan

I spent the afternoon taking photos of the birds at Cochise Lake, and didn't get anything to brag about. But it was getting dark, and I just happened to notice we would have a nice sunset. Getting a sunset over water is a rare opportunity in most parts of Arizona. So I stuck around, and got this photo.

Travel. If you want unusual photos, plan trips to unusual places.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - Be patient. And don't be afraid of zoos

I got this photo inside the aviary at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. I have gotten many, many photos of this species, but this is one of my favorites.

Zoos are excellent places to get natural shots of animals. Botanical gardens are good places to get photos of plants and flowers. Sometimes you won't be able to use a photo that was taken in a zoo, and sometimes you will. The ASDM actually WELCOMES photos for its database that were taken in their exhibits.

I didn't have fancy equipment when I took this shot. The camera was a digital point and shoot that cost me less than $100. Like I said, the photographer is the most important element.

Focus is always a problem, and I was lucky with this shot. In the original, you can see the individual strands in the feathers.

Black Triggerfish - Aquariums are good, too; fill flash

This fish USUALLY looks black, hence, the name. The actual color of the fish is rarely captured, and I took photos of him until I got it.

I use what is known as fill flash for pictures like this. You won't get enough ambient light to get a good photo. Some zoos, etc. will let you use fill flash, and it doesn't seem to bother the animals in most cases. Fill flash is when you decrease the brightness of the flash drastically. I can take mine down to -2. With butterflies, I usually also lower the ISO to 200, because otherwise it will be too bright and wash out the color. I will also occasionally use fill flash outside, if I am close enough to the subject, and when I had a professional photographer make a portrait of me in a flower field, she used fill flash. It softens the shadows from sunlight.

When taking photos with fill flash in the aquarium or any other environment inside glass, do NOT shoot head on. If you do, all you'll get is a reflection of your flash. Remember, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. Stand off to the side just enough so that the reflection on the glass will be outside your picture.

This is from my lens Fish in the Sonoran Desert

Water - Simple things make good subjects

I love to take photos of water! Most people like to use a slow shutter speed to take photos of things like waterfalls. That can be a nice effect if that is what you want. It isn't always what I want, and I will often try to make the shutter speed quite fast so I can freeze the water. The water becomes almost a sculpture.

Another good subject is old wood, pieces of trees on the ground, dead trees still standing upright, parts of trunks, and other such things. I will post at least one photo of such things as I find one.

Water Up Close

Same fountain, a closer view.

This Water WAS Frozen - Travel, go when you know the weather will be unpleasant

Take advantage of the surprises, too.

I went after snow on trees. I just happened to see this.

I've been in the mountains when it was downright cold. By comparison, this was actually a nice day. It was in the 50's. But that is part of the reason this scene existed. The snow had melted the day before, and the water was flowing down the mountainside. As the evening cooled off, it started to freeze on the way down. I am told it went down to 7 degrees that night. Even though I got there late in the day, the frozen water was still intact. I am sure it was gone the next day.

Snow with Cactus and Rocks - Don't overlook opportunities at home

We rarely have snow in cactus country. It only falls every few years, and it doesn't stay long. It WAS cold that day, but I have been colder. These pictures were taken in my yard.

I submitted this as part of a set to Wunderground, and it earned VIP (Very Important Photos) for the day, as well as Approver's Choice.

Know your audience. Wunderground likes weather photos, so that is the main thing I submit. They also do like other nature photos, so I submit those, too, but I concentrate on weather photos. This set got their attention because of the rarity of snow on cactus, and because they love saguaros!

Survivors - Better shadows

Speaking of snow...

Look for unusual pictures. I especially like a shot with a few twigs sticking up out of virgin snow.

I got this one in the mountains. Again, I went when it was cold, just to get snow pictures.

You get better shadows and color if you take pictures in the early morning or late afternoon. Noontime is deadly for most photos. You can't get decent shadows on mountains, either, unless you happen to be on the north side of them. And if the sun is high enough in the sky (summer), that won't even work.

Female Cruiser - Electronic darkroom work

The male is very orange, and I actually think the female is prettier.

Taken with fill flash in the greenhouse at Tucson Botanical Gardens. The fill flash brought out the blue, which is refraction rather than pigment. That is one of the bonuses of using fill flash, because this is frequently the case with butterflies.

The window on which it was resting was covered with water spots and looked really tacky. But there are a few techniques that are similar to darkroom work, and these are legitimate. If you want it to be classified as a Found View, you won't use some of them, however.

In this one, I used the Clone Brush to take out all the water spots. It took a long time, but the results were worth it, in my opinion.

Don't be afraid to do electronic darkroom work. Many people use Photoshop. Too expensive for me. I use Paint Shop Pro.

Calla Lilies - Color, composition

Notice the use of the Rule of Thirds. I moved around the plants until I got the composition I wanted. In my photography of flowers, I am heavily influenced by Ikebana, Japanese flower arranging.

I never saw anything but white Calla Lilies until a few years ago. They have apparently been bred for color, and some of the colors are stunning!

Orchid - Macro photography: get in CLOSE

You're not close enough yet. Get in closer!

Sometimes you want the whole flower, sometimes you don't. Notice how in this photo, you can see the tiniest details (including tiny hairs in places, more obvious in the large original).

I got started on this kind of macro photography when I entered a contest that wanted only part of a flower.

Gecko - Closer, watch for opportunities

This fellow was in the sink inside my house. It was obvious he was unable to get out. So I fetched my camera. Some people will scream and get all bent out of shape. Don't be one of them. You'll lose valuable opportunities.

Heck, one day I had my camera and saw a rattlesnake. So I took pictures! Unfortunately, he liked me even less than I like him, and I was only able to get a couple of shots before he disappeared into the bushes.

This is actually a crop of the original. You can see the tiny scales I didn't even know existed, in the larger version. The structure of the eye is plainly visible in this image.

No gecko was harmed in the making of this picture. After I was finished, I captured him and put him outside.

Collared Lizard - Learn how to move around the wildlife

Speaking of lizards...

I got this one in the Wupatki Ruins in northern Arizona. I was there to photograph the ruins. This was another surprise opportunity. I was still using a film camera at that point.

Always take a first shot when you first see the animal. It may be the only shot you get. This lizard wasn't worried about me, however. This was one of the last shots I took, and I filled almost the entire roll. I moved slowly around him, and he stayed put.

White-lined Sphynx Moth - More surprises

You don't expect to see these during the day. But I have, twice.

This is a hummingbird moth, so called because it hovers like a hummingbird and is about the same size.

Female Rufous Hummingbird - More practice on birds in flight

From hummingbird moths to hummingbirds!

This is another situation where you have to take a gazillion photos to get a good one. I have very few photos of hummingbirds in flight that are worth showing to anyone.

Burrowing Owls - We're Watching You. Don't Try Any Funny Stuff

Look for character in animal photos. It's rare, perhaps, so treasure it.

Good captions help, too. They're not always easy to come by. I'm getting better at it.

Mexican Jay on Agave Stalk - Color, composition

Sometimes the setting is just right. This is one of my favorite pictures.

White-winged Dove - Bokeh

Bokeh is when the background is out of focus; it is the out of focus portion of the picture. I like this photo because the colors all go together nicely.

Your favorites

What is your favorite subject for photographs?

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Say's Phoebe - Composition

When taking bird photos, it is often difficult to get outstanding composition. You want the bird to be the center of attention. And if your camera focuses automatically, it may be necessary to keep the bird in the center, at least until you lock the photo, and that split second MAY mean the bird leaves before you shoot.

This was a "lucky" shot. I was hand-focusing. I got several like this, and they were wildly popular because of the composition.

I got a nice bokeh, too.

Sunset on the Atlantic - Pray

I had ONE day in Maine, and I wanted an ocean sunset photo so bad I could taste it.

So I prayed.

You don't always get the answer you're looking for, but this time, I did.

That's a lobster boat in the foreground. Maine is famous for its lobster.

Seven Cataracts - Equipment

The only way to get THIS photo from where I was standing was to use a 1300mm lens. I had one. It is strictly a variable aperture (no aperture adjustment, goes from f8 to f16). Hand focus only. Cost me less than $300. But sometimes you need that kind of equipment to get the shot. So don't be afraid to invest in equipment.

Notice I froze the water.

Night-blooming Cereus - Night photos of flowers

I like to use a flashlight to take pictures of night flowers. It helps me focus, and sometimes that's all I use. I had a friend with me who sometimes held the flashlight. Sometimes I took the picture with flash after focusing by flashlight. Sometimes I use both. It soften shadows.

This is an extreme macro. When I was looking at the photos from that shoot, I got lots of compliments from the waitress where I was eating.

Night-blooming Cereus

Another photo from the same shoot, back-lit.

Back lighting on flowers can be very effective, whether it's this way, or with the sun.

Old Barn - Use filters for special effects

Taken in Alabama with an orange graduated filter.

Play with filters. Sometimes the results you get can be very gratifying.

The sky that day was an ordinary very washed out blue.

Portrait of My Son

We were hiking in the mountains. I saw this, and I shot it.

Sunset with Agaves - Foreground sometimes matters

The sunset was anything but spectacular. But with the agave flower stalks in the foreground, it became one of my favorites.

Lone Tree

I have always admired lone tree photos, so I look for opportunities. They are few and far between. When I saw this shot, it was almost dark, and the pictures didn't come out. So I made a special trip just to get this photo.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum used this shot in one of its public displays. That was an honor.

Owl Clover

I just like this one because of the colors, and I like owl clover anyway.

Mexican Bird-of-Paradise

A beautifully brilliant flower with a nice bokeh.

Lone Peak

I was on my way to Monument Valley, but I saw this peak, and had to stop and take a picture!

Always watch for the unexpected. The clouds were perfect, too.

I'll add to this Lens from time to time. Please come back.

Red-faced Warbler

I went to a lot of effort to see this bird. And I only saw one once. God smiled on me that day, and I got some very nice pictures. I haven't seen the bird since.

The only regret I have about this photo is that I would prefer if the bird were looking into the picture instead of out of it. But I like it well enough to use his face as my icon in some places.

Water Lilies

You don't see water lilies in Arizona much. People have to cultivate them in a pond. I have looked for a long time for my favorite color, and here I was blessed with three of them, perfect flowers and leaves, and as a bonus, a frog! He's peeking out to the right of the flower in the lower left hand corner.

Wood Duck

A close-up of a bird is always nice. Difficult to get most of the time, because birds don't like to sit still very much, or let you get close. Ducks are easier than most other birds.

Books Available on Amazon

It is a good idea to collect and study books of photographs by photographers you admire. Why do you like their images? What makes them unique? When did they break the rules, and how did they do it?

You could fill your house with books on photography, or books full of photos. I'll offer a suggestion from time to time.

Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America's Wild Places

by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams is probably the most famous photographer ever. In the days when all there was, was black and white, he took photos that were more than memorable.

David Muench Vast & Intimate: Connecting With the Natural World

by Lawrence W. Cheek

One of my favorite Arizona photographers.

The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes

by Art Wolfe, Martha Hill

Another of my favorite photographers. One of his photos inspired one of my digital landscapes. He talks about how to take stunning photos.


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