Story behind the photo – April 2023

Vortex Down
Mike Stokic

“As I researched abstract photographs, I saw many possibilities. The oil and water photos did capture my eye. During my research, I saw many ways to light this type of picture. I do not have a light box or sophisticated lighting, but I do have an iPad and found some interesting lighting options. I suspended a pexi-glass sheet on top of a couple of containers. Then I placed the iPad with the swirl picture underneath. I took the image directly above the pexi-glass after drizzling some water and drops of oil on the glass. I chose this one over some other colored images because I liked the uniqueness of the swirl through the oil and water. I did not use any post processing other than taking some of the highlights down.
(Canon EOS R7; 1/125; f/ 2.8; 45mm, ISO 400)
-Mike Stokic

Melody Schotte


Story behind the photo – March 2023

Janet Stout

“I have visited the Fort Worth Zoo on several occasions. The lighting was tricky and a bit of a challenge in balancing the exposure for the bird and the background. The bird was photographed with in camera settings (no post processing); I did however, edit for the light bursts in the background. I was pleased and surprised with this capture, as I had been working through some focusing issues.” (Canon 90D, exposure time 1/200; f/ 5; lens 100mm – 400mm, ISO 6400)” -Janet Stout

“The Poser”
Mark Lenz

“My photo of a white ibis was taken at the UT Southwestern rookery two years ago. This bird was in the shaded underbrush on the Northern side of the rookery which made the light very even with no harsh contrast to deal with. In post processing, I darkened the background a little bit more than it was out of the camera to make the bird stand out a little more. I also applied denoise because the ISO was 1000.” (Nikon D500; 340mm; f7.1; 1/1250; ISO 1000)” – Mark Lenz

Story behind the photo – February 2023

“Don’t look”
Manny Sangapu

“I got this idea from something I saw online. The image was taken at home. I
mounted the camera on a tripod, used a small light and a remote shutter. The
prop was a black sweatshirt with a zipper. I held the sweatshirt so the zipper
was horizontal while my other hand triggered the shutter. The image in the
eyes was a last-minute addition and I found it more interesting than the catch
light. (Panasonic GX85, 25mm, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/40s)” -Manny Sangapu

“Feather Dial”
Teresa Hughes

“I was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to take fall photos; It was beautiful… It’s a great place to take fall images. I was using my new Nikon Z6 II camera. (70mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 180 at high noon)” -Teresa Hughes

Story behind the photo – January 2023

“Signs of Fall”
Nancy Abby

“This was taken at the Japanese Gardens in early December. Seeing these leaves on the bridge, I propped the leaf in the crack of the bridge to get it to stay where I wanted it and got the shot with the camera sitting on the bridge using the pop out screen to see. (24-105, f/4 lens, (1/80, f/4.0, ISO 100)). – Nancy Abby

“Splendor in the Grass”
Jennifer Bell

“This image was taken in the Serengeti, Tanzania. I was on a photo safari in which the guides knew exactly how to place the vehicle to capture the best of images. We always looked for the big cats and she was coming through the tall grass. November is an excellent time of year for travel in Africa as it is considered the green season and it did not disappoint. This was my third time to travel to Africa. I will be returning in September for my ninth trip. (Nikon D750, 550 mm, f/6.3, 1/640 sec.) – Jennifer Bell

Sunlit Wings: The Story Behind the Photo

By Chandra Brooks

Sunlit Wings Chandra Brooks (1/2500, f/8.0, ISO 800, Sony A9, 100-400 GM)

I had the opportunity to go on the James River in Virginia where osprey and bald eagles are frequent visitors. I wanted to be sure I’d catch them in flight, so before we got on the boat, I had my camera settings locked in. Most cameras allow specific settings to be mapped to a custom button enabling an effortless change of settings. My shutter speed was 1/2500. (It should
be at least 1/1600 to 1/2000 for most birds in flight). Aperture was set at f/8.0 for a good depth of field on the bird but less detail in the background. ISO was set at 800 since we had good morning light. I also made sure my camera was set to Continuous AF, wide-area tracking, and its highest frame rate.

Photographing birds in flight is always a challenge. I was surprised at just how fast these amazing creatures really are. When they spot a fish and tuck their wings to drop to the water, it’s a challenge to even keep them in the frame. The key is to lock focus and start tracking the birds as soon as possible. I use back button focus, so I would pick a target bird, hold focus, and track them until I saw a flight position I liked. Then I would start to shoot and follow the action.

Often multiple birds are making hunting passes and there really isn’t any time to fuss with settings. It helps to know your camera, be able to change settings without looking, know how its AF system works, understand the behavior of your species, and just practice. If you’re interested in osprey, Mark Smith has a YouTube channel with some fantastic videos.

Living the Still Life

Does anyone really have anywhere they can go right now? Maybe it’s the perfect time to start crafting your images for our February 2021 contest!

Since still-life subjects tend to be … well, still, it’s important to get every detail right. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Photo by Carolyn V from

Put the life into still life

Typically, still-life subjects are inanimate objects that are also relatively commonplace. The challenge is turning something you might overlook on a table into something you would hang up on a wall. To do that, you’ll need to consider many factors, including the arrangement of items, light, composition, color, and so much more.

Photo by Carolyn V from

Choose carefully

Shooting a still life is much like creating a painting. And you have all the time you need to compose a masterpiece. So carefully consider your equipment, subject, and point of view (both the camera angle and your own personality).

Almost all camera types can be used for still-life photography, including cell phones. Usually, subjects are represented as they would appear in real life, so you’ll want to use a lens that doesn’t distort the view. Anything from 50mm to 125mm should be fine. A 50mm prime lens is the favorite choice of many. Keep in mind that it will work more like an 80mm on a cropped sensor. So you will lose some of the area surrounding your subject, which may not be a bad thing.

Photo by Carolyn V from

Subject matter ranges greatly for still-life photos. Food and flowers are very common choices. The end result is less about what you choose and more about how you capture it. But picking an interesting subject is a good start. On the other hand, doing something amazing with a boring object may be more impactful.

The angle of your shot also matters. The most common perspectives are slightly above your subject or directly overhead. The object isn’t going to move, so the photographer should. Take the time to see what angle looks best. It often boils down to what emotion you’re trying to evoke.

Prop it up

Photo by Jane Ackerley from

The use of interesting props can delight your viewers and keep them in the photo longer. But props can also work against you. Try to select items that are in the same visual key:

  • similar shapes and tones
  • complimentary colors
  • items that belong together

An antique pocket watch might look odd next to something modern like a cell phone, unless that contrast is the point of the photograph. Too many attention-grabbing items will compete with each other, unless you use depth of field and color choice to manage the presentation.

Photo by Clarissa Carbungco from

Have a hierarchy. Remember, the eye typically goes to the brightest spot first, especially if there is strong contrast. Color can also attract or distract, so use it wisely. In general, simpler is almost always better, so choose your props judiciously.

Stay focused

Since your subject is sitting still, there is really no excuse for it to be out of focus. A tripod will help immensely here. After you’ve determined the best angle for the shot, clamp your camera down to keep it in place. Then use a shutter release or the two-second timer on your camera to prevent any shake caused by your finger pressing the shutter button.

And stay in manual focus mode.

Photo by Ornella Binni from

Keep in mind that other factors will affect the sharpness of your photograph. Prime lenses are typically sharper than zoom lenses. Selecting a small aperture (f/16 or beyond) may cause some diffraction, so try to shoot a little more open, e.g. f/8. Of course, this will reduce your depth of field, so you may want to stack the focus.

Focus stacking is done by simply taking a series of images while moving the focal range from foreground to background, whatever you want to be sharp in the final image. Then use Photoshop or another post-processing software to combine the shots and create a final image in which every important part is in perfect focus.

See the light

Lighting may be one of the most important aspects of still-life photography. Many photographers like to work with natural light because of it’s beautiful qualities; however, that varies with time and cloud cover. Artificial light is more controllable, but not everyone has access to that equipment. Your on-camera flash will rarely give you a pleasing result. Still life images are often lit from the side to accentuate textures and add dimension.

Some pros recommend having the light come from the left side which puts the shadows on the right and helps direct the eye through the image. If you’re using artificial light, play around with angles and distance and see how it affects your shadows. Also, use reflectors to fill in the dark areas and soften the contrast.

Tell a story

Photo by Mae Mu from

It’s quite a feat just to capture an image that is well lit and composed. But photos that evoke some emotion from the viewer will score even better. One shot may create a sense of nostalgia (like an antique leaning on a dusty table). Another may have a slight edge (like a Popsicle about to drip onto a white lace tablecloth). Or maybe it’s just creating energy with color and shapes, like this eggs-and-milk image.

So think about your shot. Should you use low-key lighting to create a dramatic mood? Or should you try high-key lighting to show more detail? Those images could also come in handy for our April 2021 contest (High or Low Key Images).

Sweat the details

Still-life photography is less about capturing a moment and more about creating one. Everything in the photo should be contributing to the overall impact. Choose a background that matches your intent. Some are completely neutral because they are to be ignored. Others are textured, or colorful, or chosen because they help tell the story. Foreground elements are often out of focus and simply help lead the eye toward the subject.

Photo by Daniel Cheung from

Make sure everything is clean, unless it’s supposed to be dirty. Remove dust, fingerprints, and any other distracting marks or smudges. If you’re shooting shiny objects, be careful about reflections and/or any hot spots they may cause in the image.

Place your most important elements using the rule of thirds, unless you have a good reason to break the rule. Remember that clusters of odd-numbered items tend to be more visually pleasing than evens. Vertical and horizontal lines communicate stability. Diagonals add some tension and excitement.

Photo by Loli Clement from

To better assess your shot’s composition, try using the live view on the back of your camera or tethering to a laptop.

This was a long article, but there’s much more to know. Consult the internet for pages that will inform and images that will inspire. Good luck in February and all of 2021!

Slam Dunk: The Story Behind the Photo

By Nancy Abby

boy sitting on rim of hoop holding basketball
Slam Dunk Nancy Abby (Sony 7R III, f/4, 1/100, ISO 320, 65mm)

Getting unique poses for boys is extremely difficult. Finding the ‘different’ for senior pictures is an ongoing challenge. I think this fit the square for unique.

This photograph was taken on an indoor half-court gym in a barn—humidity controlled, wood floor, the works. No external flash was used. We leaned a ladder up against the backboard and he climbed on. Nothing was Photoshopped in or out. (We moved the ladder, so there he sat!)

To get the background more consistent in color, I used an adjustment layer with the kid masked off. Then I used the eye dropper to force the background white, reduced opacity to make it realistic, added another adjustment layer and did a 70% mask black to hide 70% of the forced white on the goal to bring back some green for depth and realism.

Looking for Nectar: The Story Behind the Photo

By Dick Dodds

Looking for Nectar by Dick Dodds (ISO 100, 1/800, f/4.0, 105mm)

My wife and I were in Vail, Colorado, in August 2020 escaping the Texas heat for a couple of weeks. We were walking along the main street of Vail village among a blaze of colorful flowers. All of a sudden, my wife spotted a beautiful hummingbird near one of the flowers.

I had my Canon 6D set on aperture priority for taking street scenes. I immediately switched it to shutter priority and set the speed to 1/800th. I wanted to freeze the body of the bird but still have some blur on the wings to show motion. I was already in burst mode and Auto ISO. I zoomed in to 105mm, and I was able to shoot 30 images in about four seconds. The bird then flew away after 30 seconds!

Boo-tography: Learn a Few Tricks to Create Great Photographic Treats

Photographing kids is scary, especially in bad light. Here are a few tips to help you be less afraid on the year’s scariest night.

Understand the basics

Most Halloween activities take place at dusk or later. When you’re shooting in low light, remember to crank up your ISO, open your aperture, and/or slow down the shutter speed. All three of those steps will help your camera see better, but they all have consequences. Higher ISO will add grain. Larger apertures decrease depth of field, which can come back to bite you in group shots. Slower shutter speeds require a steady hand and still subjects.A good starting place may be to choose auto ISO and stay in shutter-priority mode. To guard against blurry images, set your shutter speed to one over your focal length, e.g. 1/200 sec for a 200mm lens.

Change your perspective

Photo by R.D. Smith from

When photographing kids, it’s always a good idea to get down on their level. But it makes even more sense for Halloween. Big monsters are much scarier than little ones, so shoot from a low vantage point to give their costumes the full effect. But remember to get some shots to showcase their actual size. You’ll want to remember just how little they were. So be sure to pose them next to the kitchen counter, a sofa, a car, a family pet, or an adult. And remember to get a shot with the mask off, so you can remember who was who twenty years from now.

Celebrate the shadows

Photo by Kevin Mueller from

Normally, we all strive to have a nice balance between light and dark areas in our photos. But if there were ever a holiday to skew your images to the dark side, this would be it. Just imagine how much less impact the cat image on the right would have if the shadows were brought up to see more detail in the fur. This image is all about the eyes. So remember what the focus of your image is and the mood you’re going for, and expose accordingly.

Flex your flash

Photo by David Menidrey from

The easiest way to overcome poor lighting environments is to use your on-camera flash. But there are some drawbacks: lost backgrounds, dimensionless faces, and red eyes (which could actually be cool with the right costume). Instead, you may want to try bouncing flash off a white ceiling or wall. You could also set up some off-camera flash for portraits or hand hold a flash unit for candids. You may even want to try dragging the shutter to freeze some action in the foreground, but allow enough time for lower-lit background items to show up on your sensor. Flash is tricky. See next point.

Experiment early

Photo by Kevin Mueller from

Because of the challenging lighting issues, you might opt for a trial run a few days before Halloween. Practice on jack-o lanterns or kids who are eager to wear their costumes. This exercise will make you more confident and faster on the big day (when kids won’t want to sit still while you fiddle with buttons).

Create ghosts

Another way to get more light in the lens is to purposely stage long-exposure shots. A slower shutter speed can create some spooky effects, especially if you have a tripod. Set up for a two-second exposure and have your subject walk slowly through the frame. Or have them stay still for a beat, then move. Or take a faster shot with them in the frame and make a double exposure of a blurred “ghost” behind them. Some cameras make it easy to do this, or you can combine the images in Photoshop. And don’t forget about light painting. Use a light source to add extra light to certain parts of your shot or to “write” messages or shapes.

Capture the prep

Photo by Janko Ferlič from

There’s magic in the preparation. Just ask a wedding photographer. This is not only an opportunity to capture a kid candidly but a normally camera-shy parent too. And in better light!

Happy Halloween!

This is the first year that even the adults wear masks. Stay safe, everyone.

Skeleton Grin: The Story Behind the Photo

By Larry Marx

Skeleton Grin photo of spider in web by Larry Marx

Skeleton Grin by Larry Marx (Canon EOS 5D Mark III, f6.3, 1/250, ISO 800, 300 mm)

I was in East Texas with family walking through the woods. I never would have seen these little guys if my sister-in-law, an A&M grad and school district science coordinator, hadn’t followed a slender spider thread to a tiny spider hanging between trees. It looked like an armored smiling jewel or shield. (They are called the Spiny Orb Weaver or spiked spider.)

Once one was discovered, it was fun finding others in several different colors, including bright orange.

Photographing one successfully was difficult. They are so small that auto focus doesn’t see them, and manual focus was pretty hard hand-hold. They tend to move in the breeze, and it’s hard to stand still enough to get one in focus.

I’m looking forward to returning in a few weeks to the family farm with some better equipment to take closeup photos. I may see how many color varieties I can capture!