Easter Sunrise

Easter Sunrise. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70 @ 24mm | ND & Grad ND filters.

Easter Sunrise. Canon 1DsMkII | 24-70 @ 24mm | ND & Grad ND filters.
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Last Easter (2012) I took a trip to the Texas Hill Country to photograph the bluebonnets. I cut my trip a day short to drive back home and spend this time with my family. As I was driving, I began to reflect on the message of Easter and was really in awe of what it meant for Jesus Christ to have risen from the dead. I was even more amazed that He was willing to suffer on the cross on my account. Needless to say, I was giving a lot of thanks on the drive, knowing that I was not worthy; yet, by His grace I had been given a wonderful gift.

As I was winding through the backroads from the town of Lytle to get on highway 281, I rounded a curve in the road and saw this scene unfolding. I just had to pull over and try to get a photograph. I immediately envisioned a Biblical image, which I’ll explain shortly. The shot itself presented a challenge as there were two lanes on my side of the road, a wide grassy median, two lanes on the opposite side of the median, and a bit of open space between the road and the fence-line where the fog was heaviest. I had to make some quick decisions as the sun was not going to wait for me.

Anyone who has ever photographed a sunrise knows that the sun comes up fast and there is little time to get the right shot. I needed to be on the other side of the highway but did not have time to drive and find a turnaround spot in the road. I had to shoot from my current position. From where I was, my 24-70 could not capture the scene without including the unwanted highway. I switched lenses to my 70-200 but those focal lengths cutout the important trees on each side of the photo. I decided to compose the scene for a panoramic image that I would create in post production. So, I switched back to the 24-70mm, knowing I would crop out the highway between me and the image that I wanted. Utilizing some neutral density and graduated ND filters, I was able to record what I had envisioned as my final photograph.

Now, back to the comment I made earlier about seeing a ‘Biblical Image’. Perhaps because I had been in deep meditation about the meaning of Easter, when I rounded the curve I immediately saw the following:

* Trees – these represent us as people. I mentioned that the two outer trees were important and here is why. Outside of the balance they give the image compositionally, they represent how we as people are ‘scattered’ about the land.

* Fog – in this image, represents sin, which engulfs the people and leaves them unable to see clearly.

* Sun – represents the “Son” and just as the sun is “rising” on this easter morning, so too is the “son” risen.

* Tones in Sky – dark clouds giving way to the warmer orange/reddish toned colors in the sky, with the warmer/reddish tones representing the blood of Christ.

We all know what happens to fog when the sun comes up. So in this scene, one can envision the “son” (sun) rising and the “sin” (fog) dissipating. Now how cool is that? So as you enjoy this Easter with your friends and family, don’t forget the real importance of the day and take pause for a moment to give thanks that the Son is risen.

Blessings to each of you and until next time…keep shooting. –KEVIN

Where The Grass Is Greener Than You Might Think…

We’ve all seen inspirational photographs that give us a sense of awe about our natural world and leave us wishing that we could visit these exotic locales. The grass seems greener at these places and if we could only get there, we could photograph that beautiful landscape, colorful bird, majestic mammal, or rare courtship ritual ourselves. If only! But, life finds a way of rerouting our best laid photographic intentions and so we table our photography for another day. Let me tell you that each time you do that, you are missing out on the opportunity to create wonderful images. Sure, I’d like to visit Yellowstone, the Badlands, Redwood National Park, the Guadalupe Mountains, or simply spend more time on the private South Texas ranches I’ve written about on this blog. Believe me, those days will come and I will eventually photograph at all of these places and more. Today though, I’d like to continue with my series of articles on “places to photograph” and share a photographic hotspot that nearly every photographer overlooks….the back yard.

I know, that’s not quite as exotic as the Galapagos Islands but there are wonderful images to be had on your own “greener” pasture. Mine exists on a small lot in a suburban subdivision surrounded by a cedar fence, five trees, and routinely patrolled by four vigilant beagles. To date, I have documented 19 different species of birds, 4 mammals, and numerous flowers and insects that I have not kept track of. Last summer, my children were competing in a nature photography contest so I built a temporary pond using wooden pallets, sand, river rock, and of course a pond liner though I probably could have used a shower curtain and saved some money. I selected a few flowering plants as ground cover at a local garden center, stumps/perches I’d collected from ranches I had frequented in the past, then created my mini-landscape. The birds were instantly attracted to my mini-scape, the seed I placed in small piles, and the water. From that point on it was a hotbed of photographic activity. The images below were photographed by myself or my children (as noted in the copyright).

So, don’t despair when you find that obstacles keep preventing you from going outdoors, simply find a way to bring the outdoors to you and start making pictures. You’ll be amazed how green the grass can be on this side of the fence.

Until next time… –KEVIN

No Greater Joy…

I’ve been quite busy over the past few weeks and unfortunately, it has involved very little photography. However, it has involved a lot of quality family time and that’s a trade I would make any day of the week and twice on Sunday. Yet, I do have some exciting news to share. Both of my children, and one of my photography students (non-family), recently placed well with their entries in the 2013 Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Photography Competition. My son competed in the Junior age-group and placed 3rd in the Birds & Mammals category, 3rd in Landscapes category, and 8th in Digital Altered category. My photography student also competed in the Junior age-group and placed 3rd in Black & White category and 6th in Digital Altered. My daughter, competing in the Sub-Junior age group, placed 1st in People Category, 5th in Birds & Mammals category, and 10th in Landscape category. Her 1st Place People image was also selected as the Reserve Grand Champion for the photography exhibit. I am sharing my kids images, and a short shot description, below.

As I sit and reflect upon their photos, I am reminded about the laughs we had on the road, the snacks that they made me purchase, the joy of seeing their images on the computer when we got home, and the excitement of seeing their work place in competition. Without reservation I can tell you that no award I have ever won as a photographer has ever brought me as much joy as the awards won by my children. As the lyrics in Trace Adkins song state, “these are some good times” and yes, as they get older, I sure am going to miss this.


Net-Casting Fisherman. 1st Place, People category and Reserve Grand Champion of the 2013 RGVLS Photography Competition. Photographed by my daughter (age 7 at time of photo). Waking my daughter up at 5:00 A.M. was much easier than I thought as she was eager to get out and photograph. I knew fisherman frequented this particular location so I hoped we would get them wade fishing or perhaps paddling their canoes in the water. When I spotted this fisherman casting the net, I asked if my daughter could take his photo. When he agreed, I attached the 24-70mm lens to camera, mounted it to the tripod, placed it in a spot, then told her to take photos of him as he cast the net. I gave her a safety instruction about not looking at the sun through the viewfinder, reminded her about the rule-of thirds for compositions, and told her to focus on the fisherman. Then I went to the truck to get my son setup with his camera gear. I didn’t realize how good of an image she had until we got home and saw it on the computer. Normally I would have reviewed the images in the field but after this image, we found a long-billed curlew and whitetail fawn to photograph, which my son would end up shooting and using in the contest.


Black-Crested Titmouse. 5th Place, Birds & Mammals Category. Photographed by my daughter. This was an image from a back yard setup at our home. I made a make-shift pond out of wooden pallets and pond liner, placed some feed near it, then pruned a branch off of a mesquite tree. This was the first and only time I have ever seen this bird in my yard but what a joy it was to have her get this image.


Palm-Tree Sunset. 10th Place, Landscape category. Photographed by my daughter. How this image didn’t place higher is beyond me but it remains one of my favorites. This image was taken along the road in Mission, Texas and reminds me of what the RGV looked like when I was growing up. Here I wanted to teach my daughter how to use filters in the landscape. Using an app on the iphone, we knew exactly where, and at what time, the sun was going to be setting. I gave my daughter about four suggestions for possible photos and let her choose the one she preferred. I also let her determine whether she wanted to shoot in vertical or horizontal mode. While the sun was still too high, we experimented with the ND-grad filter so that she could see the type of effect it had. I had her adjust the filter up and down so that she could set the grad line on the horizon. She composed her image, took a test shot, then we sat and waited for 20-minutes. When the sun was where she wanted it, she took this image.


Historic Catholic Church in South Texas Brush Country. Photographed by my son. 3rd Place, Landscapes Category. I took him to this location hoping for a great sunset and to teach him how to use filters in the landscape. We shot many images with and without filters and even at his young age (9 at time of photo), he could tell the difference in quality by using the filters. We had practiced the Rule of Thirds all summer so I had him compose his image then we began our filter experiment. This is one of my favorite images taken by him and it beats any images I have taken of this same church.


Long-billed Curlew. 3rd Place, Birds & Mammals Category. Photographed by my son. My kids and I were driving along a ranch road when we spotted these birds in an open field. I placed a bean bag on the ground, handed him my 7D and 500/4.5 then had him take a photo. At their distance, they were too small in the frame so I decided to circle them and push them toward my son. Before leaving I reminded him about compositions (vertical if bird was walking toward him and horizontal if walking to the side) and that he would have to make a quick decision based upon the birds course. I recall smiling as I watched him from a distance shooting in the prone position and working that camera like a seasoned vet. Not once did he complain about the sand burrs that he had been laying on. This was his favorite image.


Whitetail Fawn in Caricature. 8th Place, Digital Altered category. Photographed by my son. This image, along with the long-billed curlew and my daughter’s “people” category image, required my kids to get up at 5:00 A.M. and make the 1 hour (maybe 1.20hr) drive to the Texas coast. This is an area where I have photographed deer over the past three years so I knew he would have a good opportunity there. This fawn, along with several does and other fawns, was in an open field of grass. I setup my camera/lens on a tripod and told my son to isolate one of the fawns and fire away. I sat back and watched him work. To get this caricature effect was quite simple using Topaz software. All it required was a few clicks and experimenting with sliders until he had a look that he liked. What kid doesn’t like a good cartoon? 🙂

Until next time, share the great outdoors with your children. The memories will be ones you’ll all treasure. Listen to Trace Adkins here.

ImageSpotlight: Bathing Gull

It’s been a few weeks since I last visited South Padre Island. I’m still going through those images and decided I’d share this one from an earlier trip. On this particular morning I had great light and wonderful bird action. This gull decided that the spot right in front of my was the perfect place for a bath. It may be awhile before I get back to the island as I’m after other migrating birds as the moment. However, I liked this one enough to share it here on the blog. I hope you enjoy it.

Until next time, keep shooting. — KEVIN

Bathing Gull.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO 400

Bathing Gull. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f8 | ISO 400