Category Archives: Inspiration

My Backyard

Bug on dandelion

1/2000, f/2.8, ISO 200

A few months ago, I changed camera systems to an Olympus mirrorless camera (OMD1 Mark2) and I looked forward to spend quality time with my camera. Sometimes I think I need a grandiose trip for photography, but really all it takes is a location and some time. So, I spent a few hours in my backyard. Using only my 60mm macro lens and Vanguard Veo tripod I jumped in to capture the small details of my backyard. I didn’t find the best light, so I grabbed my diffuser for the overhead sun and in the afternoon clouds rolled in to diffuse the light.


Dandelions were the first item to photograph. The delicate details and proximity to the ground provided a great challenge with my new gear. I setup my tripod, camera and shutter release to find a small bug on one of the dandelions. I quickly adjusted my field of view and captured photos of this guy. With the camera on the tripod, one hand was free to hold a diffuser over the subject. This softened the light and gave me a more even exposure. After a few minutes, I removed the camera from the tripod and handheld a few shots. Of course, I switched the camera to burst mode. I prefer burst mode when handholding the camera because it increases my chance of sharp images in the case that I move while shooting the image. Next, I was in search of ladybugs.


1/1250, f/3.2, ISO 200


Our plum trees were full of ladybugs. I did try the tripod, but the ladybugs moved so fast, I chose to handhold my camera instead. The focus point was a single point on the head and again I used burst mode to capture sharp images.

bumble bee

1/125, f/5.6, ISO 800

After ladybugs, I stuck with the bug theme and saw the bumblebees pollinating our chives. A handheld camera was again the best solution for these fast-moving insects. Luckily, the clouds rolled in which provided soft even light. I knelt on the ground and kept moving with the bees until I got several photos that pleased me. My favorite image was when the bumble bee looked straight at me! Now, I find myself checking out my yard several times a week looking for other things to shoot. A few days ago, I noticed bees pollinating our red hot pokers so I got out there and captured more images. If you are ready for a photo project, just get out in your own backyard. It is important that you have fun and spend time with your camera.

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Just Shoot

By Amy Horn and Vicki Uthe

One way to becoming a better photographer is to shoot more images. For a few years now, my good friend and Arizona Highways Photo Workshops trip leader, Vicki Uthe, and I schedule a photo outing a couple of times a year. We want it to happen once a month, but our schedules don’t always mesh. Luckily, this past week we both had a morning to meet so we drove to Jerome, AZ for some photo fun. With handheld cameras we hit the streets early morning while the town was still quiet. We walked one loop, changed lenses and walked the loop again. The light changed so drastically we found ourselves shooting completely different subjects on the second loop. Vicki is a Canon shooter and I own Nikon gear and we found ourselves using one of two lenses: Vicki: 11-16 mm or 100 mm macro Amy: 24-120 mm and 105 mm macro. Even with similar lenses and walking together, we captured very different images. We processed our images separately and agreed we would each submit a few of our favorites.


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By mid-morning we moved on to the Jerome State Historic Park, Audrey Headframe Park and then to our favorite location, the Gold King Mine. At the Gold King Mine the sun was directly overhead creating harsh shadows and flat light. But if you haven’t been there, it is a place you won’t want to miss! We both used our macro lenses to find those small details and the best light. After processing our images we only had one of the same subject – the red truck with the bullet hole window. Vicki shot it from the outside and I shot it from the inside.


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Red truck, Vicki’s shot, then Amy’s shot


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Next time you want to practice, grab a photo friend or join us on a Meetup and shoot! Even if it is harsh light, take the challenge to make the most of the light.

Amy Horn is a lecturer of photography at Northern Arizona University and an instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. View her current teaching schedule at or  Vicki Uthe is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

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Background Basics

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When I get excited about capturing a photograph, I sometimes forget the basics about the background and that is to eliminate the distractions. A busy background will make the viewer lose interest. In these examples I will explain how I eliminated the busy background to capture stronger images.

The first examples are from Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats September 2013. This was one of the first runs of the morning and Lobello Racing was “backing up” their record. The day before this belly tank hit a top speed for their class and rules state they08_13 Bonneville-7259have to hit that same speed the next morning to “own” the record in the books. These images were shot at the start line with beautiful morning light, but there are many distractions with people and cars in the background. So, I opted to walk around to the rear of the belly tank to see the view. I could not capture the driver’s face, but I created an image that looked like I was alone on the salt with Lobello Racing and an official. Now viewers will feel what it is like to sit on the start line.

To read more, head on over to the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Blog where I show another example of simplifying the background using flowers.

Also posted in Photographic Techniques

Photographing Liquids

I am so fortunate to have several weeks off for winter break and this year I made a very long list of photo projects to tackle. Not unlike my every day lists, I did not complete that tall order. However, since I am going back to work in a little over 48 hours, I thought I should take a look at what I did accomplish and select a few to post. The photos I spent the most time capturing included mixing liquids. So, here are a few of my “Favorite photos of Winter Break.”

Oil & Water 1






To capture an image like this, you need a clear dish elevated with something of color beneath it. I rested a clear 9×13 inch pan on two chairs and set up my tripod so that the camera was facing straight down. A single off camera flash lit a Christmas napkin placed below the clear dish creating this blend of colors. After swirling a little bit, I started taking my shots. In the photos below, I have two more versions of Oil & Water using different colors of paper or foil beneath.

Oil & Water 2 Oil & Water 3






The last set of images comes from mixing milk, dye and dish soap.  The dish soap reacts with the dye in a peculiar way in that the dye moves away from the dish soap. I saw a YouTube video of this reaction and gave it a try. After the dye did it’s trick, I slowly wove a stirring stick through the mixture to create strong lines. Using my CamRanger allowed me to tether wirelessly for these images.

Milk & Dye Milk & Dye 2






Also posted in Photographic Techniques

Family Snow Photos with Tram Mai

Tram Mai and twins

Tram Mai and twins

Tram Mai family photo

Tram Mai, Steve Kraus







After a weekend full of holiday parties and winter weather, it felt great yesterday to drive out to Snowbowl Road in search of snow. The purpose of the drive was to help a colleague by photographing Tram Mai’s family in her annual snow photos. What an honor. This year Tram’s family grew by two; two beautiful 9-month old twins visiting the snow for the first time. Great conversation, energetic smiles and a photogenic family made this quick photo shoot an easy and enjoyable task. To capture fast family portraits with infants and pets requires portability. So, I used my on-camera flash, Nikon D600 and my Nikon 24-120mm lens. We drove to Aspen Corner on Snowbowl Road and found a wonderful patch of shade with snow covered trees as the backdrop. The flash provided great fill light for the family and left a small, sparkly catch light in their eyes. Post processing in Adobe Lightroom included minor adjustments to white balance, sharpening and a vignette. What a fun afternoon with an everyday family and the mother that we just happen to see on the news every day.

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Top Hat

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This water image reminded me of an upside down top hat – with a face in it. As you can tell, I cropped in tighter and removed a few unwanted water drops. Keep watching for photos of how I captured this image! I decided to mix this one up with a little food coloring but kept the settings simple: 1/200, f/16, ISO 250, off camera flash at 1/8 power.

Also posted in Before/After, Technology

The Fight

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After another series of water splashes today, I composited two images together to create “The Fight.” I added a coat of Rain-X and wiped down the glass frequently, so, I had less to clean up in Photoshop.  Here are the before and after images in creating “The Fight.” A majority of the water drop clean up was completed using Lightroom, then the composite was created in Photoshop with final color toning using a preset from Nicolesy in Lightroom.

Also posted in Photographic Techniques

Entertaining Reflections

Flagstaff Orpheum at night

Overall scene

Flagstaff Orpheum sign reflection

Orpheum sign with a reflection in the car windshield

Capturing night lights is one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Sometimes the temperature is cool (especially in Flagstaff), but the photos don’t disappoint. Last fall, I met up with my Northern Arizona University student photo club to photograph night lights. We stuck to a two block range on Aspen beginning at San Francisco and ending up in front of the Orpheum Theatre at Beaver Street. We bundled up in our winter jackets and kept warm except for our cold hands holding the metal tripod legs. When we approached the Orpheum some young men were in front of the building hanging out. Adding people to the photo can add a sense of scale to the image, so I took the shot. Then reviewed it on my LCD panel and decided it was boring. So, I looked around for something better. There was a car parked in front of the Orpheum limiting my view from the front side. I knew I had to work the subject, so I walked around the car anyway. Then, I saw a great refection in the windshield of the car. I took a shot of the bright sign and the reflection in the car window. The photo still wasn’t working for me so like I often do, I thought to myself, “What interests me here?” It was the reflection. I recomposed to include the reflection of the Orpheum sign only. This image works. My final adjustments in post

Flagstaff Orpheum Sign reflection

Final image of Flagstaff’s Orpheum night lights

processing included a little spot removal of bugs on the windshield. Although my students weren’t sure what I captured in my frame, once I shared the image with them they understood. It was another successful evening capturing the night lights in Flagstaff.

Image available as a metal print at Brandy’s Restaurant in Flagstaff.

Also posted in night photography, Photographic Techniques, reflections

Inspiration from the Desert

Sean Litzenberger

Sean drawing attention on top of the RV

If you have ever been on a photo workshop then you can relate to how excited I was about the learning and inspiration I would receive from Joel Grimes at Joshua Tree National Park. Little did I know the learning and inspiration would begin before I got to Joshua Tree. I was attending this workshop as a participant but I also serve as a volunteer with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops, so I caught a ride with volunteers Rick and Amy and we chatted incessantly about photography tips and workshops for the four-hour desert drive.  But in our last 10 miles to our destination, we were surprised to see a large black RV with a bare-chested man enthusiastically waving an American flag on top of the RV. Not sure if he was needing help, our driver Amy stopped to see what was going on.

Anna Judd

Anna and Robot approaching Sean and their chase vehicle.

Sean Litzenberger, a retired Navy veteran from San Diego with a charming personality shared with us why he was waving a flag on top of an RV. Sean is part of a three person team called “Anna Runs America.” To raise awareness about American Veteran issues, Anna is running from Venice to New York City. When we came across their vehicle it was day six of 100 days.  Anna was a ½ mile away and approaching us carrying an American flag. We chatted with Sean about their journey while we waited for Anna to approach learning about their sponsors and how this journey began. After attending Burning Man, Anna Judd was inspired to make a difference: a difference for veterans. We were informed that an average of 22 Veterans a day commit suicide. We understood why Anna wanted to raise awareness.

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Anna and Robot waving their flag.

When Anna caught up to us, she was walking in place of running, since her 40 miles a day for the past 5 days gave her very swollen feet: so swollen that her shoes wouldn’t fit. Sean, her trainer, explained that Anna has been training four years to run 40 miles a day and thankfully, her seventh day on this journey would be her day of rest. When we first saw Anna, she was only wearing socks, carrying her shoes and had a big smile on her face. She was so happy to see that we had stopped and were interested in her cause. In the past five days other supporters have been running along with her but today was mostly quiet on this desert road with only the company of her teammates. Her third teammate, professional photographer named Robot intends to ride a bike along Anna when the bike tires are repaired. Anna spoke to us about her passion for change and that she was looking forward to propping her feet the next day to recuperate. Anna is not from a military family but has recognized how she can make a difference, by raising awareness. Anna is running across America in 100 days and is currently running across Arizona with plans to arrive in New York City on July 1.

Anna Judd

Anna talking to Amy about her journey

Our workshop had not even begun and yet we found inspiration. Inspired by talking to a few strangers on a desolate desert road. Rick, Amy and I were thankful we had the time to stop and visit with Anna and her team, “Anna Runs America.” If you want to join Anna in running, make a contribution, would like more information or to watch her progress, go to