Category Archives: Creativity

My Top Images of 2012

My biggest fear as a photographer is being stuck in a rut.  That is photographing the same things over and over again.  Each year I do have a set of specific places I photograph.  There is the airshow at the Rhode Island National Guard and the Buttonwood Farm in Griswold, CT.  The challenge for me is first to perfect my photographic technique and second to look at the event differently.

This year, I added a few new techniques to my abilities.  I created star trails one evening from my front door and I started practicing portrait photography by setting up a rudimentary basement studio to photograph family and friends.

I also practices a lot more with off camera flash; lighting subjects in my back yard to bring out textures and colors.

Equipment wise, I added the Canon 5D Mark III to my tools.  I simply love this camera.  Moving to a full frame DSLR was also a learning experience with significant changes in how the lens perform at wider angles.  These larger image files are becoming difficult to process on my five-year old computer that was purchased without the thought of any kind of image processing.  So I see a high-end computer in my future.

This year I also exhibited for the first time in an Art Gallery and even sold a print.  I also set up camp at a “Harvest Festival” in my home town to see if any of my images would sell.  A few did but the rain all day limited the number of people attending the event.

With all that said, here are what I consider my top images of 2012…

Self Portrait. 

Inspired by Rodney Pike, I set off the create some manipulated portraits.  To to this however I needed to learn how to create portraits which sent me down the path of creating a rudimentary studio in my basement.  It was great learning how to set up the lights to create the portraits.  Syl Arena’s book: Speedliter’ s Handbook is an excellent reference to learn how to use flash from set up to capture.

Altered Ego |

Reggie – Mom’s Evil Cat

This image won Image of the Year at the Stony Brook Camera Club.  There were plenty of excellent images in this competition.  This image won on the cuteness factor.I think it brings out the true personality of mom’s cat.
Reggie | Mom's Evil Cat.

Circles of Light

Creating this image took learning a new technique, capturing star trails.  Lance Keimig’s night photography inspired me in a session he taught at the New England Camera Club Council Conference.  Pages 204 to 217 in his book “Night Photography: Finding your way in the dark” tells you all you need to know.

A circle of light |

Boston in the Morning

I love to photograph Boston.  For several years I have been photographing from the same location in East Boston.  This year I choose a new location and planned to photograph through the night staying at the Hyatt Hotel on this location.  (I was catching a plane out of Logan Airport in the morning).  Well mother nature was not good to me and that evening the wind was so strong, it kept vibrating my tripod and I was left with a series of “soft” images and two very cold hands…

The next morning, I had enough time to capture this single image of the city as the sun was just rising behind me.

Sunrise over Boston | Boston in the morning as viewed by the Hyatt Hotel in East Boston.

Butterfly with an Attitude

My daughter and I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield, MA this year.  It was great making images with my daughter.  Afterwards, it was great seeing the images she created.  As I saw butterflies and flowers, she saw turtles, lizards and birds.  I realized afterwards I had missed so much and have a lot to learn about observation from my daughter.

Butterfly with an Attitude 1 | Photographed at Magic Wings, MA

(Looks like this butterfly has a nose ring…)

Boston Marathon

This year the Boston Marathon was one of the hottest temperature-wise.  Temp was 79 at the start of the race and topped out in the high 80’s.  My son ran this race.  It was his first marathon and he ran “unofficially”.  He made it to completion with a decent time.  I am very impressed with his determination to complete the marathon.

These photographs are early in the race where everyone are eager and full of energy.  I love the portrait of my son but am not sure of the haircut.
Boston Marathon 2012 |

Mike Runs |

Solo Heart.

These Bleeding Heart flowers, grow in my backyard.  This was the last flower of the year.  I captured this macro image in a basement setup.  This image is 24 images stacked using a technique to bring out a very deep depth of field.  The images were combined using a program called Helicon Focus.

Solo Heart | The last bleeding heart standing in the garden.  Multilayer Maco

The RI Airshow.

These are two different images than what I have created in the past.  The truck was simply luck.  I was tracking the truck as it raced across the runway when there was a Boom!  The pyrotechnics were spectacular.  Timing was great just as the parachute deployed.

The capture of the Mustang was something I have been trying to get a clean capture for years.  You need a slow shutter speed to give the feel of spinning propellers but be steady enough to bring the rest of the image in sharp.  I still see flaws and need more work perfecting this technique.

You can read more in a previous blog post.

Boom |

Never Miss | This P-51D Mustang, affectionately nick named Never Miss, was in service from 1945 to 1956.  Fortunately it never saw military action.   In 1996 she was named Never Miss by James Elkins who owned it for 13 years.

Lek Yuen Bridge

This is a foot bridge found in the new territories of Hong Kong that crosses the Shing Mun river.  This bridge provides a majestic view of the downtown area of the “New Territories”. Captured using both night photography and HDR techniques.

Lek Yuen Bridge | A foot bridge found in the new territories of Hong Kong crosses the Shing Mun river.  This bridge provides a majestic view of the downtown area.

Buttonwood Farm 2012

Every year the Buttonwood Farm in Griswold, CT grows 10 acres of sunflowers.  People come from all around to visit and photograph this field.  Donations are collected for the Make –A-Wish foundation.I needed to stand in the middle of the field to capture this image with the barn in the background.

Buttonwood Farm 2012 | Every year the Buttonwood Farm in Griswold, CT grows 10 acres of sunflowers.  People come from all around to visit and photograph this field.  Donations are collected for the Make –A-Wish foundation.

Adirondack Balloon Festival.

In what may become a new tradition, the Adirondack Balloon Festival is a great place to go in September to capture some great images.There are some risks however in that mother nature can limit the flights and the first launch was cancelled on account of winds.  The following three images provides a feel of what images can be captured.

In my Beautiful, my Beautiful Balloon. Captured in the early morning, this balloon was part of an early morning balloon launch of 100 balloons.

Up Up and Away | In my Beautiful, my Beautiful Balloon.  Captured in the early morning, this balloon was part of a 100 balloon launch at Glens Falls, NY.

Fireworks over Lake George.

Fireworks over Lake George |

Morning Glow as this balloon master fills the balloon.

Baloon Master |


Still life in my back yard.  After the rain one morning I set out to photograph the turning leaves.  This image was captured with the leaves still on the tree using off camera flash to light the subject.

Fall |

Paths to Nowhere.

The next two images is a new idea that I am developing.  They are simply paths to nowhere.  The first image is a roadway in Minnesota in a low population part of the region. The second image, is my last image of 2012 a walk along the Upper Charles Trail in Milford, MA.

I think I do need a subject in these images a payoff at the end of the trail.  Still working on this concept.

The Road Home | Route 59

A walk in the cold | Along the Upper Charles Trail Milfird during the last snow of 2012.

Martha Mary Church

Martha Mary Church at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn and Grist Mill – Sudbury, MA.  Couldn’t find the Grist Mill but found this beautiful church.

Martha Mary Church | Martha Mary Church at Longfellow's Wayside Inn and Grist Mill - Sudbury, MA.  Couldn’t find the Grist Mill but found this beautiful church.

Our Lady of Victory

Located in Tannersville, PA, this is my brother’s church.  A Roman Catholic Church with a very vibrant community.  Captured just after Christmas celebration.  The light reflected through the clerestory windows provides dramatic light across the crucifix.  I saw this light and immediately saw the symbolism of the resurrection of Jesus.  Just after this capture, the clouds hid the sun and the light show was over.

Our Lady of Victory | Love how the light luminated the cross in this image of the interior of Our Lady of Victory Church, Stroudsburg, PA.


What makes great composition?

One of my favorite podcasts is by Lenswork Publishing.  A recent discussion on the rule of thirds struck me as interesting because it covered composition and among other things poked fun at this rule. The other evening at the Stony Brook Camera Club, I listened to landscape photographer,Tony Hunter also talk about composition.

Tony called images that had great composition “Wall Hangers”.  Something that you wish to hang on your wall.  He said that Ansel Adams is quoted as saying that he was lucky to create 12 of these a year.

So what makes a great composition?

To me, great images tell a story.  Great images connect with the viewers.  How? Viewers connect with the image if they see the story. The better the story the more viewers connect.  I witnessed this first hand in my booth at the Franklin Harvest Festive.  I saw viewers connect with images.  They saw stories inside the images and applied their personal experiences to enhance to story.  On woman saw my image of sunflowers and connected to her wedding where the room was filled with sunflowers.

So what makes a great story?

I think there is a lot for photographers to learn about creating great photography by learning how to write great books. After all isn’t it said a photograph is worth a 1000 words?

Great stories have a great subject, a great setting and a compelling plot.  Oliver Twist, old London, being an orphan; Harry Potter, Hogwarts, fighting Voldemort; Abraham Lincoln:Team of Rivals, America 1860, the Civil War.  Great characters with a great setting in a compelling situation.

There are many books on how to write great books.  I love Stephan King’s “On Writing”.

And this video on Ken Burns and Story telling.

So how do you apply this to photography?

1) You need a subject. It could be a red boat , a cat, a model, a homeless person, a tree… But it must be clear when looking at the photograph that the viewer knows who the subject is.

2) You need a great environment.  People need to know where the subject is.  It can be explicit or implicit.  Explicit: A red boat on a calm lake with autumn trees in the background.  A model standing by a classic car.  Implicit: An red boat sitting in a white backdrop of fog.  A model portrait with a black background.

3) You need a plot.  What is happening to the subject in its setting.  This is where I believe light comes in.  Light delivers on the plot.  Properly placed light will take the viewer into the image and help them understand how the subject is interacting with the setting.  A very warm light on the red boat in the calm lake during autumn gives the viewer the feeling of calmness.  If the sky was overcast or with dark clouds, the viewer may see the calm before the storm.

So how do you figure this out while behind the viewfinder?

This is where the concept called “pre-visualization” comes in.  As a new photographer, it was foreign to me.  I had no clue what people meant.  I now understand this a bit better.  Wether you planned a photographic event for weeks or happen upon something special on the spur of the moment,  you need to think about the story you want to tell given the environment (setting) you are standing in.  You are looking for the story.  The subject, the environment and the plot.

How to show their interaction within your viewfinder?

You use technique: lens selection, location of light, lens position, shallow depth of field, deep depth of field, shutter speed, focal point, color and dynamic range to put the subject in the environment showing the plot.

The rule of thirds is simply a technique to place the subject in a location on the image where the viewer can also understand the environment and see the plot.  The rule of thirds happens to be a tool that forces a photographer to think where the subject is within the frame and forces them to also see the environment the subject is in.

So what’s the story?

That’s the thing, isn’t it.  As you look at your subject in a great setting, you need to think what is the story.  What are the 1000 words I am trying to tell? In the end of the day, you may create a technically superior photo but if you do not tell the story, it may fall flat.

Is this the end all and be all of making great compositions?

Hell No!  I would love to hear your perspective of making a great composition and what you think is required to create “wall hangers”..




Do you have a photographic bucket list?

Do you have a photographic bucket list?

I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately.  You know the bucket list.  That list of stuff you need to do before you reach the “final print out”.  Turning 50 later this year has placed me in a bit of an introspective mood.  Almost half way done on my job here (God willing), I’ve started to ask myself “what else?”.

So here is the beginning of my photographic bucket list.  How about helping me out and adding some of your bucket list photo ideas or giving me some I may have missed.


1) A series of star trail photographs

2) Photograph Yellowstone

3) Visit the bottom of the Grand Canyon and photograph upwards

4) Photograph A pier that goes off into the ocean or harbor with an interesting item in the background

5) Tokyo at night, Tokyo with the cherry blossoms in bloom

6) Washington DC:  Architectural pictures in Spring

7) An old building interior before demolition

8 ) The moon through a 500mm lens

9) Australia.  Anywhere Bill Bryson has been.

10) A red sunset

11) A surfer in the tube

12) A skier in the middle of a jump

13) Horses running wild in South Carolina

14) Flying over Boston in a Helicopter

15) A lone tree in all 4 seasons.

16) Glaciers in Alaska

17) Mount Rushmore

18) Fireworks over the Brooklyn Bridge

19) The Great Wall of China

20) The Castles of the UK and Ireland

21) Time lapse of a flower blooming

22) The Northern Lights

23) Snow Monkeys

24) A long drive down Route 66

25) US Route 1 from Maine to Florida and every photo in-between

26) A long exposure of a pier on a bay.

27) Smoke, fire, water

28) A Steam Engine

29) All the items mentioned in the song Junk by Paul McCartney.

30) Luna and Solar Eclispe

Now your turn, what would you add to my buck list or share some of yours…

>> just noticed comments are closed on this post so email your ideas to and I’ll post them. <<


Excellent Photographic Reference Books

Way too many months since my last blog post.  It has been quite a busy winter here in New England.

I’ve recently been using three books as reference to help me think creatively and also learn how to become a better photographer.  The interesting common element for these books is that they are all published by photographers who share not only their art but also provide the details on how they achieve creating this art.  I find them very useful for reference since I can first see what they’ve created then learn their technique.

Each of the images below will take you websites where you can purchase the books. 

Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena

I’ve recently set up a mini-portrait studio as I try to learn what makes a great portrait and then how to create those images.  This book has such deep insight into all the details, I consider it the best reference on the subject of Flash photography. [Although it is geared towards the Canon photographer, it has great detail that other equipment owners will find useful.)

Expressionism by Andre Gallant

I recently listened to Andre Gallant speak at the Stony Brook Camera Club.  This is the third time I’ve had a chance to listen to him.  He is a wonderful out of the box photographer.  He takes photography into a different direction in a style he calls Dreamscapes.

His most recent book (that he is currently self publishing) opens with the following paragraph in the Introduction.  “After I did a presentation on expressive photography at the New England Camera Club Council, in Amherst, Massachusetts, a gentleman came up to me and asked if I had a book on the techniques I described in the program.  “Your images speak to me, and I need more time to look at them and figure out how they are created,” he said.  That comment planted a seed in my head and set the wheels in motion for this book.”

This book is very much a cook book providing images of the results and explanations on how to get there.

Expressionism: Digital Dreamscapes and other Techniques







Night Photography:Finding your way in the dark by Lance Keimig

A third photographer whom I truly appreciate having taken the time to document their knowledge is Lance Keiming.  Another photographer whom I’ve listen to present, Lance provides images that are not only his own but of other photographers and it is full of tables, techniques and explanations on how to create amazing images at night.



Back Story: Porto Portugal

I had a chance to visit Porto, Portugal this week. It is a beautiful city with character. Or said another way, it was a beautiful city that has seen better days.

Photographically it is a beautiful place, given the colors, history, textures and clutter so as a photographer it was a wonderful place to see. But that underlying feeling of neglect and poverty is what made the strongest impression of my visit there.


At the top of a very long outside stairway, is a small alley with a mix of abandoned and neglected apartments. At the top of the stairs sat this woman who, to me, typified the European grandma. There she was, shelling peas in her lap, as she enjoyed the view from outside her apartment. Behind her were some abandoned, mostly graffiti covered apartments.

An old world view, of an old world port, in a region that has over 2000 years of history.


The colors were saturated to bring out the contrast better. There is a lot going on here. The yellow of the building contrasts nicely with the blue of the skis. The red of the door and red graffiti of the bird provide interesting items and balance from left to right. Because of the mix of colors, I hope people see the main character for this photo, the lone lady shelling peas.

Graphic / Composition

Because of the wide angle lens used, there is some warping in the buildings that I think work well for this image. The walls on both sides of the image, funnel the eye to the main character. The triangle created by the walls, creates nice depth into the image. The arched window on the right provides an additional view of the river and delivers more information about “Place”.


This image was created as a high dynamic range photo. This allowed me to combine a properly exposed sky with a properly exposed building and walkway.

ISO 400, 20mm (Canon EF-S10-22mm Lens), F10 and bracketed by speed at 1/125, 1/320, 1/800.

The images were combined using Nik HDR Pro.

You can see more photos of my visit to Porto, Portugal here.

All images are (c) R. DeRobertis 2011