Thursday, July 31, 2008



Black bears typically have two cubs, rarely one or three. In 2007, in northern New Hampshire , a black bear sow gave birth to five healthy young. There were two or three reports of sows with as many as four cubs but five was, and is, extraordinary. I learned of them shortly after they emerged from their den and set myself a goal of photographing all five cubs with their mom, no matter how much time and effort was involved. I knew the trail they followed on a fairly regular basis, usually shortly before dark. After spending nearly four hours a day, seven days a week, for six weeks I had that once in a lifetime opportunity and photographed them in the shadows and dull lighting of the evening. Due to these conditions the photograph is a bit nois! y as I had to use the equivalent of a very fast film speed on my digital camera. The print is properly focused and well exposed with all six bears 'posing' as if they were in a studio for a family portrait.ï who saw the bears during the summer and into the fall hunting season.

All six bears continued to thrive. As time for hibernation approached, I found still more folks who had seen them and everything remained OK. I stayed away from the bears as I was concerned that they might become habituated to me, or to people in general, as approachable 'friends.' This could be dangerous for both man and animal. After Halloween I received no further reports and could only hope the bears survived until they hibernated.

This spring, before the snow disappeared, all six bears came out of their den and wandered the same familiar territory they trekked in the spring of 2007. I saw them before mid April and dreamed nightly of taking another ?family portrait,? an improbable second once in a lifetime photograph.

On April 25, 2008 I achieved my dream. When I showed the result to a woman who had purchased a print of the cubs a year earlier she exclaimed, 'I have never seen such an extraordinary photograph.' When something as magical as this happens between man and animal Native Americans say: 'We have walked together in the shadow of a rainbow.' And so it is with humility and great pleasure that I share these photos with you.

Sincerely, Tom Sears

Above 2008 Family Portrait - Below 2007 Family Portrait! Same Bear Family Of Six!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Scott Kelby PhotoWalk

Join Me For The First Ever Worldwide Photowalk On (you guessed it), Saturday, August 23rd!
79 Comments » Filed under: events, Fun

You gotta watch the video below—it tells the whole story. We’re gonna have a blast!!!!!
Here’s the link to the site!

(NOTE: Lots more cities around the world, more than 100 total, will be added, but if your city isn’t on the list yet, click this link to see how you can host one in your city. Also, we’ll be updating the site each day with more cities, so check back often to see when a city near you gets added!)

The walk is sponsored by Adobe Systems, Wacom, Epson, CDW, NAPP, Peachpit Press, MPIX, Kelby Training, and Photo Walk Pro.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

More on Lightroom 2.0

Adobe has launched Lightroom 2.0 a significant upgrade to the popular RAW image workflow software that packs in dozens of new features.

Adobe recently gave us a sneak peak at the new features and we’re happy to report that, not only is it worth the upgrade, you may well have no reason left for Photoshop. From the new graduated filters to improved sharpening tool, Lightroom 2.0 offers even tools to spare you the RAM-hungry trip over to Photoshop.

Among the new features in Lightroom 2.0 is native 64-bit support, which means that Lightroom can now take full advantage of the latest hardware for much snappier performance. Other standout features include a very slick gradient tool which allows you the same sort of tonal adjustment power you would get from a real-world graduated filter.

Applying a graduated neutral density effect in Lightroom 2.0

Lightroom also now offers a pen tool for applying effects using masks. For instance in the shot below an affect is only applied to lips — as in Photoshop, toggling the mask reveals where you’ve painted the effect (the green).

Those of you using Lightroom in conjunction with multiple external hard drives will find revamped volume and folder layout in the Library module makes it easier locate and manage images across drives. Also new on the organization front are smart folders (which work just like what Apple popularized in apps like iTunes) and smarter keyword suggestions for labeling and organizing your images.

Filtering images with the new organizational tools

Perhaps the most welcome new feature for professional photographers is Lightroom 2.0’s new multiple camera RAW profiles — Adobe is offering some new preset camera RAW profiles, including ones to match the camera’s results had you simply shot a .jpg file.

Additionally, Adobe has release a new DNG Profile Editor, which enables photographers to create their own customized and fine-tuned profiles — for instance, you could create a profile for portraits, one for landscape and so on. You’ll be able to download and swap profiles through Lightroom Exchange.

Of course camera RAW profiles only control elements like hue, saturation and luminance, if it’s noise reduction you’re looking for, you’ll be happy to know that Lightroom 2.0 features support for using external editors with presets. That makes it significantly easier to round-trip your images through tools like NoiseNinja to handle those image elements that Lightroom doesn’t.
There’s also some new options to export groups of images for HDR or panoramic stitching in Photoshop.

Lightroom’s print module has also seen a significant overhaul that makes it much more useable. For instance, Lightroom 2 offers some new sharpening algorithms which can automatically determine the correct amount of print sharpening required based on the output media and resolution of the file.

For those of you with both feet firmly in the digital age, the same sharpening tools can be applied through other export plugins like the Flickr uploader, which means your uploaded images will be a little bit clearer on popular photo sharing sites. Speaking of plugins, Lightroom 2 offers a new plugin manager for keeping everything in one place.

Lightroom 2 also packs in a host of bug fixes, performance enhancements and other smaller interface change. As has become Adobe’s practice there is a new version of the company’s Camera Raw software available (Mac, Win) in conjunction with today’s Lightroom release.
Lightroom 2.0 is $300 brand new; if you’re upgrading from an earlier version the price drops to $100. If you’ve been playing around with the beta versions of Lightroom 2, your trials will continue to work through the end of August, after that you’ll have to purchase the software.

Lisa's note NAPP members get 15% off adobe products (I bought LR 2.0 last night at 12:30am for $84 from adobe). Sign up here for FREE shipping from B&H, discounts on software, hardware, car rentals, etc.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 software JUST released!

News doesn’t get much bigger than this; today Adobe announced that they are now shipping the final version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 (Whoo Hooo!).

You can read the official press release from Adobe right here.

Check out Adobe’s Lightroom 2 home page at

Simplify photography from shoot to finish
Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 2 software is essential for today's digital photography workflow. Now you can quickly import, process, manage, and showcase your images — from one shot to an entire shoot. With Lightroom 2, you spend less time in front of the computer and more time behind the lens.

Top new features:

  • Local adjustment brush
  • Enhanced organizational tools
  • Volume management
  • Extensible architecture
  • Multiple monitor support
  • Flexible print package functionality
  • Streamlined Photoshop CS3 integration
  • Enhanced output sharpening
  • 64-bit support for Windows® and Mac OS

Lightroom 2 Worldwide Photo Walk
Join the Worldwide Photo Walk, a one-day social shooting event hosted by the NAPP. Bring your camera, make new friends, and see if you can win the prize for the best shot of the day.

PhotoshopCAFE AnnouncementLightroom 2 Release - Get Training

A few moments ago, Adobe announced the shipping of Lightroom 2. I'm happy to annouce the support site on PhotoshopCAFE. Here you will find all the new features explained as well as some all new video tutorials on Lightroom 2. You can always trust us to get you the big news as it breaks!If that's not enough, we have a Brand New Lightroom 2 Video. 91 Lessons and 7 hours of Lightroom 2 training. This isn't a rehash, its all new from the ground up in Lightroom 2!

Lightroom 2 Learning site
Get up to speed with Lightroom 2 !

PhotoshopCAFE is the best resource for everything Photoshop, and this is no exception. Jump into the free learning site and get to grips with Lightroom 2. We want to give you an early heads up. There will be new content added to the site on an ongoing basis. Get a full review, new feature list and watch some all-new free videos on key new features.

Go there now

Photoshop Lightroom 2 For Digital Photographers. NEWSFLASH

The most Comprehensive Guide for Lightroom 2! Now you can get the most comprehensive and complete Lightroom training available anywhere!This is the most comprehensive video on the market for Lightroom 2 (7 hours, 91 lessons). Master all the new features and workflows. Learn how to import, organize, develop and output all your captures with effortless ease. Enjoy in-depth coverage, pro techniques, secret tips and Colin's way of breaking down even the most complex tasks into quick and easy to understand techniques. All new for Lightroom 2 and now in wide-screen format.You'll spend less time in front of the computer and more time behind the camera!

Click here to see a topic list and to order

Thanks again for taking the time to read this. I'll send out a regular email full of tips soon. Don't forget to let your friends know about this mailing list. Only here you get exclusive discounts and tips on your favoriate graphics application!

Colin SmithPhotoshopCAFE

Adobe announced that Lightroom 2 is shipping today, and today releases two major Lightroom 2 online training sessions;

(1) Lightroom in-depth; a comprehensive 4-1/2 hour online class

(2) The Lightroom 2 Power Session; a quick 2-hour “get up to speed fast on the new LR2 features” online course.

The instructor for both courses is the host of the Lightroom Killer Tips weekly video show, and blog, Matt Kloskowski and one of the leading experts on Lightroom.

The courses are available right now to Kelby subscribers. If you’re not a subscriber, you can learn more, and sign up right here, and have unlimited access to not only Matt’s new courses, but all the online courses at Kelby Training.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Upcoming NHCC Field Trips

Upcoming New Haven Camera Club Trips Fall 2008

Hold the dates:

Fall Trip to Vermont:

Friday, September 26th, Saturday the 27th, & Sunday the 28th

We will be staying in central Vermont near Woodstock and Quechee Gorge.

We have held a block of rooms ($79-$99 per night) at the Ramada Inn in Rutland, so please hold your place as soon as possible by contacting one of the following:

Linda Thomas 203-239-9341
Gerri Mahon 203-265-2579
Ann Yost 203-931-9943
Bob Parisi 203-484-2400

Day Trip to New York City:

Saturday, September 6th, and the rain date is Sunday, September 7

We will be leaving the Milford Train Station on the 8:42 express train to NYC. We will purchase a $20 all day pass for unlimited use of the water taxis which stop at 10 key locations from 11AM to 7PM. Bring jackets…it is a very breezy ride.

Contact Art Yost at 203-931-9943, or before September 1st if you are interested.

Day Trip to New York Aquarium:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A sign up sheet will be available at the NHCC Meetings prior to the trip or you can contact Linda Thomas at 203-239-9341 or if you cannot attend the meetings.

West Trip:

In 2010, we are looking at going to Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, & possibly Glacier National Park.

If you are interested, please contact one of the following:

Linda Thomas 203-239-9341
Gerri Mahon 203-265-2579
Ann Yost 203-931-9943
Bob Parisi 203-484-2400


Event you may be interested in, but there will be not an organized trip:

Shemitzen: August 21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th Call 1-800-CORN for more info.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

KelbyThe Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers

Hey gang: I’m totally psyched to announce that a whole new version of my Lightroom book, “The Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers” (From New Riders Press), is now available for preorder.

I had planned on just doing an update of the book, and including the new features of Lightroom 2, but….well…I wound up rewriting the whole book from scratch (well, at least 95% of it. There’s probably a paragraph or two still left over, but not much).

Here’s the thing: so much has changed since Lightroom 1 (well, there was Lightroom, then version 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and now 2), but more than that, I’ve trained literally thousands of Lightroom users since I wrote that book, and I’ve learned first hand the challenges, questions, concerns, and workflow issues that today’s Lightroom users face, and I’ve incorporated that right into the book.

Plus, I’ve streamlined my own workflow so much, and I’ve learned so many new techniques; new ways of thinking about working with Lightroom and Photoshop, and I’ve heard from so many readers of the first book about what they wanted to learn next, that I am just busting to share this new stuff with everybody.

Be the first to get your copy; the book is available for pre-order from, or direct from



I have come across a deal to good to pass up on an i1XT -- professional model that can make printer profiles and calibrate projectors also.

I'm willing to make profiles for club members for $25 --- I'll send them the target to print out on their desired paper and I will send them back the profile.

Richard Asarisi

600mm lens for sale

Please contact Rich if you are interested:

Lisa, Can you put out an email that my Nikon 600mm lens is for sale.

$5200 excellent condition, I will include the Wimberley adapter plate and the Camo Lens Coat and all Nikon included accessories.

Richard Asarisi

NHCC Changes to Category Competition for 2008-09

Changes to NHCC Category Competition for 2008-09

At the Executive Committee meeting in July several changes were made to the Category Competition (sometimes referred to as the assignment competition) for next season. This rest of the rules as stated in the NHC handbook still apply. For example, Category images still must not be older than 5 years old.

The changes will make the Category Competition more like the Open Competitions, will make the Category Competition more meaningful, and will increase the opportunity for more members to have their photographs selected as ribbon winning photographs. The winning images are those who show the best interpretation of the category title which adheres to definition.

As was true last year, there will be a Category Competition only for electronic (digital) photographs.

The rule changes are:

1. The Category Competition will be scored by the judges using the SAME numerical scoring system that is used to score the Open Competitions. The in and out scoring system will be eliminated.

2. Ties will not be broken, again like the Open Competitions.

3. The number of photographs that may be entered by a member into a given Category Competition is reduced to 2 from the current 3, again like the Open Competitions.

4. Unlike the Open Competitions, no make-up photographs will be permitted.

5. To qualify for the High Cumulative Score in the Category Competition, a member must submit at least 10 photographs of the possible 16 photographs. A member who submits more than 10 photographs will have his/her cumulative score determined by summing the highest scoring 10 photographs. Thus, it is to your advantage to enter as many photographs as possible since the 10 highest scoring photographs will be used to determine the final score.

The assigned subjects for the 2008-09 season are:

Sept: Children
Oct: Railroad
Nov: Sunrise/Sunset
Jan: Boats or ships
Feb: Abstraction(s)
March: Motion and Blur
April: Patterns or Textures
May: Architecture

Check out the NHCC website for more information...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Great Photography Tutorials and Links From Around the Web

Every month or two I like to create a list of helpful tutorials and resources from around the photographic web.

This time I think you’ll agree that there’s been some wonderful tutorials written. I’ve included 17 from other sites and 5 from our archives (this time last year).

17 Hot Photography Links From Around the Web

Make Your own BikeCAM - a fun DIY with a video

5 Ways to Hold Your Viewer’s Attention - 5 simple composition techniques

Transforming a Daylight Image into a Wild Night - Photoshop tutorial

Nine Reasons to Manually Focus When Taking Pictures - sometimes manual focusing is your best option

The Importance of focus and quick tips on how to get it right - another focusing related tutorial

My Photography Workflow - Photographer Thomas Hawk talks us through his workflow

The 15 Second DIY Adjustable Snoot! - a fast DIY

The Nuts and Bolts of Off-Camera Flash - first part of a four part series on off camera flash (part 2 here).

8 Photography Myths Debunked - just what the title says :-)

Getting Rid of Dust Spots - Photoshopping tips

Flicker Flash - How to capture movement with a series of strobe flashes

Introduction to Digital Photography - 10 Ways to Improve your skills

On Assignment: Night Chopper Pt 2 - 2nd in a series of shots taking you on a shoot of a chopper at night

Your Guide to Buying Old Film Cameras - Feeling Retro? This one’s for you!

Seeing the Possibilities - a great post on how to see possibilities in different locations

Understanding Camera Exposure Modes - talking you through spot, evaluative and center-weighted metering.

Curves color enhancement tutorial - a video screencast of GIMP in action

5 Tutorials from our Archives that You Might have Missed!

As usual in these posts I thought I’d throw in a handful of articles from our own archives - from July 2007 - for those of you who are new to Digital Photography School and might have missed some of what we’ve already covered:

18 Exceptionally Useful Photoshop Shortcuts - the most popular post from July last year

7 Strategies for Avoiding Flash Blow Out - we’ve all suffered from it - but how do you overcome flash blowout?

4 Rues of Composition for Landscape Photography - some basic ideas on composition

Using Flash in Action Photography - tips and some cool photos

How to Photograph Pets - always a popular photographic subject - Pets!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sandy Hook Bird Observatory’s 13th annual Bombay Hook Weekend

Join Sandy Hook Bird Observatory’s 13th annual Bombay Hook Weekend August 15-17, 2008!
Anchored in Dover, Delaware this trip explores one of the east coast’s top shorebirding sites over three days. This trip offers an excellent opportunity to study a wide variety of shorebirds, herons, and terns. Mixed species flocks of shorebirds—often at close range, provide participants with a chance to learn subtleties of sandpiper identification.

Bombay Hook received its name from the corruption of the Dutch “Bompies Hoeck” meaning “little tree point.” Today, the National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 15,978 acres. The refuge has one of the largest expanses of nearly unaltered salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic and over 1,100 acres of freshwater impoundments. We’ll compliment our tour with visits to other noteworthy sites that may include Little Creek WMA, Port Mahon, and Woodland Beach WMA, dependent on recent conditions.

Although no two years are the same, this trip usually records 20+ species of shorebirds, large numbers of long-legged waders, and other surprises. Species we should encounter include Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Stilt Sandpiper, Caspian and Black Terns. The area is a magnet for rare birds as well, with past trips recording goodies like White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Hudsonian Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope, Black-headed Gull, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Sedge Wren.

For further information or to register, please contact Sandy Hook Bird Observatory at 732-872-2500 or . Participants may register for one, two, or all three days. Fee varies accordingly: see www.njaudubon/Centers/shbo for prices. A list of Dover hotels is provided to registrants.

fun photos emailed to me

These fun photos were emailed to me...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shawangunk Mountains

Directions to the Mohonk Preserve ($9 for a day pass; annual membership $50/year $65/year for a couple)

Want to be inspired to visit the GUNKS?? Then check out Steve Jordan's photos:

From the road...

Awosting Falls

Split rock, a stones throw from the parking lot

Awosting Falls

Awosting Falls winter

Blueberries (Fall)

Another of Split Rock

Awosting Falls

From the road...

Awosting Falls

Awosting Falls

From the road...

Steve Jordan has a gallery that is well worth checking out!
He has photos in many of the local venues, including the Gilded Otter Brewery right across the st from his gallery.

12 Super Silhouette Shots

From here:

12 Super Silhouette Shots

Sometimes it is what is missing from an image that makes it so special.

One of our most popular posts on this site is How to Photograph Silhouettes. One of the things that I love about Silhouettes is that the lack of detail created by a silhouette can leave the viewer of the image to fill in the gaps with their imagination.

Today I thought I’d add to the theory of the topic by posting some examples of silhouettes to give a little inspiration to take some of your own.

Have you taken any Silhouettes? Share them in our forum’s Share Your Shots section.

How to Photograph Silhouettes - Updated

How to Photograph Silhouettes in 8 Easy Steps

Life after Fire

Photo by Gabe Chapin - The Nature Conservancy(Click image to enlarge)

Life after Fire

Wildfire leaves signs of damage—singed trees, blackened ground, smoky skies—in its wake. But as events this past spring and summer have shown, fire is also one of Mother Nature’s ways to restore and rejuvenate the land.

In April, the largest wildfire in New York State in 13 years and in the Shawangunks in nearly 60 years swept across Minnewaska State Park Preserve, burning 3,100 acres of diverse forest. In the months since, Minnewaska has become an outdoor laboratory, providing an opportunity to study what can happen in a landscape shaped for thousands of years by fire, and where many species need fire to survive. (For example, pitch pine cones release seeds under intense heat, and openings in the forest canopy give oaks space to grow.)

“Green up” is already widespread throughout Minnewaska. Seeds and stumps have resprouted and spring and summer flowers have carpeted the ground. While it may take some years for the most heavily burned places to recover completely, these open areas provide habitat for rare birds such as the Scarlet Tanager and Canada Warbler, along with animals like fishers, porcupines, rattlesnake, bears, and bobcats.

The Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership (or SRBP, of which the Preserve is a member) has been studying the recovery of the burned area in Minnewaska. Scientists are monitoring the effects of fire on vegetation and the impacts of browsing by deer on particular trees and shrubs—possible since the animals can be excluded from the enclosed plots and new growth watched literally from the ground up.

The 2008 fire in Minnewaska was an important lesson about what can happen when abundant fuel loads (dead trees, branches, and other vegetation) build up in forests near where people and property must be protected from wildfire. That’s why SRBP is busy developing a ridgewide fire management plan, to address both wildfire and the expanded use of controlled burns at the Mohonk Preserve and other places.

By better understanding fire, we can continue to work to harness the beneficial powers of nature—for the sake of the land and everyone who cares about it.

Lisa's note: for those of you that have never been there the Mohonk Preserve is ~2 hours away and is especially beautiful in the Spring (lots of pink mountain laurel plus streams and waterfalls) and in the Fall (winter is nice too and Awosting Falls at Minnewska is not far to walk down to any time of year).

Located just 90 miles north of New York City, the Mohonk Preserve provides visitors access to over 6,500 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains – including cliffs, forests, fields, ponds, and streams – and to a network of over 100 miles of carriage roads and trails for hiking, running, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. Also, the internationally renowned “Gunks” cliffs offer over 1,000 technical rock climbing routes.

Main entry point: Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center½ mile west of the intersectionof Route 44/55 and Route 299Gardiner, NY6 miles west of New Paltz. For further information:(845) 255-0919

Whether you're a newcomer to the Gunks or think you know this place like the back of your hand, these simple, printable (2 sided) PDF maps are a great resource. They feature rudimenary road maps, and our un-biased, un-sponsored reviews of local restaurants, gas stations, retail shops, food markets (including phone numbers). Areas to swim, bike, hike...oh yeah, and climb. You're sure to discover something.

Map Front (New Paltz town)
Map Back (Mohonk & Minnewaska)

Farms & Vineyards

NECCC 2009 update!!

This just in from Gail!!!

Hi all,
Just wanted to let you all know that Joe MacDonald
will be speaking at NECCC on July 10-12, 2009!

Gail Hansche Godin
NECCC Co-Chair

Joe and Mary Ann McDonald are the most prolific and active husband-wife nature photography team in the United States today. At least half of each year is spent in the field, leading photo safaris to Africa and other remote destinations, leading photo tours to various US destinations, and conducting digital photography courses and classes at their studio at Hoot Hollow, Pennsylvania and at other US locations. Additionally, Joe and Mary Ann also conduct one-day and weekend seminars across the country.

Joe McDonald

Joe's been photographing wildlife and nature since 1966, starting with images of his pet turtles, lizards, and snakes he made as a high school freshmen. By high school he was selling photos to the National Wildlife Federation, and by his freshman year in college he was publishing in that magazine.

Since then, Joe's been published in every natural history publication in the U.S., including Audubon, Bird Watcher's Digest, Birder's World, Defenders, Living Bird, Natural History, National and International Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Smithsonian, Wildlife Conservation, and more. He is represented by multiple stock photo agencies, both domestically and world-wide.
He is the author of seven books, A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife; The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual; The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography; Designing Wildlife Photographs; Photographing on Safari, The New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photographyand African Wildlife, A Portrait of the Animal World. His book, Designing Wildlife Photographs, was judged best book by the Outdoor Writers Association of America for 1994. In 1999 he produced Photographing on Safari, Joe and Mary's first instructional video. With Rick Holt and Mary Ann McDonald, he is also the author of Digital Nature Photography - From Capture to Output.

Joe is a founding member of NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association, is a NANPA fellow and a former Board of Director for that organization. He has conducted multiple educational sessions at the annual NANPA summits, and he and Mary Ann have been Keynote speakers at this event. He has also addressed nature photography groups around the country, in Arizona, California, Florida, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and elsewhere.

Currently Joe is a columnist for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Joe and Mary Ann are co-columnists for and Keystone Outdoors, and field correspondents for Nature's Best Photo Magazine.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Letting Technology Do Your Work to Capture Fast Moving Images - Phototrap

The following article on capturing fast moving images was submitted by wildlife photographer and author Joe McDonald from Learn more about Joe and his work at the end of this post.

Some of my most successful and exciting images have involved high-speed flash photography of wildlife in action, and incorporated a lot of planning, a heavy use of technology and equipment, and a bit of luck as well. Over the years I’ve photographed a variety of action sequences, from owls and bats flying at night to leaping geckos, frogs, and grasshoppers, to striking rattlesnakes, gliding sugar gliders and flying squirrels, and a host of others.


The planning that is involved revolves around pre-visualizing the images I intend to make, whether that’s a collared lizard running on its hind legs like a miniature dinosaur or a Texas wood rat leaping from one branch to another. This pre-visualization is important since I’m not reacting to a pose and then snapping the shutter but instead I am firing the camera at a specific time with the hope that my subject will be where I’m expecting it to be.

Technology and Equipment

The technology and equipment involved includes using electronic flash units with a sufficiently fast flash duration to freeze my subject’s actions, and a tripping device to fire my camera or flashes at the precise moment. Of course, there is a bit of luck involved as well, as its possible that every pose captured just isn’t right. However, if one defines luck as when opportunity meets preparedness, one can make ones own luck and accomplish the task. That I can’t help you with, but I can the first two, so variables, so let’s look at the flash requirements first.

TTL flash units will work well for static or relatively slow moving subjects when you are not concerned with stopping fast-moving action. While TTL flashes can indeed do so, the problem with TTL is that the flash duration will vary depending upon the f-stop used, the flash-to-subject distance, the ISO, and the subject’s reflectivity. Generally, a TTL flash will fire its fastest flash burst, or shortest flash duration, when the flash to subject distance is minimal, the ISO is high, the aperture is wide-open, and the subject is light-toned. Conversely, a TTL flash will fire at its longest flash duration at the other extreme – maximum flash-to-subject distances, low
ISO, small aperture, and dark subjects.

For most high-speed flash work I need to pick a particular flash duration for the subject’s requirements and I can’t rely on the guesswork or assumptions required with TTL. For example, I recently photographed periodical cicadas in flight where an extremely brief flash duration was required. I used six old Nikon SB units set on Manual Mode at a 1/64th power ratio, giving me about a 1/30,000th sec flash duration. For another project, involving avian jet fighters also known as barn swallows, I used a powerful, custom built flash system that offered a 1/25,000th flash duration with a high guide number, enabling an f22 aperture with a flash-to-subject distance of four feet. Normally, the faster the flash duration, thus the lower the Power Ratio, the lower the guide number, which means you’ll need to be fairly close to your subject if you’re going for depth of field.

Perhaps it is possible to catch a diamondback rattlesnake’s strike mid-way, or the flight of a cicada as it passes into focus, or a barn swallow as it rockets through a window opening. Perhaps, but I know I can’t do it unassisted, but I can with a camera-tripping device that fires my camera automatically when a subject trips the system. And so, that is what I use.


The device I use is called a Phototrap, a custom-built camera or flash tripping mechanism made by an ingenious inventor in Arizona. The Phototrap emits a beam, an infrared beam comes standard, that, when broken or reflected back to the sensor trips a circuit that fires either a camera or a flash.

This sounds pretty straightforward but there’s a hitch, and that’s the mechanical delay inherent in virtually all digital cameras, thus a subject can break the beam and be passed a point of focus before the camera fires. In a way this problem is similar to an automatic door opener – the door must open at the right time, otherwise one could go crashing into a still closed door. With a camera and Phototrap, the shutter must be open at the right time, when the subject is at the right plane of focus.

Unfortunately there is no set formula for compensating for this lag time, which varies from camera to camera but generally incorporates about a 50ms delay. While that delay is a constant, your subject’s speed of travel will vary by the species, or even by the individual, so some trial and error is required. Fortunately, though, with digital this experimentation, this trail and error required to get the timing right, costs only time and effort, unlike in film days when the cost of developing and the time involved while film is sent off for processing made this chore quite painful.

Once the lag time for your camera and the distance traveled by your subject is determined, using the Phototrap becomes quite straightforward. The trap works on three different modes, one of which will best suit your needs for a particular subject. In mode one, an infrared transmitter is placed at A and the receiver at B, where anywhere in the line of sight between these two points a passing subject will trip the Phototrap and fire your camera. This method works well for animal trails, burrows, or even flight paths where your camera coverage area will incorporate most of the distance between A and B. Unfortunately, though, a subject right next to the receiver or transmitter will trip the system as well, and thus may be out of the frame.
The second mode uses the subject’s reflectivity to help trip the beam, and this method also makes for rather precise framing. The transmitter and receiver are placed at right angles to one another, thus the receiver can not ‘see’ the transmitter. However, when a subject passes at the right angle point – the bend in the elbow, so to speak, it reflects light back to the receiver and the camera fires. The beauty of this method is a subject will not fire the camera if it passes too close to either the receiver or transmitter, but will only fire when its at the ‘sweet spot’ at the elbow where its reflection will return to the receiver.

The third mode is similar, in a way, in that the transmitter and receiver are placed side-by-side, attached by a Velcro strip. The beam passes into air space where a passing subject reflects the infrared beam back to the receiver. This works up to around two meters, but it’s the perfect option for catching birds flying to a feeder or a nest hole since everything can be triggered from one position, thus not compromising a bird’s air space.

Using the Phototrap is great fun, and I honestly believe I could probably spend all of my life in the area around my home just working subjects in this manner, catching high-speed flash action shots. While the initial work in setting up can be a bit time-consuming, and even frustrating, once everything is in place the system runs itself. When I was working the barn swallows I’d visit the barn two or three times a day, either to change 8 gb cards or to change the batteries on my flash. I was free to do other things, including working on other photo projects, but at the end of the day I had a collection of shots I never dreamed I’d ever see. That’s a nice feeling!

About the Author - Joe McDonald has written 7 books on wildlife and digital nature photography (see some of them below). He is a multiple winner of the prestigious BBC contest and he and his wife Mary run workshops and photo tours in wildlife photography (specializing in East Africa) - you can contact them via email at or visit them online at