Monday, June 11, 2012

Wild Flowers

Wild Iris in Oregon Woods

Wild Flowers in Walla Walla Vineyard

Spring brings wildflowers.  Flower shots usually fall into the category of "macro" or "close-up" photography. Many digital cameras, both the point and shoot variety and more advanced models have pre-settings for close ups. For the more advanced cameras there are specialized macro lenses available.  If flowers, mushrooms, bugs, etc. are your photo thing macro lenses are good investments. Check your camera and camera manual for the presence of close-up features.

If you find yourself in a field of wildflowers there are several ways to capture the moment.

First, take pictures from the edge of the field. These should have a well defined foreground that is in focus. Experiment by focusing on a near-by flower. Then vary the f-stop. Start with a wide open stop that will give a narrow depth of field, such as 3.5 or 5.6. Then work your way up to a closed down stop that will give a deep depth of field. Compare the results and see what you like. Remember, in all my suggested experiments I am working to help you define "your" style. Both the wide open and closed down stops may yield great results. The wide open stop will isolate the focused upon flower by fuzzing out the backdrop. The closed down stop will have more in focus and more closely resemble what you saw.

One of the major problems with taking wildflower and garden flower shots is the wind. If it is a nice still day there may be little movement in the flowers and it may be possible to wait for those quiet moments when nothing is moving. However, we usually are not that lucky. This is where you ISO setting comes in. On a windless day you may be able to shoot at an ISO of about 200. When the breeze is breezing you will have to step up the ISO to 500 to 2000 in order to get the shutter speed fast enough to stop the action of the flowers in motion. In the old days of film this would have been a major problem because as the ISO of the film increased the grain of the film increased in size and the print became grainy. With the digital cameras the impact of increasing the ISO is relatively minor - so go ahead and try those once outrageous ISO settings of 1000 to even 5000.

Of course movement in the camera is also a problem. The easiest way to deal with this is to use a tri-pod or a mono-pod. A camera or lens that has the "image stabilization" feature can be most beneficial for hand held shots. Using the image stabilization feature on a mono-pod can be very good and not as difficult as carrying about as a tri-pod. This is also were a very short tri-pod or mono-pod can be very useful.

The most common problem I see is where the top half (or bottom half) of the flower is in focus and the other half is not. This is usually because the face of the flower and the face of the lens are not parallel. Thus, the distance to the top half of the flower is different than the distance to the bottom half of the flower. The solution is to tilt the camera such that the plane of the face of the flower and the plane of the face of the lens are parallel. Sometimes you cannot get low enough to use your viewfinder, so you again have to experiment. Hold the camera down to the level of the face of the flower, tilt the camera to the plane of the face of the flower and shoot. Bring the camera screen up to viewing level and see what you have. Adjust how you place the camera and shoot again - and maybe again - and maybe again. Having that fantastic shot of the forest floor wildflower is well worth the extra two or five minutes this might take. It is helpful when doing this to mark the spot you had the camera by putting a coin or a stick on the ground.

Also, with wildflowers do not be satisfied with taking just mug shots. Try a profile shot, one from above and one from below. Try taking the flower's backside. Try to have the flower back lit - in a pinch a friend with an adjustable beam type flashlight can provide the back lighting. This can be especially effective if there is a bug on the flower. Also, nature does not always supply us with dew. So, find a small mister and make your own. Oh, heavens forbid - pish posh. You are creating art and memories. Just do not hurt the flower or the surrounding eco structures in your quest for art. Especially do not pick wildflowers - in many places this is highly illegal and may be subject to fines of up to $1,000. It is always in bad taste to pick wildflowers. There is an exception in many places. Students may obtain a permit to pick a limited number of wildflowers if they are involved in a school science project. Check with the Park Rangers.

Venture into the field and take portraits of individual flowers and family shots or groups of flowers. The same advice holds. However, one caution. Watch where you step and do no damage to living plants. Rocks make excellent stepping stones.

Also, do not take only close-up shots.  Why?  Many wildflowers look much alike.  If you have an expert friend helping you to identify the flower they will need to see the entire plant and even the micro eco system that is about the wildflower.  This will increase your "market" for the images because while the close-up shots are dramatic the broader shots have their own charm.  Uniform lighting is a challenge and hot spots destroy many good shots.  Do not be afraid to shade the entire flower or plant.  Or, if you want to get very fancy, shade the plant and then use a silver or white reflector to increase the light on the flower.

Lastly, if you want to practice check out your local public rose garden or horticultural center.   A number of flower growers and greenhouses will let photographers roam.  Portland, Oregon has four magnificent public rose gardens. And many communities, such as Walla Walla, have very nice gardens and horticultural displays.  Of course there are fields of wildflowers in the Walla Walla Valley.

Hope this is helpful.  Please feel free to comment, to add your own suggestions and to help others find fields of wildflowers.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Photographing Events

Title "Professor Riley"

Blogger Note:  Being a trained and experienced journalist has an impact on my style.  I blog in the inverted pyramid format.  This puts the most important elements up front, with the least important items at the end.  This is a matter of editorial and reader efficiency.  If an editor has to shorten an article, the editor simply cuts from the bottom.  If the reader wants only the heart of the story, the reader stops reading when they know all that they want to know.  Thus, at a point in my blog entries where I feel the basics are covered I may say,” If this turns your crank, read on.”


 Events range from graduations to sporting events, and beyond.

First, do your homework, go to the library.  Find magazines or books that specialize in reporting on the type of event you want to shoot.  Go through these and pick out the images that most appeal to you.  Copy a set of these images to make up your personal event “assignment” booklet.  Then think about how you get into position for these shots.

Second, as you look at your assignment booklet, think about the classification of shot.  Is it a full field shot – such as half court in basketball or the whole stage at graduation?  Is it a limited action shot – such as two opposing basketball players or the graduate shaking hands with the dean?  Is it an up close and personal shot - such as the face on only one player or a portrait of the smiling graduate?  Again, do some pre-planning and think about how you will get these images.

Third, consider your equipment.  For this type of shooting I strongly suggest a camera with viewfinder that you put your eye up to.  This works best for action shooting and it interferes the least with those around you.  Holding the camera out from your face to view screen on the back of the camera blocks the view and photo opportunities for others.  Also, held out from the body  the camera is less steady and may produce blurry shots.  You do not need a fancy camera to shoot events.  The camera can be a point and shoot or an expensive professional unit with interchangeable lenses.  However, it is good to have the image stabilization feature and a zoom lens.  If available it is nice to have settable ISO, shutter speed and f-stop.  Also, you may want to consider using a mono-pod.  I jokingly call a mono-pod a one legged tri-pod.  The mono-pod is most useful for long events where you must keep the camera up and at the ready for extended periods.  It is also considerate in that it does not extend the space you are taking up.  Basically it reduces or eliminates the camera shake that come with holding the camera up, or, in my case, age.

Fourth, suggested camera settings for the shoot.  Most events involve action.

Thus, you want a fast shutter speed.  On some cameras you can set the shutter speed and the camera sets the other settings.  You can also get a faster shutter speed by increasing the ISO, or what we once called film speed.  Unlike film with a digital camera there is no dramatic decrease in image quality with increased ISO.  Do not be afraid of ISOs of 1000 or higher.  The higher the ISO, the faster the shutter.  Also, if you are shooting inside you may use a high ISO to avoid using a flash.  At many events flashes are not appreciated or are banned.  Also, you can increase shutter speed by using a low number f-stop.  In order to increase shutter speed and eliminate busy details from the background I suggest an f-stop of 8 or lower.  Often 5.6 or lower is even better for this purpose.  The low number f-stops decrease the depth of field – the further a portion of the  image  is from the subject upon which you focused the more fuzzy that part of the image.  Thus, busy and distracting backgrounds may be blurred.

If this subject turns your crank, read on.

One of the most useful strategies I find for shooting events is to know the event well enough to know where the action is going to take place.  When I shot water polo and soccer I could see the action moving towards a point where a dramatic shot was possible.  Rather than follow the players I would pre-focus on the probable point of action and fire off a shot or a burst of shots when the players first entered the viewfinder.  Shooting quickly gave me a shot with the players going into the frame.  If I waited until they were in the middle of the frame, given reaction time for me and camera, I would miss the shot.  If you use the burst of shots options, shoot a burst as the subject first enters the frame and do not stop until the subject has left the frame.  You will get a nice action sequence, which probably includes the image you were attempting to capture.

On individual shots is where a zoom lens comes into play.  Adjust the zoom to get your full field, limited action or up close and personal shot.  In other words, use the zoom feature to frame your image.  I tend to get zoomed in really tight or leave a little extra in the frame about the subject.  I leave the little extra so that I may crop the image in my computer for improved composition.  This allows you to keep the focal point in the center of the image.  Put the focal point on the action and click away.   This can result in poor composition, but is the fastest way to shoot.  Leaving a little space around the subject allows you to use the computer to compose the final image.

Another dramatic action technique is panning.  This uses an opposing strategy.  Instead of using a fast shutter speed one uses a slow shutter speed such as 1/25th or 1/15th of a second.  Instead of pre-focusing on the action spot one puts the subject, such as a runner, in the middle of the frame and moves the camera such that the subject stays in the middle of the frame.  Then one fires off shots with the camera moving.  Doing this the body of the subject is in fairly good stop action with arms and legs showing blurred action – and, more importantly the background is blurred in a way that indicates action.  I have used this for shooting subjects such as runners, soccer players, race cars and go carts.

Another suggested technique is to set the camera for a fast shutter speed and a medium dept of field with an f-stop of 5.6 or 8.  Then follow the action with the camera and shoot when you see what you want to capture.  Again, keep the subject in the center of the viewfinder and shoot away.  If your camera has the view screen on the back, check your results.  If you are not getting enough stop action, increase your ISO or decrease the f-stop number or both.

Title "I love you mommy"

Finally, pay attention to the height of the camera.  Basically, if possible, get the lens to the level of the action.  If you are shooting a youth sports or a dog show bring the camera down to the head or chest level of the subject.  In doing this you will better capture emotion in facial expressions and you will eliminate the distortion caused by shooting down upon the subject.  This is why you often see professional sports photographers kneeling on the sidelines for field sports such as football or soccer.  This is why portrait studios have elevated stages for shooting children and small critters.  Note that some pro sports photographers, with their heavy zoom lenses, use the monopod.

I hope  this is helpful.

J. Franklin Willis, Photographic Artist of Walla Walla, Washington

Friday, January 20, 2012

New You Tube Channel for Blue Mountain Photo Club of Walla Walla, WA

I have put up a You Tube Channel for the Blue Mountain Photo Club of Walla Walla, Washington.  On a reqular basis it will feature the club's monthly EID Competition entries. This starts with our January 2011 competition, which is currently avaialble.   If you would like to see a brief music highlighted video slide show of some great images please subscibe to this channel.

I hope you find our competitions enjoyable.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Around each bend of the road, over each crest of a hill potentially lies a scene that begs to be painted, drawn, photographed or just enjoyed. The country roads surrounding Walla Walla that extend into the Walla Walla Valley of Southeastern Washington and Northeastern Oregon hold so, so many visual treasures. Vistas plead to be enjoyed. Classic barns and farmsteads remind us of our rural roots.

The secret is to not to jump out of the car, snap a quick picture and jump back into the car. The secret is to stop and take in the details, inhale the fresh air and soak up the ambiance. Often, there are wild flowers at your feet and a careful scanning of the vista may reveal a deer, fox, coyote or colorful songbird. Be still for a few minutes and you may hear the songbirds. Also, harvest, cultivation or planting may be in process. Outstanding agricultural practices in The Valley result in complex crop patterns. Even at time of harvest, such as is pictured here, these patterns weave sweeping patterns across the landscape. Take a box lunch and find a place to enjoy a respite from your busy pace.

This scene was captured about ten miles north east of Walla Walla. To capture these patterns it is suggested you employ a digital camera with a wide angle lens. This can be a simple point and shoot, or a complex professional camera. I use both. Also, for such scenes a polarizing filter is very useful to bring out the details in a dramatic sky and take the reflected glare off a tin roof. This scene was captured with an 18 to 200 zoom lens set at the 18 setting. The polarizing filter brought out the sky. I used a medium f-stop of 16 in order to get good depth of field. On a point and shoot camera use the scenic mode setting to gain the depth of field. I tend to use a tri-pod, but good results can be had hand holding.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Capturing Snowy Scenes

The image above was captured in Walla Walla's Pioneer Park. The snow laden trees lie on the east shore of the park's south pond. Walla Walla park is one of my favorite sites because of the great variety of landscapes, structures and sculptures within the park. It is a great spot for artistic shots and people shots. A good number of senior portraits and wedding announcement pictures are taken there.

In general snow scenes, white sand dunes and birch trees against a dark forest can result in just amazing images. I wish I could pass along a hard fast rule for capturing such images. However, I can only pass along some suggestions because each scene can be so different to your camera's eye - light meter and internal software.

In situations such as these the camera's light meter is typically overwhelmed. As a result the camera sets the exposure to bring all that bright white to a nice neutral grey. The camera shuts down the f-stop to limit the light reaching the image capture plane. Thus, often the highlights become grey and what our eye sees as grey becomes black. So what we do in these situations is to open up the f-stop to allow in more light so that the detail is not lost. However, because a bright sunny day and a snow sky day require different corrections there is no hard and fast rule as to how far to open up the f-stop.

As is usual for me, I recommend experimenting. As you experiment you will learn and develop a sense of how to set the +/- setting on your camera given different conditions. First, take a sample set of images. Start with the camera's automatic setting. Then, using the +/- setting, start changing the f-stop a third or half f-stop at a time. Start one under (-). Then move in the positive direction one third or one half f-stop at a time. Take a set of 6 images. Review the images on the little screen on the back of your camera. This will not give you a detailed set of images, but it will give you a firm indication of how much detail you are capturing. The detail in the image is what you are trying to capture. So if you have significant areas that are blown out, white with no detail, the f-stop has been opened up too far. If you have significant areas that are black with no detail, the f-stop has not been opened up far enough. Now you can set the +/- setting to the level that gave the best results. I also suggest, if you camera has the capability, to automatically bracket each scene. I use a +/- bracket of .7. There are two reasons for doing this. First, seemingly slight differences in the lighting of the scene can result in unacceptable results. Automatically bracketing is like buying a little travel insurance policy. Second, you may want to take your images into an HDR, High Definition Resolution, process. HDR combines several images in a way that brings out the details in both the highlights and the shadows. This results in an image more like what your eye saw. There are several good HRD computer programs on the market. I currently use Photomatrix. If you are shooting for HDR processing I suggest using a tri-pod or a mono-pod in order to lessen or eliminate the slight variation in content of the bracketed images. I have achieved acceptable results by tucking my elbows in, holding my breath and, if available, leaning against a tree. Using the in-lens stabilization feature can also be a help. To do this all you do not have to have a $2000+ camera. Many of the new relatively inexpensive point and shoots have the +/- and automatic bracketing features.

If you are shooting in an area where the lighting significantly changes from view to view, I suggest repeating the process for each. The difference, on the same day, from an area in the sunlight to an area in the shade can be enough to undo all your hard work. It only takes a couple of minutes to take the bracketed shots in order to figure out your base +/- setting.

The other challenge in these scenes is where to place the focus point for the camera's auto focus. If there are multiple objects in the scene, focus on an object that is nearer to you. Why? The area in focus typically is shorter coming towards you than it is going away from you. If there is one object that is the subject of the image, focus on that object. If there are no objects that you want to be the point of interest, set your focus point about one third of the way from the bottom of the image. If you want great depth of field I suggest using a tri-pod or mono-pod and an f-stop of 11 to 64. An f-stop of 11 to 16 usually does a very nice job.

One last hint, dress warmly and pay particular attention to feet, hands and head. Water tight high footwear, warm gloves or mittens and a good stocking cap are recommended if you are going to be out in the elements. I carry an emergency kit in my car that contains cold weather survival gear. Never had to use it, and hopefully I never will need it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

New to Me Software - Topaz Re-Mask

I Love You Mommy

One Proud Fellow

One of the most difficult tasks in photo manipulation is isolation.  Once an object within an image is isolated the image of the object may be transferred to a new backdrop.  The originals of the above images featured cluttered, very unattractive backdrops.  In the past I was getting poor results in attempting to isolate part of an image.  Many times simply blurring out the backdrop was not enough to achieve the desired results.

My good friend Bob advised that I try Topaz's Re-Mask plug-in.  I watched their tutorials and marketing materials.  I was skeptical, even with Bob's recommendation.  Well, I am very pleased with the results.  I found the plug-in filter relatively easy to use.  As I learn more about Re-Mask I assume my results will improve - but, these are not bad at all.

The Topaz Re-Mask software may be used to isolate a wide variety of objects within an image.  Trees, tree lines and the like may be isolated.  The software will isolate even individual strands of flying hair.  The most amazing demonstration to me was preserving the see-through quality of a bride's veil.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Tourism Walla Walla Blog Posting

I have just posted a new entry on the Tourism Walla Walla blog. This new entry deals with the over 50 commissioned sculptures in public view in the greater Walla Walla area. It also talks about how to capture images of sculptures. However, basically I lay out a plan to find one's own style by experimentation. Hope you enjoy. You may find this entry at 

To see the photographic lesson be sure to click the "Read More" button.

To learn more about Walla Walla, please go to this site.  Jim

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New You Tube Video - Walla Walla, The Tour Begins Here

I have launched a new You Tube video. It is called "Walla Walla, The Tour Begins Here". It is actually a video that was a joint venture about two years ago. It has been used by the city, the Downtown Foundation, the Community College and myself. It has been on another channel, with over 4,200 hits to-date. It is now also on my channel.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy. You can find it at

Most of these images were captured using a tri-pod and either a wide or macro lense.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New You Tube Channel and Posting

Liverpool Remembered Red Rose in Stained Glass Digital Art Form

I have established a You Tube Channel and put up my first video which is titled "Stained Glass Roses." It is a digital art show featuring my images of red roses which have been transformed to appear as stained glass windows. You can find it at

I put the music at a low volume, so you may have to turn your volume up.  I hope you enjoy and please pass it along to those who enjoy either roses or digital art.

I usually share the how of images, but my Stained Glass Rose series is an exception.  It took me over two days to figure out the how of transforming a red rose to look like a stained glass window so I consider that one a trade secret.  However, once you have seen the image you may be able to do something close with images of your own.

Please consider becoming a follower of either my blog or my You Tube channel.

With respect and aloha, Jim Willis
aka: J. Franklin Willis Photographic Artist

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Still Life - Sculptures

A Delicate Balance by Wayne Chabre and Jeanne McMenemy

For the most part my preferences in sculptures favor whimsical and art deco.  Why?  My preferences do not have a lot to do with formal art education, since there is next to none of that on my resume.  I like what I like.

Anyway, "A Delicate Balance" by Wayne Chabre and Jeanne McMenemy located at Main and Palouse in Walla Walla is one of my favorites.  When I spoke with Wanyne about it I asked if it was about the "Which came first riddle?"  He asked why I asked.  I told him that all the little kids who saw my picture of the sculpture asked me that question.  He laughed and said, "The kids are the only ones who truly get it."

To me it is whimsical and not relevant, but very thought provoking.  To get this image I had to lay down on the sidewalk next to the building closest to the sculpture, tilt the camera and use a medium f-stop to get the sculpture in focus and fuzz out the tree across the street.  Why lay on the sidewalk?  Well, the buildings, stop lights, cars and people in the backdrop were all distracting.  Other downtown favorites of mine include "Matilda on Her Way to Market" by Nano Lopez, "The Thinker" by Ralph Tretheway and "Thoughts Discovered" by Brad Rude.  For each image I had to try several different views in order to get it "right" for me and my note card collection.

When I suggest taking so many images from what seems like every possible view I am looking to help folks develop and define their personal style.  After a number of such "thousand image shoots" folks will start to see what they like and take fewer images.  However, never give up experimenting because you may discover a different view that works for you or you may have a unique artistic flash associated with the subject.  So capturing still life, in the form of sculptures, is like taking pictures of the classic cars at a show and shine.  If possible circle the sculpture taking many shots from various camera elevations.  Vary the f-stop to make the backdrop crystal clear or fuzz it out.  Think about over and under exposing to achieve the most dramatic impact.  Also, if you use HDR take bracketed shots, process and admire the increased detail and seemingly 3D effect HDR may offer.  Also, think about framing just a part of the sculpture.

As always, have fun.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

 Jim's 1959 Austin Healy Bug Eye Sprite

I love going to the Show and Shine car shows, especially the one here in Walla Walla.  Wheelin' Walla Walla is this coming weekend.   Barring a real downpour my Bug Eye will join over 400 other classic cars.  Why would rain interfere?  The Bug Eye was designed as a poor man's sports car.  It had a rag top, yet to be added to mine.  There was no boot lid (trunk lid to us Yanks).  It had no outside door handles and it had no roll-up side windows.  It did have rack and pinion steering, wishbone suspension and a hot little 948cc engine.  Mine has been restored to nearly original.  The front brakes have been replaced with disk brakes.  The engine is from a later model and has a few more ccs.  I also added a real roll bar.  I picked it up as a pile of parts and the kids and I spent years putting it back together, hammering out the dings and searching for missing parts.  I wanted a big project the kids would remember doing with their Dad.  Many, many good memories for me - and hopefully for them.

Taking pictures of cars is a lot like taking pictures of children or small animals.  I find I get my most dramatic results when I get the camera down to the car's level.  Depending upon the impact I want, different camera heights ranging from a few inches off the pavement to windshield level (and a little higher) work.  Since film is so expensive in digital cameras, I recommend taking many images.  Start at the front with a dead-on grill shot.  Try at least three different camera heights.  Move to the left and do a series of shots with the image split between the grill and the fender.  Then do a profile series, always varying the height of the camera.  Move to the back corner and split the image between the side and the boot (trunk).  Then do a series from dead-on for the boot (trunk).  Continue working about the car in this fashion.  Why so many shots?  This is a way of finding out what shots work best for you.

Because in a Show and Shine the car is not moving you can typically hand hold, maybe using an ISO between 200 and 500 with an f-stop of 5.6 to 8.  The backdrop at a Show and Shine can be very distracting, so I find it is often worth the time investment to take my best shot and eliminate the clutter in the backdrop.  I often use a polarizing filter to take out reflections.  The other big thing is to get the entire car in the same light.  In the shadows or in the sunlight is good so long as the car is in all the way in the shadows or sunlight.  You may have to come early or stay late or come back to cars of particular interest.

Of course in a little car like the Bug Eye, getting a kid behind the wheel can be a great shot.

By the way, the Brits called them an Austin Healy Frog Eye Sprite.  The Bug/Frog Eye body design was only made for a few years.  The latter models shared a body design, and much more, with the MG Midget.  Thus, many who like these agile little sports cars refer to them as Spridgets.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Animals are another favorite subject of mine and I like images that bring a smile.  Included are my images of dogs wearing reading glasses, reading their favorite book.  However, alpacas are also a great subject.  Without props they bring a warmth to the moment.  Our good friends Jan and Cecilia have a farm with alpacas that are just natural born hams.

Jan & Cecilia say one of the best parts of having an alpaca farm is sharing. Every year they look forward to their Open Farm days when they invite the community to meet the crias and visit old alpaca friends.  This year the Open Farm is September 24 and 25, Saturday and Sunday.

At Wheatland Alpacas they have made a commitment to educate those new to the world of alpacas. They are hands-on owners who do the day-to-day care, management and training.  Breeding for temperament and conformation has been as high a priority as breeding for fiber quality. They take pride in knowing the alpacas personalities.  Prior to buying their first alpacas in 2003, they attended shows and handling workshops, read everything they could, visited farms, dreamt and planned for over 2 years. They feel honored by the confidence many local farms have in their ability to work with alpacas.  They are often called to help with birthing, shearing, and monitoring pregnant dams.

You are invited to visit Wheatland Alpacas at:
Jan Kruper & Cecilia McKean
2010 Stovall Road, Walla Walla, WA  99362     509 526-4847

Usually for animal images I use a tri-pod.  This works well for "studio" shots taken in my living room.  However, for outdoor shots, such as with the alpacas, I find a mono-pod works the best.  The mono-pod relieves the camera shake associated with hand holding while it is not be as restrictive as shooting from a tri-pod.  Mono-pods can be relatively inexpensive.   Mono-pods are also very good for shooting sports, especially youth sports.

The second hint for this type of shooting is to get the camera between chest and eye level of the subject in order to minimize the distorting caused my looking down at or looking up to the subject.  Also, I tend to use an ISO of about 400 with an f-stop between 5 and 8.  This tends to minimize the distracting detail in the backdrop and allow for a faster shutter speed.  Of course in the above case I used Photo Shop to isolate the alpaca and impose the animal upon a sky-like backdrop.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


I taught a class in photography for children at the YMCA.  I expected kids in grade school, maybe middle school.  Surprise!!!  The kids were kindergarten to third grade.  Talk about changing plans on the spot.  I could just see these little guys and gals nodding off if I talked about technical stuff.  So the class became an activity.  We started by talking about composition.  Then we took field trips to a construction site, the near-by Whitman College campus and just outside the Y.  I was shocked at how much these little guys and gals took in and applied.  Their pictures were outstanding.  They applied the rule of thirds, leading lines and symmetrical compositions.  Most had simple point and shoot cameras that were automated so that they did not have to worry too much about f-stop, shutter speed or ISO.

We also spent a couple of sessions inside.

First, we worked on people shots.  The kids brought hats, over sized glasses, capes and whatever suited their fancy.  It was well worth any price of admission.

Second, we worked on still life (which is a sneaky way to work on composition).  I asked the students if they knew what "still life" was.  One little gal responded that it is when the stuff does not move.  I told them that that was true and, basically, you took some junk, placed it on a table and took pictures.  I brought several boxes of props (junk), plus some veggies.  Then one of the Y staff brought down a big bunch of colorful flowers.  I set up nice satin backdrops.  They shot away.  The results were most pleasing.  They asked a lot of questions about composition as they applied the basics.  I found that they were good for two to three set-ups.  After that it was time to run outside and play a little pick-up soccer.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise was the comments of parents who said they were learning more about photography from their kids.  We also did an art show.  I printed up and mounted several images.  The images were displayed in our YMCA mini-gallery.  Folks kept saying the pictures were either taken by older kids or I had done a lot of Photo Shop work on them.  Both were false.  I would just point out the signatures on the pictures - you cannot fake the signature of a five to eight year olds.

It was great fun.

The still life above is mine.  It was taken with a maco lens at an f-stop of 16 and ISO of 200.  It is a tri-pod shot, with a cable release cord to control any camera shake.  The lighting is natural light coming in through an adjacent window.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Frosted Walla Walla Tall Barn and Wheat Stubble
digital painting

Frosted Tall Barn and Wheat Stubble

I like the creative power that comes with the computerized darkroom.  This "darkroom" allows me to reach beyond the limits of photography.  Some folks object, feeling that it is not legitimate unless a "painting" is created with canvas and brush.  I tend to reply to such comments that the first cave person who used color probably faced similar criticism.  Digital art is an art form.  I feel it is an excellent way for art students to learn by seeing how an image would appear given different techniques.  For the above image I took a photograph taken during a horror frost and processed it using Corel Painter 11.  I applied the palette knife brush.  The process took about eleven hours.

In our photographic competitions we have two classes in the Electronic Image category: Traditional and Creative.  In Traditional, typically, very little modification is done.  Sometimes the only modification is to crop the image so that it has better composition.  In Creative it is wide open and many digital tools are used.

Last weekend at the Walla Walla Farmers' Market I had a young couple who fell in love with one of my digital paintings.  They wanted to purchase the original "painting" and seemed very willing to pay a nice price.  It took awhile to explain that it was a digital painting and they were holding the "original".  They said they would have to think about it, but did not return.  On the digital paintings I think I need to make them all "limited editions" in order to enhance their marketability.  If I were a cheat I could have produced a print on canvas, signed it and called it an artist proof.  As long as I declared it a digital creation I guess that would not have been cheating.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Denali National Park River Crossing - Digital Art

One of the early summer days we were in Denali National Park included a snow storm and lots of subtle grey sky. Given I probably would not be back soon I went ahead and shot - and shot for HDR processing. This is an HDR that has been processed to black and white.  Once in the black and white image there are controls that allow one to bring color back into the image on a very controlled basis.  One can create an image that is like the old black and whites prints that were hand tinted with oil colors.  That look is what I attempted to achieve.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

You Cannot Judge a Book by Its Cover

You cannot judge a book by its cover.  This holds true for theatres and the plays housed within.  This is the entrance to Walla Walla's Power House Theatre which is one of two stages for our Shakespeare Walla Walla events.  The building is 120 years old and once was part of the gas and electric system.   To-date the investment in the Power House Theatre has been made on the inside.  Come and enjoy Shakespeare.  Come and enjoy a variety of fine productions.  Next up is "Marilyn: Forever Blonde" starring Sunny Thompson which plays from October 19 to October 30, 2011.

While you are here you may want to enjoy our award winning wines and the many enchanting scenes found in our Walla Walla Valley.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shakespeare Walla Walla

Shakespeare Walla Walla is a community effort.  This year we celebrated with the First Annual Walla Walla Summer Shakesphearian Festival covering two weeks on two stages featuring three plays with a total of 21 performances.  This year's plays included Swansong by Patrick Page,  Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors.  All were just excellent.  But it doesn't stop there.  Next up in the Power House Theatre is Marilyn: Forever Bonde starring Sunny Thompson.  Then Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory and The Tempest
Next year we are looking forward to a three week festival featuring four plays, plus more plays in the Power House Theatre.

Why is it a community effort?  Well, it is not a government project - although I am sure we would accept grants with no political strings attached.  The community has raised the money and is, in my opinion as an economist and business analyst, spending it wisely.

Rather than establish a resident troupe Walla Walla Shakespeare brings in professionals from established troups.  "Our" Shakespeare plays have been performed by the Seattle Shakespeare Company.  During the performances the actors and staff stay with Walla Walla families.  Great friendships are being formed.  Also, the actors are active in our local schools.  The Walla Walla Shakespeare Education Program worked with 1,600 ninth and seventh graders in 57 local classrooms.  Walla Walla Shakespeare also collaborated with Walla Wall Parks and Recreation to add a Shakespeare Summer Camp for youth.

 The existing outdoor theatre at Fort Walla Walla is used for outdoor plays.  Then the 120 year-old Gas Plant/Powerhouse is in the on-going process of being converted to the Power House Theatre.  Both have been used sucessfully.  For the Power House Theatre the work to-date has been to bring the interior up to standard.  The Power House is very close in dimensions to the Blackfriars Playhouse which William Shakespeare and others purchased in 1608.  Unlike the public open amphitheaters the Blackfriars had a roof and catered to the wealthy.  A ticket cost 2d, double the cost of a ticket at the Globe.  We do not cater to the wealthy - our tickes are reasonably priced.

If you like Shakespeare, and other fine plays, think about Walla Walla.  While here you may want to do some wine tasting and fine dining.  Walla Walla features a number of premium wineries - almost all with tasting rooms.  Then there are the rural country roads where enchanting scenes wait to be caputed by your camera, pen or brush.

Of course if you are a supporter of the arts Walla Walla Shakespeare would be most happy to accept your support.  You may find out more about Shakespeare Walla Walla at  or direct questions to

Friday, August 5, 2011

Classic Red Barn in Winter

In and around Walla Walla barns provide a rich source of material.  It is difficult to travel down a Walla Walla Valley country road and not encounter picturesque scenes.  The challenge with taking pictures of  barns is to avoid the mug shot.  The solution is to employ classical composition in your image.  In the image above the "rule of thirds"composition has been applied.  To use the rule of thirds, divide your image into thirds both vertically and horizontally.  Note where the lines intersect, then place your subject at one of the intersections.  By doing so you have avoided the "mug" shot.  In this image the barn is located at the lower left intersection.  This allows the inclusion of the dramatic sky.  Since the cost of film and processing with digital cameras is zero, take a shot with the barn at each of the rule of thirds intersections.  If you are shooting with a zoom lens, such as the Nikon 18 to 200, zoom in and out on the barn.  Then pick the best shot.  If you are in the mode of high exploration, shoot bracketed series for HDR processing.

The rule of thirds is only one classical composition that may be applied to barns.  You might also try "leading lines" where some feature such as a road or stream leads up to the barn.  If there are elements of symmetry in the barn you might try placing the barn at dead center.  Find a barn and have fun experimenting.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Denali National Park Mountains Tinted HDR Black and White

One of the early summer days we were in Denali National Park included a snow storm and lots of subtle grey sky.  Given I probably would not be back soon I went ahead and shot  -  and shot for HDR processing.  This is an HDR that has been processed to black and white within my HDR software.  My new Photomatrix 4.1 software package not only provides a black and white option for processing, but once in the black and white image there are several slider controls that allow playing with the color saturation.  This allows one to bring color back into the image on a very controlled basis.  By playing with these sliders one can create an image that is like the old black and whites prints that were hand tinted with oil colors by artists.  Well, that look is what I attempted to achieve.

This is one of my favorite color shots - almost pure red.  It is a popular image that seems to be used as an accent in kitchens and dining areas.  The funniest thing about this image is folks ask me how long it took to arrange the raspberries.  I put my hands out as tough holding a tray of berries and make a shaking motion.  That is all I did, just dump the berries into a tray and shake them to level them out.

We have thorn less raspberries in the yard.  Our two-year old granddaughter loves to be outdoors and, like her Nana, loves to go barefoot.  This protects the berries from little hands because she cannot go on the barked area without shoes.  Well, the other day I am picking raspberries and she is out shoeless.  I looked over my shoulder and there she is at the side of the yard next to three little new blueberry plants.  She is leaning over happily picking and eating the berries.  I had to smile.  I had not told her "no pick" for those bushes so the berries were fair game.  She loves all the berries, which is such a good thing.  Beats candy treats.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thinking of Food

I like doing food shots, especially when there are bright colors and subtle hues.  These shots were combined for a friend's kitchen.  At Farmers' Market the food shots, which feature the vivid colors of our Northwest berries and fruits, tend to be good sellers.

When I went up to Tri-Cities to the airport there was a long wait before Dot's flight arrived.  So I had a dinner salad and a cup of French Onion Soup at Red Robin.  It was very busy and I was a single at a small table against the wall.  Across from me was a family gathering with a two to three year old little girl with her back to me.  Well, this little girl became concerned that I was alone, had no food and was hungry.  After awhile she turned and offered me half her hamburger.  I told her thank you, but my food was coming.  She said they needed to hurry because I was by myself and hungry.  Red Robin was extremely busy, so good service was taking a little time.  Well, a little later she turned and offered me some French fries.  Again I said thank you and assured her my food was on its way.  Her Dad smiled and assured her that I would be OK.  Again, she lamented that they needed to hurry.  When my food came she turned and beamed.  I hope this little girl maintains her concern for others.  She certainly made my day.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hot Summer Day at Ayres Landing

Ayre's Landing is at the very end of the road.  The road dead-ends at the Snake River where there is a railroad repair facility.  The facility includes the shops and a few occupied houses.  Then there are abandoned buildings like the one pictured.  This is an HDR image where bracketed images are combined to recover the details in the shadows and highlights.

On another note, I was picking edible pod peas in our garden today.  I kept hearing crunch, crunch, crunch.  I looked down and there was Riley, our West Highland White Terrier, picking the peas off the lower branches.  He only discovered the peas last week when our two-year old granddaughter gave him a couple.  Oh well, next year I will have to "fence" that little raised bed.  Riley really liked the peas and was feasting.  Our granddaughter likes the peas within the pods.  Thus, she will extract the peas and then give Riley the pod.

At least there is no waste.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Know What You Are Purchasing - Photo Art

This weekend I encountered a vendor selling matted prints priced below my cost of producing.  I did not venture into asking about the prints. However,  I suggest if you purchase photo art you ask some key questions.

To help with these questions I will describe my product:
  • Produced on top of the line Epson printers
  • Using Premium or Ultra Premium Epson papers
  • Using Epson inks
  • Mats are acid free
  • Backing materials are acid free
  • Mounting materials are acid free
I prefer Epson.  Canon and others offer quality printers and papers.  Also, there are some art papers that are as good as the Epson papers I use and which may be used on Epson and other fine printers.

There are many other cost factors to be considered.

I am not attempting to sell you my prints or cards.  Most of you live far too far away to see my work in Walla Walla.  I am hoping to eliminate some disappointment.  Poor printers, papers and inks result in prints that discolor and fade prematurely.  Instead of lasting decades, they may last months.

With respect and aloha, Jim Willis

Spotlight on Bee on Lavender

For bee, butterfly and insect shots I usually prefer to use my macro lens.  However, even with a 105 macro the critters can be too far away to get a nice close-up shot.  So, on a whim, I put on my 70 to 300 and cranked it up to 300.  I was very pleased with this shot.  I did use Photo Shop to highlight the bee by using the spotlight option.
Bennington Lake near Walla Walla in infrared on a hot summer day.  I like taking shots with dramatic skies - even though in formal competitive judging they can be marked down for having "too much sky".  Well, the only reason the earth is in such images is to give the sky something with which to relate.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Faux UFO in Walla Walla

I have had my old camera converted to infrared.  This is one of my first shots with the "new/old" camera.  The faux UFO is not imposed on the image.  However, it is not an UFO.  I am enjoying this new to me form of photography.  I have used some infrared film in the past, but it is very difficult with which to work and very expensive.  This digital form is much easire with which to work and the "cost" of film is zero after the conversion cost of the old camera.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Mt. McKinley Panorama in HDR

This image was captured on our way back to Ankorage.  It is a rare summer day when The Mountain comes out, which it did only two days of the week we spent at the Denali Educational Center.  To create this image required nine shots.  Three bracketed shots were taken of each left to right segment.  These were then HDR processed.  The three HDR images were then stitched together to create the panorama.  These nine shots were all hand held, which is unusual for me.  My tri-pod was already packed away for the flight back to Washington State.