The Summer of 2011 (Connor Stefanison)

The exciting thing about being young and fairly new to photography, is the amount of new photographic knowledge learnt each year. We go into each  year with a new set of  skills, and in return, I’m sure we all see vast improvements in our images. 

This past spring, I was lucky enough to earn a spot on the NANPA College Scholarship program (thank you Gabby for the nomination letter!). This was an amazing program which allowed me to develop my skills, meet other young nature photographers, and obtain a different mindset about nature photography. I highly suggest applying for either the highschool or college program in 2013. Since I signed up for a summer semester at school, I didn’t think I’d have much time for photography, but this was not to be the case!

During May, June, and July  I took three long-weekend family vacations to various lakes in the interior of British Columbia. The main targets on these trips were Loons, Grebes, and various other birds. On one of the trips, Jess Findlay and myself found a Great-grey Owl nest, which was a fairly rare find, and was one of our most unique photo experiences we’ve had. July was a very poor month for weather in BC, so overall it wasn’t very productive. 

In August, Jess and I went to visit Bertie Gregory on Vancouver Island, where he was a deckhand on a Bear watching boat. The three of us were allowed to take the companies small zodiac boat around the remote coastal passages in search of wildlife. We had an extremely good trip since the tides were low during good light. We photographed species such as, Black Bear, Bald Eagle, Harbour Seal, Great Blue Heron, Black Oystercatcher, Common Murre, River Otter, and best of all, a Coastal Grey Wolf pack! Photographing the wolves was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, as well as a 5.5 foot encounter with a yearling black bear. I then went back to the Island two weeks later, but didn’t have much luck since the tides were low during bad light.

To finish off the summer, I went on a day hike with some friends in search of Ptarmigan. We didn’t end up finding any, but we took a few landscapes images. We then hiked 1.5 hours down the mountain in the dark and rain!

Overall, the summer of 2011 was my favorite summer for photography yet. I can only hope that the summer of 2012 will be half as good!

thanks for reading,
Connor Stefanison

My Post Processing Secret

Beautyberry Bush

Beautyberry Bush

There are a lot of post processing techniques out there, but I prefer to use the ones that are quick and simple. In my opinion, if an image takes more than 2 minutes to edit in the digital darkroom, you most likely made a mistake in the initial capture. I actually like making those mistakes, because it gives me a chance to learn from them. Now back to editing. I shoot RAW’s, so my initial editing is done in ACR, and then goes to Photoshop CS5. Once my image comes into ACR, I immediately hit the blacks slider. You don’t need to blast them, rather give the image only 6-10%. Now of course the percentage will change with the photograph, but that is my base range of Blacks that I will use. Now, what do the blacks do? Well I can tell you that they make the photograph a whole lot better, but I can’t tell you exactly what it does technically. You will have to try it yourself to find out!

To view more of my work, please visit my personal blog at:

Rear Sync Flash

Small patches of fall color are starting to appear hear in Clare, Michigan. I have yet to get any stunning fall color images but these leaves have allowed me to experiment and prefect various techniques for capturing these marvelous colors when they present themselves. One technique which I’ve been using heavily is rear sync flash combined with long exposures. Rear sync flash makes the flash fire at the end of the exposure freezing whatever the flash is lighting. By moving the camera during exposure it makes the background blurred from the camera movement while keeping the foreground subject sharp. Spinning the camera moving it vertically or horizontally can create smooth painterly background while the flash keeps the leaves sharp. This technique can be applied to a variety of situations. I use this for wedding receptions to freeze dancers while making the background a colorful blur. This can also be used to light wildlife in low light. This makes the animal sharp while blurring the subjects movement. This allows you to keep skittish wildlife pin sharp even in very low light or if the subject is moving. Flash extenders may be needed to proper the light far enough when using long lens such as 300-800mm. I hope to play with this technique more as more leaves begin to show there vibrant and stunning hues.

– Ryan Watkins (check out more how to articles, posts, and images at or on flickr)

Tips for Shooting Handheld




Here in Clare, Michigan I’m still patiently waiting for the best of the fall colors. I’ll hopefully have some new images to share with you soon. In the meanwhile here are some helpful tips for shooting handheld.


Using a tripod will usually result in the sharpest possible imagery, but tripods aren’t always practical. In these situations we need to find the way to steady our cameras without our tripods. When using longer lenses on your DSLR putting one hand under the lens and another on the grip of your camera will result in the best images. Gripping the camera very tightly can result in blurry images. Letting the camera rest in your hands comfortably is your best bet. Bracing your elbows on car windows, stumps, or anything else you can find greatly increases the probability of getting a sharp image. The above image of an elk in Banff, Alberta won’t have been sharp if I hadn’t braced by arms a stump. Try to avoid shooting with longer shutter speeds than the reciprocal of the lens focal length your shooting with. For example try not to shoot using shutter speeds longer than 1/300s of a second when shooting with a 300mm lens. Vibration reduction or image stabilization can be very helpful when shooting handheld. Some lenses allow you to shoot at three stops longer shutter speeds than lens lacking this feature. Using these techniques can help you get sharp images in less than ideal situations.


– Ryan Watkins (to read more articles and view more of my images visit or find me on flickr)

Creating Pleasing Blurs

Birch Tree Blur

Birch Tree Blur

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are starting to change and the temps are dropping. This is my favorite time of year, despite the fact that it signals the end of summer. Once peak color arrives, the photographic possibilities will be endless. This time of year allows me to get my creative juices flowing, as you can’t create a bad photograph with these magnificent colors. One of my favorite things to do is create pleasing blurs. A Pleasing blur is created when you slow the shutter speed down just enough to create a nice blurring motion. I like to keep my shutter speed between 1 second and 1/40th of a second. I always love doing blurs with birch trees. Their white trunk really stands out against the vibrant colors and become the subject of the photograph. A vertical blur works best with birch trees, as shown in the photo above.

Fall Colors Zoom Blur

I enjoy creating zoom blurs when there is a jumble of colors. While using the same shutter speed formula, I zoom the lens as the shutter is open. this gives the photo a “tunnel look” and drags your eye into the frame. You can make a pleasing lbur with pretty much anything. The key is to have a long enough shutter drag and non-contrasty colors. I guarantee your results will be amazing!

To view more of my work, please visit my personal blog at

Small scale silhouettes

Over the summer I have hardly removed my macro lens from my camera. Bugs, beetles and butterflies were out in abundance. Passing any patch of long  grass I could hear it humming with crickets and grasshoppers. Dragonflies and damselflies could be spotted dancing over ponds, their wings glimmering as they caught the sunlight and  wildflowers contributed splashes of colour everywhere from meadows to roadside verges.

Since my usual location has been cleared for development I have had to look elsewhere to photograph insects. This year a field a short walk away from me which is usually used to graze horses has been left to turn into a wildflower meadow. The horses have been relocated (possibly due to the abundance of ragwort which is poisonous to them) and now the field is a haven for all manner of creatures. Pockets of land that are not being used for agricultural purposes or otherwise being earmarked by developers are becoming increasingly rare.  Vehicles roar down the busy dual carriageway that runs parallel to the field. Over the traffic the yellow arches of McDonalds glow at the mouth of an industrial estate. Twenty years ago the industrial estate was marshland where my father and elder sister used to go birdwatching.

A public right of way runs right through the middle of the field though it is hardly, if ever, used. The majority of the tracks that weave through the waist high meadow are made by foxes.  Indentations in the tall grasses reveal where they have pounced for prey.  I happened across a couple of voles laying awkwardly in the depressed grass.  Wasp spiders have found a little oasis here too. They build their webs low in the long grass to catch grasshoppers and crickets. Grasshoppers scattered in all directions as I trod tentatively through the field. It did not take long for the spiders to fatten up.

Most insects usually wake slightly later than mammals and birds as the temperature begins to rise, though it is always worth being out at dawn. At this time of day most insects will be lethargic and therefore easier to approach. On clear summer mornings there is also usually a sprinkling of dew which if photographed backlit will add some sparkle to your images.

Recently I have been experimenting with backlighting in my macro images. At first I used a home-made reflector made from a piece of stiff card with golden paper (crinkled to bounce the light more evenly) stuck onto it. It was quite effective but lately I have left the reflector at home to concentrate on silhouettes. Shooting backlit I feel,  lends a more natural and slightly ethereal feel to images.

Getting the Most from Fall Colors


One of my favorite times of the year for nature photography is coming up very soon: autumn. For some the fall color’s prime is just a few days away; for others there are still a few weeks till their peak. Finding creative ways to showcase the beauty of autumn is always a challenge whether you’re shooting in an iconic location or just in your backyard. If the colors are out in full grander incorporating this color into wide landscape images or shooting reflections of the leaves in the water can be very rewarding. Last year in mid-Michigan the colors were very splotchy. This meant I had to find small pockets of areas with stunning color and emphasize on them. These patches were ideal for macros and intimate landscapes like in the above image. Finding the right leaf and using it for a subject or even foreground interest is critical in getting the best possible fall imagery. Instead of just documenting the color change we can also embrace out inner Jackson Pollock and create abstracts with these stunning colors. Experimenting with long exposures in combination with camera movements, zooming, double exposures, or a combination of several of these techniques can create stunning imagery which focuses on color, shape, and texture. When editing you’re fall images be careful not to boost the saturation or vibrance to high which can result into unrealistic over processed photos. Hopefully over the next month I’ll be able to share with you some new fall images of mine!

– Ryan Watkins (to see more posts and images visit or Ryan Watkins Photography on Flickr)

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