Enough About Rules – Shoot What You Love

I’ve written a lot about photography and some basic rules – having your camera with you, thinking about light, keeping things steady – but the essence of what makes you grow as a photographer is showing passion in your images. I don’t care if you are shooting with your iPhone or with a full-frame Nikon with a 600mm 2.8 Prime – it’s all just images unless you bring something to or something out of the image. When you shoot something you are passionate about it shows.

Although I strive to get all the technical points right, the highest compliment I get is when someone tells me that they get a sense of the personality of a person or animal from one of my photographs – that a still life evokes a sense of time or place. There’s nothing technical about that at all – and that’s where the magic happens, that’s when a photo goes from being a snapshot to a photograph for me.

I’ve previously posted about a project I have been working on with the local Humane Society. I approached them about shooting fun shots for social media in the hopes of it helping to garner interest in their dogs. If we can show a dog’s personality and not just its size, shape, and color – could this increase interest in a shelter dog? I’ve been working with their amazing adoption coordinator who has taken these images and really made a splash locally in social media – people are sharing and following and really caring about the futures of these wonderful dogs. We have had people see the dogs on Facebook and drive several hours to meet them – based on a photo!

So what does this have to do with shooting what you love? Well, I have always loved dogs, but as I get into this project I have found that I really am passionate about them and their prospects for a home. Shooting them is not easy. It’s harder to get a good capture of a dog that it is to get a bugling elk or a cardinal on a tree limb. They move fast! They are super excited to interact with people, especially people who care. I have left the shelter sweaty, muddy, and have ruined a couple of t-shirts – but it’s worth it.

Take a look at some of my pals from the shelter – can you tell that I love these guys?

Be sure to click on an image and scroll through – you’ll see the camera settings and get an up close look at these great pups!

I love how they almost always smile for me. The crazy thing about most of these shots is that apart from the car photos these were mostly taken at the shelter – often in a shady spot on the driveway or in a kennel. Throw down a blanket and you have a picnic! We try to get the dog out and away from the others and spend some time with it so that we can learn about its character, and that’s what always shines through.

You can help with this effort – if you are on Facebook go over and like The Good Shepherd Humane Society Facebook page – and share if you are so inclined. Even though we are in Northwest Arkansas, we have placed pups in places like Connecticut and Ohio through social media and maybe one of your friends will see a pup that they just have to learn more about! If you love dogs and love taking photos – contact your local Humane Society about helping out – great photos can really make a difference!

Shutterbug Notes:

  1. You can’t give up when a pup is uncooperative. The shot of Rex in the grass was taken after following him in a large pen for over 20 minutes in the heat and humidity last July. We were muddy and exhausted, but we kept trying to get him to make eye contact – he was so excited by our attention that he was a bit hyper. That last shot was the one. I get a real sense of his playfulness and humor from that shot. I’m glad we didn’t give up!
  2. I use the pronoun “we” a lot because none of these shots were taken by me alone. The Adoption Coordinator, Carolyn leads, cajoles, tempts, and plays with these guys while I chase them around with a camera. Notice that they are almost all on leashes – if we are out of a kennel, they are leashed for their safety and Carolyn is on the other end of that leash. She also wants great shots and doesn’t let me give up too quickly.
  3. Shooting dogs with white hair or spots can be challenging in direct sunlight – that’s why we shoot in shade to prevent blow outs. If you can get an overcast day then shoot all you can, but in the real world of a busy shelter you have to shoot when the staff has time or when new dogs come in.
  4. Check out my settings – I shoot with the fastest shutter speed I can with the light available. Shelter dogs don’t pose, and you’re lucky if they sit when they are excited to spend time with you. I use the fastest lens I have at a wide to medium focal length. I shot most of these with a 14-40 mm 2.8 lens. Fast glass really serves you well when you want to get the best shots in all lighting conditions.

Let’s Focus on Finding Jagger a Home!

I’m continuing my series on the amazing shelter dogs who need homes available at the Good Shepherd Humane Society in Northwest Arkansas. Photographing them has been such a joy – really getting to know pups like Boots (who has been adopted!) and Shakespeare (who is far too cute to be at the shelter much longer!).

Today I want to tell you about Jagger.

The first time I visited the Good Shepherd facility I noticed Jagger. He seemed focused on me, the visitor to his world. He was in a large shady pen that is more like a small backyard than a kennel. There were two other dogs in that space with him, but he seemed to be the man in charge. He looked to be some type of pit bull mix, with eyes that almost smiled.

I returned the following weekend to photograph the first set of dogs and Jagger was in the pen I was going to use to shoot in. He was easy to handle as they moved him to a temporary location while I shot the others first. As the last on the list on a hot day I was thinking that he was probably like me, a little tired from the morning rush, but he was not at all tired – he had been waiting for his time with me and he gave me the whole show.

Jagger is a dog with amazing focus. He has razor-sharp reflexes.

He is dead serious – about playing.

Jagger fetches and flawlessly catches treats in mid-air. His accuracy is astounding.

His heart is huge.

His need is great.

I recently learned that this gorgeous boy has spent his entire life at the shelter. He has never known a home except for that small yard. No wonder he seemed to be the man in charge. Here’s where looks can be deceiving – yes, Jagger is intense – but he is also gentle, and sweet, and careful. He’s very well socialized and loves other dogs. He loves going on excursions, and he accompanied a staffer to an art show last week. He loved the chance to get out and meet people. He deserves a chance at a real home with a real family.

So if you are serious about adopting a dog who will be serious about devoting his whole life and energy to you – Jagger is waiting to meet you. Don’t make him wait to long, he’s more ready to come home.

You can learn more about Good Shepherd and all the dogs available for adoption here:



PS – I am not trying to promote my blog when I encourage you to share, I would love it if you would share this post on your blog or on social media. I need this fella to finally find a home.

Shutterbug Notes:

Jagger moves quickly when playing – I used continuous tracking auto-focus and burst shooting. It allowed me to increase the odds of getting an action shot in focus. I also pushed up the ISO to 400 – on a sunny day the trade-off is a no brainer – very little noise. This allowed me to shoot with a fast shutter speed – 1/800th second. I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. Most of these shots were at f4.

Much Ado About a Little White Dog

My last post was about a new project I am doing with the local animal shelter – I am taking fun photos of dogs in an effort to help them get adopted. I wrote about Boots, and adorable pup who has since been adopted. The idea is simple – take some photos of a dog having a great time and the shelter can use these on social media and promote these pups and find them great forever homes. Those sterile clinic shots just don’t give you the mental picture of a pup fitting into your life, so let’s try some lifestyle shots of dogs at play.

Shooting them was more challenging than I had anticipated. The first dog we photographed was a scrappy fella named Shakespeare. He looks to be a Chihuahua/Terrier mix in my completely amateur opinion. He caught my eye the first time I visited the shelter – he seemed to be the lord of the manor – master of all he surveyed when I captured him in a holding pen.

Much ado about who's the boss!

Much ado about who’s the boss!

My first impression was that he was completely unflappable. He reminded me of my Jack Russell Terriers who pack so much authority into a tiny package. When I learned he would be the my first customer I was pretty excited – I love a dog that owns the place!

What I discovered is that Shakespeare is shy and a little overwhelmed by the larger world. At first he couldn’t get enough of the running and playing. But suddenly he was aware that he was in a very large yard so he carefully came back towards me to check things out. We had some treats and he wasn’t sure about me at first, but after a few minutes he let me pick him up and he was a pure snuggle bug. I loved his energy and sweetness!

If you or someone you know is looking for a friend that will forever be true, the Shakespeare might just be the pup for you.  Contact the Good Shepherd Humane Society and ask about him – he’s a real character!

Also – feel free to share this post. The more people who see Shakespeare, the more likely he is to find a home!



Shutterbug Notes:

Shakespeare is small and pretty quick on his feet so I used a fast lens build for capturing the action. I set the ISO up to 400 knowing that in decent light there would be no issues with noise with the aperture open to f2.8. I shot most of these at about 1/1000 second.  I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. My best shots seemed to come after I had earned his trust – so take your time with a more reserved subject. Let them get comfortable and let them to their own selves be true.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Last weekend I got the chance to do something I have wanted to try for a very long time.

Nothing makes me smile like a dog smiling at me.

Nothing makes me smile like a dog smiling at me.

I contacted someone at my local Humane Society after seeing a post on Facebook about getting fun shots of shelter pups that show their personalities. The adoption rates increase dramatically when you see a shot of a pup having fun and enjoying the experience versus a shot on a cold tile floor in a dog run. In my pursuit of wildlife, my favorite shots are those that capture a bit of personality or interaction with the viewer. If I can do it with a blue jay, I thought, how hard would it be to do it with a dog?

Well, it’s a lot harder than I thought. First off, every dog needs to do a sniff test on any new area. We had a large fenced grassy field, but it had held different dogs over time, so every new pup needed time to take it all in. Some of them needed a very long time. One dog never looked up at all in the first 30 minutes, but others made a quick lap and then focused their full attention on their new friends with the camera and treats. It was a blast and the time spent actually helped me to learn a bit more about their personalities.

The Good Shepherd Humane Society is a no-kill shelter. Recently they took on a shelter in a neighboring town that had once been a kill shelter. The added facilities are great, but with this new addition they have to take in any dogs caught in the city and hold them. If they are unclaimed, then they can adopt them out. This means there is a constant flow of new dogs and cats into the facility. They have even sent dogs to other parts of the country that lack adoptable pets. It’s a noble work and I was glad to get to learn more about it – it confirms to me the need to adopt rather than buy a pet. There are so many that need homes.

With that said let me introduce you to one of my new friends – this post is really for the pups and it’s purpose is to get the word out about these terrific animals. I will post about all the pups I met in the days and weeks to come.



Boots is a lovable pup. She has a beautiful brindle coat and is very affectionate. She is submissive to other dogs and is a high energy puppy. She was torn between running for joy and sitting close by to see if there were treats on the menu. We were glad to see her enjoy both!

Be sure to scroll through to see camera settings and to check out Boots’ amazing eyes!

If you or someone you know is looking for a companion that will adore you from the minute you meet and will enrich your life by sharing hers with you – then Boots just might be the pup for you, Contact the Good Shepherd Humane Society and ask about her – she’s a keeper!



Shutterbug Notes:

Boots is active so I decided that I would photograph her in the same way I would shoot a bird or a deer – I used continuous tracking auto-focus and burst shooting. It allowed me to increase the odds of getting an action shot in focus. I also pushed up the ISO to 400 – on a sunny day the trade-off is a no brainer – very little noise. This allowed me to shoot with a fast shutter speed – 1/1000th second. I switched up the aperture depending on whether we were in the sunshine or shade. Most of these shots were at f4.

The Photographers Eyes

I’ve always been intrigued by cameras and composition. I trained as a fine artist and focused on life drawing and painting with a side of ceramics. In college photography was a discipline I had to study for a year to satisfy the requirements of my BFA. I did really enjoy it, but it was not my “go-to” discipline. I learned the mechanics and even did a few professional shoots here and there. A camera was a tool in my designers toolbox. This all changed for me in 2006, but to tell the whole story I need to go back a little further.
When I was 17 I wrecked the family car. I was coming out of a construction zone and just when traffic started to speed up the car in front of me stopped for a dog crossing the road and I plowed right into it. I didn’t realize that I was so close. Afterward my mom decided to get my eyes checked out. It turns out that I had a slight crossed eye that could have interfered with my depth perception. Along with this the doctor discovered that I had cataracts. I was born with them. They were unusual in shape and not very common. I had 20/20 vision, and really didn’t notice anything. The doctor said that they might never be an issue.

Every time I moved to a new city and got a new eye doctor, they would ask it if was OK to bring in all their staff to see my cataracts, they were very unusual, something you might only see a couple of times in a career. One doctor even asked to photograph them – I finally got to see what the fuss was about. They looked like tiny galaxies, circular with swirls radiating from the center.

Now spring forward to 2006, my eye doctor had advised me that I could really benefit from cataract surgery. He suggested that once I began to lose the ability to focus (we all start to experience this in our 40’s) that I seriously should consider it. By this time I was living in a rural area and I was having difficulty driving at night. It never occurred to me that the culprit might be my cataracts, I assumed it was the lack of street lights. I had the surgery one eye at a time. I was the youngest person in the office by about 30 years. None of my fellow patients could imagine me having cataracts. The surgery only took a couple of minutes, and for those seconds between when they remove your old lens and when they replace it with a new one, my field of vision was filled with swirling rainbows through liquid – it was vivid and beautiful.

The next morning when I went out into the sunlight I was stunned by what I saw. I had always had 20/20 vision. I could see details and contrast just fine. In those first moments that morning I realized that I had never really seen color before. I never knew that a lawn was filled with thousands of shades of green and that each blade of grass both cast a shadow and caught a touch of sunlight. I never knew that the parking lot at work was made up of hundreds of greys and browns – I had always seen it as just kinda black. Before my surgery I had taken photos of mostly still life and everyday objects. I loved finding a new way to see something ordinary, but now my eyes were overwhelmed with the vividness of the world around me. I upgraded my camera kit to better capture the color and began to take my camera everywhere.

After work and on weekends I began to seek out color. Autumn leaves, sunsets, spring flowers, songbirds. The first time I had a show locally, a reporter asked me what inspired me and seemed surprised when I said color, since I had so many wildlife shots and landscapes. The subjects of my beloved still lives became more colorful. Color is the unifying theme of almost everything I shoot.

Today, I cannot even imagine the dullness of the world I lived in for so long without knowing it. I live for color and in the spring time when the Ozarks are alive with color. Currently I have a show up here in Eureka Springs called Harbingers – I collected works shot between February and April to represent those things that usher in a glorious spring after a long cold winter. I’ve mounted each on canvas over hard board and fixed then onto stretcher bars exposing the wood sides. I wanted to try to take the technical photography and give it a warmer hand-crafted feel. As spring has blossomed here I continue to add to my Harbinger library – and it’s no surprise that the images are filled with color. The images used in the show are in the slideshow below. Scroll through to see the images larger and to see camera settings.

Shutterbug notes – I chose my current camera set up partly because of its dynamic range. Moving to manual really give you a lot more control over color. Moving off auto gives you access to all the features of your camera and let’s you get the most out of it. Try seeing things in a new light, you might never want to go back to your old ways of seeing the world around you!

What does the Fox Say?

One of my favorite things about life in the Ozarks are the random encounters with wildlife. These encounters happen often up on my mountain – songbirds, squirrels, hawks, and deer all circle around the Stonehouse, careful to steer clear of the patrolling terriers in the lawn. A few years ago we had bear sightings up the road. I spotted a black mountain lion passing through one time. These occurrences are alway magical, but not unexpected anymore.

My friend Candy lives about a mile and a half from me on a golf course community called Holiday Island. You may have seen Eric Estrada pitching lots on late night infomercials a few years back. It’s beautiful spot carved out of the wilds of the Ozarks – but it’s considerably less wild than my mountain. They have restaurants, grocery stores, and a club house. One night Candy and I were driving from her house to mine. We were passing the clubhouse when we spotted some visitors. There on the parking lot next to the putting green were three little faces looking back at us. Candy maneuvered the car to give me some light while I took photos with my flash – oddly enough they were not at all bothered by the car, the flash, or me. At one point I was shooting two of them grooming each other when I glanced back and caught sight of the third one sneaking up behind me. Their curiosity overwhelmed any fear they had.

Their manner reminded me a lot of my shy pup Kirby. They were cautious but curious. I almost wanted to just sit on the ground and let them come to me – but we were in the middle of a street in the dark in the middle of the night. After about 20 minutes they tired of us and moved on across the putting green. Something more interesting awaited them in the dark of the golf course.

Since that night I have seen them several times. I spent some time with them at the bank parking lot one evening, but without Candy there to point the car headlights at them I didn’t have enough light to photograph them. I saw them sleeping in a driveway the other day – soaking up the last of the warmth of our Indian Summer.


The Third Rule of Photography

There are plenty of blogs to give you the exposure triangle and cheat sheets about setting aperture and shutter speeds – that’s not me. I love to talk tech, but I find that most people get the most out of the basics. You know I am just making up these rules as I go, and they are in the order I choose. This is my blog so I guess I get to make the rules.

Here are the rules so far:

Rule #1 – You need to take that camera everywhere – you will always miss the shot when you are on an adventure and your camera is not.

Rule #2 – Understand light – light is the language of photography, you need to understand it in order to translate it into art.

Rule #3 – Keep it Steady

Today almost all systems offer Image Stabilization (IS) either in the body or in the lens. For most photography there is no reason not to utilize IS, it can make a huge difference in the sharpness of most shots. IS is not a magic bullet though – it won’t hold your camera still while you take a long exposure, or shoot a super tight macro shot. For sharpness in these situations, nothing beats a tripod.

I know – tripods are not convenient, compact, or cool – but they are indispensable. Some shots are not even possible without one. One of my favorite things to shoot is the moon. You don’t get enough stability trying to shoot the moon by leaning on a fence or car. If you want craters you need three things – a long zoom, a tripod, and a remote shutter release.

Shutterbug Notes:

A full moon is often too bright to get the best detail. Shoot the night before or the night after the full moon to get maximum detail. For even more detail shoot the phases of the moon, a half-moon on a clear night will give you tons of craters and surface detail. Go for the lowest ISO and shoot above f11. I use live view and dial in my shutter speed for maximum detail and contrast. Make sure not to over expose, because you can bring out the detail you captured in editing as long as you don’t blow out the light areas. For special moons like the Honey Moon or a Blood Moon I will shoot with the aperture wider so that I capture the color, but this costs me detail.

Scroll through each gallery to see camera settings – every shot in this post was taken in Manual Mode for better control of the exposure.

Shooting the moon is pretty straightforward and a tripod makes sense, but what about capturing movement? I know you have seen those night cityscapes with lights in motion. I like these best when some detail – architecture or foliage, for example – are perfectly sharp.

Shutterbug Notes:

On a recent trip to Atlanta I was fortunate to stay in a hotel overlooking Centennial Park. I set up my tripod on a balcony and took aim at the ferris wheel. The faster the shutter speed the more color and detail in the surrounding light was retained in the final image. As I slowed down the shutter speed the motion became more apparent. I shot with a medium aperture – between f5 and f8 and experimented with shutter speeds varying from 1/3 second to 6 seconds. My favorite image is the last with all the fine detail of the park and a complete blur of the ferris wheel. The next time you go to a carnival or fair, take your tripod along and give this a try. 

I know there are breathing and gripping techniques that let you get the most out of a handheld shot, but reasonably this is not effective beyond a about a 30th of a second. So many wonderful things are out there for you to try with longer exposures.  Over the 4th of July I decided to try to capture one of those amazing fireworks shots you see in magazines. I couldn’t get a view of the big show, so I shot these down on the lakeshore.

Shutterbug Notes:

I just found a spot where I could shoot both the sky and the fireworks on the beach. I shot all three of these shots at f11. The sunset shots are 1/2 second, the sky shot is the classic 4 second fireworks shot – that long exposure lets your frame fill with explosions – but the trick is you have no idea what will enter your frame when you click the shutter. You just watch the show and make your best guess. 

Have you ever considered shooting people with a long exposure? Well, people move a lot and that doesn’t sound like it makes sense – but what if that didn’t matter? Still thinking about the fireworks I decided to try to shoot people shooting off fireworks. This is an area where you can get really creative. I took these shots in a driveway in the dark.

Shutterbug Notes:

I decided to just try to focus on the sparklers and let the people move in and out of focus. Some of the kids were very young and their enthusiasm was palpable. It was hard for them to understand that we wanted them to hold their faces still – but I’m glad they worked out this way. The joy and movement in their faces punctuates their experience. I sat in a chair so that I saw them at eye level. I shot all of these images wide open at f2.8 for 2 seconds

One of my favorite subjects is a sunset – and I have been shooting them regularly for years. Recently I started getting out the tripod to shoot them. It slows me down and opens me up to more experimentation.

Shutterbug Notes:

Sunsets are a great subject to experiment with bracketed exposures or HDR. This is only possible on a tripod. Your camera takes multiple exposures at different shutter speeds and you later stack them and retain the both highlights, mid tones, and shadows. This is easy to overdo so it’s important to not push it so far that the image looks fake. A tripod will also let you shoot after most of the light is gone – a longer exposure can enhance the color that is there even after the sun has set. 

The bottom line is that none of the shots in this post could have been successfully taken without supporting the camera. It may feel clunky at first to lug that tripod around, but the results are worth it. One thing to note, you really do get what you pay for in a tripod. The cheap one at Stuffmart will hold your camera, but it will be stiff and heavy and you won’t enjoy using as much as one with a ball head and more adjustment options. If you are watching your budget, look for an entry-level of a good brand like Manfrotto. It will be worth the extra $20-30 for the feel and stability. I recently moved to an economic carbon fiber model, the reduced weight has made me more likely to carry it.

Now – I will confess, there is one shot that was taken leaning on a fence post and not on a tripod – can you guess which one?