Category Archives: Education

Shoot or Don’t Shoot: A Question for Workshop and Tour Leaders

The question was raised on a popular nature and wildlife photography forum as to whether workshop leaders shoot make photos when leading one of these programs. I thought I’d share my reply on my blog:

As a participant every workshop I’ve attended the leader also did some shooting. Most times their shooting was limited in comparison to that of the participants, but they did shoot. These, however, were always workshops aimed at wedding or portrait photography, employing paid models to demonstrate using lighting or shooting in certain situations/locations. In nearly every case there was classroom time involved during the workshop and a critique session at the end. I really had no issues with the leader making photos. They kept the level low so they could observe and make suggestions to the participants and were available to answer questions 100% of the time. FWIW I’ve never taken a nature/wildlife targeted workshop.

As a workshop/tour leader I shoot. I don’t have my face glued to the back of my camera the entire time we’re in the field. In fact I’m fairly selective about what I shoot when leading. After all, I’m leading the group because this is a location I’m intimately familiar with. I shoot in these locations a lot. I spend a lot of my time observing our subjects (wild horses) and the participants. I make suggestions, answer questions. I alert the folks in my charge when I see an interesting situation developing. Obviously I don’t let my own shooting get in the way of my doing my job. I have a responsibility to get the photographers in my charge in front of the horses, to impart some information about the horses, the environment and photography in general, and to try to make sure no one does anything to endanger themselves of the animals we’re photographing.

I offer two kinds of experiences; a “tour/safari” and a “workshop.” They are not one in the same. For a “tour/safari” my primary job is to get the participants in front of the subjects. They are hiring me for my expertise at finding these animals and to handle the logistics such as transportation and meals. Tours are for experienced photographers that don’t feel they need a lot of hand-holding and direction. They’re confident in their camera and compositional skills. They need to be given opportunities, not a lot of instruction. Obviously, at least in my mind, there’s little reason for me not to shoot during these kinds of outings. If they have a question or need my input, all they have to do is ask.

The other experience I offer is a formal workshop. For a workshop there’s going to be some classroom time involved. Instead of a pre-trip briefing given during a tour, we’re going to spend the first morning learning about the history of these animals, the rules concerning interaction with them and we’ll discuss things like lens selection and composition. My assumption is that someone that signs up for a workshop is looking to improve their photography skills as well as getting photo ops with the wild horses. During our first session in the field I’ll shoot very little, but I will shoot some. I’ll be observing everyone, analyzing the strengths, weaknesses and needs of each individual. Just as when leading a tour, I’ll be alerting folks when things are going to get interesting, be responsible for locating the animals and be dealing with the logistics of the thing. As the workshop progresses I’m usually able to shoot more and more… but again, while being very selective about what I shoot. Near the end of the workshop, but before the last field session, there’s another classroom session. This session is all about composition and post processing. It includes a critique session. I do this prior to the final field session with the idea that the participants will be able to apply what they learn to their final shooting opportunities. During that last field session I’m answering questions if asked, but not offering unrequested input. The idea is to let them try to put it all together on their own.

Keep in mind there’s an educational aspect to the leader shooting. By observing how the leader shoots… things such as tripod height, lens selection, long lens technique, etc… the participants can gain some insight into maximizing their photographic opportunities during their tour or workshop. The short and sweet – I shoot. I shoot more during a tour than during a workshop but I shoot.

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Guided Tours, Nature Photography, Photo Tip Tagged , , , , , , |

Wild Horses Clash: Drama on the Tidal Flats

When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.

During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.

Wild horses clash in a vicious battle on the tidal flats along the North Carolina coast

Fighitng wild stallions, North Carolina Outer Banks

Wild horses of the Outer Banks

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Natural History in the Carolinas, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Five Tips for Making Better Landscape Photographs

– Move the horizon away from the center of the image.

By placing the horizon either low or high in the image frame you create a greater sense of drama for the viewer. Don’t be afraid to try putting the horizon a bit above or below the classic “thirds” locations. While your choosing a placement for the horizon take a little time to make sure it is straight. A tilted horizon rarely makes for a compelling landscape photo.

-Use a polarizing filter.

There are two advantages to using a circular polarizing filter when creating landscape images. One classic use is to cut down on reflections when shooting scenes with water or wet surfaces. These filters can also increase contrast and saturation in colors. They have an especially pleasing effect on blue skies.

– Think and compose in layers.

Consider the foreground, middle areas and background when composing landscape images. A strong element in the foreground can viewers enter an image and also provide a greater feeling of depth to your composition.

– Use a sturdy tripod.

In order to get focus throughout an image a small aperture is usually required. To reduce grain or digital noise landscape photographers use a low ISO. Both of these facts result in slow shutter speeds. Any camera or lens movement is bound to show when shooting at these kinds of settings. To help off-set these facts be sure to use a stable platform… a high-quality tripod.

– Use mirror lock-up or live view modes to reduce vibrations.

In order to show the what the lens sees in a Single Lens Reflex camera a mirror is used to reflect the view to the eyepiece. Before the shutter opens the mirror must spring up out of the way. When the mirror flips up it creates vibrations within the camera that can have an effect on the quality of the captured image. By using the mirror lock-up mode or live-view you can eliminate those vibrations from the photo.

Also posted in Landscape Photography, Photo Tip Tagged , |

Another Wild Horse With Texture Applied

I had so much fun adding textures to images that I decided to try it again. First I needed to choose a base image to work with. I don’t believe textures work with every image, though that may be more a matter of taste than science. I settled on a favorite shot from last winter to play with. After selecting a subject the next trick is choosing an appropriate texture to overlay. This choice can make or break the final product. Once settling on which images to work with the process is the same as I previously described. Here’s the step by step process I use in Photo Shop CS6 (you could use Gimp, Elements, Paint Shop Pro, etc.):

Open subject image in Photo Shop, open texture image, select and copy texture image, paste over subject image, adjust opacity to taste, use eraser tool at a low opacity and flow to clean texture off of subjects face, flatten image, create duplicate layer in soft light mode, adjust to taste, flatten image, apply vignette, flatten, and save.

Wild horse stallion with texture applied.

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Applying Textures to Photographs

It’s not a new technique. Layering textures on photos has been around for a long time. It’s an interesting effect that can take a documentary style photo and turn into a piece of fine art. The process isn’t too difficult. You’ll need some kind of image processing software… Photo Shop, Elements, Paint Shop or others. The software needs to be capable of working with layers. Open the image you want to work with. You’ll then open an image of the texture you want to apply. (Choosing the right texture for an image is the real art to the entire process). Place the texture on top of your photo as a layer. Adjust the opacity of the texture layer so the photo below it shows through. Your taste, goals and artistic vision will play a role in how much opacity you want. You may want to use an eraser tool to reduce or remove the amount of texture over key areas of your subject such as the face, eyes, etc. Once you’re satisfied flatten the image. At this point I find the image usually lacks a bit of “pop”… seems a bit flat and boring. I like to create a duplicate layer and select a mode such as “soft light” or “overlay.” Then, if necessary I adjust the opacity of this layer as needed to get the look I want. It’s really that simple. Below are a few photos I worked up recently using the process described.

Overlaying a texture on a photography can have a dramatic affect on it's look and feel.

Applying textures to photography to create digital art is a simple process.

Photograph of a wild horse with a texture applied.

Also posted in Banker Horses, General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wild Horses, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Car Blind? What the Heck is That!

Car Blind? A Hot Topic

There’s a fairly busy discussion going on at one of the popular nature photography forums concerning “the best color for a car blind.” This seemingly innocent question actually opens the door to a few interesting insights into nature photography today. For example, what the heck is a car blind?

Many “nature photographers” spend a good deal of time taking photos out of their car or truck windows. Many, if not most National Wildlife Refuges have a road called “Wild Life Drive.” There are many drives in National Parks that are known for providing a lot of looks at wildlife (the Cades Cove Loop road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park quickly comes to mind). Additionally, forest roads, state parks and even country roads may provide looks at wildlife and birds. So the vehicle you use to drive along these routes becomes your “car blind.”

Now you may be thinking, “it sounds like Bob has a little problem with this idea.” Well, yes and no. I’m as guilty as the next photographer of taking advantage of an opportunity if it presents its self. But usually when this happens it’s when I’m traveling from point A to point B and cross paths with a photo op. I really can’t fault anyone for taking the “car blind” approach, especially those with physical disabilities that make hiking, setting up a blind, etc. difficult or impossible. But there are draw-backs to this practice.

It should be obvious that the you’re going to see a lot of repetition of locations and point of view from the “car blind” crowd. After all, the use of the vehicle as your shooting platform limits the areas you can access and also dictates the shooting height of your photos. You’ll never get that nice, low perspective shooting out of a car or truck window.

The other disadvantage to this kind of approach to nature photography is the photographer isn’t really getting the true nature experience. There’s something special about spending time hiking along a trail or sitting for an hour or two in a hide that cannot be matched by restricting your outdoors adventure to the inside of your car. Plus the car-bound photographer isn’t getting the exercise that hiking through nature provides. A little walking is good for the heart, the mind and the entire body.

Perhaps I’ll tackle the question of what makes a good car blind in another post. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with doing it. I just wanted to get people thinking a little about some of the advantages and draw-backs to using that as your primary nature photography method.

A typical whitetail deer shot taken out the window of a car.

Also posted in General Photography, Nature Photography, Photo Tip, Wildlife Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Workshop & Tour Participants in Action

One of the most frequent questions I hear from photographers interested in my workshops or tours has to do with what kind of conditions they’ll encounters. Depending on the season it could be hot or cold. The horses can be found in a variety of environments. It might be wet, dry, grassy or sandy. Usually, over the course of a few days, participating photographers get to experience a variety of environments. Another question that comes up often has to do with how physically demanding the tours and workshops are. Sometimes it’s just a matter of sliding off of the boat and making images of horse Other times we may have to hike or wade to get to the animals. I also field a few questions about amenities. Simply put, there aren’t any… or at least they’re few and far between… on the islands where the horses live. We do, however, keep cold drinks onboard our charter boat and take lunch breaks at waterfront restaurants (no boxed lunches here!). The simple truth is that, while we may get a little muddy, a bit wet and sandy, we have a really good time. Sharing time with other creatives is always a great way to recharge your artistic batteries, make new friends and develop some new ideas. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy check out my workshop page for more information about my upcoming workshop and tour. Below are a few shots from past tours and workshops showing photographers in action with the horses.










Also posted in Banker Horses, Guided Tours, Nature Photography, Workshops

Fall Dates: Wild Horse Photography Workshop & Crystal Coast Wild Horse Photo Safari

Wild Horse Workshops and Tours.Just posted, fall dates for the Crystal Coast Wild Horse Photo Safari and for an exciting new Wild Horse Photography Workshop. The Workshop includes classroom instruction, a critique session and visits to the wild horses via a private charter each of the three days. As always lunch is on me for all three days. For the Fall version of the Crystal Coast Photo Safari instead of a morning walking tour on the final day we’ll be using a private charter. Both of these are great opportunities to observe, photograph and learn about the local wild horses. Check out my workshop page for more information.

A wild horse feeds on the tidal flats during the evenings golden hour.

wild horse prints

Also posted in Banker Horses, Nature Photography, News & Announcements, Uncategorized, Wild Horses Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Walking With Wild Horses: Thoughts and Tips on Human / Wild Horse Interaction

Those of us who spend a large portion of our lives photographing horses living wild and free are always concerned that our images may encourage undesirable interactions between these animals and people visiting them. I’ve had the pleasure to spend a bit of time with some very talented photographers with wild horses as a primary subject. It really doesn’t matter whether they photograph the animals living in the western United States, Iceland or Argentina, these artists know their subjects well. They understand when a horse is “on alarm,” “profiling” or “stressed.” They recognize the body language used by these animals and know what to expect based on what they see. Each of these photographers is careful to not put the animal or them self at risk.

Many if not most people see photographs as glimpses of truth… a realistic documentation of what transpires in front of the lens. What they fail to understand is that the world seen through the camera lens is distorted. Telephoto lenses, the lens choice of wild horse photographers, tend to compress distant objects included in the photograph, making them appear much closer to subjects in the foreground than they really are. For example, an image of a nature photographer with a wild horse in the background may make it appear that the animal is nearer the human that it actually was. How distances appear are very dependent upon the perspective of the lens used, the position of the photographer as well as a number of other factors. It is difficult to accurately estimate distance in a two-dimensional photograph.

Telephoto lenses are also used by photographers to make intimate portraits of horses from safe distances. (The images below are examples of this.) To make a similar image a tourist using a cell phone or simple point and shoot camera would have to get well inside the animals personal space. That’s a recipe for disaster. Viewers also need to keep in mind that the finished photo you see is not a simple copy of what was recorded by the camera. Photographers use software to crop, and enhance their photos. They take a raw image and shape into the artistic vision in their mind. That process can also result in an image appearing to have been taken from a shorter distance than it actually was. In fact if you check-out most serious photographers smart phones you’ll find they even have apps installed to enhance, crop and zoom on images taken with the phones. When you look at a photograph what you see is an artist’s vision, not a slice of reality.

There are some pretty simple rules to following when visiting the wild horses living within the boundaries of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve and the Cape Lookout National Seashore. In fact violating those rules can result in a ticket, fine and possibly even jail time. Perhaps more importantly, failing to follow these rules could result in serious injury or even death being inflicted by one of these beautiful but powerful animals. It’s important to remember these horses live a wild life, they are not tame pets. Even domestic horses can be dangerous for folks that don’t know how to properly behave around them!

When visiting the wild horses do not approach closer than within 50 feet of them. If you’re not sure of what that distance looks like simply envision a full=length school bus. There will be times when the horses might approach closer to you than you’re allowed to approach them. If they do so move away slowly if possible. In some instances it may not be possible to move away. When that happens simply remain calm and still until you are able to slip back to an acceptable distance. Under no circumstances should you ever feed one of these animals. While you may think you’re being nice by offering the animal a treat the food you give the horse may actually be harmful to it. There is never a situation where touching or petting one of these animals. A course can go from calm and peaceful to a 1000 pounds of rapidly moving danger in the blink of an eye. They can bite, stomp and kick ferociously. Don’t do things to try and make the horses run. They get all the exercise they need on their own. Forcing them to burn-up energy reserves only places their health at risk.

Observing horses in the wild is a wonderful experience. All I’m asking is that you be respectful and use a bit of common sense when visiting these amazing animals.

Portrait of a wild horse.

Wild horse, an intimate look.

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Nice Article at NC Wild Horses Website

There’s a really nice article about the Crystal Coast wild horses that was recently posted to The site owner spent several days visiting our horses, including joining me on the April Crystal Coast Wild Horse Photo Safari. There’s some good information in the article and well as throughout the site. Check out the article at:

Also posted in Banker Horses, Natural History in the Carolinas, Wild Horses