Category Archives: Education

Fog, Foals & Fights: Crystal Coast Wild Horse Photo Workshop

We enjoyed some great photographic opportunities, lots of action and some great conditions for the April 2013 Crystal Coast Wild Horse Photo Safari. A simple three word descriptive might be “fog, foals and fights!” We started the first morning with a bit of fog cover which certainly added a nice tough of ambiance to our photos. We got shots of foals both at the Rachel Carson Reserve and on Shackleford Banks. Everyone also got to observe and photographs a few horse fights. It was certainly a good outing. It’s going to take a while to sort through and process all the images so I thought for a first post about the Photo Safari I’d start with a few shots that include some of the participants working with the wild horses.


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Ten Tricks to Improve Your Nature Photography

It would be nice if there were some magic pill that would make one an excellent photographer. The fact is that no such pill exists. However, by apply a few simple tricks you can make drastic improvements to your nature and wildlife images.

1) How Low Can You Go?

When you view a pair of photos of a similar subjects together… one taken by an amateur the other made by a professional photographer… you can usually pick the pro’s shot quickly just based on the perspective of the image. The professional shot will almost always be from a low vantage point. The amateur shot, on the other hand, will almost always be taken from the perspective of a person standing upright. Get low to add drama to your images.

2) Subject Eyes Sharp & In-focus.

It’s been said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In our everyday interactions we look into the eyes to check for things like honesty, empathy, warmth. It’s how we make a connection with other living beings. Having eyes sharp and in-focus helps viewers to make a connection with our photographs.

3) Get the Safe Shot then Experiment.

Novice or dyed in the wool pro we all do it. We see images that move us and visit the same locations to try our own hand at making a memorable photo. There are locations that have been photographed thousands, even millions of times. Images of these locations are usually similar… iconic. When visiting these locations go ahead and get the “safe shot,” that iconic, expected view we’re all used to seeing. Then experiment. Try different angles. Look for a view that hasn’t seen before. Go low. Go high. Go right or left. Take a hike. See if you can find an angle of this all too familiar location that hasn’t been worn out.

4) Rules Were Made to Be Broken… But Not Without Reason

If you visit many photography forums you’re bound to see a lot of posts by people proclaiming the virtues of breaking the rules. Often times their posts include an image… usually an image that doesn’t work. Being a rebel is great but be sure you have a reason for it. Compositional rules are based on centuries of artistic experimentation and observation. These guidelines work for a reason. Study about composition. Learn the various guidelines and apply them to build stronger images. Only then will you recognize those rare opportunities where breaking the rules will result in a stronger photograph.

4) Fill The Frame.

This isn’t earth shattering advice. It’s likely you’ve heard it before. There’s a reason for that, it works! Filling the frame with the subject is especially important when shooting a subject where there’s a lot of clutter around it. The clutter creates distractions that will divert the viewers eyes from the subject. By filling the frame with your subject you isolate it, focusing the viewers attention on it.

5) Include Negative Space!

In the last tip I suggested you needed to fill the frame of your photograph with the subject. But you’ll notice I included a qualifier; “where there’s a lot of clutter around it.” There are times that negative space can contribute to a stronger image. When photographing animals viewers may feel more comfortable when there’s some space in front of the animal for it to “move into.” Similarly the artist can create some tension, drama or mystery by putting negative space behind the animal and having it facing out of the frame.

6) Try a Vertical Orientation for Landscapes.

You should be familiar with two terms used when printing a document or image with your computer – Portrait and Landscape orientation. Landscapes are traditionally wider than they are tall while portraits are usually the opposite. Using the portrait orientation to photograph a landscape can produce an interesting and unique image of a tired, frequently photographed location.

7) Be a Photo Maker Not a Taker.

There are two kinds of photographers in this world, the takers and the makers. Takers aimlessly fire away, giving little if any thought to what the resulting image will look like. In contrast, a maker takes some time to study their subject, making decisions about perspective, point of view, and composition before pressing the shutter button. In order to consistently make good photographs you need to be a thinking photographer… a maker not a taker. Take a little time to look things over before you set-up your camera and tripod.

8) Gather Knowledge First, Pixels Second.

Most likely your best photos will be those made of subjects you’re familiar with. Whether you photograph animals, landscapes or specialize in macro imagery the more you know about your subject the better your photos are likely to be. Knowing a location, when the best light falls on it or having knowledge of a particular species of animal gives a photographer a huge advantage over those that have to depend on luck.

9) Don’t Be Afraid to Shoot in Bad Light.

Many photographers put away their gear when the golden hour passes. Learn to embrace and shooting in harsh light. Perfect lighting and conditions are a bit rare. If you make a habit of only shooting in the best of conditions you may have a problem when you make the photographic trip of a lifetime. If conditions are less than ideal and you’re not used to photographing in them you’re unlikely to bring home any decent images. Make a habit of shooting in tough conditions and you’ll have the knowledge and skills to salvage your trip.

10)) Learn to Use Post Processing Software.

It doesn’t matter whether you use Elements, Photoshop, Lightroom or some other software, post processing is nearly as important as your camera work. The images you see presented by your favorite photographers have likely received more work in in post than you think. Vignettes are added to concentrate the viewers attention on the subject, distractions are burnt down or cloned out, shadows darkened, highlights brightened, colors corrected… saturation, vibrance and white balance tweaked. Simply put artists have been making adjustments to their images as long as photography has existed. What was once done in the darkroom or with an airbrush is not done on the computer. Post processing is part of the artistry of photograph. Don’t expect your images straight out of the camera to have a chance of comparing with the work of an artist who knows how to use software to produce the results they wanted.

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2013 Wild Horses of the Crystal Coast

I’m pleased to announce some wonderful changes to the Wild Horses of the Crystal Coast for 2013. I’ll be offering two different programs: Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari and Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari Lite. For the new format we’ll be using a boat to explore the waters surrounding Shackleford Banks. This addition will give access to photographic opportunities not available via a hiking only tour.

Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari

The Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari will take place over three weekdays. Scheduling this tour during the week will help avoid the sunbathers and fishermen that sometimes visit these locations on the weekend. Wednesday morning we’ll use a local ferry operator to visit the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. Following that session we’ll travel to Harkers Island where we’ll break for lunch then board another ferry to explore the eastern end of Shackleford Banks on foot. Thursday we’ll be working from a Private charet boat, giving us access to locations that would be difficult or impossible to reach by foot. We’ll also get an earlier start in the morning and a later finish. This will allow us to take advantage of the best lighting conditions of the day. The Friday will be a 1/2 day session, again using a local ferry, to visit either the Reserve of Shackleford Banks depending upon the preferences of the group. Lunch will be provided for the two full-day sessions. Charter and ferry fees are also included. For lodging (not included) I recommend the Inlet Inn in Beaufort, North Carolina. Participants are encouraged to purchase of trip insurance to cover unexpected events. Cost: $825.

Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari Lite

This program is a two-day photo tour visiting the two herds of wild horses that live along the North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. On Saturday we’ll board a passenger ferry departing from the Beaufort waterfront to visit the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve for our morning session. After the morning session we’ll travel to Harkers Island for lunch then catch a ferry to the eastern end of Shackleford Banks to photograph the wild mustangs living there. Sunday morning will be a 1/2 day session using a private charter to explore the protected waters around Shackleford Banks. This will provide soem unique opportunities to find the horses on small islands and shoals and swimming to and from the main island. Lunch is included on the first day as are all charter and ferry fees. I recommend the Inlet Inn for lodging and always encourage participants to purchase trip insurance to cover unexpected events. Cost: $500.

Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari

  • April 10, 11, 12, 2013
  • May 8, 9, 10, 2013

Crystal Coast Wild Horse Safari Lite

  • April 27, 28
  • May 25,26

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

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Book Review: “Essential Composition: A Guide for the Perplexed” by Richard Bernabe

I’ll confess I’m a fan of Richard Bernabe’s work. He’s a very talented landscape photographer, a member of the Carolinas Nature Photography Association and, like me, makes his home in the Carolinas. A “home boy” if you will. Recently Richard released a new ebook, “Essential Composition: A Guide for the Perplexed.” As is typical with his ebook offerings the publication is well illustrated with some of his marvelous photographs. At the paltry price of eight dollars the photography alone may well justify the investment. However, if you’re seeking insight into photographic composition be aware this offering is anything but in-depth. As suggested in the title, “essential,” the book lightly reviews the more common compositional guides (rules). If you’re familiar with these “rules” and are looking for a deeper look into photographic compositional decisions this probably isn’t the book for you. On the other hand if you’re struggling to understand composition or you want to look at some awe inspiring landscape images you won’t be disappointed. Learn more about this recent offering at his website,

Also posted in Book Review, General Photography, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography

A Bit Tired But What a Workshop Weekend!

There’s no doubt that this weeked was tiring. I spent the weekend leading the Horses of the Crystal Coast. We spent Saturday exploring the eastern end of Shackleford Banks. It took a bit of hiking to find some Wild Spanish Mustangs but find them we did. We spent the morning exploring the tidal flats and marsh photographing the wild horses. We took a break for a couple of hours to refuel in one of the local resturants then returned to the island to explore along the beach and in the dunes for more photographic opportunities. We covered a lot of ground and I’m sure we all were feeling it a little by the end of the day. But a little effort frequently required when photographing wild creaters in their natural habitat.

For the Sunday portion of the workshop we visited the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. Simply put, it was a horse rich environment. At one point we had 20 horses together providing plenty of photographic opportunities. Romance was in the air and there were moments of a bit of sparring and posturing mixed in a a lot of calm, quiet periods. It was, without question, a very productive morning.

Many thanks to to Blake, Carolina, Kelson and Gail… the workshop participants. I hope you captured some wonderful images and long-lived memories.

Below is one of my shots from the weekend. I’m sure I’ll post some more in the not too distant future.


A wild horse is back lit on a dune with the tidal flats and Bird Shoals in the background.



Now available my “Introduction to Kayak Photography” eBook. Learn how to approach skittish wildlife from the water to add an interesting perspecitve to your photographs.


USD 4.99 / Download

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SOLD OUT! – May 19,20 Wild Horses of the Crystal Coast Workshop

Wild horses of the Crystal Coast workshop Sold Out!
 The May 19 & 20, 2011 Wild Horses of the Crystal Coast is now Sold Out. There is still space left in the June 23, 24 2011 workshop. If you’ve been wanting to join me for a wild horse adventure don’t put off booking your space. These workshops tend to fill-up very, very quickly. For more information on my instructional offering visit my workshop page.


If you enjoy the photos you see on this site you may want to consider purchasing my “Introduction to Kayak Photography” eBook. Many of the images that you’ve been enjoying are made from my kayak. Kayak’s are a wonderful tool that allow you to be up close and personal with many kinds of wild life.


USD 4.99 / Download

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Intoduction to Kayak Photography: A How-to Ebook

Now available for instant download, my “Introduction to Kayak Photography” is a basic guide to using kayaks for nature photography. Presented in PDF format the book consists of five chapters: Choosing a Kayak for Photography; Gearing Up for Kayak Photography; Camera Equipment Considerations; Making Useable Photos from a Bouncing Little Boat; Finding and Approaching Wildlife. Concise and direct, there is a lot of useful information packed into 20 full-sized pages for only $4.99.


Cover shot of new ebook.


USD 4.99 / Download

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April 14-15 Workshops Sold Out!

My Wild Horse workshops scheduled for April 14 & 15 are now sold out. Other posted dates have spaces remaining. You can find more infomation about my 2012 workshops by clicking the menu above, or simply click here to go to that page.

Wild horse.

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Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve: An Overview

I thought it might be nice to do a little wrtie-up about one of my favorite places for kayaking and photography, the Rachel Caroson Estuarine Reserve. Lets start with a little information about the horses.

There are currently 32 horses living within the boundries of the reserve, 17 females and 15 males. Horses were fist introduced in the 1940’s to the islands that would become the reserve, Originally placed on the island by a local physician the herd was made up of “Core Banks” horses and supplemented with domestic animals purchased at auctions in North Carolina and Virginia. The domestic horses were mostly quarter horses. So while the Rachel Carson herd has some connection to the horses of Shackleford Banks and Corova, they lack the pure linage to colonial time that those animals have. Depending on ones point of view the horses may be considered as ferral horses or wild horses. Many biologists argue that the animals, even those on Shackleford Banks, were introduced to North America as domestice stock and should then be called ferral. Others, while in the minority, suggest that calling them wild is acceptable as the horse originated on the American continent only to disappear here in prehistoric times. From my point of view they live wild and free… and as such are wild horses.

In addition to the horses there are other mammals living in the reserve. These include both red and grey fox, river otter, raccoon, cottontail & marsh rabbit. Several reptiles can be found in the reserve as well. the diamondback terrapin is found in the marshes and the Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle can also be found around the reserve. More than 200 birds species have been observed in the reserve, including year round residents and migratory birds.

The reserve is named for naturalist Rachel Carson who conducted research on the islands making up the reserve during the 1940s. The reserve was created in 1985 and included Town Marsh, Carrot Island, Horse Island and Bird Shoal. In 1989 the Middle Marshes were added. Rachel Carson is one of 10 North Carolina Coatal Reserve & Natural Estuarine Research Reserves. While its primary purpose is for research recreational activities are allowed as long as they don’t interfere with educational or research uses or disturb the environment.

Rules & Tips for Visting the Reserve

  • Trails and boardwalk are open year round.
  • Do not remove or disturb plants of wildlife and do not feed the wildlife or horses.
  • Stay on desginated trails and leave nothing behind except footprints.
  • Camping, fires and littering are prohibited.
  • Leash and clean-up after your pets. Unrestrained dogs are at risk of death or injury from the horses.
  • Keep a safe distance from the horses, at least 50 feet.
  • There are no facilities on the reserve. Plan ahead and be prepared for changing conditions.
  • The reserve is under the jurisdiction of the town of Beaufort. There are city ordinances protecting the horses and you can be ticketed and fined for harassing them.
Also posted in Natural History in the Carolinas Tagged , , , |

Book Review: Mike Moat’s “Macro Workshop” Ebook.

Like so many businesses Mike Moats ran a “Black Friday” special last week. On the friday following Thanksgiving he offered any of his ebooks art the bargin price of $4.95. How could I resist scarfing up a copy of his “Macro Workshop” ebook. The idea of the book is to present the same material covered in his Macro workshops in a book form. It’s a great opportunity for folks that aren’t near a workshop location, are unwilling or unable to afford the price, or don’t really need the attention they’d receive in a workshop setting.

The book its self is reasonably well written. Granted, Mike isn’t the most talented wordsmith in the world but his matter-o-fact, straight forward style of presenting the material is quite effective. He illustrates his ideas well with sample photos of the concepts he’s trying to share. Some of the technical info is a bit basic… but you have to assume a portion of the readers will need a rudimentary schooling in aperature, depth of field and other basic concepts. If the question is, “can a novice macro photographer build a solid foundation by studying this book?” the answer has to be a big YES! What about the more experienced photographer? You may encounter some ideas and concepts you hadn’t considered before. It’s a safe bet you’ll see some things presented in a way that hadn’t occurred to you before. So sure, even an experienced photographer can learn something from this ebook. If you want to check out this ebook or others offered by Mike Moats visit .

In case anyone is wondering I’ve never met Mike in person. The comments and observations presented are my own and no commercial or professional affilation exists between myself and Mr. Moats.

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