Cactus Blossoms & Macro Photography

Sara Goodnick

Cactus_Flowers-2-6The Sonoran Desert is the only place I have lived that has a truly magnificent springtime. The air is cool and refreshing, and color is bursting out in a normally pale and dusty landscape. It usually begins in mid-February, and goes on in stages until late May.

My favorite flowers are the cactus blossoms because they appear on such an unlikely source. The delicate petals and amazing colors invite closer inspection, where the pistils and stamens reveal massive amounts of pollen and usually an insect exploring the inner parts.Cactus_Flowers-2-7

This March, during the late afternoon nearing sunset, I took my tripod, a stool, a reflector, my camera, a Nikon D700, with a Nikon 105 mm Micro lens, and a cable release, out around our home which is surrounded by the desert. I had decided to use a process called photo stacking to give detail throughout the photograph in the areas i felt were important. This entails making a series of 5-25 images focusing on different parts of the flower. Using the software Helicon Focus, I generated the final images.Cactus_Flowers-2-3

It is important to use a tripod and to stay organized. The differing focal lengths must go in order. This cannot be random or the software will not work well. So I set it all up, then perched comfortably as possible on my stool, and focused, clicked, focused 1/8th” closer, clicked, etc. as many times as I needed to cover the blossoms.

Cactus_Flowers-2-8I uploaded them into Lightroom, made a few adjustments to each image (all in each sub-group were synchronized), then uploaded each set into Helicon Focus. It always takes some experimenting to decide which of the 3 stacking methods works best with which set of images. The flattened composite is saved as a tiff, and taken back into Lightroom or Photoshop for final minor adjustments and cropping.


Sara Goodnick is a nature and portrait photographer and a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Consider Minimum Focus Distance When Choosing Your Lens

by Wildlife Photographer Kathleen Reeder

When selecting which lens to use for a given wildlife shoot, keep in mind the minimum focus distance of the lens.  The minimum focus distance is the shortest distance at which a lens can focus. With DSLR cameras, the distance to the subject is measured from the focal plane mark on the camera body, not from the front of the lens.  The lens cannot focus at distances shorter than the minimum focus distance. It is useful to know how close your lens can be to the subject and still focus.  Here is a list of my lenses, their minimum focus distance and how I often choose to use them to photograph different wildlife.  Use this as a guide for how you choose which lens to use when photographing wildlife.

Lens Focal Length             Minimum Focus Distance Wildlife Uses   
Nikon 60mm macro f/2.8 .72 feet Close up – Small Mammals
Close up – Small reptiles
Close up – Aquarium
Nikon 105mm macro f/2.8 1 foot Close up – Small Mammals
Close up – Small reptiles
Close up – Butterflies
Close up – Insects
Small mammal portraits
 Nikon 200mm macro f/4 1.6 feet Close up – Hummingbirds
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 1.3 feet  Groups or packs at close range
Medium mammal portraits
Nikon 70-200mm VRII f/2.8 4.6 feet Raptors in flight
Large mammals and their environment
Large mammals running
Groups or packs
Nikon 200-400mm VRII f/4 6.6 feet Large mammal portraits
Raptor portraits
Medium – Large mammals running
Nikon 600mm f/4 15.7 feet Small birds from a blind
Large mammals behind a fence
Medium – large mammals and their environment
Large birds in flight


Using Photography to Give Back

by Rick Sprain

A couple photographer friends of mine, Larry Mason, Gary Gromer along with Gary’s wife Dagny, had recently been asked by the Prescott Public Library to help with a reading promotion at the library. A few years ago, the library had purchased some great digital backgrounds with “READ” on them with the intention of doing some sort of promotion but didn’t know how to use them.


Flash forward a couple of years, with the software collecting dust, the local Meetup Group, High Country Photographers, was approached by the library supervisor Beth Baden and asked to help set up a photographic event for the library. Once Larry and Gary were given the digital backgrounds, a plan was set into motion.


So on Monday April 13, the four of us set up a full fledged studio in the Prescott Library. Two cameras were set up and tethered to their computers. The intent was to take a quick shot of the person with their favorite book, process the image and downloading it onto a background chosen by the participant. It sounded good and worked great when practiced but it was soon evident that event was overwhelming. The library opened at 9:00 am and we had our first customer at 9:01 am and by noon we had twenty. We tried to grab a quick lunch but the line started to gather again. By the time the library closed at 5:00 pm 78 people had their picture taken. Even with three computers going all out, we still had over 30 pictures left to process and print by the end of the day. The promotion was a wonderful success and the library hopes to continue with a yearly event if not twice a year. Of course the day wouldn’t have been complete if I hadn’t had my picture taken with my favorite magazine, Arizona Highways.

Rick Sprain

5 Steps to Overcoming Your Fears in the Wild

by Michael Greene  – Wild Moments 

Let’s face it – taking pictures in the wild can be an intimidating experience. Whether you have a fear of heights, tight spaces, wild animals, lightening, or even the dark there are many natural hazards that one has to consider before venturing out into the wild. Whether you are on a photo workshop or planning a more autonomous photographic excursion overcoming your fears can play a big role in improving your photography.

1.    Embrace Your Fear – As human beings, we are hard wired for fear. It’s part of our genetic DNA.  It’s a physiological safety mechanism our body uses to tell us of potential danger or uncertainty in an important situation.  Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s our mental approach of how we deal with it that usually needs to change. Learn to embrace your fear by working alongside of it is the first step in overcoming your obstacles.

Working in tight spots in Lower Antelope

Working in tight spots in Lower Antelope

 2.    Respect Mother Nature – Make no mistake, there is healthy fear and unhealthy fear. Mother nature deserves respect. She can be dangerous and full of uncertainty. Even in a controlled group situation unexpected things can happen.  However, that doesn’t mean we make mountains out of mole hills. It does mean that we approach each trip with a healthy respect for the environment. For instance, we don’t haphazardly wander down a trail into the Grand Canyon in the middle of summer without bringing enough water.


Open up your photo possibilities by overcoming your fears

3.    Put It In Proper Perspective – Realistically assessing the situation helps remove the uncertainty. What are the chances it’s going to happen?  If you are dealing with a fear of heights, maybe you know for sure that you are going to experience your fear like walking on a narrow section of trail at the Grand Canyon. The next question should be…how long of a section? Is it a ¼ mile or 20 feet? How many people travel on this trail. Is it realistically safe? If you are dealing with a fear of snakes… think candidly regarding the chances that you will see a snake much less step on one.


Stepped on an ant hill making this image.

4.    Educate Yourself – Education and awareness is a useful tool in overcoming fear. Other people have already experienced and overcome whatever it is that is driving your fear. There is a plethora of information online or even at your local library. Read about other peoples’ experiences. Whether they are survival stories, recounts of animal attacks, or even trip reports the information is available to help you prepare yourself for whatever it is you are facing. For instance, know the time of day and seasons where snakes are more active. Learn about the topography they live and how to safely travel over it. Learn about the different species of snakes, which ones are venomous and more aggressive.

An isolated steep climb down near Winslow, AZ

An isolated steep climb down near Winslow, AZ

5.    Know That It Gets Better – You’ve embraced your fear to work alongside of it. You have a healthy respect for your environment. You’ve put your fear in proper perspective and realistically assessed your potential future situation. You’ve educated yourself on possible solutions to the problem. Now you can confidently approach your work in the field knowing you’ve prepared for the problem and each time you experience and overcome it; it will be that much easier the next time! 

Following these simple steps should help you overcome your fears and thus improve your photography. You’ll be more mentally focused, relaxed and be able to travel to places that before you could only dream of. Happy shooting!

 Michael Greene is a nature photographer based in Arizona.  He has been a member of Arizona Highways Photo Workshops trip leading staff since 2008.  To view Michael’s work visit

What’s New in Adobe Lightroom CC

by Suzanne MathiaLR1

With the release of the newest version of Lightroom this morning I have been inundated with requests for information and updates. I will know more later today and will put all the new tools and enhancements through their paces.

Our upcoming Lightroom classes will be sure to include all these great new features.

What we think we know:

Lightroom CC is available as part of an Adobe Creative Cloud Photography subscription ($9.99 per month) or as the equivalent standalone $149 perpetual-license Lightroom 6 application. But the single purchase option won’t include syncing photos to Adobe’s mobile apps, such as Lightroom Mobile, Slate, and Voice. Adobe uses a smaller-footprint version of the photo file called Smart Preview for transmitting to Web and devices, so bandwidth and storage aren’t taxed unnecessarily.

Panorama – HDR – Face Recognition


Aside from some heavy duty lifting such as luminosity masks, layers, blending and content aware cloning and healing most of the trips to Photoshop were for Panorama stitching and blending multiple exposures – 32 bit image processing. Now they will be included inside Lightroom along with Face recognition

A video preview of Face Recognition
LR3I don’t have much use for this feature but I know a lot of people will like this. Come out with Bird or flower or rock recognition then we’ll be talking!
The Photo/Merge menu is where you access two more new tools: HDR and Panorama.

HDR Tool
Lightroom now lets you combine under- and overexposed versions of the same photo for a balanced result.

Adjustment/Refining brushes for the Graduated and Radial Filters

LR7You can fine tune and make local adjustments to gradients and the radial filter YEA!!!!!



You will now be able to time slide transitions to music and have Pan and Zoom effects



The most welcome update is the new improved speed up – up to 1000% faster?? That I would love to see.

One of the features touted in the listing is “performance gains” introduced by leveraging compatible graphics.
In other words, it seems the new version of the program will finally make use of your computer’s GPU (graphics processing unit) for faster performance, especially when editing photos using the Develop module.

Thats all I have for now – I will be downloading and playing with all these new features in the next few days and will post updates. I would love to hear your opinions, comments and little tricks you find.

B&H is offering $20.00 off the annual subscription fee for 2 days!

Suzanne Mathia is a certified Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop expert, an AHPW instructor and a frequent contributor to Arizona Highways magazine.

Becoming an Artist in Residence

by Christina Heinle

Hubble Trading Post by Betty Freedman

Back in November I applied to be an Artist in Residence (AiR) at Hubbell Trading Post. I thought out of all of the National Parks and National Park Historic sites that had AiR programs, this would be the most likely. It’s not a huge site and a pretty remote location. My gamble paid off and I received an email letting me know that I was accepted.

May 13th to May 23rd, I’ll be living onsite Hubbell Trading Post in a small stone hogan. For a full week I can focus on photography! There are so many places to see around there. Canyon de Chelly being the most popular and closest. I’ve never been to the area before and am looking forward to exploring.

People have asked me what the application process was to be an AiR. Having worked in the corporate world putting together a statement of intent, a resume and gathering letters of recommendation was challenging. The easiest part was meeting with AHPW instructor, Suzanne Mathia and she helped me choose and edit my 10 pictures to submit with the application.  My resume consisted of qualification summary, where I listed I knew Lightroom and Nik plug-in Efex, assisting with Photo 101/102 classes, winning the Az.Gov contest through the state fair and being a participant in PhotoForte, a photographer mentoring site. I listed all the photography classes I had taken along with my volunteer work with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Hubble Trading Post by Jerry Chin

Hubble Trading Post by Jerry Chin

A few weeks ago an AiR from last year contacted me  and he helped me understand what to expect during my residency. I’m so thankful we talked because I now know to look for brown recluse spiders (he found 2 inside) and I can eat fresh eggs every day.

Stay tuned for my follow-up post of my experience as AiR at the Hubble Trading Post.

To see more of Christina’s work visit

Real Estate Photography

by Amy Horn

Isn’t it great when your photography passion becomes useful? Well, let me explain. Last month, my husband and I came to the decision of selling our house, so we prepared it for listing and met with a realtor. Being a photographer, I offered to take the photos of the house with my Nikon D600 so that my realtor didn’t have to use her mobile device. Most realtors today use mobile devices for real estate photography, and, don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone, but the lens does not capture a very wide angle. I knew my Nikon with an 18-35mm lens would capture a wider scene and with adding fill light through flash I would make stronger images than a mobile phone.

While shooting the different rooms and angles I realized how many windows we have in our house. Even with flash inside, the bright, sunny outside light made every image of the windows look overexposed and the wonderful outside pine trees were not visible. So, I bracketed the images. If you aren’t familiar with bracketing, it is taking multiple exposures of the same composition in order to capture detail in the highlights and shadows. For every room with windows I captured two images.  One image was exposed for indoors (blowing out the details in the windows) and one shot was underexposed by 2 stops. The underexposed image captured great detail in the windows.

Once I downloaded to Lightroom (LR) and made minor adjustments (cropping mostly) I opened each pair into Photoshop (PS). To do this quickly, select both images from LR and right click to select “Edit in> Open as layers in Photoshop” then PS opens and each image is on its’ own layer. With the underexposed image as the bottom layer, I added a mask to the top layer. Grabbed a brush the size of the windows with a feathered edge and started masking. Masking is a technique of using detail from a layer below as a form of compositing. The brush paints black onto the mask revealing the below layer. After a few seconds of quickly brushing, I saved the image. Upon saving the corrected image is immediately visible in LR and ready for export. I spent about 15 minutes masking the different sets of images and then exported them all from Lightroom. My realtor was thrilled with the images and the house sold in five days. I would love to think it was because of my images!

To learn more from Amy Horn, sign up for her Photo 101, Photo 102, iPhoneography or iPad Workflow classes at View her work at