Plane Bored (Or Just Plain Bored)

By Sara Goodnick

There is an answer to keeping yourself amused when flying, even on long flights, if you keep a camera close by. It’s easier with a mirrorless camera, but a newer cell phone can also work well.

1. Get a window seat in front of the wing, as close as possible to the front, if flying regular class. If you are behind the wing, the exhaust will have a negative effect on the air quality and your images will not be sharp.

2. Bring something to clean the window with, such as a soft cloth. Don’t use your good lens cloth-it might get contaminated with something awful. We were flying out of San Francisco to Hawaii during a gorgeous sunset. I was so happy to have been seated next to a relatively clean window.

3. Watch for interesting land patterns, cloud formations, shadows, storms, story-telling objects. Remember you are moving fast, and they will disappear very quickly! Be ready and don’t hesitate to shoot. Flying low into Phoenix from the NE during monsoon season has great potential for seeing afternoon storms.

Flying into places with a body of water nearby has many possibilities for interesting captures.

4. The images will improve when you take them into an image-processing program. I brought out some contrast and detail in these clouds in Lightroom CC.

5. When you can’t shoot from the window, look around where you are sitting. Ask yourself, “What would this look like through my lens?” This was looking into my glass of ice before I dropped it onto my lap.

Have fun! Then stretch out your back and neck muscles by turning the other way for awhile!

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

Traveling with Your Camera Gear

By Sara Goodnick

Since there have been a few questions regarding flying with camera gear from some of our participants on various workshops, I decided it might be helpful to put together some info for everyone. Some of these tips have come from my fellow photographers and I thank them.

If you plan to travel a lot, consider applying for Trusted Traveler and TSA Pre-check status. You will get entry into quicker security lines, and for Trusted Traveler, quicker re-entry into the USA if traveling abroad.

Airline seating: be sure you are not in a bulkhead row so you have a seat in front to stow your gear under.

Carry your camera gear on board as carry-on luggage. Do not under any circumstances allow your cameras or lenses to be checked. Carry them on with you and keep them with you. Place them under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin ahead of you so you can see them at all times. There are many stories of photographers checking a well-packed camera bag and finding their lenses in tiny pieces when they arrived. Keep the other essentials right there with you, too, such as the chargers, batteries, the memory cards, and laptop.

Regarding camera bags as luggage, be sure of the weight and size limitations by checking their specific rules online, and measuring your bags. Be prepared to move everything fragile into a smaller collapsible bag that you can place under the seat in front of you if forced to gate check your bag. I always keep an extra nylon bag, or collapsible daypack and a sweater for padding for the fragile gear in my camera bag carry-on. If flying with a partner, maybe that person can take on some of your gear in an emergency. Have another collapsible bag ready.

Remove the lenses from the cameras and use the body caps to cover the sensors, and cap both ends of the lenses. The extra stress on a camera and lens bumping around together can damage the connection between the two.

Bring a good tripod. A few years ago at the Grand Canyon, one of our participants had set hers up a few feet back from a steep cliff preparing for a beautiful sunset. It was quiet with no wind. She turned away to get something from her bag, and when she turned back, her camera and tripod had gone over the edge never to be seen again! It was a good camera on a light tripod that just became unbalanced.

If you bring one of the smaller, lighter tripods, you can stabilize it with a strap, or cord attached to it and your camera bag, a rock, or other large heavy object. Do not extend it to full height.

I know people who take their tripods on as a carry-on piece of luggage. Some airlines do not even count it as one of your carry-on pieces. Check with your airline ahead of time.

Scott-E-Vest a company that specializes in travel clothing with many pockets for everything. They have clothing for both men and women. Their vests are great for photographers. I don’t have the specialty photographer’s vest because it’s new, but I love the one I have. They don’t look like traditional photographer vests, so you might be less of a target for thieves.

Speaking of thieves, I always remove the brand name neck strap that comes with a new camera and replace it with a plain one (with extra padding for comfort). I don’t want anyone knowing what my gear is. Some even go so far as to cover the brand name on their camera with black electrical tape.

For cold weather destinations, wear your hiking boots on the plane. Take layers, including down sweaters, windbreakers, and wind pants, as well as your jacket, hat, and gloves. Look into purchasing fisherman’s specialty mittens that free up your fingers for photography purposes.

Safe travels!

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

Action Photography with Cowboy Mounted Shooting

By Sara Goodnick

To improve your action photography skills a day or two spent photographing the fast-growing sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting is just the ticket.

Cowboys and cowgirls compete on galloping horses, shooting single-action 19th century style revolvers, with theatrical black powder ammunition blanks at balloons. They compete one at a time, racing through one of 82 pre-determined patterns of 10 balloons on sticks, with the goal of having the cleanest round and the fastest time.

It’s dramatic, but fun and completely family-friendly. The noise is loud, but one can get used to it, or just wear ear protection. The participants and their horses definitely wear ear protection.

They often dress in traditional western gear, both modern and historical, so when you get tired of the action, go for the interesting details.

Because they run the same pattern, you can stay in the same spot and get some consistency in your photographs as you improve your skills.

I have had horses for most of my life, so I know how to behave when around them. For those of you new to the horse world, if you go, just remember, be polite and friendly, stay out of the way of the riders, do not go into the arena, do not feed or pet the horses without permission, do not move quickly when you are behind a horse, smile and chat with the other photographers, and stay out of the way of the official paid photographer.

The photography skills I was working on during the two days I photographed the Phoenix Winter Championships recently:

  1. Using my Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens at 400mm and getting the fast moving subjects in focus. The depth of field for this lens on my Nikon D810 at 50 feet is a short 1 foot 6 inches, according to my app, DOF Scale, so it was a real challenge. I had to guess how far they were, but it varied by as much as 50 feet at least.
  2. Capturing and freezing the action as they fired the pistols. Getting the smoke was good, but the real test was in getting the flames before the smoke.
  3. Finding good light both inside the covered arena and outside.
  4. Finding a spot without a distracting background.
  5. Testing the limits of the camera’s ISO range.
  6. Learning to use focus tracking.

Here is what I learned:

  1. It takes a lot of practice and concentration to follow a moving subject and keep it in focus.
  2. You must trigger the shutter before you see the flash of the flames from the pistol. If you see the flames through the viewfinder, it is too late. You have to anticipate. Watching some of the runs without trying to photograph them will help.
  3. Shutter speed must be 1/1000 sec. or faster. Shoot on manual and adjust aperture and ISO accordingly. Or you could use shutter priority.
  4. Try another lens, such as the 70-200 f/2.8. I had very nice images from this lens when I could get close enough.
  5. Shooting a high speed burst doesn’t always catch what you want if your timing is already off.
  6. Shooting a high speed burst over and over again can cause buffering problems as the camera just stops shooting and tries to catch up. I had a 120Mbs CF card but between the card and the camera, I just don’t have a top of the line sports dedicated camera. But what I have is good enough for my purposes.

Here are some of my favorites, and several with some things to watch out for.

First, the bad:

The horse’s feet are in an awkward part of the stride. This happens a lot in this type of event and there is little to be done. With practice, you can catch some better foot placement, but trying to also catch the shooting at the right time is just luck.

I really try to avoid photographing a horse with its mouth gaping open. This is a very busy background and the balloon is in front of the horse. Legs are awkward.

Some of my favorites:

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

New Lenses VS Old Lenses, and Testing Them

By Sara Goodnick

Camera lenses produced before the digital age may still be in mint condition, but you might want to consider replacing them anyway. Here’s why. The newer lenses were designed specifically for capture by the digital sensor which is completely different physically and chemically from a film plane. To optimize this difference in sharpness and color capture you will probably need to upgrade.

Perhaps going to your local camera store and asking to test one of their lenses is an option. If not, rental through one of the various lens and camera rental companies will give you a feel for whether you should upgrade.

If you purchase a new lens, or want to test your old ones, there is a great tool available for free! It’s a downloadable lens test target, produced by B&H Photo Video, and available to anyone. The only problem is that it is almost impossible to find on their website. I asked them and they sent me the link:

I downloaded it and took it to Costco to be printed as a 20×30 mat print. It came rolled up like a poster, but some photo mount spray and a piece of white foam core allowed me to mount it and hang or prop up for shooting my lens tests.

First set up the mounted target in in an area of even light. Most do not have a portrait studio or lights, so try to find a north light from a window in a room, a well lit room, or look for open shade outdoors (however, wind will be a problem there, so secure it well). You can check for eveness of the light by setting your camera for the perfect exposure using the best combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, then use the camera’s meter reading to check both ends, the top, the bottom, and the middle to see if any parts are under or over-exposed by checking the exposure graph in the viewfinder or on top of the camera. Of course, an independent light meter is ideal. Get it all as even as possible, but if that isn’t possible, just plan to photograph the part that is most evenly lit.

Make a plan on what lenses you plan to test, and at which focal lengths and apertures. Also plan and mark on the ground at which distances you wish to test each lens. Be very methodical and it will help later. You could make these notes on individual pieces of paper and photograph each notation as you work by photographing it before each test.

For instance, if I want to test my 70-200mm Nikkor 2.8 lens this is what I might do.

Set distances of the closest distance it will focus zoomed in, at its longest focal length as listed on the lens barrel (200mm at 5 ft in this case), 10 ft, and as far back as I can and still fill the frame with the test target. At the closest distances, only a part of the target may be visible, but I will choose to photograph the part that has the most detail and set up the camera on the tripod there. Remember to use the cable or remote release, or mirror lockup. I will photograph the target at the lens’s largest aperture (f/2.8 for this lens), several middle apertures such as f/5.6, f/8, and f/11, and then f/16 and f/22.

Repeat this with the different focal lengths you want to test. I might go for one set at 200mm, one at 135mm, and the last one zoomed in to 70mm.

Then repeat this at the various distances from the target you have measured out for each lens you want to test. Lenses with variable apertures, i.e., those whose apertures will change when you change focal lengths will be a little more complicated in that you will have to take note as to what their limits are at each focal length.

At the smallest and largest apertures, you may find the need to add more light. If you cannot actually add more light itself, go to a higher ISO unless it takes you into an unacceptable noise level. Or you could begin with your largest aperture and lowest ISO. That will not affect the sharpness of the lens, and it is better if you can see the target!

Download this these images into your computer, label them with any info not already in their metadata, and compare their sharpness especially on the edges, and particularly at the smallest and largest apertures. You will learn a lot about your lenses this way, and photography in general.

It’s not nearly as much fun as going out and photographing your favorite subjects, but the knowledge you will gain will improve your future image captures!

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Finding and Photographing the Wild Horses on the Lower Salt River

By Sara Goodnick

Wild horses are beautiful and challenging to photograph, and there are several locations in Arizona where they may be found. By far, the easiest access to them is on the Lower Salt River NE of Phoenix.

To get there, from Hwy 87 going north towards Saguaro Lake, take the Bush Hwy exit and follow the signs. From Apache Junction, take Usery Pass to Bush Highway, and from Mesa it can be reached via Power Road.

The horses tend to be found near water unless it has rained a lot and there is plenty of green grass. The best places to find them are at the Coon Bluff Recreation area, the Phon D. Sutton Recreation Area, the Blue Point Recreation area, which is around the bridge over the river, and the Butcher Jones Recreation area. However, they can sometimes bee seen from the road in other places.

They are not fearful of humans, but do not approach them closely or offer them food! If they get too used to begging it will end badly for them as eventually someone will be kicked or bitten, resulting in their removal or destruction.

Being prey animals, not predators, they will usually run away if frightened. If cornered, those teeth and hooves can be deadly, so please keep a safe distance, and keep your dogs and small children under control. Horses will kill dogs because they are similar to coyotes and wolves, which threaten their young.

They spend a lot of time eating, so take your time to observe them while waiting for some action, or interaction among them. Don’t frighten them or try to get reactions from them-its not ethical. They need their energy and attention for survival.

Best lens to use is a 70-200mm, fast shutter speed of at least 1/800th sec. or faster, and the best ISO and aperture to go with that. Tripods are not needed, but a monopod can be useful.

What to wear: hiking boots, long sleeved shirts, long pants. This is rough country if you leave the roadside. The saying, “Everything out there stings, sticks, or bites”, has truth to it!

Plan ahead. The developed parking areas require a permit that you must purchase outside of the Tonto National Forest Recreation Area. Some of the local stores carry them, so check online. If you are over 62 years of age, you are eligible for a permanent Senior Pass ($80 – new fee as of August 2017) that will get you into all of our National Parks and Monuments, as well as other places.  You just display it on your dashboard when visiting. Theses passes may be purchased online or at certain fish and wildlife offices.

Sara Goodnick is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

Rainy Day Photography

By Sara Goodnick

If your vacation comes with a few days of rain, look at it as a creativity challenge to your photography!

We often visit Hawaii in the winter and every few years we will get some rainy days. Knowing this, I come prepared.


  1. Rain-proof cover for camera, camera bag, and me.
  2. Macro lens and/or extension tubes.
  3. Sandals or river shoes.
  4. Clothing in which I can comfortably sit on the ground, scramble over rocks, kneel, and otherwise contort myself.
  5. Tripod
  6. Portable flash unit
  7. Laptop and Bamboo Wacom Tablet

Keeping an open mind, I will stroll around the hotel grounds scouting for macro subjects as my first choice, then landscapes. Just being present mentally and taking note of the surroundings can be a fun treasure hunt. Then I drive around to areas of interesting weather. Coaxing a spouse or family member to be my photo assistant is very helpful. Someone with an umbrella over my camera and me is a luxury!

When back in the room, I have fun in Lightroom and Photoshop with presets and plug-ins. Unless shooting for publications that require straightforward photography with minimal manipulation, freedom reigns. I use Color Effects Pro, Topaz, David Kingham, and Life After Photoshop, and Photomorphis to entertain myself and maybe create some keepers. Gray, rainy days are a fantastic excuse to relax, expand and explore your creativity. Have fun!



Wet flower petal found on patio

Reflection in a puddle.

Reflection in a puddle.





Found feather on a bench

Found feather on a bench









Landscape with clouds and fog on the Big Island of Hawaii

Landscape with clouds and fog on the Big Island of Hawaii


Sara is a Trip Leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

Fun with a Holga Lens

Author:  Sara Goodnick

If you are a Nikon or Canon photographer and would like to have some fun with an inexpensive little lens, try out a Holga lens. It sells on Amazon for $30. Alternatively, you could go out and get a Holga camera, which uses film, for $40, also on Amazon. This is my experience with just the lens.
It is completely manual. You have to use your histogram to learn if your image exposure is acceptable. It works best at f/16 for me. When possible, I used the “Sunny 16” rule: on a sunny day outside, at ISO400, and f/16, set your shutter speed to 400. Or, match your shutter to your ISO at f/16.


The focus is soft in an old-fashioned way. I found that to be a nice change from the super crisp images we are so used to seeing now. You have a focusing ring that has one person, three people, a group of people, and a mountain to approximate your focus. I missed getting it right many times because I am so spoiled to auto-focus and am out of practice. Looking through the lens is best for focusing, but difficult under certain lighting conditions.


The vignetting is strong and somewhat irregular, which makes for some nice surprises. I could reduce it by using the DX setting for a cropped sensor on my Nikon D810 full frame.

I love the look it gives portraits with its soft focus, much like the soft focus filter we used to put on our lenses when using film to soften skin.
All in all, it gave me a chance to play like a kid with a Brownie camera! After downloading the images I thoroughly enjoyed processing them in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop as creatively as I pleased.
It’s summer-let the kid in you out to PLAY!