The Rites of Spring



Poppy-scape, Italy

 I love to travel, and I am really looking forward to my tour in Morocco and then on to Spain and Portugal, but I have to be honest: I HATE missing Spring here in northern California. It’s a time when my spirits feel renewed, when my own energy seems to come bursting out of me. The good news is that Spring will be following me – hopefully – as I am going to Morocco a month earlier than usual, and late April/early May is still late Spring in Spain. So I’m looking foward to fields of flowers in both countries and hoping it’s a great year for them there!

For this image, I used Topaz Labs’ Impression plug-in, and their Pointillism preset which I then adjusted to taste, layered over the original and adjusted opacity. It’s hard to see the effect unless quite enlarged in my office, but it adds a touch of painterly effect here in this small version. For a 15% discount, click on the link here and enter the code brendatharp at checkout.

You can learn this technique in several of the workshops that I am teaching this year, including at the Madeline Island School of Photography class October 5-9, 2015.

Thanks for visiting and sharing.





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Yosemite: Mirrorless and Moonlight



Cabin fever got the better of me this past weekend, and I took off for a very quick trip up into the Merced River canyon and Yosemite. I was in search of redbud, having heard they were popping into bloom with the warm weather. I found various stages from full bloom with leaves showing, to just barely beginning to bloom. But the idea I had for a redbud image was not to be this year – with water levels at record lows due to the drought, the branches had river rocks behind them instead of the flowing water I had wanted. Still, it was all so pretty to see things beginning to bloom! With the warm temperatures of this past weekend and early days this week, I’m sure that the peak will happening very soon. I will defer to Michael Frye, however, who always has a reliable and up to date report on seasonal events happening near and in Yosemite.

I photographed some redbud, and then headed up into the valley to eat while waiting for complete darkness. I wanted to test out my Fuji XT-1 at high ISOs required for star points of light (3200 and 6400) and also test out my new Fujinon 23mm 1.4 lens. The results were really amazing. I was so impressed by the way the camera handled the noise of 3200 and 6400 ISO. The 23mm f1.4 was a superb light-gathering lens, as well. But I discovered one ‘down side’ of such light-gathering. You see so many stars that the constellations themselves can get lost in all of that. I could see a strong definition of Orion in the sky, with my eye. But at f1.4 I saw so many stars that he disappeared in the picture. If I exposed at f2.8, I saw him better because I gathered in only the light of stronger stars. At least I know know that when I get the chance to photograph the milky way on a moonless night with this lens it will be awesome.

I then moved up the valley, to get a photograph of Yosemite falls and the cliffs under moonlight. Being a few days past full moon, I had to wait until about 11 PM for the cliffs to be bathed in moonlight. But heh, the best entertainment in the valley is being out under the billions of stars at night so I didn’t mind. I made a 6 minute exposure, at 400 ISO, for the blog image above. I love how at this time of the moon cycle you can get moonlit landscape and star trails. It makes for an unusual effect.

Some might be wondering how I could do this with a mirrorless system that uses an electronic viewfinder, and I’m here to say it was a challenge! To say they are noisy is an understatement. Even the best EVF’s will be challenging if not impossible to compose at night. You’ll have to get there early to compose while you can see, or use the point and hope method of composition that I used that night! With a few quick test shots, I got my composition, and was ready for the moon when it came. It rose later, as it was a few days after full moon, but by 11 PM it was bathing the cliffs in beautiful moonlight. I was glad there was enough water flowing over the falls to at least have that as a feature to work with, and I got a little ‘bonus’ of prismatic hues in the wispy falls – the beginnings of a moon bow, but not strong enough with the low water flow.

All in all it was worth the trip and I am looking forward to doing more night and star photography with my mirrorless system, now that I know it’s feasible.

Thanks for visiting,



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Topaz Labs Special and Cuba


Cuba Today, or Yesterday??

It’s alway amazed and delighted me how taking the color away from an image can give it a timeless feel.  Such was the case here. I loved how the light spilled down the cobblestones and elongated the shadow of the car, while bringing out such wonderful texture of those cobblestones. In color, that sky was a warm white, and while I could pull the exposure in on the histogram, there still wasn’t really any color, and in a color image, those bright skies seem to detract more than when it’s a black and white. Besides, the more I looked at the image, the more it called out to be black and white to me.

I used Topaz Labs B&W Effects for this one, and they are having a special promotion for this plug-in. Save $20 off the price now through March 31st. Use the coupon code MARBW.

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Even the Pigs Pose in Cuba


It’s true. Everyone seems to want to be in the photographs we make when we’re in Cuba. Even the pigs. Perhaps they are just as curious about us as we are of them. Just like many of the people. And how long will that last? No one knows, for sure. But if we, as photographers, behave, and photograph everyone and everything with respect, it will last longer than if we just point and shoot and move on. If we can have a dialogue with the people, the true people-to-people exchange that Obama set in motion a while ago, it will help. You might have to do it through your guide/interpreter, if you don’t speak Spanish. But don’t let that deter you.

This farm is a Unesco heritage farm site. We visited on my first trip to Cuba, and subsequent trips thereafter. I have photographed Juana Gamacho, Francisco, their dogs, and now their pig! They welcome us each time, and we come bearing useful gifts – things like sewing kits, pens, batteries, first aid supplies, etc. Maybe that’s why they keep welcoming us, but it’s a win-win. They are truly willing to be photographed and they offer us coffee every time we come.

No matter where you travel, the experience is often made better by the connection you create when you are photographing the people or their homes/farms. We take a genuine interest in how they live; we ask what things are used for; we tell them (and mean it) how special their country is, and how glad we are to be there. We ask them how their crops are doing or did last season. I’m convinced all of that matters, I’ve seen it in the reactions we get on the faces of the people we photograph. Even the pigs smile.

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Cabin Fever!


Impressions of an Aspen Grove

I’d say it’s been a long winter but most of you that know I live in northern California would scoff at that comment – given the amazing cold temps and snow so many of you have had! Usually I can get away with that because it’s so rainy and gray, but that hasn’t been the case this year either! But the ‘long winter in my mind’ allowed me to stick close to home after Cuba and get a lot of things accomplished – like the new website, organization of my image database (well, almost) and other important tasks that keep the business running when I’m on the road. And time to actually work on my photographs! This image was created a while back but I never got around to assembling all the layers and making the adjustments to create this multiple exposure. It was 12 exposures, and I moved the camera vertically for each one, and assembled the layers in Photoshop, adjusting each one’s opacity using the formula of 1/x – where x was the layer #, and working my way down the stack until arriving at the background (layer 1). Curves, color balance, and a few other minor adjustments were all that was done after that. Finally done, and it feels good! But now I have cabin fever. A few warm sunny days and all I want to do is hit the road somewhere, typically somewhere where Spring is bursting out – like southern California or Arizona. Arizona is looking like it will be a terrific year for flowers, but I won’t know yet for a couple of weeks. And I just hear from Michael Frye that the redbud are already popping in the Merced River Canyon. Yikes! Always a hard decision where to go – wishing I had 6 weeks to hit the road to everywhere, but alas, at the moment, I don’t, so I’ll have to pick somewhere.

Thanks for visiting, and sharing this post with your friends!



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Serene Swimming


I’ve been editing my library of images and came across this beautiful scene of a family of Orcas. It was the end of the day and the water was quite, providing great reflections. It was such a peaceful experience to watch them! Serene, really. It was quiet, as cut our engine, and drifted and the only noise we heard was their breath. We must have spent 45 minutes photographing this family unit, before it became too dark. Hearing them blow, watching them push a pressure wake just as they were about to surface, was magical. The hard thing was picking the best pictures of the whole series – there were so many good moments! I’m looking forward to being in southeast Alaska and in Glacier Bay again July 13-19. It promises to be another wonder-filled trip. There are still 3 spaces left, if you would like to join us please visit Dolphin Charters site and contact them directly for details.

Thanks for visiting and for sharing this post with your friends!



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