The way I want to live...

I wrote this 8 years ago when I was going through a tough time in my life but I still feel like it applies today.
"As a rule, when we think of rocks, if we think about rocks at all, the word strength comes to mind. But it is the water that formed these rocks that holds the true power. This soft, flowing, gentle, flexible, changing yet constant, forever spontaneous fluid is the perfect example of how I want to live. I don't want to be the unmoving, rigid rock that gets worn away. I want to be the water; the designer with enough creative force to move mountains." Good Night Everyone! Quote and photo by Shannon Knock Culpepper

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Rocky Mountain National Park

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I think spring is my favorite season but fall comes in at a close second. One of the most magical places to experience autumn is in Rocky Mountain National Park. The last time I was there was a decade ago, when I took this picture, but lately I've been getting the feeling that I need to go back. The very first time I went to Rocky National Park I was 14. I had my first real camera which was Korean. A friend of my dad's gave it to me but it didn't have a manual and even if it had I wouldn't have been able to read it. I'd had the camera for about a year before the trip and it took me almost that entire year to figure the darn thing out by myself. (If you know me, you know I hate asking for help.) All my babysitting money and money from my part time job at the grocery store went to film and processing and I kept getting 36 black or blown out images back when they came in. Kids starting out in photography have no idea what it was like in the old film days: One roll of film, 24-36 shots, that's it. Then you can't see if you captured the picture or not, you just had to cross your fingers and wait an entire week to see the results. That trip to Colorado was my first experience with mountains and wildlife and I was in love. My dad drove up to a group of elk, two males were fighting about twenty feet from the road and of course, not knowing anything about wildlife I jump out of the car to get a picture. I barely made it back in the car in time. Then we hiked up to this beautiful waterfall and I decide that I think the waterfall would look much more picturesque from the other side. I was bracing for the jump to the very slippery looking rock across the way when my Dad was like, "Don't even think about it Shannon." Sometimes my boyfriend or my kids see that same expression on my face when I'm taking pictures and they know exactly what I'm thinking. Sometimes I listen to their voices of reason and then other times I don't. That trip is probably my favorite teenage memory. When those pictures came back from the lab and all of them were in focus and well exposed I was giddy with joy. Have a great night. Photo by Shannon K. Culpepper

Why you should be shooting raw, even if you don't know how to edit it.

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So many people tell me that they don't shoot RAW for so many different reasons... files are too big, they don't edit their pictures so there is no need, they burn through SD cards too fast, that JPEGs are just fine and many, many, more reasons. 

I'm a professional photographer, my degree is in commercial photography but when I was in college I was shooting a 4x5 and 2 1/4 Bronica film cameras. As you can imagine, the photography industry has had incredible amounts of change in the last two decades and with digital photography shooting RAW is one of the most valuable technical tools you have in your tool kit, just under training your eye and having a personal vision/style. 

Now after saying all that I will admit, that even though I've shot in RAW since I started shooting digital, I have rarely edited in RAW. I shoot RAW + JPEG and 99.9% of the time I was getting what I thought I wanted with the JPEG and just kept backing up the RAW images. Well, recently a coworker, mentioned how he had accidentally drastically over exposed a shot of an eagle and by editing in RAW was able to bring back all the detail in the head feathers of the eagle. I was intrigued. 

While traveling in Alaska with my son, Martin Culpepper my wildlife photographer and all around animal expert, I told him that I expected him to shoot in RAW the whole trip, no exceptions because these were the shots of a lifetime. He gave me the standard complaints, mainly that he was going to need about 5-128 Gig SD cards if I wanted him to do that. Well the first morning, right out of the gate, he came upon this baby moose, running through the marsh by itself and his camera ISO was still set to like 10,000 because he was shooting late the night before. He was so sad that he totally over exposed this shot. I told him that I thought I could save it in RAW but he was skeptical. Looking at the before and after shots, he has vowed to always shoot in RAW no matter what. 

What I will tell you, after using the RAW editor to edit my Alaska photos, I will always use it from here on out exclusively and I am beyond grateful to myself for shooting RAW in the past as well. I had no idea how much information it really saved. It is like going from a picture of a picture of a sunset to actually seeing it with your own eyes. What I found while editing these shots is that it really isn't about rescuing images for me, it is Ansel Adams-esqu photo processing that gives me so much more depth that has been missing in my properly exposed JPEGs.

Please do yourself the favor, forget about how many pictures you get on your card when you shoot RAW. No matter how expensive it is, it will never equal the cost of film and processing in the old days. I started photography at the age of twelve and all my babysitting money went to the drug store to pay for my pictures and I had to wait two weeks just to see if I actually got any correctly exposed images. Every time I took a single picture I had to ask myself if it was worth it to take another because each picture cost money. None of us realizes how fortunate we are that we can take 600 shots at a time of an eagle flying and not have to run those money calculations and we get to see what the picture looks like immediately. 

So please, invest a little money into a terabyte drive to back up your RAW shots and buy some bigger SD cards. Even if you don't edit now, in the future, when you get into the RAW processing, you will feel like you're channeling Ansel Adams and you will go back and rework all your best pictures. Don't cheat your future self. Please let me know if you're a RAW convert. Thanks- Shannon K. Culpepper 
Photos by Martin Culpepper

Happy World Photography Day!

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For World Photography Day I’d like to share a beautiful story. A friend of mine went to Africa on photo Safari with her husband, sister and brother in-law, last year. During the trip their guide was incredible, he kept describing how they should take their pictures, the animal behavior they should look for or how they could get a better angle on their shots and was giving them the kind of advice that a seasoned photographer would give them. When they asked to see his pictures, he said that he’d never done photography before himself, always wanted to but could never afford the hobby, he was just a guide. When my friend and her family left, her brother in-law, Marc left a small point and shoot camera as a gift with their guide and an email to contact him so they could keep in touch and see his pictures. 

Well the guide, Nasibu Shaman Shoo, has been been taking tons of pictures and emailing them pictures all year. The kind of pictures he has taken are just incredible especially considering that they’re from a point and shoot camera. Inspired by his work and passion, this year my friend and her brother in-law were both upgrading their equipment and instead of trading it in their old gear, they have decided to send it to Nasibu to help him on his photographic journey. 

When she told me this story it touched my heart and actually made me tear up. The act of sharing something so life changing as photography with someone half way across the world is one of the most precious gifts anyone can give. I would like to encourage all of us to think like my friend Linda and Marc and instead of trading in our old gear to put towards new equipment, think about giving it to someone who would love to learn photography. You could change someone’s life forever just by this act of kindness and humanity. 

Written by Shannon K. Culpepper

Photos by Nasibu Shaman Shoo

How to shoot lightning.

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Several group members have asked me to explain how I shoot lightning so I thought I'd make this photo so you can save it to your phones. Now I know this is not how everyone else does it. There are a couple of different ways to capture Zeus' thunderbolt but this is the way I prefer. The picture on the left was taken with a tripod from the top of a 12 story building (I was safely 20 feet away, using a remote from inside my apartment while my camera was out on the deck) and the one on the right is handheld.

So first and most obvious, please be careful. The best way to not get struck by lightning while you’re tying to catch it by its pixilated tail, is to not be standing next to your camera while you shoot. You can use a remote for this or you can come in, press the release button and then step away during the 8-10 second exposure. Over 2000 people are killed worldwide by lightning per year so please don’t be stupid. 

Secondly, you’re going to set your camera settings as follows:
-Try to use a lens that’s has a wider angle. The more zoomed in you are the smaller your sky canvas becomes and the less area you cover which means you’re less likely to catch a bolt.
-Put your camera on manual mode.
-Turn off auto focus, use manual focus and focus on a detail, tree line or light you can see in the distance. If you don’t really have a detail, like if you’re shooting over an ocean, try to focus about 30-50 yards out. 
-Set your ISO at your lowest possible option, 100 or less. 
-Set you aperture to your smallest aperture (highest number, I know it doesn’t make sense, but I didn’t come up with the system) like f/22 or smaller. If you look at your lens while your changing your aperture you can see if the iris is closed down to a very small hole. 
-Start with 8-10 full second exposures for your shutter speed. 
This is just a starting place. Every night is different depending on if the moon is out or how many lights are on your horizon. So experiment with your shutter speed only. If your picture is dark, add more time. If your picture is fried, cut back on the time. The goal is to get a nicely exposed shot without lightning first. 

Third, think about composition. Night shots with lightning look great over water. It’s always nice to have something interesting in the foreground: a silhouette of a building, mountain, windmill, sculpture, old car, lighthouse, etc. A city skyline is also a wonderful addition to a lightning shot. A moving ocean, river or even a line traffic at 8 seconds can look awesome and artistic. 

Fourth, point your camera in the general direction where the lighting has been seen. Then you’re going to begin shooting 100-200 - 8-10 second exposures in a row, one after the other. Don’t wait till you think it’s going to strike because then you’ll be too late. What you’re hoping to do is open windows of time and you’re inviting the lightning to join the party. Many lightning bolts, “positive lightning” or “cloud to ground lightning” travel at one-thousanths of a second. It depends on the kind of lightning, how long it cascades but needless to say, it’s a short enough time that if you don’t have your tripod with you, you can handhold your camera and get a shot (preferably from inside your house where you’re nice and safe.) Without a tripod everything else in the picture will be blurry but your lightning will be crisp. 

That’s all it takes to catch lightning. 

As I mentioned there are a couple of other ways to do this. Some people set their cameras up at 1/4 or 1/2 of a second (Largest aperture & ISO 400) and they shoot thousands of shots in a row just hoping to catch something.

Another really useful tool is a Lightning Trigger which is a device that you mount on your camera’s hot shoe that works kind of like a flash slave. When the lighting starts, it instantaneously opens your camera’s shutter. I think this would be fun to play with but I still think I prefer my method. 

I hope this helps and I hope you all safely catch yourself some lightning.

Alaska Photos July 2018

I have to say that going to Alaska with my kids has to be my favorite US adventure. We flew down to Katmai National Park to walk with bears and take pictures. We took a birding taxi out to a bird island to take pictures of puffins and murres. We went camping in Talkeetna and got great views of the elusive Mt. Denali / Mt. McKinley (some locals are not happy about the name change.) We took a flight up to Mt. Redoubt. And saw some of the most breathtaking landscapes ever. My cousin Melanie and her husband Bill generously opened their home to us and showed us around. I would go back in a heart beat! I hope you enjoy the pictures.