Here are the stories behind this Salon’s top scoring images:

Assignment – Lightning on the St. Croix – Fred Sobottka


I love shooting lightning.  I have chased storms for hours trying to get good lightning bolts with an interesting background or foreground.  One night when a storm was approaching, I thought I’d try to get some shots with downtown Hudson in the background.  It started raining, so I headed for the rain sheltered picnic area at Lakefront Park by the beach.  The lighting was most frequent on the west side of the St. Croix and the storm was heading northwest.  There were some fantastic lightning bolts, and I liked the reflection on the St. Croix River.  I set my camera on a tripod, focused at a point far in the distance and set focus to manual.  Most bolts were not too close and if they are close, I don’t want to be there…
For equipment, I was using a Canon 5D mkIV with a Canon EF 24 – 70 f2.8L II.  There are several ways to shoot lightning, the easiest way is probably using a shutter trigger that is kicked off by a bright burst of light.  I have never used a lightning trigger, but they seem to work really well with the correct settings.  I prefer to shoot in bulb mode with a remote shutter release.  I will wait until lightning occurs frequently, then press the remote shutter and hold it for 30 seconds, or until lightning occurs.  After releasing, I will immediately press the shutter remote again and hold it again for 30 seconds or the next lightning occurs.  For lenses, I will use the 24 – 70, or a wide angle zoom lens if the lightning fills the sky.  Camera settings depend on how close and bright the lightning is.  I start with f8.0 and 100 ISO, then adjust accordingly – trying to stay close to 100 – 400 ISO, so the bolts are crisp.  I don’t like to wander too far from f8.0/f5.6 to avoid out of focus lightning.  And lastly, I use auto white balance.
For post processing, I cropped in to limit negative space and use lightroom to adjust color and brightness.  This photo didn’t require much post processing, but I did get rid of some lights on the shore and their reflection on the river.

Pictorial – Bull Nose After Sunset – Carl Wegener

The capture of the bull nose snake image was an unexpected coincidence. I regularly walk our dog from our house to the St. Croix river, a distance that covers about three miles round trip. The sun was getting low in the sky to the point I almost left my camera at home. On a wim I took it anyway. The trip down to the river was uneventful. On the way back around the halfway point the sun had just sunk below the horizon when I spotted my subject on the road. He/she I’m guessing was warming themself on the asphalt as the cooler air was starting to settle in. A car was driving down the road so I stood by the snake and made the driver divert his route around us as I worried that my subject might get run over. With no more traffic on the side road where we were I tried to capture the amazing three plus foot length and thick girth of the snake in a shot. The results were unimpressive in the viewfinder. My subject was laying close to the crown in the road and there was a ditch on the side which allowed me to easily reposition myself close to ground level for a prospective head on capture. The snake, not liking the attention, flatten his/her head which they apparently do when they get aggressive. The tongue was flickering in and out. The challenge facing me was running out of light.

I had my long 400mm slow lens on the camera, zooming in left me with little depth of field and there was a desire to capture the snake with its fast-moving tongue out. Taking a middle of the road (pun intended) position I set my ISO at 800, the depth of field was shallow, so I pushed the aperture to F10 which left me with a shutter speed of only 1/250 second. EV was set at -7. The image looked a bit dark in the viewfinder, but I left it there and fired off several hundred shots in burst mode. Then I pushed the snake off the road with a stick which he/she quickly slithered away. When I got home there was one really good capture with the tongue out. I spent several hours in post bringing details out of the shadow areas. I had my shot. When leaving the house for the dog walk, I never expected to capture the bull nose snake image. It was a bit of luck. It turns out upon researching bull nose snakes they are a rarity in this part of Minnesota. I guess if there is a moral to this capture it is to take your camera with you everywhere.

Pictorial – Monarchs on Blazing Star – Marianne Diericks

I had this image in mind the day I took my camera to a prairie in early October. Rough Blazing Star blooms later than other varieties and is a favorite nectar plant for hungry monarchs prior to fall migration. From previous visits, I knew this plant grew there but wasn’t sure it was still blooming. Fortunately, there were several areas of blazing star in bloom, some with only a few monarchs feeding. After more searching, I found this stand of flowers with plenty of monarchs. I took a series of photos as the monarchs flew around, and this photo had the best arrangement of butterflies. For processing, I began with Lightroom, reducing highlights and whites on flowers and adjusting clarity and/or sharpness on each butterfly individually, as needed. I also adjusted luminance and saturation to achieve natural colors. Next, I switched to Photoshop, using the lasso and spot healing brush tools to remove distracting grasses and flowers, and the dodge and burn tools to even out lighting on flowers and butterflies. I shot this photo with my Nikon D500, using a 80-400mm lens at 280mm focal length, handheld, with settings at 1/650th/sec., f/8, ISO400 and -1/3EV.

Pictorial – Human Candle – Fred Sobottka

A group of women I know wanted to shoot some photos with them spinning and breathing fire.  I find fire fascinating with all the details and patterns within a flame.  We shot group and individual photos with people that had varying degrees of experience playing with fire.  One of the women had a lot of experience and wanted to try to capture a “candle”.  She had tried in the past, not had a lot of success and wanted a shot of her doing it very bad.  I have never heard of it, but it sounded very cool.  
When shooting fire, I like to shoot with high shutter speed, low ISO and aperture around f4.5/5.6.  The high shutter speed freezes the flame and shows more detail.  The brightness that the flame produces depends on the size of the flame.  Part of the shutter speed decision depends on if the person is spinning the flame or is fire eating.  Fire eating doesn’t require as fast a shutter speed as moving flames.  In this case, she was creating a small, single, stationary flame so I decided to shoot a little slower (1/400th sec).  I did some test shots and determined f4.5 was a good aperture for that shutter speed and a small flame up close and ISO 320.  I focused on the flame and switched to manual focus to be able to shoot faster bursts.  I didn’t know how high the flame was going to be over her face, so I included some extra space above her face in the shot.
The equipment that I used was a Canon R5 with a Canon RF 28 – 70 f2.0L lens.  I wanted to light/display part of the woman’s face, so I used a Godox AD600 pro with a CT orange gel.  The AD600 pro was definitely overkill for a single person, but I was using it for group photos and didn’t want to carry a separate flash.  The strobe was set to minimum power in manual mode.  I used the orange gel so her face would match the flame and not be white.
To get the shot, the woman would breathe in a little fuel (or I think more appropriately it was actually vapors), then bring a flame close and exhale while quickly moving the flame out of the frame.  We repeated the procedure several times and she was happy with several of the photos, as was I!
For post processing, in Lightroom I cropped in a little closer, adjusted color and increased the blacks.


Nature – Mama Owl on Nest – Marianne Diericks

I heard about this Great Horned Owl nesting site from a friend and visited it several times, initially hoping for flight images of the female or nearby male. On this day, they didn’t move from their respective locations, but the female finally turned her head in my direction, first exposing one eye then her entire face. When I reviewed the photos on my computer, I preferred this image. I used Lightroom for processing, first cropping the image to minimize distracting branches. I lightened blacks and shadows and increased exposure. I added sharpness and clarity for the owl and reduced clarity on the background branches. I also adjusted luminance sliders to emphasize oranges and yellows and added a vignette to separate the well-camouflaged owl from the tree. For equipment, I used my Nikon D500 with a 200-500mm zoom (set to 500mm) mounted on a tripod. The settings were 1/250th sec. at f/8 and ISO 400.

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