If you'd like to get email notifications of new blog entries, please subscribe here:


a photography fairy tale

December 19th, 2014


Once upon a time, before digital cameras, and personal computers…before photoshop and plugins, before exposure by histogram….and even before social media, there was an aspiring nature photographer (me) whose only concern in life was discovering subjects in great light, and recording the experience he was feeling at the moment.

It was a simpler time, a less crowded time, a quieter time (externally, and internally).   I would go out with friends to make pictures several days a week just for the joy of it. It was a time when all of the work was done in-camera, i.e. applying filters for color correction and graduated neutral density filters to even out exposures. It was a time before the iPhone and before motor coaches delivering photo tourists to pristine locations. It was a time before working in the office took the majority of my time, rather than being out experiencing nature. It was a time when photographing and experiencing the wonder and glory of nature was my raison d’être.

I loved this experience so much, that I decided to make my living as a nature photographer. Very soon afterwards, however, the emphasis began to shift from the ethereal to the practical, from the spiritual to the mundane, from a hobby to a profession. With this paradigm shift came greater responsibilities and less time for play. It’s the nature of things.

Every so often, I will go back to my earliest work just to see if I get the same feeling viewing the image as I did when making it, but more importantly, to see if what I’m currently doing has emotionally evolved. Technique is important, but not as important as the emotion encountered when making the image. Isn’t this why we make an image to begin with? As a 20 year professional jazz artist (drummer), I could always tell if someone was in the moment or going through the motions. If you cannot “feel” what you are doing, no one else will get any feeling from it, either.

Upon getting back from photographing the lead image, close to our house, I wrote the following observation of what I was feeling:

“The Moment”

an area is approached,

a line is crossed. Suddenly…


the pulse quickens,

time expands,

compositions self-compose,

exposures self-calculate. The shutter trips…


and many more times.


The pulse slows,

time contracts,


This chronicles my experience. It was transcendental. It was the same “go to” mental place as when performing improvised music. I recognized it instantly and wrote down “The Moment” in about 15 minutes. I remember feeling like I was merely taking dictation from an unknown source.

In the midst of workshops, seminars, book and DVD projects, travel, and an aging parent, I began to wonder, do I still have the ability to get into “the moment,” that timeless window of creativity? And the answer is Yes, I still get the rush, but it is a bit less frequent, as my time is not as free as it once was.

With 2015 on the horizon, my resolution is to get out every day when home, to enjoy the quietude of nature, and to move the scale back to better balance office work with the real work, and to photograph…..or not. The experience comes first, then the photograph.

It’s critical to not forget why you started to do something, as it’s so easy to lose sight of your initial motivation and inspiration.

I look forward to 2015 and beyond with eyes wide open and a greater sense of renewal: personally, photographically, and spiritually.

Have a joyous holiday season and an inspiring new year.

Thanks for taking the time and we’ll see ya online.

oh yeah….almost forgot…….”and the photographer lived happily ever after.”




Image design concept

December 13th, 2014

_DSC7202.tiff copy

I remember one of my first glimpses into how the other half thinks, no….not that other half, which shall remain one of the mysteries of life. I’m referring to publishers and anyone who uses professional photography for publication.

When I was making my way into the publishing market, I got a call back after my images were reviewed for contribution to a postcard book. I was particularly excited, but was immediately taken by the vernacular used by the art director. His part of the conversation began with, “I like your design #XXX, and your design #XXXX,” etc. My design? I thought these were images, photographs, slides, pictures….but, designs?

I’m always fascinated by how, in the midst of non-stop noise, 24/7, that a single phrase can cause a tectonic shift in one’s thinking. Designs, huh? So, publishers are looking at images in terms of graphic design. I’ve taken this to a level that I can understand, exemplified in this image. We often talk about image design, graphics, and over arching design concepts in our workshops, seminars, and presentations.

So, when I came across this fall image, I remembered what I was thinking when composing the image. Even though there is what appears to a be visual weight in the center of the frame, the image was composed in terms of peaks and valleys.

What does THAT mean?

Ok, look the image below:


There is a diagonal entry and exit through the frame. And a strong implied line leading the viewer dynamically through the frame.

Notice that the peak and valley points are both off center, to maintain the asymmetry.

This is how I conceive composition: in terms of  entry and exit points and over-arching design concepts.

In this image, the over arching design concept is a zig-zag line, keeping the peak and valley points out of the center of the frame.

This is also an example of cross-pollinization of careers, as this is exactly how I “see” sound shapes when playing jazz.

Anyway, just a thought for the day. I hope that this makes sense.

Have a great weekend and we’ll see ya online!


Image info: Multiple exposure image (10 exp using the Nikon D810) and 24-70mm lens. Processed using Topaz Glow (discount code tonysweet) and masking in photoshop.

Lonaconing Silk Mill, Dec 2014

December 8th, 2014

spools 1

We had our semi annual group hang at the still stranding, Lonaconing silk mill. Again, I was figuring on socializing and not doing much shooting, figuring (mistakenly, as usual) that I had pretty much shot the place out, being my 7th weekend shooting there. That’s 14 days photographing inside of a 2 story building w/ a basement. However, the weather was dark and rainy, which lends a soft glow throughout the mill. I found myself taking advantage of the great light, photographing deeper into the location. I just bought the Fuji 56mm, f/1.2 to complement my Nikon 85mm, f/1.4 lens, and on the first day made most of the images with that lens. Of course, the mirrored rows of looms is a perennial fave image. Everything else, however, was “looking small.”
Here’s a gallery from Saturday, Day 1, at the mill, displayed in the order shot.

We normally meet up with everyone for cocktails early evening, but this day, a large water main broke open and there was no water in most of Lavale, so we all split off to find an open bar elsewhere.

Most of us stayed both days, and some people just chose to show up one day or the other. The weather, as predicted, was bright and cloudless. With the trees outside of the mill bare, the mill lit up on the inside, creating a entirely new photography venue in many ways.

Here’s the gallery from Sunday, Day 2. Aside from the first and last images (all presented in shooting order) I spent the entire 4 hour session in the basement (small stuff), taking advantage of the soft light and inherent dark mood of the area. 

As we were leaving, I heard John Dubois say to himself (barely audible) as he shot the employment card of baseball great, Lefty Grove, who was born in Lonaconing, MD, “It’s the small stuff.”

I agree.

Thanks for taking the time and we’ll see ya online.

Registrations are OPEN for our Creativity Seminar in Milford, CT on Feb 7!
Here’s the details.


p.s. New website update……..it’s getting there!  

But, in the mean time, please check out our 2015 Visual Artistry Workshop Schedule

p.p.s. Check out Bill Fortney’s new Fuji X system User Guide. I learned a bunch of new things from it.
Great tips and equipment shortcuts. Highly recommended!


Cape May/Jersey Shore 2014 (epilogue)

December 5th, 2014



Having completed our official 2014 Visual Artistry workshop season in Cape May, NJ, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy returning to the same locations, and how critical I believe it is in developing one’s vision, or personal style. I learned from John Shaw that the first time we visit a location, we take pictures. On subsequent visits, we begin to make photographs. In addition, as we work the same location, our work subsequently gets deeper, more creative, and more personal.

Every time I go to Cape May, I go with no expectations as to what I’ll photograph, and keep an open mind as to what presents itself. I may completely skip some iconic areas and visit new areas at different times of day. For example, I’ve never photographed a 4 minute exposure into a sunrise. In the lead image, I merged the sun behind the piling to shoot a silhouette, then noticed the clouds moving quickly. I composed so that the sun was as far to the left as possible, but still behind the piling. After 3 minutes, the fireball re-emerged from the behind the piling, creating a sunstar (f/16), so I truncated the exposure at 3 mins, before the sun completely separated from the piling. At performing a long exposure during marginal times of day, i.e. dawn-sunrise and sunset-dusk, I will often meter the initial scene, then adjust (lengthen or shorten) the exposure as the scene dramatically gains or loses light. These are always judgement calls.

The following gallery is from our Cape May/Jersey Shore workshop.

Also, check out our discounts page! On the gallery images, I use Topaz Adjust and Detail, AlienSkin’s Exposure 7 (new), MacPhun, and an array of Singh Ray MorSlos: 5, 10, and 15 (discount code “sweet10″)

After our semi-annual trip to the Lonaconing Silk mill, I’ll be prepping for the processing portion of our Cape Cod DVD, then heading south for our 2015 Cuba tour!

Keep an eye out for our website remake (work in progress), but in the mean time, please take time to view our Visual Artistry 2015 workshop/tour schedule.








We have a few openings on our 2015 Portugal Tour!
Contact Sue for more info and/or to register!

Have a great holiday season and we’ll see ya online!



our final 2014 X-Country excellent adventure!

November 24th, 2014


_DSC4607-Edit-Edit copy

We hit the road for our final (of 3) cross country road trips to FotoClave in SF, then to Santa Fe for joint workshop with the great Bobbie Goodrich. I was the keynote speaker at FotoClave, which was a little daunting given the great landscape and wildlife photographers also presenting, but no one threw any tomatoes at me…so I guess I did ok. A special thanks to Helen Sweet (I believe a distant cousin), Joan Field, and the entire FotoClave team for making my appearance seamless and easy.

So, now I’m slowly digging myself out of, or in some cases further into, my neglected office work.
Does anyone out there tend to take on more than you can handle??………I didn’t think so…

I’ll be sending out a pretty extensive Visual Artistry Newsletter in the next couple of days, so I’ll only touch on upcoming news here:

1. Check out the new Singh Ray 20 stop MorSlo, discount code sweet10.

2. Software spotlights: Check out AlienSkins Exposure 7, OnOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 9, and Topaz Impression. Discount codes are HERE.

3. We have a new sponsor. For workshop clients only, Digital Silver Imaging will print one image per client. Details to be given at the workshop. Thanks a LOT to Eric and the great team at Digital Silver Imaging!

4. Check out our 2015 Visual Artistry workshop/ tour schedule

Photographing horses is a whole new ballgame for me, but seeing how Bobbie re-interpreted the subject matter was really exciting to me and is exemplified in the lead image, shot with the D810 and 70-200mm lens, 1/3 sec while panning the subjects. Optimized using layer masks, Topaz Impression, and Nik Color Efex Pro.

Here’s a gallery from our stay in Santa Fe. Looking fwd to returning in 2015! 

 Thanks for taking the time and we’ll see ya online soon with our next Visual Artistry Newsletter!

Have a great Thanksgiving!