Shooting Kilauea Volcano from Helicopter

[Nikon D5, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 1250, ƒ/8, 1/2000]
What a thrill it was to get the chance to go up in helicopter and see the lava flowing at the Kīlauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. Dorie and Chelle gave me this present for father’s day.

While I had been in helicopters many times clients paid for the experience. This time it was out of our pockets. I had wanted to do this for years.

[Nikon D5, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 1600, ƒ/8, 1/2000]
I have been coming the The Big Island of Hawaii at the invitation of my good friend Dennis Fahringer. I have been teaching photography to his School of Photography students with the University of Nations which is part of Youth with a Missions.

Now for 12 years I have been coming driving to the Volcano hoping for good photos. I have made some pretty good photos through the years. Here is one from February this year before they closed the Volcano National park due to the recent activity.

This is the Halema‘uma‘u Crater inside of Hawaii Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii [Fuji X-E3, 55-200mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/6.4, 1/6]
Really the best way to see the volcano is from the air.

[Nikon D5, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 250, ƒ/8, 1/2000]
This is an untouched photo right out of the camera. Just converted from Nikon NEF to a JPEG.

By shooting RAW you can then work with the photo in Lightroom just like we did in the film days in the Darkroom.

Paradise Helicopter Tour
Kīlauea is a currently active shield volcano in the Hawaiian Islands, and the most active of the five volcanoes that together form the island of Hawaiʻi. Fissure 8 continues to erupt lava into the perched channel leading northeastward from the vent. Lava levels in the upper channel between Fissure 8 and Pohoiki Rd. are low this morning but are expected to rise after the next collapse/explosive vent at Kīlauea summit. The channelized ʻaʻā flow west of Kapoho Crater continues to be the main ocean entry at the southern edge of the flow front this morning. Despite no visible surface connection to the Fissure 8 channel, lava continues to ooze out at several points on the 6 km (3.7 mi) wide flow front into the ocean. [Nikon D5, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 250, ƒ/8, 1/2000]
The number one tool that helps you when shooting from a helicopter is the Dehaze Slider.

There is a lot of haze created by the atmosphere and over the volcano with VOG you need to use this tool or the haze just clouds the photos literally.

Rainbow Falls from the air in Hilo, Hawaii. [Nikon D5, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 4000, ƒ/8, 1/2000]
Just compare this photo of Rainbow falls that I processed to the unprocessed photo.

Now here are two short videos I shot while up as well. I processed these in Final Cut Pro X and also corrected the footage for better contrast and color.

Kīlauea Volcano from Stanley Leary on Vimeo.

Kīlauea Volcano Fissure 8 from Stanley Leary on Vimeo.

Hope these tips help you see why shooting RAW and using Lightroom can make a HUGE difference in your photos.

Go to your archives and re-edit old photos with updated Lightroom

First Day of school for Chelle at the new house. First time to ride the bus to school. Starting middle school today at Elkins Pointe on August 23, 2010. [Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.3, 1/160]
Your old photos can look even better today due to the advances in technology. I went back to this photo of my daughter’s first day of school ten years ago to re-edit the photo in the latest version of Adobe Lightroom.

Original Edit in 2010.

Now you may like the earlier edit, but there are more possibilities with a few changes in Lightroom. First of all they did a major overhaul of the main engine in the software and then adding new tools like Dehaze.

Today you can pick a color profile and use Dehaze that were not options in 2010.

Another control that was implemented since 2010 was Lens Correction improving all lenses by correcting for their imperfections.

[Nikon D3, Nikkor 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, ƒ/3.5, 1/125]
Back in 2010 I didn’t even try to edit this photo. With the dehaze control I was able to bring down the background much easier than doing this in 2010 would have required.


Shoot RAW – you have more information to work with before exporting a JPEG in Lightroom
Folder for RAW and separate folder for JPEG – I ingest and put all my RAW files into a folder and then when I finish editing and export I put those in a separate folder JPEG
Archive all photos – Keep the RAW images and your JPEG images. You can later return to these photos and discover some gems due to the software improvements in the future.

Flash can improve your outside and inside photos

The Cows at Roswell Town Center are celebrating on Cow Appreciation Day 2018 in Roswell, GA. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/3200 – Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
With today’s cameras you can shoot most anything without a flash. You know this from using your smartphone. What you might not know is that professional photographers don’t use flash because there isn’t enough light, but rather to compliment the light.

Using flash outside and inside is about knowing why you need the flash and how it can improve the photograph. These photos are from my job yesterday.

I enjoy Cow Appreciation Day each year. This year I went to five different Chick-fil-A restaurants in Metro Atlanta getting photos of customers dressed up as cows.

Chick-fil-A, known for its iconic “Eat Mor Chikin®” Cows, celebrated the 13th annual Cow Appreciation Day on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. On that day, Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide offered a free entrée to any customer who visited a restaurant dressed as a cow.

Customers dressed up as cows for Cow Appreciation Day. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/50 – Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
I have learned over the years using off camera flash improves so many of the photos and especially outside. This one of the customers inside without the flash the visors would have made their faces much darker. The flash helped open up their faces.

Dorie Griggs, my wife, was my photo assistant for the day. She helped with carrying my light and keeping people from bumping into it as well as people blocking the flash.

One more super important role she filled was helping me get the all important Model Release.

A model release form is a legal document between you, the photographer and the person or the person who owns the property you’re photographing). It is the written form of their permission allowing you to publish their image on your website, blog, and marketing materials.

You need permission to publish the photo for commercial purposes.

The Cows at Roswell Town Center are celebrating on Cow Appreciation Day 2018 in Roswell, GA. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/2500 – Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
When I did the photo at the top I first shot this photo of the cows jumping. Well I didn’t expect the cow to jump with the feet that wide and I cut off the feet.

My wife made a video of me taking this photo where you can see the off camera flash Godox V860IIN that I am triggering with the Godox X1NT. Watch here and you can see both photos being made.

These flashes let me shoot at any shutter speed. This let me freeze the cows in the air. Just remember that one of the best times to use flash is outside in bright sunlight.

Customers dressed up as cows for Cow Appreciation Day. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/50 – Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
Now shooting inside the flash will not over power the available light when set on TTL. The flash just fills in and gives that wonderful catch light in the eyes that makes them sparkle.

NO FLASH [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/30]
Zoomed in view

Just so you can see how the flash just adds a little without greatly changing the photo this first photo of the lady with the cows is without flash. Then look at the one with flash.

WITH FLASH [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/30 – Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]
Zoomed in view

The biggest difference is that the shadows and blacks in the one with flash have more detail.

Customers dressed up as cows for Cow Appreciation Day. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/200 – Godox V860IIN + Godox X1NT]

4th of July Fireworks with a sense of place

The City of Roswell Fireworks for the 4th of July celebration in Roswell, GA. [Nikon D5, Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 9.1 sec]
The key for fireworks is the foreground. The context helps give a sense of place.

When I started shooting the July of 4th fireworks this year in Roswell, GA the location was slightly different than years past. I wasn’t sure exactly where they would be in the sky. I had a general idea, but when they started I had a few problems.

[Nikon D5, Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 6 sec]
As the sun was setting then all the street lights in the parking lot we were in started to come on. When I first started shooting this is what I was getting. The street light was creatine a flair and wasn’t very interesting. The street lights were distracting.

[Nikon D5, Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 8 sec]
By using a tree in the parking lot to help with the street light it also blocked some of the lower flying fireworks.

[Nikon D5, Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 14 sec]
I picked up the tripod and went closer to the shops and pointed the camera towards the high school where the fireworks were being launched. It gave me the best photos of the fireworks and making the street lights no longer a problem, but you only see a couple in the lower left.

[Nikon D5, Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 10.5 sec]
I determined that the best place was to shoot the fireworks really wide with 14-24mm lens. This let me show all the community that turned out for the fireworks and helped to tell the story.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 5 sec]
Earlier in the fireworks performance I shot this with my Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4 at 58mm. Fireworks look great, but this could be anywhere in the world. The wider shot helped me to show you what it looked like where I was in Roswell, Georgia.

Carry a couple different lenses so you can change your approach if necessary. Be willing to move to get a different perspective. Most of all take lots of photos. Only a few will be the keepers that you want.


ISO:                        100
Aperture:             ƒ/11
Shutter Speed:  5 seconds to 14 seconds [using Bulb]
White Balance: Fluorescent to match the Street Lights

I used a tripod and a cable release. I would start taking photo and stop after 2 to 4 fireworks would go off.

Spot on Color

Nikon D750, 28-300mm, ISO 100, ƒ/9, 1/200 – Soft boxes with Alienbees B1600s

Getting a well exposed and color correct photo will bring the most out of any subject.

When your photo is well exposed you will see all the gradations on a gray scale. When you have your digital camera set to the proper white balance under flash you get the most dynamic range possible.


The color space of flash is dead center in the color wheel. Other lights like Tungsten, Fluorescent, Mercury Vapor, LED and others are skewed off center of the color wheel. While you can color correct these images by adding or subtracting colors to try and slide them back to the center your color is never as good as under pure flash.

I shot this photo outside in the shaded side of my house. I color corrected using “Custom White Balance”.


Using the ExpoDisc I put this over the front of the lens and did a incident light reading and custom white balance.

I do this when shooting in studio because soft boxes often have a slight color cast that I can correct.

I cannot stress enough that the one thing that really separates the very top photographers from the rest technically is normally white balance.

Hawaii High School Rodeo State Finals [Nikon D5, 28-300mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]
Color’s pop when your exposure and color balance are on target.

Writing with Light

Chick-fil-A @ Perimeter at Hammond Drive FSU [Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/60 – 4 Alienbees B1600s] 8:21 pm
Getting a photo like this demands more than just a tripod and waiting for the right time of day.

Here is the result of doing just that in this photo below.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/13] 8:25 pm
To help light up the building I used 4 Alienbees B1600 strobes with 11″ Long Throw Reflector. This is what I call “Writing with Light”, which is the definition of photography. Sometimes nature needs some help.

Alienbees with 11″ Long Throw Reflector

For half of the photos I shot at ƒ/8 with the Alienbees on full power. Then I cut the power in half on the Alienbees and changed the Aperture to ƒ/5.6.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1 sec – 4 Alienbees B1600] 8:47 PM
Sunset was at 8:26 pm. Pretty much you can bet on the best photos of buildings with lights to be 20 minutes after sunset as in this photo shot at 8:47 pm.  This is when the lights on the building and inside at matching the sky brightness.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1 sec] 8:47 pm
Again here is that same scene without the Alienbees adding light to the side of the building.

Just so you know exactly the light at sunset at 8:26 pm here is that photo as well for you to see.

[Nikon D5, 14-24mm, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/13 – 4 Alienbees B1600] 8:26 pm
The problem is that the lights on the building are not showing up. We need to open up the exposure for the lights on the building by changing only the shutter speed from 1/13 to 1 second.

Tips for shooting buildings at Sunset

Arrive early and find best angle to shoot building
Use Strobes or powerful flashlights to light up building
Use a tripod and cable release with the camera
Start shooting 5 minutes before sunset
Stop shooting about 30 – 40 minutes after sunset
White Balance for Sun or Flash
Shoot in RAW

Using Lightroom to correct perspective for buildings

Chick-fil-A West Midtown Atlanta, Georgia at Sunrise. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.6 sec]
This is the processed photo after working on the RAW file in Adobe Lightroom.

Here is the photo with just perspective not corrected on the photo.

Chick-fil-A West Midtown Atlanta, Georgia at Sunrise. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.6 sec]
Now when I am shooting on my Fuji X-E3 there is a level built into the camera and can be turned on to show in the display.

When I shot the photo of the building it was level from left to right.

When in Adobe Lightroom you just go to the develop module and go to the Transform tools.

You can click on Auto and see if it looks the way you want and then you can undo the change if you like.

You can also select each of the individual controls and adjust. A grid will show up so you can get the building’s edges straight. The one you will need to adjust is vertical where you correct the building falling away from you.

Be sure to check the Constrain Crop so that you will have a full framed image.

Sunrise and Sunset Photos of Buildings

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/11, 8 sec] 6:37 am
My mornings sometimes start really early for photo shoots. Today I woke up at 5:00 am for a photo shoot at sunrise. Sunrise was scheduled to happen at 6:50 am.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 100, ƒ/18, 30 sec] 6:12 am
I arrived about 5:40 am at the location and setup two Alienbees B1600 strobes with 50º reflectors.

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 3 sec] 6:35 am
You can see one of the two lights here on the left and the other is by the flag pole. I shot with the Nikon D5 as well as my Fuji X-E3.

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.5 sec] 6:37 am
I put the cameras on Manual Mode. I was shooting up to 30 second exposures with aperture of ƒ/10 to ƒ/22. ISO was 100 on D5 and 125 on the Fuji X-E3.

[Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 125, ƒ/10, 1.6 sec] 6:34 am
This photo was taken with just available light.  It was shot at 6:34 am. The sun is slowly rising but isn’t up yet. It has 16 more minutes until Sunrise. The sky behind the building looks darker, but the longer shutter speeds bring it out as dark blue sky.

I find that approximately 20 minutes before sunrise and 20 minutes after sunset you get the best ratio of the lights inside the buildings and signage verses the night time sky is the best. Looking at the photo above shot at 6:12 am which was 38 minutes before sunrise the sky is too dark for me.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 100, ƒ/22, 13 sec] 6:30 am
Here at 6:30 am, good 20 minutes before sunrise, the sky looks just perfect match to the lights in and on the restaurant.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 100, ƒ/18, 30 sec] 6:20 am
At 6:20 am I can make the sky look great at 30 second shutter speed, but the lights start to lose details. 10 minutes later I get the sky and the lights just perfect.

If you want to do this yourself here are the tips for Sunrise or Sunset.


Before shoot arrange to have lights turned on for photo shoot
Arrive 1 hour before Sunrise or Sunset
Use Tripod & Cable Release
If using flash set it to match your Aperture or -1 stop
Start taking photos at least 35 minutes before Sunrise and 5 minutes for Sunset
Take photos for about 5 minutes after Sunrise and 30 minutes after Sunset

The #1 Way to Get Better as a Photographer

Alive After 5 in Roswell, GA. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/10, 1/55]
Keeping yourself fresh is vital if you do this professionally. I do this by taking a small camera with me everywhere. I just take a few photos here and there and in the process keep myself fresh for my professional jobs where I am getting paid by a client.

Alive After 5 in Roswell, GA. [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/13, 1/25]
I have been doing one-on-one teaching with a person wanting to pursue photography as a career. We started by shooting in total manual mode. The camera is set where the student must pick for each shot the following:

Shutter Speed

As we were reviewing some the photos shot since the last time we met the photos had improved a great deal, but then there were these photos of ducks that just didn’t work at all.

Cyneria & Sadarius Lucas Wedding [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/7.1, 1/50]
What had happened is the excitement of getting photos had them shooting before they had thought through all the settings.

When shooting the ducks the person hadn’t thought about what of those three setting took priority and why. I explained how birds are really like shooting sports. You need to freeze them or they will be totally blurred using the settings the camera was set on before seeing the birds.

Tufted titmouse [Fuji X-E3, 55-200mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250]
This is when I stopped and I talked to the student about how you must slow down get your camera settings just right before taking photos. If you don’t do this then none of the photos will be usable. “I was trying to get the birds before they flew away.” was the excuse. So not one of the photos was usable, but this became the teachable moment.

My mentor, coach and friend Don Rutledge – photo by Ken Touchton

There was a teachable moment with my mentor. A few of my friends also would tell me later how this helped them as well.

In the days of film you shot 36 shots and then you had to change your roll of film. Most photographers would reach into their bags and change their roll of film pretty quickly.

The problem is when you change the roll of film you can make a mistake and not get the leader of the film to catch. If this happened you would close the back of the camera and because you are in a hurry you take more photos but none of them recorded on the film because every time you advanced the film the film wasn’t moving.

The way I learned what to do was from watching Don, not because he told me what he did. Don would turn his back to whatever he was photographing and change the roll of film. He would always turn the rewind lever to tighten the roll before he would then advance the film to be sure it caught.

Once the film was changed Don then turned around towards the action.

Cyneria & Sadarius Lucas Wedding [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 800, ƒ/4, 1/500]
Often when I am shooting I evaluate the scene and realize I need a flash. Taking the time to set that up for the photo here takes time. The photo is better because I slowed down long enough to get my flash, put it on a light stand and then set the flash to work with the scene.

Alive After 5 [Fuji X-E3, 10-24mm, ISO 25600, ƒ/13, 1/150]

#1 Tip: Shoot More

Don Rutledge taught me a great deal. One tip was to shoot stories for yourself. Often these are stories you can go back to work on in your own hometown. You work slower than you do when you are say traveling and having to rush to get photos due to the schedule.

My personal tip that no one taught me is to ask yourself before you start taking photos is “Why do I want to take this photo?” What is it you are trying to say with the photo? I am also trying to get in touch with my feelings and not just feel what is going on, but what words would describe this feeling?

Then I pause long enough to decide what Aperture is best to capture the scene. Do I need shallow depth-of-field where you cannot tell where the person is but I want you to see the expression or do I need more context and need a greater depth-of-field.

I am also evaluating what shutter-speed will freeze the photo enough that it will be sharp or do I need to add motion with a slower shutter speed.

Female Cardinal [Fuji X-E3, 55-200mm, ISO 8000, ƒ/10, 1/280]
With some subjects somewhat fast shutter speed will still blur like this bird.

You must really know your camera and subject to know proper shutter speed. Over the years I have learned that faster shutter speeds improve the sharpness of the photo due to camera shake.

The largest difference of having lots of experience is that when I am in most any situation it is becoming rare that I haven’t shot something like this before.

Don taught me that I need to shoot as much as possible to grow and get the shot.


Spring Cleaning Time

While I think I have done an excellent job in editing of my photos when I submit them to stock agencies they sometimes catch things I miss.

Island Breeze dancer with Poi balls – for Maori dances

When I first submitted this photo I had missed in the top right hand corner some dust that had gotten onto the sensor.

This is 100% enlargement of the right top corner of the photo. Are you getting frustrated with seeing small dark spots in your images that seem to show up in every image? If you see them consistently in the same location (the size and darkness of the spots can vary depending on aperture), you are most likely dealing with dust particles on your camera’s sensor.

I have noticed they show up more at smaller apertures like ƒ/22 or ƒ/16 and there is a light area of the photo where the dust is located.

Berrie Smith – Camera Guru

The first thing I do when I notice dust on the sensor is to pick up the phone and call Berrie Smith who lives near me and for many years worked for Nikon as a camera technician.

Berrie Smith, professional camera repairman, is one of the guys Nikon sends out to large sporting events to provide live repair and sensor cleaning service to the NPS pros covering the event.

Without proper camera cleaning and digital camera sensor cleaning most photographers have experienced their photographs ruined by unsightly dust spots in their images – these dust spots are characteristically gray/black areas and are usually visible when photographing continuous tone scenes. Cleaning your camera equipment is not only a great way to ensure it continues working properly but is also a necessity in today’s digital world. Digital sensors are electrically charged devices, which attract dust particles because of their static electric charge. The digital camera sensor, if not cleaned properly, will result in images with black spots scattered throughout your photographs.

You can buy off the shelf sensor cleaning kits and attempt to clean your image sensor but if you are not careful you can do a lot of expensive damage, very quickly. The cost to replace a scratched low pass filter / image sensor assembly ranges from $600 to $1,600 (parts and labor) depending on the camera.

Berrie does repairs for photographers all over the world.

When I travel I don’t have the luxury of calling Berrie and sending him my cameras to clean. No one wants to touch up every single photo on a shoot in the same spots over and over.

Carson SensorMag 4.5x30mm Camera Sensor Magnifier Cleaning Loupe

What is crucial in the kit is the loupe to examine the sensor up close.

LED Lighted with 6 Bright White LED Lights | Loupe can be adjusted 45 degrees to allow users easier access to clean your sensor

Often all you need to do is point the sensor down and just using the Air Blower to force air onto the sensor which often dislodges the dust.

I recommend at least owning a Air Blower to just safely remove dust. If that doesn’t work then give it to the expert Berrie.

This is Berrie at my kitchen table cleaning my cameras. So how do you reach Berrie? Here you go:

Berrie Smith | | (770) 312-0719