September 2013 Newsletter

Summer 2013 photos

Photos from summer 2013


Over the last few months I’ve been blessed to travel our beautiful planet while sharing the joy of photography with people from all over the world. June took me on a climb to Mt. Rainier, then adventuring around Lake Tahoe. July took me on a private group photo safari to Tanzania. August brought me on two photo adventures to Iceland and Hawaii. September has taken me to Seattle for photography workshops and eastern Washington for a Pac-12 football game. Photography was an integral part of all my trips and I loved participating in, and leading the adventures with many people whom I now call friends.

The longer I photograph, the more I appreciate how much work it takes to create truly great images. I’ve been working on my craft since I was 12 years old and I still feel like I have so much to learn. My hope for you is that you also find the passion and desire to continue learning and improving. I’ve filled this month’s newsletter with lots of tips and tricks that I use on a regular basis. Take these suggestions and practice on your own. It’s fun. It’s challenging. And in the end, very rewarding.

Nikon Capture NX2 Book update.

I have acquired the final 100 copies of my book Nikon Capture NX 2 After the Shoot from the publisher. There won’t be another print run, so once these units run out, that’s it! The books are for sale either at my website or from Here are the links:

Nikon Capture NX 2 ATS at Visual Adventures website.

Nikon Capture NX 2 ATS at

Nikon Capture NX 2 After the Shoot

Nikon D7100 Camera Setup Guide.

We’ve just posted the new Nikon D7100 setup guide to our website here: Nikon D7100 Setup Guide. Click on the download button for a free PDF with the camera settings, or click the “add to cart” button to buy a laminated copy of the guide.

New Workshops Posted.

Join us in 2014 for a photo adventure to a far-off land. We’ll be running photo adventures to Iceland, Galapagos Islands, and Tanzania. I’ve added some more information down below in the Workshop Updates section. For a preview of our Iceland trip, I put together a quick video showing one of our destinations. Check it out here: Westman Islands, Iceland 

Stuff I Like This Month

1. f11 Magazine is a free magazine designed for photographers and aficionados. They’ve set up their magazine so you can the issues on their website or download them as PDFs to read on your tablet.

2. National Geographic’s Proof is a new blog dedicated to photography at Here’s an great blog entry titled The Photographers on Photography.

3. Adobe has introduced a new, affordable plan for using Photoshop CC and Lightroom in the Creative Cloud. The new pricing is $9.99 per month ($120 per year) gives full access to Photoshop and Lightroom for existing owners of CS3 or newer. It is a good deal for those waffling about joining the Creative Cloud. Here’s the link for more information: Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Package

f11 magazine logo

Proof blog



Nikon D800 miniature effect

Using my Nikon D800’s Retouch Menu, I created this miniature effect photograph in-camera.

Nikon retouch menu

Nikon Retouch Menu.

Canon Creative Filter menu.

Canon Creative Filter menu.



GOAL Assignment: In-Camera Processing

Almost all digital cameras today have in-camera post processing tools that allow you to convert an existing image to a new image. For example, newer Nikon cameras have a menu screen called the Retouch Menu and Canon cameras have a menu called Creative filters. In both cases, the camera provides options for converting images to black and white, miniature effects, fish-eye, color filters, outlines, sketches, and much more.

Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment for September is to create five images using your camera’s post-processing options from the menu system. Here’s an example (left) of a miniature-effect photo I shot in Iceland last month.

Digital Tidbits: Four Things (Almost) Every Photo Needs in Lightroom 5

I’ve been on a global travel extravaganza over the last three months making images in Africa, Europe, North America and the Pacific. During this time, I’ve processed thousands of images in Adobe Lightroom 5 and I’ve come to the realization that I’m making the same four adjustments over and over again for the majority of my photographs. You might as well call these four adjustments the Lightroom 5 Fabulous Four, since they will help take your image from looking flat to fabulous in no time.

I know you’re thinking that it sounds too good to be true, but seriously, I’ve found that (almost) every photo needs an adjustment to these four things. There are exceptions to every rule, so don’t take my recommendation here as mandatory, but rather take it as a general guideline.

Ok, so the four slider adjustments I think (almost) every photo needs in Lightroom 5 are Highlights, Shadows, Clarity and Vibrance. You’ll find these sliders in the Develop Module, under the Basic Pane. Here are my recommendations for these four sliders:

1. Highlights. Bring highlights down (left) a bit to bring detail back into the clouds. This also works for recovering details in skin, water, or clothing.

2. Shadows. Move the shadows slider up (to the right) to brighten dark areas. This is important when photographing on bright, contrasty days in order to show detail in the shadows that would otherwise be lost.

3. Clarity. Increase clarity (to the right) to add local contrast. Feel free to use a lot of clarity for landscape photographs, but don’t use very much for portraits since you can easily make a person’s face look ghoulish.

4. Vibrance. Add vibrance (to the right) to give a tiny bit of punch to the colors. Not too much, but just enough to add life to your photo.

Here are a few before and after examples to show how much of an improvement you can make with just four easy slider adjustments.

<Insert Screenshots>

As with most things in life, it is easy to go overboard with your adjustments. If you are too aggressive with the sliders, then the photo will look fake when you are finished. After you’ve processed the image, I encourage you to do a quick sanity check by pressing the backslash “” key a few times to show the before vs. after comparison. Viewing the two images against each other will quickly reveal whether your slider adjustments are believable or not.

Lots of people ask me how much can they should move the sliders and my answer is to move it until you say wow, then back off a tiny bit.

Obviously, there are other sliders in the Basic Pane, and I’ll cover those in a future article, but I find myself working with the Fabulous Four the vast majority of time.

Be sure to check out our Lightroom 5 workshops at the Nikonians Academy here: Master Adobe Lightroom 5 Workshops

slider adjustment

The Fabulous Four sliders are located in the Develop Module, under the Basic Pane (Highlights, Shadows, Clarity, Vibrance).


Before after

Here’s an example of the image before (left) and after (right) the Fabulous Four adjustments.


before after

One more before/after example.

Photo Techniques: Autofocus Tracking with a Cluttered Background

Photographing small, fast birds in flight is one of the most difficult things I’ve done as a photographer. On my recent trip to Iceland, our group had the opportunity to photograph puffins off the coastal cliffs and I came away with absolutely terrible results after my first day!

Small birds like puffins fly very fast in relation to their size, so are extremely difficult to keep in the camera frame. They often cut left and right while avoiding predators like the great skua, which makes it even more difficult to track them in your viewfinder.


This Icelandic puffin was very difficult to focus on because of the cluttered and high contrast background.

One of the situations I came across while photographing puffins in Iceland was an area where the puffins would fly across a cluttered background. In this case, we were approximately eye level with the birds as they were flying to their nests on a grassy slope. The sun was out, so the grass formed areas of bright highlights and dark shadows. As the puffins flew across the grass background, the camera’s autofocus system had a very difficult time distinguishing the bird from the background. Hence, the camera would jump from focus on the bird to focus on the background.

Contrasty hill

One of our Nikonians Academy participants working on his puffin bird in flight technique. This scene shows the contrasty hillside we were fighting against.

As my frustration increased, I tried just about every autofocus combination possible on my Nikon camera. I have never come across a an autofocus situation so difficult in all my years as a photographer. But, I wasn’t about to give up!

out of focus puffin

Here’s one of my typical shots of an out of focus puffin.

I was photographing with a number of advanced photographers and the group of us finally arrived at a solution that worked fairly well. By fairly well, I mean that we were able to achieve an in-focus shot of a flying puffin once every three or four attempts.

So, here are my recommended settings for photographing flying birds against a cluttered background such as grass or trees. These settings are based on a Nikon DSLR camera, but similar settings also apply for Canon DSLR cameras.

1. Set your camera on Single Area AF. Normally I use 21-point autofocus, but in this example, since the camera couldn’t distinguish between the bird and the background, I had to go to single area.

2. Set your autofocus delay for Long. This prevents the autofocus from jumping quickly between foreground and background objects.

3. Set autofocus servo for AF-C (a.k.a. continuous servo). Obviously, since the bird is moving, the autofocus system needs to continually track its motion and AF-C tells the camera to do this as long as you are pressing the AF-ON button or the shutter release button.

4. Start tracking the bird a long ways away by pressing your AF-ON button or half-pressing your shutter release button. Giving your autofocus system a few seconds to track the flying bird will greatly enhance the number of keepers you get.

5. Work hard at keeping focus sensor directly on the bird. This is undoubtedly the most difficult part of the equation and requires the most patience. Because puffins and small birds move so fast, you might have to resort to hand-holding your lens so you can react quickly to their changes in direction.

6. If you lose focus, then lift off your finger, and try to reacquire focus on the bird. Sometimes, you’ll need to lift and reacquire multiple times.

Seagulls, raptors and gannets are much easier to capture in flight because they relatively big and slow birds. Because of their slower speeds and larger sizes, the camera’s autofocus system has a much easier time tracking their movements. When photographing these birds, I strongly recommend Dynamic Area – 21 point autofocus. I’ve had great results with this setting and get very consistent focus tracking in most circumstances.


Larger birds like gannets are much easier to track with autofocus because of their slower relative speed.

Photo Techniques: Vertical Panoramas

Hallgrimskirkja in Iceland

Vertical panorama of the Hallgrimskirkja in Iceland.

During my time in Iceland last month, I photographed the famous cathedral in Reykjavik called the Hallgrímskirkja. Spending a few hours there allowed me to explore just about every angle, but one of the shots I’ve wanted to get was a vertical panorama of the interior of the church. Here are the seven steps to creating a great vertical panorama.

Panoramas are created by taking a series of images with your camera, then stitching them together digitally in software. Normally, panoramas are taken horizontally, but in the case of the vertical panorama, you’ll start with the camera pointed down, and end with the camera pointed up towards the ceiling. The process is fairly easy, but is prone to some problems if you don’t execute well in the field.

Your pre-shooting setup makes a huge difference in the success of your final image. Be sure to spend a few minutes getting everything perfect, then take the shots.

1. Shoot with a wider lens than you think you’ll need. This allows your panorama stitching software some extra room too work with when putting together the final image. Also, you’re going to have to crop a bit of the edges anyways due to parallax and distortion from the lens, so shooting wide will help. In the example here, I shot the images with my Nikon D800 and a 14-24mm f/2.8.

2. Set exposure carefully. Since you’ll be covering a large area in the panorama, you’ll need to take dark and light areas into account when exposing. More specifically, you’ll need to choose if you want to retain detail in your shadows regions or in your highlights regions. In the example here, I chose to expose so the shadows would be brighter, thus blowing out the windows. That was a creative choice since I wanted the image to look bright and airy.

3. Lock down all camera variables before shooting. This includes ISO, white balance, exposure settings (shutter speed and aperture) and autofocus. Failure to do this in the field means that your images might not be able to be stitched together when you return to your computer. For example, if images in the same sequence have different brightness values, then your final image will look odd with some sections brighter than others.

4. Overlap each photo by approximately 50%. This allows your stitching software lots of data to figure out where each image goes. In the case of this image, since I was using a super-wide lens, the stitching software really had to bend and warp the pictures to get them to all fit together.

5. Edit all images the exact same way before stitching. Synchronize your white balance, brightness, shadows, saturation, contrast, rotate, etc. Doing this will prevent odd looking segments. Oh, don’t forget to apply your lens profile corrections to each image as well. This will help prevent vignetting or distortion from ruining your beautiful panorama.

Group of panos

Be sure to edit all your images the same way in Lightroom (or whatever software you are using) before stitching the images in Photoshop.

6. Stitch your photos in software. Use a good program such as Photoshop’s Photomerge (available in the CS series and in Photoshop Elements) or Autopano Giga.

7. Crop and warp. Almost every panorama merge requires a bit of post-stitch cropping and warping. The reason is that the stitching software does a significant amount of bending, warping, and masking to create a realistic panorama. For panoramas taken with my super-wide lenses, I find I need to use Photoshop’s warp tool in order to get the edges and corners properly aligned.

Each step of the panorama-making process has certain elements that must be executed well for a great looking final result. Even though none of the steps are terribly complicated, the final image is often very gratifying when everything comes together.

Lake Tahoe Waterfall

Here’s another vertical panorama I shot this summer at a waterfall in Lake Tahoe, CA.

Digital Tidbits: Quick Tip On File Renaming

One of the more common questions I receive from my readers and workshop participants is related to the best way to rename their digital photographs. Lots of people like to name their files with some type of content description such as Birthday_001.JPG or ParisVacation_001.JPG.

My suggestion for renaming individual pictures is to stay away from content descriptions, A.K.A. content slugs. Rather, I recommend naming them with a simple date and sequential number like this:


Then, add keywords to your images using a software program such as Lightroom 5 or Photo Mechanic. Keywords will help you find your images in the future, and are far more flexible than file names for identifying images. For example, with keywords you can add tags like Peru, Maccu Piccu, vacation, trek, mountains, family, and jungle. It would be almost impossible to add all these descriptions in a file name.

I always rename my images when I ingest with Photo Mechanic. This is important because sometimes I will work in images before adding them into my Lightroom catalog. For example, on a photo shoot, I will ingest my images to an external hard drive with Photo Mechanic, then immediately make a quick black and white version so I can post it to Facebook. Since my photos are already renamed, the black and white version will reference the original. I.e.

hagen_130915_0001.NEF (original color image)


hagen_130915_0001_BW.JPG (new B&W conversion)

If I didn’t follow this protocol and decided to rename my images later when I import into Lightroom, then the black and white version will be renamed in sequence and will lose it’s reference to the original file.

Check out my book titled Thousands of Images, Now What? for more information on file naming and image management.

Workshop and Business Updates

Tanzania 2014

Our 2013 trip to Tanzania is completely sold out and we are now starting to sell next year’s Tanzanian safari scheduled for November 4 – 15, 2014. Join us for a wildlife photography adventure you’ll never forget. This trip is awesome.

Here’s the link for more information: Tanzania Photo Safari

Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure – Summer 2014

Our 2013 Nikonians Academy trip sold out and I expect next year’s trip to Iceland to do the same. I’ll be working in conjunction with photographer Tim Vollmer to bring together a beautiful photo tour of the Land of Fire and Ice.

More information here: Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure

Galapagos Photography Adventure

The Galapagos Island chain is one of the most amazing wildlife sanctuaries on planet earth. Join us as we photograph incredible animals while traveling on our own privately chartered expedition yacht.

More information here: Galapagos Photography Adventure – 2014

Masters Series Workshops

Our next Masters Series workshops are scheduled for San Diego, December 12 – 15, 2013. I’ll be teaching classes on the Nikon D600, D7100, D7000, Wireless Flash, and Adobe Lightroom 5 through the Nikonians Academy.

Sign up for the workshops here: Nikonians Academy Workshops

Mike Hagen’s Books

Our how-to books continue to sell well and are designed to help photographers excel at their craft. More information here:
– Thousands of Images, Now What?
– The Nikon Creative Lighting System, Using the SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, and R1C1 Flashes
– Nikon Capture NX2, After the Shoot

Nikon Camera Setup Guides

If you are looking for information on how to set up your Nikon camera, then check out our Nikon Camera Setup Guides here:

Staying Current

You can stay current with our new workshop by watching for news to be posted at the blog (, on Facebook (, Twitter ( and Google+ (


Our Visual Adventures website is the new hub of our business operation. You’ll find links to everything we do including our books, workshops, products, newsletter, blog and photo galleries. For now, our previous website will stay put in its present form, but we won’t be adding new content there.


Old male lion in Ngorongoro Crater. Nikon D800, 200-400mm f/4, 1.4x TC.

Puffin with fish.

Puffin with fish.



Custom Group Trips

I frequently put together private trips for groups of photographers who want specialized instruction or guidance. For example, we recently put together a private trip for a small group of people to Tanzania.

If you have a group and want to arrange a custom photo trip to a destination, contact us and we’ll put together an incredible itinerary just for you. Our custom photo adventures are for people all around the world on topics ranging from nature photography, landscape photography, urban photography, location portraits, and just about anything else you can imagine. Simply email or call and we’ll give you all the details for how to go about creating the trip of your dreams.

Private Tutoring and Consulting

Every month I run private workshops for people who want to learn in a one-on-one environment. These are great for folks who want to focus on specific topics related directly to their interests. Topics have included product photography, learning your camera, Lightroom 5, Photoshop CC, Aperture, Capture NX2, wedding photography, color management, nature photography, digital workflow, macro photography, location portraiture and many others. I also regularly consult with businesses, schools, organizations and museums to assist with their photographic and digital workflow needs.

If you have questions about private tutoring or business consulting, call (253) 851-9054 or visit our site here: .


I sincerely appreciate each and every one of you and want to thank you for reading through this month’s newsletter. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about our trips, books, or anything related to your pursuit of photography.

As always, if you need more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out for regular updates, news, tips and commentary. Also, I encourage you to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Galapagos sea lion

Galapagos sea lion.

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