March 2016 Visual Adventures Newsletter

GH Panos

Welcome photographers! Last month was really fun for quite a few reasons. Of course, I was able to create some great new images, but I also embarked on two new business ventures; one with CreativeLive and another with a colleague of mine, Rick Hulbert.

CreativeLive Logo

Regardless of what is going on in my business, I’m always pushing myself to create new work or to learn a new skill. I think continuous learning is imperative for everyone and I hold myself to the same standard that I hold you to. Everyone should keep practicing and keep learning. In that vein, I have two new book reviews to share with you. Both are on portraiture, both by great artists, Roberto Valenzuela and Nick Fancher.

Panorama photography has been on my mind quite a bit lately because of a new workshop with CreativeLive and because of some panorama work with some clients for their businesses. I decided to challenge myself with a new panorama approach and wrote an article detailing how to create a panorama from this very difficult scenario. Check it out in the section called Digital Tidbits.

In this month’s newsletter:

CreativeLive Partnership

New Instructor and Author – Rick Hulbert

New Workshops in The Wooldands, Texas

Stuff I Like This Month

Book Review: Picture Perfect Lighting

Book Review: Studio Anywhere

Digital Tidbits: A Custom Approach to Panoramas Using Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC

Business Updates

CreativeLive Partnership

I’m proud to announce a new partnership with CreativeLive and to bring new workshops and content to a global audience. Additionally, CreativeLive has asked me to be an instructor on their platform at My first live workshop titled Panoramas in Lightroom and Photoshop took place during Photoshop Week on Monday, February 22, 2016.

As with all Creative Live broadcasts, viewers are able to watch the live broadcasts for free. Then if they want, viewers also have the opportunity to buy the workshop for future usage.

I know a bunch of you watched the class live and even sent in comments during the show. Thank you! It was fun to hear comments from people I’ve come to know over the years through photography. Those who followed my social media accounts were the first to know about the CreativeLive workshops, so if you want to know about future breaking news, be sure to follow Visual Adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter.

Here’s the direct link to the Panorama Workshop page: Panoramas in Lightroom and Photoshop

Also, check out the new Nikonians Academy landing page with an introduction video from Chase Jarvis and I: Landing Page

CreativeLive is a great organization with even greater people. I’ve been able to collaborate with some of the best minds in the industry for this partnership and I’m really looking forward to working with them into the future.



New Instructor and Author – Rick Hulbert

Rick Hulbert and I are partnering to bring additional workshops, books, and content to Visual Adventures. We’ve known each other since 2006 and have forged a great friendship through photography and travel. He is kind, generous, gregarious, and a wonderful human being. Oh, he’s also a really great photographer and instructor too.

Together, we’ll be tag teaming to bring you workshops, eBooks, training videos and more. Rick’s next solo workshop through Visual Adventures will be his Urban and Street Photography class in Chicago, Illinois, September 15-18, 2016. Learn more about the class here: Rick and I are also teaming up to run a workshop together in The Woodlands, Texas next month.

While you’re at it, be sure to check out Rick’s photography website at

New Workshops in The Woodlands, Texas

We are excited to work with The Woodlands Camera Club to help them celebrate their ten-year anniversary. Their club has grown like wildfire and they recently asked us to run a week-long series of workshops. These classes are open to all photographers. We’d love to have you attend. I know a number of people will be flying in for the Urban and Street Photography workshop.

More information and sign up here:





Stuff I Like This Month

1. Nikon just announced three new compact professional cameras called the DL series. Of these three, my favorite are the DL18-50 and the DL24-85. These are designed to be high-end, high-performance travel cameras that will fit in your pocket. Check out these first-user reviews by Steve Simon and Drew Gurian who were hired by Nikon to put pre-production units through their paces in Cuba, Dubai and Nicaragua. Also, check out my short blog post for more information here:


2. Lightroom 2.0 is now available for Android and iOS. The workflow between desktop, mobile, and the cloud is getting more and more seamless every day. Lightroom 2.0 for Android allows mobile photographers another alternative to working strictly from a computer. I’ll do an article on this in the coming weeks. Until then, check out this excellent article by Colby Brown at


3. In 1941, the National Park Service commissioned Ansel Adams to create images of our US National Parks for the Department of the Interior. These images are stored in the National Archives, but are available for you to view in semi-high resolution on their website. Here’s the link:

While you’re at it, check out this CNN gallery of Ansel Adams’ work from the Grand Canyon:


4. James Nachtwey is one of the world’s preeminent photojournalists. Over his career, he has brought us some of the most compelling imagery from our planet’s biggest struggles. I encourage you to look at his most recent photo assignments for Time Magazine on refugees fleeing the Middle East for Europe. Link:


Nikon DL24-85

The Nikon DL-24-85

Nikon DL

The Nikon DL18-50.


Ansel Adams

Three of Ansel Adam’s photographs for the US National Archives. From left, Saguaro Cactus, Taos Pueblo, Old Faithful.



Book Review: Picture Perfect Lighting


Picture Perfect Lighting is the third portrait photography book in a series by Roberto Valenzuela. His previous two books, Picture Perfect Posing and Picture Perfect Practice, were both best sellers, and his new book should be no different. (Disclaimer – I’ve worked closely with this book’s publisher RockyNook over the last 8 years, producing multiple books with them as an author.)

The full title of the book is Picture Perfect Lighting, An Innovative Lighting System for Photographing People. The sub-title is apropos in that Roberto works hard to give you the tools to create a repeatable system for great portraiture. This book is very thorough and covers a tremendous amount of information in its 340 pages. You need to dedicate a bunch of time to work through the book, as it definitely isn’t a quick read. He starts the book by going through a detailed explanation of light. On the whole, his discussion of light behavior is excellent and will serve as a solid foundation to build your lighting knowledge.


The next portion of the book is the most-comprehensive work on ambient light portrait photography I have ever read. He refers to this light as circumstantial light. In these chapters, Roberto describes the ten different types of circumstantial light and how they impact your photography through color, brightness, contrast, shape, tone and mood. The big takeaway from these chapters is you can’t ignore your surroundings and you need to be aware of how walls, trees, grass, cars, and other elements will reflect light onto your subject.

Truly, he defines ambient light in ways I’ve never thought of before and I know that these concepts transcend portraiture. They are perfectly applicable to many other genres including nature photography, architectural photography, and product photography. I learned a ton!

In addition to the ambient light section, Roberto dedicates another robust section of the book to flash photography. I like how he takes the reader through a logical progression to teach them the functionality of a flash. He has a series of tutorials he calls speed development exercises that are designed to take the reader step by step from neophyte to functional in a short time period.


The later chapters of the book are designed around helping the reader understand how to seamlessly blend ambient light with flash. Roberto incorporates just enough science with his art to make me happy. In my mind, the author is the consummate photographer, demonstrating equal parts artist and technical master.

I really enjoyed reading this book as it reminded me to pay more attention to the specific type of ambient light in my scene. The author’s prolific use of diagrams really helps the reader understand the concepts he’s teaching. There were a few photographs he used to describe light fall-off that I didn’t agree with, but the vast majority of his examples were spot-on and extremely helpful.


Roberto Valenzuela is an incredible photographer and a wonderful teacher. I give Picture Perfect Lighting two thumbs up.

Picture Perfect Lighting, An Innovative Lighting System for Photographing People by Roberto Valenzuela is published by Rocky Nook. 340 pages. Available in eBook format or in paperback.

Buy (pre-order) your own copy here:

Picture Perfect Lighting will be available to purchase as an eBook beginning March 2016 at and print soon to follow.


Book Review: Studio Anywhere


Studio Anywhere, A Photographer’s Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations by Nick Fancher is an excellent book. To be honest, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did because of the relatively benign title. Nick’s instruction is outstanding and include very good behind the scenes photographs to demonstrate how he set up the images. He spends ample time describing his thought process going into the shoot, and then tops it off by showing the entire progression from nothing to the final image.

I didn’t realize how much of the book was dedicated to the post-processing aspect of portrait photography. In fact, I consider this book to be equal parts photography instruction and Lightroom post processing instruction.


Author Nick Fancher makes it clear that camera/lighting skills are of paramount importance, but also post-processing skills can take your images to the next level. Nick makes it clear that the location photographer has limited control of the environment where s/he will be shooting. Sometimes, you just can’t control ambient light, backgrounds, distractions, wind, weather, etc. Being adept at post-processing allows you to wrestle back control through the software.

Nick’s Lightroom methodology is excellent and I learned at least two new techniques that I will begin using immediately.

1. He really relies on curves and color channels to enhance each photograph’s contrast and color balance. In years past, I used to be a curves maniac back when Photoshop was the only game in town. For no particular reason, I’ve let my usage of curves wane over the years, especially in my Lightroom-centric workflow. Nick has reignited my curves usage in Lightroom for portraiture.

2. The other technique Nick uses is applying the gradient tool for portraiture. This is something I’ve never done before since I tend to work with gradients as straight-line tools for skies, landscapes and nature photography. Nick frequently uses them to tone and grade his portraits where I would have used a brush tool. I like his method. See, you can teach an old dog new tricks!




Studio Anywhere is interspersed with just enough wit and humor to keep you on your toes. It is clear that Nick is a funny guy, but he doesn’t beat you over the head with dumb jokes like some authors do.

Nick often laments about his home studio in the “dungeon” of his house, but honestly, one of the reasons I like this book so much is because it represents reality for so many photographers. Very few people have dedicated studio space where they can produce professional-looking photography. Nick shows how to create beautiful portraits anywhere; backyards, basements, dungeons, garages, parking lots, offices, and even in a tiny 300 square foot apartment.

The book is broken down into six sections, each with multiple sub-chapters that go into the details. For example, in Part 6, there are four chapters, each with two or three specific examples.

Part 1 – The Living Room Studio

Part 2 – The Backyard Studio

Part 3 – The Basement Studio

Part 4 – The Office Studio

Part 5 – The Park Studio

Part 6 – The Street Studio

Each tutorial in the book goes into detail showing a behind-the-scenes image, a lighting diagram, Lightroom settings, and the final image. It is really well done, especially for photographers who are learning the ropes and want to see every detail of a photo shoot from setup, to design, to final product.


I love learning from other photographers who understand how to teach. Nick Fancher is one of those unique individuals and has created a book that I highly recommend. Two thumbs up for Studio Anywhere!

Studio Anywhere, A Photographer’s Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations by Nick Fancher. Published by Peachpit Press. 241 pages. Available in eBook format or in paperback.

Buy your own copy here: Studio Anywhere at Amazon

Digital Tidbits: A Custom Approach to Panoramas Using Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC

A few years ago I was leading a photo tour through Arizona and photographed a ghost town located in the tiny town of Chloride. One side of the ghost town is a long façade of storefronts that I thought would be a great subject for a panorama.

Chloride AZ

This panorama of the ghost town in Chloride, Arizona took a unique approach using both Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC.

The street through the ghost town was very narrow, so I couldn’t get back far enough to shoot a typical panorama by rotating the camera from left to right from a fixed position. If I did try to shoot the pano using this method, it would have resulted in a funny-looking photograph with unwieldy perspective shifts. In that scenario, the ends of town would be very small while the middle of town would be too large.

To solve that problem, I decided to change my approach and physically walk down the length of town, taking images of the façade every 30 feet or so. I locked my camera settings like exposure, white balance, focus, and focal length, then proceeded to take photos from the tripod as I walked down the dirt road in front of the storefronts.

LR Library

Here are all the images I took by walking down the street and snapping a picture every 30 feet.

Back at the office, my plan was to composite these images together in software to create a long panorama, without perspective shift. Because of the atypical approach I used, I knew it was going to be a difficult stitch these images together with software.

To be honest, I’ve never tried to stitch those images because I didn’t think the Photoshop would do it. As time marched on, I forgot about the pics. But, fast-forward a few years to the present day where both Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC have new panorama stitching utilities. Just a few weeks ago, Lightroom CC and Adobe Camera Raw released a new utility called Boundary Warp that I figured might do a good job with this unique photo sequence.

I set about trying to get the panorama to merge in Lightroom CC and in Photoshop CC, but it was very difficult. To get something to work, it took me three different attempts and it required me to try a new method I made up on the spot. Here goes…

1st Attempt

My first attempt at merging the images from Lightroom CC was a complete fail. I selected all 14 individual files and right clicked to choose Photo Merge –>Panorama. The software churned away for a minute, then produced the error message shown below. I tried all three projection options, but each one resulted in the same error message.


Merge error

Here’s the error message from Lightroom when I tried to merge all the images into one panorama.

It is clear that Lightroom CC doesn’t have the capability to merge images like these. I surmise this is because each photograph is taken from a different perspective. Each photo has different vanishing points on the buildings, roofs, posts, foregrounds, and sky. Asking a software program to figure it all out is a pretty tall order. But I wasn’t going to give up quite yet, so I decided to send the images directly to the Photoshop panorama merge utility.

2nd Attempt

Knowing that Photoshop generally does a better job of merging difficult panoramas, I decided to merge the files using the Photoshop Photo Merge utility. From Lightroom CC, I selected the images like before, then right clicked and chose Edit In à Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This takes all the individual files and activates the Photomerge dialog where you can choose the layout (projection) and a few other image details.


To send the images to Photoshop’s panorama tool, right click on the images to access the contextual menu.

After clicking OK from the dialog, Photoshop spent about 10 minutes churning away on the images. Finally, Photoshop produced a slightly warped panorama, but it was able to stitch all the images together in the correct positions. Because it was using photos where each image was taken from a different position, the clouds in the sky ended up looking a bit funky with numerous repeating patterns. I could have cloned these out, but would have taken a lot of work. I figured I’d try one more method to see if I could get a final product I’d be proud of.


Here was the merge from Photoshop. Not bad, but check out the repeating patterns in the clouds.

Repeating patterns

Here’s a closeup of the repeating cloud patterns from the Photoshop merge.


3rd Attempt

Since neither of the two previous approaches produced results I was happy with, I decided to try one last method. I knew Lightroom couldn’t create a full panorama of this scene, but perhaps it would be able to produce three shorter panos. Then, with the three shorter panos, I could use Photoshop to merge them together into the final, really long pano.


In Lightroom, I selected portions of the large panorama and merged them to be shorter, intermediate panoramas.

Here was my approach:

1. From Lightroom CC, select first 6 images from the left end of town and merge them into a short panorama.

2. Do the same thing for the center part of town.

3. Do the same thing for the right end of town.

4. Now that I’ve created three shorter panoramas in Lightroom, select these three and send them to Photoshop using the Edit In –> Merge to Panorama in Photoshop utility.

Merging three panoramas

After making three shorter panoramas in Lightroom, I sent them to Photoshop for the final merge.

Final merge

Here’s the final merge in Photoshop. You can see the three layers in the lower right of the screen.

Guess what? It worked! Photoshop was able to take the information from three shorter panos and create a nice-looking image. As with most panoramas, there was still some work to be done. For example, I needed to do some pixel warping using the Transform tool and the Warp Brush Filter. Also, I had to use Content Aware Fill to create some new dirt for the foreground. Finally, I needed to move the wooden rocking horse upward in order to properly crop the photograph.

warp transform

Here, I’m using the Warp Transform tool to bend the pixels to better fit the frame of the final panorama.


For complicated panoramas like this, you might need to break the process into smaller steps. In my case, I used smaller sections of the scene and merged them into shorter panoramas in Lightroom. Then, I used the more powerful and capable panorama merging software in Photoshop to merge those shorter image files into the long image.

If this method didn’t end up working, then I would have had to go full-manual mode by bringing each individual image into Photoshop as a layer. I could have then added a layer mask over each image, then manually masked areas from each photograph as necessary. This process would have been very tedious and would have taken multiple hours of retouching.

I hope this article helps you solve some of your more difficult panorama issues. If you found it helpful then shoot me a message and let me know about your success. If you still need assistance, then shoot me an email and I’ll see what I can do to assist.


I’ve been building our Instagram account over the last few months and have added a few hundred photographs. Our focus right now is on wildlife and landscape photography from different areas of the world. I’d love to have you follow our account and share our images.

Instagram account: @mikejhagen

Web address:

MikeJHagen Instagram

Workshop and Business Updates

Galapagos, Africa and Iceland

I have three international trips planned for 2016. Each is designed around a beautiful photographic destination and is tailored specifically for enthusiast photographers and their spouses.


We are almost sold out for this wildlife photography adventure. I have chartered an 82-foot expedition yacht and we’ll spend a week exploring the incredible wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. We depart from Guayaquil Ecuador, so fly in a day or two early to explore this warm coastal city with me as a bonus.


Over the years, we’ve formed a wonderful partnership with our charter boat operator and absolutely love our on-board staff, guides and itinerary. This photo adventure trip to the Galapagos Islands is an experience of a lifetime. Each day features a different region of the Islands. Our expedition yacht has the ability to anchor close to our attractions and our small group size means that we can be nimble while photographing nature’s splendor.


Dates: September 17-25, 2016

Sign Up:


I’m returning to one of my favorite places on the planet for another year of birds and landscape photography. My co-leader Tim Vollmer and I are Iceland veterans who have a proven track record of leading top-notch photography trips together. We travel during late July in order to maximize light and photograph during the best weather. One of our goals is to photograph nesting puffins during their prime baby-feeding season. Although the timing of the puffin hatch is not always predictable, we’ve been able to hit the prime puffin photography in most of our previous trips.


We’ll photograph some of the most amazing scenery and wildlife Iceland has to offer. From verdant rolling hills to rugged mountains, the landscapes of Iceland are famous for their interplay between light and sky. This is such a beautiful country and I’m honored to share it with you. Join me!


Dates: July 17-24, 2016

Sign Up:


2016 marks my 10th photo safari to Tanzania. A place where wildlife is abundant, the landscapes are stunning, and the people are friendly. We are down to our last four seats available for this trip, so don’t wait much longer to sign up with your spouse or favorite photo buddy.


Our epic African safari keeps getting better. I have reserved new lodges and luxury tented camps that are located inside the national parks. I use these locations because their proximity allows us spend more time in the park which means more photographs in better light. I continue to optimize our travel schedule so that it allows even more time to photograph wildlife in the field. Join us for a wildlife photography adventure you’ll never forget.


Dates: November 4-15, 2016

Sign Up:

Workshop Locations

Mike Hagen’s Books

I write books to help people learn the difficult aspects of photography. These are the topics that vex and confuse even the most seasoned shooters among us. I’ve written and contributed to eight books on photography topics ranging from flash, autofocus, software and digital asset management.

Check out our current books here:


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 workshops by watching for news to be posted at the blog, on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Instagram.


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 old website will stay put in its present form, but we won’t be adding new content there.

Custom Group Trips

I frequently put together private trips for groups of photographers who want specialized instruction or guidance. I’ve arranged private photography trips to domestic and foreign destinations and would love to help make your photo trip dream a reality.

If you have a group and want to arrange a custom photo trip to a destination, then 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 begin the process of 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. Check out this blog post – What a Private Photography Workshop Looks Like.

Previous private workshops have included:

  • Product photography
  • Learning your camera
  • Lightroom CC
  • Photoshop CC
  • Wedding photography
  • Color management
  • Wildlife photography
  • Sports photography
  • Digital workflow
  • Landscape photography
  • Macro photography
  • Location portraiture
  • Street and travel photography
  • Studio lighting
  • Archiving and scanning film images

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 for details: .


Your continued reading means a lot to me and I am sincerely grateful. Feel free to email or call me at any time if you have questions about photography or questions about our trips.

If you are looking for more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out for updates, news, tips and commentary. Also, I encourage you to follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Instagram. Have a wonderful month!



Workshop locations

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