Behind the Image: Sun, Oak, and Marsh

This photograph was not an accident. I did not coincidentally happen upon this beautiful oak just as the sun was about to set on the horizon. Happy accidents are very rare in photography. This image was the result of planning, scouting, and timing. I’m afraid that most people have this idea that photographers walk about aimlessly with their expensive gear and picture opportunities just jump out at them. Then the camera does all the work, right? Nice gear equals nice pics? Not at all. I can’t stress that point enough.

I was recovering from my recent surgery down on the North/South Carolina border near the coast over the holidays and getting very tired of sitting around. I had my camera gear in my backpack and decided to take a drive early one morning and arrived just before sunrise at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. It was surprisingly chilly weather for the low country, but it was great to be out doing my thing again (see images from this outing in the previous post). After my time on the beach, I drove over the border to Vereen Gardens in Little River, South Carolina.

I’d been there before and remembered all the old oaks that hang over the marsh. I remembered the moss swaying from the branches. It seemed like it would be a great area for landscape photographs. Unfortunately, I’d spent so much time on the beach, the sun was too high for the image I imagined. I wanted the trees to be backlit and the moss to have nice rim lighting. I decided to watch the weather forecasts and return one evening when the sun would set behind this particularly interesting tree.

An old oak by the intracoastal marsh, near Little River, South Carolina. (18mm, f16, 1/40 sec, ISO 100, tripod)

An old oak by the intracoastal marsh, near Little River, South Carolina. (18mm, f16, 1/40 sec, ISO 100, tripod)

On a clear evening I drove back over to Vereen Gardens with a particular shot in mind. I walked the wooded trails through the marshes to the old oak that I found most interesting. I knew exactly where the sun would rest briefly on the horizon before slipping behind it. There would be only a couple minutes to compose the shot. In order to get a perfect “sun star” I had to wait until the sun was just touching the horizon, then I had to compose the frame (with my tripod in several inches of black mud) so that the light poked through the branches in an aesthetically pleasing spot. I used a narrow aperture of f16 to help give the rays of sunlight more definition. Despite the high contrast in this scene (the extreme brightness and extremely dark shadows), I ended up not having to use exposure bracketing. I bracketed several exposures anyway, but the dead-centre exposure was balanced enough that there was plenty of dynamic range to pull out detail in the highlights and shadows. The sun dipped behind the tree-line, signalling my time was up. I was pleased with the results when I was able to look at the image on my big screen back in Edmonton.

This image, for me, captures the feel of an evening on the Carolina coast. Warm light, Spanish moss, salty marshes, and huge live oaks are characteristic of the region. I am happy I was able to make an image that seems wild and untouched in an area so densely developed and over-overpopulated. It’s the natural South in a single frame.

“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be – a landscape, a person – requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping away at what’s in front of you.” - Frans Lanting

My Favourite Images of 2018

Happy New Year!
2018 was a wild one! Despite a few health issues, I had one of my most photographically productive years. I got to visit (and revisit) some amazing locations in North America and Europe. I’m thankful to have been able to do most of it with my awesome and ever-supportive wife, Alison. Together we travelled to Europe to meander the ancient streets of Prague, Budapest, Munich, and Vienna. In addition to that trip, I visited the awe-inspiring Khutzeymateen Inlet in British Columbia to photograph wild grizzlies in a pristine coastal-rainforest habitat. The year also included time in Dinosaur Provincial Park and, of course, the Canadian Rockies. I’m looking forward to visiting some new places in 2019. Wish me luck…

Thanks to all the readers of this blog and especially the email subscribers! To subscribe to the email list, click here. For your viewing pleasure, here’s a slideshow of some of my favourite images from 2018:

Hover over the image for information.

Scenes from Sunset Beach, North Carolina

It’s been a while since my last post. I’d like to say that I spent the last month lying on a warm beach somewhere sipping drinks out of hollowed out fruit….not exactly. My annual trip to North Carolina for Thanksgiving didn’t go as planned. A sudden battle between my pancreas and gallbladder upon arrival resulted in a week-long hospital stay and surgery (my gallbladder lost the battle). Instead of flying back to Canada to finish up the last of 2018’s projects as planned, I ended up staying with my folks in southeastern North Carolina for 5 weeks while I recovered from surgery. Despite feeling like fresh crap for several weeks, I did enjoy spending extra time with family and friends. I arrived home to frigid and snowy Alberta only a couple days ago. On the bright side, at least I missed a whole month of Canada’s winter!

During my stay in the low country I was able to get out with camera in hand a couple times. Though it was much warmer in coastal N.C. than Alberta, it was still not nice enough to enjoy the beach properly. I was happy to be out of the hospital bed nonetheless, even if a winter jacket and gloves were necessary. Mornings on North Carolina’s beaches in the off-season are very peaceful.

I’m feeling much better now and am settling in at home, but I have just begun looking at the images I made down in the coastal plains. Here are a few photos from a couple very chilly outings on Sunset Beach, North Carolina. More to come. As always, thank you for your patience and support. - Jon

Pink Reflections, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Pink Reflections, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

First Light, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

First Light, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

A New Day, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

A New Day, Sunset Beach, North Carolina

Great Gifts for Photographers (Under $100)


There are a lot of these “Great Gift Ideas for Photographers” listicles out there, so I was reluctant to write one. What I finally decided is that most of them didn’t actually list items that are all that useful to serious photographers or the items they list are just plain kitschy junk. I mean we’ve all seen the camera lens mugs that look cool, but in practice are pretty crappy vessels for the all-important-coffee-break when in the field. This list of gift ideas is full of things I actually use frequently, or I would like to have myself, as a working photographer. No kitsch…just real practical gifts that the photographer in your life will use and enjoy for under $100 USD.

Peak Design Leash Camera Strap ($39 or less)

I own two camera straps by Peak Design. They make solid products. The “leash” is my favourite. Whether you’re shooting a small mirrorless camera or a large pro DSLR, the leash works great. Their ingenious system for fastening the strap to your camera provides versatility and supports up to 200 lbs of weight! It’s also easily adjustable and very comfortable to use in the field. I used mine the entire time I was travelling in Europe last summer. Visit for more info. Check the price on Amazon.

Also consider the Peak Design Slide Summit Edition (which I also own) for heavier camera and lens combos ($65 or less):

Think Tank Photo Retrospective 10 Shoulder Bag ($100)

Think Tank Photo makes awesome shoulder bags. The Retrospective 10 shoulder bag is great for carrying one large camera body and up to three pro-lenses (with other accessories). I own the larger Retrospective 50, which is bit overkill for my needs. The Retrospective 10 is a much more reasonable size and carries the essential needs of a travel photographer. These bags are well-made and very comfortable. I really like that is doesn’t really look like a camera bag, and thus draws less attention. Check the specs, price, and see more images on Amazon.

Think Tank Photo Holster 30 V2.0 Camera Bag ($80 or less)

Walking around with larger lenses is tricky. You don’t always have time to go digging around your backpack for your 70-200mm lens when an elk walks out in front of you or when you’re walking around a city and something interesting happens. Sometimes you need access to your longer lens for more reach on the fly. Think Tank makes solid products that a lot of pro-photographers love. I have one of their shoulder bags, and it’s great (but cost more than $100, so I didn’t list it here). I don’t own the Photo Holster 30 V2.0 by Think Tank, but I can see it being something that I’d use frequently on those shorter walks in the woods when I only want minimal gear and need a telephoto lens close at hand. Think Tank Photo also makes smaller versions of this bag. For more info visit
Check the price on Amazon.

Tenba Protective Wrap Tools 16in Protective Wraps (various sizes $14 - $17)

I own and use several Tenba Protective Wraps. They’re great for wrapping up your lenses for extra padding in transit. They’re available in several different sizes and colours. Most lenses and camera bodies fit into the 16 inch version, but I own a few 20 inch ones as well. I’ve even used these to line my messenger bag for extra padding, affectively making it a camera shoulder bag. Check the price on Amazon.

Giottos AA1920 Rocket Air Blaster ($8 - $15)

This silly looking little thing is one of the most important things a photographer can own. I’ve had mine for many years and use it daily. Essentially it’s used for blowing dust, dirt, lint, and sand off your camera body and lenses. It can also be used (when used properly) during the process of cleaning dust from camera sensors. I use it to blow away dust and debris before wiping the glass components of my camera and lens. It can be purchased alone or in a cleaning kit with other accessories.
Check the price on Amazon.

Water resistant memory card case ( $10 or less)

There are many waterproof and water resistant card cases for memory cards out there. They’re all very similar. The one listed here is a popular product on Amazon and the one that I use. It holds 12 SD cards. There is a version for CF cards available and a few other configurations as well.
Check the price on Amazon.

OP/TECH Rainsleeves - 2-Pack ($7 or less)

These very inexpensive (less than $7 for two!) rain covers work great at keeping your camera gear dry. I used them while photographing grizzlies in the rainy Khutzeymateen wilderness in northern British Columbia. They worked great, even with my Nikon 200-500mm VR lens! They are very easy to use and even allow your zoom lenses to zoom out without slipping off. I’d recommend these to anyone who shoots outdoors. I prefer them to more bulky and expensive options. Check them out on Amazon.

Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge DVD Box Set (Entire Series $70 or less)

Travels to the Edge is an excellent television series featuring world renowned travel and nature photographer Art Wolfe. If it doesn’t get you motivated to get outdoors and make some images, nothing will. Art’s photos are amazing, and the videography of the awesome places he visits on the show is top quality. I own this set and rewatch my favourite episodes often. It is both entertaining as well as educational for the aspiring outdoor photographer. Check the price on Amazon.

Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Photography
($16 or less)

This guide, written by one of my favourite travel photographers Richard I’Anson, taught me a lot of what I know about travel photography as both a hobby and business. It’s packed full of great images and lessons for the aspiring travel photographer. Even though I’ve read it twice over, I still reference it time and time again in preparation for trips abroad. Check the price on Amazon.

Looking for more books on photography? Check out my favourite photography books by