Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Building an Ark!

Mid-week here in Los Osos and we are enjoying some much-needed rain. Good, soaking rains this time of year will yield a great wild flower bloom in March. George and I talked last week about the need for a few good storms and it turns out this week is answering our prayers.

Just finished a phone call with the North American Nature Photography Association ( If you have not heard of them or their work, please visit their web site and look around.

At the suggestion of George Lepp and Rob Sheppard, long time editor of Outdoor Photographer magazine, we are now offering a discount on all week-long and weekend courses to NANPA members. Check out our website ( or the NANPA site for the details.

Fay Sirkis is here this week teaching Wedding, Portrait, and Faces with Corel Painter X. If you are not familiar with her work check out Fay starts with a digital image and transforms it into a photo-painted masterpiece. As a member of NAPP's dream team, she is a demanding but very talented instructor. Her courses are intense but by the end of the week the students are creating some incredible pieces. Fortunately for us Fay only teaches her week-long workshops here at the Lepp Institute.

Well, that's all for now. Take care and see you soonest.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

What a Great Week

We finished the Coastal Discoveries with George Lepp class Friday afternoon. Overall, a great week spent shooting a huge diversity of subjects here in Los Osos from oaks with Spanish moss, to crashing waves, to monarch butterflies, to the secrets of Corallina Cove's tidepools.

We spent most of Thursday in the field shooting at the Montana de Oro tide pools. One of the lowest tides in a few months occured just after noon so we had access to one acre of tidepools typically unavailable to photographers.

Macro lenses and MT-24 twin light flashes were out as we explored the tidepools. Everyone had either kneepads or foam mats to ensure no bodily harm as we got up close and personal with anemones, sea urchins, starfish, and many other wonders. In addition, we shot many panoramas of the beautiful Monterrey shale formations surrounding Corallina Cove.

After five hours of shooting we made it back to the digital darkroom to work the images. Hal led a print tutorial on the Canon 5100 to prepare the class for Friday's print session. As we talked about in an earlier post, each student started the process to make a table top book with their images. After processing and a few test prints to ensure good color management the class would print on 12 x 12 media for their books.

Friday saw continued image optimization as the print work began. The Canon 5100s performed beautifully for both the color management test prints and the actual book pages. Throughout the day George and Hal gave demos on either printing or image/presentation enhancement using Photoshop's Layer Styles.

At 4:30 we finally called it a week, packed up, and said our goodbyes to a great group of new friends.

Fay Sirkis is here next week teaching Wedding, Portrait, and Faces. Fay will use Corel Painter X to create fine art digital watercolors and oils based on a digital photograph. Look to the blog throughout the week to see her work.

Take care and see you soon.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Coastal Discoveries Day Three

Started early this morning with a 7 AM push for the wintering monarch butterfly groves. Our first stop in Pismo found huge quantities of butterflies but they were located high in the eucalyptus and the light would not be right for hours. No big deal as we pushed south to Oceano and located a dozen or so basketball sized groups of "sleeping" monarchs.

As we geared up with super telephotos and Project-a-flash units, the sun began to slowly illuminate and warm the butterflies. The class enjoyed great shooting for the next two and a half hours.

Leaving Oceano we took a detour to visit Really Right Stuff ( in San Luis Obispo to do some tripod and ballhead shopping. If you haven't tried their gear yet, you will love it. Although the right gear can be expensive, it is absolutely worth it. If you are in the market for either a tripod, ballhead, or other accessories please give us a call at 805.528.7385 or via email at before you purchase anything. All too often we have people show up with brand new gear that is completely wrong for them. If they had only contacted us ahead of time we could share some the guidance we hear repeatedly from instructors like George Lepp, Rob Sheppard, Lewis Kemper, Ben Willmore, and many more. Unfortunately, those folks end up having to purchase new gear in order to ensure a stable platform for D-SLR and lens.

After a quick lunch, we returned to the digital darkroom and continued the review, edit, and processing of gig after gig. Upon quick review, while walking around the lab, it looked like the monarch shoot was very productive.

We worked in the lab until about 4 PM when it was time to head back out and hit the beach at Morro Bay for some sunset shooting with Morro Rock and high clouds as the background and crashing waves, surfers, and a beautiful reflective beach as the foreground. George gave a quick tutorial to reinforce the in-lab lessons and the shooting started again. California, the Pacific, and nature delivered a great sunset, a nice swell, and gentle offshore winds.

Post-sunset and dinner, the lab work started again as the class continued the process of image selection and optimization. The goal this week is to start production of a table top/coffee table book. We handed out the books and the media this evening and will start the Herculean print jobs tomorrow afternoon.

We must wait until tomorrow afternoon for the printing since we will be down at Montana de Oro State Park again from about 9 AM until 2 PM shooting the tidepools. We planned and scheduled this course around a particularily low tide so we could have the pools readily accessible.

Take care, shoot well, and we'll write more tomorrow.

-the Institute Staff

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

George is Back

George Lepp is back in town and leading his Coastal Discoveries class.

We spent day one in the lab as George taught numerous techniques and software programs with a focus on panorama creation and high dynamic range (HDR) work.

This morning began early as we met to travel to the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. Fortunately, we were rewarded with a high tide and crashing waves. We broke out the neutral density (ND) filters and the class shot long exposures to soften the wave/water effect. I don't think there is a better place than Montana de Oro to sharpen your skills with the ND filter. The class transitioned to panoramas and texture shots of the Monterrey shale formations.

We broke for a quick lunch and began to review and sort the morning's images before heading out to the local oak preserve for HDR work. Back in the field, George led an in-depth discussion of the ideal high dynamic range capture (or captures.)

Evening lab was dedicated to Hal teaching Photomatix and Photoshop processing of the the HDR shots. After the half hour discussion, the class began to work and optimize their images.

Each student this week is creating a 12 x 12 leather-bound book of the images they shoot here on the coast. So tomorrow will see a large amount of Photoshop work and printing. The Canon 5100s are dialed in and ready to speed the book process with excellent prints.

We will do all this after a morning photo shoot in the monarch butterfly groves just south of the Institute. The butterflies are here in the millions right now. What great subject matter!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Back at It!

The 2008 year kicked off this weekend with Beginning Photoshop 1.

The lab has never looked better and is outfitted with new Canon printers, projectors, and camera gear. We finished the new studio space next door and should have the lights and other studio accessories soon. With a total of 4400 sq. ft, great students, the best instructors, and huge amounts of new sponsor equipment, the Institute is poised to have an exciting year.

Indoor High Dynamic Range (HDR) by Victoria

The Beginnning Photoshop 1 class is the first in a two part Beginning Photoshop series taught on the weekends. We will try to offer these shorter classes at the beginner to intermediate level at least once per month. With over 5 years experience as an instructor at TOPGUN, Hal found the transition to teaching Photoshop relatively easy and a lot less stressful.

George Lepp returned to Los Osos this weekend in preparation for his Coastal Discoveries class starting Monday morning. Look to the blog for pictures and stories about the class experience.

A bee at Hearst Castle State Park with a few PS CS 3 effects

Take care, Happy New Year, and hope to see you soonest!