Weekly Photo Challenge

Back in 2013 , I did a Project 365, whereby I took and posted at least one photo per day for an entire year. It was tedious and frustrating at times and I honestly couldn’t wait until it was over. On the other hand, it was tremendously rewarding in that it got me thinking about and DOING photography every single day that year.

Project 365 – December 21, 2013

I miss that constant connection to photography and I feel like I am in need of a boost to get my phojo back. One of the best ways to jumpstart one’s creativity is via assignments, so what I’ve decided to do for the next 52 weeks is a Weekly Photo Challenge.

The difference between this challenge and previous assignments that I’ve done on my blog is that the Weekly Photo Challenge is going to play out on my Facebook photography page, which you can find here –> www.facebook.com/39DegNorth. At some point on Friday of each week, I will announce a topic and will post photos pertaining to that topic within that specific thread on Facebook during that specific week. The following Friday, I’ll announce a new topic and post photos on that topic, and so on.

While this challenge has stemmed from my own need for a deeper and more consistent connection to photography and to solidify my own photography practice, I would LOVE for my readers to join me in these challenges. However, instead of emailing your photos to me as we’ve done with the assignments on the blog, you can post your own topic-appropriate photos in the Facebook thread at any time during the week. There’s absolutely NO pressure and no expectation for anyone to join in, but it would be fun if you did, even if it’s just sometimes.

If you wish to follow along with the Weekly Photo Challenge, whether as a participant or as a viewer, I strongly suggest that you select the “Get Notifications” feature on my 39° North Photography page. Facebook is notoriously very bad at letting you see posts from the Facebook pages that you’ve “Liked.” To do this, go to the page (www.facebook.com/39DegNorth), find the “Liked” button, hover your mouse over that button, and click on “Get Notifications.” While getting notifications is by no means a requirement, it’s the best way to guarantee that you won’t miss a new weekly challenge or the images that participants come up with for each topic.

Why am I going the Facebook route for this challenge? Because I want other folks to feel free to join in, but I don’t want to have to do the work to get everyone else’s photos posted. If you follow this blog but you’re not on Facebook, well… I’m sorry. The blog will still be here and I am also challenging myself to do a lot more posting on the blog this year.

Of course there have to be rules, but there are just a few.

  • In order to maintain some semblance of order, I’m asking participants to please post your photos within the weekly topic thread under Comments. Photos posted outside of the appropriate thread will be removed. I will try to send the poster a private message if I find it necessary to remove a photo.
  • All photos posted must be YOUR OWN, as in taken by YOU. If you know how to watermark the photos you intend to post, I highly suggest that you do that.
  • I would prefer that you take the topic-related photos during the week of that topic. However, if it’s “Rodents” week, for example, and you happen to have taken an amazing photo of a squirrel last summer that you really really want to share, go ahead and post it, but try to share fresh photos as much as possible.
  • I’m not going to put a limit on how many photos the participants may post each week, but do try to be reasonable.

Since this is new format for me and I am making it up as I go along, I may have to change the rules up a bit if the need arises. I’ll keep you posted if I feel the need to make changes. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

And that’s it. I’ll be announcing the topic for Week 1 tomorrow, so keep an eye out for it on Facebook!

Holiday Photography Assignment Results

The results of the Holiday Photography Assignment are in! We had such a lovely variety of photos submitted by a wonderful group of participants, including a record of THREE participants from Europe and one of our regular participant who was on vacation in India. Great job, everyone and thanks for playing along!! Check out a few of the submissions below and click on the link at the bottom of the thumbnails to view all of the submitted photos.

Holiday Photography Assignment Reminder

Happy New Year! This is a wee reminder that your photo submissions for the Holiday Photography Assignment are due TODAY. If you need a little more time, I will also accept them tomorrow. All submissions will be posted here on the blog on Saturday, January 3. You may submit up to TEN of your best holiday photos taken during the month of December, 2014. I can’t wait to see them!!


Holiday Photography Tips

Happy Holidays from 39° North Photography!


How are you coming along with the Holidays Photography Assignment? We just have a little over a week left to complete the assignment so keep at it! Remember that you may submit up to TEN of your best holiday shots for the assignment. The original post for the assignment can be found HERE if you need a refresher on how it works. As promised, in this post I’ll offer a few tips to help you get your best holiday shots ever.


You can’t take fabulous holiday photos without a camera so the most important tip I can give you is to make sure your camera is READY and available. Have plenty of freshly charged batteries handy and have more than enough memory card space available. Also, make sure that you actually have a memory card IN your camera. (I speak from experience here). Check the settings to make sure they’re appropriate for the lighting conditions and the type of photography you’re going to do (indoors vs. outdoors, people shots, action, low light, close-ups, etc).

Also make sure that YOU are ready. Get to know your camera ahead of time. Know what it can do and what its limitations are. Learn what all of those buttons and dials are for, know what settings you can change and what happens to your images when you change them, etc. You might be shooting in all different conditions/lighting situations in a short period of time, so you’ll need to know how to change your settings quickly and effectively.

If you’re in an unfamiliar location, scope it out before any action begins. Take note of the lighting, the background, where the windows are, what ambient light is available. If you’re going to use a tripod, figure out well ahead of time the optimal locations to place it and make sure not to set it up in a high-traffic area where it could get kicked over. (That would be BAD). Make sure that major light sources are not in front of you. Take a LOT of test shots.


You don’t have to wait until it’s dark to capture interesting shots of outdoor holiday lights. About 20-30 minutes after sunset is a good time to start capturing the lights along with some of the surrounding details. Fortunately, the shot above of the holiday lights on the Denver City and County Building works well with a completely dark sky.

A slower shutter speed – 1/4 to 2 seconds or longer – will be necessary to get good outdoor light shots, so be sure to use a tripod.

One technique I like to play around with when holiday lights are involved is creating interesting light trails by setting the shutter speed to slow (2-3 seconds) and moving the camera while the shutter is open. You can do this by moving a zoom lens in and/or out or by physically moving your camera. This is a fun technique for both indoor and outdoor lights.


It’s very important that you utilize the flash on your camera as little as possible when shooting indoors to avoid the dreaded red eyes as well as the harsh, unflattering light given off by on-camera flashes. Some techniques to compensate for lower light situations without using your flash are:

  • Bump up your ISO setting. The higher your ISO number, the less light your camera needs. In the old days of film photography, higher ISO values tended to yield very grainy photographs. In digital photography, it’s possible to use ISO values of 800+ without compromising the clarity of your photos.
  • Play with the exposure compensation settings. (Look for the +/- setting on your camera).
  • Use a faster lens if you have one available. I plan to use my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens for low-light shots. (The f/1.4 is the part that makes it a “fast” lens).
  • Turn some lights on.
  • Use natural light if possible.
  • Use a tripod.

Whether you have a point-and-shoot or a DSLR camera, you will need to take if OFF the automatic (A) setting in order to prevent the flash from constantly popping up. If you
absolutely must use a flash, try to bounce the light off the ceiling or somehow diffuse the light.


When framing a shot, think about what the main subject of the image is and try to fill the frame with that subject. Watch your background to make sure it doesn’t distract from the subject. The simpler the background, the better.

Read up on the Rule of Thirds and try to keep that in mind when composing shots. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but at least try a few shots that conform to the rule and see what you think.

Try shooting from unconventional angles. I’m a big “shoot from your boots” fan myself.

If there are children at your holiday gathering, get down on their level to get the best photos of them.


If you’ve been designated to take the group/family photos at a holiday gathering, good luck with that and here are some pointers:

  • Work quickly as most people, especially children, have very little patience when it comes to group photos.
  • Take the group shots in the beginning of the festivities before the kids spill hot cocoa all over themselves and before Uncle Jack has had too much eggnog.
  • f you plan to be IN the group photo, either have your camera set up on a tripod or scope out a spot where you can set your camera on a sturdy, flat surface and set the self-timer. Know how to use the timer ahead of time because, trust me, it’s embarrassing scrambling to figure it out while everyone is not-so-patiently waiting.
  • You know that when you take group photos, there will inevitable be at least one or more people in the resulting images with their eyes closed. Here’s a simple but generally effective trick to make sure everyone’s eyes are OPEN in the group shots: first have everyone CLOSE their eyes for a few seconds, then tell them, “On the count of 3, OPEN your eyes.” Once their eyes are open, wait a second or two for the “deer in the headlights” look to dissapate, then snap the picture.
  • Try to get candid people photos with real, natural expression rather than the cheesy, fake smiles you get when you say, “Smile!”


If you’re using a smart phone to take your holiday photos, use the composition and other tips above, but also have fun experimenting with various photo apps that let you create some interesting effects. Use your favorite app(s) and especially try out some of these features:

  • Fisheye
  • Tilt shift (simulates miniature scene)
  • Watercolors
  • Black and white/sepia
  • Frames
  • Retro/nostalgic effects
  • “Grunge” effects

My favorite photo editing app these days is Snapseed. It’s packed with all kinds of features/effects and is available for both Android and iOS phones. The photo below was edited with Sketch Guru.



If your camera has a burst mode, use that for periods of high activity, such as during the gift opening.

You can also try “embracing the blur.” Slowing down the shutter speed during times of activity can produce some really cool “motion blur” effects.

Capture the details of the festivities using a macro lens or your camera’s macro mode (it’s the setting that looks like a flower on most cameras).

Watch your white balance (WB) setting. Don’t necessarily just trust your camera’s Auto ISO setting to do the job. Assess the type of lighting in the area where you’re shooting (incandescent, fluorescent, natural, etc) and use that information as a starting point for setting your white balance. Go with what looks good to you. Take several test shots in the different lighting situations you will encounter.

If you’re looking for cute and fun holiday photo ideas, do a search on Pinterest for “holiday photo ideas.” It’s amazing how clever people can be!!

Particularly if you’re going to try something new with your camera (and/or have a new camera), get plenty of practice ahead of time so you don’t blow the shot when that once in a lifetime moment comes.

Don’t forget the video function on your digital camera/smart phone! Take a few short videos and combine them with a bunch of still shots and even some music to make a wonderful video compilation to share with your family and friends.

Keep taking photos even after all of the gifts are opened. Capture images of Uncle Jack trying on his new tie or the kids playing with their new toys.

Take a LOT of photos. And then take some more. But do try to be thoughtful and somewhat selective in your picture-taking. The “spray and pray” method may yield a handful of good photos, but then you end up with hundreds and hundreds of images to go through and that takes a lot of the joy out of it if you ask me.


Whew! I know that’s an awful lot of information to digest, but I never said that getting your best holiday shots ever was going to be EASY, did I? :) But seriously, if you’re just starting out with photography, pick a couple of areas on which to concentrate and go from there. Just keep practicing and keep working on improving your skills, a little at a time.

Photography Assignment 2014 – Holidays

The topic of our final photography assignment of 2014 is Holidays! We will be working on this one for the ENTIRE month of December, so whatever holiday(s) you happen to celebrate this month, show us your best photos!

The rules for the assignment, as always, are simple:

  • Your photos have to be NEW, as in taken between now and New Year’s Eve – Wednesday, December 31 – NOT something you took last year, last week or yesterday. No fair scrolling through the old photos stored on your hard drive or phone to find that really super hilarious photo you took of your Uncle Phil in his Santa suit last Christmas. The idea is to go out into the world with whatever picture-taking device you have and come up with the most interesting and creative NEW Holiday shots that you possibly can.
  • You may submit up to 10 (TEN) of the best Holiday shots that you took during the month of December, 2014. Accompanying captions make it more fun but aren’t required. If you submit photos of identifiable people, be sure you get their permission to have their photos posted online!

That’s it! As mentioned, you have the ENTIRE month of December to complete this assignment so there are NO EXCUSES! At some point between now and Thursday, January 1, 2015, email up to TEN Holiday photos to me at 39DegN@gmail.com and put “HOLIDAYS” in the subject line. The results of this assignment will be posted here in the blog on Saturday, January 3.

As always with these assignments, please keep in mind that you don’t need a fancy-schmancy camera to play along. It doesn’t matter what kind of picture-taking device you use – DSLR, point-and-shoot, camera phone, etc. – it’s all good. The important thing is to PARTICIPATE! These photography assignments are just for fun and also to help you become a better photographer by training your eye to see specific things or by practicing certain techniques. There’s no critique involved, no judges, no winners, no prizes… just the most interesting and creative HOLIDAY photos you can muster with whatever camera you have available.

Let me know if you have questions about this assignment. If not, get out there and get to it! Remember… BE CREATIVE, use good composition techniques, and, most of all, HAVE FUN! The more the merrier, so please share share share this post and tell your friends about the assignment so they can play along too!

In the upcoming weeks, I’ll be posting some tips and techniques to help you improve your Holiday photography, so keep an eye out for new posts! (Or better yet, SUBSCRIBE to receive 39° North Photography blog posts in your email. Look for the Subscribe box at the top of the right sidebar).

Here are a few Holiday examples from my own archives:

Holiday Lights at the Denver City and County Building

Christmas Sophie

Christmas Sophie

photo 3

Snowy Wreath

Scavenger Hunt #2 Reminder

How are you coming along with your Scavenger Hunt assignment? This is your friendly reminder to finish up the assignment and email your photos to me by Sunday evening, October 5. The 10 topics are listed below. Click HERE to read the original post for Scavenger Hunt #2.

  1. Yellow
  2. Clouds/Sky
  3. Rock/Stone
  4. Something That Makes You Smile
  5. Window(s)
  6. Two
  7. Shoot From Your Boots (i.e. low angle photography)
  8. Fence
  9. Fall/Autumn
  10. Paper

I can’t wait to see your photos!

Autumn in the Aspen Grove

Shooting from My Boots on the Green

Photography Assignment 2014: Scavenger Hunt #2

It’s photography assignment time again! Let’s do another Scavenger Hunt, cool?

Shot From My Boots

Shot From My Boots

For those of you who are new to the blog and my scavenger hunt assignments, here’s how it works… 10 topics are listed below. Your assignment is to go out and take photos that in some way represent each of these topics. You can choose to photograph as many of the ten topics as you like, but you may submit only ONE photo per topic. Here are the topics:

  1. Yellow
  2. Clouds/Sky
  3. Rock/Stone
  4. Something That Makes You Smile
  5. Window(s)
  6. Two
  7. Shoot From Your Boots (i.e. low angle photography)
  8. Fence
  9. Fall/Autumn
  10. Paper

I suggest that you jot these topics down and carry the list with you when you’re out and about with your camera. It’s a good idea to have a camera with you at all times because you just never know when great photo-ops will pop up!

The “rules” for the assignment are:

  • Your photos have to be NEW, as in taken between now and Sunday evening, October 5 – NOT something you took last year, last week or even this morning for that matter. New. Fresh. NOW. No digging old photos out of your hard drive or your Camera Roll, ya hear? The idea is to take your photo-taking-device out into the world with the ten topics in mind and come up with the most interesting and creative shots that you possibly can.
  • You may choose any or all of the ten topics to photograph, but please submit only ONE photo of each of your chosen topics.
  • Please label each photo with the name of the topic above to which it pertains. You can do full captions, but the caption should at the minimum include the name of the topic.

That’s it! If you’re in, start taking your photos NOW. I’m giving you a little over ten days to complete this assignment – including TWO weekends – so GET BUSY! Sometime between now and Sunday evening, October 5, email your photos to me at 39DegN@gmail.com and put “SCAVENGER HUNT” in the subject line. The results of this assignment will be posted in the blog on Tuesday, October 7.

As always with these assignments, please keep in mind that you don’t have to be a “Photographer” and you don’t need a fancy schmancy camera to play along. DSLR, point-and-shoot, camera phone… it doesn’t matter. These photography assignments are just for fun and also to help you become a better photographer by training your eye to see specific things or by practicing certain techniques. There’s no critique involved, no judges, no winners, no prizes… just the most interesting and creative photos you can muster with whatever camera you have available. Got it? Let me know if you have questions about this assignment. If not, get out there and get to it! Remember… BE CREATIVE, use good composition techniques, and, most of all, HAVE FUN! The more, the merrier, so please share share share this post and tell your friends so they can play along too!

Here are a few examples from my archives:




rock penguins

Rock Penguins

Something That Makes Me Smile

Something That Makes Me Smile








Autumn Aspen Leaf

Autumn Aspen Leaf



My Grasshopper Friends

I recently issued a plea on Facebook to my gardener/farmer friends for suggestions on how to organically control the burgeoning grasshopper population in my garden. I received a few interesting ideas, including: various ways to cook and eat them (not an option as I don’t eat animals); getting chickens and having THEM eat them (good idea but I’ve already decided against getting chickens); getting sheep or goats and having them eat the grasshoppers’ food source (not a good idea as I LIKE having a garden AND I’m not allowed to have sheep or goats in my town); and a plethora of natural homemade pesticide recipes (excellent ideas, Margaret, but sounds like a lot of work). My favorite suggestion, however, was that I simply learn to love them (thank you Anna). And since the grasshoppers don’t seem to actually be eating all that much of my garden and there’s plenty of yummy stuff to go around, that is what I decided to do. And so, with no further ado, I would like to introduce you to some of my new grasshopper friends.

(Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge those images or you can click here –> View photos at SmugMug).

Big Green Caterpillar

This very large and hideously beautiful caterpillar was found lurking in one of my flowerbeds over the weekend. I initially thought it was a hornworm, which are are known to strike fear into the hearts of gardeners everywhere as they are quite fond of things like tomato, potato, eggplant, and pepper plants.

tobacco hornworm

tobacco hornworm

However, after a bit of further research, I’ve determined that this beauty is the larva of the modest sphinx moth, perhaps even the offspring of the very modest sphinx moth I discovered hanging out on my back patio in mid-July this year!

modest sphinx moth

Modest sphinx moth caterpillars feed on aspen, poplar, cottonwood, and willow leaves and are not considered to be pests. (Adult modest sphinx moths, on the other hand, don’t eat at all, EVER. They don’t even have mouth parts)! My yard must be a modest sphinx moth larva haven because I have lots of aspen trees and a very large cottonwood tree. I’m actually kind of surprised that this was the first such caterpillar that I’ve seen.

I spent quite a while observing and photographing the big green caterpillar. (It was quite a joy to watch it move, actually). After I was done with the portrait session, the caterpillar was gently placed into the “back forty” of my yard, where it was free to find a nice patch of dirt in which to dig a shallow burrow and pupate for the next 9 months.