The Great Smoky Mountains: Behind the Lens, Second Edition

I’ve just finished writing and assembling my newest ebook project, a second edition of my Great Smoky Mountains: Behind the Lens. So how is this version different from the first?

– More content (80 pages versus 42)

– Optimized for mobile devices and retina screens (hi-res, horizontal format, sized to fit the iPad)

– New locations, new essays, and more images

– Map of the Great Smoky Mountains with marked locations

– Same low price of $7.95. Wait, that’s not different.

For more information and how to buy your own, follow this link.

Just like the first edition, this ebook chronicles many of my favorite images from the Great Smoky Mountains. With each image there is a personal essay that gives some insight with regard to the photographic process I used, my personal experience when the image was created, or information and history about the location. You’ll learn more about landscape and wildlife photography, you’ll have a better understanding of the Smoky Mountains, you might cry, you might laugh, you might accidentally spit coffee all over keyboard.

Below is a sample of the book’s 80 pages. It’s really really hard to read so you might want to buy and download a full-sized copy for yourself. Enjoy!

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Canon 7D Mark II Camera Review


– 20.2 Megapixels on an APS-C CMOS sensor

– Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors

– 10 frames per second drive speed

– 65-Point All Cross-type Autofocus

Canon began shipping the EOS 7D Mark II in early November 2014 and I was one of the first on the waiting list. I wanted to replace my EOS 7D with another lightweight body that would be my go-to camera for wildlife shooting. I always thought the EOS 1DX was too big and heavy  – not to mention expensive.

Truth be known, I was never quite happy with the performance of the 7D, particularly with how it handled low-light conditions. In order to get the quality I wanted and expected, I couldn’t push the ISO above 800 with any confidence. So of all the improvements the upgrade was bringing to the table, I was most interested in how this camera would perform at higher ISO settings. A photo trip to the rain forest of Costa Rica – and later Ecuador and the Galapagos – would give me some answers.

This is a real world review from actual results in the field and is not comprehensive. I’m only covering the features that are important to me. For example, I don’t even discuss video. For a full list of the features and specifications of the EOS 7D Mark II, visit the Canon USA website.

Noise and ISO Performance

This was the most important test in how I would come to evaluate this camera.

First, Canon is guilty of a little exaggeration here. It claims to make high quality images up to 16,000 ISO (give me a break) and it uses several image examples at 16,000 ISO on their website. Second, it’s still not an ideal camera for making “excellent low-light photography” as Canon boasts. No APS-C camera is, for that matter, but it is an improvement over the 7D. Here is my very subjective evaluation:

White-faced capuchin, Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 334mm, 1/250 second @ f/4, ISO 2000

Crop with no noise reduction or sharpening applied at ISO 2000 – the upper limit of the ISO range with which I was comfortable.

After pouring over results from the three-week trip, I can say that I am comfortable with results up to 2000 ISO under most conditions. ISO 2500 – 3200 is passable if I expose properly (don’t underexpose, expose to the right) and use minimal noise reduction in post processing. Anything above 4000 is nearly unusable, at least with regard to my standards.


This was a pleasant surprise. Canon advertised the upgraded autofocus system to be just as good as the EOS 1DX. Since I’ve not used the 1DX over any long stretches of time, I couldn’t really compare the two. I will say, however, that the autofocus in the 7D Mark II is a vast improvement over the 7D which was pretty good already. During my trip to Costa Rica, I know I nailed some shots that I would not have gotten with either the 7D or the 5D Mark III.

Mantled howler or golden-mantled howling monkey and infant in tree, Osa Penensula, Costa Rica. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 280mm, 1/640 second @ f/5.6, ISO 640

The image above represents one of those instances: fast action and strong backlighting, a situation where autofocus often has trouble locking onto a subject. In fact, I’ve come to almost expect AF problems in these conditions. With the 7D Mark II, I never missed a single shot during the entire trip because of backlighting. I was duly impressed!

By the way, if you use a lot of tele-extenders, the 7D Mark II can autofocus at f/8 with the center cross-type AF point.

Another upgrade to the 7D Mark II is the AF Area Selection Lever which is built around the Multi-Controller joystick. Now you can easily and quickly change the AF Area Selection mode, such as Single Point, AF Point Expansion, or Zone AF. I find this really handy.

Frames Per Second

10 frames per second! What else is there to say? That is one sexy sound as the camera purrs through dozens of images in just a couple of seconds.

Collared Inca in flight, Eastern slope of the Andes, Napo Provence, Ecuador. Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 270mm, 1/250 second @ f/4.5, ISO 400, with flash

With this rapid frame rate, I could capture several different hummingbird poses and choose the version with the precise wing position I wanted. This is an increase from 8 fps on the original 7D. Now if you think there is only a marginal difference between 8 fps and 10 fps, you are mistaken. This feature is a very nice upgrade.

The buffer has also been expanded with 31 continuous shots in RAW mode and over 1090 in JPEG, another improvement over the 7D classic.


I am infamously hard on my equipment. The 7D Mark II is advertised as being better sealed for moisture and the environment and more robust all the way around. That’s good news for me. In the three weeks in Costa Rica and Ecuador, my camera and I were perpetually wet from both rain and humidity and I never experienced any problems.


It’s not the perfect camera (which one is?) and it’s not even ideal, particularly for low-light conditions. I’ll still defer to full-frame sensors for true low-light photography. But this is a serious upgrade from the original 7D in terms of ISO performance, auto focus capabilities, shooting frame rate, and ruggedness. These upgrades are all important to me so short of buying the 1DX, this is the best Canon DSLR for wildlife photography that has been manufactured to date.

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Favorite Images of 2014

Yes, it’s that time of year again. This is when I catch my breath during the holiday season, sit down at the computer with a strong drink and look back on my work over this past year: the boneheaded mistakes, missed opportunities, and several hundred things I would do differently if I had the opportunity to replay 2014 all over again. Oh well, there’s always 2015 to make amends.

These ten images are my personal favorites, not necessarily the most popular or successful. Each is a favorite for a different reason but mostly because I didn’t do one of the above while something fantastic was happening in front of my lens. Following each image is a brief stream-of-consciousness commentary. Enjoy – and Happy New Year to you all!


Radiance: Arches National Park, Utah, USA (April 27, 2014). Lucky shot in a lame location. Not a whole lot of skill or vision was necessary to capture this scene. Still, I can’t help but laugh each time I see this image because of the humerous circumstances surrounding the shoot with some of my workshop students. Let’s just say you just had to be there…

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 50mm, 1/60 second @ f/7.1, ISO 400


Phantom’s Gaze, Mountain Lion, Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada (September 8, 2014). A haunting image of a once-in-a-lifetime encounter in the wild. A moment I’ll certainly never forget.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, 1/500 second @ f/5.6, ISO 1000


Namib Riddle: Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia (May 29, 2014). I’ve been asked more than a few times about the title of this image. “What’s the riddle?” people would inquire, looking for a profound, hidden meaning. “And what’s the answer?” There is no answer and there is no riddle. It just looks like a giant question mark to me.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 560mm, 1/80 second @ f/11, ISO 320


Hide and Seek, Ibra Market, Sultanate of Oman (April 2, 2014). This one just makes me smile. The people of Oman were so fun and friendly. More images of Oman here.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM @ 105mm, 1/80 second @ f/8, ISO 200


Light Flight – Flying Zebra: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania (June 24, 2014). This image represents the biggest commercial success of any other in 2014. It’s been either licenced to or published in over a half dozen magazines all over the world (not too shabby considering it was captured in June) and some of these magazines you might have even heard of.

Canon 5D Mark III, Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 400mm, 1/640 second @ f/8, ISO 640


Mantled Howlers: Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica (December 1, 2014). Strong backlighting, edge-of-your-seat drama, and the cuteness (awwww) factor in an exotic place. It’s a tough combination to beat.

Canon EOS 7D Mark II, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM @ 280mm, 1/640 second @ f/5.6, ISO 640


Into the Light: Fez, Morocco (February 5, 2014). The man lurking in the shadows looks like a hooded medieval executioner about to exercise his duties on some poor soul. It gives me the creeps yet I can’t look away.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 22mm, 3.2 seconds @ f/5.6, ISO 500


The Grand Strand, Etosha National Park, Namibia (June 3, 2014). Another fantastic moment in the wild but I had to make some decisions on how it was going to be presented, i.e. processed. Try as I might to preserve details in the shadowed middle ground, I eventually opted for the version above. It tells the same story while infusing just a touch of mystery too.

Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 78mm, 1/250 second @ f/7.1, ISO 200


Cordillera Light: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (March 17, 2014). Here was a set of circumstances where I thought everything would come together perfectly: a composition I really liked and approaching light at sunrise. The light, however, never really happened. This was taken moments before the light should have erupted over the scene, a faint blush of alpenglow on the upper peaks and clouds, but quickly faded to grey.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM @ 25mm, 2 seconds @ f/16, ISO 100


Essential: Deadvlei, Namibia (June 15, 2014). It’s no coincidence that three of my top ten favorites in 2014 come from Namibia. This country is a photographer’s paradise. Can you believe we still have a few spots open for my Wild Namibia photography tours in 2015?

Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 94mm, 1/15 second @ f/13, ISO 100

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Vignettes from Colorful Cartagena

My seat number on the LAN Airlines flight from Bogota to Cartagena was 13C, which made me smile. Most airlines employ the childish practice of omitting the 13th row from their seating charts (as many skyscrapers skip the 13th floor as well) so I felt this was at least an enlightened start to this leg of my Colombia/Brazil photo trip. Honestly, I’ve never seen nor heard of an incident where only the 13th row crashed while every other passenger arrived unharmed and in one piece.

Despite the relatedly short two-hour flight between the two Colombian cities you soon realize upon arriving that they are worlds apart in almost every other way. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Bogota and I’ve found it to be rather cold (elevation 8700 feet) and perpetually cloudy. The city is bathed in somber grey tones and it’s citizens wear dark colors and serious demeanors. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a delightful city. You know I love you, Bogota.

Cartagena is an eye-opening contrast. The weather is hot and sunny. People wander the streets in surf shorts and immodest bikinis while upbeat and cheerful music blares from every street corner. It could be one of the happiest and most colorful cities on Earth.

So here are a few of the outtakes from this trip. The selects are in possession of my client (I was on an assignment) so I hope this helps illustrate the feel and colors of marvelous Cartagena!

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Richard Is Guest Blogger on Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Insider

“Brooks Falls” Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska. Canon EOS 5D Mark III, EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXT @ 280mm, 1/13 second @ f/14, ISO 100

Catch my most recent essay, It’s The Destination, on Scott Kelby’s Photoshop Insider.

After a very successful trip to British Columbia and Alaska last month, I am now in the process of preparing to travel to South America – Colombia and Brazil for some teaching, cultural and street photography, and chasing down the elusive jaguar in the Pantanal wetlands! Enjoy your day everyone and I’ll be checking back with you soon.

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