St. Johns River by Heather Hummel

St. Johns River by Heather Hummel
St. Johns River by Heather Hummel Photography

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Computer Device That Saved My Hand - Penclic Mouse

My real estate photography business not only requires that I be on the computer a lot, but that I have precision in the processing of my photos. While a laptop is convenient for on the fly access to my images, it comes with the one feature I can’t stand—the touchpad. I was genetically given piano playing hands with sinewy fingers, which means crunching them up to use the touchpad is simply uncomfortable. 

However, that all changed a few months ago when I started using the Penclic Ambidextrous Mouse. It holds in your hand like a pen, which is way more comfortable than either the touchpad or the traditional mouse. As a ghostwriter, when I’m not out with my camera, the Penclic reminds me of my old fashioned quill pen sans the ink, but boasting today’s technology demands, including these three cool features:

  • ·         use either your left or right hand
  • ·         have the option of three different buttons and a scroll wheel
  • ·         it’s both PC and Mac compatible.

So, after a long day of photographing homes, and when it’s time to process the 30 plus images for my realtors, I welcome the comfort of using the Penclic. I will say that the only adjustment I had to make was to lessen the sensitivity of the mouse speed in the Control Panel. Once I did that, it was spot on and easy to use. No matter what you do on the computer, this device will increase performance because you can work longer without your hands cramping up.
One last note: I have the USB version in black because my laptop doesn’t support Bluetooth, but either are available, and I would have preferred the Bluetooth version, which I will get when I upgrade my laptop!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Exploring the High Bridge Trail

Central Virginia has some of the best combinations of cycling and photo-ops in the country. Long farm-laden roads with endless panoramic views are the norm. But, in a little town—and a funky one at that—named Farmville, is something a tad bit different.

A crushed limestone trail, formerly a historic train track that was a pivotal piece in the Civil War with Farmville spot in the middle. The trail is perfect for cycling (hybrid or mountain bikes) for those who want a long, flat (uncommon in central Virginia) ride.

Making for a nice, long ride, the trail runs 31 miles, while the bridge itself runs 2,400 feet in length and sits 125 feet above the Appomattox River. As the longest recreational bridge in Virginia, it is also one of the longest in the United States, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Whether approaching from the east or the west, once you reach the bridge, the landscape views are vast and spectacular. There are cutouts with benches on the bridge to sit and enjoy the view and listen to the river running beneath.

 The views along the crushed limestone trail are admittedly a tad boring since it’s tree-lined; however, the trail is wide enough to comfortably pass other cyclists or walkers, shady in enough spots to keep it somewhat cool on a hot day, and on the east side of the bridge, there is a short jaunt that leads down to the Appomattox River.

Logistically, it’s easy to find plenty of parking lots along the trail, and, although we parked in downtown Farmville (on a Sunday when you can park for free all day), there are two parking lots near High Bridge…one to the east and one to the west.
East: Camp Paradise Rd.; Rice, Virginia, use 1681 Aspen Hill Rd. to get to the entrance of Camp Paradise Rd. then head 1.5 miles to the parking area. Once parked and on the trail, High Bridge is .3 miles from the parking lot.
West: River Rd., Farmville, use 553 River Rd., Farmville, Virginia, to get here. High Bridge is nearly a mile from the lot. Trailers are not allowed at this lot.

Note also that the trail is dog friendly, though they need to be on leashes. Be sure to bring plenty of water for them because the only water is river water and it can get hot on the trail. While horses are allowed, we didn’t see any—only evidence that they had been there.

When done with the trail, I highly recommend going to downtown Farmville to Uptown Cafe for lunch. They have water bowls outside for dogs, too.

Learn more about the High Bridge Trail by clicking here.
This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

3 Filters Every Pro Photographer Uses

One of the leaps from amateur to pro photographer is investing in gear beyond the lens and camera body. From tripods to lens hoods to external flashes to filters, accessories are a photographer’s best friend.
There are three filters that every pro photographer carries in their bag, no matter what the photoshoot might be…UV, Polarizer, and Neutral Density Filters.

Each of these basic, yet necessary, filters enhances a photo in its own way and depending on the scene being shot. 

UV Filters
The simplest filter of the three is the UV filter. Likely the most purchased filter for its role of protecting lenses.

What’s its purpose? Photography is all about light, and the visible light spectrum runs from red to violet. Red light has the longest wavelength and violet light has the shortest. Light with a longer wavelength than red is called infrared, and light with a shorter wavelength than violet is called ultra violet or UV. That’s the basic lesson.
So, how does it translate to the camera?

Truthfully, today’s DSLR sensors really aren’t impacted by UV rays. The reason for using a UV filter is more of a protection for the lens against scratches. Out in the field, scratches are likely to happen, especially when many photographers forgo a lens cap during a photo shoot, relying on the protection of the UV filter.

Protecting the lens with a much less expensive UV filter is worth the investment, even if the filter isn’t really needed for its initial use. Make sure you order the right size for your lens…and buying an extra for each lens doesn’t hurt either.

Polarizer Filters


No landscape photographer I know leaves home without their polarizer filters. I say “filters” (plural) because I know they have one for each lens they’ll be using.

This filter is critical for two reasons. One, it enhances the blues in the sky, and when clouds are present, they add a dramatic contrast. The other benefit is that they cut reflection and glare, such as when photographing reflective surfaces such as water or glass.

The best polarizing filter results are images shot when the sun is at a 45-degree angle from the subject…or think of it like this—when the sun is over your left or right shoulder. If the sun is directly casting down, even with rays, this filter won’t do much good.

Polarizers are most effective when used with dramatic skies or when reducing or enhancing reflection in bodies of water.

When purchasing a polarizer filter, note that a “circular” polarizer will allow you to turn the filter until the desired lighting effect is achieved.

Lastly, some photographers stack a polarizer filter on top of their UV filter. This isn’t recommended because the odds of vignetting, especially with wide angle lenses, are increased, so it is better to switch the polarizer for the UV filter.

Graduated ND Filter

The graduated neutral density filter is ideal for outdoor photo shoots. Graduated neutral density filters are clear on the bottom and slightly opaque on the top. They have either an abrupt or a gradual shift in the middle of the filter and their purpose is to shade the brightest part of a scene. This creates two results. One is that by shading the brightest part of a scene, for example a sunset, it evens out the foreground, cutting down on over or under exposing parts of the photo. 
The most critical thing to realize when using this filter is that they work best with a scene where there is a fairly linear line, such as a horizon or cityscape. Otherwise, even with the graduated part of the filter, a shadowing line can be evident. 
Another purpose for this filter is to simply shade the image to slow the shutter speed. This comes in handy when photographing water, which helps to create a beautiful dreamlike effect as the water flows and is captured at a slower shutter speed. It creates the image without overexposure and it lets the water blur into the desired milky effect.

If you’re an amateur looking to add filters to your accessory bags, start with these and take the time to use each one for their intended purpose. You’ll start to see a vast improvement in the quality of your images.

For more information on photographing low light situations and water, check these out:

Note: Heather Hummel is an Amazon Associate.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Q&A With the Masterminds Behind MasterClass

David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen Photo Credit: MasterClass
Celebrities and public figures are often thought of as "untouchable." If you're lucky, you'll run into one at the airport or a restaurant and get an autograph or selfie with them. So, imagine having the opportunity to have Dustin Hoffman better your acting skills or James Patterson hone your manuscript or Serena Williams enhance your backhand? Need a voice coach without trying out for the television show The Voice? Take voice lessons from Christina Aguilera and performance coaching from Usher. Annie Leibovitz explains light, shutter speeds, apertures and more in her photography class.

Photo Credit: MasterClass
Yes, thanks to a new platform for educating niche genres by the best in their fields, all of those scenarios are possible. MasterClass founders David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen took time out from their hectic schedules to answer some questions.

HH: Explain how was this idea born, let alone executed?

"Aaron and I knew we wanted to work together since we first met.. We both shared a passion for learning and neither of us had a great school experience growing up. I was always getting in trouble for being so inquisitive, and Aaron kept running out of classes to take in the tiny town he grew up in. We decided our mission was to make the kind of classes we wish we had growing up -- classes with riveting and engaging lessons taught by the world's best. When we reached out to our ideal potential instructors, we were thrilled they were excited to be a part of MasterClass!" - David

Photo Credit: MasterClass
HH: How did you get all of these experts/talents on board with the idea?

"When we started reaching out to potential instructors, we found that that many of them were excited to teach. All of our instructors really want to share what they've learned along the way, and most of the time they'd come to our first meeting with exciting and brilliant ideas for their classes." - Aaron

Photo Credit: MasterClass
"One funny story from when we were first starting out...we knew we wanted James Patterson to teach, but didn't have any connection to him. So, we sent a few cold emails to his representatives. We didn't hear anything back, then a few weeks later I'm walking down the street and my phone rings, and I hear, "Hi, this is James Patterson." I almost fell over with shock. Before I could process what was happening I blurted out, "The author?" Luckily, James laughed and we had a great conversation. He had seen our email, loved the idea, and just called us up to find out more." - David

HH: Is there anyone you wanted that you couldn't get?

"We have been very fortunate to work with some really great and well respected instructors for the launch of MasterClass. We also have many more instructors on board that we have yet to announce. David and I each have people that we would personally love to learn from. For me, it would be amazing to have James Cameron and Christopher Nolan as instructors. Both are fantastic storytellers and visionaries." - Aaron

Photo Credit: MasterClass
HH: How do you see this concept expanding as technology advances?

"All of our classes include opportunities for instructors to connect with students and for students to connect with one another. We're constantly testing new ways to forge these connections to enhance the learning experience, and technology plays a huge role in this process. We recently hosted an office hours session with Dustin Hoffman in LA where he Skyped with a student in Sweden and critiqued his performance in real-time. This wouldn't have been possible several years ago." - David

Photo Credit: MasterClass
Photo Credit: MasterClass
"Each class has interactive assignments to encourage students to practice the skills they learn. For example, James Patterson's class includes a tool we call the "delete-o-matic" which enables students to make edits to several lines of text then compare how their edits differ from those of James himself. We're excited to create more technologies that help our students learn." - Aaron

Photo Credit: MasterClass
HH: What kind of response are students having to your classes? 

"The response has been amazing. Our students are learning and improving their skills every day. As an example, we got an email from the mother of a young student in Dustin Hoffman's class. The tips Dustin gave in his class helped her daughter get cast in her first big role! We had a mini-celebration for her in our office when we heard the news. Similarly, we have students who are beating the best players in their tennis leagues and having their writing published for the first time. It's amazing to see the impact our instructors are having on the lives of their students! Our ultimate wish is to have one of our current students come back to teach their own MasterClass someday." - Aaron

Thank you, David and Aaron.

For more information or to take a class on MasterClass, visit their website.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Evolution of Real Estate Photography

Real estate photography has historically showcased disastrous images. We've all seen the images of a bathroom with the toilet seat up, a bedroom with an unmade bed or the laundry basket overflowing, kids' toys scattered about their rooms, personal photos covering the walls, and so on and so forth. Add to the list images that are blurry, too dark, too light, or taken from a misguided angle. It's a wonder some houses sold at all.

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
Recently, with the advent of websites like Zillow and Trulia, the pressure is on for agents to deliver high quality images to potential buyers. After looking at a lot of real estate sites, I couldn't help but notice that the quality of images has increased greatly. It is evident that real estate agents are taking online presence and the influence of images much more seriously, and I believe this is due to their effort to hire professional photographers for the jobs. Yes, anyone can take a photo with an iPhone or Droid, but that doesn't mean the quality is of a professional level. However, there is some debate that the images of today aren't really fairly representing homes. As one Facebook friend in Boise, Idaho pointed out, "Some of these photographers are Photoshopping images for realtors so poorly; you don't know if you're shopping for properties in Boise or in Toontown." He is correct. Real estate agents have to keep it real. Too many images make a home look bigger and brighter than it really is, which leads to a big letdown when potential buyers show up for a viewing.

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
I consistently photograph new listings for Charlottesville, Virginia's seasoned real estate agent, Joan Esposito of Roy Wheeler, who says, "A great photographer is critical to our marketing plan. They can make every property, no matter what the price range, stand out...and this makes our phones ring!" Joan is great to collaborate with because she has a keen eye for a listing and the type of images that best represent it. Staging is also an art that she intuitively knows how to do, and one that makes photographing properties much easier. Besides her listings, I have photographed properties in coastal northern Florida, which is a completely different type of community than the Blue Ridge Mountains. Regardless of location, though, there are simple staging concepts that make for good interior real estate photography.

1. Turn on the lights. If there isn't enough light, create it and be sure to replace blown bulbs.
2. Make the beds; ideally with linens that match.
3. Fold towels in bathrooms and place on shelves or hang neatly on racks.
4. Declutter all counter tops in the kitchens and bathrooms, but leave a splash of color in the form of fruit or flowers on the kitchen counter.
5. Remove pictures and magnets from the refrigerator.
6. In the kitchen, put away cluttering items, such as trash cans, sponges, soap, and dish or cleaning cloths.
7. Vacuum carpets and hard wood floors.
8. De-clutter and de-personalize so potential buyers can imagine the home as their own.

Once the photos are professionally captured, real estate photographers greatly benefit from outsourcing the editing work to a quality service such as PhotoUp in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cebu, Philippines. Real estate photographer Jason Johnson is one photographer who takes advantage of PhotoUp's editing services.

"Before" Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan


"After" Edit by PhotoUp: Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"Before" Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan
"After" Edit by PhotoUp: Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

However, PhotoUp isn't only a photo editing service. They champion photographers and help them grow their business. "We're the only ones out there doing this transparently, and real estate happens to be our niche. We have a team in the Philippines that work in a Google-like office. It's a very creative environment. We find great ways to impact the photographers and the communities in which we work," says Chris Palmer of PhotoUp. While some photographers might be leery of outsourcing, Chris points out that they allay those fears. "We do customized stylization so clients who want a particular style and consistent look to their images can have it. We see the relationship with our clients as a collaborative team effort where we dedicate our time to learning the photographer's particular style."
"Before" Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"After" Edit by PhotoUp: Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Building a real estate photography business takes a lot of work from marketing to shooting to editing to delivering, so to be able to outsource the editing is a great advantage for freeing up valuable time. "We're always exploring new ways to help photographers scale and grow their businesses. The ultimate goal for a real estate photographer is to have a team of photographers shooting for them and an editing team processing their images because editing isn't a revenue producing function. Photographers ought to be out there shooting. With us, they have access to editing twenty-four hours a day and five and a half to six days a week, depending on the plan they are on. Instead of spending hours editing, they can upload their images to us and go enjoy a glass of wine with their spouse." In Florida, I photographed a client's house while passing through. It was a cloudy day, so the skies were gray. I was leaving the next morning and wasn't able to go back and re-photograph it with blue skies.

"Before" Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
"After: Dusk" Edit by PhotoUp Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography

"After: Blue Sky" Edit by PhotoUp Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
So, I sent this image in RAW format to PhotoUp and was very happy with their editing work. The addition of blue sky and the dusk effect were just right. The images were sent back to me quickly and efficiently, and I was able to pass them on to my client.

At the time of writing this article, Charlottesville has approximately 310 real estate listings by agents. As I searched through listings, I still found images with toilet seats up, magnets on the refrigerator, and some that could clearly have used a professional editing service, but overall the quality was improved.

One thing is for sure, each property boasted closer to 35 images, versus the dozen or so used in the earlier days of online real estate. There is no doubt that the evolution of real estate photography has reached milestones and continues to grow.

Note: This blog post from PhotoUp provides valuable tips as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lowepro SlingShot Edge: My Go-To Camera Bag for the Trails or in Town

If there is one thing professional photographers carry, it’s a lot of gear. From tripods to lenses to camera bodies to filters and lens hoods, and more, schlepping all of this gear on a shoot means needing a decent camera bag. My requirements when looking for a camera bag are two major criterion: a bag that not only allows for organization, but also protects my gear.


When I wanted to replace my existing bag, I heard of the Lowepro Slingshot Edge 250 AW and 150 AW.
My initial concern was that they would be too directed at and designed for the urban crowd. Though I live in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, we have the Shenandoah National Park in our back yards and many of my photo excursions are coupled with hikes; therefore, my photo shoots can range from downtown Charlottesville to the peaks of the Shenandoah National Park. I needed a new pack that would handle both scenarios.

The more I investigated Lowepro’s new bags, and based on the design of the Slingshot Edge— with the variety of front and back cargo areas, pockets and slots for my iPad and iPhone, a clip for my car keys, a side pouch for a water bottle (especially for my dogs when I take them), straps for my tripod, and the sling-back design—I was certain their design would work.

My previous bag was a similar sling-back design, but the main compartment was shorter and deeper than the Slingshot Edge. The Slingshot Edge’s taller and narrower design made it easier to maneuver through tight spots on the trails and on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, which can be crowded on a Friday night.

Unlike the Slingshot Edge, my last bag had no place to strap my tripod, which meant having a second strap to sling over my shoulder. The Slingshot Edge lets me strap it right to the back. All of this means my hands are free while hiking or walking downtown.   
Most of all, the Slingshot Edge’s design—because of the better weight distribution—is easier on my back! With the bag being tall and narrow, kind of like me, it fits tighter to my body rather than a deep outreach that causes extra strain. With all the hiking photo shoots I do, this was a huge consideration and a big plus. 

Weather is always a concern when hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. Those afternoon thunderstorms can come in quickly. I was happy to learn that the Slingshot Edge has a built in all-weather cover that slips over the bag, protecting my Canon and its lenses. 
I mostly use the Slingshot Edge 250 AW; however, the 150 AW, being just a bit smaller, is perfect for when I go out to restaurants because it’s not as cumbersome. Charlottesville has a lot of breweries and wineries that I love visiting with friends for the food and drink, but also for the photo ops, so for those excursions, the 150 AW is perfect.
As we head into the fall and winter months, I’m looking forward to venturing into the Shenandoah National Park with my camera and Slingshot Edge to capture the fall foliage. 

Want to learn how to master low light photography and to capture your own low-light photos? My book MASTER LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY is available on Amazon.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Barren Optimism: How My Photography Is Influenced by Andrew Wyeth's Paintings

"Barren Optimism" Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography

I captured this self-portrait, titled "Wading Through," at King Family Vineyards in rural Crozet, Virginia. When I asked the owner, James King, about the field's status, he indicated that it had peaked two weeks earlier, on July 12th. He could not have known that was also my 50th birthday.

The next day, I ventured out to the field anyway. I passed a polo match, carrying my camera, lenses, filters, and tripod, and headed to the way-back corner of the property. When I turned the corner past the long fences, I liked what I saw. The sunflowers were mostly died off with just enough still hanging in there. The metaphor was strong. It set a different tone than the typical field of flowers--one that began a photo shoot that was inspired by my love for Andrew Wyeth's work.

The sunflower scene brought the words "barren optimism" to mind, Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World" being my inspiration.

Having studied Wyeth's work some years ago, I knew that he and I shared a lot of commonalities beyond our mutual respect for hillsides and nature. We share the same birthday, July 12th (his 1917, mine 1965); he is one of five children, I am one of six; he had a medically challenged childhood that kept him home schooled, I was home most of my 3rd grade year due to a congenital heart defect that lead to my first open heart surgery in 1974; and one of his many muses was his dog who looked just like my own dog, Stephan.
It was Wyeth's work "Master Bedroom" that became my favorite even before Stephan came into my life.

"Stephan" Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography

Wyeth spent his years between his home in Pennsylvania and his summer home in Maine. I grew up in New England, but have traveled across the United States several times. We are both inspired by nature, and I find that his work rather barren with a hint of optimism, hence my term barren optimism.

As can happen with a muse or inspiration, I hadn't realized how much Wyeth's work had influenced my photography until I captured the sunflower field self-portrait. Wyeth remains a favorite, and during my future photo shoots, I will certainly have him in the back of my mind as I analyze the scene before me, the light, and the opportunity for barren optimism.

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.