garden art Vic MacBournie garden art Vic MacBournie

Nature’s garden art (Five tips and DIY ideas)

Garden art comes in many forms in a Woodland Garden, from nature in the form of a moss-covered boulder or a fallen tree branch to a rusty buck standing watch over the garden. Garden art can be subtle or add a little whimsy to your outdoor space.

Mother nature provides its own artistic touch

If you are looking for garden art to enhance your woodland, look no further than Mother Nature – a mossy boulder, an elegant tree branch rising out from a bed of ferns. This is nature’s art at its finest.

If we take the time to really look carefully, nature often provides her art to us for free.

Fallen pine cones that “litter” the ground are works of art in themselves.

The moss-covered tree trunk works perfectly placed along the woodland pathway.

These are the gifts nature gives us if we look for them.

Look for natural materials that get better with age

But relying entirely on natural elements as art may not be enough to satisfy every gardener’s desire to inject a little sophistication and a touch of elegance into their woodland.

If you are looking to purchase artistic elements for your garden, consider investing in natural materials that age gracefully. Almost anything made with copper will improve with age.

That patina copper takes on with age is just too beautiful not to invest in if given the chance.

I think garden art works best when it is not only elegant and sophisticated, but serves a useful purpose.

An elegant birdbath is itself a piece of garden art. But, when a cardinal is added to the scene, nature’s art truly shines.

An elegant birdbath is itself a piece of garden art. But, when a cardinal is added to the scene, nature’s art truly shines.

Copper birdhouses and birdbaths ideal for the woodland

Birdhouses and birdbaths are perfect examples of garden objects that, if chosen well, can not only add sophistication to a corner of the garden, but attract our feathered friends – one of nature’s finest work. How can we resist a cardinal on a birdbath or a goldfinch at a beautiful feeder?

Many of the finest bird feeders are being made by artisans and can be found on places like Etsy. The copper-enhanced Baltimore Oriole and hummingbird feeders found on Etsy are just two examples of how artisans are recognizing the value of garden art and meeting our needs for a more sophisticated approach to garden art.

The ultimate bird feeder made with copper and cedar.

The ultimate bird feeder made with copper and cedar.

There was a time not too long ago when the only garden art available amounted to plywood cutouts of an elderly husband and wife from ‘behind’ out weeding in the garden. You remember them. Everyone had a good laugh at the couple’s expense.

But those times have changed.

I wrote a post about an architect couple from France who moved to Toronto and started a business combining their architectural skills and love of natural materials to create an exquisite bird feeder made from copper and cedar. (see picture) This feeder, although expensive, will provide a lifetime of joy and can be passed on to your children. It is available in new copper (as illustrated) or copper that has already been chemically aged with a lovely verdigras patina.

There are, of course, other bird feeders that are works of art, but don’t expect to find them at your discount store.

The copper and cedar bird feeder has aged nicely and taken on a lovely patina in only a few short years. And the birds love it too.

Although a finely aged concrete bird bath has been a staple in so many gardens, copper birdbaths not only look beautiful, they have natural microbial benefits that can make them a better choice.

I wrote about an elegant copper bird bath available at a fine garden and home boutique, but similar ones are available at many bird and home stores.

For more on growing your garden on a budget, check out my in-depth article here.

Use the iconic garden bench as art

The garden bench – especially an older, moss and lichen covered bench – can be a beautiful, yet useful addition to the garden.

Many years ago – certainly more than 20 years – I was desperate to get a garden bench. We lived in a typical subdivision and I was working diligently to create a mini woodland garden in the yard. The bench represented a destination along a simple path in this tiny garden. I wrote an earlier post on designing a woodland garden in a small yard and focused on the importance of a pathway in a small garden to help the viewer experience the garden as they walked through it.

Not only did our traditional garden bench provide a destination for the visitor, it offered the gardener a place to rest and enjoy the garden from a different perspective.

It’s another excellent example of how we can turn a utilitarian garden object into a wonderful piece of garden art.

Creating your own garden art is always the best approach.

Creating your own garden art is always the best approach.

Five tips and DIY ideas to add art to your backyard landscape

  • Look for naturally-aged garden objects such as birdbaths, birdhouses and garden benches that people are selling either at garage sales or at on-line sites such as Kijiji. I have picked up some of my favourite “art” pieces this way.

  • Use techniques (like the one described below) to age newer items rapidly so they better fit into your woodland setting

  • Most “artistic” elements are best discovered rather than presented for everyone to see. Consider using vegetation to hide your art, especially more whimsical pieces that, when unexpectedly discovered, will bring a smile to your visitor.

  • Purchase lasting pieces that incorporate natural materials like copper, cedar and even rusty steel that will add a rustic element to your garden.

  • Whenever possible, look to nature for its existing art forms. The beautifully coloured rock, an old cedar tree root, an elegant piece of driftwood. These are often found objects that add a natural element to the garden and be combined with bought items to create a lovely juxtaposition of old and new.

In those days garden art, even a nice garden bench was not easy to find. I did, however, find an inexpensive wooden bench at a discount department store and bought two. More than 20 years later they still form a focal point in our woodland garden. Never, however, do I actually sit on them. These inexpensive garden benches have taken on an incredible aged look, covered in lichen and mosses. After a spring rain, they more or less turn a soft green as the thick moss bursts to life from its more dormant state.

Our two benches now hold large black containers that are planted with colourful, hard-working annuals that create a hit of colour in the garden and draw attention to the beautiful wooden benches.

In another part of the garden, we have a small cement garden bench that is beginning its aging process. Letting it age naturally is a slow process. It might be time to help it along a little using the following method. It’s perfect for quickly aging cement containers, benches and garden statuary.

How to give concrete a mossy, aged patina

A quick search on the internet provides several alternatives to creating an aged look for new concrete. It works on statuary as well as concrete containers. Mother nature and time does most of the work naturally, but some simple steps help to hurry the effect along. What might take mother nature years to create, can be done in a few weeks or months by following these steps.

• Start by mixing a weak solution of water and black acrylic or water-based paint and apply it to the cement statuary. Let dry and apply a second or third coat. The effect is simply to give the statuary a ‘dirty’ look rather than the stark white one it often has when it is new.

• Mix yogurt or buttermilk in a bucket with equal amounts of water, compost or soil and even some manure. You can add in some crushed moss at this stage as well. The result should be a thick spreadable paste.

• Paint on the mixture to the cement statuary or container ensuring you cover all areas especially creases where moss would naturally take hold.

• Take a handful of moss and rub the surface of the concrete to spread the moss spores into the concrete.

• Finally, store the concrete statuary or container in a moist and shady spot to encourage the aging process and keep it moist for a number of weeks until you see the moss get established.

Our gardens need to be inspirational places and what better way to achieve that than to add a few pieces of garden art, whether they are nature’s art like the boulder or store-bought statuary.

Our gardens need to be inspirational places and what better way to achieve that than to add a few pieces of garden art, whether they are nature’s art like the boulder or store-bought statuary.

Statuary is great addition for the woodland garden

Garden statuary has always been a part of the garden and works well as it ages, often taking on a mossy patina.

In my Japanese-inspired woodland garden, we have incorporated traditional Japanese statues praying together surrounded in a patch of moss. With a little encouragement, I am hoping they will take on a mossy appearance for a truly aged look.

In another area of the garden, a statue of Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals, would be a perfect addition.

We have a number of aging cement statues of small animals tucked away throughout the garden. For much of the growing season they are mostly hidden from view, tucked away in the vegetation. It would be easy to miss them on a walk through the garden.

This rustic bird house and feeder fits the woodland theme and provides the ideal home for this Carolina wren.

This rustic bird house and feeder fits the woodland theme and provides the ideal home for this Carolina wren.

In most woodland gardens, however, garden art should be more subtle. Consider a trip to your local nursery or rockery in the spring and scour their new moss-covered boulders to find the one that works perfectly in your woodland setting.

In another area, a gnarly branch that fell from a tree can serve as art. Place it somewhere in the garden where it’s natural beauty can age gracefully and work its way back into the soil while it provides homes for insects, small reptiles like red-backed salamanders and toads.

The moss-covered rock or twisted branch may also form the perfect natural landing spot to catch some great photographs of birds in your garden. Encourage moss and lichens to grow in the cracks but leave enough room to tuck in a few sunflower seeds to attract the birds to the exact spot you want to photograph them.

Rusty Buck standing guard in the ferns ties in to the rustic theme of the garden art in this section of the garden.

Rusty Buck standing guard in the ferns ties in to the rustic theme of the garden art in this section of the garden.

The rusty buck as garden art

Probably our favourite piece of garden art my wife and I purchased was from a boutique garden store we noticed on a day-outing. The store was tucked away in a small Mennonite community about an hour and a half drive from our home. We both noticed it as we drove by and immediately turned around to check it out. It’s another example of a piece that gets better with age. Now every time we see our rusty buck tucked in the ferns, it brings a smile to our face. Not sure what the native male deer think when they see our rusty buck, but it’s been knocked over on the ground in the morning more than once. Could be the wind, could be a jealous buck. We may never know.

Gardening on a budget links

DIY moss garden

Proven Winners Idea Book

Ten money-saving tips for the weekend gardener

Window boxes on a budget

DIY Bark Butter feeder for Woodpeckers

DIY reflection pond for photography

Click & Grow is ideal for Native Plants from seed

Nature’s DIY garden art

DIY solar drip for bird bath

Remove your turf and save money

DIY succulent planter

Hiring students to get your garden in shape

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) I try to only endorse products I have either used, have complete confidence in, or have experience with the manufacturer. Thank you for your support.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Simple solar fountain adds sparkle to your birdbath

Small solar panels can transform your bird baths and water features into enticing places for backyard birds.

This Robin was attracted to the moving water of the DIY solar fountain that was originally a dripper. (See image below.)

Moving water attracts birds and creates sound in the garden

Solar fountains not only look and sound great, they can become a big factor in attracting a greater variety of birds to our bird baths.

We have several solar fountains in the garden operating in our water features, including one in a new project that incorporates a solar fountain driving a mini waterfalls in our container pond. There is also a larger solar panel powering our on-ground bubbling rock where birds, chipmunks and squirrels regularly visit to either bathe or get a drink from the bubbling rock or the small pond where the water pools.

In another area, a floating fountain bubbles over in our DIY naturalistic bird bath. This is a favourite of chickadees, cardinals, nuthatches and a host of woodpeckers as well as squirrels and chipmunks that can easily access the bird bath from a nearby dogwood or a small concrete bench.

And finally, a lovely copper and slate dripper turned DIY solar fountain, provides a source of moving water in our most prized copper bird bath. (Click on the link, for the full story on converting the dripper to a DIY fountain)

Together, these water features combine to help create a backyard wildlife garden that is attractive to an assortment of wildlife from birds, to mammals, amphibians and reptiles. What many of us probably don’t realize is that a water source is vital to all types of wildlife. In fact, our garden wildlife are more dependent on water than most of us realize.

It’s important also to provide garden wildlife with water they can easily access. A birdbath doesn’t always accomplish that for small animals.

For more on adding water to your garden, check out my earlier posts

Tips for using water to Attract Birds

Garden Pond vs Patio pond.

This dripper was hooked up to a solar-powered pump to convert it to a small solar fountain. The solar panel can be seen in the background on the evergreen.

What birds art attracted to moving water?

Many birds are particularly attracted to moving water. Visually, the sparkle of moving water catch the attention of birds either flying over the garden or simply moving about. During migration in spring and fall, the moving water might be a factor on bringing unusual birds into your garden for a brief visit.

In addition, the movement of the water is a signal that the water is not stagnant and may send a message that the water is fresh and a more healthy choice.

Hummingbirds, Orioles, Jays, Robins and Goldfinches are just a few of the birds that are attracted to moving water. Add to that list Bluebirds, Chickadees, Nuthatches and even Woodpeckers.

Large solar panel with separate battery controller

Our large solar panel (8X13 inches), complete with its separate solar battery controller, is used to drive our small bubbling rock. The battery allows the pump to be used on shady days and into the evening when there is no sunlight available.

Why use solar rather than regular electrical outlets?

The solar panels I am speaking about are ridiculously inexpensive.

I usually order mine from Amazon, (link to solar fountains) but recently purchased two for a great price from Walmart’s on line outlet. The solar panels and pumps were less than $25 each and arrived to my home in less than two weeks. These pumps are so efficient that they likely pay for themselves in the first year.

But, more importantly, unlike traditional electrical outlets that limit where you can use the power, these small solar panels and pumps can be moved around the yard to your liking.

The small solar panel is easy to move around the yard to ensure it is in the sun.

The small solar panel come with a long electrical cord to allow the panel to be moved a distance to catch the sun.

Want that bird bath in a different corner of the yard? Just move it along with the tiny 4.5-inch X 4.5-inch solar panel and tiny pump.

In addition, the safety aspect of using these small solar panels makes them indispensable in the garden.

With solar, there are no more worries about having children or pets around potentially dangerous electrical outlets combined with water.

Sure, the power output of these little pumps is nowhere near the potential power of traditional electrical outlets, but in most cases that amount of power is not needed unless you need a heavy flow of water over a waterfalls or a bubbling rock. Solar can still deliver that kind of power but it involves purchasing a much larger and more expensive solar-powered system.

Floating solar panel

A floating solar powered fountain can be an ideal addition to a larger birdbath that spends enough time in the sun to keep the floating fountain on for significant parts of the day. I use stones to keep the fountain in the centre of the birdbath.

Solar falls short in the shade

Of course, these solar pumps are far from perfect.

If you are looking for power to drive a lot of water, you won’t be satisfied with these mini pumps. And, if you set up your fountain in a shady part of the garden, you may not get enough sun to power the pump through the small solar panel.

Even if you do get sun at the location you have set up your fountain, you’ll have to move the solar panel throughout the day to follow the sun. Thankfully, the panel comes with a long chord to help you find a sunny area near the pump.

The solution is to step up to a solar panel that includes batteries that store the power so that it is always available, including in the evening when there is no hope of tapping into the suns energy.

Similar to solar lights that store the sun’s energy during the day and then operate at night, these solar panels include a replaceable battery or batteries that enables the user to flip a switch in the evening to run the water pump.

The solar pump we use to drive our bubbling rock incorporates a solar battery that allows us to drive the water and a small LED light during the evening. The problem is that the solar panel is much larger and harder to hide in the garden. If you are okay with garden visitors being able to see your larger solar panel (8X13 inches) than these higher end solar pumps solve that problem nicely.

Read More
garden photography Vic MacBournie garden photography Vic MacBournie

Going Black & White in a world of colour

Black and White photography has always been an expression of art and there is no better way to appreciate your garden than explore its inner beauty with B&W. Strip the colour away and focus on the lines, shapes and textures within the garden. Today’s digital cameras, including the Pentax Monochrome are well suited for capturing our gardens in B&W, and today’s software editing programs help get the most out of the images.

Pentax K-3 Monochrome makes it easier and more affordable

Our gardens can often be a riot of colour. Taming that colour may involve moving in close to isolate a single flower or using complimentary colours to bring harmony to the scene.

But have you ever thought of just eliminating the colour altogether to create that simplicity we all strive for in our images?


Pentax has just released a B&W-only version of its highly capable K-3 camera resulting in an affordable B&W only camera.


Nothing inspires simplicity quite like the magic of Black and White photographs. And, although B&W photography took a back seat with the introduction of digital photography, it never went away.

In fact, creating B&W images has never been easier.

Almost all modern digital cameras have the capabilities of shooting excellent B&W images.

In addition to shooting B&W in the camera, most imaging software programs (ie. Lightroom and Photoshop) can easily convert colour images into high quality B&W photographs.

Cameras like my Fujifilm X10 make getting to the B&W settings very simple and even include basic filters to control the tones and contrast in the images. Other modern cameras, however, hide the B&W settings deep in the menus making them a little tricky to find.

The back LCD screen of the Pentax K-3 Monochrome includes a lovely monogram distinguishing that this camera shoots only Black and White.

Pentax/Ricoh brings B&W photography to the masses

And some cameras, like the recently announced Pentax K-3 Mark lll Monochrome, are designed only to shoot in B&W.

Pentax has just recently joined Leica as the only manufacturers to offer photographers cameras that focus on B&W only.

And, at a suggested retail price of about $2,199.95 for a feature-packed and proven high-quality camera, exquisite B&W photography has just become very affordable in comparison to Leica’s $9,000 price tag for the M11 Monochrome.

The Pentax Monochrome camera is the first reasonably priced, black-and-white-only camera

The Pentax Monochrome offers an affordable alternative to the expensive Leica Monochrome.

Let’s face it, for many of us B&W photography is an after thought.

For the younger generations, B&W photography is another way to get a vintage look in their images much in the same way as the emerging trend of using older digicams or print film to create that look.

But Pentax has just made getting that vintage look fun and affordable.

Add a couple of Pentax’s venerable vintage K, M or A lenses and combine those with a couple of Pentax’s exquisite limited lenses and it’s not hard to understand why the release of this camera is a dream-come-true for B&W enthusiasts.

Pentax notes on its website that “Monochrome (or black-and-white) photography is the origin of photographic expression. Without color data, monochrome can more clearly depict the form and texture of a subject using light, shadow and the in-between gradations…”
“For users who want to master monochrome photography, the PENTAX K-3 Mark III Monochrome features an image sensor specifically designed to capture monochrome images only. By designing the camera solely for the purpose of monochrome photography, each pixel detects brightness data of the light coming through the lens. The obtained data is then directly converted to compose an image.”

What makes B&W-only cameras special?

The sensors in the cameras are designed specifically for getting the best black and white images possible complete with a higher dynamic range, a sharper image, more pleasing tones and better low-light results.

By taking one of Pentax/Ricoh’s most successful DSLR’s and incorporating an APS-C-format CMOS image sensor specifically designed to capture monochrome images, Pentax is able to offer an already proven, high-quality camera that just happens to be designed for B&W photography to the masses.

And, although I’ll admit a bias toward Pentax cameras after shooting with them all my life, the result in an exquisite example of form and function.

Pentax notes that: “By designing the camera solely for the purpose of monochrome photography…“The photographer can create extra-fine monochromatic expression in an image high in resolution and rich in gradation.”

The Pentax Monochrome also offers photographers three custom image modes for even further creative control. These exclusively designed modes for the monochrome-specific image sensor include: Standard, hard and soft.

“Each mode provides minute adjustment of parameters such as tone, key, contrast, and sharpness” Pentax notes in its website. “This allows the photographer to personalize images for the desired finishing touch.”

Pentax cameras have always been a favourite of mine when it comes to design in both form and function.

Add to the beauty and elegance of the camera, its ability to use all of the beautifully constructed vintage lenses on the Pentax cameras, and you have yourself a winning combination right out of the box.

Pentax didn’t miss a thing in the design of the Monochrome.

The K-3 Mark lll Monochrome camera body has a distinct stealth look to it, from the greyed-out Pentax writing on the front of the camera to the white backlight illumination on the LCD data panel on the top of the camera, and the Monochrome lettering printed in the upper-left area of the back panel above the LCD window.

Even the camera’s User interface menu features a black-and-white colour scheme as default, while the icons printed on buttons and switche across the camera’s exterior are finished in three shades of gray.

So, if you are serious about B&W photography, or are looking for some inspiration to take your photography to a higher level, this new Pentax offers the ability to dive into the simplicity offered through B&W.

But, if you are not sure about jumping into B&W photography at that level just yet, you can experiment by using the B&W settings on your existing digital cameras.

Here are a few tips on how to explore B&W photography with your existing cameras.

If you think you may want to explore B&W photography further, consider enrolling in the course link below.

A black and white image with a flower petal in purple.

This B&W image in the garden is made more dramatic with the single salvia flower in colour. The simplicity of the image is what makes it stand out from a full colour image or a full B&W.

3 ways to shoot in B&W

  1. Dig into your camera settings and find the B&W filter. Almost every modern camera includes the ability to set the camera to capture images in B&W and sepia or “old fashioned” look.

  2. In post production with software. Whether you use Lightroom, Photoshop or some other photo software, there is always a simple way to turn a colour image into a B&W. There is also software designed specifically to get the most out of your B&W images using tonal controls etc.

  3. For dedicated B&W photographers, consider purchasing the Pentax K-3 Monochrome or the Leica Monochrome. These cameras only shoot B&W, but the results can be stunning.

A dusting of early morning frost brings this B&W image to life. Note the contrast in the image with the white frost jumping out from the dark shadows. The simplicity of the image is really in its unperfect pattern.

Spend some time digging in the the special effects filters in the camera settings and you will likely come across them. Both my Lumix cameras and traditional Pentax DSLRs have the B&W settings buried in the menu settings. Most modern cameras also offer Sepia and/or “old fashioned” settings which are monochrome images with a hint of amber.

A simple click of the mouse is all it takes in Lightroom to transform a favourite colour image into black and white. There are even separate image software programs aimed at serious B&W photographers. (Among the best is Nik Silver Efex described as a means to “Master the art of black and white photography with the most comprehensive range of darkroom-inspired controls to help you create stunning monochrome images. )

It’s important to note that, while converting a colour image into B&W can be as easy as a simple click in most photo editing software programs, the conversion is usually just the beginning of the process. Once the B&W conversion has been completed, there are a number of adjustments that need to be made to complete the process and get the desired image.

Most photographers who shoot for B&W develop their own procedures in the conversion process to create the best result. (For a complete article on converting colour images to B&W using Photoshop, check out this in-depth article in

The steps used in Adobe Lightroom often include:

  • Increasing the contrast of the image (create deep blacks and solid whites)

  • Using sliders to control highlight and shadow areas

  • Sharpen areas of the image that you want to stand out

  • Crop distracting areas that might not have been as noticeable in the colour version

How popular is B&W garden photography?

Consider that Britain’s Guardian newspaper even includes a B&W category in their annual garden photography contest. These stunning images from the photo contest in B&W should be plenty of inspiration to convince you to try B&W garden photography.

If you need more inspiration for B&W flower photography, try browsing these images from Fine Art America.

While it has never been easier to create B&W images, don’t be fooled by how simple modern cameras have made the process. Creating images with great depth in the blacks and impressive tonal qualities throughout the images, is certainly an art form.

I’ll be the first to admit that my expertise in this area is limited, but I do enjoy experimenting with images and believe strongly that a photograph is often just the beginning of the creative process, whether that involves creating a B&W from a colour image or turning a colour photograph into a digital painting.

Creating an effective B&W image is really all about simplicity.

Whether you create B&W images through software manipulation, take the image with a camera set to B&W program mode, or use one of the monochrome-only cameras, the results can be very effective.

KelbyOne Course: Unlocking the Secrets of the Black and White Masters

Here are five of the best cameras to create Black & White images according to Artnews

  1. Fujifilm X-Pro3 Mirrorless Digital Camera. ...

  2. Sony a7R III Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera. ...

  3. Leica Q2 Monochrom Full Frame Compact Digital Camera. ...

  4. Sigma DP3 Quattro Compact Digital Camera. ...

  5. Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera.

    For a detailed description of each camera go to the Artnews website

B&W conversions via external software

The following are a few images from my garden created from colour images. I have included some of the original colour images to help readers see what can be done with a little imagination.

Woodland Wildflower in B&W

The simplicity of this image in colour makes it a perfect candidate to convert into a B&W image. The Jack in the Pulpit is set against a dark background making tweaking of the main subject much easier by darkening the shadows to some extent and lightening the highlights in Lightroom. Maintaining some detail in the background helps to give the image a natural look. In a studio, a solid black background would be effective but give the image a more contemporary look.

Monarch on thistle

Capturing successful wildlife in B&W can be more difficult. The simplicity of the background and the high contrast of the black veining in the monarch helps make this image work in B&W. In my mind, the out-of-focus flower in the bottom right is less noticeable in the B&W image compared to the same colour photograph.

Contemporary tulip

A macro shot of a tulip works in both colour and B&W because of the inherent simplicity of the image. The negative space in the B&W image creates a different feel than the same space in colour. There is no doubt that in the colour image more tulips make up the background, but the B&W leaves that up to your imagination.

Even wildlife can look good in B&W. This young buck was almost lost in the colour image, but with some manipulation I was able to make it more prominent.

This fern is lit by a ray of sunshine allowing it to stand out among background ferns in shadows.

This B&W image combines textures in the concrete bunny bench with the lovely Black-eyed-Susans that have been lightened in Lightroom to make them stand out even more.

Similar to the main image in this article, frost rimming elements on the forest floor adds plenty of drama. By maintaining the whites of the frost, but deepening the blacks in the shadows, the image is simplified.

An early snowstorm helped to simplify this red squirrel looking for food beneath the Northern Sea Oat ornamental grass. Once again, it is the simplicity of the image that helps it to work as a B&W image. Without the snow simplifying the bottom and areas in the background, the image would likely have been too busy to work as a B&W.

Shooting B&W in camera

Most high-quality digital cameras made today have B&W capability built right into them. Some even only photograph in B&W offering the highest quality monochrome images. These highly specialized cameras are designed for the most discriminating B&W photographers and are probably not necessary for most of us who just want to photograph our gardens and possibly hang a few artistic garden images on our wall.

Fujifilm cameras are known for replicating their original 35mm films in a digital format. My Fujifilm X10, for example, includes digital versions of former Fuji films including Provia, Astia and Velvia settings that allow photographers to replicate the same colours and feelings we remember in the film and slide eras.

Included is a B&W digital film that includes the ability to add traditional digital colour filters to enhance scenes, especially the ability to enhance skies. These same filters, a green filter for example, can create subtle differences in the leaves of trees, flowers etc.

Focusing on B&W images only in your garden

Going out into the garden with the sole aim of shooting B&W involves taking a different approach to your garden photography. It is an exercise worth tackling on a regular basis to help develop an “eye” for B&W images.

It can be fun, too, but be ready for plenty of images that just don’t work in B&W. As your B&W vision develops, your success ratio will certainly increase to the point that you will be wanting to frame them up and hang them on your wall.

A black and white garden image just has more artistic merit to hang on a wall than most colour photography.

Another feature on the Fujifilm X10 and most other digicams is the ability of the camera to take a black and white image that picks up just a single colour – green, yellow and red. I noticed a similar feature is available in the Lumix ZS50 travel camera and my Pentax Q cameras. Used sparingly, this can be very effective. The following are two images using this filter that I think work to some degree.

Red umbrella and flowers in B&W image

This image used the red and purple filter in the camera to add colour to the primarily B&W image.

Using the red filter creates a B&W image that picks up any element in the photograph that is red. In the image above, I also used the purple filter to bring out some of the flowers’ colour. The effect is interesting and requires a little thought to make it work. Below, the green filter was used to pull out the foliage of the wild geranium just to add a pop of colour. A true B&W or colour image would not have worked well in this situation, but works to some degree with these filters to give the image a unique look.

In conclusion

At a time when your garden lacks inspiration, taking advantage of the B&W capabilities in your camera can provide inspiration to take up a new challenge. Late Fall is an ideal time to begin develop your eye for simplicity. When winter finally hits, and snow buries parts of our garden, you will be ready to capture the beauty and simplicity of the winter woodland garden.

This is the time Black and White photography comes into its own.

If you are looking for more information on B&W photography in the field or in the garden, take minute to check out the YouTube video Walks on The Wild Side where photographer Scott Walker provides excellent tips on taking B&W nature photography.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

External viewfinders compared: TTArtisan vs Lichifit

External optional viewfinders compared. From the exquisite TTArtisan finder to the inexpensive version from Lichifit. Both have their place.

You get what you pay for with tiny Lichifit external viewfinders

When it comes to the tiny Lichifit external optical viewfinders, you definitely get what you pay for.

For the cost of a couple of fancy coffees from your favourite barista, you can have the tiny, all-plastic optical viewfinder on your favourite digicam setup.

Lichifit 28mm viewfinder on Lumix X7

The tiny Lichifit external optical viewfinder looks at home on the compact Lumix LX7.

Some photographers will definitely prefer to save their money to buy the fancy coffees rather than fork out the money for this viewfinder, but there will be plenty of photographers who are satisfied with this inexpensive accessory that fits into the hotshoe of their favourite camera.

Judging from the number of street photographers using these inexpensive finders on YouTube, the viewfinders’ quality levels are not a limiting factor to their usage.

Their popularity may be the result of street photographers not needing the highest resolution in a viewfinder. Let’s face it, many of the images they create are shot from the hip and are not even seen until the photographers review their images at the end of the day.

It’s all about speed and getting the shot rather than taking the time to examine the details in the image.

These viewfinders are perfect, stealth accessories that work well if you are just grabbing a shot and need a quick framing of the scene.

Click on the link for my comprehensive post on the high-quality, TTArtisan 28mm viewfinder pictured below on the left.

The TTArtisan external viewfinder looks massive against the tiny Lichifit viewfinder on Pentax Q cameras.

The external optional viewfinders on these Pentax Q cameras show the significant difference between the TTArtisan 28mm viewfinder and the tiny Lichifit 28mm viewfinder.

How small are they?

These things are extremely small and super light.

The good news is that they are so small that you can easily slip a digicam with one of these viewfinders attached into a camera bag or the pocket of a jacket. The viewfinder itself (or several viewfinders for other prime lenses) could also be tucked into a pocket of your camera bag or pocket and pulled out when you need one.

The tiny Lichifit 28mm external viewfinder works well on the Pentax Q.

The tiny Lichifit 28mm external viewfinder fits nicely on the miniature Pentax Q line of cameras.

It’s hard to imagine how small these viewfinders actually are.

In fact, I ordered the 28mm TTArtisan finder at the same time as I ordered the 28mm Lichifit finder. When the package came, I didn’t even know that the lightweight Lichifit finder was even included in a separate padded bag.

It wasn’t until I went to throw out the packaging that I noticed the tiny viewfinder tucked away in an envelope in bubble wrap.

Small and lightweight is an understatement.

Rear view of Lichifit 28mm external viewfinder on Pentax Q.

A rear view looking through the viewfinder of the tiny Lichifit 28mm external viewfinder fitted atop the Pentax Q.

Are they good for landscape and garden photography?

I’m not sure these viewfinders work as well with landscape or garden photographers as they do for street photographers. Landscape photographers need to see a higher level of detail through the viewfinder than, say, a street photographer.

The slightly blurry image and distortion that these finders deliver would be, I believe, frustrating for some landscape, garden and travel photographers.

If given the choice, I would rather save my money and purchase the TTArtisan viewfinder even if it is probably triple the cost of these cheap, mini, plastic viewfinders.

For these photographers, investing in a higher quality viewfinder like the TTArtisan is something you may want to consider.

The good news is that the Lichifit finders are so inexpensive to purchase, that it might be worth it to try one out and decide for yourself if you can live with the slight blur and distortion caused by the plastic in the viewfinders.

Why you might want a Lichifit viewfinder

• If having an inexpensive, quick look is more important than seeing a crystal clear image through the finder, then one of these may work for you.

• If you are looking for a tiny, extremely lightweight viewfinder, then you might like this accessory.

• Or, if you need a large selection of viewfinders to match up with your many prime lenses, a set of these inexpensive finders may just work well for you.

• They are available in a range of funky colours that might work with your camera, especially if you are the owner of one of the Pentax Q custom coloured cameras.

It’s important to note that, like the TTArtisan viewfinders, no information is transmitted from the camera to the viewfinder. There is no f-stop, shutter speed or focus confirmation in these viewfinders. They are used to get a view of the image at times where you either don’t want to use the camera’s LCD or are unable to use it because of excessive glare on it from the sun.

Pentax Q cameras fitted with external optional viewfinders.

Two Pentax Qs show the size and style differences of the optional external viewfinders.

If the TTArtisan line of optical viewfinders are exquisitely made, stylish accessories with high-quality optical glass, these Lichifit finders can almost be described as the exact opposite.

In other words, the Lichifit finders are tiny, cheap and not very sharp.

They also lack the highly-desirable vintage look that the TTArtisan finders exude with confidence.

Add to that, there is much less of a coolness factor using one of these whether you are out in the field or at the coffee shop reviewing your images.

I do like the tiny footprint, especially when I use it on my miniature Pentax Qs and the equally small Lumix LX7. They look good on these cameras and I can live with any parallax problems that might occur.

The company says the viewfinders are “small transparent and bright, and are very coordinated to install on various side axis cameras.”

They advertise the finders, which come in 28mm, 35mm and 40mm options, are good to “replace an old, broken or non-working optical side axis viewfinder, easy to use and stable performance.”

The company does not recommend they be used with high SLR cameras because of the potential for parallax problems.

Unfortunately, where these quick-and-dirty viewfinders fall far too short are the optical qualities. Looking through the viewfinder’s results in a slightly blurry image that is probably just a little too soft for my liking, even considering the price.

Does that mean I can’t or won’t use the little 28mm? No, not by a long shot. It’s usable, but it won’t be anywhere near as enjoyable to use as the TTArtisan viewfinders.

If given the choice, I would rather save my money and purchase the TTArtisan viewfinder even if it is probably triple the cost of these cheap, mini, plastic viewfinders.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Why you need the TTArtisan optical viewfinder(s)

The 21mm and 28mm TTArtisan viewfinders combine fine craftmanship with a sophisticated look to enhance any viewfinderless digicam or traditional film camera.

Exquisitely made, exceptionally beautiful: And they work great

The TTArtisan optical viewfinder makes the perfect addition to any digital or film camera that lacks an optical viewfinder. The viewfinders, available in both 21mm and 28mm are exquisitely made, elegant to look at and an ideal companion to anything from a Leica to a Pentax Q.

If a viewfinder on your camera is important to you, but you are stuck with one of the many modern non-viewfinder digicams, you owe it to yourself to check out one of the TTArtisan optical viewfinders.

And, if looking sophisticated while you’re out photographing in the field or checking out your images at the local coffee shop ranks right up there with your photographic results, then you need to run out immediately and pick up one of these little gems as fast as physically possible.

Are there parallax correction problems? Of course. Without the highlight lines in the finder, it’s difficult to get exact framing. And, if you look into and to the right or left in the viewfinder you are able to see much more of the view. My response: by using the viewfinder regularly, you’ll get a good feel of how the it performs and, unless you are a real stickler for details, you’ll be happy with its performance.

Like the sound of a Leica shutter in action, there is something simply elegant about a beautiful camera with an exquisitely designed viewfinder that makes you want to bring it up to your eye and use it at every opportunity possible.
TTArtisan optical viewfinder graphic

The TTArtisan optical viewfinders are an elegant photography accessory to any camera but especially those that lack their own viewfinders forcing the photographer to use the LCD screen on the back of the camera.

Whether it’s the 28 or the larger 21mm optical viewfinder, these exquisitely made glass and black anodized aluminum viewfinders made in China are an absolutely gorgeous addition to even the most expensive digital or 35mm film cameras. Leica comes to mind, but I’ll be pairing my 28mm TTArtisan viewfinder with my Pentax Q and Lumix LX7 cameras. Panasonic does sell it’s own very similar optical viewfinder for a considerably higher price.

It’s important to note that none – not a bit – of the information like F-stop, shutter speed or focus indicator is passed through to the finder. There are no electrical contacts on these viewfinders.

(Click here for my review of the Pentax Q)

Pictured is the TTArtisan viewfinder paired with my Pentax Q miniature camera

The TTArtisan optical viewfinder pairs beautifully with the Pentax Q system of miniature cameras.

The company’s information points out that: “The TTArtisan viewfinder can be used on cameras with cold shoe mounts, such as the Ricoh GR, the Leica rangefinder cameras, old-fashioned film cameras, etc. For cameras with the original viewfinder, the TTArtisan viewfinder can be used as a great decoration.”

My recommendation is: Just get one. You won’t be disappointed. Heck, pick up both the 28mm and 21mm while they are still reasonably priced.

I got mine on sale from AliExpress for a good price, but you can also purchase them from Amazon and some of the better photographic outlets.

The TTArtisan optical viewfinder with the Lumix LX7.

The TTArtisan 28mm optical viewfinder pairs beautifully with my Lumix LX7. While lacking all of the communication available with the Panasonic electronic viewfinder, the TTArtisan is still useful at the wide end and adds a touch of class to the camera.

This image from the TTArtisan website shows the viewfinder being used on the very popular Ricoh GR digital camera.

Trust me, you’ll love using it and, as a bonus, look incredibly cool in the process.

I have to admit that, while I need a viewfinder for those bright sunny days when trying to read the back of the LCD screen on my cameras is next to impossible, it was actually the cool factor that really got me to pull out the credit card.

Not that I need to look cool. Thankfully, I’m well past that time in my life. What’s cool, however, is the camera – any camera – with one of these mounted on the flash hotshoe.

The TTArtisan 28mm and 21mm viewfinders

Image shows both the 28 and 21mm TTArtisan viewfinders. The 21mm is significantly larger than the 28mm.

Why does adding a viewfinder even matter?

It matters for two reasons.

First is that using a viewfinder rather than the LCD on the back of the camera will almost always give you a sharper image. The viewfinder acts as a point of contact with your face and can be an important factor in getting a sharper image.

The second reason a viewfinder matters is because a camera that you fall in love with is a camera that’s going to get a lot more use. Holding the camera, bringing the viewfinder up to your eye, and looking through the optical glass can be truly inspirational if not a little nostalgic.

There is no denying the joy I get from using the finder. It just makes you want to take the camera out on the streets and into the garden to put it to use.

The 28mm TTArtisan veiwfinder is an elegant addition to everything from a Leica film camera to a modern digital camera that lacks a viewfinder.

Like the sound of a Leica shutter in action, there is something simply elegant about a beautiful camera with an exquisitely designed viewfinder that makes you want to bring it up to your eye and use it at every opportunity possible.

And, let’s face it, photography for most of us is about enjoying the process, being inspired and making works of art that satisfy our creative needs.

We all know, however, that looks aren’t everything. In the end, the product needs to provide some semblance of utility to make it worth purchasing, carrying around in your camera bag and taking the trouble to attach it to the hotshoe.

How do the TTArtisan viewfinders perform?

Do the TTArtisan viewfinders perform as expected. Absolutely.

Are they perfect? Absolutely not.

To be a little critical, the viewfinder’s biggest problem is the lack of lines on the glass that allow the user to compose the image accurately. Higher-end viewfinders will include engraved lines that show the user what they can expect to capture with say a 21mm, 28mm or even 35mm … lens.

The TTArtisan 28mm viewfinder mounted on the hotshoe of the Panasonic Lumix LX7

The 28mm TTArtisan viewfinder adds a sophistication to the Lumix LX7 digicam.

My 28mm viewfinder, for example, should have lines showing a 28mm point-of-view and maybe even a 35mm view. That would make it the perfect optical finder, and allow me to use it with greater confidence that I would capture the exact image I was trying to capture at both the 28 and 35mm focal lengths.

As one reviewer wrote: “Good looking, excellent optics and build. BUT... Guys, why no bright frames inside !?!?
You can’t make accurate framing and composing – can’t tell the actual frame border without help of bright frame inside viewfinder!..”

A fair comment. Most of us, however, don’t use a viewfinder like the TTArtisan for precision framing of our images. On the street, we’re using it to get a very quick, general idea of the image we are taking without having to look at the camera’s LCD. In the garden, we just need a general idea of the image and any cropping needed can be done in post processing.

Even the packaging that comes with the TTArtisan viewfinders hints at the quality of the item.

If the sun is bright and the reflective glare off the LCD makes it difficult to view, we just need to get a good idea of what we are photographing. This viewfinder delivers under those circumstances.

I think that a high precision optical viewfinder complete with focal length lines was much more important when photographers were shooting only film. With the evolution of digital photography, where images can be cropped easily in Lightroom, Photoshop or another post processing tool, the ability to see precisely what we are photographing is less critical. And, if we have a situation where it is critical, we can always use the LCD on the back of the camera.

So, unless you can’t live without critical information showing the exact image you are photographing, the TTartisan 21mm and/or 28mm optical viewfinders are a perfect addition to your viewfinderless digital or film cameras at a very reasonable price.

Two very different optional external viewfinders on the Pentax Qs. The TTArtisan on the left is much larger than the tiny Lichifit on the right.

Two external optional viewfinders compared. The TTArtisan viewfinder on the left compared to the tiny, inexpensive Lichifit 28mm finder on the right. For the complete comparison post, go to external viewfinders comparison.

A rubberized surround makes it easy for photographers to use the viewfinder with glasses and a convenient carrying pouch helps protect the viewfinder when it’s tucked away in your camera bag. I have not experienced it but apparently the rubber surround can be easily knocked off the viewfinder. If this becomes a problem, a little supper glue will probably solve the problem.

The company also notes, in its on-line literature, that the “optical glass has good light transmittance and multiple high-quality coatings, which provides a good experience for framing.

• Rubber Eyepiece: The side of the eyepiece is wrapped with a circle of odorless rubber, which protects the eyes well.

• Compact and Portable: The viewfinder weighs only 51/33 grams

• Anodized Aluminum: Elegant design complete with aviation aluminum material

Looking through the viewfinder of the 28mm TTArtisan viewfinder.

The optical glass in the TTArtisan viewfinders provides excellent clarity.


Lens and optical viewfinder - the perfect combo

I am planning to use my viewfinder with zoom lenses that include the 28mm focal length, but the veiwfinders are ideally meant to be paired with prime 28mm and 21mm lenses including, of course, the very affordable TTartisan lenses sold for various camera manufacturers from Leica to Sony, Fuji and the like.

Pairing the optical viewfinders with their lens counterparts make for exquisite combinations that create the ideal photographic experience while increasing the “cool factor” off the charts.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Great Garden Gift Ideas

Great Garden Gift ideas for dad for under $100. Everything from hummingbird feeders to bat houses and incredible deals on a garden pruning set. And, of course, a vintage pickup truck compete with working headlights.

I thought I’d do some serious leg work to find some gifts to save readers the trouble. Let me suggest a few for those looking to get a little something for the garden.

There are plenty to choose from, but here are some great gift ideas from some of the finest garden retailers. They start at below $25 that I think might be among the best gifts out there. (All prices in U.S. unless otherwise stated.) These are specific gift ideas, but I’m sure in many cases similar gifts can be found at a local store or through mail order.

How about a Window Watch Hummingbird Feeder for under $25 U.S. It’s a window-mounted feeder with a suction cup that attaches to the outside of a glass window. The handcrafted design with copper leaf accents holds about 3 oz. of nectar and allows you to enjoy the hummingbirds up close, real close. Plow & Hearth with a 4.7 out of 5-star rating after 43 reviews.

Audubon Bat Shelter is a not only a great gift for the gardener, it’s also great for the environment in so many ways.

Audubon Bat Shelter is a not only a great gift for the gardener, it’s also great for the environment in so many ways.

Sticking with the bird theme, one of the best gifts you could to help the environment is the Audubon Bat Shelter. Bats are extremely important to our environment. Not only do they eat a host of insects including mosquitoes, wasps, flies and gnats, in doing so, hopefully they will help reduce neighbours from using pesticides. The Audubon cedar bat shelter gives bats a warm place to roost, protected from the elements and predators.It holds between 15-20 bats and requires virtually no maintenance once installed. Also from Plow & Hearth with an almost perfect 4.9 star rating after 16 reviews. But what would you expect from an Audubon protduct?

It’s no fun getting old. The knees, the back, the hips all start aching after a day of gardening. A garden kneeler may be just the ticket to make the job a lot easier. This Folding Garden Kneeler/Seat with foam pad not only makes kneeling a little easier, its handles also help the gardener get up from the kneeling position. Flip it over and it works as a small seat. The Garden Kneeler has a weight limit of about 250 pounds. The whole thing folds up for portability and storage. Again Plow & Hearth with an almost perfect score of 4.9 stars after 62 reviews.

Garden cleanup made easy…. a dustpan for your leaves.

Garden cleanup made easy…. a dustpan for your leaves.

Ok, I know there are a lot of men and some women obsessed about keeping the yard perfectly manicured and leaf-free. That’s not my game, just ask my wife. But even I can appreciate the EZ Leaf Hauler. When it is spread out on the lawn if looks like a giant dustpan, but it’s for cleaning up the leaves in the fall. The Hauler holds about five times as many leaves as a wheelbarrow and has the added benefit that it sits at ground level so all you have to do is rake the fallen leaves directly into the Leaf Hauler. It’s not unlike the giant tarps you see the landscapers use when they are doing a fall cleaning-up accept it has sides and convenient handles to help drag the load to your composter or garden bed. Remember, we don’t throw out our leaves folks. We keep them to create perfect soil. This thing folds flat for storage and is made of rugged woven polyester stretched on fiberglass rods. Scores a 4.5 out of 5 stars with 68 reviews and it too is from Plow & Hearth.

I could not pass this one up. I happen to love Japanese-influenced gardens and I know I’m not alone. If you are looking for a nice fountain to complement your Asian-influenced garden this Buddha Head Fountain with LED Lights might just do the trick. Includes the recirculating pump that sends water cascading over the Buddha’s head creating a trickling sound. The head also lights up at night. Wind & Weather, 4.8 star rating after 4 reviews.

This Professional Rain, Snow and Hail Gauge might be the ideal gift for the gardener or weather enthusiast. The rugged, long-lasting clear plastic instrument comes with its own mounting hardware. Scores a 4.8 star rating after 54 reviews. Wind & Weather.

A garden weather vane can add a nice touch to any garden acting both as a piece of garden art and an indication of the way the wind is blowing. This Running Horse Garden Vane can be mounted on a stake for the garden or on a deck. Created by an artisan in Michigan, the 14-gauge steel; zinc plated with a copper-tone and clear powder coat finish, measures in at 23 inches high and 21 inches wide. The garden stake is more than 4-feet high. Wind & Weather with a 5-star rating after 4 reviews.

Another on-line store United Kingdom visitors might want to check out is Coopers of Stortford, who offer a similar selection of garden art and accessories. They deliver globally for any North American readers interested in exploring their offerings.

If Dad is into pruning this Everyday Complete Pruning Set is simply the perfect gift. Even if pruning isn’t his favourite thing, this set may be just the thing that sets him down the road to exquisitely pruned trees. Who knows, maybe he’ll become the neighbourhood topiary master. Three hand pruning shears all in cast aluminum with rubber grips. These will easily cover smaller pruning tasks like flowers and small branches. For larger limbs or small trees, the 24-inch long Forged-Steel Bypass Loppers are built to last and won’t flex when cuting branches up to 1.5 inches. For more serious pruning, a Japanese tooth-pattern folding saw with a full 10-inch blade is included. Garrett Wade.

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) I try to only endorse products I have either used, have complete confidence in, or have experience with the manufacturer. Thank you for your support. This blog would not be possible without your continued support.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Mastering photography in the garden, on vacation and at the computer

The KelbyOne photographic on-line program is an excellent way to learn about your new camera and improve your photography right in the comfort of your own home.

Cashing in on KelbyOne’s photographic expertise

Let’s face it, our smartphones are great, but to capture truly memorable images of our gardens, vacations, pets or our kids and grandchildren, we are going to need a decent camera.

And we are going to have to learn at least the basics before we begin using our camera with any real confidence.

That’s where KelbyOne comes into the picture.

This on-line treasure trove of how-to videos has not only made learning to use our cameras extremely simple, it offers the budding photographer the opportunity to grow their skills and knowledge at your own pace in the comfort of your own home. Need to be part of a community for one-on-one interaction and problem solving? They’ve got that too, as well as a regular newsletter to help photographers take their images to higher levels through the use of Photoshop, Lightroom and other valuable photo software.

And it’s fun.

KelbyOne. Learn Photography

Heck, it’s a lot of fun. Just the idea of sitting at home with a tea or coffee – being able to call up one of the more than 900 videos on the laptop and getting help from expert instructors – is almost unimaginable to this grizzled old photographer who cut his teeth on Kodachrome slide film and grainy B&W film.


How times have changed.

It was a few years ago that I purchased my first 35mm camera right out of university and went to work learning everything I could about it and the art of photography.


I still have many of the original books that I poured over to learn about the master photographers and outstanding photojournalists of their day – Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Ansel Adams and the like. The impressive, but completely out of date, Time Life series of books still sit on one of our shelves collecting dust.

Yes, times have certainly changed.

KelbyOne on-line course on close-up photography

KelbyOne offers a terrific close-up course or macro photography course.

What type of photo courses are offered at KelbyOne

I still love my old photography books, but they just can’t compare to the ease and enjoyment of on-line learning from some of the best photographers in the industry. Experts in their field coming straight into the comfort of your home to give you a course on macro photography, capturing backyard birds, travel photography, photographing children, toddlers, pets, portraiture, architecture and, of course, perfecting landscapes, just to name a few.

KelbyOne. Learn Lightroom

Speaking from experience: On-line courses are valuable resource

I have been lucky enough to take two of the KelbyOne courses recently.

The first – Fujifilm ambassador Karen Hutton’s informative close-up and macro photography course – proved to be truly inspirational. Although the detailed information she imparted on equipment was useful, it was her approach to using close-up and macro photography as a means to create a photographic story that inspired me to take a new approach to my own close-up and macro photography.

Click on the link for my full story on Karen Hutton’s close-up photography course.

Hutton encourages photographers to take multiple images of a subject, showing it in its natural environment before moving in closer to capture finer and finer details. The resulting photo essay provides a more complete picture than a photographer could hope to create with any single image.

KelbyOne. Learn Photography

This approach gives both the photographer and the viewer a much greater understanding of the subject.

Hutton’s enthusiasm for her work adds to her inspirational approach and creates a friendly feel to the whole experience. Watching her video is more akin to hanging out in the field with a photo friend, than it is about an hour of photography instruction.

I highly recommend enrolling in her close-up and macro photography course if you have any interest in documenting your garden and its inhabitants up close, or if you have stayed away from close-up photography because you have been uncomfortable with the traditional tools needed to be successful.

Rick Sammon's course on photographing backyard birds is an excellent course to learn about photographing birds.

Rick Sammon's course on photographing backyard birds is an excellent way to learn about photographing birds.

Photographing backyard birds with Rick Sammon

The second on-line course I was lucky enough to take was from Rick Sammon.

His course, like Karen’s, is not designed for expert bird photographers with the longest, most expensive lenses.

I would recommend this course for anyone looking to use their existing lenses to capture backyard birds as well as birds at sanctuaries and parks where they are accustomed to people. If you are simply looking for tips or to brush up on your skills, this course will set you on the right path.

Rick loves to share his knowledge almost as much as he enjoys sharing his work.

Click on the link for more on Rick Sammon’s course on photographing backyard birds.

That includes, at last count, more than 50 books on photography, regular monthly articles in Outdoor Photography and an envious portfolio of more than 25 instructional courses on KelbyOne, The Ultimate Source for Photography Education. In fact, Photographing Backyard Birds is his 25th course offered on KelbyOne.

The one-hour course features a total of 250 slides to help illustrate his talks and keep viewers focused on capturing great photographs. Many of the images include tips on post processing in both Lightroom and Photoshop, including examples of images that many of us would discard. Rick also shows us how most can be saved through post processing.

Rick starts with the basics and progresses through photographing around garden ponds and lakes. He offers tips on ISO settings, anticipating action, creating controlled backyard sessions, and tips to learn from your mistakes.

He kicks off the video with 11 tips every bird photographer needs to know. The tips provide an ideal starting point for viewers and helps to set the tone for what to expect.

For those of us thinking about getting into backyard bird photography, Rick’s course is an ideal starting point. For those who have some experience shooting backyard birds but want to take it to the next level, Rick’s expertise is worth tapping into for just a few dollars.

Since, we have already spent a lot of money on cameras, lenses and accessories, it makes sense to spend a little more to learn from Rick’s expertise.

Online photoshop, Lightroom and Photography Training KelbyOne

What is the KelbyOne photography program?

Before I explain the KelbyOne on-line photography program, let’s take a look at the founder of the program, Scott Kelby.

I was introduced to his work many years ago when I purchased one of his incredibly informative Photoshop books from my local Costco. Since then, he has gone on to write a plethora of books and articles on everything from Lightroom and Photoshop to getting the most out of your iphone camera.

Scott is the brains behind KelbyOne, the extensive on-line photography educational program boasting more than 100 of the world’s best and most entertaining photographers sharing their knowledge and expertise with the photographic community and anyone looking to expand their knowledge about their hobby or their chosen profession.

It’s all online and can be accessed from your computer, tablet or even from your phone. There is no need to leave the comfort of your home to gain a wealth of knowledge.

There are courses on everything from iphone photography to travel photography, portraiture, creative landscapes and Black & White photography to name a few of the more than 900 on-line courses available. There are several courses on using and mastering Lightroom and Photoshop

Students can purchase courses individually for as low as $9.95 or by monthly subscriptions for less than $20.00. There is also a yearly membership for those looking for the ultimate learning experience. The courses offer something for everyone whether your are a beginner, hobby photographer, or a seasoned professional.

“Our goal here is to make learning something that you look forward to. This way you, our community of photographers, can move past the hurdles and bring to life the images that are stuck inside of you. We feel like the content has to be fun, cinematic, and inspiring, and taught by the most personable and experienced photographers in the industry,” states the KelbyOne site.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

From a tiny acorn, a mighty Oak grows

From the tiny acorn grows the mighty oak is one of nature’s great miracles. The real miracle, however, is how a single oak tree can transform our landscapes in so many ways.

Our mighty oaks have humble roots

“Large streams from little fountains flow, Tall oaks from little acorns grow”

D. Everett in The Columbian Orator, 1797

Our neighbour’s giant oak tree crashed to the ground several years ago. I guess it had lived its life to the fullest and was now offering itself up to the earth.

But, its work was not finished.

All around it, in our yard and, I imagine, many yards in the neighbourhood, this giant oak’s offspring had already begun their own lifelong journeys.

All from a little acorn that had fallen from the old oak tree and likely forgotten by a resident squirrel after it buried the acorn in the ground with the hope of using it for a meal in the cold of winter.

Just in case you were not aware, the seed of an oak tree, the “nut,” is called an acorn.

From a tiny acorn, a mighty oak information graphic

There is no tree more important in our yards than the oak tree. While some can grow massive, there are others that can work in today’s smaller yards.

It is believed that the average 100-year-old oak tree will produce as many as 2,200 acorns per year. That number will go up significantly during high production years that can occur every four to ten years.

I often find small oak saplings growing on our property. In spring, I move them to safer areas to grow in the back of the garden where they are safe and have a much better chance of growing to maturity. Often, during the move, remnants of the woody acorn shell remains on the small roots, a stark reminder of the the saplings’ origins.

For more on the importance of oak trees in our garden and natural landscapes take a few moments to check out my other posts on Oak trees:

It should not be forgotten that of the more than 2,000 acorns per year that fall from a mature oak, very few of those seeds grow into oak trees themselves. In fact, it is estimated that only one acorn in 10,000 will grow up to be an oak tree.

Some species of oaks bear acorns yearly, while others bear every two years.

The remainder provide food and even shelter for much of the wildlife in our yards.

It’s hard to believe how hard oaks work for the earth’s creatures.

How important are oaks to our wildlife?

In his highly acclaimed book Bringing Nature Home, How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Douglas Tallamy spells out clearly the vital role Oaks play in the natural environment and how important they are to include in our gardens.

He writes: In a study in Illinoise, John Nill and Robert Marquis (2003) found that a singe white oak tree can provide food and shelter for as many as 22 species of tiny leaf-tying and leaf-folding caterpillars, insects most people never notice on their walks in the woods.”

And that is just a tiny fraction of the fauna in your garden that depend on a single oak tree. In fact, the mighty oak supports 534 species of fauna, more than any other tree we can plant in our gardens.

It is followed by the willows, cherries and plums, in importance to fauna. All good choices when it comes to deciding what tree to plant in your garden.

If the Oak’s importance to wildlife is not enough, consider that of the 400 species of Oak, North America boasts 90 different species with 75-80 in the United States and 10 in Canada.

How long do Oaks usually live?

Oak trees traditionally live for hundreds of years. There’s a good chance your children will be watching the tree enter middle age long after you’re gone.

In Ontario and northeastern United States, that white oak you plant will grow more than 35 metres (that’s more than 114 feet) tall, can live for several hundred years and produce thousands of acorns every year to feed deer, squirrels (including flying, red and gray), chipmunks, wild turkeys, crows, rabbits, bears, mice, opossums, blue jays, quail, raccoons and even wood ducks just to name a few.

As Tallamy points out: “The value of oaks for supporting both vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife cannot be overstated.”

He explains that oaks along with hickories, walnuts and American beech, have stepped up to the plate following the demise of the American chestnut in supplying nut forage for various forms of fauna.

In addition, oaks – both living and dead – provide nesting cavities for our backyard birds ranging from chickadees, wrens, woodpeckers, owls and even bluebirds.

The tree species real genius, however, is what we alluded to earlier, and that is the astounding number of insect herbivores that oaks support in the forest ecosystem.

“From this perspective, oaks are the quintessential wildlife plants: no other plant genus supports more species of Lepidoptera, thus providing more types of bird food, than the mighty oak,” Tallamy writes.

(If you are wondering what a Lepidoptera is: They represent an order of about 180,000 species in 126 families and 46 superfamilies of insects that includes butterflies and moths. It is one of the most widespread and widely recognizable insect order in the world, and your average oak is full of them.)

And all from the tiny acorn.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Squirrel proof bird feeder strategies: Going for gold

Squirrel proof bird feeders are important to maintain a positive bird feeding experience. There are different ways to achieve that with varying degrees of success.

Best squirrel proof bird feeders: How to set up a feeding station and cages to keep them out

Our squirrels train everyday to beat us at our own game. Like the ultimate Olympian, they don’t seem to give up, don’t feel fear, and don’t seem to care about a little pain or even feel sorry for us when they win gold and walk away with a full belly of our finest bird food.

A cage helps, so do weight-sensitive feeders, but it takes more than just throwing them up in the nearest tree to guarantee successs.

So how do we keep squirrels out of our bird feeders?

They know what so many of us fail to accept – there are no squirrel proof bird feeders. There are feeders that work well most of the time and baffles that stop them in their tracks – for a time anyway – but there is nothing that can guarantee that squirrels aren’t getting fed on any given day.

We can try to keep squirrels at bay with a host of elaborate combinations baffles, cages and pressure sensitive feeders, but in the end there is always that one squirrel that accepts any challenge we throw at it with great gusto.

Bird feeding station with raccoon guard and cap baffle which works well to keep squirrels off the feeders.

Baffles go a long way to keeping bird feeding station free of squirrels.


I have a name for these squirrels. I call them my Olympic calibre squirrels and right now we have one that comes in the form of a large grey male squirrel that, I swear, has no respect for me, my expensive bird feeders or the baffles meant to keep him on the ground.

My approach to keeping the squirrels off my feeders is a simple one and involves a single, centralized feeding station in an area where the squirrels are unable to access from above or from ground level.

He may not respect me, but I have the utmost respect for him.

I can live with one squirrel occasionally getting up on the feeder. The problem is when the entire neighbourhood has access to my expensive feed.

And, I can say with great certainty that there are very few yards with more squirrels than mine. Winter, spring, summer, fall, it doesn’t matter. There are always a handful of squirrels looking for a handout. Grey, black and red squirrels with a good mix of chipmunks thrown in just for fun.

Our resident red fox has taken care of some of them but the squirrels and chipmunks are always ready to restock with their kin whenever the numbers get manageable.

So it goes without saying that my vigilance is paramount at all times.

Info graphic on keeping how to keep squirrels off your bird feeders

Harming squirrels is not the answer

First, let me say that I never harm our squirrels in any way. I don’t use the hot, spicy bird seed and I refuse to use the spinning feeders that just seem cruel to me. Maybe the squirrels like to go for a spinny ride once in a while, but I can’t help but think that the spinning feeders go just a little too far to protect a handful of bird seed.

My approach to keeping the squirrels off my feeders is a simple one and involves a single, centralized feeding station in an area where the squirrels are unable to access from above or from ground level. Although there are a lot of trees around the feeder, any limbs are kept cut back enough that even an Olympic calibre squirrel can’t score a medal with its best jump.

By using a bird feeding station rather than individual feeders, I am able to use a number of different, less expensive feeders and specialty feeders that the squirrels can’t get to. These include everything from simple hopper feeders to suet feeders and compressed seed cylinders.

The key is to keep the feeding station away from areas that allow the squirrels to jump up or down on the feeders.

I could give readers specific distances that the feeder station needs to be away from objects where the squirrels are capable of leaping from, but I think every situation is unique and needs a certain amount of individual experimentation. A good starting point, however is at least four feet off the ground and about ten feet from above for the daring aerial acrobats.

Our biggest weakness is usually an approach from ground level where, like a basketball player, a good vertical jumper can score almost every time.

The most success our squirrels have had is when I have left a feeder dangle too low to the ground.

Our most talented athletes manage to take a running leap off the large baffle flinging themselves into the air – often with an impressive twist or even what appears to be a salkow? – and then grasping the feeder with a toe hold any Olympic wrestler would be proud to have in their arsenal.

Squirrel and raccoon baffles are excellent deterrents

I use a combination of a large steel raccoon baffle as a first defence followed by a cap baffle (see image above) that sits on top of the raccoon baffle and provides the final defence. If they can jump past this combination, the bird seed is toast.

Once defeat is guaranteed, I’ve got one more deterrent that works well. Like any good defence, it involves bending but not breaking and works on the premise that all that work to get up on the feeders probably isn’t worth it.

I like to call it “the pantry is almost empty but go ahead and help yourself.”

It involves simply refraining from the urge to fill up your feeders to the point where it’s not really worthwhile for the squirrels to make the effort to get on the feeders. This won’t stop them for a second, but it will cut your losses if one or two manage to out jump your barriers and go for gold.

What if you can’t or don’t want to use a single pole bird feeding station?

There are lots of reasons to not want to use a centralized feeding station in your yard.

I love the look of beautiful bird feeders hanging in a tree being visited by cardinals, chickadees and a host of finches.

It’s an idyllic look in any woodland garden and one that we should all be able to enjoy without the annoyance of having squirrels swinging like monkeys from every bird feeder in the yard.

There are lots of options available. A quick search on Amazon provides a long list of squirrel proof feeders with some obviously more effective than others.

Squirrel deterrent feeders can be expensive

The answer involves the ability to dig into your pocket, pull out your wallet and hit the cashier at the high-end bird feeding store with your credit card without flinching.

It can get expensive.

The Eliminator is a weight-sensitive bird feeder that keeps squirrels off your feeder.

Eliminator from WBU

A good feeder is not cheap, but there are reasons feeders designed to keep squirrels at bay without a series of baffles and bobbles can get very expensive.

First there is the feeder itself. If you are buying, pay what it takes to get a good one preferably one that shuts out squirrels and other critters depending on their weight.

Wild Birds Unlimited, for example, sells its “Eliminator” model that closes off access to the seed once the squirrel sits on the base of the feeder.

Wild Birds Unlimited describes how the feeder works: “When a squirrel touches the perches or perch ring, its weight closes the seed ports, foiling its seed-stealing plot. The Eliminator’s unique technology allows you to set the sensitivity level, so you can also exclude large birds such as pigeons or doves.”

Does it work? Absolutely. Can squirrels figure out a way around it? Absolutely. They will try their best to hang from a branch or even the top of the feeder so they do not add weight to the spring loaded seed dispenser.

By positioning the feeder in a location that makes it difficult for the squirrels to access it from a low hanging branch, the chances of keeping the squirrels at bay increases. Consider adding a half dome to make access from the top more difficult.

But even if the squirrels can’t extract seed, the raccoons will take their turn at it once the sun goes down. The result can be an expensive birdfeeder on the ground and susceptible to a hungry, snarling raccoon. I don’t like the feeder’s chances here.

Caged bird feeders are a good choice: Droll Yankee is top choice

Add a solid cage around the feeder and the problem of squirrels and even raccoons is more or less solved.

The best caged feeders work very well. There is a reason Droll Yankee feeders are a little expensive in comparison to other feeders. Their reputation as a company that builds solid feeders that work well is undeniable.



The Droll Yankees Domed Cage Sunflower Seed Bird Feeder is an example of a bird feeder, cage and dome built to keep the critters away while providing excellent access for he birds to high quality seed.

The six feeding ports on the feeder that takes 2.5 pounds of food provides plenty of choice for smaller birds to feed.

The cage allows our smaller songbirds to eat while keeping larger birds like blue jays and starlings away from the feeders. At the same time, squirrels and other undesirables can’t get to the feeders.

The plastic dome provides some shelter for the birds during inclement weather, but more importantly helps to keep the seed dry during rain or snow storms.

Of course the Droll Yankee feeders are not the only recommended caged feeders.

Fundamentals Squirrel Proof Feeder

Fundamentals squirrel proof feeder.

The “Fundamentals Squirrel Proof Feeder” from Wild Birds Unlimited is anotheer effective caged feeder. They describe their Fundamentals feeder in the following way: “Our Fundamentals Squirrel Proof feeder is weight-sensitive, so when a squirrel gets on the feeder the feeding ports close, denying access to the seed. Birds can use the four perches or they can cling to the metal shroud to feed.

If it makes sense to add a dome over the entire feeder assembly, it can go a long way in keeping the bird seed dry, while at the same time helping to keep squirrels, chippmunks and raccoons off the feeder.

If raccoons are a problem, just try to remember to take the feeder in for the night or locked away in a safe spot outside away from the racoons but also in an area where mice and rats are not attracted to it. A large galvanized garbage can with a solid lid works for me.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Bird feeder arms: A handy addition to any bird feeding station

Accessory bird feeder arms are excellent additions to any bird feeding station providing a variety of options from adding small specialized feeders, to orange halves for orioles and and dried grasses for nesting birds.

Perfect for holding accessory feeders, orange halves and nesting material

If you have set up your bird feeding station but still feel you need more options, a bird feeder arm might be exactly what you need.

I have two bird feeding arms that prove extremely helpful when it comes to adding small feeder accessories or additional places for feeding our feathered friends, including extra orange halves for the orioles.

Both of my feeder arms are sold as accessories for the Wild Birds Unlimited’s (WBU) Advanced Pole Yystem, but similar items are available with other systems and there is no reason you can’t add a WBU arm to an existing pole bird feeding system providing it fits on your pole.

Bird feeder arm showing the WBU Decorative Branch Perch being put to use with Oriole feeders and ornage halves

Bird feeder arm showing the Wild Birds Unlimited’s Decorative Branch Perch being put to use with Oriole feeders and orange halves and DIY jelly containers. On the far right you can see the cylinder used to hold the natural branch bird feeder arm. At the time there was no branch being used in the holder.

Our main arm is called the Decorative Branch Perch and consists of a heavy gauge, curved, approximately three-foot steel rod with four decorative wire leaves that are perfect for holding everything from orange halves to nesting material, not to mention the ability to hang small, lightweight feeder accessories from.

Of course, the stylized branch that can be moved around the pole for best positioning, is meant primarily as a perch for birds waiting their turn at one of the feeders, but I like to put it to use whenever possible.

More tips on setting up a proper bird feeding station on my earlier post.

It is a favourite spot for mourning doves to rest and I’ve seen hummingbirds also taking a breather on the thin wire that forms the stylized leaves.

Wild Birds Unlimited describes the Decorative Branch as: “the perfect way to give your birds a little R and R between feedings. Some birds will take turns eating at a bird feeder. Typically, they will wait out of view in a nearby tree or bush. Our decorative perch allows birds to remain in sight while they wait to eat. It can also be used to hang additional lightweight feeders.”

I put it to use most in the spring to stuff last year’s ornamental grass cuttings into the open wire leaves for the songbirds to use as nesting material, as well as oranges for the Orioles. The solid perch allows the birds to sit comfortably on the heavier wire and pull out the nesting material or work the orange halves.

Most of the year it works as a perch for birds just waiting to get to the feeders.

It can also be used to hang small accessory feeders to hold fruit of even meal worms for Blue birds and the like.

Blue Jay on branch inserted into the accessory holder on the Advanced Pole system that enables you to add natural branches to the system to create perches for the backyard birds.

This blue jay was photographed on a natural branch fixed to a bird feeding pole via an accessory bird feeding arm attachment.

Natural branch bird feeding arm is excellent addition

The other bird feeder arm I use on the pole system is really nothing but a cylinder that fits on the pole system and holds a single, mid-size tree branch.

This, of course, looks more natural and allows me to choose the type of branch to use as the arm. All that needs to be done is to find a branch with the right diameter to fit into the hole and then tighten the screw to secure the branch in place.

A chickadee sits on a natural branch fitted to an accessory on our bird feeding pole.

A chickadee sits on a natural branch fitted to an accessory on our bird feeding pole.

Although I use this primarily as a photographic tool to capture birds on an ever changing natural branch, it also comes in handy to hang small, lightweight feeders from. I can also spread bark butter (see my earlier post) on the natural branch to encourage woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and other suet-loving birds to come to the branch to get their photographs taken.

The beauty of this bird feeder arm is that the branch can be easily changed to create a new look. Finding a branch with lichen already growing on it is ideal for photography. When that branch is finished, just add another.

The accessory can also be moved around the pole to put the bird in the best light or have it against a nice clean background.

I also find that backyard birds will readily go to the natural branch as a first choice for perching. The more textured surface provides them with a natural perch, and larger birds can get a better grip on the branch.

It also provides the perfect opportunity in the spring to cut a flowering branch from, say our crabapple tree or another flowering shrub, to use as a photographic perch for the songbirds.

But, even if you are not taking the birds’ photograph, the memory of a cardinal, indigo bunting or goldfinch perched on a flowering branch, is not one you’ll soon forget and the perfect welcome to spring birding season.

Other arms worth considering

There are several other bird feeder arms to consider that will work with whatever bird feeding system you are working with. Amazon, for example, lists several add-on arms that are designed to attach to a number of feeding poles. The Hang-IT multi-purpose add on arm for shepherds hook comes in several colours and is strong enough to handle full-size bird feeders. It claims to fit on any Shepherds hook and gets plenty of positive reviews from users.

There are so many different poles and arms that it’s impossible to list them all, but the yosager deck feeding station complete with bird feeding arms that resemble the Wild Birds Unlimited Decorative Branch Perch is a good choice for those who like to feed from their backyard decks.

It never hurts to get a helping hand feeding the birds

Whatever system you choose, it never hurts to get a helping hand feeding the birds. In this case it’s a helping arm, but you get the idea.

With a little ingenuity you could make your own bird feeding arms simply by attaching a sturdy branch to your pole system. A little wire and some duct tape or aheavy-duty clamp would certainly be enough to provide the birds in your yard with a safe, sturdy landing spot to wait their turn at the feeders.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Garden gift ideas you’ll love

Looking for gift ideas for the gardener in your life? Or, maybe it’s just time to reward yourself for all the work around the garden you have been doing. Let me help you find some unique gift ideas for your garden or a friend’s garden.

Gardening gifts For bird lovers, garden art collectors and just plain old gardeners

Gardeners ask for little more than sunshine, some warm weather and a little rain a few times a week.

That’s not to say we don’t like to receive gifts every once in a while, especially when they are garden or wildlife related.

Thankfully, there are a host of tools, trinkets and useful items most gardeners would be thrilled to receive.

Ferns & Feathers will strive to bring readers unique gift ideas from both large and small garden supply type outlets as well as home-made items from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and around the world.


I’ll try to update these items on a regular basis, so check back regularly for the latest items.

• Just a few items I’ve come across this month that may be of interest. This combination garden statue and bird bath would be perfect to tuck along a garden pathway or in a Japanese-style garden.

If you are looking for a little more colour in the garden, these stacking glass orbs will do the trick. Both the garden statuary bird bath and stacking orbs are from on-line home and garden retailer Vivaterra. If you have never checked out their on-line site, they offer a beautiful selection of higher-end home and garden items you will not easily find anywhere else.

• Gardening boots and shoes are a must, especially if you are in tick country. Muck Boot Company offers a huge range of gardening boots and shoes that will fit everyone’s needs. The women’s wide calf boot keeps both the dirt and ticks away, while the women’s stylish plaid boots are good for everyday use.

There are boots for kids as well as men in too many styles to mention.

Garret Wade, the fine American garden and woodworking store much like Lee Valley in Canada, offers high-end gardening tools and goodies like Grandpa’s Weeder, The ultimate green weeder that goes a long way in saving your back. It’s even currently on sale.

If you are looking for a real heavy duty bird feeder this giant 6-liter Bird Feeder from Garret Wade might be the perfect gift.

Garrett Wade specializes in high quality woodworking, gardening, and home tools.

If you are like me, it’s getting harder to keep up with all the up-and-downs of gardening. This Portable Bench and Kneeler from Garret Wade can make a big difference. As described on the site: “Right-side up, it is a comfortable, extra-wide, portable seat. Flip it over, and it becomes a kneeler, particularly useful when you are doing gardening, yard work, or other jobs around the house, like painting baseboards. When used as a kneeler the handles offer support to make easy work of getting up from the ground. You can also take it along and be comfortable when watching fireworks or the kid’s soccer game. Use it as a camp stool or for tailgating.”


Could there be a more perfect gift for the woodland gardener than this Sherwood Fern Fairy Statuary with Bird Feeder. It’s time to Think Spring! at MyEvergreen on-line retailers for $165, regular $275. Evergreen is part of the Rakuten family of retailers. The beautiful bird feeder stands a full 2.5 feet tall and is made of durable, all-weather polystone to help give it a natural, carved wood look.

If you have never checked out the website Wind & Weather you owe it to yourself to wander over and take a look. They say they have a passion for the weather and it shows in many of the high-end weather instruments that are available at the California-based store. They also offer distinctive garden decor and artistic objects for the home. They are proud to say they “shop the globe” to provide customers with unique items.

• Still on the bird theme, another elegant addition to the garden is this polished Copper Hanging Birdbath measuring just over 12 inches in diameter. It can be purchased with a holder and chain that is made of black wrought iron. The whole thing is sure to age nicely in the garden. Although anything copper is obviously an expensive purchase, the inherent beauty of the metal and the fact it ages gracefully with the garden means it’s always a great investment. The wrought iron holder will rust and age the way wrought iron tends to do, so if this is not your style you may want to look at something different. Or, just purchase a copper bowl and use it as an on-ground water resource.

This on-ground bird bath is ideal for not only birds but other backyard critters that can’t jump or climb into a regular bird bath. A couple of these spread throughout the garden will give a hand to many wildlife species from toads, chipmunks, snakes and, of course, birds.

My post, Bringing water into the garden points out how important it is to have an on-ground water source in your garden for small mammals and reptiles as well as birds. This is an opportunity to add an on-ground feature that would make an elegant addition to any garden tucked into a low-growing ground cover, maybe thyme, moss or stone crop. We have our two on-ground water features tucked among the stone crop sedum that has grown around the water features and make them look like they have always been there.

Both bird baths are available through Amazon. A search on the Amazon site shows many hanging bird baths, some brightly coloured and at various price categories. Giving a bird lover or garden enthusiast a bird bath rather than a feeder requires them to do nothing but hang it up and add a little water every day or two.

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) I try to only endorse products I have either used, have complete confidence in, or have experience with the manufacturer. Thank you for your support. This blog would not be possible without your continued support.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

How to create a natural log planter

Creating an old log planter does not have to be difficult. The next time you get trees trimmed, consider keeping the larger branches and stumps to either build a wood pile or, even better, a planter.

One of the best additions to a woodland/wildlife garden is a simple rotting log.

Not unlike a forest, where large branches and entire trees are left to slowly decay on the ground, our gardens benefit from the same rotting logs on our forest floors. These logs can quickly become home to any number of small woodland creatures, many of which are often unseen unless we really go looking for them.

If it’s large enough, you should see toads, snakes, even salamanders move in to the log along with a myriad of insects and fungi that all work in unison to break down the wood and add nutrients back to the garden.

The process is slow and might even go more or less unnoticed if it wasn’t for the birds and animals that visit the log looking for a quick meal.

This graphic shows the benefits of creating your own natural log planter

A natural log planter is the perfect addition to a woodland garden. Place it along a path so you can enjoy it on your walks through the garden.

Don’t remove those large branches after tree trimming

One of the best decisions I made several years ago was to tell our local tree service company not to cart off the large branches they took down from our upper canopy trees and, instead, leave them be on the ground.

One area where a lot of branches fell was our massive garden of ferns (link to fern garden post). It was the perfect place to just leave the large branches on the ground to break down naturally.

Our massive ferns grow up through the large branches and hide them throughout the summer months. During the early spring and fall and winter, I get to monitor the slow breakdown of the large branches spread over the ground.

In another area of the garden, I used the large branches that were removed from the tree to create a natural woodpile to provide shelter and habitat for the backyard critters that need places like this to escape predators. I’m sure some of them use it as shelter throughout the winter.

In fall, I throw on a layer or two of fallen leaves to provide even more shelter and create an even better environment for the large branches to break down over time.

Five tips to find deadwood

If you do not have dead trees or stumps on your property to attract wildlife, you can always go out on a scouting trip to find a handsome trunk or large branch to place artistically in your landscape. Here are a few places to look for deadwood to create your planter.

  • If there is a natural woods nearby; ask permission to collect a few good-size pieces of deadwood. It’s best to collect soon after a storm blows down the branches, before wildlife have a chance to move in.

  • Call a nearby tree service company. They are usually willing to let you have anything you can haul off, or you may be able to arrange delivery for a small fee.

  • Check with your local cable, electric or telephone company. Trimming branches and clearing trees are routine maintenance and they are more than likely happy to let you take them.

  • Your local parks department and the town or city road crew may be able to help as well. They maintain public trees and are often looking to get rid of large branches.

  • Keep an eye out for possibilities in your neighbourhood. Your neighbours will probably be pleased to let you cart off their branches. Explain to your neighbours why you want them and how you will be using them. It’s a good way to raise awareness about the value of deadwood.

Deadwood does not have to be left on the ground.

In her book, Natural Landscaping, Gardening with Nature to Create a Backyard Paradise, Sally Roth dedicates several pages to the benefits of using deadwood in the woodland garden.

It is almost as useful standing up as it is lying down, she explains. An interesting log or gnarly branch can add a very artistic touch to a shade garden or a final bit of realism to a woodland garden.

If you have a large, long branch that is manageable, consider creating your own “snag” by simply digging a deep hole and planting the deadwood vertically.

I have a 8- to 9-foot branch planted in the back of our yard near my outdoor photo setup that is a regular stop for woodpeckers, nuthatches, red squirrels and chipmunks.

These are particularly prized by woodpeckers, and they make an excellent foundation for a feeding area. I have drilled holes in the branch where I insert bark butter regularly. You can also wire suet to them or hang a feeder. The dead tree is also the perfect landing spot for birds approaching the feeding station. Keep it far enough away that squirrels can’t leap over to the feeders.

Create a simple log planter

Letting nature slowly break down the logs is certainly one way to help wildlife, but using the logs to create a path-side planter is an even better one.

How often have you been out for a walk and saw the local arbourist either cutting down or trimming up a large tree in the neighbourhood. That’s a great opportunity to ask if they would drop off a large branch or two at your home. If you have access to a truck, you could obviously just throw it in the back and take it home on your own.

Once you have it home, you can go to work carving out a portion of the log where you can pack in a rich forest soil loaded with compost, rotting leaves and bits of fungi that will quickly go to work breaking down the wood.

If you are comfortable using a chainsaw, you can create a large hollow in the log in no time. If a chainsaw is not something you want to get involved with, you can create the planter with simple tools like a hammer and chisel.

To speed up the process, consider using a power drill to first create holes in the area you want to hollow out. Once the holes have been drilled 5-6 inches deep, you can begin chiselling out the wood. Depending on the size of the log, you may have to drill and chisel out the wood a few times before you have the look and depth you want.

If it’s possible, use a longer drill bit to create drainage holes through the log. Drainage holes may not be necessary since the idea behind the project is to create a rotting log, and the wood in the log will absorb a lot of the moisture anyway, but drainage holes might be appropriate depending on what you are planning to grow in the fallen-log planter.

I have seen many of these natural planters with colourful bedding plants filling them up. That’s fine if you are looking to pretty up a corner of the yard, but a natural planter looks and feels much more appropriate.

Think wildflowers like hepatica, maidenhair ferns, mushrooms and small succulents. A natural path-side planter where you can control things like soil PH, is the perfect place to grow Bunchberry (cornus canadensis) or other acid loving plants.

In his book, Landscape with Nature, Using Natural Design to Plan Your Garden, Jeff Cox writes that “you can make a totally natural planter by hollowing out the centre 1 foot deep.” He suggests planting the old log planter with ferns, begonias, impatiens, or hens-and-chicks, but I prefer a more natural approach using native wild flowers including trilliums, dog-tooth violets and even wild ginger along with hepatica and spring beauty. It might also be the perfect spot to try some native orchids.

A log planter can also be a great place to grow a small bonsai-like shrub – suggesting the rebirth from a dead tree into new life. Again, try using a native shrub like a serviceberry, or one of the many small-shrubby native dogwoods, and viburnums preferably one with berries.

Commercial alternatives to a natural log planter

If carving up an old wooden log with a chainsaw or painstakingly chiselling one out is too much, there are much simpler ways to achieve the overall look without lifting a finger.

Commercial stumps are available that give you the look of an old, hollowed out tree stump without the work and the eventual complete break-down. High quality concrete planters can look remarkably real.

This example of an old wooden log planter from is a good indication of what is available.

The concrete containers that are made to look like a real tree trunk are perfect for the woodland garden. You can purchase ones that stand up more or less vertically to give height, or planters that are more like fallen logs that lie on the ground horizontally.

These have the added benefit of being able to be easily moved around the garden.

Although not made to look like a fallen log, this exquisite planter from Vivaterra is a pefect vessel to show off your mosses, ferns or even a small native bonsai.

Of course, you will lose out on many of the insects and small animals that would readily move into the more natural pathside planter, but you will be gaining a woodland aesthetic that will surely bring a smile every time you pass it by.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

DIY: Turn a birdbath into a succulent planter dish (step by step guide)

This DIY succulent hummingbird feeder is a fun gardening idea that is easy to build and beautiful to look at.

How to make a succulent dish garden (with a twist)

Here is a Do-it-yourself project that is both easy to create and results in a lovely succulent dish garden.

I’ve added a little twist by creating a mini photo studio with the addition of a small hummingbird feeder. All you need to complete the project is an old bird bath, some cactus soil, crushed clay stone and a small hummingbird feeder.

The project can be completed in less than an hour and will surely brighten up your backyard and add a great spot to photograph hummingbirds coming to your garden.

Succulents have certainly become popular recently. Here I have used a series of hens and chicks to make the project more hardy to stand up to our cold winters.

The popularity of succulents, however, is for good reason. Today’s succulents are outstanding. Large, small, colourful, tiny, easy to grow and even easier to maintain.

After all, the plants really don’t need a lot of care. Plant them in gritty, well-draining soil mixed with a little stone or pea gravel. Water them in extreme drought if necessary otherwise, just let them take care of themselves.

An old bird bath converted to a succulent planter with a twist – a Perky-Pet handhold/tabletop hummingbird feeder is buried in the stone. The set-up was designed as a potential stage for hummingbird photography.

An old bird bath converted to a succulent planter with a twist – a Perky-Pet handhold/tabletop hummingbird feeder is buried in the stone. The set-up was designed as a potential stage for hummingbird photography.

So with all this in mind, and with an old leaky bird bath sitting empty in the yard, I figured it was a good time to create one of these popular planters.

We’ve had the planter for several years and, besides replacing some of the succulents last year after a brutally cold winter, it has become a focal point along our pathway. I can’t say that it has attracted many hummingbirds over its time, but I’ll keep experimenting with different hummingbird feeders to find one that keeps them coming back.

This small round hummingbird feeder fits the succulent dish perfectly.

A more detailed shot shows the vibrant colours of the stone, succulents in the DIY birdbath conversion.

A more detailed shot shows the vibrant colours of the stone, succulents in the DIY birdbath conversion.

I happened to have the small hummingbird feeder designed to teach the tiny birds to eat out of your hand.

Converting birdbath into succulent planter

The project was simple and involved just a few items that I had around the house, and an electric drill.

1) First, I drilled about five holes through the bottom of the fibreglass bird bath to allow good drainage.

2) Then, add pea gravel in the middle area where the hummingbird feeder sits.

3) Next, surround the pea gravel with store-bought cactus soil and mix it with pea gravel to keep it loose and well draining.

The vibrant colours in this birdbath conversion provides some needed year-round colour in the woodland garden.

4) Now it’s time to plant the succulents around the edges of the bird bath, mixing large and small.

5) I added some sedum that was already growing in the garden

6) I also had a curved wire that looked perfect as a hummingbird resting stop, so that was placed in the container but far enough from the feeder not to interfere with any hummingbirds that might be feeding while in flight.

7) I filled the little hummingbird feeder and placed it in the middle of the succulent container.

8) Finally, red chipped clay stone was placed over the soil as a mulch and a nice clean backdrop for the succulents. The stones help to keep water from splashing up dirt onto the succulents and gives the whole container a more desert feel.

How to create a succulent dish

How to care for a succulent dish (birdbath) garden

Caring for a succulent dish – in this case a birdbath – is simple. Succulents do not need a lot of water. In fact, too much water would be the main reason for their demise.

Think desert landscape and you’ll know how much you’ll need to water your dish. I rarely water our succulent dish. Instead, allowing our summer rains to get the job done with the occasional watering works well.

Providing good drainage is probably the most important step you could do to ensure the survival of the plants.

Ours is planted is an area close to the house that gets mostly morning sun into early afternoon.

For more on gardening on a budget, check out my in-depth article here.

Gardening on a budget links

DIY moss garden

Proven Winners Idea Book

Ten money-saving tips for the weekend gardener

Window boxes on a budget

DIY Bark Butter feeder for Woodpeckers

DIY reflection pond for photography

Click & Grow is ideal for Native Plants from seed

Nature’s DIY garden art

DIY solar drip for bird bath

Remove your turf and save money

DIY succulent planter

Hiring students to get your garden in shape

If you are interested in backyard birds, please consider signing up for my backyard birds newsletter. The sign-up page is at the bottom of my homepage. Not only will the newsletter provide in-depth articles on attracting, feeding and photographing backyard birds, I am also working with local artisans to provide discounts on incredible bird-related feeders, houses and other goodies backyard birders will love. In addition there will be regular giveaways , including gardening books and birding items.

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you) I try to only endorse products I have either used, have complete confidence in, or have experience with the manufacturer.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Why leave ornamental grasses standing through winter?

Ornamental grasses have become popular additions to our gardens for summer and fall interest, but they really come into their own in winter where they add structure and even movement in the winter garden.

Grasses provide structure and habitat for the garden in winter

There are two reasons I leave our grasses standing all winter. First, wildlife – from insects to birds – benefit from the standing grasses and second, I just love the look of the wheat-coloured grasses providing structure in the garden from the fall through to the following spring.

There is another important reason to leave the grasses standing, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

During the winter months, when snow is covering the ground, our grasses provide amazing structure to the garden and are often the first element I focus on when looking for photographic subjects. The results can range from high-key images of the delicate wisps of wheat-coloured grasses against a pure white background, to an image of a bird tucked away in the grasses waiting out a heavy snowfall.

Red Squirrel among the Northern Sea Oats in winter.

Red Squirrel among the Northern Sea Oats in winter.

In the early part of winter, capturing the seed heads poking out from the snow is a favourite subject, however, as winter draws on, the seeds heads are either eaten by the birds or dispersed from the cold winds.

Be sure to take advantage of the early part of winter to catch images of the seed heads in the snow.

It’s also a good time to capture the spent flower heads from the Black Eyed Susans with snow caps on before the goldfinches strip the seeds from the flower heads.

Are ornamental grasses perennial?

You may ask if ornamental grasses are annual or perennial? The answer is, of course, it depends. But it’s safe to say that most ornamental grasses you purchase are hardy perennials and will return year after year. Most ornamental grasses are very hardy but a few, including the large red- or purple-coloured fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) that is popular to use in containers, is a fast-growing – up to 4-feet – annual in most areas. It is actually hardy in tropical zone 9.

Because most ornamental grasses are perennial, they will require cutting down when they have expired. There is no problem leaving perennial or annual grasses up through the winter. Both will provide structure and beauty throughout the cold months.

Annual grasses, including the annual purple fountain grass, can simply be removed and discarded in the spring along with the cuttings of the perennial grasses.

I like to pile them on top of a natural compost heap to give the birds an opportunity to take the grass to build their nests. I also stuff handfulls of the dried grass in the suet holders in spring for the birds to take as nesting material.

More on Ornamental grasses:

Northern sea oats close up covered in snow

Northern sea oats close up covered in snow.

Grasses help form the structure of a winter garden

Ornamental grasses might be the last thing you think of when looking for winter structure and interest in the garden. Typically, we look to evergreens to form the basic structure of a winter’s garden. Not everyone, however, has room to plant large evergreens such as spruce, pines or cedars.

That’s when ornamental grasses rise to the challenge.

Small enough to suit even the most compact gardens, these grasses can provide four-season interest with winter, arguably, being the time they shine the most. In many gardens, they are the only non-woody plant still standing, and their tan colour helps them stand out against a snowy or just drab winter background.

They can also add movement when the winds of winter blow, and their vase-like structure adds another dimension to our garden.

Miscanthus after an early snowfall.

Miscanthus still standing tall after an early snowfall. Notice the “flower heads” are still intact. Later in the winter birds and strong winds will make them disappear.

A third reason to leave your ornamental grasses

There is another very important reason to leave grasses standing throughout the winter, and that is to protect the roots of the grasses from extreme temperatures, especially the constant freezing and thawing that is common over the course of our winters.

4 reasons to leave ornamental grasses up all winter

If you are like me and fall garden clean up amounts to putting away the hummingbird feeders, patio umbrellas and garden chairs, then you’ll benefit from a buildup of leaves around the plants which will form a nice layer of insulation around the roots of the grasses. The grasses will often fold in on themselves as well, providing additional “winter mulch” for the plants, wildlife and insects that count on the grasses for protection and habitat.

Grasses helping to give structure in winter

The Miscanthus grasses in the foreground help to give the garden structure and interest even if they are covered in heavy snow.

This insulation layer will help keep the roots from experiencing the freeze-thaw cycles that can uproot some plants, especially if they are newly planted and the roots have not yet set in completely. Or, if you recently planted a clump after dividing a larger clump of your ornamental grasses in the fall.

This is also the area around the roots where insects will burrow in to survive the winter or lay eggs for next spring.

It’s not uncommon to see Juncos and other insect-eating birds foraging around the leaves at the roots of our grasses looking for insects and larvae.

A Dark-eyed Junco among the Northern Sea Oats during an early snowfall.

A Dark-eyed Junco among the Northern Sea Oats during an early snowfall.

Ornamental grasses can be a haven for birds in winter

The larger grasses that form sturdy upright branches can provide protection for birds in winter. I have seen birds go into the thick grasses during winter storms to escape the high winds and extreme cold. Some of the grasses get bent over and form a perfect perch for the birds.

Ornamental grasses would not be the first places the birds choose to ride out a winter storm, but if large evergreen trees are scarce in your neighbourhood, tall grasses would probably provide the next best natural shelter.

Snow laden grasses stand out against the stark background.

Best Ornamental grasses for winter interest

Some grasses are definitely better than others for winter interest. Some of the smaller grasses are covered early by snow and others are not vigorous enough to stand up to the harshness of our winters.

Look for native grasses whenever possible to provide the most benefits for wildlife and ensure you are not contributing to invasive non-native grasses spreading into natural areas.

The miscanthus grasses are particularly good for winter interest. They stand over six feet tall in summer with their feathery upright and very attractive pinkish seed heads. In winter, ours usually get knocked down to about four-feet high, allowing them to still stand above even the highest snow accumulations.

The stems turn a lovely beige-tan colour with the beautiful plumes lasting well into winter.

Garden light with Hakonechloa macra grass

A combination of a garden light and a hint of Japanese Forest grass (Hakonechloa) makes for an interesting winter scene.

I also find our smaller fountain grasses to be excellent in the first half of the winter before the snow gets too high and buries the plants. But even a tiny bit of the grasses peaking up through the snow can result in a lovely, delicate photographic image. If you are searching for images, look for a single grass blade or grouping of three delicate beige grass blades forming an arc in the snow. If the seed head still remains, it’s a pure bonus.

The hybrid fountain grass Karly Rose is a larger fountain grass that carries lovely pink seed heads in late summer and can withstand more snow in winter before it is buried.

Panicum grasses are also a strong performer with great winter interest.

Calamagrotis Karl Foerster, a popular grass used in both commercial and residential landscaping is another grass that works well in the winter landscape. It’s upright habit and dense growth keeps it performing well into winter even in areas with high snowfall.

Birch tree and grasses in winter

These grasses poking out of the snow work nicely with the white birch trees.

Photographing grasses in winter

Grasses, either covered in snow or mostly buried in winter’s ground cover, can be a rewarding photographic experience. But it’s usually not as simple as grabbing your camera and snapping a picture.

Successfully capturing the beauty of grasses in winter involves a number of factors that need to be considered.

The key to success is recognizing the amount of snow in the image. If you are photographing wisps of delicate grasses against a background of snow, it’s important to maintain the delicate look of the image. This would be an example of a high key image where the photograph has a clean white background with just a delicate hint of colour.

To create this image we want to “open up” our lens to allow more light into the scene.

What does this mean and how do you do it?

Shooting a snowy (or white sand beech) scene will trick the camera into thinking there is an incredible amount of light available. As a result, the camera will reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor (film) and give you snow that is very blue or, in the case of black and white photography, very grey. We’ve all seen the Instagram images of a lovely snow scene where the snow is blue and the real subject is too dark.

This is just the result of the camera doing what it does and using the metering system to create a “middle grey” image of the scene.

To compensate for this situation, and ensure the snow stays white, photographers say we have to “open up.” What they mean is we have to add back the light the camera wants to take away from the scene.

Today’s modern cameras are very good at recognizing various lighting conditions, but an abundance of snow is too much for most camera meters.

Below is an example of a typical underexposed snow scene. Compare it to the image below with the proper exposure.

Image of an underexposed snow scene with garden grasses

An example of an underexposed snow scene where the snow turns grey or blue as opposed to holding its clean white look.


The same image shows a properly exposed scene where the white snow maintains its proper colour.


Escaping the blues: Simple solutions to photographing in the snow

The solutions to getting white snow are simple.

• If you are shooting in a program mode, (SP, AP or P mode) where the camera is automatically determining the proper exposure, try using the +1, +2 or even +3 compensation override to add the light back to the subject and make the snow white.

Be careful not to add too much compensation or you will (blow out) or take away the detail and texture in the snow. (If you are shooting a snow scene with a lot of blue sky, it’s unlikely any compensation would be necessary.)

• Possibly the easiest way to get the proper exposure is to go to the camera’s programmed shooting modes and look for the snow or sand/beach modes. Use these modes to photograph the snowy landscape. These modes automatically account for the brightness and make adjustments to keep the snow white. You may, however, have to use the camera’s compensation function (maybe +1) to tweak the scene depending how much snow is in the image.

In addition to the snow/sand modes, many of today’s compact cameras also include an “art mode” that allows the photographer to experiment with more artsy images. Set the camera to “high key” to create a delicate, ethereal look that might suit your image perfectly. This would work in a situation where you are moving in close on just a few strands of grass with a pure white background.

• Finally, if you are shooting in manual mode, get the camera’s suggested exposure and then use the +1, +2,+3 compensation to find an exposure that looks right. You can just check the back of the camera to get a feel for how the final image will look.

Bracket your snow scenes for best results

Getting properly exposed images in winter can be tricky, so it is probably a good idea to use bracketing whenever possible.

Bracketing is a process where you tell the camera to shoot a series of images at different settings – most often three images – where one image follows the camera’s suggested meter reading, another is a stop over and the final is a stop under. The result are three images where you have the opportunity to pick the one that works best for you.

I would suggest setting up the bracketing function before going outside so that you don’t have to fiddle with it in the cold.

Of course, some of these adjustments can be made in Lightroom or photoshop after you have taken the images, but it’s best to get it right in camera.

With a few simple adjustments to your approach, there is no reason to put the camera away during winter. Your garden takes on a completely different look in winter and its an opportunity to capture the delicate beauty of winter.

It’s also an opportunity to see the potential weaknesses in your garden’s structure. A picture never lies. Use your winter images to improve the garden structure come spring.

It’s just another good reason to buy more plants.

Use a camera with a viewfinder when shooting in the snow

It can be extremely difficult to see what you are photographing if you are using a camera without a viewfinder and being forced to use the camera’s LCD screen. If you are going out to shoot in the snow, either choose a camera with a built-in viewfinder or consider purchasing a separate viewfinder for the camera. The are usually a few you can choose from that would work with the camera.

There are also attachments available that can fit over the back of your camera to shade the LCD screen.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Olympus camera system in the garden, the woodlands and on vacation

The Olympus Micro Four Thirds OM-E-M10 camera and lenses are a joy to use and a true competitor for both full-size cameras as well as advanced point-and-shoot models.

Stunningly good: First impressions of the Olympus OM-E-M10 Micro Four Thirds system

This beautiful little Cape May Warbler was photographed with the Olympus E-M10 and the 40-150mm on the backyard birdbath.

If you are like me and put off purchasing a Micro Four Thirds camera for garden, wildlife and vacation images, it’s time to reconsider.

I picked up an Olympus E-M10 Micro Four Thirds camera with two kit lenses, and together with a converter and my existing high-quality, vintage 300mm F4.5* lens and a sweet 50mm macro f2.8 Pentax lens, I instantly have a compact photographic system with big potential.

When I say picked the camera and lenses up, I mean truly picked it up for the very first time.

Be sure to check out my Olympus Photo gallery.

Junco getting a drink at a heated DIY bird bath

This Junco was photographed with the inexpensive 40-150 f4-5.6 lens.

I have been admiring Olympus cameras from afar for years – actually since a young female photojournalist I worked with more than 30 years ago used the Olympus OM1 compact 35mm system.

The E-M10 takes on a lot of the vintage vibe of that original OM1 system. Although I have the all-black version ( I love all-black cameras) there is also a silver and black version that gives off a terrific vintage vibe.

I can honestly say, however, that I have not held an Olympus camera in my hands since I admired the photojournalist’s impressive OM1 system.

In the hand, the E-M10 has the necessary heft to give it the feeling of a precision photographic tool that’ll put a smile on your face the moment you pick it up.

But that all changed recently when I received a box in the mail from an online seller who upgraded to a newer Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. He told me he loved his Olympus E-M10 so much that he bought the new, more expensive model.

Olympus E-M10 with kit lenses

Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera with two kit lenses.


The fact he upgraded to a newer model is always a good sign, especially for someone like me who had no real idea what to expect except from what I had seen on Youtube reviews and what other photo bloggers have written about the camera.

Let’s not kid ourselves, this is an older camera and Olympus has come a long way since they released the Olympus E-M10 in January 2014. That makes the camera almost ten years old already. But, in my book, it lacks very little of what I truly need to capture images in the garden, about town or on vacation.

The features offered in modern Olympus cameras are truly outstanding and in many ways cutting edge in comparison to other camera manufacturers. The system is certainly one that should be considered if you are looking to purchase a new, modern camera.

I like the price of older cameras when I want to experiment with new systems and, unless you need the latest in technology, older versions of high-quality cameras are more than most of us really need to capture our garden, wildlife and other images such as our children, grandchildren, while on vacation and at special events.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at Q&A birdfeeder.

Red-breasted Nuthatch at Q&A bird feeder taken with the Olympus 40-150mm kit lens.

If you follow my website, you’ll know that I use Pentax as my main camera system, but that I also like to dabble in small, enthusiast point-and-shoot cameras as well – Fujifilm, Lumix and even the odd Canon point and shoot.

Pentax, not unlike Olympus, likes to forge its own path and appeal to the more discerning advanced amateur photographers. These photographers are generally as much concerned about the experience as they are about the size of their camera bodies and lenses.

Graphic of images and Olympus camera

A few of the bird images shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M10

To their credit, Olympus has created a cult following of believers with their outstanding camera lines, ranging from the OM-D line to the truly compact and elegant PEN systems. Even their TOUGH line of point-and-shoot cameras offer an impressive array of accessories that create a versatile photography system with waterproof lenses, protective cases, and an underwater housing.

Online photoshop, Lightroom and Photography Training KelbyOne

If you are looking for a camera system, be sure to check out the Olympus Shop Featured Weekly Deals for great savings directly from Olympus.

But, let’s get back to my new (to me) toy – the E-M10.

Junco on Cornus Kousa tree in winter.

Dark eyed Junco on Cornus Kousa tree in winter.

The retro-looking E-M10 packs plenty of modern features

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 was released in January of 2014 packing 16 megapixels into its Micro Four Thirds sensor. It was actually the third model in the OM-D series of compact, mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras, and aimed at photographers looking for a less expensive solution to its predecessors.

The E-M10 may have been less expensive than its predecessors, but Olympus did not cut corners on quality or the photographic experience with this camera.

Backyard garden photographe with the Olympus OM-D E-M10

Our garden in spring photographed with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the kit lens 14-42mm.

OM-D E-M10 key features

  • 16MP Four Thirds CMOS sensor

  • Twin control dials on the top of the camera

  • A solid, pop-up, built-in flash

  • Camera shoots 8 fps continuous shooting

  • The E-M10 has a handy tilting 1.04M dot LCD touchscreen

  • In addition to the LCD touchscreen, it boasts a 1.44m dot LCD viewfinder

  • Incorporates Wi-Fi for travellers allowing remote control and file transfer to smartphones

  • Focus peaking for those who want to use vintage lenses with an adapter

  • A full range of art filter modes and scene modes

  • The ability to shoot in Aperature, Shutter, Program and manual mode for more advanced photographers

  • '3-axis' image stabilization unlike other Olympus OM cameras with 5-axis

Cape May Warbler on bird bath photographed with Olympus EM-10 with the 40-150mm.

In the hand, the E-M10 has the necessary heft to give it the feeling of a precision photographic tool that’ll put a smile on your face the moment you pick it up.

Now, turn it on. You’ll notice there is an electronic viewfinder to look through if you so choose. Sure, there is also a very nice LCD screen to compose your image on as well, but if you are a little old school and still appreciate looking through a viewfinder to take a picture, you have a very capable digital viewfinder.

I was out recently taking images of ornamental grasses in the snow and without the digital viewfinder, the LCD screen would have been impossible to use. In fact, I was using the Olympus and a tiny Pentax Q camera system without a viewfinder and it was almost impossible to see the images on the Pentax Q system.

The Olympus viewfinder became almost indispensable. And the viewfinder is very usable.

If you are interested in exploring Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras further, you can also check out the Olympus store at

A dark-eyed Junco photographed with the 40-150mm Olympus kit lens.

I picked up the two kit lenses with the camera – 14-40mm and the 40-150mm – and I am very impressed. Both lenses have performed admirably in the extremely short time I have used them. In fact, I am so excited about the camera that I am writing this review after using the camera for just a few days.

The camera lenses focus quickly and are very sharp considering they are inexpensive kit lenses. I will say that I did experience some hunting with the 40-150mm at the long end when focusing on a bird close up, but for the most part the focusing has been exceptionally good.

I should add that the hunting for focus may have been caused by the fact that I was shooting through a back window at my DIY heated bird bath. Still the images came out exceptionally sharp with a little tweaking in Lightroom.

In addition, I didn’t realize at first that I had the digital zoom lens turned on. Although I appreciated the extra length of the lens in its digital zoom mode, it did soften the image to some degree.

American Robin photographed with the Pentax 300mm f4.5* lens on the Olympus micro four thirds camera.

American Robin photographed with the Pentax 300mm f4.5* lens on the Olympus micro four thirds camera.

Adding my favourite Pentax 300mm F4.5 lens to my Olympus system

Mirrorless camera systems, like the Olympus OM-E-M10, allows photographers to dip into their more vintage lenses and use them on much more modern cameras. Although autofocus and other capabilities are lost when a converter is inserted between the camera’s lens mount, there are so many benefits that using these converters far outweigh their shortfalls.

I have a collection of older Pentax lenses – including my favourite 300mm F4.5* lens – that when used on the Olympus with the crop factor gives me a very useful 600mm F4.5 lens. I’ve only used the combination briefly but am impressed with the possibilities, especially when it comes to using the combination in my Tragopan photographic blind where the action is more predictable.

Manual focus is relatively easy using the LCD screen on the back of the camera. The Robin image (above) is a good illustration of what can be done in the right circumstances.

In addition to the 300mm, I will be using a Pentax 50mm f2.8 macro lens that becomes a 100mm macro lens.

Woodland Garden in winter photographed with the 14-40mm kit lens.

Woodland Garden in winter photographed with the 14-40mm kit lens.

This short review does not pretend to go into the details of the camera and lenses. I wrote this as an introduction to the Olympus system and a “first impression” review of the camera and lenses. A longer, more informative review will follow after I have used the camera and lenses for an extensive period of time in the garden and the woodland area around my home.

Last words on the Olympus E-M10

After using the camera for a few days, I can honestly say that it is an impressive tool for anyone looking for a small, capable camera that supports interchangeable lenses.

With my two kit lenses, I can cover the 35mm equivalent of 28mm to 300mm in two very small, lightweight lenses, and still come away with excellent images that any gardener/birder/photographer would be happy to call their own.

The bird images above were all taken with an inexpensive kit lens, hand held and photographed through the window of our back patio door and they are still sharp.

Birch trees with Northern Oat grasses

Birch trees in winter with Northern Oat grass.

Unlike a high-end point and shoot camera with a fixed lens, the Olympus system leaves plenty of room for the gardener/photographer to grow.

While I have chosen to go with the inexpensive kit lenses to begin my Olympus journey, there is a whole array of impressive, more expensive, professional lenses and advanced amateur lenses that are certainly worth considering. Lenses are available from third-party manufacturers like Sigma as well as lenses made by Panasonic/Leica for its Micro Four Thirds cameras.

With inexpensive adapters, you can also use older vintage lenses with a two times magnification. For example, my Pentax 50mm F2.8 will become a 100mm F2.8 and my 100mm F2.8 Kiron K-mount lens becomes a 200mm F2.8 macro lens.

If you are in the market for either a new camera or camera system, definitely put a Micro Four Thirds system on your list. The convenience of the more compact system with the quality of a high-end, enthusiast camera makes these systems impossible to ignore.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

White lights and window boxes: A warm holiday welcome

Combining white lights with window boxes creates a warm welcome during the holidays and throughout the year.

Simple Christmas decor is natural choice for front garden

There are no guarantees in life, but if it’s a White Christmas you’re dreaming of, adding the right lights will help bring the magic to your landscape during the holiday season and throughout the year.

Forget those bright LED red and green lights. And those new electric-blue LEDs, just don’t work in naturalized gardens.

If you are looking for tasteful lighting that welcomes guests during the holiday season, warm white lights work like a charm, especially in window boxes and other containers. An added bonus is that the window boxes with white lights look as good in the middle of summer as they do in winter.

In fact, we have solar-powered fairy lights on trellises in the back yard all summer. The inexpensive lights provide a romantic glow to the entrance of our back garden and welcome visitors.

Window boxes decorated with Holiday decor complete with white lights add a warm welcome to the natural garden.

Our Mayne window boxes decorated with Holiday decor complete with white lights add a warm welcome to the natural garden.

We use the warm white lights across the front of our home to add a festive yet classic look.

It starts with our two Mayne Fairfield window boxes decorated with white lights and holiday decor. The window boxes are plastic, self-watering and very well made. We added the decorative brackets as well. These solidly-built, Mayne boxes are available in several sizes in both black and white.

The look continues with our indoor tree (also in white lights) in our large picture window. Finally, the front door includes a lighted wreath flanked by two small, yet simple Christmas trees with white lights. All three are controlled by battery-operated timers making them a convenient option for the entire holiday season.

The only addition is a set of three “presents” decorated with red ribbon and white lights.

The understated decor works well in a naturalized woodland garden.

This look can begin on the exterior of the home and be easily carried into the interior with understated decor.

A Christmas tree adorned with white lights welcome visitors.

Cedar boughs covered in white fairy lights, like this example from McGee and Co., provide a perfect transition from outdoors to the interior. The greenery can be used around a doorway or on a interior or exterior railing.

By removing the obvious holiday decorations, the lights are subtle enough to leave out all winter. Certainly, they can stay out over the winter when a dusting of snow adds a magical quality to the light.

Inside the home, a natural style can be used well past the Holiday season. These contemporary wicker trees, for example, could be decorated with white lights for the holidays, and left natural for the remainder of the year.

These Mayne window boxes add a festive mood and a warm welcome to the front garden.

These Mayne window boxes add a festive mood and a warm welcome to the front garden.

Window boxes provide a classic Holiday look

One of my favourite combinations for Christmas – that lasts right through into spring – is our front Mayne Fairfield 3-ft window boxes filled with winter greens, holiday decorations and, of course, the small warm white lights.

A simple timer automatically turns the lights on and off after a chosen amount of time. The effect creates a classic holiday feeling both on the exterior of the home as well as inside the house looking out.

If window boxes are something you think you might be interested in, check out my earlier post on planting window boxes on a budget

A dusting of snow on the greenery turns the window boxes into magical wintery scenes.

Window boxes are a great addition to your home at any time of the year, but they really seem to come into their own around the holiday season where they can extend your Christmas decorating theme to a whole new level.

Small white lights in the Mayne Fairfield window boxes add a festive, but classic, look to the front garden.

Small white lights in the Mayne Fairfield window boxes add a festive, but classic, look to the front garden.

We use the small twinkle lights in both window boxes, but technology has made the possibilities endless. You could place one or a group of flickering candles in the window boxes that turn on and off automatically. Tuck a grouping of lighted Christmas balls into the window boxes as an elegant thriller almost like a birdsnest.

Front door and landing offers more decorating possibilities

Our white-light theme is extended across the front of our ranch-style home and welcomes visitors with a battery-operated wreath on the front door flanked by two simple Christmas trees that are also on their own timers.

If you really want to add an interesting touch to your front decor, consider turning your porch lights into gas lanterns with these LED lights bulbs that create the illusion of soft, flickering, gas flames.

The effect is simple with an understated elegance.

Red ribbons add a touch of colour to all the greenery and simple decoration.

A window into your woodland

Our full-size Christmas tree, also adorned with white lights, sits in the large picture window over looking the front garden and completing the holiday look.

The simple aesthetics may not be for everyone, but keeping holiday decorating to soft, warm white light helps unify the look and creates a tasteful, yet warm welcome to the woodland garden.


Light pollution and wildlife

Although most wildlife is tucked away for the winter in underground burrows, we should always remember that too much light can create severe problems for some wildlife. Lighting up your landscape can cause some animals and birds to change their natural movements and their feeding habits. For some, the lights may attract prey making it easier for predators, but at the same time creating an unfavourable situation for prey animals.

Extremely bright lights, such as spotlights and other high intensity lights are simply unnecessary in a natural garden. Try to keep this in mind when designing your outdoor holiday decorating plan.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Iphone camera captures Woodland garden in stunning fall colours

The iphone 12 pro max features a 12MP camera and three lenses that give the photographer an opportunity to experiment with a range of techniques. The results are impressive for a smartphone.

Take advantage of ideal conditions to capture your front and back gardens

Can modern cameras on the iphone or other smart phones capture the subtle details of fall colours in the garden?

If a recent morning outing in the garden with nothing but my iphone is any indication of the performance of the three camera lenses on the apple iphone, I think the answer is a resounding yes. The images captured on the apple iphone 12 pro max turned out beautifully on an early morning with a lovely fog hanging in the air and wet leaves either still clinging to the trees or turning the ground into a magnificent carpet of colour.

The colours produced by the apple iphone are subtle and delicate where they cut through the fog and vibrant when the camera was turned on the crimson red of the fallen Japanese Maple leaves. Little to no post processing was needed to get these results.

Online photoshop, Lightroom and Photography Training KelbyOne

Quite frankly, I was astonished just how good the images came out with little to no effort on my part. Thanks to the shake resistance capabilities built into the iphone camera, I was able to take all of these images handheld without the need of a tripod. If there is any criticism, it would be that the images are too sharp and take on a digital look, especially if the images are cropped.

Iphone 12 pro max image of woodland garden in fog

This image of the woodland garden in fall was taken with the iphone 12 pro max.

Would a real camera (either a DSLR or high-end compact point and shoot) have captured better images? Maybe – well, probably yes – but I had my new iphone handy and it comes with three lenses – an extreme wide angle, a standard, and a portrait lens – so I was confident I could capture everything I needed with the iphone. Besides, I decided I needed to put the smartphone camera to the test to know that I could trust it if I ever really needed it to capture an important image. From what I had already seen, I was confident it could get the job done.

And boy, was I right.

Japanese maple taken with iphone 12 pro max

This Japanese Maple was photographed with the iphone 12 pro max.


Maybe it was the outstanding conditions with the early morning fog and wet leaves that helped bring out the beauty in the scenes, but the ease and convenience of using the lenses on the iphone meant I could move quickly to capture the scenes before the light changed.

For more images taken on the apple iphone 12 pro max, go to my Gallery of Images and click on the image at the bottom.

A closeup of Cornus Kousa leaves in their full fall colour

These Cornus Kousa leaves taking on their fall cloakes show the impressive colour and details the iphone 12 pro max is capable of producing.

With a press of the icon on the phone I could easily go from extreme wide angle to normal. And, by tapping into the normal lens’s zoom range, it was simple to move in closer when necessary.

Paperbark Maple changing into fall colours.

This Paperbark Maple is just beginning to show its fall colour in the woodland garden.

Five tips to get the most out of your iphone camera and lenses

  1. Experiment. Don’t be afraid to use all three lenses to get different views of the same or similiar scenes. You can always edit them later and pick your favourites to put up on social media.

  2. Move in close to flowers, insects or colourful leaves to tell a more complete story about your garden at that moment. The iphone’s close focusing capabilities are excellent and the optical shake reduction system will help you get sharphand held images.

  3. Try different angles. Holding the iphone up above your subject and shooting down on it, or getting low and shooting up will give you different perspective of similar scenes. Try to hold the camera straight (not pointing at odd angles) to keep the proper perspective in the images.

  4. In portrait mode there are a number of different lighting effects that you could try to add more drama to your images whether they are an actual portrait or a garden scene.

  5. The iphone is a very smart piece of technology that uses artificial intelligence to create the type of images it thinks will look best. Experiment with the tools, especially the touch screen focusing and exposure adjustments that are available. Focus specifically in an area you want the camera to focus on by touching the screen. A square will appear to tell you that is where the camera is focused. At that time you can also adjust the exposure by moving the small sun icon up for a lighter image and down to darken it.

Fall colours in front garden taken with iphone 12 pro max

The leaves of the Japanese Maple Bloodgood provide an elegant but vibrant groundcover in this Japanese-inspired garden.

iphone 12 pro max camera specifications

I would prefer not get into the fine details of the iphone’s specifications, since there are a number of technical sites that focus on such details. However, some basic information might help readers better understand the camera’s capabilities.

The iphone pro max has three lenses on the back of phone. While looking at the phone, the user sees three settings – 0.5 (representative of a 13mm f/2.4 lens in 35mm lingo), 1X (26mm f/1.6 in 35mm equivalency) and 2.5X (65mm f/2.2 equivalent in 35mm). The iPhone Pro Max features a 5x optical zoom range and a much larger digital zoom up to 12x. Using the digital zoom at its extreme will likely leave you with images that will be unsatisfactory in most instances.

For more on the apple iphone line including comparisons between the various models’ camera features, go to the apple iphone site.

A light fog combines with fall colours in this woodland garden image photographed with an iphone 12 pro max

What’s left of the fern garden with a Cornus Kousa still in leaf. The texture of the spent ferns in the woodland garden actually creates a lovely scene in itself.

Although at the time of writing this post, the iphone 12 pro max is by no means the latest iteration of Apple’s iphone line – that would be the iphone 14 Pro. That iphone comes with the latest Pro camera system sporting a 48MP camera sensor with ultra wide and telephoto lenses, something they call a Photonic Engine for incredible detail and True Depth colour. The iphone14 is a step up from the dual-camera 12MP camera system in the iphone 13, but not that much of a leap from the iphone 12 pro max that I am now using.

Back of iphone 12 pro max

The back of the iphoto 12 pro max includes from the left the 2.5X telephoto lens, the flash (white lens on right), 0.5X lens (directly below flash), 1X lens (lower left) and LIDAR bottom right. The LIDAR is used for Face ID and depth mapping.

Both the iphone 14 and the 12 pro max offer the three camera lens system but the 14 boasts a massive 48MP sensor while the 12 pro max comes in with a 12MP sensor. The 14 has a 6X optical zoom range, while the older iphone 12 model has a 5X optical zoom range. Both have 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display screens.

Japanese Jinsus among the fall leaves and Fish In The Garden

So, unless you are planning to create poster-size images of your photographs, or need to seriously crop your images to get in closer to your subjects, there really is not a huge difference between the latest iphone and my trusty iphone 12 pro max. The larger sensor would also improve noise in the image, especially in the evening when the light is low.

In garden photography, there would be little need to want to upgrade to the newer iphone and camera unless you are using it to photograph birds or small mammals. Images taken from afar with the iphone 14 could take a much more severe crop to get in close to the subject (a bird for instance) than the smaller sensor on the iphone 12 would allow. In that case, however, it’s probably wise to use a dedicated camera and telephoto lens.

A slight mist or fog is the ideal time for garden photography

There is no question that the soft fog and misty conditions created the ideal atmosphere to show off the capabilities of the iphone 12 pro max. In bright sunny conditions, the images would not have anywhere near the impact that the right atmospheric conditions can bring to a scene.

Using these opportunities to get out in the garden can make a huge difference to your photographic success. The annoying backgrounds are either softened or disappear completely in the fog. The colours are muted and the tree trunks take on the look of dark skeletons against the white background of the sky. The lighting is even and even the darkest areas of the garden benefit from the soft light in the scenes.

When the fog rolls in, it can be a magical time.

Even if you are busy or need to get out the door to get to work, try to take a moment to grab a camera, or your cell phone, and capture your garden in its best light. You won’t get many of these special opportunities – especially in fall when the colours are at their peak – so don’t miss the opportunity.

For more on the apple iphone line including comparisons between the various models’ camera features, go to the apple iphone site.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Pentax Q review: Why you need one in 2022

Just how small is the Pentax Q? This image of the camera being dwarfed by a chipmunk is a good indication of the size of the camera.

Fun camera for garden and wildlife photography

The Pentax Q might be tiny, but it takes a back seat to no camera in its class.

This full-featured miniature camera, first released in 2011, boasts a very nice interchangeable lens system ranging from a fisheye all the way up to the 35mm equivalent of a 70-200 f2.8 telephoto zoom lens. Even the 70-200 fits in the palm of your hand, but has the telephoto pull to capture wildlife in the garden.

The entire system fits into a tiny package.

If that’s not enough, these cameras come complete with a set of features, filters and shooting modes any full-sized DSLR or mirrorless camera would be proud to boast about. Add surprisingly good ergonomics for a miniature camera that was originally advertised as looking completely at home on the end of a keychain.

Sounds weird right? Maybe, but keep reading to find out how this camera went from a weird distraction in 2011 to the coolest camera in the years that followed.

For more images taken with the Pentax Q, check out my Pentax Q photo gallery.

Image shows how small the Pentax Q is beside this tiny chipmunk.

Image shows how small the Pentax Q is beside this tiny chipmunk.

What more can you ask for with the Pentax Q?

How about a system so small that you can fit two Q camera bodies, at least three lenses ranging from wide angle to a 70-250 f2.8 telephoto, filters and even a Fuji X10 and Lumix point-and shoot camera in a Lowepro camera bag meant to handle a single DSLR camera body and a small wide angle zoom.

Forget the camera bag, a Pentax Q complete with the 70-250mm f2.8 lens equivalent will slip into a coat pocket or a woman’s purse. Heck, throw in the 50mm equivalent fast F1.7 prime and a miniature wide angle or fisheye lens into the purse or coat pocket too – there’s still plenty of room.

Pentax Q combined with the 28mm TTArtisan optical viewfinder is an exquisite combination.

The Pentax Q combined with the exquisite TTArtisan optical viewfinder is the perfect combination. For more on the TTArtisan viewfinder, check out my full story here

TTArtisan optical finder is the perfect accessory

If the lack of viewfinder on the Pentax Q is a little annoying, the TTArtisan optical viewfinder is an exquisite accessory that not only adds utility to the camera system but also makes the setup look awesome taking it to a whole new coolness factor. For my complete review of the TTArtisan 28mm finder, check out my comprehensive review here.

Click on the link for my comparison post between the two viewfinders pictured below.

Two external optonal viewfinders on the Pentax Qs. The viewfinder on the left is the TTArtisan 28mm finder and the one on the right is the tiny Lichifit 28mm finder. Both have their place on the Pentax Q line of cameras.

Two external optonal viewfinders on the Pentax Qs. The viewfinder on the left is the TTArtisan 28mm finder and the one on the right is the tiny Lichifit 28mm finder. Both have their place on the Pentax Q line of cameras. Click here for my post comparing the two viewfinders.

And what about the photographic results?

Well, I think the results here speak for them self. I took the Pentax Q and three lenses out for an afternoon of fall photography and came away with more than a few keepers.

Image taken with the Pentax Q of an old home set among the fall colours.

Image taken with the Pentax Q of an old home set among the fall colours.

Fall colours in a wetlands taken with the Pentax Q.

Fall colours in a wetlands taken with the Pentax Q.

Fall leaves ablaze in vibrant colour.

Fall leaves ablaze in vibrant colour.

Are these fall images of high enough quality that you would want to supersize into posters or murals, or use for professional work with a client? Probably not.

But, for everyday use with the end result of making prints in the 4X6 to 11X14-inch range, or – more likely these days – posting on social media accounts or on web sites – these images can stand up to the scrutiny. They are sharp, contrasty with great colour even at moderately higher ISO settings.

Maybe it’s the fine Pentax lenses or the fact that Pentax took the bold decision to remove the anti-aliasing filter from in front of the sensor that resulted in this sharpness, but whether you are viewing jpegs right out of the camera or Pentax’s RAW images, after a little post-processing, there’s no short changing the results here.

A view from Hamilton Mountain over the city during fall with the Pentax Q.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The sensors on these cameras are tiny.

Tiny sensors but great results

In fact, the original Q’s sensor was a back-illuminated CMOS, 1/2.3” (6.17 x 4.55 mm). The Q7, introduced later in June 2013, uses a larger 1/1.7” type sensor (7.44 x 5.58 mm). Both fell into the point-and-shoot-sized sensor and many critics in those days simply wrote the camera off as nothing but a toy.

Heck, even some of the lenses were called “toy” lenses. Probably not a great marketing decision by Pentax at the time.

The colour extraction filter (set to purple) helps to isolate this salvia flower petal against the grey leaves. The Pentax Q allows you to choose from a host of colours to isolate in your image. You can even choose to isolate two separate colours.

The colour extraction filter (set to purple) helps to isolate this salvia flower petal against the grey leaves. The Pentax Q allows you to choose from a host of colours to isolate in your image. You can even choose to isolate two separate colours.

Pentax Q boasts big features in a tiny package

There isn’t time to get into all the features packed into these tiny cameras. Besides, I’m not really big on all the gimmicks camera manufacturers pack into their cameras to convince buyers they have to buy the camera. But, there is no denying that the features in this camera would be welcome in some of the more expensive DSLRs offered at the time.


It sports a 12.3mp sensor, it’s own dust removal system, ISO settings from 125 - 6400 and a sensor shift shake reduction system to help users get sharp images even in low light. Some of the lenses even have built-in neutral density filters.

Grasses in snow

This is an extreme crop of at least 50 per cent with the Q 06 lens. I think the image stands up well despite the crop on the small sensor.

How about HDR, a built-in intervalometer, creative “bokeh” blur settings, single and multiple colour extraction filters, and highly adjustable B&W capabilities to name just a few. It shoots RAW, has fully manual settings and for Pentax lovers the green button will bring you back to normal exposure no matter how far off you may have wandered.

ch tree and grasses in snow with Pentax Q 06 lens

Another image taken with the Pentax Q and the 06 lens with a minimal crop.

Are you thinking these cameras might make for a nice street photography package? I took the Pentax Q with the 01 Prime lens (47mm equivalent) to an emergency animal hospital, while I waited for my dog, Holly, to get her new pacemaker checked by the cardiologist. (Yes you read that right).

This is a great choice for a thumb grip that works well on the Pentax Q. It does not block the dial and your thumb clears the LCD so it does not block your view.

Here is a gallery of results of that one-hour wait at the Emergency Animal Hospital shot in a photojournalistic style with the camera’s B&W mode.

Five reasons to buy a Pentax Q in 2022

  • Even in 2022 it remains among the smallest and most competent mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses.

  • They are now very inexpensive on the used market. If possible, buy an entire package including several lenses to get the best bang for your money.

  • You are already sitting on some great Pentax or other manufacturer’s (Olympus, Canon, Nikon) vintage 35mm lenses and all you would need to use them on the Q is an inexpensive adapter.

  • You love small, exquisitely built cameras and lenses and don’t care about mega sensors.

  • You love the idea of turning your 50mm macro into a 250mm macro or the 100mm f2.8 portrait lens into a 500mm super zoom for about $35.

new England Asters taken with the Pentax Q's blur mode that allows you to control bokeh in the images.

New England Asters taken with the Pentax Q's blur mode that allows you to control bokeh in the images.

Even the pop-up flash is cute, cool and quite useful.

Lot’s of fun, creative and artistic stuff here to keep even the most bored photographers, inspired.

Did I mention the fully customizeable creative wheel thingy in the front of the camera to control favourite creative settings fast and conveniently. Yea, there’s that too.

(I’ll put a link at the bottom of this post from Pentax Forums for anyone who wants to get into the fine details of the camera system.)

This image of native New England asters and grasses shows the detail that the Pentax Q is able to achieve.

This image of native New England asters and grasses shows the detail that the Pentax Q is able to achieve.

How long was the Pentax Q manufactured?

Over the years this miniature camera system, that had a relatively short life span ranging from the original Q’s introduction in 2011 to after the release of the Q-S1 in 2014, gained a cult-like following.

Red Squirrel taken with Pentax Q and 06 telephoto lens shot at f2.8 wide open.

This Red Squirrel was photographed with the Pentax Q and the 06 telephoto lens wide open at F2.8. The lens can deliver soft backgrounds if the subject is far enough away from the background.

Eight Pentax Q lenses deliver top quality results

Pentax introduced a total of 8 miniaturized lenses beginning with the excellent 01 standard Prime with a focal length of 8.5 mm (47mm equivalent for the Q, Q10, and 39mm for the Q7, Q-S1 with the larger sensors.) More lenses followed: 02 standard zoom (27-80 range equivalency, 23-69mm), 03 Fisheye (17.5mm, 16.5mm), 04 Toy wide angle lens ( 35mm, 33mm), 05 Toy lens (100mm, 94mm), 06 Telephoto zoom (83-249mm, 69-207mm), 07 Shield mount lens (63mm, 53mm) and finally the 08 Wide Zoom (21-32mm, 17.5-27mm).

The final lens, the 08 wide angle, was a quality-built lens but extremely expensive. It still remains a highly sought after lens with a big price tag even on the used market, if you can find one.

Blue Jay photographed with the Pentax Q and the 06 telephoto zoom, which is approximately  70-250mm in 35mm equivalence.

Blue Jay photographed with the Pentax Q and the 06 telephoto zoom, which is approximately 70-250mm in 35mm equivalence.

What happened to the Pentax Q cameras and lenses?

Was the Pentax Q system made of simply inferior products meant for the trash heap almost from the day it was announced?

Far from it.

In true Pentax style, these cameras were not only ahead of their time, but engineered to the finest Japanese craftmanship. The result was a hefty price tag (about $700 plus with a basic lens), one that most serious amateur photographers – who they were originally aimed at – just weren’t ready to spend for such a small-sensored camera. That initial cost would rise as you add other lenses to make the system more complete.

In those days, not unlike today, the size of the sensor meant everything. This was before social media took off so photographers were more focused on obtaining the highest resolution images possible.

Fast forward to today when 95 per cent of all digital images never get past Instagram, Facebook and Vero, where the size of the original image plays only a small part in the camera-buying decision.

Our cell phones are just one example of how the size of sensors mean less and less to the end user. Convenience and the coolness factor are far superior to size these days.

The Pentax Q colour extraction filter can pull out colours out of an otherwise B&W image. Here, I pulled out red and purple.

The Pentax Q colour extraction filter can pull out colours out of an otherwise B&W image. Here, I pulled out red and purple.

Where can you buy the Pentax Q?

One quick look on and you’ll find your share of Pentax Q cameras and lenses. Most are from Japan where the Pentax Q has always been a very popular camera. The difference is that on today’s used market, you can pick up the camera and a couple of lenses for a fraction of what you would have paid back when they were available in stores.

In fact, when I purchased my Fujifilm X10 back in 2011, the Pentax Q had just been released. The owner of the camera store urged me to get the Pentax over the Fuji. I loved the little Pentax camera but could not justify the cost of the system. The Pentax Q cost as much as the Fuji but the X10 came complete with the excellent 28-112mm equivalent built-in lens. By the time you added a few of the Pentax Q lenses, you were into a large financial investment and one I was not willing to make at the time.

I suspect, I wasn’t alone.

Today that close to $1,000 investment can be had for maybe $200 for a camera and a couple of lenses. I was able to purchase an Original Pentax Q and standard O2 lens on Kijiji for $60 Cdn. – a real sweet deal. And Ebay is full of great deals – maybe not quite that good but still very reasonable.

But that is just the beginning.

The Pentax Q shown here with the Q to Pantax K adapter and a 50mm f2,8 macro lens which becomes a 250mm macro lens with the 5.6 crop factor of the Q's tiny sensor.

The Pentax Q shown here with the Q to Pantax K adapter and a 50mm f2,8 macro lens which becomes a 250mm macro lens with the 5.6 crop factor of the Q's tiny sensor.

Adapters make the Pentax Q cool in 2022

A lot has changed since Pentax first introduced their miniaturized mirrorless little gem.

If it was great then, new, inexpensive adapters have turned the Pentax Q into one of the coolest little mirrorless cameras on the market.

In 2012 Pentax announced the Adapter Q for K-mount lenses with a 5.6X crop factor. This little device changed everything, but it took time for other manufacturers like Fotodiox and K&F (amazon link to list of adapters) to follow and change the world of Pentax Q owners.

The 50mm f2.8 macro lens on the Pentax Q making it a 250mm with the crop factor.

The 50mm f2.8 macro lens on the Pentax Q making it a 250mm with the crop factor.

The small sensors and the fact it is a mirrorless camera makes adapting vintage – even ancient lenses – to the camera simple and inexpensive.

There are adapters to mount classic Pentax, Olympus, Nikon and Canon 35mm lenses to the Pentax Q. But it doesn’t stop there. There is an inexpensive adapter for Pentax’s venerable classic 110 camera with its interchangeable lenses. These sweet little miniature lenses will fit the Pentax Q now too.

This image shows how much magnification the 50mm macro can achieve on the Pentax Q.

This image shows how much magnification the 50mm macro can achieve on the Pentax Q. And, just look at that lovely background. Not bad for a tiny-sensored camera.

Oh, and did I mention those ancient miniature D-mount lenses from your dad’s or grandfather’s 8mm cinema camera. Yep, they have an adapter too. Cost me $3 for the adapter and I have four d-mount lenses I found attached to old 8mm cameras I had been using as paperweights that I can now attach to the the Q and explore the world around me.

I will be doing separate posts looking at these lenses as well as breakdowns of some of the Q-mount lenses.

And, if you are looking for cinematic quality in your images, what better than a lens from the 1930s-40s to create the mood.

Oh, and did I mention C-mount cinema lenses…

You get the idea.

A $30 adapter and a couple of my classic Pentax K and Ka lenses together with the Pentax Q turns the system into one that we could only dream of a few years ago.

The crop factor is about 5.5X which means normal lenses become telephoto equivalents and telephoto lenses become super telephotos.

Let’s do some quick math.

My older 50mm f2.8 macro becomes a 250mm f2.8 macro lens. My 100mm F4 becomes the equivalent of a 500mm macro. My 40mm pancake becomes a 200mm pancake lens. My 300mm F4.5 A* becomes a 1500mm F4.5 telephoto. My old 75-150mm zoom becomes a 375mm to 750mm zoom.

Just imagine the possibilities.

I remember always wanting the A* 200mm macro lens in its day, but it was the price of a small used car. Today, I can mount a 50mm F2.8 A manual focus macro lens on the Q and get a 250mm macro F2.8 equivalent lens. It’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven.

I’ve included a few example images above of of the Pentax 5omm in action just to get readers thinking about the possibilities. Notice the beautiful soft background the lens was able to achieve even on a point-and-shoot-sized sensor.

Stay tuned for future posts on the Pentax Q where I’ll provide more specific insight and examples of what can be done with these ancient lenses.

If you are into fine details (and after you finished reading this complete post, of course) check out this post at Pentax Forums. It’s all here in fine detail.)

Hummingbird and salvia shot with Pentax Q and 06 telephoto zoom.

Hummingbird and salvia shot with Pentax Q and 06 telephoto zoom.

Is the Pentax Q worth buying in 2022: Pros and Cons

Is the Q worth it in 2022?


Is it the only camera you should pack in your arsenal?

Probably not.

Is it capable of getting great images for social media like Instagram, Vero, Facebook etc?


But the Pentax Q is far from perfect. It’s certainly beginning to show its age when it comes to focusing and where it lacks the latest technology. Trying to see the back LCD screen in bright light is near impossible and, although using the classic 35mm-style lenses with at adapter is super fun and cool, don’t be surprised if you struggle nailing the focus.

Yes, the Q has focus peaking and magnification factors to help with focus, but if you struggle to be able to even see the back LCD, you are not going to have an easy time focusing.

There is no built-in LVF (fiewfinder) to help frame the image. Well, I should not say there is no viewfinder. There is an optional viewfinder that works with the 01 Prime lens, but it’s expensive and not really all that great, according to users. It does look cool on the camera, however, giving it a real rangefinder look.

Bee on salvia taken with Pentax Q and vintage 50mm macro

Bee on salvia taken with Pentax Q and vintage 50mm macro.

There are more issues with the camera and lens system that some users may think are worth noting, but with the price of these sweet, miniature cameras coming down as much as they have, it’s too easy to overlook the minor problems and just enjoy the camera and all it has to offer.

For a fraction of the price of a new smartphone, you can walk into a party with your Q and turn some heads.

At the same time, take it out on the street and you can virtually go unnoticed with this tiny camera.

Slip it in your purse or pocket and you’re ready to go anywhere. Even out in the garden for a morning of shooting. Heck, these Pentax Qs even have a macro feature on them for capturing our favourite flowers, bees and butterflies.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Karen Hutton: Exploring the world of macro/close-up photography

Karen Hutton’s creative approach to macro photography takes out the technical details that turn many new photographers away from exploring close-up photography. Her approach is perfect for garden photographers looking to create beautiful images.

Karen Hutton photographer

Karen Hutton likes to use macro and close-up photography to tell a story.

KelbyOne course takes creative approach to macro photography

It doesn’t take long to see that Karen Hutton’s high-energy personality is contagious.

Her YouTube videos are a dead giveaway of her energetic approach to photography and life. And, it’s this high-energy approach to travel and landscape photography that has made her a popular speaker, educator and voice for photography.

She is a Professional Fujifilm-X Photographer, living in California where she spreads her love for her chosen profession to anyone who will listen.

Click on the link if you want more on KelbyOne on-line photographic courses.

Lady bugs and aphids on Milkweed.

Lady bugs and aphids on Milkweed plants.

“I believe in discernment, truth, wisdom, strong artistic choices, love and the power of uplifting others,” she writes on her impressive website. “I believe that art is love made visible.”

Karen also believes in simplicity. When asked by Ferns & Feathers how her course would benefit someone who is inexperienced in the world of macro, she is quick to explain that her goal is to take the complexity out of macro photography. “It’s creative and meditative” she explains adding that

“It approaches macro in a less technical way, and more as: A way of seeing + thinking,” she explains. It’s “a way of telling stories; a way of being and of well-being; a way to understand beyond ourselves. Thus, (the course is) more an exploration that anyone can enjoy.” Karen explains.

The course breaks down the stages of storytelling (like a filmmaker does) in a simple way that any photographer can use to shape their images in a more meaningful way. As a for instance, by finding relationships, then using the light to paint, bathe and wash your characters with it in interesting ways to create an emotional impact, you tell an interesting story with your images.
— Karen Hutton

Readers who don’t have an expensive camera and maybe count on their cell phone or a simple point-and-shoot compact camera are not left out from enjoying the macro experience.

“The course is built for anyone, regardless of the type of camera they have. It’s about a way of sensing, thinking and seeing… which is a different kind of approach and welcomes any kind of gear,” Karen explains, when asked about gardeners who like to take pictures with their smartphones or compact cameras.

Online photoshop, Lightroom and Photography Training KelbyOne

Karen emphasizes the importance of telling the story of the hidden beauty of our gardens.

We how the beauty of our gardens by “telling (showing) the great stories found within the garden. Stories about what you love, how the various elements interact with one another – and finding meaning in all of it.”

If you want to experience some of Karen’s macro photography, take 5 minutes to watch her video in collaboration with Fujifilm on the Great American Road Trip. In this video she uses the road trip to explore the details found along the route.

Karen Hutton

It’s not hard to fall in love with her approach and her work. Whether it’s capturing the spirit of the Sierra Nevada mountains of her California home, intimate details of her travels to France and Italy, or capturing beautiful light of St. Thomas on the Hill in the Upper Sava Valley of Slovenia.

“A lifetime of chasing – and creating with – light began when I was 8 or 9,” she writes. “I had a vision about the transformational power of light, which ignited a sense of purpose that leads me to this day.”

Her outstanding images, humour and genuinely positive outlook, are inspirational to those looking to discover their artistic voices in photography.

KelbyOne. Get better at landscape photography.

Macro photography in our gardens can be extremely rewarding. For more on shooting close-up images in our gardens, be sure to check out my comprehensive post on macro/close-up photography. I have also done a separate post here on flower photography.

But how does all this high energy translate into macro photography?

After all, The world of close-up photography demands the maker slow down, study the world in minute detail and find intimate compositions that can be almost invisible to the naked eye.

In one of her many videos, Karen talks about the importance of discovering the natural world and the smaller details that are so easily overlooked.

“There is so much beauty that fills our world.” Karen explains. “And it comes at every shape and scale and texture. I am awestruck by amazing vistas and cityscapes, but as a citizen of the earth, I want to look, I want to appreciate the smallest components as well as the grand design.”

Karen Hutton image from her video on Macro photography.

Karen Hutton’s on-line course turns the focus on creative macro photography.

Review: Karen Hutton’s hour-long macro/close-up photography course

I was fortunate enough to have taken Karen’s one-hour photography course on macro and close-up photography.

After viewing the on-line course on my laptop in the comfort of my home, I can say without a doubt that this course is aimed at people looking to experience the world of close-up photography in a creative rather than a highly technical approach.

It is not aimed at a master of macro photography. That’s not to say there is nothing for the experienced macro photographer to take away from the on-line course, Karen incorporates plenty of excellent tips and approaches to macro and close-up photography for even the most experienced photographers.

The course is, however, aimed at photographers looking to expand their creative horizons and experiment in a world they may never have explored to any great degree in the past.Technical explanations are kept to a minimum, there are no complex descriptions of using flash, and even discussions around lenses are kept to a minimum.

For those of us who are more gardeners than photographers, I think this course is the perfect introduction to macro and close-up photography.

It will challenge you to look at, and approach, your garden and photography in a new more creative way. Karen’s whole approach is to see macro photography as one part of a larger story that begins with seeing the subject in a wider context before moving in on the more intimate details.

It’s the ideal vision for our woodland/wildlife garden approach. Although the single flower is beautiful in itself, it is really just one part of the larger concept that makes up our woodland gardens. The native trilliums in our gardens, for example, depend on the tree canopy for their survival. The tree canopy, therefore, is part of the the trilliums’ and other spring ephemerals larger story and should be included in our story as we explore the details of our trilliums.

It’s an approach that tells a more creative and complete story, as we move in closer and closer to our subjects.

It’s storytelling in a very intimate way.

She refuses to get hung-up on the true definition of macro and, instead, shows how “close-up” photography can be captured with everything from a point-and-shoot camera, to a telephoto lens or a simple zoom lens with a macro feature. Most of us have at least one of these tools in our camera bag.

Karen begins the course by showing students how they can tell a story by moving from a distant view of their subjects through to the middle, medium and finally the more intimate macro or close-up views.

KelbyOne. Take better photos of your children.

Along the way she uses images to illustrate her story-telling approach to close-up photography.

She touches on the importance of light, explaining the varying emotions that different light can evoke in an image.

She talks about exploring macro at home using everything from kitchen utensils and garden produce to backyard flowers.

Finally, she explores design and movement in close-up images, and wraps it up with the importance of capturing natural patterns in nature.

Macro on-line course is both inspirational as well as informative

In conclusion, Karen’s creative approach to teaching macro photography makes it more accessible to all of us. It inspires us to think about why we are trying to capture an image; why we even want to capture the image, and how we can best illustrate the intimacy of that moment.

Karen’s approach of using macro photography as a means to tell the complete story of our gardens is an approach that inspires us to look deep into what makes our gardens special.

“The course breaks down the stages of storytelling (like a filmmaker does) in a simple way that any photographer can use to shape their images in a more meaningful way. As a for instance, by finding relationships, then using the light to paint, bathe and wash your characters with it in interesting ways to create an emotional impact, you tell an interesting story with your images.”

If you are looking for technical expertise on lenses, lighting and how to obtain 1:1 images of your favourite flower, I suggest you may want to look elsewhere. But if you are looking to be inspired to take your close-up and macro photography to another level, Karen’s course might be the spark that ignites a whole new world of photography.

Karen’s courses are available at KelbyOne, The Ultimate source for Photography Education on the web.

What is the KelbyOne on-line photography program?

Before I explain the KelbyOne on-line photography program, let’s take a look at the founder of the program, Scott Kelby. I was introduced to his work many years ago when I purchased one of his incredibly informative Photoshop books from my local Costco. Since then, he has gone on to write a plethora of books and articles on everything from Lightroom and Photoshop to getting the most out of your iphone camera.

Scott is the brains behind KelbyOne, the extensive on-line photography educational program boasting more than 100 of the world’s best and most entertaining photographers sharing their knowledge and expertise with the photographic community and anyone looking to expand their knowledge about their hobby or their chosen profession. It’s all online and can be accessed from your computer, tablet or even from your phone. There is no need to leave the comfort of your home to gain a wealth of knowledge.

Courses on everything from travel photography, to portraiture, to creative landscapes and Black & White photography are just a few of the more than 900 on-line courses available.

Students can purchase courses individually for as low as $9.95 or by monthly subscriptions for less than $20.00. There is also a yearly membership for those looking for the ultimate learning experience. The courses offer something for everyone whether your are a beginner, hobby photographer, or a seasoned professional.

“Our goal here is to make learning something that you look forward to. This way you, our community of photographers, can move past the hurdles and bring to life the images that are stuck inside of you. We feel like the content has to be fun, cinematic, and inspiring, and taught by the most personable and experienced photographers in the industry,” states the KelbyOne site.

Read More
Vic MacBournie Vic MacBournie

Get the most out of your compact camera: Ten tips to better photos

Getting the most out of your compact camera involves getting acquainted with the camera’s features, many of which can be hidden in menus.

Beginners should focus on scene modes for best results

Getting the most out of your compact camera is the first step to creating your best photographic images.

Hidden in the depths of many compact cameras are a host of creative filters, scene modes and special effects that most photographers either never explore in any meaningful way, or don’t even know their little camera offers these capabilities. Beginning photographers will benefit from learning how to take advantage of these filters and scene modes to get the most out of the camera.

Reconsider leaving your camera on automatic and explore the scene modes to maximize your results.

For more on Photographing your garden, be sure to check out my comprehensive post on Flower Photography in your Garden.

In this image, I used a in-camera filter available in most digital cameras that takes a B&W photo of the image but lets the user choose a colour or two colours that are displayed. In this case, the dark purple salvia flower was highlighted.


The best advice I can give is to:

  • Place your camera manual on the table beside your favourite couch and read it – several times. If it’s a digital manual, download it to your computer and keep your computer nearby. Keep it handy for the first two or three months until you believe you know every part of the camera and its features. (I like to flip through the manual while watching television.)

  • Leave the camera in the same spot beside the couch. Pick it up regularly and go through the menus learning the features and how to quickly access them.

  • Now go out regularly with the intent of using these features, filters and scene modes. Get comfortable with them to the point that you can access them quickly and efficiently even if they are buried deep in the menus.

  • Don’t believe what you read that you have to use manual modes like aperture and shutter priority. There is a time to use these modes, but often the scene modes will serve you better, especially if you understand what is happening to your camera when you use these specialized modes. Many camera manuals will actually provide a brief explanation of what settings are used on the camera in the various modes.

Learn Photography from the World's Best Instructors.

The macro mode in the Fujifilm X10 was used to capture this image of the forest floor. Photographing images like this is a great way to experiment with using the various features and modes in the camera.

Eleven tips to improved photography with compact cameras

  1. Know your compact camera and how to quickly access menus and features.

  2. Keep the ISO as low as possible. You are dealing with a small sensor that will get noisy (grainy) quickly in high-ISO settings

  3. Use in-camera stabilization to help keep ISO levels low and images sharp.

  4. Treat the camera like a DSLR and put it on a tripod if you are shooting landscapes to get the sharpest images possible with low ISO and a high aperture. Use the self-timer feature to set the shutter without touching the camera.

  5. If you are using a tripod, turn off in-camera stabilization.

  6. If you are using in-camera stabilization, use proven traditional methods to hold the camera steady, including bracing yourself against a wall or tree, pushing the viewfinder up to your eye to help brace the camera or using a monopod, say at a sporting event. No need to turn off the in-camera stabilization if you are using a monopod.

  7. Gently press the shutter button rather than jamming at it to take the picture. Pressing the shutter quickly and with force may cause camera shake and make the photo look out of focus.

  8. Use the burst feature to shoot multiple images of a scene to ensure one of the images is sharp. Use side-by-side comparisons in post processing to pick the sharpest image.

  9. Consider setting the in-camera bracketing feature to ensure you obtain the best exposure. Obtaining perfect exposure is more important on a compact camera than it is on a larger sensored camera, because the smaller files cannot handle as much post processing.

  10. Shoot in RAW whenever possible and if you are comfortable doing post processing in programs like Lightroom or Photoshop. If you don’t like processing RAW images, consider using the Raw plus jpeg setting to ensure you have the opportunity to post process an important image if necessary but still retain the more convenient jpeg image.

  11. Take advantage of the scene modes provided by most compact cameras, but also take the time to learn what the camera is doing in these scene modes so you can make adjustments if necessary.

A Better Way to Learn Photoshop, Lightroom & Photography

Here, a combination of macro mode and B&W mode is used to capture this image of the forest floor. Fujifilm’s X10 enables the photographer to experiment with B&W digital film including the use of B&W filters that darken skies or lighten foliage. Experimenting with these features helps to prepare you for the time when you need them.

What compact camera features should I focus on?

Focus on the camera features you use the most and get totally comfortable using them.

Garden photographers, for example, might want to get acquainted with, macro mode, sports /action mode, portrait mode, and pet mode. These are obvious features that come to mind but night-shooting mode including night portraits are shooting modes that you might want to get familiar with before you are forced to use them.

Macro mode is obviously a feature for garden photographers to get comfortable using. Just set the camera on the macro mode and go out into the garden to experiment getting up close to flowers and insects. Don’t wait until you come across a beautiful butterfly to learn how macro mode works. By experimenting with the macro feature, you will get comfortable, for example, with how close you can get to the subject.

A better way to learn Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photography.

You’ll also learn how far away you can be while using the zoom feature to get in as close as possible. This is particularly useful to get images of butterflies from a distance.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. There is no cost to this exercise accept your time.

Try shooting with and without flash to see how the results change and how your camera handles flash up close.

The macro feature is just one of many camera features to focus on.


If, for example, you are going to watch your childs’ ball game, take the camera and use the opportunity to experiment with the action or sports mode. Set the camera on “action mode” and fire away.

Feel free to use the manual modes to capture game action, but unless you are very comfortable setting the aperture and shutter speeds setting the ISO and turning on burst modes, let the camera’s technology do most of the work for you.

Afterall, camera manufacturers have put a lot of thought into coming up with the best camera settings for the various modes.

One of my favourite cameras for creative modes is the Pentax Q. For my comprehensive post on this tiny camera, check out my post on The Pentax Q, and why you need one in 2022.

What are the best compact and micro 4/3rd cameras for 2022?

If you are wondering what the best compact cameras for 2022 are, here is a short list of some of the top compact cameras Fuji, Sony, Lumix, Canon and Leica.

The Fujifilm X100V, boasts an APS-C sensor and 24.3 megapixels along with its 23mm, fast f2 lens. It’s got a hybrid optical electronic viewfinder and a 3-inch fixed LCD screen. This is for more serious photographers who are looking for fine craftmanship and are happy with using a prime lens rather than a more versatile zoom lens. I’ve included a few links from various locations if you are interested in purchasing the camera.

Fuji X100V (Adorama)

Fuji X100V (B&H)

Fuji X100V (Amazon)

Sony ZV1 boasts 20.1 megapixels in in 1-inch sensor. It sports a fast 24-70mm zoom lens and a 3-inch screen. This enthusiast camera has very fast auto focus and a screen that can be moved to multiple views. This camera lacks a viewfinder but is a very capable camera for video.

Sony ZV-1 (Adorama)

Sony ZV-1 (B&H)

Sony ZV-1 (Amazon)

Not quite a “compact” camera but the Panasonic Lumix G9 is a mirrorless, 20.3 megapixel camera with a 3-inch LCD and interchangeable lenses in the micro 4/3rds category. It is a professional photo and video camera that has class leading dual image stabilization and outstanding video.

The Panasonic DMC-ZS 100K is a compact point and shoot 20megapixel camera with a 10X optical zoom ranging from 25-250mm (35mm equivalent). Like your phone, it has a touch screen on the back and is fully equipped to handle any challenge you may face.

Adding punch of colour to images can be done with in-camera filters. Here, “vivid film” was chosen to add a punch of colour to the photograph of the container pond along side containers of flowers.

How does “sports/action mode” work on a compact camera?

Let’s examine what happens to the camera when you set it on “sports/action mode.”

Most cameras, when set on “action mode” will make a series of alterations to your camera settings to best capture fast-moving subjects.

  • First, the ISO setting on the camera will set the ISO to a high number to give the camera it’s best chance of stopping any action.

  • Second, it will set the shutter speed to a higher level to reduce the blur caused by the action on the field.

  • Third, it will set the aperture to provide as much light as possible so that the shutter can fire at a rate fast enough to stop the action. As a result, the depth of field will be limited.

  • The camera will likely choose continuous-focus mode as well as burst mode or continuous shooting mode.

  • The camera may choose other features to enable your best action photos, such as turning off the flash and turning on anti-shake mode if it is not already in use.


This Panasonic Lumix camera’s mode dial shows the various modes available to the photographer including a custom mode (CUST), scene mode (SCN), two my scene modes (MS1-2), a movie mode, intelligent mode, program mode as well as aperture, shutter and full manual mode.


All of these actions are turned on in a fraction of a second and the camera is ready for capturing the big game.

Knowing what the camera is doing in sports mode, should also give you ideas of how to use this mode for other subjects.

If I see a fox trotting through the garden, “sports/action mode” is the first mode I go to to capture the scene. With only seconds to capture the fox as it trots through the garden, there is no time to make the changes necessary to capture the scene.

A fast shutter speed was used to help stop the motion of this hummingbird. Using action or sports mode will help you capture images of birds and animals in the garden. Using TV or time value will also help you capture the action if you choose a shutter speed of 500/sec or faster. Finding a compromise between a high shutter speed and setting a high ISO is key to capturing good, usable images.

The action mode is likely the one I would choose to capture kids playing at the park, or the dog having a great time in her pool or the hummingbird working the flowers while I sip my morning coffee.

Why use the custom features over scene modes?

Many high-end compact cameras also have custom modes that enable you to set the camera for your most-used situations such as portrait, B&W images or action photography.

Custom modes are excellent alternatives to using scene modes because they allow you to dial in all the settings you need to create the desired effects. For example, action mode may allow your camera to automatically pick an ISO setting higher than 1600, but you know that the resulting image is not very good. The custom setting would allow you to limit the ISO to say 800 or 1000 ISO.

How does portrait mode make better people photos?

We’ve discussed some of the camera settings in action mode, let’s look at what goes on in portrait mode. There is more to the portrait mode than you might think. Although each camera manufacturer will set their portrait mode differently, the number of changes might surprise you.

Consider the following possibilities:

  • Change the f-stop to wide open to create a pleasing background

  • Take several images at once in and out of focus to help create a lovely soft background

  • Change the colour calibrations to create a warmer, more pleasant skin tone for portraiture. Some camera manufacturers – including Fujifilm cameras – have included the colour parameters of their former portraiture films so that users can experience classic portrait film in digital form.

  • Add a softening filter or effect to create the illusion of softer, blemish-free skin.

  • Lower the ISO for a less grainy or noisy effect.

  • Turn the flash on or off. If the flash is on, add red-eye reduction. (My Fujifilm X10 even has a handy feature where the camera takes the portrait with and without flash. The photographer can then choose the image they like best.

  • I’m sure there are other changes depending on the camera manufacturer, but these changes to the camera settings should give you a good idea how much thought goes into creating the best settings for successful images using the scene modes and why you should consider using them.


These two images show how effective using the HDR mode can be. The above image shows the non-HDR image where the lighting between the hi-lights and shadows is extreme. By using the HDR mode, the PentaxQ took two fast images exposing for the hi-lights and shadows and then combining them into one image (see below).


The final HDR image finds a middle ground between the highlights and shadows. HDR can be used effectively in a number of situations where the lighting extremes call for it.


Other modes, such as HDR (see above), combine several photos taken in quick succession to remove the extreme highlights and shadows and give you a properly exposed image. (Useful when shooting a cityscape from inside your condo when you want to balance the indoor light with the outdoor light.

Other modes and what they do:

  • Scenic modes often enhance blue skies and add punch to green foliage.

  • Kid modes enhance skin tones while capturing fast-moving subjects.

  • Pet modes allow you to capture fast-moving subjects.

  • Food modes (popular for instagram) enhance colour to create more appetizing food.

  • Sunset modes enhance warm colours creating more dramatic sunrise and sunset effects.

  • Fireworks mode uses long exposures to capture the fireworks.

There are many more modes that are set up to help photographers get good images in unusual or difficult situations. Once again, experiment with the modes that you expect to use regularly.

When is the best time to use manual modes

So far, we have discussed the benefit of using scene modes rather than the manual modes such as aperture priority mode (AV), or shutter priority mode (TV) or full manual mode (M).

Once you become more comfortable with the camera, using manual modes gives you more control of the camera. The scene modes are very good most of the time, especially in difficult or unusual situations, but there are times when you want full control of the camera settings.

In these situations you can set your aperture and shutter speed and let the ISO change automatically to create the proper exposure. It’s a good idea to restrict the ISO to a specific range (depending on the camera) so that the ISO levels do not go so high that they degrade the image.

By controlling the aperture, you gain control over the depth of field in the image including the perceived sharpness of the subject and/or the softness of the background.

By controlling the shutter, you gain control over the ability to stop movement or create movement in the image. You would want to stop the motion of a flower getting blown in a gentle breeze, but show the movement of a stream cascading over rocks creating the effect of soft, moving water.

Although there are scene modes in many cameras that help you create the effect of flowing water, having complete control allows you to change the look of the water in greater detail.

Final thoughts on maximizing your compact camera

For most beginning photographers, the compact camera is often the first and the best camera to purchase. Becoming familiar with the features and getting comfortable with the camera menus helps to quickly access the features when you need to and takes much of the thinking out of using the camera whether in the garden or on vacation.

By making use of the scene modes and the various filters built-in to these cameras, you can take professional looking images that just might surprise you and your friends.

As you get more comfortable with the camera, learning when to use the scene modes and filters will probably be the most difficult part of getting great photos.

Finally, when you are comfortable with the camera and understand its inner workings, you can move to more manual control and take your pictures to another level.

Over time, getting great images and developing a good eye will become second nature and you will know you have discovered the joy of photography.

Read More