Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Vote of Inspiration

It's been a while since I've blogged about my photographic exploits, but not because there's been nothing to say.  My wife and I started a new venture early last winter which has given us a new direction in which to focus our efforts and what a fulfilling experience it has been.

Last November, we began a project we termed "Feathered Hope". Our goal was to find a way to give back to something we both enjoyed - wild bird photography.  That's when we turned our attention toward Marge Gibson and her amazing non-profit, Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI).   Marge's passion runs so deep she's given her entire life to the birds.  She is a world renowned avian rehabilitation biologist who has truly defined the field.  We are so very fortunate to live only a stone's throw from this amazing woman.  REGI is one of the premiere rehabilitation facilities dedicated to native wild bird species, especially eagles, in the entire world and for those that have the privilege of knowing Marge, that's no surprise.

We recently had the honor of documenting a summary of her incredible story in her nomination for the 2014 Eagle Rare Life Award.  This prestigious award offers a $40,000 grand prize and much deserved recognition to the non-profit whose story most represents the "rare life" theme.

We would love to introduce you to Marge via her nomination which you can read, vote on and then share with friends and family at    If you are as inspired as we are by her work, help us take up the cause of voting daily (1 vote per IP every 24 hours) and asking those close to you to do the same.

Thank you.
-Ken & Lisadawn Schram

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Microsoft Surface Pro for the Photographer


It’s been a long, long wait, but it’s finally here.  The Microsoft Surface Pro is on the market and I’m lucky enough to have spent the last week setting mine up and using it for my photography tasks.  That’s right.  A tablet form factor running Lightroom and Photoshop!

For 7 months I got to read editorials saying things like: “It’s too heavy. It’s too expensive.  There’s not enough available storage.  The battery life is horrible. The wide screen is awkward. The kickstand isn’t adjustable. Who uses a pen anymore?” Blah, blah, blah, blah!

Now that I finally have it in my hands, here’s my response: “WHO CARES!”.  Yes it’s a tablet and if that were all it was the naysayers may have valid points.  What they were all overlooking, however, is that this is also a fully functional Intel powered laptop!  I’m running Adobe Lightroom 4, Adobe Photoshop CS 6, Microsoft Office 2013, Windows Media Center, no compromise web browsers and on and on and on.  In short, I am PRODUCING content and not just consuming it all on a device slim enough and lite enough to slide into my messenger bag with my Nikon D300s and my work HP EliteBook laptop.

With all of that being said, here are a few of my personal observations for those of you who may be considering your own Surface Pro now that stock is beginning to be replenished.

  • Windows 8 –  I’ve been using the new OS on my work computer for a while, but on a touch-based device it really comes to life.  Forget about the Start menu and embrace the efficiencies of the new design.
  • Tablet Experience – The screen is incredible. A visual treat with a very responsive feel to your touch.  While there is definitely still “app discrimination” when compared to the iPad and Android markets, things are coming around and I’m confident that the Surface will help accelerate the pace. One area that did catch me off-guard was the fact that so many magazine publishers only allow Amazon to cater to iOS and Android.  For example, Outdoor Photographer is available via Zinio, but you won’t find it on Amazon.
  • Desktop Experience – Having used Windows 8 for awhile now, the only challenges to using the full desktop environment on the Surface have been 1) Getting accustom to the Type Cover and, 2) text scaling.  I have purposely limited myself to he Type Cover so that I’d become more efficient. I’ll be honest, I won’t win any typing contests, but it’s still better than being limited to an on-screen version (new wireless keyboard and mouse arrive for my desk today).  The text scaling comes into play when connected to an external display.  Out of the box, the Surface Pro is set to scale your text to 150%.  That’s a good size when you’re packing 1920x1080 pixels into a 10” space, but not so great on a 24” external display.  It’s a shame text scaling isn’t display independent, but I’ve found what works best for me is to default back to 100% as most of my desktop experience happens on the external display.  On the occasions where I only have the 10” display, a few keystrokes (namely Ctrl + ‘+’) allow me to zoom in at the application level.
  • WiFi Only – I tend to be where the WiFi is so the lack of a cellular radio doesn’t impact me all that much.  If I must, must, connect, there’s always the option to tether to my phone.
  • Storage – I’ve done a few proactive tasks here to help make my 128GB go as far as possible:
    • New Lightroom Catalog – I’ve backed up my old (and somewhat bloated) Lightroom catalog to my external drive and started over.  Well, I imported my keyword hierarchy, a few other preferences and of course my “best of the best” photos, but otherwise it was time for a clean start.
    • “My Documents” on “D:” – I popped in my 64GB microSXDC card, formatted it with NTFS and changed the default location for the “Documents” library to point to this new drive.  From what I’ve read, you cannot install applications on external devices so reserving space on the C: drive for apps is something to consider up front.
    • Available Space – I’m still at 66GB free with Lightroom, Photoshop CS 6, Photomatix, Topaz Adjust, Word, Excel, OneNote, Chrome, Kindle, Live Writer, Movie Maker, Media Center, Total Theater, etc……  I am not loading my music library as I already have it on my phone and any movies (which look awesome on this display, btw) or other large files go to the external drive.  This leaves me with ample room for the photos I’ve yet to take and process.
    • Backups – I have a few OneNote docs on my SkyDrive for convenience, but limited to satellite internet at home prevents me from overusing cloud-based services.  I do, however, backup EVERYTHING to my Windows Home Server each night.

Oh, and that pen thing…. It ROCKS! While I’ve used it occasionally in OneNote, its value to me is inside Lightroom and Photoshop.  Yeah, editing photos on a 10” display isn’t something you’ll want to do everyday, but when you have detail work to do with that pen, it blows away my old Wacom tablet.

For now, that’s all.  Is the Surface Pro the holy grail of all computing devices? Probably not.  If you asked me what I’d change, however, I’m not sure I’d have much in the way of answers.  It’s the form factor I’ve been waiting for to provide the ultimate in portability which, in itself, asks for compromises.  The selling point for me was the fact that I can be productive wherever and whenever and in that space, I have not been disappointed in the least.

Update: This morning I had the opportunity to test drive the Type Cover.  As I was never a very good touch typist and with productivity being my aim, I’ve made the switch.  For a few bucks more and a couple of extra millimeters in thickness, I can now proclaim that I’ve relinquished the “Backspace” key as my favorite key.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Favorites of 2012

At the end of each calendar year I like to make it a practice to review my photo catalog for my favorite photos of the year and this year is no different.  In 2012 I really started to get more into kayak photography and can’t wait for the ice to melt to get out and do it again.  Of the nearly 4,000 clicks that occupy space in my 2012 catalog, here are my favorite 15 in no particular order.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Packaging Prints for Resale

The entire Feathered Hope project has been packed full of learning opportunities.  From dusting off my HTML skills while building a new web site to “fine tuning” the processing of a print until I was personally satisfied that it met my quality standards, there were a lot of challenges that took some time to overcome.  One of those challenges popped up when I suddenly found myself with a couple of local retailers willing to stock our prints for resale.  Awesome! Now how do I package them? Disappointed smile

Our Feathered Hope Limited Edition prints are printed commercially on 20” x 30” E-Surface paper.  They arrive from the printer taped face down on a piece of cardboard, wrapped tightly in plastic and then sealed in a nice box.  That’s great for getting them from here to there, but not really an option for selling retail.  After spending some time in the forums and consulting a local gallery owner, here is what I ended up with.Crystal Clear Bags with sealable flap

Using about a 2” long piece of tape on each of the back top corners of the print, I adhered it to the center of the foam board allowing for an inch of border all of the way around to protect the corners.  Then it was as easy as sliding into the envelope, removing the plastic strip from the flap adhesive and then folding it over tight onto the back of the package.  In my case I also included a 9” x 12” envelope inside the clear bag and taped it to the back of the foam board.  Inside the envelope is a Certificate of Authenticity, an attractively printed copy of “From Behind the Lens” (the story of how the image was taken), a business card and a registration card offering some “owner benefits” to get those retail buyers to login and let me know who they are.

The total cost of the packaging was about $6 a print, but I’m pretty sure once I find a good online source for the foam board and am able to cut my own I can get that number down to just a few dollars.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Motivation Behind “Feathered Hope”

Regular readers of the blog have heard this story before, or at least a portion of it.  If you have, I apologize in advance, but it’s one that I never tire of telling.

Print:  "Still Watchful"
Artist: Ken Schram
Date:  8/25/2012

One quiet Saturday morning in late August I was kayaking with my camera in Wisconsin's beautiful north woods when I came upon this magnificent juvenile bald eagle perched on an overhanging branch. Having hatched earlier this spring, the "baby" is now nearly as large as his parents. With the sun cresting the top of the trees and the golden rays of light falling upon his pin-feathered face and chest, he is content in the new warmth brought to this chilly fall morning.

Completely lost in the moment, I drift silently in my kayak on the windless lake. Raising camera to eye, I hear the soft whir of the lens that brings this beautiful creature into focus and then there he is in all his glory. As I watch motionless through the viewfinder he slowly turns his head to observe this strange one-eyed newcomer and it is then that the glint of the sun sparks in his eye. Click.

A few more minutes pass as I watch him and he me before it's time for me to go. This is his house after all and I certainly don't want to overstay my welcome. While brief, the experience has moved me in a way that's difficult to describe. I've certainly photographed bald eagles before, but on this quiet and tranquil morning our interaction seems meaningful in a way I can't quite comprehend. Dare I say "spiritual"?

Several hours later, still riding the high experienced from the special encounter, I sit at my desk and review the morning's photos on my computer. While still 4 or so years away from reaching his mature plumage of white head and tail, he is no less majestic than a full grown adult. His young brown eyes are so deep and intense as he stares back from my computer screen that suddenly I feel as if I'm back on the lake and "in the moment" once again. I can't help but post some images online and share the experience.

The following week I return to the lake hoping to recapture that high, but my young friend is nowhere to be found. I'm blessed with the opportunity to photograph one of its parents, but begin to assume that junior has left the nest and begun his own journey in the wild. If only my assumption could have been proven true. Instead, I learn from a friend who lives on the lake that this beautiful creature is no more. Just days after our interaction, a resident found the young bird floundering in the water dazed and confused. He was transported to an incredible group of caring and dedicated people at Raptor Education Group, but despite their best efforts he eventually succumbed to the effects of the West Nile Virus.

I'm stunned. Despite having read that as many as 40% of new eaglets won't survive their first winter, I still can't believe it. His parents worked tirelessly all summer to care and provide for this young one. He survived the perils of learning to fly. He had grown into a regal young adult only to be taken out by a tiny insect carrying a deadly virus. I can only think, "What a waste!".

But does it have to be? ….

While not affiliated with the organization, my wife and I had been familiar with the work of Raptor Education Group for some time and had been looking for a way to support their cause. We made the occasional monetary donation and did what we could to help spread the word of their heroic efforts through social media, but considering our love of bird kind and the respect we held for this organization, it never seemed like enough.  Now more than ever we were determined to find a way to take this seemingly senseless event and turn it into something positive. As it turned out, the answer we were looking for was in the title I'd given the image.

Originally titled "Watchful" in reference to the intense gaze this young eagle cast my direction that wonderful morning, that label seemed somewhat inappropriate after learning of his demise.  It didn't take long, however, to realize that despite no longer being of this earth, his gaze would always fall upon anyone having the opportunity to enjoy this one "click" I was so blessed to capture during his brief life. So for me, and hopefully you as well, he remains "Still Watchful".

To learn more about the “Feathered Hope” project, please visit us at


Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter Fog

This wintery scene could have been captured this past week here in Wisconsin.  This image, however, was taken in December 2010.

My apologies for my hasty “disappearance” from the blog for the last couple of weeks.  My wife and I have launched a new projected which is near and dear to our hearts and it’s care and feeding have been rather intensive on top of the regular holiday hustle and bustle.  The project’s name is “Feathered Hope” and its purpose is to help raise awareness and financial support to the efforts of Raptor Education Group, Inc (REGI) located in Antigo, WI.  REGI is a wildlife rehabilitation center focused on providing public education and conservation of our native wild birds in addition to caring for, and ultimately releasing, injured and orphaned wild birds.  They are an incredible group of people and we’re hoping to be able to help them out through both social media awareness and financial support generated through the sale of some of our limited edition wild bird prints.

If you’d like to learn more about the project, you can visit the site at  Tomorrow I will share the inspiration behind the project.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Feathered Hope

After much planning and preparation, my wife and I are very proud to introduce a new project we're calling "Feathered Hope".   We both take great enjoyment from photographing wild birds and have been searching for some time for a way to "give back".  "Feathered Hope" is the result of months of planning and discussions and we're really excited that the day is finally here where we can announce it to the world.

We will be offering our very best wild bird photos for sale as original 20" x 30" limited edition, hand-signed prints.  The proceeds of each sale are being donated to the non-profit Raptor Education Group in Antigo, WI to help support in the rehabilitation and release of injured and orphaned wild birds.

The introductory offering in the "Feathered Hope Series", titled "Still Watchful", is now available to the public with more offerings to be released in the coming months.  You can read more about the project at our new web site  If you like what you see, please take a moment to share with friends and family to help us get the word out.

Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lightroom Identity Plates–The Curse of Scaling

It’s no secret I’m a Lightroom believer.  Up until recently it’s never let me down, but I think I’ve finally found an scenario where it simply falls short – the scaling of a graphical identity plate on prints.

About a year ago I blogged about creating a 2 line identity plate in Lightroom.  For one reason or another, Adobe hasn’t accommodated those of us on the Windows platform to be able to create a multiple line textual identity plate within Lightroom.  Instead, we must resort to creating the plate as a graphical file.  It sounds simple enough and it actually is pretty easy, but here’s the problem.  Scaling.  When you add the graphical identity plate in the Print Module, it automatically scales to 100% of the page size and not the size of the graphic.  Odds are pretty good that you didn’t create the graphic to be the width of the entire page so you’ll immediately notice that the text in the graphic is somewhat distorted.  Even when you scale the plate down to the size you intended, odds are pretty good it will STILL be somewhat distorted.

This hasn’t been a problem for me in the past as I’ve been confined to printing simple posters, etc. for my own use.  Now, however, I’m working on a limited edition print to benefit one of my favorite charities and “good enough” or “okay” are not acceptable outcomes.  It needs to be perfect.  No matter how hard I tried (and how much money I spent on what ended up to be “sample prints”), the text still appears “soft”.  In my example, the page size is 30” wide so I made the identity plate exactly 3” wide and then scaled it to exactly 10%.  Nope. Still “fuzzy”.  So what to do?

Post your question to the nice community of folks on the Adobe forums.  At least that’s what I did.  You can view the entire thread here, but the short answer is to prepare the print as you normally would to provide to a commercial printer, but WITHOUT the identity plate.  Then open the jpeg file produced by Lightroom into Photoshop and recreate the identity plate on a new layer and save it back to the jpeg file using the maximum quality settings. 

This may sound like common sense, but I was worried that “re-saving” back to the jpeg file was going to result in loss of image quality because it was being further compressed.  It took someone with experience with the process to convince me it wasn’t worth worrying about before I actually tried it.  While I don’t have the actual print in hand yet, I did do a compare of the jpeg images within Lightroom; the one where the jpeg with identity plate was produced from Lightroom and the one where the identity plate was saved from Photoshop.  It appears to be true.  I can see no discernable difference in the quality of the actual photo even zoomed in to high magnification.  Well, almost no difference…

The top line is the text captured from the file with the identity plate scaled to 10% in Lightroom.  The bottom is the exact same text produced directly in Photoshop.

Hopefully this is something that is addressed in future releases of Lightroom because so far it’s the only scenario I’ve encountered in my workflow where there isn’t an acceptable solution.

Monday, November 26, 2012


Welcome back.  I hope everyone survived the Thanksgiving Day holiday. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Self Reflection?

Sometimes those of us behind the camera do crazy things to "get the shot". Others of us are, well, just crazy :). Take a look at Sony's view of those who may be ought to trade their DSLR's in for something more "simple"?