Answers To “Is This Picture Level?”

A few weeks ago, I asked a few questions about a picture of me on the Turner Riverlink. I even offered a reward for the best answers. Here are my answers.

First Question

NO, the picture is not level. The photographers’ usual reference point for getting a picture level is the horizon. One of the rules of composition says that your horizon must be perfectly straight (unless it is so far off that the viewer will know that you did it on purpose).

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
What some people call “The Rule of the Horizon Line” is just an implementation of the Rule of Thirds. In the section “Horizon Lines” in his article Using Leading Lines and Horizon Lines in Photographic Composition, Todd Vorenkamp discusses both aspects.

But what if the horizon is not available, as in this picture? Nasim Mansurov, in his article The Importance of Straightening The Horizon and Aligning Lines, discusses (and shows examples of) several options for getting your picture straight. But he didn’t mention this situation.

Bruce on Turner River (annotated)

Q2: How Do We Straighten It?

First, let me say what won’t work: allegedly horizontal elements on a canoe, like seats and thwarts, even in calm water, can be expected to deviate from horizontal as a matter of routine. This case, as it turns out, is no exception. So what can we use?

When you have a calm body of water, as we do here, and the horizon is not visible, you can still depend on the levelness of the water. As I discussed in Reflections – My Answer To “What’s Wrong With This Picture (Version 2)?”, the angle of incidence of a reflected light ray equals the angle of reflection, which means, since the surface of the water is a horizontal plane, that the reflected object will be directly under the object itself, or the line between the two will be vertical, or 90° from the horizon. In the picture above, I have identified four different reference lines. Once you are convinced that this works, you really only need one. Two things make this more challenging, however. There are floating obstacles obscuring good reflection candidates. Also, as I discussed in “Reflections…”, the reflection won’t look exactly like the reflected object due to the changed perspective. Since identifying the exact point reflected may be subject to slight errors in estimated position, the further they are apart (meaning the longer the line connecting them) the better because the error in the angle needed to rotate for the picture to be level is proportional to the positional error divided by the distance apart (for small error angles). In the above picture, the flower (labeled “A”) is an easy choice, but it and its reflection are close together. The hole in the canopy (“B”) and the more prominent branch (“C”), although less identifiable in the reflection, do have good separation distances. “D” shows that in a pinch, when no well-marked points are available, you could even use the point on a curved line where the slope of the curve and the slope of its reflection are the same (or parallel). Expect a higher positional error in cases like that.

Once you have a reference line, most editing software has a horizon-straightening feature, or at least the ability to rotate the image until your reference line is vertical. For what it’s worth, this image needs to be rotated about 8⅓° clockwise. To see the corrected version, go to the bottom of our Red Mangrove Maze image page, where you can also find the identity of the person who took this picture.

Bonus Question

For the last question of the article, which was a math problem to find my age, see the note below.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.

Timeline for age problem

As you can see in the above illustration, there are three related timespans (years before 2008, years after 2008, and total years); if you know any two, you can find the third. This is true whether you are talking in years or percentages. We want the answer in years, but we only know one of the three. As a percentage, we know two of the three, so we can (and will) know all three. What we have to do, then, is find a relationship between years and percentages.

Twelve years is less than 19% of my current age,

or 12 \leq 0.19 \times Age

Age \geq \frac{12}{0.19} \approx 63.2

Actually, I’m about 64½.

Your reward (including bonus) would be \frac{1}{0.81} \approx 1.23 times the original award, meaning your bonus would be about 23%.

And The Winner Is…

There were four responses to the original post. All addressed the title question. Nobody addressed the follow-up or bonus questions. The judges have concluded that the first correct answer and winner of this contest, receiving ten dollars off of any Bee Happy Graphic product or service, and all bragging rights, is M. Alexander (former member of Kendall Camera Club). Congratulations!

Is This Picture Straight/Level?

This is I, canoeing on the Turner River just south of the Tamiami Trail just before noon in the late spring of 2008 (when I was just over 81% of my current age). In this picture, I’m just keeping the boat steady. The photographer (who is very near and dear to me) would normally be facing the other way in a vessel like this and had to reach all the way around, without getting up, to get this shot. Is it level? If not, is there anything in the picture that would be of any help in straightening it?

Besides my usual readers, I may be inviting my Facebook friends, as well as our Instagram viewers, LinkedIn links, and members of Kendall Camera Club, as well as any of their friends and acquaintances to participate in this discussion. I will copy most of those answers below. The best answer will get ten dollars off of any Bee Happy Graphic product or service, and of course, bragging rights. This reward may be combined with other offers and awards. If two or more people come up with the same idea, the one who speaks first will win the prize. Honorable mentions may also be rewarded. You will have at least two weeks to come up with an answer. Good luck!

(OK, since I mentioned it, I might as well make it worth something; if you can tell how old I am now, based on the evidence above, I will increase your reward by the same percentage as my age has increased since this picture was taken. Is that better?)

Please enter your comments below (after submitting, there may be a delay before your comment appears). Good luck, and thank you.

My Midnight Rainbow Quest – Tougher Than I Thought

I just recently looked a little deeper into some rainbow geometry and discovered that this challenge could be a lot harder than I first imagined. But for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s a little history –

The Facebook Quiz

This all started with one of the little quizzes I put on my personal Facebook page from time to time. This one went like this:

No unicorn questions today, but I do have a short quiz on rainbows for you - During what part of the day will you see the biggest rainbows? A) Early morning B) High noon C) Late afternoon D) Midnight E) All of the above F) None of the above
– 11:59 pm on July 11, 2019

A friend, John Gilbert, responded:

Bogus question, Bruce. Answers D, E and F are unicorn answers. I’ll take B, high noon, for 500.

John Gilbert’s 4:56 pm Facebook comment on July 12, 2019 to above post
To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
Although John was a photographer for the Navy, now he is an artist. You can check out his website

to which I responded,

You started well but still wound up with the fourth-best answer (just behind D)….

My 3:31 am response on July 22, 2019


A flash photo using a common digital camera of a rainbow is not logical
– 8:50 am on July 22nd
If you are referring to an attempt to capture an existing rainbow, in much the same fashion as all those people who take flash pictures of an event from the nosebleed section of the stadium, I would agree, but at noon (at moderate latitudes) and at midnight, there is no existing rainbow. You would be counting on the flash, placed at the correct angle, to produce a rainbow that your camera could capture. I wouldn't expect it to be easy, but illogical? Are you sure? Even with the ISO cranked way up?
– 10:10 pm on July 22nd
I don't usually photograph rainbows after dark. I've never seen a photograph of a rainbow after dark. If you have one, I would love to see it.
– 6:42 am on July 24th
Put-up-or-shut-up challenges are quite reasonable here. I mentioned that this may not be easy, and I have a lot on my plate right now, but I'll see what I can do. Stay tuned. My first goal will be to make sure it's possible, then we can talk about composition.
– 8:53 am on July 24th
To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
By the way, the correct answer to the quiz could be either A or C. If you can’t handle more than one correct answer on a multiple-choice question, pick C (more large rainbows will be seen then because more people are awake around dusk than dawn). The animation below shows how a rainbow changes with the movement of the sun. (The black face on the ground represents the top of the shadow of the observer.)

animation showing movement of rainbow with sun

The Contest

To speed things up, I then asked our local Kendall Camera Club for help by creating a contest for the best nighttime rainbow picture. I am now extending that contest to all of my readers. Here are the rules:

Contest Rules

  1. I’ll give the equivalent of a six-pack of your favorite brew (within reason) for the best picture of a rainbow at night. I said six-pack equivalent because a corresponding discount for any of the products or services of Bee Happy Graphics (see our Products and/or Services pages) may be substituted at your request.
  2. The contest will run at least another month but may continue until we get a chance to get our own rainbow pictures (which will not be part of this contest), or until I give up all hope of completing this quest. If there are not enough entries at the end of the contest, the prize need not be awarded.
  3. You can enter your image by emailing the file to
  4. Composition does count. Photos of real rainbows will be given precedence, but just in case I overstated the possibility of that occurring, “Photoshopped” rainbows will be accepted.
  5. I will announce the close of the competition and the beginning of the voting process in a comment to this blog post. I will explain the voting process in that same comment.
  6. At least three weeks after the announcement from Rule 5 above, a winner will be announced. If any entry has three or more votes, the one with the most votes will be the winner. If no entry has that many votes, then I will take an informal survey among my closest family and friends, and pick the winner. The decision of the judges (as defined above) is final. This prize may be combined with other promotions.
  7. Since this is a photo contest, I should mention that the photographer retains all rights to his/her image. We get to use your image only to run and publish the results of this contest.

So far, there have been no entries.

The Physics

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the geometry doesn’t look good.

illustration of angle of refraction/reflection of a single raindrop
Figure 1: The average angle between the light source (usually the sun) and your eye from a single raindrop. Because of refraction, the angle for violet light is a couple of degrees less than the angle for red light.

Figure 1 shows the angle that a light ray bounces off of a single raindrop. In Figure 2 (which is a view looking down, with the blue-hashed region being a rain cloud), one can see that as the sun’s rays all come in as parallel lines from the same direction, the five representative raindrops, and all others from which the blue light rays bounce at the same angle into the observers eye are all along the same line of sight, and therefore all reinforce each other. A single raindrop doesn’t reflect a lot of light and it takes the light of a lot of raindrops to make the rainbow visible. Similarly, the raindrops reflecting red light into the eye from a slightly different angle form along a slightly different line of sight and also reinforce each other.

illustration of the geometry of refraction/reflection that causes rainbows
Figure 2: The geometry of light reflected/refracted from a distant source where the incoming light rays are all parallel

The Problem

illustration of the geometry of refraction/reflection caused by nearby light source
Figure 3: The geometry of light reflected/refracted from a nearby light source

But using flash, the geometry is different; the light source and the eye can now be represented by single points. But unless you were the navigator of a Coast Guard buoy tender or something, you may have forgotten a lesson from high school geometry; that the set of all points for which the angle between those two objects is the same defines a circle, not a line. In Figure 3, the angle between the flash and the eye is the same for Representative Raindrops A and B, and all other dark blue points on the outer circle (there is no rain along the pale blue segments of that circle). Unfortunately, each point on that circle is along a different line of sight from the observer and the light rays do NOT accumulate in the eye. To make matters worse, the red light reflected from Representative Raindrop C (on the circle of red light) IS along the same line of sight as the blue light from Representative Raindrop B (and the other colors of the spectrum from raindrops directly between them), which tend to cancel out into white light. This means you will see no rainbow.

Where Does That Leave Us

The original purpose of this article was to throw in the towel and admit defeat, but as I was getting the materials together, I’ve already come up with a couple of new ideas that need to be explored. But the busiest part of our art festival season is now upon us and the rainy season doesn’t start in South Florida until around June, so this is not the rainbow of promise, but one of hope. Stay tuned. (And if you have a photograph of a nighttime rainbow, please send it.) Thanks.

“Oak Tree Graveyard” – Our First Night Photograph

When we discovered Big Talbot Island State Parkwebsite north of Jacksonville one morning toward the end of April, 2010, Nancy saw Boneyard Beach and decided we needed to come back late in the afternoon for further investigation.  The elevation for most of the tree-clad island is about twenty feet.  Atlantic storms over the millennia have eroded the bluff to the beach and continue to knock trees down to the beach.  We returned while it was still light, worked our way down to the beach and took “Trees In Their Twilight” just a few minutes after sunset.  The camera was on a tripod for the 0.8-second exposure.

Since we expected a near-full moon to rise within the hour, we stayed around and took “Oak Tree Graveyard” less than an hour later, one third of the way through nautical twilightdefinition.  It was so dark we needed a flashlight to change the settings on the camera.  That picture took a 65-second exposure (about 8,000 times as long as your average selfie), which gave the sensor a chance to pick up light you didn’t even know was there.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
This is the one area that the sensor is better than your eye. As I mention in Limitations You Should Know About Your Digital Camera (Or Phone)!, your brain doesn’t benefit from staring at something longer than 15 secondssource.

During that 65 seconds, I took our little LED flashlight (so as not to overpower the almost non-existent ambient light) and shined the light back and forth over those nearest three trees in the foreground.  I recall “painting with light” like this the whole 65 seconds, but Nancy distinctly remembers stopping after fifteen seconds 😕.  If you sweep slowly to cover the target in one pass, you might miss a spot. Or if you linger too long in one area, you will create a “hot” spot.  I recommend sweeping faster and making as many passes as you can to take advantage of the averaging effect.

What amazed me when the image finally appeared on the back of the camera after the shutter closed, was that the orange glow was still there. We’ve since gained more experience with night photography (for example, see Nautical Twilight In The Glades, Seven-mile Bridge At Twilight, Midnight In The Pinelands). Now we know that there are enough photonsdefined bouncing around at even the darkest hour so that if you left your shutter open long enough you could make it look like a bright overcast day (there would be nothing casting a shadow). At midnight, the light level could be about 1/160th that of “Oak Tree Graveyard”, meaning you would have to increase the exposure time, aperture, and/or ISO to gain over seven f-stops to get its sky to that same level of brightness. But the horizon would be blue again by then because the orange glow only lasts an hour or two, depending on atmospheric conditions.


After getting “Oak Tree Graveyard”, we headed back up the bluff and back along the trail to the van. In an open area in the woods along the way, we saw an unbelievable firefly display as we have never seen before (or since), but were too tired to stop for pictures. Nancy has been kicking herself about that decision ever since.

Tell It To The Judge: In Defense Of Photographers & Canvas

To be transparent, I must say I’ve developed some theories about the biases of art critics and the judges of art festivals, based mostly on their selections of art to be awarded prizes at these festivals (and maybe my own biases).  I’ve noticed certain patterns that I was hesitant to discuss here until I had taken the time to formally learn something about art.  That hasn’t happened yet, but we did have an opportunity to discuss photography (more specifically, nature and wildlife photography) with the judges at one recent art festival and I feel compelled to address one aspect of that discussion.  My comments on the other aspects may wait until I satisfy my original goals/requirements.  Today’s comments involve canvas.

The Judges’ Remarks

One of the judges said, “I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”. There were three judges at the table when Nancy approached them. Their views were all consistent. Other remarks included “When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter” and ‘When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.’ One judge pointed out that painters don’t paint the side of their canvas.

Our History

Those familiar with our website know there are already two places where I’ve referred to painters as pre-photographers:

You also know I’ve even chided fellow photographers for not keeping up with the times Stop Thinking Like A Film Photographer!.

A Dose of Reality

Painters like Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891) (see the first note in “A Question About Pixels”) are just two examples of artists who led society into the future, not followed. I’m sure if Leonardo had a camera, he would have used it in a flash (forgive the pun, I couldn’t help myself). These two and their peers would be saddened (or worse) to think that painters now feel unable to keep up with society and judges feel a need to artificially reserve materials and techniques specifically for painters in an effort to level the playing field.

My Responses

Now I’d like to address some of their remarks individually.

“When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter”

A few months before this conversation, a painter at another prominent festival in Florida won Best Of Show and $10,000 for impersonating a photographer. I know another artist who uses pencil to imitate black & white photographs. This is called realism, which apparently artists have tried (with varying degrees of success) throughout history, most notably in the Realist Movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

So here’s a question: if canvas-using photographers are impersonating painters, who was Leonardo impersonating when he painted the two versions of Virgin of the Rocks in oils on wooden panels? A sculptor, maybe? Maybe a carpenter like the protagonist in his famous mural
“The Last Supper”? Or maybe that particular impersonation has been reserved for the judges.

“When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.”

Well maybe that’s why painters do it. After all, contrary to the one judge’s declaration, some painters do paint the sides. But have you ever see a painter warp the image around the edge so that at some angle it creates an illusion and looks like a continuation of the front image (as described in the Canvas section of our Services page)? While we are at it, have you ever seen a painter camouflage their signature to make it less distracting (which solves a problem some critics have complained to photographers about)? Here’s how we do it ( Our New Technique For Signatures & Titles). Come on, painters, try to keep up!

“I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”

I recently heard from another wildlife photographer about a time when a judge took a liking to one of her images, but then left without comment. When the judge came back the second time, he asked if she had another copy of that image that wasn’t printed on canvas. Fortunately, she did, because that second copy won her the second-highest award in the festival.

In our booth and online, I’ve discussed the magical properties of canvas. When people see one of Nancy’s images on canvas they are more likely to ask “Is this a painting?’ or are more likely to comment that it looks three-dimensional. For some strange reason, it is also perfectly acceptable to print a particular photograph larger on canvas.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
People have offered a couple of explanations for this. The first argues that the texture of the canvas disguises any lack of resolution. The second, getting psychological, suggests that canvas invokes some painting mentality, making the viewer less critical (nobody ever asked an eighteenth-century master how many pixels were in his/her brush). Both explanations sound plausible to me, but being a pragmatist, I just run with what works.

So it is especially disturbing, and sad, that a judge would make a statement like this. Photographers follow the same rules of composition and the same principles of art, but for a judge to admit that these are not important, to me is an admission that the judges don’t really know what makes a piece of art special and are just grasping at fads or straws.

At least that’s how I see it (I guess now is a good time to remind you that the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of management). So what’s your view. If any of you can make better sense of these judges’ remarks, your comments are also welcome.

Ideas For Shooting The Solar Eclipse In Miami With Phone Or Camera

I have some ideas for shooting the eclipse by either phone or SLR camera.  For those who haven’t heard, the next eclipse will be Monday, August 21st. In Miami, the eclipse will start around 1:30 pm, which is right after local apparent noon (when the sun crosses due south of us around 1:24 pm and is 77° above the horizon). The eclipse will last about three hours, by which time it will have reached an azimuth (compass bearing) of 261° and dropped to a height of 44°. At its peak just before 3 o’clock, it will be 64° above the horizon at a bearing of 243° (west-southwest). At that time, less than 1/5 of its diameter will be visible in South Florida, which means that about 22% of the sun’s area will still be showing, and the sun will still be a little less than 1/4 of its normal brightness (for lack of anything better at hand, I used Photoshop’s Count Tool to figure the sun’s brightnessHow).

Shooting With Your Phone

In the news, they mentioned that you could use your smartphone to view the eclipse, but they warned that if your phone wasn’t eclipsing the sun (directly between you and the sun, obstructing your direct view) you could get seriously hurt, and since there are no nerves inside your eyeball, you wouldn’t immediately know the damage that was done. For that reason, you may want to use it in selfie mode.  You may also want to wait until the eclipse is close to its peak (although I have taken some test shots of the sun with no apparent damage to my phone).  There are a few problems with this approach, however. For one thing, the glare from your phone’s glass surface and/or the bright sunlight could make the image on the phone hard to see. On the other hand, if you actually wanted pictures, having yourself (or something else) in the foreground could improve the composition of the photograph.  But-

  1. The resolution for the selfie camera may not be as great as on the regular camera. (I explain why bigger is better on the Bee Happy Graphics FAQ page).
  2. My selfie camera doesn’t have controls for flash, exposure, white balance, and other things; these features being listed in the order of their importance.

You will need fill flash on your foreground subject, and the flash will probably need to be less than two feet away to be effective.  But that means the camera is in regular (non-selfie) mode and both aiming and pushing the shutter button could be a pain.  A short timer, if your app has one, could be helpful in pushing the button.

Shooting With A Camera

First, you will need neutral density filters, not just for the proper exposure but unless you shoot in Live View mode it is more important that the filters can adequately protect you looking through the viewfinder.  For that, a 10-stop filter is not enough (but a 12-stop filter, if it existed, could be (at your leisure, you can check out the Bee Happy Graphics blog for another reason a 12-stop neutral-density filter would be better than a 10-stop). A 15 or 16-stop filter would be even better in this case. Focus on the horizon before attaching your filters and lock in your focus.

If using a zoom lens, begin as wide as possible; it is easier to find the sun before zooming and avoid the dangers of trying to peek around the camera.  You will need exactly the same focal length or amount of zoom that you needed when you took pictures of the moon. Most experts feel anything less than a 300mm lens is a waste of time. Remember that your shutter speed should be 1/(focal length x crop factor) or faster if you not using a tripod, but even with a tripod there may be no reason to go with less. The aperture (f-stop) setting is not critical since all the action is at infinity but should be small enough (large enough number) so that you can keep the ISO at its lowest value.

If you are planning to capture the whole eclipse in a sequential composite photograph, decide how many images you need, subtract one, and divide that number into 180 minutes (the duration of the eclipse). If you want a string of six suns in your picture, each picture will be 180/5 or 36 minutes apart. The camera will probably not be locked down to the tripod for the duration, but the focal length of the lens and other settings should be the same for the entire series.

The only way to get something in the foreground (for better composition), is to go for multiple exposures and combine them manually. At the designated time, take the sun shot and while the camera is strapped to the tripod, record your camera settings, remove the filters, change the settings as needed and shoot the foreground. For multiple exposure shots, they usually advise changing only the shutter speed, but I’m not sure it matters in this instance. If changing the shutter speed alone is not enough, I’d change the f-stop before changing the ISO. Now record the settings of the foreground shot so you can repeat as necessary. If you must change the focus for the foreground shot, be sure to refocus on the horizon before putting the filters back on. Return the camera settings to the sun shot values. You may now move the camera on the tripod to compose the next shot. I mentioned that the sun will be putting out only 1/4 of its normal light at the peak of the eclipse here in Miami. This means the exposure of your foreground shot will change by two f-stops. The exposure of your sun shots shouldn’t change.

Final Words

Since this is such a rare event, you may not want to put all of your eggs in one basket. This means changing the settings of your camera (bracketing, if you will, checking the histogram, and perhaps rechecking the focus), which may mean taking several sequences simultaneously and taking good notes.

I’ve discussed some of your options, with some of the pros and cons of each one.  While I try to cover the technical aspects, you are the artist and the compositional issues are all yours.  It might be a good idea to get up early tomorrow and get some moon shots just for practice.  The moon will be just a waning (shrinking) crescent.  Moonrise here in Miami will be 4:37 am tomorrow and 5:40 Sunday (sunrise is 6:56 both days).

Well, that’s about it.  Have fun, don’t look directly at the sun, and let me know how it worked out for you.  I’d even be willing to post some of your pictures (with adequate credits of course).

Best (and Worst) Angles For Whale Pictures

The March before last, we returned to Antarctica (Nancy’s favorite continent) with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris. Nancy broke her ribs in 26-foot seas in the Drake Passage the second day out, but still managed to make all the shore excursions. Her technical support staff hasn’t yet processed the pictures from that trip, but we do have some suggestions for those who might find themselves putting around in the vicinity of whales.

Whale Angles
The Best & Worst Angles For Whale Shots

The article is on our website ( Although you still can’t get to it from the menu system, it is available from both the FAQ and site map pages. Enjoy, and let me know if I forgot anything. Thanks.