the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Photo Techniques

Principles of Photographic Improvisation – Contribute Something and Try Something

In my last post, I mentioned how I am reading The Soul of the Camera, the Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making by David duChemin, and I described his first of four “rules” or “principles” of photographic improvisation – agreeing or to say “yes” and not “no.” Today, I look at the second and third principles – Contribute Something, and Try Something.

To contribute something, you need to make the scene your own. DuChemin explains, ” Photography is not objective… We bring our own thoughts, opinions, points of view, and interest to the scen and to every single decision, from aperture to focal length to shutter speed to composition. We chose what to include and exclude. It’s not so much about what’s there as it’s about what I see and how I see it.”

Say you travel to a famous landmark or scene and want to photograph it. Don’t worry about how others have done so, make the scene you own. Sure, take that one composition that you’ve seen before, the shot the maybe even inspired you to come in the first place, but then explore the subject scene on you own, making your own compositions. Or as DeChemin says, “Own it. Add to it. Make every photograph you create a collaboration with what’s before you.”

This, I think, directly relates to the third principle, try something. DuChemin urges his reads to “take a risk and try something. Don’t just wonder what would happen if you moved the camera over to the right. Move it! Slow the shutter, use a wide lens. Listen to the questions, but don’t let them go without a response. And if the first answer doesn’t work, try again.”

It doesn’t even have to be a famous scene, just maybe one you’ve been to or photographed many times before. Do you take the same shot again and again? Perhaps. But to improvise, you’ve got to make it new again for you. Maybe try black and white, or shoot it with your phone instead of you DSLR, or shoot only high-key images, whatever!  Sometimes to make it your own you need to try something different.

For example, for the past several years, I’ve been offering walking photo tours of downtown Seattle. These tours are great for my clients, as they see Seattle through fresh eyes. But I’ve seen it and shot it all before. It’s a real challenge for me to find something new. So on a couple trips, I pulled out the fish-eye lens. Now, a lot of what I shot didn’t work so well, but some of the images aren’t so bad. In fact, they are kind of fun, and definitely something I made my own by trying something I hadn’t done before, even after shooting the same places dozens of times before – such as Pioneer Square (above and below), the ferry terminal (below), and the waterfall garden (below). That is photographic improvisation.


Smoke Correction – Reducing Smoke Induced Haze

Though clear now, the skies of Washington State, and indeed most of the Pacific Northwest, have been very smokey almost the entire month of August. The smoke is from wildfires, both in the United States and Canada. I fear, with climate changes, this may be our new “normal” for August, as smokey skies have been prevalent in August the past several years.

As long as the smoke is not too thick, smokey skies can have some advantages to landscape and travel photography. Though I tend not to, some people like the sunsets provided by smokey conditions. I do, however, appreciate that smokey conditions can soften light and can extend golden hour conditions by changing the color of sunlight. On the other hand, they can also dim sunlight so that the light during the actual golden hours is weak.

In my opinion, the disadvantages outweigh any advantages gained. I am fond on blue skies and wide vistas. Smoke can suck the blue out of the sky and obscure views with haze. I also like to use telephoto lenses to pull in distance subjects. Obviously, this does not work so well if there is a lot of smoke.

On my trip to the Palouse last month, the skies were quite smokey. Not smokey enough to totally ruin the trip, but I certainly did not have ideal conditions. The Palouse is known for its blue skies with great clouds. On my last trip, the sky, though clear, was more of a dusky gray. It was also cloud free on except for one day. So much for the wide sky shots I often favor, such as this one I posted on instagram. I found myself following several techniques to minimize the effects of the smoke.

1. Limiting distance in my compositions – instead of including distant hills and vistas in my compositions, I selected relatively close subjects, or chose compositions where the distant background was less important. For example, on my August visit to the Palouse, I did shoot one evening from Steptoe Butte. However, with the smokey haze, I chose one of the lower viewpoint instead of going to the top, and I mostly shot compositions with subjects relatively close to the butte rather than subjects thousands of meters away.

Instead of photographing distant hills from Steptoe Butte, most my images were of nearby hills such as these. This image also has the sky eliminated and uses the Dehaze correction described below.

In this example, I chose to photograph this barn near to the road (and also eliminate any sky).

2. Eliminating or limiting the amount of sky in my compositions – with the sky not the blue color one expects, in many cases, I tried to either totally eliminate the sky from my composition or at least limit the amount of sky in the shot.

In this scene from Latah County in Idaho, I purposely minimized the amount of sky in the composition. It also uses the Dehaze and selective color corrections described below.

Here, concentrated on details of these old trucks in Sprague, Washington, eliminating any sky from the composition.

3. Processing using the Dehaze slider in Lightroom – I often use the dehaze slider in lightroom, and not just to remove haze; I like the microconstrast it adds to images. However, smokey conditions are what the dehaze slider was made for. While processing images from the August Palouse trip in Lightroom, I found myself adding more dehaze than I normally would.

Another sample of an image where I used the dehaze slider more than normal. This image also uses the sky color correction described below.

4. Adding blue back into the sky in Lightroom – I typically do not do selective color corrections in Lightroom. Typically I’ll set the color balance for the entire photo and let well enough alone (saving selective color adjustments for Photoshop if I want to do them at all). But with new masking tools for the gradient and brush tools, I found it relatively easy to add some blue back into the sky in Lightroom. Typically, I’d make a fairly tight gradient (or perhaps the brush too) and apply it to the area of the photo containing the sky. Then, using the range mask tool in color mode, I select a wide portion of the sky. This usually masks most of the non-sky areas, but to be sure, I’ll check the Show Selected Mask Overlay checkbox (which uses a red tone to indicate where the gradient is effective). Depending on the image, I may or may not need to do some cleanup of the mask with the eraser brush). To correct the sky, I’ll move the temperature slider toward blue, typically move the exposure slider down about 1/2 to 1/2 a stop, and move the clarity slider down as well. Depending on the image, I may also increase the dehaze slightly. Sounds complicated, but it is fairly easy with a bit of practice. This technique does a nice job on restoring sky color (see the examples below).

This is the Genesee Valley Lutheran Church in Idaho. Here I’ve used the technique described to reduce the smokey haze from the sky. The same image without the correction is shown below

Without the selective sky color correction.

 


Photographing Ancient Ruins – Knossos

180418_Crete_4608The Palace of Knossos is the capital of ancient Minoan Crete. It is reportedly Crete’s most popular tourist attraction. Ancient ruins, particularly popular ones, present a photographic challenge, at least to me. We see photographs of the ruins in guidebooks and on postcards and want to get similar shots. Yet, often the sites are only have limited hours that do not correspond with the best light and are usually overrun by tourists. How to get a few decent shots without obtaining special access (like the photographers whose images you see on the postcard)?

Knossos is the perfect example. When Tanya and I were there, the last admittance of the day was at 3 p.m. We got there about 2:30 p.m., and I was hoping the crowds would be a bit less. However, as it turned out, we picked International Monuments Day (April 18th) to visit – the good news, free admission; the bad news, more people. It wasn’t overrun with tourists, but there we weren’t alone either. Further, 2:30 p.m. is not a prime time for photography, the light is harsh and contrast can be a big problem.

And you can forget about using a tripod. Even if it would not cause a problem with the crowds, tripods (and large professional cameras – whatever the definition of that is) are not allowed. This is a common policy at many historical sites and museums (occasionally I’m surprised and they are allowed, such at the Met in New York and in the Notre Dame Basilca in Montreal).

So what is your average photographer to do? Here are a few tips I’ve discovered that help me photograph at ancient ruins (and other popular sites).

1. Use a telephoto zoom lens – if you don’t want people in your shots, you will need to zoom in to crop them out. A wide-angle lens is good for providing a big scene, but it is almost impossible to use one and not have people in your image.

2. Shoot details – sure shoot an image with the whole building, but if you want to not have people in the shot, shoot details.

3. Don’t crop too tightly in camera – often you will not have the best vantage point to take a shot. If you think you might be making perspective adjustments Lightroom or Photoshop, don’t crop too tightly in-camera. Leave some room to crop after the perspective adjustment is made.

4. Avoid sky when shooting into the sun – we often don’t have much choice about time of day when visiting a historical site, and that scene you’ve been dreaming about shooting is toward the sun. Cut out the sky to avoid the contrast. For example, one of the most common shots you will see of Knossos is similar to the featured shot above, except that it usually shows some sky as well. Here, shooting toward that sun, I cut out the sky to avoid bad contrast and a totally white sky.

5. Shoot in the shade – again, not having much choice about time of day, shooting in mid-day can cause lots of contrast problems. Look for compositions that are in shade and avoid the contrast of partial sunlight.

6. Up your ISO – often you will be shooting not out in the sun, but in a dimly lit rooms or grottoes. Without a tripod, remember to increase your ISO.

180418_Crete_4591

The Throne Room at Knossos is dimly lit. I used a high ISO in order to capture the image.

180418_Crete_4648

To shoot the Queen’s Room, I had to shoot a bit from the side rather than straight on. I purposely did not crop tightly in-camera, giving me plenty of room to make a perspective correction in Lightroom.

180418_Crete_4575

This mural at the South Portico is another example of shooting wide, and in this case, also upward to avoid a distracting plastic barrier, and then making a perspective correction.

180418_Crete_4617

These old large pots were in the shade, allowing me to more easily control contrast.

180418_Crete_4661

Another set of large clay pots – details like this are easy to photograph without other tourists in the shot.

180418_Crete_4653

This room next the Queen’s Room was closed and only visible from a small window. No other tourists to worry about and in the shade solving contrast issues.


Scanography – Fun on a Cold Rainy Day

Winter just seems never to end. We’ve had nothing but a cold, rainy March so far. So what should you do when bored and stuck inside on a rainy winter day? Try your hand at scanography – photography using a flat-bed scanner. If you don’t already own such a scanner, you can often find them cheap at a second-hand store. The images shown here were taken with my Epson Perfection 2450 Photo scanner that I purchased several years ago at Goodwill for $5. The trick is getting such a scanner to run on your computer – often drivers are not available for newer versions of Windows. For example, Epson offer a driver for my scanner for Windows version after XP.

I’m running Windows 7. When I first got the scanner several years back, Windows 7 was still fairly new. To get the scanner to work, I did a Google search on Windows 7 drivers for my scanner model. I discovered that a different Epson model had a driver that worked, so I downloaded that and sure enough, it worked.

Now skip ahead a few years. I tried Widows 10 and decided to go back to Window 7, but when I did so, I lost the driver for the scanner. Well actually, I still had the driver, but Windows would not allow me to install it because it was “unsigned.” This is a case of the software trying to protect your computer from malignant software. I get it, but I really did want to use the scanner again. Finally, after several long Google searches, I discovered there is a way to get Windows to install unsigned drivers. You must first disable the driver signature enforcement, then install the driver. It wasn’t that hard to do, and sure enough, I was back in business.

Since if you pick up a cheap, used scanner, it probably won’t be the same model as mine, I suggest the following. First, go the the manufacturer’s support site and see if there is a driver available. If so, your golden. If not, search Google for an alternate driver. For example, in my case, the Google search might be: “windows 7 driver for epson 2450 scanner”. There is a good chance this will give you a driver that will work. However, if it is unsigned, you still will need some help installing it. So try this Google search: “installing unsigned drivers windows 10”. You will get a number of results that explain how to install unsigned drivers. Good luck!

Once you do get your scanner installed, it’s time to have fun. All of the images here were taken using the scanner. The fun thing about using a scanner for photography, of scanography as it is called, is that you can create interesting effects because the scanner captures an image a line at a time. This means that as the scanner light and sensor moves, you can move your subject either blurring it or making it appear more than once in the frame. I found this is particularly fun for self portraits (just watch out for fogging the glass with your breath).

I found that scanning to TIFF files worked better than to JPGs, but your experience may be different. Once the files are created, I imported them into Lightroom and treated them just like any other file, optimizing them as I saw fit. I found the biggest problem is dust. I’m use to a few dust spots from my camera sensor. With the scanner, you can get hundreds of dust spots, all perfectly in focus. So be sure the clean the glass well when doing your scanography.

Wondering what kind of images you can make with a scanner? My samples here will give you a few ideas. If you want more, just do a Flickr or Google image search for scanography. There is some very creative work out there.


New Transform in Lightroom

151214_Paris_8008

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adobe added a new Transform panel in Lightroom CC in June, and since I typically don’t check what is new in each Lightroom upgrade, I didn’t see this new panel until last month. When I did find it, I thought it was amazing. So much so, that from now on, I’ll be checking each upgrade to see what other new features might be available to improve my workflows.

The old transform was under the Lens Correction panel in the Develop Module under the Manual tab, where there were sliders for you to manually adjust lens, vertical, and horizontal distortions; rotation, scale, and aspect ratio. I made wide use of the vertical and horizontal sliders, but not so much the others. I found it was easier to correct rotations or change the aspect ratio with the crop tool and I usually don’t change the scale of an image except upon export. And while these transform tools where very helpful, sometimes I couldn’t get the results I wanted.

With release 2015.6 of Lightroom, Adobe removed the manual transform sliders from the Lens Correction panel and placed them in a new Transform panel (located directly underneath the Lens Correction panel, see the first screenshot below). The lens distortion slider is gone, and two new sliders, for X and Y offsets, are added. But the best new feature is the addition of automatic or guided distortion corrections. There are six options: off, auto, guided, level, vertical, and full. The pop-up help in Lightroom for each of these options states:

  • Auto: “enables balanced level, aspect ratio, and perspective corrections”
  • Guided: “draw two or more guides to customize perspective corrections”
  • Level: “enable level corrections only”
  • Vertical: “enable level and vertical perspective corrections only”
  • Full: “enable full level, horizontal, and vertical corrections”

There is also a guide tool in the upper left-hand corner with a guide tool. This tool essentially works identically to pressing the Guide button. In both cases, a guide tool becomes active which allows you to place guides on the image to show Lightroom what should be level and vertical. You are allowed to add up to four guides.

I’ve illustrated the use of this new features with an image I took in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris last year. The space is small and crowded, tripods are not allowed, and a wide-angle lens is needed. These conditions make it quite hard to a decent level and perspectively correct shot. The original image, shot with my 28-300mm zoom lens set at 65mm (at 1/20 second, f5.6, ISO 6,400),  is shown here below after all Lightroom corrections except those under the Transform panel.

The original shot, not level and plenty of vertical distortion

The original shot, not level and plenty of vertical distortion

The next image, below, is a screenshot showing the Transform panel open in the Lightroom Develop module. No transform corrections have been selected – the Off button is active. Please note, that when using the Transform corrections, it is best to have the lens profile corrections already active in the Lens Corrections panel.

The image in Lightroom Develop module with the Transform panel open.

The image in Lightroom Develop module with the Transform panel open.

The images below are the results of selecting the Auto, Level, and Vertical buttons. In this case, the results from the Full button is identical to the Vertical button.

Image after selecting the Auto button

Image after selecting the Auto button – improved, the image is almost (but not quite) level, and the vertical perspective is improve but far from perfect

Image after selecting the Level button

Image after selecting the Level button – nice job on leveling, vertical perspective unchanged from original

Image after selecting the Vertical button

Image after selecting the Vertical  or Full buttons (without cropping) – better than the Auto button, both horizontal and vertical perspectives well corrected, though not perfectly

Below I show the steps in using the Guided correction either by guide tool or selecting the Guided button.

Guide tool in use, picking two spots to define, in this case, a horizontally level line. The tool opens up a zoom window to allow the exact placement of the two spots.

Guide tool in use, picking two spots to define, in this case, a horizontally level line along the base of the altar. The tool opens up a zoom window to allow the exact placement of the two spots.

Here I've placed a second guide, this one defining a vertical line. With the placement of the second guide, the image adjusts. If it is still not satisfactory, a third and fourth guides can be added.

Here I’ve placed a second guide, this one defining a vertical line along the left-hand stained glass window. With the placement of the second guide, the image adjusts. If it is still not satisfactory, a third and fourth guides can be added.

Here a third guide has been added, creating a further correction.

Here a third guide (another vertical one, this one along the right-hand window) has been added, creating a further correction.

And now, a fourth guide, in this case, another horizontal one.

And now, a fourth guide, in this case, another horizontal one at the top of the altar. Now the image shows a better correction than any of the automated buttons. Results, of course, depend greatly on the selection and placement of the guides.

You have the option of checking the Constrain Crop checkbox at the bottom of the panel. This crops off the white space created by the corrections, but often it does not do a very good job as was the case here.

You have the option of checking the Constrain Crop checkbox at the bottom of the panel (this works with any of the buttons, not just the Guided one). This crops off the white space created by the corrections, but often it does not do a very good job as was the case here.

Instead you can use the crop tool, shown here, and adjust the cropping for a better composition. Here the crop tool was locked to the original aspect ratio.

Instead you can use the crop tool, shown here, and adjust the cropping for a better composition. Here the crop tool was locked to the original aspect ratio.

In this case, I wanted to show more of the stained glass windows, so I unlocked the aspect ratio and extended the crop upwards to make a vertical panorama. This crop resulted in my finished and featured image at the top of the post.

In this case, I wanted to show more of the stained glass windows, so I unlocked the aspect ratio and extended the crop upwards to make a vertical panorama. This crop resulted in my finished and featured image at the top of the post.

 

 

 


Rookie Mistakes

Gorge MoonsetI hope you are having a great summer (or winter for my friends down south). I’m not sure where the time has gone this summer. It seems like I’ve been busy, but have little to show for it. I know my time has not been taken up by photography. I sort my image in my Lightroom catalog by date, and the catalog for July only has two dates in it. Same with August – and those two were from consecutive days of a non-photography trip where the camera barely left the bag. The purpose of the trip earlier this month was a family reunion. Us Beckers gather every year the first weekend in August.

This year, the get-together was at my sister’s house in Lyle, Washington. For those of you that don’t know where Lyle is, it is a small town in the Columbia River Gorge, on the Washington side of the river, ten miles or so east of Hood River, Oregon. My sister actually lives north of town another 10 miles or so in a house with a fantastic view of Mount Adams. However, I didn’t take any shots of Mount Adams when I was there, the air was quite hazy.

Tanya and I stayed right in the town of Lyle in an Airbnb house with a view of the Columbia River. The only photograph I planned to take that weekend was the image above. I knew by checking the Photographer Ephemeris that the crescent moon would be setting directly down the gorge from Lyle. In fact, I didn’t have to travel far to get the shot. The image above was taken from the deck of our rental.

So why is this post called “Rookie Mistakes?” Because I made a mess of my photo shoot. For those of you that have been to the Columbia River Gorge, you probably know the wind blows there a lot, and the night I shot this image was no exception. So, one would think that I, being somewhat of a professional photographer, would take precautions against camera shake. Well, I thought I did. I used my sturdiest tripod, I bumped up the ISO to 800 and used wide apertures to make for shorter shutter speeds. I shot some 30 images. All of them had camera shake to a certain extent. The one above, the last image I shot that night, was the best of the lot. I used Photoshop’s shake reduction filter, and that helped, but I could have done more. I should have used a weight on the tripod. I should have left the stabilizer on my lens, which I normally turn off when shooting from a tripod, turned on. Bad mistakes. I’m lucky I had even one halfway decent shot.

Mistake number two – the moon (and the planet above it in this image, Jupiter, I think) moves fast. My shutter speeds were between 2.5 and 30 seconds. When shooting stars at night, a 30-second exposure is typically not long enough to have star trails show when using a very wide-angle lens. However, I was not using a very wide-angle lens; I was using a telephoto lens. In everything I shot with a shutter speed over 2.5 seconds, the moon was horribly blurred due to the earth’s rotation. The image above is actually a composite, the moon and Jupiter are a 2.5 second exposure, the rest is a 10 second exposure.

All I can say is that when I downloaded these images to my computer, I was very disappointed. I let the excitement of the photo shoot overwhelm good technique. That’s why it is important to get out and practice your craft as much as possible. Keep working on your technique until it becomes second nature. I guess I’m not there yet. Here I encountered two different, unrelated phenomenon that, had I been thinking properly, should have made me use a fast shutter speed. Neither did. I failed and am lucky to have anything to show. But, I learned a lesson and, hopefully, will not make these mistakes again.


Feeding the Photography Habit when Traveling with Family

The LouvreIf you are like me, it is often difficult to do serious photography when traveling with your family. I wish I had a simple method to address this problem, but I don’t. If you do, please let me know! Or perhaps you don’t think this is a problem. If that is that case, please tell me why.

When traveling with Tanya, she usually requires me classify the trip as  a  “photograph trip” or a “non-photography trip.” On non-photography trips, I can still take my equipment, but I am expected not to disrupt any trip plans with photography. On photography trips, the world’s my oyster and I dictate when and where.

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí, on the Block of Discord, Bacelona

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí, on the Block of Discord, Barcelona

When we take a big trip, like our trip to Europe last month, they are by default non-photography trips. This is especially true when we travel with others; in this particular case, traveling with my mother-in-law and my son. One word of advice – if you want to get a lot of photography in while traveling, don’t travel with your mother-in-law.

On a photography trip, I tend to take the whole bag. But for non-photography trips, I go more minimal. I usually take my camera backpack as a carry-on in the plane, but I don’t typically carry it around when out shooting except when I’m going out by myself (see below). Even then, I take some of the gear out instead of my normal kit. I typically take my Canon 6D body with battery grip, a 28-300 mm lens, a 17-40 mm lens, about 5 or 6 memory cards, a polarizing filter, a split-neutral density filter, a Canon speedlight flash, four batteries, a battery charger, a tripod, my laptop, a card reader, and a few various accessories (lens cloth, etc.). In addition to the backpack, I also bring a Think Tank Pro digital holster  as a smaller bag.

So when on a non-photography trips and heading out with the family, I go with a minimal set of equipment.  I will put the 28-300mm lens on the camera, take the battery grip off, and put the camera in the holster (the camera will not fit in the holster with the battery grip on). In the pockets of the holster, which are rather small, I’ll carry a spare battery, a spare memory card, a cleaning cloth, and the polarizing filter. Sometimes, if I know I will want it, I’ll carry the 17-40mm lens in my coat pocket (no room in the camera holster). Rarely I’ll carry the tripod as well with this minimal setup. This minimal set of equipment allows me to get quality photographs without impacting the family, though I will often have to shoot at a higher ISO than I’d like due to not having the tripod (see my last post).

But my main strategy to get quality photography time is to go out without the family. This usually means going out at night after the family has retired to our lodgings for the evening or getting up extra early and going out prior to everyone else being ready for the day. This is one reason I like to stay near major attractions that might look good at night. On your recent trip, we stayed within easy walking distance of the Louvre when in Paris and near the Block of Discord in Barcelona. When going out on my own, I carry my full kit in the photo backpack and always take the tripod (even with high ISOs, it is hard to shoot at night without a tripod). The added advantage is that often there are not very many people around wandering into my frame when shooting, and even if they do, the exposures are long enough that they typically don’t show up if they keep moving.

Shooting at night also has the added advantage of making the sky easier to deal with. When doing travel photography, you typically don’t have a lot of time at any one destination. So you can’t necessarily wait for those “good” sky days. Often the sky is a mass of clouds without any redeeming detail, and if you place it in your composition, it sits there like a huge blown-out white blob. Not to mention the contrast problem it creates with the foreground and your image’s subject. Not a problem at night. At worst, clouds pick up scattered lights from the city and take on an orange glow, which is easy to fix in processing.

The images accompanying this post are from two nights I went out by myself, once in Paris and the second in Barcelona. Unlike my previous post, these images were all taken with an ISO of 100 or 200 while using a tripod. The featured image at the top of the post is of the courtyard of the Louvre.

The top of the large pyramid in the Louve courtyard with the museum building in back.

The top of the large pyramid in the Louvre courtyard with the museum building in back.

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just northeast of the Louvre

The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, just northeast of the Louvre

Louvre, the Seine River, and the Pont du Carrousel bridge

Louvre, the Seine River, and the Pont du Carrousel bridge

Palace of the Institute of France

Palace of the Institute of France

Reflections in the Seine looking toward the Palace of the Institute of France and the Pont des Arts bridge

Reflections in the Seine looking toward the Palace of the Institute of France and the Pont des Arts bridge

Close up on the Casa Batlló

Close up on the Casa Batlló

Close up on Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera

Close up on Christmas decorations on the Casa Milà , popularly known as La Pedrera

Shooting at night can give lucky accidents, such as this shot of La Pedrera with a bus driving through the frame during the exposure

Shooting at night can give lucky accidents, such as this shot of La Pedrera with a bus driving through the frame during the exposure

Barcelona is home the famous Magic Fountains, but there are many other fountains in the city as well, such as this one in the middle of the intersection of Passeig de Garcia and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes

Barcelona is home the famous Magic Fountains, but there are many other fountains in the city as well, such as this one in the middle of the intersection of Passeig de Garcia and Gran Via de Les Corts Catalanes

Or the fountains here in the Plaça de Catalunya

Or the fountains here in the Plaça de Catalunya

 


When Traveling, Embrace High ISOs

Sainte ChapelleMy recent trip to Europe confirmed something I already knew, travel photographers need to embrace high ISOs. Sure I took my tripod along on the trip, and I used it frequently. But mostly when outside buildings. Most museums and other indoor attractions prohibit tripods, often monopods, and even selfie-sticks (not that I have one – I use my tripod or monopod instead). There are a few exceptions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for one (see my previous blog about tripods in New York), but more and more it seems tripods are a no-no (and don’t even get me started on places that prohibit photography entirely, where people left and right are using their cell phones to take photos (often with flash), but if I get my DSLR out, I get a stern warning).

When planning a trip, I usually try to research whether tripods are allowed in various attractions I want to visit, but in this case, I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare and failed to do the research. Further, traveling with my mother-in-law, I didn’t figure I’d have a lot of photography time (and I was right). But even if you have time to do such research, it is often had to find rules related to tripods on the internet, and worse, sometimes the information is either wrong or incorrectly enforced at the attraction. For my recent trip, I just assumed tripods weren’t allowed in any indoor attraction I visited – an assumption that was usually confirmed by signs at the various attractions.

There is another consideration. I can’t even imagine trying to set up a tripod in Sainte Chapelle in Paris (which doesn’t allow tripods; the featured image above, by the way, is Sainte Chapelle taken at ISO 6400, f/5, 1/30 sec), there was barely room to stand. Even if tripods are allowed, due to the number of people visiting, it is often impractical to use them. For example, in Seattle, tripods are allowed at Pike Place Market and in the Seattle Aquarium, but due to crowds, can be hard to use.

Of course there is the final consideration about just carrying it around. There were places on my recent trip where I could have used a tripod, but didn’t have it with me because I didn’t want to lug it around with me. Sometimes it was because I was visiting another attraction in the same day that didn’t allow tripods; other times it was because I was too lazy (I know, my bad).

Yes, it is best to use low ISO with long exposures and a tripod to minimize digital noise, but often that is not an option. Luckily, the high ISO capabilities of today’s digital cameras are quite good, and getting better with each generation of camera. During my recent trip, I found myself shooting at ISO 3200 and 6400 quite often. I even got up to 25,600 several times; the digital noise was horrible, but it was that or not get the shot.  That’s what it came down to, getting a shot or not. You be the judge, was it worth using high ISO to get the shots accompanying this post?

Napolean's Tomb, Les Invalides, Paris, France; taken at ISO 6400, f/4, 1/20 sec (supporting camera on a railing)

Napoleon’s Tomb, Les Invalides, Paris, France; image shot at ISO 6400, f/4, 1/20 sec (camera supported on a railing)

Painting above Napolean's Tomb; ISO3200, f/5, 1/100 sec

Painting above Napoleon’s Tomb; shot at ISO 3200, f/5, 1/100 sec

Art installation in the Conciergerie; ISO 6400, f/5, 1/30 sec

Art installation in the Conciergerie, Paris, France; image shot at ISO 6400, f/5, 1/30 sec

Arches in the ceiling of the Conciergerie; ISO 6400, f/5, 1/40 sec

Arches in the ceiling of the Conciergerie; ISO 6400, f/5, 1/40 sec

Tomb of Saint Eulalia in the crypt of Barcelona Cathedral; ISO 3200, f/5, 1/50 sec

Tomb of Saint Eulalia in the crypt of Barcelona Cathedral; image shot at ISO 3200, f/5, 1/50 sec

TInell Hall (Saló del Tinell), Greater Royal Palace, Barcelona; ISO 12,800, f/5, 1/10 sec (camera supported by railing)

Tinell Hall (Saló del Tinell), Greater Royal Palace, Barcelona; shot at ISO 12,800, f/5, 1/10 sec (camera supported by railing)

Bones and skulls in the catacombs of Paris; ISO 12,800, f/4.5, 1/50 sec

Bones and skulls in the catacombs of Paris; shot at ISO 12,800, f/4.5, 1/50 sec

La Sagrada Familia at night; ISO 12,800, f/3.5, 1/30 sec. I could have used a tripod here, but didn't have it with me.

La Sagrada Familia at night; ISO 12,800, f/3.5, 1/30 sec. I could have used a tripod here, but didn’t have it with me.

Grave of Philippe Le Royer, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris; ISO 3200, f/5, 1/125 sec. Another outside shot where I could have used a tripod but wasn't carrying it with me.

Grave of Philippe Le Royer, Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris; ISO 3200, f/5, 1/125 sec. Another outside shot where I could have used a tripod but wasn’t carrying it with me.

La Boqueria Market stall, Barcelona; ISO 3200, f/5, 1/200 sec

La Boqueria Market stall, Barcelona; image shot at ISO 3200, f/5, 1/200 sec. Tripods may be allowed  here, but in the busy market, they may not be such a good idea.

Gargoyle, Notre Dame; ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/30 sec. An outside shot on a cloudy day close to sunset. No tripods allowed, and even worse, shooting through a net.

Gargoyle, Notre Dame; image shot at ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/30 sec. An outside shot on a cloudy day close to sunset. No tripods allowed. I should note that perhaps even worse than not allowing tripods, when visiting the Notre Dame tower, to shoot the gargoyles, you need to shoot through a net with openings much smaller than a DSLR lens.


Challenge your Photography

Sometimes I feel like I get in a photographic rut – stuck on the same subjects, the same compositions. I need to refresh my creative, photographic juices. One way to do this is to take on a series of topics you might not otherwise and to look for new perspectives. That is the motivation behind a photographic scavenger hunt – shoot a list of topics in a limited amount of time trying to come up with fresh new interpretations. I have blogged about scavenger hunts before (here and here), and that is my subject again today.

Yesterday I organized a scavenger hunt along the Gig Harbor waterfront for my two local photography club: Sound Exposure and the Tacoma Mountaineers. I’ve organized a scavenger hunt for one or the other of these groups for about four years now. I love doing scavenger hunts because they are a great learning tool for photographers of all skill levels. They force a photography to challenge themselves, to look beyond what they normally photography.

If you are in a club doesn’t have a scavenger hunt, you may want to suggest one. They are really a fun learning experience. But you don’t have to be in a club to do a scavenger hunt. You can do one all by yourself or with a couple of friends. First pick a place and time. Your time should be limited to about 4 hours or less – long enough to shoot all your subjects, but short enough to put a bit or pressure on yourself to get “good” shots of all the subjects. Develop a list of 20 to 24 subjects, and go shoot!

Here’s a list of subjects from the scavenger hunt I ran yesterday. You could apply most of these to your own scavenger hunt.

  1. Color
  2. Watercraft
  3. Yellow
  4. Odd Number
  5. Nature
  6. Reflection
  7. Symmetry
  8. Break the Rule of Thirds
  9. Monochrome
  10. Closeup/macro
  11. Human
  12. Unusual
  13. S-curve
  14. Stop Action
  15. Sad
  16. Joy
  17. Water
  18. the “Perfect” Photograph
  19. Texture
  20. First
  21. Photographer’s Choice
  22. Self Portrait

Although I didn’t participate in the scavenger hunt because I was the organizer, I did take a few photos to help illustrate for this post. If you want more some more advise on how to run and organize a scavenger hunt, send me an email.

Go ahead – challenge yourself and do a scavenger hunt. Have fun!!!

Topic - Stop Action

Topic – Stop Action

Topic - Color

Topic – Color

Topic - Closeup

Topic – Closeup

Topic - Monochrome

Topic – Monochrome

Topic - Yellow

Topic – Yellow

Topic - reflection

Topic – reflection

Topic - unusual

Topic – unusual


Working on Photographer Memory

Sea BarnI remember five years ago this month (it seems like just last year, how time flies when you get old), when my friend and fellow photographer, Bob Miller visited the Tacoma area. We got together one afternoon and drove out to the Key Peninsula, a rural area west of Gig Harbor, to see what we could find.

The Key Peninsula doesn’t offer any world-class view. But there are a couple of state parks: Penrose Point and Joemma Beach. Both are nice enough places, and some good photography can be had at either. Both have pleasant beaches. Penrose is on the east side of the peninsula and has a view of Mount Rainier. Joemma is on the west side, and the view is toward the Olympics. But Bob wanted to just roam, and not go anyplace special, so (at least as I remember it) we didn’t go to the state parks.

We ended up visiting a cemetery, an abandoned house, the site of a historic bed and breakfast, and several other stops just along the road. It was fun, just being out, driving around without any plans in particular other than shooting a few photos.

I don’t think I brought anything too exciting home from the trip, though I rather like the featured image above of an old building in the community of Home. Instead, the trip helped my “photographer memory” – that is, it helped me exercise my photographic skills, helping those skills become more automatic (sort of like muscle memory for sports). I know we all want to bring home that award-winning shot every time we go out shooting, but in reality, that doesn’t happen very often. Rather, it’s times like I had five years ago with Bob that have made my response with the camera more automatic. With less thinking about settings and composition, I am better prepared for that award-winning shot when it does present itself.

So, you may ask, why am I discussing this while showing photos from five years ago? That’s because I haven’t been practicing my photographer memory since the first weekend of the month. I haven’t been out, and it’s starting to bother me. It’s often said “use it or lose it,” and I suppose that is true about photography as well. Thinking back on that short trip five years ago is a good reminder to myself that there are plenty of nearby places where I can practice my photographic craft without making a special trip somewhere. In other words, I just need to get out there and do it!

Luckily, I do have a special trip coming up this Friday – though not specifically a photography trip. I’m heading off to southeast Alaska to go salmon fishing for four days. Hopefully I’ll be able to practice some photographer memory in between reeling in a few fish.

Old Stove

Post Box

Ford and Flag


Nightscapes – Ebook Review and Discount

Balanced Rock by Moonlight

Balanced Rock by Moonlight

Want to learn how to take photos similar to my shot of Balance Rock shown here? Recently I blogged about a lecture by Royce Bair about shooting Milky Way nightscapes. I hope some of you were able to attend. The lecture was in advance of his new ebook on the subject. The ebook is now ready.

Though I took the Balanced Rock shot prior to reading Royce’s book, I wish I had the book first; it would have solved several problems I had with the shoot. I am currently planning a trip next week to Eastern Washington to do some night photography (weather permitting) and Royce’s book will certainly be making the trip with me. It has helped me plan the trip and plan particular shots I hope to take. Prior to going, I will be purchasing a new spotlight (for light painting) based on book recommendations. In particular, I like his “recipes” for taking these type of shots. They make the process much easier.

Royce recently contacted me and is offering a special limited-time 25% discount on his ebook. His book “Milky Way NightScapes” is 140 pages about starry night landscape photography including planning, scouting, forecasting star/landscape alignment, light painting, shooting techniques and post processing. I have a copy and it is very informative. It sells for $19.99, but he is offering a $5 discount to readers of my blog.

The eBook can be previewed or ordered here.
To receive the discount:

1. Scroll to the bottom of the web page
2. Click on the ADD TO CART button
3. In the shopping cart, enter TWAN in the Discount Code box
4. Click the “Update Cart” button to get your $5.00 discount and have it reduce the total to $14.99
5. Click the yellow PayPal checkout button and make your payment
6. You can now download the eBook PDF

Your net price will be $14.99. This discount code is for a limited time only.

I should probably note that I did not receive anything for this recommendation. It’s just a great little ebook that give concise, usable information and advice on how to shoot Milky Way landscapes.

 


How Far Do You Go?

Desert Abstract 2One of the challenges of shooting in RAW format is deciding what and how much processing to do. (Tangent – why is RAW capitalized? It is not an acronym such as JPEG or TIFF. It simply means unprocessed. In Wikipedia, it isn’t capitalized. But somehow, it doesn’t look right to me. I’m usually a stickler for correct writing – just ask anyone at my day job where I edit everyone’s reports; they may even call me a grammar nazi – but leaving it uncapitalized when every other file format is capitalized seem wrong. So grammar nazi or not, I’m capitalizing it.) When shooting in JPEG mode, the camera does the processing for you. You can always tweak it later, but the majority of the work is done. With RAW, you should do the heavy lifting and process the image yourself, at least if the default processing by your RAW converter program (Lightroom in my case) doesn’t do a good job. And it is rare when I find I can’t do a better job processing than the default.

But the question remains, what to do and how much? Some might answer, just enough so that it looks like it did in real life. But what is that? Take, for example, the images presented here. These are shots of water seeping out of sandstone near Moab, Utah. I’ve included both my processed versions and the original RAW versions from Lightroom with zeroed developing (with all the sliders set to zero – realize, however, there still is some processing involved, it is impossible to present true RAW images, some processing must occur to translate the images into something humans can view). I took these images in the shade on a sunny, blue-skied morning. So these were naturally lit by a broad, blue sky, which cast a rather flat, blue light onto the sandstone. Does that flat, blue light truly show what I saw, or do my processed versions show what I saw? The answer is up to me as the maker and you as the viewer. Did I go too far?

Well, what did I do to turn the RAW images into the finished images? They were first processed in Lightroom, correcting for lens distortion and chromatic aberration. Then I set the white point and the black point to add contrast, took a little off the exposure, and adjusted the highlights and shadows to bring detail into the blacks and whites. I added some clarity to add a bit of sharpness and some vibrance to add saturation. I then adjusted the color temperature, increasing it to remove the blue tint. I then added a radial filter to lighten the water patterns and darken the rest. And finally, made minor changes to many of these adjustments to fine tune them.  I then took the images to Photoshop, performed Tony Kuyper’s triple play to add punch to the highlights and shadows, lighten up the orangy-browny vegetation on top, and added a “smart glow” to punch up the color a bit. In total, it took about 10 minutes each to do all this work.

I’d think the most controversial of these changes would be the changes to the color, in particular adding vibrance and the smart glow.  The rest is pretty standard old-school darkroom photography made digital (except perhaps the Kuyper triple play, that doesn’t really change the images that much).  The problem here is deciding what is too much in terms of the color. Because the subjects were in shadow, it is difficult to determine what the colors would look like in the sunshine. And of course, what sunshine are we talking about? Sun at noon? Sun at sunset?

I guess the answer is it depends. Did I take it too far? I don’t think so; you may. But these are close to what I wanted to show when I took the images. So for me, the answer is no; I processed them as I thought proper. For you the answer may be different. If you think so, let me know your thoughts.Desert Abstract 1

Desert Abstract 2 - RAW

RAW image unprocessed

 

Desert Abstract 1 RAW

RAW image unprocessed

 


In Celebration of Pi Day, I Give You Phi

Golden spiral overlay in PhotoshopToday is Pi Day. I’m not sure how Pi relates to photography, but Phi does. Pi the ratio of  a circle’s circumference to its diameter, an irrational number approximately equal to 3.14159. Phi is also an irrational number, approximately equal to 1.61803. Phi is also called the golden ratio. It is the ratio obtained when a line is divided into two unequal parts such that when the longer part is divided by the smaller part the answer is the same as when the whole length is divided by the longer part. (It makes much more sense when you see it as a diagram.) Pi and Phi are somewhat related in that the product of the two numbers (phi times pi) is found in golden geometries.

I am not a mathematician, but I suspect the product of Pi and Phi is related to golden geometries because Phi is an expression of the golden ratio. And the golden ratio is special in photographic composition. Phi, the golden ratio, presents to the human mind a very pleasing relationship. Besides photography, it is found in architecture, painting, and music, as well in nature.

The golden ratio has been used for art since practically forever. The Parthenon is covered with instances of the Phi. It can be found in artworks such as the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper. It is even found in Darth Vader’s mask.

The rule of thirds works, in my opinion, because it is an approximation of Phi. If you take the sweet spot defined by Phi four times in a frame, you get a pattern similar to the rule of thirds, but a little less easy to define on the fly when looking through your viewfinder. Luckily, both Photoshop and Lightroom offer crop overlays that show the golden ratio grid.

The golden ratio can also be expressed in a spiral. A logarithmic spiral with a growth factor of Phi is known a the golden spiral. Again, both Photoshop and Lightroom also have crop overlays based on the golden spiral. The sweet spots of the golden spiral are also close the those of the rule of thirds.

It is easy to access these crop overlays in Lightroom. The various crop overlays in Lightroom are found under the Tools pull-down menu. Or when using the crop tool, use the shortcut of the letter “O” to cycle through the various crop overlays. When using the golden ratio overlay, you can cycle through the various orientations of the spiral (placing it in different quadrants of the image) by using “Shift O”. The same shortcuts are used in Photoshop when using its crop tool.

With a bit of practice, you can imagine the golden ratio proportions in your viewfinder, and you can always perfect the composition with the crop tool in Lightroom and Photoshop. So if you want to move beyond the rule of thirds, remember Phi – the golden ratio – a photographer’s compositional mathematical friend.

Golden Spiral overlay in Lightroom

Golden Ratio overlay in Photoshop

Golden Ratio overlay in Lightroom

 

 


Controlling Crowds

Lincoln MemorialOn my recent trip to Baltimore, I spent an afternoon at the National Mall in Washington, DC. It seemed to me, with cold weather and snow, as well as being on a Tuesday, there were very many people there. It may have been because the snow closed down the government, so a lot of people had the day off, and that it was sunny and not really that cold. Or it could be there is just always a lot of people there. It is a popular tourist attraction after all. Regardless, with all the people, it made it a challenge to photograph the monuments without a lot of people in my shots.

A great method to remove people from your shots is to use a really long exposure (typically several seconds to minutes). With a long exposure, people moving through the frame are not recorded. To get really long exposures, use a neutral density filter. As I was carrying my tripod and a neutral density filter, I was tempted to use this method to get a shot of the Lincoln Memorial during the afternoon, as it seemed to be the place with the most people gathered. However, even an exposure of several minutes (which I don’t think I could have gotten due to bright light) was probably not good enough in this case because a lot of people were standing in place for minutes at a time. A ten-minute exposure might have work, but I didn’t have the equipment with me for that.Vietnam to Washington

Instead, I came by later, after sunset, when there were many fewer people about. Then using an 8-second exposure, I was able to capture the monument without people (actually, there is the “ghost” of two people in the shot, but I can remove them later with cloning if I want).

Actually, waiting for evening is a great method for controlling crowds. Typically there are many fewer people about and the light is often better than in the middle of the day. In the shot of the Washington Monument from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I planned the shot during the afternoon when many people where in front of the war memorial wall, but came back after sunset to make the shot. I shot from this location for about 15 minutes, during which time, only one group of people passed.

Another method is to frame the people out of the picture, as worked for the image here of the Jefferson Memorial. Look for pleasing compositions above the heads of your fellow visitors. A corollary to this method is to shoot details, rather than the big picture, thereby cutting people out of your compositions.

Of course, that doesn’t always work. Sometimes you want the entire building or you want foregrounds that shooting high above people’s heads cannot give. In that case you can try to go with a wide-angle shot. With a wide-angle perspective, you can make the people visible in the shot look much smaller and less of an obstruction, at least if they are not close to the camera. This method worked well for the shot of the Washington Monument with the flags.

Or you can just go to areas that are not as popular. By visiting less popular sites, you don’t only get the advantage of fewer people in the frame, you can capture shots that are more unique (rather than the same shot of the popular attraction that has been shot a million times). Very few people were visiting the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, which is where I took the shot below of the Jefferson Memorial with the snowy tree in the foreground.

Travel photography presents many opportunities, including shooting interesting people and cultures. But sometimes, you views without the people in them. Using some of the methods described above can often allow you to capture shots people-free.

 

Jefferson MemorialWashington MonumentJefferson Memorial in Winter


Creating a Tilt-shift Look

Port of SeattleMy intention this morning was to get a lot of work done. Instead, I sat down at the computer and played with Photoshop. I long have wanted to learn how to create the tilt-shift look in Photoshop. You know the look, that of a miniature toy town or city. So instead of working, I asked Mr. Google how to do it, and he directed to a tutorial by Denise Lu. It is quite easy.

1. Pick a photo. It seems to work best with a wide view, taken from a high angle so you are looking downward on the scene. Two of the images here were taken from the Smith Tower in Seattle and the third from the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

2. Open the photo in Photoshop and create a duplicate layer so you are not working on the background layer.

3. Enter the Quick Mask Mode (the shortcut is the Q key) and select the Gradient tool. With the gradient tool, select the reflected gradient (the 4th mode over on the gradient tool bar).

4. Draw a gradient starting in the area you want to be in focus and extending to the area out of focus. You can hold the Shift key down to make sure your gradient is straight. A mask (default color red) will appear on the screen showing the area to be in focus. You will likely have to play around with it to get a mask exactly where you want it.

5. Exit the Quick Mask Mode (hit the Q key again) and from the filter pull-down menu select the Lens Blur filter.

6. Pick a radius of somewhere between 20 and 40, at least those are the values I used. The Lens Blur filter screen will let you preview the results.

7. Consider adding saturation with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and extra contrast with a Levels or Curves adjustment layer to make the result look for toy-like.

And that’s it! The hardest part is getting the gradient in the proper place. If you have a building sticking out of the in-focus area, such as in my image of Paris here, you can use other selection tools to de-select that portion of the building after leaving the Quick Mask Mode but before applying the Lens Blur filter.

Have fun!

Paris

Seattle


Night Moves – Milky Way Edition

Milky Way1“Workin’ on mysteries without any clues, Workin’ on our night moves” -Bob Seger, Night Moves

I enjoy night photography, though I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn. I have previously written on the topic. However, in that case, my post focused on night photography in the city. In today’s post, I’ll focus on night photography in the wilderness (or at least far from city lights).

During my recent backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains, I played with night photography on two nights. My main focus on those nights was to capture some shots of the Milky Way. When shooting star filled skies, and not trying for star trails, here are a few hints:

  • plan your shot by seeing where the Milky Way will be – download the free program Stellarium, a planetarium for computers which can show you how the night sky will look anywhere in the world at anytime now or in the future.
  • pick a spot outside of cities – light pollution blocks many visible stars; my trip to the Olympic Mountains was perfect
  • for the best star shots, avoid times when the moon is up – like light pollution, moonlight will drown out many stars; it was just after new moon when I was in the Olympics, moonlight was not a problem
  • use as “fast” a lens as you can – I used my f4 17-40mm zoom because I wanted the wide-angle view. However, my f2.8 24-70mm lens would have been a better choice for its better light gathering ability
  • don’t be afraid of high ISOs, you will need it – I used ISO settings of 3,200, 6,400, and 8,000 coupled with noise reduction in Lightroom.
  • avoid shutter speeds more than 30 seconds, otherwise you will start getting star trails – up to 30 seconds typically works okay for wide-angle shots (perhaps up to 24 mm), but if you use a less wide-angle lens, you will need a faster shutter speed. The shots here had shutter speeds of 20 to 30 seconds
  • use a wide open aperture – I had my lens wide open at f4 (again, an f2.8 lens would have been better)
  • use a tripod – goes without saying
  • if you want some color to the sky, don’t wait until it is too dark – the length of time after sunset the sky will retain color depends on which direction you point the camera and your latitude (it gets darker quicker at lower latitudes); my shots here were taken between 1.5 and 2.5 hours after sunset
  • auto-focus will not work, so turn it off – auto-focus does not work in low light; to focus you can choose to take some test shots and check a magnified view on your LCD panel of some of the stars; alternatively, manually set the focus to the hyperfocal distance or biased to the infinite side of the hyperfocal distance (that’s what I did)
  • consider using less vignetting correction in post-processing – the profiled vignetting correction for my lens in Lightroom adds a lot of noise to the edges of the images (not a problem in full light conditions, bad news in low light)

 

Lunch Lake and Milky Way

Lunch Lake and the Milky Way – shot about 1.5 hours after sunset, f4, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

Glow on the Horizon

Taken 2.5 hours after sunset, there was still a glow on the horizon visible to the camera (but not my eye) – f4, 20 seconds, ISO 8000

Milky Way and Pond

Both this shot and the one at the top of the post were taken just a few steps from our campsite at Lunch Lake. The water is not the lake, but a small pond. The biggest problem I had here was that there are two campsites on the far side of this pond, and one group of campers kept turning their flashlights on. After several tries, I captured a shot without the light from their camp. Shot about 1.75 hours after sunset, f4, 20 seconds, ISO 8000


Back in the Saddle

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Lime Kiln LighthouseComputer upgrade is mostly complete, and I am back to having a digital darkroom. It’s like magic! Lightroom is like a totally different program. When going to a 1:1 view, it snaps into focus in about 2 seconds and not the seemingly (I never actually measured) 1/2 minute. When running my Tony Kuyper triple play actions in Photoshop, they finish up in a few seconds. This is great!

The big test, though, was running Nik Silver Efex Pro, which would not run at all on my old computer. Several months ago I posted about wanting to do more black and white work, but not being able to use Silver Efex Pro. I was still able to produce quality black and white images, but was unable to use one of the top plug-ins for creating black and white images. So now with the new computer, it was time to put it to the Silver Efex test; it passed with flying colors (or actually lack of colors that is)!

I tried it out on an image I took over Memorial Day weekend on San Juan Island. Being on San Juan Island over the long weekend, I had hoped to capture some good images. However, since we were with friends and Tanya took pains to remind me that the trip “was not a photography trip,” combined with not the best weather in the world, I didn’t get anything I was really happy with.

Since first seeing photos of the Lime Kiln State Park lighthouse, I’ve always wanted to photograph it. And Memorial Day weekend was my chance. I convinced Tanya and our friends to have an early dinner so we could go out to the state park for sunset. Sunset was kind of a bust – not much color. However, we stayed into the blue hour, and I captured the shot featured here, which I thought might work well as a black and white. Below is the original RAW capture straight out of Lightroom with no development (other than the default). Also below is the color version after I developed in Lightroom and Photoshop – not bad, but not really what I was hoping for. I made a duplicate image and tried the Silver Efex Pro plug-in. It opened right up, and within a few minutes, I was able to create the image above. I was just playing around, and this probably won’t be my final version of the image. But Silver Efex Pro impressed me with how quickly I was able to get close to my black and white vision for the image. It’s great being back in the saddle again.

For those who are interested. This image was taken perhaps 10 or 15 minutes after sunset. The exposure settings were 13 seconds at f22, iso 100. I used a 2-stop, graduated neutral density filter.

Lime Kiln RAW

The original RAW capture with no post-capture development.

Lime Kiln Color

The processed color version used to create the black and white image.


Going Slow at Ingalls Creek

Ingalls Creek

Ingalls Creek – hand held, 1/8 second, f/16, iso 100, 17 mm

Last Friday Tanya, Nahla and I took a day hike along Ingalls Creek in the Alpine Lake Wilderness Area. When loading my pack at the trailhead, I decided the leave my tripod in the car – it was a bright sunny day, what would I need the tripod for? Actually, I needed the tripod for two things. First, I apparently forgot that I like that silky water look when photographing streams. Second, as the afternoon progressed, it got cloudy and much less bright.

So, what to do when you need to use slow shutter speeds and don’t have a tripod? Well that depends on the photo. In the case of low light, you can just increase the ISO and decrease your need for a slow shutter speed. Of course, this does have the problem of increasing noise. In the case of wanting a slow shutter speed for a visual effect, like creating silky looking water, a high ISO will not help. You have to find a way of holding the camera steady.

If possible, you try not holding the camera at all; set it on the ground or, when hiking, on your pack. However, this doesn’t always work well. It can be difficult to get the composition you want that way, though using the live view (if your camera is so equipped) can help. If you have to hold the camera, try some of these techniques:

  1. use the proper technique to support the camera and lens – support the body and lens with your hands, elbows in tight against your body, camera tight against your forehead, have your body braced if possible.
  2. You can also use the camera strap to help. In my case, I shortened up the strap and looped it under my elbow so there was just enough strap length to hold the camera when pressing my elbow after from the camera. This made the strap very tight and greatly steadied the camera.
  3. Shoot in short bursts, gently pushing the shutter button – often when shooting three or five images with one press of the shutter, later images may be more steady than the first one (when the button is first pressed).
  4. Shoot lots of frames – for the stream image above, I probably shot 20 or 30 frames to get one steady enough.
  5. Control your breath, make it slow and steady. Try to press the shutter button when exhaling.
  6. Shoot using a wide-angle lens – camera movement is less apparent with wider angle lenses than with telephoto lenses
  7. Use an image-stabilizing lens (nice if you have it; though in my case, the lens I was using does not have this feature)

With these techniques (except the last one), I was able to get a few decent shots without having the resort to software solutions (such as Focus Magic), which though good, do have limitations. But next time, I think I will bring my tripod, even on a sunny day.

BTW, the wildflowers are really out in force along Ingalls Creek right now. We saw lupines; red, orange and yellow indian paintbrush, mariposa lilies; and many more. This is a great time of year to do this hike.

Lupines

The lupines were out in force along the trail. This image was taken after the sky clouded over. Hand held, 1/25 second, f/16, iso 800, 33mm


Moon Troubles

Full Moon TacomaI have trouble photographing the moon. Okay, it’s not so hard before for the sun sets (which is why the best full moon pictures are typically taken the day before the full moon and, consequently, before the sun sets), but after dark, I have lots of problems. There is just too much contrast. The moon is bright, basically as bright as anything lit by sunlight on a cloudless sunny mid-day. Everything else is dark. The dynamic range of any scene with the moon is too much for a camera to handle.

Perfect time to try some HDR photography, right? Maybe, but I’ve never gotten it to work well. I’ve always get funny looking light artifacts around the moon; all my attempts at using HDR for scenes with the moon have looked awful. How about shooting one exposure for the moon, one for the rest of the scene, and combining them in Photoshop. Again, maybe you can do that, but every time I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work – there’s too much glare around the moon and I can’t get the sky to look right.

Last month when I wanted to photograph the full moon rising behind the Glass Museum in Tacoma, I was disappointed when there were clouds on the eastern horizon and the moon wasn’t visible. Less than an hour later, the moon rose above the clouds, and though it was no longer aligned with the Glass Museum, it lined up nicely with the cable bridge over the Thea Foss Waterway. Nice shot, I thought, except now it was way too dark to capture both the moon and the with a single exposure. I set up the tripod anyway and took a series of shots, hoping that perhaps the contrast would not be too extreme.

Later, when I downloaded the shots, I was disappointed to find out contrast was too great – moon troubles were visiting me again. I tried HDR (once again) and was disappointed with the results (once again). I was frustrated. At that point, I figured someone else must have an answer to this problem, so I spent some time researching moon photography on Google. Most advice centered around photographing during twilight before it was too dark. Not helpful in my case. After a bit of searching, I found a YouTube video (which I can’t find again to credit here), where the photographer used HDR for only the moon and the area of sky immediately around it, a single image for the rest of the shot, then combined the two images in Photoshop. He then re-imported the resultant image into Photomatix for additional tone mapping, which I thought wasn’t necessary. But the first part sounded interesting.

I had a series of seven images, shot one f-stop apart. I imported all into Photomatix and worked it for the moon only. I re-imported the HDR moon image into Lightroom. Then I took a single image from the original seven and worked it in Lightroom for the foreground only. I also worked the HDR moon image in Lightroom to approximately match the sky to the sky (away from the moon) in the foreground image. I exported both images to Photoshop into a single document, with the foreground image as the background layer and the HDR moon image laying on top. I used a layer mask on the HDR moon layer to mask out everything but the area around the moon, feathering the mask match the sky in the underlying layer. The two skies didnt quite match, so I used a curves layer with a clipping mask on the HDR moon layer to get the tone of the two skies to be more similar. Once I was satisfied with the result, I continued with my normal Photoshop workflow to finish the image.

Perfect? No. But in the end, after a lot of work, the result is the best moon image I’ve ever captured after dark. What do you think, is it any good? And please, if anyone has some better way to handle my moon troubles, be kind and let me know.


Choices, Choices

When photography is exercised as an art form rather than an attempt to purely replicate a scene without any interpretation (which, of course is impossible, photographs cannot replicate reality – they are in 2 dimensions instead of 3, they are cropped and reality is not, etc. – this could be a whole separate blog by itself, but I digress), the photographer has a myriad of choices to make. Many choices are made when capturing the image – what lens to use, what exposure settings to use, what to leave in the frame and what to crop out, whether to use a high viewpoint or a low viewpoint, etc. And post capture, there are also a myriad of choices concerning processing – there are global adjustments for exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, the white point, the black point, clarity, saturation, vibrance; cropping; distortion corrections; adding gradients or brush stroke or radial filters; etc. etc. and that is just in Lightroom; go to Photoshop and the choices explode seemingly exponentially.

For the capture side of photography, I’m a big advocate of trying out lots of different options when photographing a subject to really explore its possibilities (see this old post on the subject). Much is said about per-visualizing an image when photographing. And doing so makes a lot of sense and can make for a great image. However, don’t let that per-visualization get in the way of looking at a subject from different, non-per-visualized vantage points.

Okay, I have a confession to make here, I did not follow my own advice when capturing the images accompanying this post. I had one viewpoint in mind, went out, took the shots, and left. Call me bad. These images were taken earlier in the week at Union Station in downtown Tacoma. Union Station is no longer a train station but is now the US courthouse here in the city. Union Station is an iconic shot of Tacoma which I haven’t explored much before (so iconic in fact that I saw another photographer’s image of it hanging on a wall earlier the same evening I took this shot). And the fact that it is an iconic shot maybe why I neglected to cover it from other angles. So here’s so more unsolicited advice – when shooting icons, get the iconic shot out of the way, then try to cover it from other angles and get your own take on the subject (yes, I hear you, I should follow my own advice).

But even when you only get one shot, even the iconic shot, with your post-capture processing you can put your own spin on a subject by the choices you make. Here are four different interpretations of the same subject. Three are HDR images, processed initially in Lightroom, exported to Photomatrix, then re-imported and finished in Lightroom. The other is not an HDR image and was processed solely in Lightroom. If I decide to work on one or more of the images in the future, I may take it to Photoshop to make additional adjustments. The HDR images are made from a set of five images taken one f-stop apart.

The images represent choices for a single exposure of HDR, more realistic HDR and more “grungy” HDR, and distortion correction and cropping versus no distortion correction and cropping. No one image is correct, and no one image is wrong. None represent the reality of the scene as viewed by my eye (this scene, taken at night, is mostly lit from ugly yellow sodium-vapor street lamps for example). All are interpretations; all are artwork; all represent different choices. With these shots, I believe, at least to a small extent, I put my own spin on an icon. I think I favor the cropped, distortion-corrected version the best; but do like the other ones as well. Do you have a favorite?

Union Station - single exposure

Union Station – single exposure

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR version

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR version

Union Station - more "realistic" HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station – more “realistic” HDR cropped with distortion correction

Union Station - grungy HDR look

Union Station – grungy HDR look

 


Thinking of Black and White

I love black and white photographs. I think black and white photographs may have been what really started my life-long passion for photography. In my pre-digital days, I had a wet darkroom in the back of the pantry of our kitchen. Though I did a little color processing, it was black and white processing that I truly enjoyed. I loved watching those pieces of photo paper magically transform and reveal an image when soaking in the developer bath. Those days are now long gone; I sold most of  my old darkroom equipment for pennies on the dollar and even just threw some of it away when I moved to Tacoma.

But I still love black and white, though I don’t do much of it. I want to change that. Recently I downloaded a copy of Silver Efex Pro. I was excited to give it a try, since so many photographers make great black and white photos with it. Today I tried it out. Today I failed. It causes Photoshop to crash on my computer. I think I may have a video card issue. Luckily, I am planning a computer upgrade in the near future, and that may solve the problem.

But I still had the urge to make at least one black and white image today before getting to my other pressing work – fun before work, right? So I tried using the black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop and was not happy with the results. It caused some of my brush strokes applied in Lightroom to show and pixelated the sky. So I resorted to Lightroom for my black and white conversion. Though it is powerful, it doesn’t allow the type of targeted black and white adjustments I was hoping for that one can make with Photoshop or Silver Effect Pro.

The image here is the result of my efforts today. It is of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse; a 30-second exposure taken after sunset. I like the color version; I really like the black and white version. And I think I could love the black and white version were I to go back and fix some of the defects that my earlier color processing caused that are only visible with the black and white conversion. It seems that black and white conversions, at least the way I like to make them, amplify mistakes in images. Sensor dust spots become more visible; halos from imprecise brush strokes are more obvious; etc. After my computer upgrade, I think I will come back to this image, start over fresh with the RAW file, fix those mistakes and process it specifically for black and white, and again try Silver Efex Pro. Until then I’ll enjoy this slightly flawed image and keep thinking of black and white.

Cape Disappointment Light


5 Years Ago – HDR in Walla Walla, Washington

Marcus WhitmanFor some reason I have a hard time getting out and doing photography in February. I’m not much of a winter fan to begin with, and by February I just want it to be over. After a fairly dry winter so far this season, the rains returned with a vengeance the past several weeks. I had two planned snowshoe trips cancelled. So without anything new to show, it’s time to dig through the archives.

Five years ago this month Tanya and I were on a wine-tasting trip to Walla Walla, Washington. (Non sequitur – I love saying Walla Walla, Washington. I think it stems from my youth when I use to watch a lot of Loony Tunes on television, and the cartoon characters there were always ordering fun stuff from Ace Novelty Company in Walla Walla, Washington. Anyone else out there like me, or am I just weird?) We stayed with friends at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, a grand old place in the heart of the downtown. I really liked the look of the lobby of this old hotel, and before we left, I got out the camera and tripod to photograph it.

The dynamic range in the lobby was extreme. Inside, the lobby was dark, lit by antique light fixtures. However, the windows were bright, lit by outside daylight. This was scene made for digital photography and the use of HDR (high dynamic range) processing. At the time, I hadn’t done much HDR, in fact, now thinking back, this could have been my first attempt. I’m happy with the results, though if I ever decide to reprocess these shots, I think I might cut back on the effect a bit – the colors, particularly the blues, are a bit over saturated. However, both images show the old grandeur  of the place, which was my intent for the photographs.  Hotels like this are just not made anymore.

Each of these two images is a combination of six shots, processed first by Lightroom, then combined into a single image via HDR processing in Photomatix, then back to Lightroom, and finally Photoshop. At the time, I didn’t like Photoshop’s HDR processing, which has since been updated. Photomatix has been updated as well, and I still prefer it to Photoshop for HDR processing.

If you ever plan on a visit to Walla Walla, this is a great place to stay. Their off-season rates are very reasonable (at least they were five years ago), and there are more winery tasting rooms within walking distance than any person can visit in a day. (When we visited, our group rented a limo and rode around the countryside outside the city to a number of wineries. When we returned in the afternoon, Tanya and I and another couple than walked to tasting rooms near the hotel. I can honestly tell you, all those tiny little tastes of wine add up. Needless to say, these images were taken the next morning when I was capable of focusing my camera as well as my eyes.)

Macus Whitman


Free Photography Ebook by David duChemin

Ten-More-Free-500x645He’s done it again. In an earlier post I told you about a free ebook being given away by David duChemin titled  TEN, Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear. This week David announced he is giving away the companion ebook TEN MORE, Ten More Ways to Improve your Craft Without Buying Gear.

As with his first book, this one didn’t present anything new to me personally (while I’d like to think that is because I’m such an experienced and accomplished photographer, in reality, it is probably because I have read all of David duChemin’s print books which cover these topics in more detail). However, for relatively new photographers, it does present good information and techniques they may not have thought about. For experienced photographers, it is always worth reviewing and remembering these relatively simple, yet effective techniques. Also like the first book, this one contains suggested, fun exercises to help learn or reinforce the techniques. Topics covered include: embracing constraints, digital darkroom, shooting in manual mode, honoring the frame, shooting in monochrome, and more.

This is a great little book, especially for the price (free!). It is certainly worth the time to download it. For a link to the book, visit David deChemin’s blog.


The Worst of 2013 and Lessons Learned

You will find many “best of 2013” posts and news articles this time of year. Today, I’m going the opposite direction and posting my worst of 2013. Actually, these aren’t truly the worst, just some bad images that didn’t get deleted immediately.

Every photographer posting on the internet is posting images they are proud of, and it is the same with me. I get a lot of comments on how great my images are, but that is only because I don’t show anyone the bad stuff (at least until now). Ask any professional photographer whose work you admire if they take any bad shots, and  if they say “no”, they are lying to you.

However, taking bad shots is not, in fact, a bad thing to do. Taking a lot of shots, trying a lot of different compositions, and experimenting in different techniques is a good way to learn what works and what doesn’t work, even if many of your images do turn out bad. Take a lot of differing shots and you are bound to come up with at least a few good ones. Learn from you mistakes, and the percentage of good shots will grow. If you don’t have any bad ones, in my opinion, you are either totally stale or not shooting enough. There’s no reason with digital cameras not to go out on a limb and try something different. Be brave, experiment! Try different exposures, try moving the camera while shooting, try a different perspective. Just remember to try to learn from both what works and what doesn’t.

Here are some of my worst images of 2013, one for each month except for July. July is excluded not because I didn’t take any bad shots in July, but because I only used my camera at weddings in July and I’m not about to put any bad wedding shots out on the internet. For the other months, I’m showing a bad shot both straight out of the camera and after trying to improve it in Lightroom (this is only fair, since I shoot RAW and process all the shots shown on my blog), plus a few comments on what makes it bad and the lessons I’ve learned once again.

January - a bad bird shot

January (out of the camera) – a bad bird shot.

Cropping helped make the bird a better subject, but more than half the image was thrown out doing so. Further, I was so far from the bird in the first place, only by this drastic crop could I tell the bird was actually looking away from the camera!

Even with a telephoto lens, the bird is just too small in the frame to make a good subject. Lesson learned (again) – make the subject prominent in the frame! Cropping helped make the bird a better subject, but more than half the image was thrown out doing so. Further, I was so far from the bird in the first place, only by this drastic crop could I tell the bird was actually looking away from the camera!

130217_Seattle_Bainbridge_001309-2

February (out of the camera) – what’s the subject?

Processing in Lightroom, as shown here, was no help. There is no computer software out there to add an interesting subject when there isn't one to begin with!

Trying to show what it is like sailing into Bainbridge Island on a ferry, I took this shot. But where’s the subject? All I see is a lot of featureless water. Plus the lighting was horrible – gray and flat. Processing in Lightroom was no help. There is no computer software known to humankind to add an interesting subject when there isn’t one to begin with!

March (out of the camera) - it's just like being there, NOT!

March (out of the camera) – it’s just like being there, NOT!

Where do I begin with this one. It is majestic standing below the Double Alcove in Zion National Park, and I wanted to capture that feeling. So looking straight up, I took this image. What a waste of pixels! First, without context, a viewer has no idea what this is or what the scale is (it's huge by the way). Plus there the contrast was huge. The sky was dark blue when the image was taken, and even processing in Lightroom couldn't fix the contrast problem.

This has so much wrong with it, where do I begin. It is majestic standing below the Double Alcove in Zion National Park, and I wanted to capture that feeling. So looking straight up, I took this image. What a waste of pixels! First, without context, a viewer has no idea what this is or what the scale is (it’s huge by the way). Plus there the contrast was huge. The sky was dark blue when the image was taken, and even processing in Lightroom couldn’t fix the contrast problem.

April (out of the camera) - it was a dark day, but not this dark!

April (out of the camera) – dark and slanting.

This shot was so underexposed that "fixing" in in Lightroom comes with unacceptable noise. It was shot trying to keep some detail in the sky.

This was shot trying to keep some detail in the sky, but I failed horribly. Though hard to tell from the image size shown here, it was so underexposed that “fixing” in in Lightroom came with unacceptable noise. I didn’t even bother fixing the horizon slant. Lesson learned (again) – check the exposure settings!

May (out of the camera) - artistic blur failure

May (out of the camera) – artistic blur failure.

The processed version does nothing to help. The idea was to get a blurred person walking by the river in Spokane. But this just doesn't work. The shutter speed was wrong and I pressed the shutter button at the wrong time, framing the subject at the wrong spot. However, this is actually a case where I applied a lesson previously learned - I took many shots from the same spot with different people walking by, using several different shutter speeds and did get a few acceptable results.

The processed version does nothing to help. The idea was to get a blurred person walking by the river in Spokane. But this just doesn’t work. The shutter speed was wrong and I pressed the shutter button at the wrong time, framing the subject at the wrong spot. However, this is actually a case where I applied a lesson previously learned – I took many shots from the same spot with different people walking by, using several different shutter speeds and did get a few acceptable results. This is just not one of them.

130611_Titlow_008572-2

June (out of the camera) – great light star, bad everything else.

Attracted by the sun peeking through the pilings, I wanted to capture a light star and did succeed. Unfortunately, I forgot about getting a level horizon, and fixing that in Lightroom causes the piling on the left to be too close to the frame edge. Trying to bring detail in the dark part of the image just brings unacceptable digital noise.

Attracted by the sun peeking through the pilings, I wanted to capture a light star and did succeed. I thought, at the time, I needed to work fast before the sun set. Unfortunately, I forgot about getting a level horizon, and fixing that in Lightroom causes the piling on the left to be too close to the frame edge. Trying to bring detail in the dark part of the image just brings unacceptable digital noise. Lesson learned (again) – take time to consider things like proper exposure and level horizons.

August (out of the camera) - bad bug shot

August (out of the camera) – bad bug shot.

Again, Lightroom has no magic "unsuck" filter and the processed images is no better than the original. Here I've focused on the wrong spot and cut off the tip of the wing with the frame. Yuck!

Again, Lightroom has no magic “unsuck” filter and the processed images is no better than the original. Here I’ve focused on the wrong spot and cut off the tip of the wing with the frame. Yuck!

September (out of the camera) - how not to expose for the highlights

September (out of the camera) – how not to expose for the highlights.

The original shot was so overexposed that Lightroom adjustments can only turn a horrible image into a extremely bad image.

The original shot was so overexposed that Lightroom adjustments can only turn a horrible image into an extremely bad image.

October (out of the camera) - failed artistic tilt

October (out of the camera) – failed artistic tilt.

Trying to capture the beauty of this stairway at the University of Washington, I experimented with a tilted perspective. It didn't work.  Fixing the tilt in Lightroom cropped off way too much. Though the experiment didn't work, I did take other shots using more "normal" view angles and did come away with a few good shots.

Trying to capture the beauty of this stairway at the University of Washington, I experimented with a tilted perspective. It didn’t work. Fixing the tilt in Lightroom cropped off way too much. Though the experiment didn’t work, I did take other shots using more “normal” view angles and did come away with a few good shots.

November (out of the camera) - great sunset, bad (very bad) focus

November (out of the camera) – great sunset, bad (very bad) focus.

There is absolutely nothing in focus in this image, and no magic software exists to fix it. I took probably 30 or more shots of this building and sunset, and all have bad focus. Lesson learned (again) - don't let your excitement for a good scene make you forget the fundamentals, like checking the focus. Auto focus is not perfect, especially in low light situations (as I proved to myself once again).

Though perhaps difficult to tell here, there is absolutely nothing in focus in this image, and no magic software exists to fix it. I took probably 30 or more shots of this building and sunset, and all have bad focus. Lesson learned (again) – don’t let your excitement for a good scene make you forget the fundamentals, like checking the focus. Auto focus is not perfect, especially in low light situations (as I proved to myself once again).

December (out of the camera) - whiteout!

December (out of the camera) – whiteout!

While snowshoeing at Mount Rainier, I wanted to show the near whiteout conditions. I guess the image did succeed, because there isn't much visible here. Lesson learned (again) - when there is nothing much in the background, put something visible in the foreground.

While snowshoeing at Mount Rainier, I wanted to show the near whiteout conditions. I guess the image did succeed, because there isn’t much visible here. The processed version doesn’t do anything to help. Lesson learned (again) – when there is nothing much in the background, put something visible in the foreground.