the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Rants

Nighttime Etiquette

I recently returned from our quick trip to Utah. While there, I spent several hours in the middle of the night doing some Milky Way shots at Devils Garden in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (a fantastic place that I love and that my so-called President is trying to take away). I arrived at the Devils Garden parking lot at about 1:30 am on a weekday morning. I obviously wasn’t the only one with the idea of shooting there that night, as the parking lot had five other cars parked (by comparison, I took Tanya and our friends Jim and Kris back there later in the morning – around 10 am – and there were only two other cars there).

Devils Garden is a fairly small area filled with wonderful hoodoos and several arches. And I was a bit surprised by the number of photographers there there, but figured if everyone was polite with their lights, we could all get along. I headed toward one particular set of four hoodoos shaped like heads from Easter Island that I thought would look great with the Milky Way and some light painting. However, there was a group of people already working there. So instead, I went to Metate Arch and shot the image above. I did my light painting with a LED headlamp covered with an orange gel. I was pretty happy with the result, and hoped the other folks had moved on to another spot so I could capture the “Easter Island” hoodoos. But no, they were still there.

Light pollution caused by other photographers. Red light in lower center and light painting and flashlight spot in lower left.

I talked briefly with another photographer, asking him if my light painting had hindered him, but he said no. He was not with the group by the Easter Island hoodoos also wished they would move. He had been photographing some hoodoos near Metate Arch, and we traded places. I had some trouble shooting this spot, the group down by the Easter Island hoodoos was in the corner of my composition and they rarely turned off their lights. Further the photographer now at Metate Arch was occasionally using his light, and that was partly in my shot as well. Between the two, I took five shots, none without some light from the other photographers – especially the group by the Easter Island hoodoos – whom it seemed when they finished with light painted, turned on red lights and keep them on until they started light painting again (for those who don’t know, when out doing night photography, using a red light helps keep your night vision). Rarely did they have both their normal and red lights off. The image shown here is the best of the lot I took – there is some red light from the photographer by Metate Arch (lower center) and the light on the Easter Island hoodoos (down in the lower left corner) isn’t too bad. I was able to use Photoshop to fix the image (see below), getting totally rid of the red light in the center, removing the light spot in the lower left, and dimming the rest of the light in the lower left (I thought it looked better with a little light there rather than making it totally dark). I am happy with the result, but by now I was starting to get a bit mad at the rudeness of the group down by the Easter Island hoodoos, who almost always had one light or another on.

I ended up photographing three other spots, two of which are shown below, in total spending about two hours at Devils Garden. I never did make it to the Easter Island hoodoos as the light-happy group of photographers there never left the spot. And frankly, even now, days later, I’m still a bit peeved at that selfish and rude group.

Aside: rant directed at that group of photographers: seriously people, would you sit in the front row of a movie theater and talk on your cell phone for the entire movie? Do you enjoy shining your flashlight in other people’s eyes at night? Do you never turn off you high beams when other cars approach on the highway? And it’s not just the lights. It’s hogging the spot. It’s one thing to arrive early and setup at a preferred spot for sunrise – sunrise only last 10 or 15 minutes. But honestly, 2 hours without moving at a place that has dozens of potential shots? Have you no creativity? Obviously not! How many shots of the same set of hoodoos do you need? I suppose you never learned to share your toys when you were a kid either.

With the capabilities of today’s digital cameras, night photography is continually growing in popularity, and you will often find other photographers out with you at the same time as many sites, such as Devils Garden. Such situations beg for politeness and etiquette. If you find yourself out with other photographers at night, please be respectful and use your light sparingly. In places such as Devils Garden, where there are multiple subjects, try not to hog one spot. Nighttime photography is much more difficult than daytime work, it is more difficult to control the camera, more difficult to focus the lens, more difficult to get a composition, and demands long shutter speeds. It is difficult enough that you shouldn’t have to also battle light pollution from other photographers.

Image above with light pollution removed in Photoshop

 

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A Rose by Any Other Name

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare might be right about roses, but I’m not so sure about the came can be said about photos of roses. I have the accompanying image of a rose currently in the Ocean Shores 2014 Juried Photography Show.  In preparing for the show, I printed it last week on canvas and really liked the result. However, when I turned the canvas into a gallery wrap, I stupidly ruined it, scratching off some of the ink and making white spots on the canvas. Easy enough fix – just print it again. Wrong!

First, an aside about printing. Printing photos seems like it should be easy. But, if you want to get the color right, it is not. Everything needs to be calibrated. You need a calibrated monitor so that the color you see on your monitor is the same color sent to the printer. You need a printing profile, so that the printer knows the correct way to print the color. Add in a less-than-intuitive printing menu in Photoshop and a similarly unintuitive printer setup menu and you have a recipe for printing problems. Well I have a calibrated monitor, and a profile for the canvas I was using. Plus, I am familiar with the menus, at least enough that I should know what I’m doing.

So, I printed another canvas, and it looked totally different. So, I thought, I had some setting wrong; so again, I printed another canvas. Still not the same. I found my profile for the canvas was actually for the Epson 3880 printer and I have an Epson 3800 printer. I downloaded the correct printer profile, and carefully printed one more time, making sure all the printer settings were correct. Yes, I had the correct settings, but it still looked different from the original. It was at that point I realized that I had printed the original canvas incorrectly and that I liked that incorrect version the best!

At this point, I was starting to run low on canvas. I had enough for perhaps three more attempts to re-create my printing mistake to get back to the result I liked. On the final attempt, I got it right and re-created the original canvas. It turns out, I told Photoshop to let the printer control the color management (mistake) and then told the printer to make no color adjustments (not a mistake if Photoshop controls the color management, but certainly a mistake if the printer is supposed to). Regardless, I had the version of the rose I liked.

However, when I got ready to varnish the canvas, I brushed some dust off it, and ended up with a couple of white spots! Turns out I didn’t blow the dust off the canvas before putting it in the printer and ended up printing on the dust instead of the canvas (another mistake). So, in the end, I used the one that was printed totally correct (with the correct profile and all the correct settings), made it into a gallery wrap, and submitted it to the show. Funny thing is, that if I had printed it correctly the first time, that is the same print I would have had in the beginning.

I always try to learn from my mistakes, but in this case I made so many mistakes on printing this canvas that I’m not even sure what the lesson is. Two things I did learn (or more correctly re-learned): 1) pay close attention when printing to make sure you get all the setting correct, and 2) there is always more than one interpretation of an image, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your processing (rather than leaving it up to printing mistakes to find something you like better).

Here are two versions of the image, which I’ve titled “Rose #3.” Which do you like better?

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This version is true to my processing of the image, ie. this is what I was originally trying to print and, in the end, what I ended up with as a final product.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

This is similar to what my first print looked like when I mistakenly (and unknowingly) used the wrong printer settings. At least on the canvas, I like this version better.

 


What’s in your Wallet, oh I mean Camera Bag?

Calm Harbor

Image of Gig Harbor taken last week while carrying my standard equipment kit (sans tripod)

“What’s in your wallet?” So goes the tagline from a Capital One credit card commercial that most of you (at least in the United States) probably know well. With that tagline, Capital One would have you believe that their credit card is better than others and should be the one in you wallet.

For photographers, the comparable question is “what type of camera do you use?” or “what gear do you carry in you camera bag?” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked these questions, I could buy a new camera.

I believe good photography has more to do with the gray matter between your ears than your camera equipment. However, that said, it is true you cannot do photography without equipment. When two photographers meet for the first time, the inevitable question always arises: “What camera do you shoot with?” My question to you is, does it really matter?

I think one reason this question gets asked is that the two photographers in question are trying to find common ground as they create a social relationship. Personally, I don’t take any comment seriously that claims one camera is better than any other, it is just that some cameras are better at creating certain types of images than other cameras. For example, my DSLR beats my Android phone without question at shooting landscapes, but the phone does a better job at spontaneous photos among friends (not that the DSLR wouldn’t do a fine job in that instance, but by the time I dig it out of the bag, put on the correct lens, and get the exposure set correctly, the moment of spontaneity  will be gone).

There seems to be a particularly big “conversation” about Nikon vs Canon among many photographers. There are loyalists on both sides, and while often good-natured, sometime the conversations seem more like battles. Personally I shoot with Canon equipment, but this is not because I think Canon equipment is better. The only reason I shoot with Canon equipment is that when I switched from film to digital, Canon had a newer camera model than Nikon. If I made the switch a few months later, I could well be shooting with Nikon equipment today. (My film camera is an Olympus OM4T. So, if at the time of my switching to digital, Olympus had made a digital camera with a full-frame or APS sensor instead of a 4/3s sensor, which uses a different lens mount so with their camera I couldn’t use my existing film lenses, I’d be shooting with Olympus equipment.)

So, even with my mini-rant above about such questions, inquiring minds want to know what’s in my camera bag. Therefore, I present what is in my camera bag (or should I say bags, as I have more than one and carry different items based on the type of outing).

Standard (or default) equipment:

  • Canon 6D camera with Canon battery grip and Acratech quick release plate
  • Canon EF 17-40mm 1:4 L USM zoom lens
  • Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
  • Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens with Acratech quick release plate
  • Canon EF 100mm 1:2.8 USM macro lens
  • Canon EF 1.4x II extender
  • Lowepro Vertex 100AW camera bag
  • set of three Kenko extension tubes
  • Vello wireless Shutterboss
  • Canon RS-80N3 remote switch
  • Canon 550EX Speedlight with Yongnuo compact battery pack SF-18
  • Yongnuo off-camera shoe cord OC-E3
  • ThinkTank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket (digital card holder) with 4 to 6 SDHC cards (8, 16, or 32 mb, various brands)
  • 2 spare Canon batteries
  • lint-free cleaning cloth
  • Lenspen lens cleaning pen
  • allen wrench (for removing quick release plates)
  • hot-shoe double bubble level
  • set of 15 colored filters for use on the flash
  • 2 B+W 77mm circular polarizing filters (one is dented and very hard to rotate)
  • B+W 77mm 110 ND 3.0-10BL 1000x filter (10 stop neutral-density filter)
  • B+W 77mm 092 IR 20-40x (infrared filter)
  • Tiffen(?) 2-stop, soft-gradient, split neutral-density filter
  • six AAA batteries
  • Op/Tech Rainsleeve
  • user manuals for the 6D, the 550EX and the Shutterboss
  • spare contact lens case
  • pen
  • business cards
  • Manfrotto 190 carbon fiber 4-section tripod with an Acratech Ultimate Ballhead (I often carry the tripod along, but not always)

Extra equipment (in addition to the standard) for event-shooting

  • Canon 50D with Canon battery grip
  • a second Canon 550EX speedlight with battery pack
  • Demb Flip-it (variable angle flash reflector)
  • Demb flash bracket
  • Demn flash diffuser
  • Lowepro Nova 180AW camera bag

Minimal kit (when I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff)

  • Canon 6D camera with (optional) Canon battery grip
  • Canon EF 24-70mm 1:2.8 L zoom lens
  • (optional) Canon EF 70-200mm 1:2.8 L IS USM zoom lens
  • a small Lowepro bag (either the Nova 180 or a yet smaller one that I’m not sure of the model number)
  • lint-free cleaning cloth
  • Lenspen lens cleaning pen
  • a couple spare SDHC cards

Optional equipment that I sometime carry

  • Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 42-inch reflector
  • Photoflex MultiDisc 5 in 1 22-inch reflector
  • Wimberley plamp
  • Visual Echos Flash X-tender
  • Thinktank Photo belt, harness and modular bag system
  • Bogen 3021 tripod with Bogen ballhead

So, what is in your camera bag?


A Pent Up Need to Create

Tipsoo Morning

Tipsoo Lake, Mount Rainier National Park – not taken in the last two months

In the past two months, I have barely touched my camera. I shot a wedding in July, a few family shots last weekend, and did took a few quick shots while in Cannon Beach at the beginning of August. That’s it. Now wedding and family photos are fine, but they really don’t wet my creative juices like travel or landscape photography does. The time in Cannon Beach was fun, but it really wasn’t a photography trip. However, if I had known at the time that I wouldn’t have a chance to do any serious work later in the month, I would have taken many more images there. But I didn’t, and now I have huge pent-up desire to do some photography.

There are many reasons and obligations as to why I haven’t been out making images, but that is not really the point. The point is I have this craving, this deep-seated need to have the camera in my hand and spend a day creating. It is as if my soul has a hole in it right now.

And while this desire is very deep and is truly uncomfortable, I am actually glad I have it. Why? Because it confirms for me that I am an artist and not just a documentarian (I hold nothing against those who make documentaries as their artistic outlet, but I think you understand what I’m saying). I’m also glad for this need because while I consider myself a professional, it confirms for me that I’m not just in it for the money (not that there’s a lot of that). I am an artist. I have the need to create and the camera is just my paintbrush, the computer screen and photographic paper are my mediums.

These thoughts come not only because my lack of creative photography recently, but also due to a blog post by Dan Baumbach, a very talented photographer. In his blog, Dan questions whether he is an artist. I think many photographers have had these thoughts. I know I have had such doubts in the past.

Perhaps it is easier for others to see the art in a photographer’s work than the photographer themselves. Looking at Dan’s images, it is easy (at least for me) to see he is an artist. In comment I left to his post, I mentioned how I recently gave a short talk on using Lightroom to a group of photographers and someone asked how I was allowed to change the white balance to make the image look different (than what they thought it should look like in the real world). And the answer is that I’m an artist, I’m not trying to replicate the real world, I’m trying to create my own personal vision of it.

Sometimes my vision looks like how others see a scene. Sometimes it doesn’t. It is always amazing to me how several different photographers can photograph the same scene and come up with totally different photographs. That’s because we photographers are artists.

It is said that art is in the eye of the beholder. Excuse my language, but that is bullshit. Art is in the eye of the artist, the creator. When you put that camera to your eye and decide, consciously or not, what to put in the frame and what to leave out. You are making artistic and creative decisions. The same is true for every tweak you make in Lightroom or Photoshop. (See this earlier post on how we, as photographers, make creative decisions in processing images.) You are an artist. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Okay, enough with the ranting. Presently, I just need get out there and feed my craving to create. Now, where did I put that camera?


Seeing Red – My 2 Cents Worth about Adobe

Seeing Red

The Red Floor in the Seattle Central Library – photographed last Tuesday while conducting a personal workshop. Interested in your own workshop? Give me a call or email.

Many photographers have been seeing red when looking at the Adobe Corporation this week. There’s been a lot of words, mostly nasty, flying around the internet since Adobe’s announcement that they will no longer sell perpetual licenses for Photoshop and their other Creative Suite applications, instead going to a subscription model of licensing. So, being a Photoshop user, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First, I am not surprised, the writing was on the wall after they changed the upgrade policy on Photoshop last year. I can’t say I’m too happy about it, the change will likely cost me more money in the long run. Currently I use Adobe Lightroom extensively, and Photoshop CS6 on a regular basis (but much less than Lightroom). I’d say I do 80 -90% of my post-capture work in Lightroom. In the past, I’ve upgraded Photoshop with every other version (going from CS4 to CS6 last year). I upgrade Lightroom more frequently (going from version 1 to 2 to 4, and I’ll upgrade to 5 when available outside the beta version).

So for now, I’m happy with what I have and will not sign up for a subscription, but I can imagine doing so in a year or two (or if they make Lightroom available only by subscription as well). Actually, the current offer to CS6 owners is quite tempting – the complete suite of applications for $20 per month. Every now and then, I wish I had one of the other CC programs, such as InDesign or Dreamweaver. If those were available to me at no more cost than Photoshop alone? Very tempting. The question is, is it worth it after the price goes up when the special price ends in a year. That, I’m not too sure.

I think that is most photographer’s biggest problem with this change. If the only CC program you use is Photoshop, the cost of the subscription is roughly the same as an annual upgrade (assuming the non-special price of $20/month for Photoshop alone, or even less than an annual upgrade cost with the special $10/month price for Photoshop alone). The problem is, the price is not guaranteed, the price will likely go up. And if you decide you don’t want to ride that train anymore, you are left with no Photoshop at all. Currently, if you don’t upgrade, you still have the old program.

Of course, the other problem is that the change is a change, and in my experience, people are afraid of change. But, this model of software licensing has been around for several years and more and more software companies are going to it. It was inevitable that Adobe would do this. Ultimately, it is the cost of doing business. If you want to use Photoshop, you’ll have to pay Adobe’s price. Is it fair? I don’t know and it really doesn’t matter. I can’t see Adobe going back to the old way.

If you don’t want to pay up? There are other programs to use. Frankly, I probably could get away with using Elements instead of Photoshop, and it will still be sold with perpetual licenses. And there are non-Adobe programs out there as well, such as Corel Paintshop Pro, Pixelmator, or even the Gimp.

So, yes I’m disappointed, but I’m not seeing red. After all, it isn’t the end of the world, it’s just the future of software.