the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Posts tagged “photographic technique

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.

 


New Lightroom CC and Range Masking

Adobe recently updated Lightroom, in the process creating a new version of the program. They renamed the old version Lightroom Classic CC, while the new version took the previous name of the old version: Lightroom CC. Confused yet?

If you have the photography CC subscription service (currently at $10/month), either version is available to download – but you can only have both if you fork out an extra $10 per month. The new Lightroom CC is the wave of the future. It’s main feature is that your Lightroom catalog and all your photos are saved to the Adobe cloud so that you can work on them in Lightroom from anywhere with a internet connection. Sounds like a great idea. The service comes with 1 TB of storage on the cloud. Unfortunately, I would need about 4 times as much space to upload all my photo files. And while I’m sure I could rent extra cloud space, I’m not sure I ready to give Adobe more money yet.

I have my own somewhat convoluted way of working in Lightroom on multiple computers. I export selected portions of my Lightroom catalog with smart previews to the 20GB of cloud storage that comes with the old Lightroom (and the Lightroom Classic), then work with that catalog when away from my main desktop computer. When finished, I import the catalog back into my main catalog. So, for now, I’m sticking with Lightroom Classic.

Plus, Lightroom Classic received a nice upgrade. Reportedly its speed performance has improved, but what I really like is the addition of range masking. Now, any mask made by the adjustment brush, gradient filter, or radial filter can be modified by color or luminance. Simply first create a rough mask using one of the three tools.  Then, at the bottom of the Mask dialog, there’s a new setting labeled “Range Mask” with the default setting of off. Change the setting to color, and you get an amount slider and a color picker tool. Only want your blue sky to be selected, use your mouse to select the color picker, move it to the blue sky and click – the other colors are deleted from the rough mask. You can shift and click to select multiple colors and click and drag to define a “box” of colors. It helps to have the Mask Overlay selected to see how your mask changes.

The luminance setting for the Range Mask works similarly, but with brightness instead of color. It does not including a picking tool, but has a “two-handled” slider for defining a brightness range and a smoothness slider. With your mask overlay on, it is easy to play around with these two sliders to see the effect.

The photo above, that I took in mid-October in northeastern Washington, provides an example of the usefulness of the new range masking. I actually first tried developing the image without the new range masking tools. And while the result was nice, it did have problems. Specifically there was some haloing around the aspen trees, I couldn’t get the brightness of the leaves and tree trunks to what I wanted, and the sky color was not totally natural. I probably could have corrected these issues with Photoshop, but thought I’d try the range masking tools in Lightroom to see if they could help.

Below is a progression of how I developed the image in Lightroom Classic starting with the original image with default Lightroom settings.

Undeveloped image of Tiger Meadows, Colville National Forest

Here is the image in Lightroom following all “global” adjustments. The adjustments applied include setting white and black points, highlight and shadow adjustments, adding clarity and vibrance, lens corrections, a vertical transformation to straighten the tree trunks, and a small amount of dehaze and vignetting. I wanted to add more dehaze, but its effect on the sky was too harsh.

I want to darken the sky, so I’ve added a gradient filter. But obviously, there is a lot more than sky selected. Previously, I’d use the eraser brush to get the right selection – that was a lot of work.

Now with the range masking, instead set the range mask to color and used the color picker to pick blue and used the adjustment slider to give me the correct selection. I then darkened the sky by lowering the exposure and black point, with just a small amount of extra dehaze.

I wanted to give the rest of the image more dehaze, so I made another gradient filter covering almost the entire photograph.

To get rid of the blue sky from the selection, I again set the range mask to color and used the color picker to pick multiple colors except the blue. adjusting as needed with the amount slider. From the resulting selection, I increased the dehaze my desired amount (this amount of dehaze in the sky would cause unacceptable haloing around the trees and would make the sky color less realistic).

Next, it was time to work on the backlit leaves. To select theses, I used the adjustment brush and made a rough selection in the trees.

To get the correct adjustment, I set the range mask to color once again and used the color picker to pick yellow, using the amount slider to get the selection I want. Once I had it, I increased the exposure slightly and gave the shadows a boost.

Next, I wanted to brighten the trunks of the aspens. So again I made a rough selection with the adjustment brush.

To get the correct selection, I set the range mask to Luminance and used the range sliders to get the approximate range for the tree trunks. Once I had a good selection, I increased the exposure and the white point.

Once again, here is the final image with separate adjustments for the sky, the land, the backlit leaves, and the aspen tree trunks thanks to the new range masking tools.

 

 

 


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.


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.


Travel Photography in Bad Light

Blue RubyMost of us have been there, that wonderful travel destination and the light is bad. All those pre-visulations of wonderful photos you planned to capture go right out the door. This happened to me a couple of weeks ago on a day trip to Olympic National Park. Tanya, Nahla and I headed out to Kalaloch for a day on the beach. (Aside for dog owners: Kalaloch is a great place to take your dog. Most national parks, and Olympic National Park is no exception, do not allow dogs outside of campgrounds or parking lots, let alone on trails. We got scolded by a ranger once for having our dog on a snowbank at the edge of a parking lot at Mount Rainier National Park. But, Ruby Beach and the other beaches at Kalaloch are a different story. Leashed dogs are allowed on the beaches. It is great!)

If the weather is nice, the beaches at Kalaloch are a great place for a bit of photography. But the weather on the coast can be unpredictable, so I had a backup plan. If it was overcast on the coast, we’d go to the Hoh rainforest (Nahla would have to stay in the car, but such is the sacrifice of a photographer’s dog). Because of the huge contrast in the rainforest on sunny days, photography there is best on overcast days (and even better with a little rain making everything wet).

As it turned out, it was overcast on the beach. We took a nice walk, and Nahla took a dip in the waves, but the camera stayed in the bag. So we headed over to the Hoh, about a 45-minute drive from Kalaloch. Unfortunately for my photography, once we got away from the coast, the weather turned mostly sunny. And indeed, the contrast in the rainforest was extreme (5 stops or more). My visions of wonderful shots of green moss-draped trees was not to be fulfilled.

Instead, I worked mostly on detail shots, taking what the conditions allowed. Looking for small scenes that were mostly in shadow, or mostly in sunshine, so that contrast was less of an issue. Or I looked for backlit scenes, where the sunlight provided unique views for the rainforest. I can’t say I came away with any prize winners, but I was happy with a few of the results posted below.

I still had hope for a great shot. I figured the clouds would break along the coast, and a good sunset was possible. We drove back to Kalaloch and ate dinner (during which was probably the best light of the day) and afterward drove to Ruby Beach for sunset. As it turned out, the sunset was mostly a dud, and though I took a lot of frames, I’m not that pleased with them.

So once again, I took what was offered. In this case, shooting after sunset in the blue hour. The featured photo above was shot perhaps half an hour after sunset and is my favorite of the day.

The adventure of travel photography is that you never know exactly what you will get. When conditions are not right, you need to be able to see beyond the obvious shots and look with images that the conditions allow. With luck, even with bad light, you will get a few keepers.

Sun in the Hoh

Though this image includes both sunlit and shadow areas, I was able to handle the contrast in Lightroom because I wanted the shadow areas to be dark. However, I did have to tone down the highlights a lot making them a bit too dull.

Old Man Moss

This moss in the shade made a good subject without having to worry about blown highlights.

Moss Humps

This image does have small areas of bright sky and sunlit moss, but not much. The image works for the most part, though I did have to tone down the upper right hand corner excessively.

They Start Small

A small forest detail in complete shade. Subjects like this work great on bright sunny days in the forest.

Green with Yellow

Another small detail completely in the shade.

Hall of Mosses

Luckily the sunlit area in the background doesn’t ruin this image of a group of youth whose leader was making them have a moment of silence in the Hall of Mosses.

Tide Coming In

At Ruby Beach, the sunset to the west was boring, but looking away to the south along the beach brought a nice scene.

Rock Trio

This image is looking directly at the sunset. The color version is not very exciting. So, if the sunset is boring, try taking color out of the equation.

 


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


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

 


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


Worst of 2014 and Lessons Learned

By writing this post, I suppose I am starting a tradition since I wrote a worst of 2013 post last year.This time of year, there are many “best of” lists, and as I’ve already presented you with most of my best images of 2014, I decided once again to go the opposite direction once again and present the worst of the year.

First off, a disclaimer: the images presented here are not really my worst of the year. The truly worst of the worst get deleted off the memory card before downloading or are so truly horrible that they get deleted prior to my normal editing process. That said, all the images presented here would normally be deleted during my regular editing process without a second thought.

Generally editing and deleting bad images can be an educational experience if time is taken to think about why an image is bad. In other words, you can learn from your mistakes. However, when I took the time to pick the worst of the year and try to “save” them with post-processing, I found it an even more educational experience than just deleting. This is because in trying to “fix” the images, I went more in-depth into why they are bad and learned more about the limits of my post-processing work. You may want to try this exercise yourself sometime.

Now, before I start presenting these bad images, another further explanation. Last year several readers objected to my post, stating that some of my bad images were not actually very bad, and perhaps even likable. That may be true for an individual viewer, but when picking these shots, they were selected in context of my intent when shooting the image and in relation to the other images I took at the same time. For example, last year I presented a poorly exposed image of the Skagit Valley tulip fields that one reader liked. The image was made presentable by work in Lightroom, but when compared to the properly exposed images I took at the time, it was not very good. Further, the post-processing work that made it presentable caused the extreme noise in the image to be quite visible. Another consideration is the limits of presentation on the internet. A poorly focused image might look okay when presented as a 900-pixel wide image on the internet, but when zoomed into at 100%, it would look horrible. So take my word for it, these images are bad.

Okay, enough explanations and on to the bad stuff. Below are 11 of my worst images of 2014, one for each month from January through November. December is excluded because I failed to get out of my house and try to take any serious images. That in itself is a bad mistake, but I’ll leave my preference for a warm house to a rainy, cold day in the field for another post.

Each image below was shot in RAW. Except for the October image, two versions of each are presented, one without any post-processing (other than the default settings in Lightroom needed to convert a RAW file to a jpeg) and the other my attempt to “save” the image by processing in Lightroom. I few could have been further “saved” with extra processing in Photoshop, but that wasn’t worth my time. Proper technique in the field always is better than saving through post processing. With each of these images, a small adjustment in position or a correction in technique would have saved them more than any amount of processing.

January - this image was taken at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. My intent here was to show the sun just peeking over the mountains as it set. The result is a washed out failure.

January – this image was taken at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. My intent here was to show the sun just peeking over the mountains as it set, keeping detail in both the sky and the foreground. I wanted to keep the foreground from being nothing but a silhouette. The result is a washed out failure, complete with bad lens flare.

Processing in Lightroom failed to improve the image much.

Processing in Lightroom failed to improve the image much. I was able to bring a little detail back to the sky but much of it is still washed out. The lens flare could have been more minimized, but only with lots of work I didn’t want to put in. Lesson learned – some subjects just have too much contrast. It would have been better for me to wait a few minutes longer so that only a very small sliver of the sun is visible over the horizon. Alternatively, an attempt at taking a series of images for HDR processing could be made.

I liked the calm water and the cool early evening colors.

In February I had some time to kill before a meeting in Gig Harbor so I went down to the harbor to see if there was anything to shoot. I came upon this scene and liked the calm water and the cool evening colors. I took some high ISO shots to gauge the proper, much longer exposure at ISO 100. While there, several men came down the gang-plank and boarded the red foreground boat, turning on lights in the boat. I thought that was wonderful, as it would add some life to the foreground boat, and I eagerly shot the above image at f/11, ISO 100, 316 seconds.

Processing

The processed version does bring out the colors I was looking for. But what is a bit hard to see in this photo is that the red boat, the foreground dock, and the gang-plank are all fuzzy. It’s not bad focus; the rest of the image is sharp. What I most conveniently overlooked when making the image is that when the men came down the dock and got into the boat, there is no way the boat would hold still for a long exposure. With the men moving around inside, the boat was subtly moving, which was also causing the dock and gang-plank to move. Lesson learned – long exposures may be great for dealing with digital noise, but you have to make sure your subject is still. Even very small motions will lead to fuzzy results. In hindsight, I should have increased the ISO back up again. It would have been noisy, but the boat would be clear. In fact, my sample shots to gauge the exposure turned out better than the “real” shots like this one.

March -

On a sunny March day, we traveled down to Cape Disappointment State Park for some lighthouse photography. The trail to Cape Disappointment Light travels by Dead Man’s Cove, seen in this image. I loved the way the sun was streaming through the tree branches and was shining on the water. Ideally, I wanted detail in the foreground, so though I shot with several different exposures, I favored shots with overexposure that I hoped I could correct in Lightroom.

Processing helped

Processing helped some, but the sky was too blown out at the top of the image. The only way to really salvage the picture was to crop the sun out, as I’ve done here, which of course, goes against my original intent. Plus, as you can see here, I was so enamored with the scene, I neglected to notice the no trespassing sign on the tree. I suppose I could clone it out, but it isn’t worth it.  I also could go back and try to use HDR on the image (as I have multiple exposures), but in the end, I have better compositions that look better and don’t have as extreme contrast as this one. However, those other compositions still don’t really work the way I wanted. Lesson learned – high contrast scenes are extremely difficult to correctly expose and process and don’t always work. But then, you can’t get the results you want if you don’t even try. Keep experimenting, and someday, it will be right.

April -

When on a trip to Steamboat Rock State Park in April, I waited around for sunset. I scouted the shore line to find a spot where the sun would be setting behind Steamboat Rock that also had good foreground elements. I thought a split-neutral density filter was needed, so as is my normal practice, I held it in front of the lens (rather than using a filter holder). The result, not only is the filter off-center, my  fingers are in the frame. I feel like a rookie.

Cropping was the only solution for the

Cropping was the only solution real solution, both to remove the edge of the filter and my fingers. With the crop, the above image is presentable. However, the cropping ruined the composition I wanted – in particular, chopping of some of Steamboat Rock. Luckily I did review the image on the screen, saw my mistake, and took other images that captured the scene the way I wanted. I can’t say I learned a new lesson here, but I did use previous lessons – check the LCD screen and take a few backup shots.

May

One of the things I love about living in Western Washington is the ferries. It is so easy to hop on a ferry and head off to an island adventure, which is what we did last May on a trip to the San Juans. When on a ferry ride, I was walking around the deck. The the sun was shining and water was clean and clear. It just seems so magical to me that I knew I needed to take a picture and capture my feeling. However, as this photo reminds me, pictures taken during ferry trips rarely turn out. Instead, they usually turn into an image without a subject.

May

Nothing can save this image. Sure it is a nice shot of the sky and some clouds. It even looks like a nice place to be out on a boat, but without a subject is nothing but boring. Lesson learned, and not the first time – just enjoying your self doesn’t translate into a good photograph. To translate your feeling into an image, you need more than sea and sky.

June is

June is a great month for shooting waterfalls. Last June I went down to the Lewis River in the southern Cascades and shot a number of falls, including Lower Lewis River Falls, a portion of which is shown here. I liked the composition with the tree hanging out over the falls. As I do sometimes when I’m excited about shooting, I forgot to check my foreground and ended up with distracting, out-of-focus leaves on the left side of the image. I’d like to say that I took other shots from the same general vantage without the distracting leaves in the frame, but I can’t. I took fifteen shots here with different exposures and shutter speeds and all have the distracting leaves visible.

Again, the only real

Again, the only real solution is cropping, and even then, I couldn’t totally crop out the leaves without taking some of the tree that attracted me to the scene in the first place. Lesson learned – don’t let your excitement for a scene get the best of you, always remember to check your frame for distractions.

July

While on a backpacking trip in Olympic National Park last July I saw this buck. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer, but how could I miss with this guy so close. I had my 70-200 mm zoom with me, so I put it on and started taking shots. The result – a tree sticking out of the butt of the deer. My problem here was the same problem as with the waterfall picture above, except instead of a distracting foreground element, its bad placement of a background element. And, in hindsight, it would have been so easy to fix. Just a step or two the side and this buck would not have a really funny looking gray tail.

I'm starting

Once again (I’m really starting a theme here), the only fix for my not paying attention to what is in the frame besides the subject is cropping. In this case it doesn’t work too badly; in fact it helps make the deer larger in the image. Still, it would have been a better shot if I had only checked the frame for distractions before pressing the shutter button. Luckily, I followed the buck for several minutes and have several better shots without the tree butt.

Okay

At the end of August, I was doing some night photography of the Balanced Rock in Arches National Park. I was trying for moonlight lighting up the rocks and stars in the background. Two problems, though one is not my fault. First, Balanced Rock is positioned near the highway through the park and cars traveling out of the park light up the rock with their headlights. Now, you may even like this look, but it was not what I intended on this shot. The second problem is my fault, though a bit hard to see at this resolution. The stars are lines rather than points. When shooting start shots, unless you purposely want star trails, you need to use a short enough shutter speed to freeze the motion of the earth (which is what causes the stars to appear to move). Earlier, I had been shooting a different composition with a wide-angle lens where 20- to 30-second shutter speeds are acceptable. Here, I had changed to a medium telephoto zoom. This was shot with the zoom set at 51 mm with a shutter speed of 25 seconds. While the stars would have been fine with the wide-angle lens, at my zoom setting of 51mm, 25 seconds was too long, and the stars became little trails instead of points.

Some

Some of you might say this processed version is okay. It is subjective whether the car headlights helps or hurts the image, in fact, the look has kind of grown on me. But the stars as little trails rather than points is unforgivable, particularly because  I did know better.

Still in Arches

September – I was still in Arches when this image was taken. I was hiking out of the Klondike Bluffs region at sunset. Having traveled half way across the country and hiking in a remote area of the park, I thought the sunset needed to have its photo taken and this is the result. However, looking at this result, I’m thinking that sometimes sunsets are better enjoyed by just watching rather than photographing.

Cropping down to a panorama did save this image.

Cropping down to a panorama did save this image to a certain extent. Cutting out the mass of blue sky certainly helped. In hindsight I should have zoomed in and done a proper panorama, taking three or four shots and stitching them together. While this works okay as is, with the extreme crop, it is not very usable for large prints. Lesson learned – if you insist of photographing a sunset with a lot of blue sky, zoom in, crop the mass of blue in camera, and consider doing a panorama.

October

October brings fall colors to the forest. Here is a shot of Icicle Creek near Leavenworth, Washington. I liked how the orange fir needles and pollen cones had collected next to the rocks, and I spent considerable time getting the composition of this shot correct. What I forgot to do is check the focus. The entire image is blurry. There is no salvation for this image and the processed version is essentially the same (so I’m not presenting it). While there are software fixes for minor focus problems, there is no hope for this image. Lesson learned (again and again) – check the focus.

In November I was still chasing a bit of

In November I was still chasing a bit of fall color and made a trip to the Yakima River Canyon. Here I like the mix of green pines and yellow cottonwoods against the blue sky. And if you want to really bring out the blue of the sky, add a polarizing filter, right? Not necessarily. Wide angle lens can show so much sky that part will be dark from the polarization and part not. That is the problem here.

A lot of work

I put a lot of work into this trying to even out the color of the sky in this processed version. I was working solely in Lightroom, and could probably do a better job if I take it to Photoshop, but you get the idea. The end result is acceptable, and I may yet work some more on this image. I don’t know how many times I’ve made this mistake with my polarizer, but this was certainly not the first (or dare I say, the 100th) time. For some reason, I keep making this mistake over and over. Some lessons are harder to learn than others.


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


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


Hints for Photography in the Rain

Cedar Creek Grist MillLast Friday, I took the day off from the day job to do some photography. It was a day Carson would have loved, rainy and cold. With Carson gone, Tanya and I decided to take our cat, Patch, along instead. He wasn’t so sure about the whole thing, and stayed in the car until our last stop (Rainbow Falls State Park), where he did explore a bit.

But this post isn’t about Patch, it’s about photographing in the rain. If you live on the wet side of the mountains in the Pacific Northwest, you best get use to photographing in the rain if you want to shoot in fall and winter. That said, I try to avoid it as much as I can. Last Friday, I was not excited about going out. The weather forecast called for 100% chance of rain, and it was not wrong. Shooting in adverse weather can have its benefits, but often it is just miserable. However, Tanya convinced me that we should go (easy for her to say, I was the one to be out in the rain; she took papers to grade).

As it turned out, I was happy we went. As you can see by the attached photos, I think I came away with some good shots. Here’s a few hints for photographing in the rain (not listed in any particular order).

1. Take good rain gear for your camera – unless you have a waterproof camera, you’ll want some sort of protection to keep your camera dry. Currently, I use a Rainsleeve by Op/Tech. These are inexpensive plastic sleeves with openings on both ends. One has a drawstring to tighten around the camera lens hood. The other end allows you to hand hold the camera or attach it to a tripod. A small hole is also provided for the viewfinder. I find these sleeves work well when on a tripod, and allow you to control most the camera functions through the plastic. I like them less for hand holding the camera because sticking your wet hand up into the sleeve defeats the purpose, plus it is a bit tight. There are many other options also available.

You might also consider making an umbrella holder for you tripod. I have a friend who has a similar setup and really likes it. I, personally, have not tried something like this out yet, but as long as it is not windy, an umbrella seems like it should work well.

2. Take good rain gear for yourself – be sure to keep yourself dry as well. I like to take rain pants as well as a raincoat. When photographing, I often kneel on one knee (all my jeans wear out on the left knee knew sooner than the right). With rain pants, there is no worry about kneeling in water and mud.

3. Use a tripod – while using a tripod is always a good practice, in the rain it is especially needed. The skies are much darker than on typical non-rainy days, leading to longer exposure times. Also, it is easier to keep the camera dry if it is on a tripod.

4. Use a lens with a long lens hood – when using the Rainsleeve, the lens hood is outside the plastic. It is the hood that protects the lens from falling rain drops. This works best if the lens hood is long and the glass sits back inside it. This is why I tend to avoid using a wide-angle lens in the rain if at all possible. Lens hoods for wide-angle lenses provide almost no protection from rain. All the shots shown here were taken with a 24-70mm lens. When extended to the 24mm setting, the lens is close to the open end of the lens hood, so I had to take more care when using that setting.

5. When not shooting, keep your lens pointed down – don’t invite rain onto your lens, try to keep the camera pointed downward.

6. Use a cable release – anything you can do to keep a wet hand from touching the camera will help keep it dry. I use a cable release which hangs down out of the Rainsleeve. Alternatively, I could trip the shutter button through the Rainsleeve, but with long exposures, it is good practice to use a cable release anyway.

7. Have a lintless cloth handy – just in case you need to wipe stray water off your lens. Take a look at the lens occasionally to look for water drops (which are sometimes hard to see  through the viewfinder).

8. Avoid the sky in your compositions – at least if the sky is uniformly gray (as it is often is around here when it rains). For most of the subjects I photograph, the sky (even if not uniformly gray) is very much lighter than the subject, creating huge contrast problems. Expose correctly for your subject, and the sky becomes a overexposed white blanket. Expose for the sky, the subject is a dark mess. HDR is a possible solution, but if there is no contrast within the sky itself, that doesn’t help much. It’s best to just keep the amount of sky in the frame minimized.

9. Pick subjects that can be photographed without much sky –  it is easier to keep the sky out of your compositions if the subject can be photographed without the sky being prominent. If you’ve never been to where you are going, and don’t have an idea whether the sky will be prominent or not, many subjects can be researched on Flickr to give you an idea. (For example, look at this Flickr search for the Cedar Creek Grist Mill, my main destination last Friday.)

10. Use a polarizer – using a polarizer can make a big difference in your images. When everything is wet, everything has reflections. With that big gray sky above, there are a lot of annoying reflections in any composition. Of course, using a polarizer cuts down on the light entering the camera, making the use of tripod (#3 above) even more important.

11. Watch out for wind – wind complicates matters considerably. With a stiff wind, rain no longer fall vertically. Wind demands even more care to keep things dry.

12. Use a memory card with enough storage – start your photo shoot with a fresh memory card and one with enough storage for the entire shoot. You don’t want to open up the camera to change cards and get water inside.

13. Consider your lens choice carefully and change lenses out of the weather – you don’t want to change lenses in the rain; there is too much chance of getting water inside the camera. Before you leave you car, put on the lens that will give the most shots. Consider using an all-purpose, travel zoom, like an 18-200 mm or similar (of course, such lenses typically have less light gathering power than other lens with less zoom range, making tripod use even more important). If you do have to change lenses, do so in shelter or with much care if still outside. (BTW, I do not own travel zoom. I try to restrict my compositions to those requiring a single lens. In last Friday’s case, I only used my 24-70 mm lens).

That’s it for now. Do have any other hints for photographing in the rain?

Covered Bridge

Covered Bridge at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill

Mill Dog

With Carson now gone, I have to get my dog fix wherever I find one. Here’s one of the two mill dogs at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill.

Rainbow Falls

Not the largest or most scenic waterfall in Washington, but a nice place to stop in the rain – Rainbow Falls.


How do You Photograph Ugly, how do You Photograph Time?

Over the past couple weekends, I’ve led two photo scavenger hunts. Participants in the hunts had 3 hours to photograph a list of 20 topics, such as: color, contrast, bark, soft, old, action, life, and ugly. The area I chose for the hunts was the Old Town portion of the Tacoma waterfront because of the wide range of possible photographic subjects (and, quite frankly, the nearness to my house). I think all the participants would agree, it was a fun time. Because there were two hunts, for two different clubs, and a few people members of both clubs, I made two separate lists with only a couple topics repeated on both lists.

Doing a scavenger hunt is a great way to push your photographic vision, to force yourself to think outside your normal “box.” Want to give it a try? Here’s a list of my favorite topics compiled from the two different lists I used over the past two weekends (minus topics specific to the place). Go someplace you think might have good photographic opportunities, give yourself 3 hours, and try to get a good image of everything on the list. Try for something different from your normal routine shot, be creative and push the envelope!

I’d love to see some of your results or hear your thoughts on whether this is a worthy exercise. Send me some of your results, and I’ll post them in my blog.

Here’s the list:

  1. ugly
  2. time (many people in the hunts I led photographed a watch or clock; try to think a bit more creatively and make a photograph that shows time itself)
  3. soft
  4. person/people (try to make it someone you don’t know)
  5. shadow
  6. light
  7. layers
  8. contrast (many options here, contrast between objects, contrast between light and dark, etc.)
  9. curve
  10. lines
  11. life
  12. action
  13. negative space
  14. color
  15. symmetry
  16. autumn (if in the southern hemisphere, substitute spring)
  17. old
  18. macro/closeup
  19. photographer’s choice (photograph anything you want)
  20. self-portrait

To give a bit of inspiration, here are a few of my shots for the above topics. (Disclaimer: for the actual scavenger hunts, participants are required to take jpegs, so the images submitted have no post-processing. The images below have undergone post-processing with Lightroom 5).

Ugly

Ugly – I found this old bottle nipple stuffed with something green and shot it with a macro lens. It would have worked for the macro category as well.

Autumn

Autumn – colorful leaves fallen onto an evergreen bush. I borrowed a fellow photographer’s black coat, which I laid on the ground, to make the black background.

Negative Space

Negative Space – it’s been foggy recently in the Puget Sound region, making it easy to find an image with lots of negative space

Old

Old – these old foundations from a historic mill on the Tacoma waterfront made an interesting subject and had good light as well.

Photographers Choice

Photographers Choice – the pagoda in Chinese Reconciliation Park looked great with the fog and the fall colors

People

People – this couple (and son) asked me to take their photo with their phone, I took one with my camera as well.

Time

Time – for me, this 4-minute exposure of some old pilings is an image of time, both for the calming effect the long exposure has on the water, but also the mystery of what the pilings were part of in the past


The Art of Capturing Time

I’ve heard photography described as the art of capturing light, and perhaps I’ve been guilty of describing it that way as well. Photographic tips often talk about looking for dynamic light, chasing the good light, etc. Yet photography is more than light, it is also time. Consider your camera. Leaving ISO aside, there are two ways to control exposure: changing the aperture and changing the shutter speed.

Time is an essential part of photography. Too little time, and your image will be black; too much time, and it will be white. Every photograph captures a slice of time. Sometimes a very small slice, a small fraction of a second; sometimes a long slice of minutes or even hours.

The human eye is better at capturing light than a camera. The human eye can see detail through a very large dynamic range compared to the best DSLRs out there. This is why HDR is popular, why there camera accessories like split-neutral density filters. But, at least in my opinion, the camera is better than the human eye at capturing time. My camera can capture the action of a running gazelle much better than my eye can. Similarly, it is much better at capturing the movement of the stars across the night sky.

Time makes every photograph unique. Each image captures a different piece of time, and each piece of time is different. I use to tell my kids when they were young, that if they wanted to see something no one in the world had ever seen before, pop open a peanut shell. No one in the world ever saw that particular peanut before (and no one would see it again after they ate it). The same is true for photography, want to capture something no one has every photographed before, take a picture, any picture – you’ve just captured a bit of time that will never be captured again. Okay, I hear you. If you take two photographs one second apart, you have two nearly identical photographs (the extreme example, I guess, being two studio-lit shots of a still life taken seconds apart). I didn’t say your capture would be exciting, only different (and perhaps not even on a visible scale). Making that capture of a small slice of time exciting, making the image worthy to look at, is where the art comes in.

The act of capturing time with a camera is not art. Instead making that capture an experience (both for the photographer and the viewer) is the art of photography. Just like composition makes a big difference in photography, selecting the correct small portion of time to record also makes all the difference. Look at the four examples below of the Colorado River taken from Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah, taken minutes apart and all processed the approximately the same way in Lightroom and Photoshop. I took the first two before sunrise, four minutes apart. The third was taken seven minutes later and the fourth seven minutes after that. Depending on your tastes, the second or the third ones are clearly superior than the first or the fourth (my favorite is the second one). A few minutes made all the difference here.

Dead Horse1

Image taken at 6:51 a.m.

Dead Horse2

Image taken at 6:55 a.m.

Dead Horse3

Image taken at 7:02 a.m.

Dead Horse4

Image taken at 7:14 a.m.

Selecting the correct time to press the shutter button is not limited to the quality of the light at the time, it also is dependent upon the subject. The best people shots come with when the subjects are showing their emotions to the camera, something that is difficult to capture because it is often so fleeting. And this timing aspect is not limited to people. When shooting scenes with flags flapping in the breeze, for example, I will usually take many shots, just to capture one where the flag looks good. Here’s a couple more examples. The first image, taken on Caye Caulker in Belize, is a little girl fishing with her father. I snapped of a dozen shots, but this is clearly the best, with the girl lightly touching her father. As you might imagine, a girl of this age didn’t hold that pose long, but was quickly looking this way and that, and interacting with a brother just out of the frame. The second shot is of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, I wanted an image with the swans in the pond, and was lucky enough to capture them in a good , with one looking directly at the camera. The birds were only in this position for a quick moment, and all the other shots I took don’t come close to the quality of this one.

Fishing with Dad

Often timing is critical when shooting human subjects, with split seconds being the difference between an image with emotional impact and one without. Here, the girl was only touching her father for a few seconds.

Fine Arts Swans

Timing also is critical with non-human subjects. These swans were only in this position for a brief moment.

The length of time captured in your image also makes a difference and, as I mentioned above, can reveal things not readily apparent to the naked eye. This is true both for short exposures and for long ones. For example, in the following image of snow geese in the Skagit River delta area of Washington State, the very short shutter speed was able to capture some unique looking wing angles and positions. In the second example, of the ferry dock at Steilacoom, Washington, a long shutter speed created beautiful patterns in the water. If you are a regular viewer of my photography, you likely know that I love using long shutter speeds for the effects of it creates – the effect of compressing many seconds of time into a single image.

Wings

Here a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second freezes the swans wings into interesting shapes and angles, not visible to the naked eye.

Steilacoom

A 15 second shutter speed was used for this image, creating interesting patterns and reflections in the water not typically visible to the human eye.

Sometimes two different sets of time can both be important to an image. In this example, taken from my trip up to Harts Pass several weekends ago, a long exposure was necessary to capture the stars. For images such as this, too short a shutter speed will not show many stars; too long a shutter speed will result in star trails instead of points of light. The shutter speed for this image was 20 seconds. (Generally, for star shots without trails, you will need to shoot at 30 seconds or less). However, in this image, I wanted to add some foreground interest, and I chose to do light painting on the tree. I painted the tree for just a couple of seconds, running the light from the flashlight briefly up and down the tree. More than a few seconds would have made the tree too bright; less, too dark.

Night Tree

Here a long shutter speed (20 seconds) was necessary for capturing the stars. In contrast, a short amount of time was needed to properly light paint the tree.

Here’s one last example of the importance of time to photography. The image below is of a tree with colorful leaves taken while moving the camera vertically downward. I used a shutter speed of 1/8 second. A longer shutter speeds would have resulted in too much blurring; a shorter shutter speed, too little. The proper shutter speed for this type of shot will vary greatly depending on the subject and the amount of camera movement.

Tree Abstract 2

Shutter speed is critical when creating pleasing abstracts with camera movement.

These are just a few examples of the importance of time to photography. I’m sure you can think of more. Photography is nothing without light, but it is also nothing without time.


Free ebook by David duChemin

Cover to TEN by David duChemin David duChemin is a wonderfully talented photographer that I follow. Though he resists being labeled, I’d call him a travel photographer – he truly has a knack for portraying a sense of place through images of people and scenes beyond the typical tourist shots. I’ve enjoyed most of his hard-copy books as well as a few of his ebooks.

Earlier this week, David announced on his blog that his first (at least I believe it’s his first) ebook is now being given away for free. The book, TEN, Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear, is a short, educational book on how to improve your photography. While most of its tips were not news to me, his fun writing style and suggested exercises in the book made me think about my images and my approach to photography.   Topics covered include creating contrast, creating depth and balance, changing perspective, and looking for “good” light – all topics I like to cover when teaching photography myself.

If you are looking to improve your photography, this short little ebook can certainly help. You can download the ebook at David’s blog.

The cover image of David’s book is used here with permission.


After Sunset? Don’t be Blue, Keep Shooting

Tatoosh Twilight

Tatoosh Range, Mount Rainier National Park, 40 minutes after sunset, 101-second exposure at f/8, ISO 400

Western Washington has had nice summer weather most of July. Most evenings, there have been few if any clouds, which of course makes for very boring sunset shots. However, when the weather is like this, the hour after sunset brings gorgeous light. Even as it gets too dark for humans to see color well, there are wonderful colors out there to be recorded by your camera.

The period after the sunset (and before the sunrise) is called the blue hour.  During the blue hour, sometimes the light is blue, as a result of the blue sky, but other times it is wonderfully warm. This warm light has been referred to as salmon light by the guys over at Photo Cascadia. Whether blue or salmon light, these cloudless evenings can make for good photography. For some reason, I’ve found better luck with the blue hour after sunset rather than before sunrise, but maybe that’s because it’s so hard for me to get out of bed in the morning (especially when the sun rises before 6 a.m., like it is doing now).

I’ve found a online calculator  (by JetKo Photo) for determining when the blue hour will occur. However, I’m not sure one is really needed. All you need to know is that after the sun sets, keep the camera out and keep shooting away, even as it gets quite dark. All you need is a tripod and a camera that allows for long exposures. Many DSLRs, in the auto exposure modes, will only allow shutter speeds up to 30 seconds long. When hunting blue hour shots, be prepared to go to manual mode and use the the blub setting on the camera. (Don’t make the same mistake I did recently when first using my newest camera in the blue hour – learn how to set it to blub before setting out).

So after sunset, don’t get blue and put your camera away. Keep that camera out and capture the blue hour.

Green River at Dinosaur

Green River at Dinosaur National Monument, 32 minutes after sunset, 30 seconds at f/10, ISO 200

Olympic Twilight

Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains from Ebeys Landing, Whidbey Island, Washington, 19 minutes after sunset, 1.3 seconds at f/10, ISO 100

Bisti Morning

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico, 12 minutes before sunrise, 20 seconds at f/16, ISO 100

Ecola Twilight

Cannon Beach from Ecola State Park, Oregon, 32 minutes after sunset, 10 seconds at f 3.2, ISO 100


Experiment in Infrared

A couple of years ago I purchased an infrared filter, used it perhaps once, stuck it in the camera bag, and have been carrying it around ever since. Earlier this month, I thought it was high time I tried it out again. My subject was Riverfront Park. It seemed like a good time to try. It was the middle of the day, with bright sunshine, and I was somewhat unimpressed with my “normal” shots.

So I pulled out the infrared filter. Here are three samples of one scene from the park, one shot normally in color, a black and white conversion of the color image, and the infrared shot. All were processed in Lightroom.

Riverfront Park shot in color

Riverfront Park shot in color

Black and white conversion from the color image

Black and white conversion from the color image

Same scene shot with an infrared filter

Same scene shot with an infrared filter

While I like the infrared image the best of the three, I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with it. It certainly seems to be lacking a bit of the character I normally associate with infrared – namely very dark skies and very light foliage. It may be that my camera (Canon 6D) doesn’t transmit much infrared. Or perhaps there is an issue with the subject I picked. Any experienced infrared photographers out there want to give me some advice?