In the never ending attempt to make my life more difficult than necessary I signed up for a two week trial on Photoshelter, another photo hosting site. Since I can’t figure out how to create a blog page on PS, I’ll add one to Tumblr, and since I haven’t I haven’t made a new entry on Tumblr in almost a year, I’m glad I take blogging seriously.
This particular image was from American Fork, Utah and I ran it through the pixel-bender filter in Photoshop. LOVE that filter, but it’s too easy to pixel bend every single image I’ve ever created, so I haven’t touched it in a long time. This particular image worked quite well.
Well, rambling aside, time to get back into making some blog entries. I now live in the Denver area and it’s been 90+ degrees for close to 60 days. Perhaps that’s why I selected this image, a nice cold winter scene. We dance with joy when the temperature plummets to 88 degrees. Even the dog is fed up, well, kind of.
Maybe I’ll post this image on 500px (yet another photo hosting site). If anyone actually reads my blog, you should check out 500px, some amazing photography to be seen, very inspirational. Then there’s PBase, I’ve let my account expire. And of course Flickr, which is not impressing at all these days (hopefully the new Yahoo CEO will pump some life into Flickr again), if not - see ya. So why not try Photoshelter?
Oh well, more ramblings at another time.
Back in business. Well, actually, back in Colorado, despite the fact that this photo is from Utah. I walked a trail near, I can now say this officially, my old house, and these God beams broke through the clouds, they are also called crepuscular rays. They are fun to photograph and fun to present. Imagery of this type of scene can be interpreted so many ways; spiritual, religious, hope, glory, etc. I suppose for me it’s a closing of one door and an opening of another door, maybe it was a good sign, it certainly made for a fine sunset. A casual walk on a trail and you never know what might happen. Cary your camera with you and you will be rewarded.
The ebb and flow one’s life certainly moves in mysterious ways, and I’m learning more about just going with the flow. Don’t let go of the rudder, you still need to steer the ship, but I’m getting better at reading the ocean and knowing which way to steer. I’m heading towards calmer seas.
Now, time to get all jacked up on a Starbucks Double Shot and write notes on the technical presentation; this image has a very wide dynamic range of light, pushing the limit of what the camera sensor can record. I didn’t cary my tripod during the walk so I opted to take a chance with a single exposure. I could have bracketed and tried a HDR shot but decided against it. Something I saw in a Moose Peterson video is something called single-shot HDR. This image isn’t a single shot HDR. I might try it though. If you’re interested, in single-shot HDR, it works best with a scene with very low contrast, not the case with this image. You can use any number of HDR programs (assuming they can process one image - not all do), and push the contrast to get something out of nothing. It’s a pretty cool technique actually. I’ll have to do a post later with a single-shot HDR image.
Anyway, I know with most of my cameras and most cameras in general, a scene like this will tend to be over exposed using the camera’s metering system. I just under-expose from what the camera calculates as the ‘right’ exposure. For a shot like this I’ll under expose by a full stop, maybe a stop and a half. I didn’t want an over exposed image as it would just blow out the highlights. There’s always some chance of blowing the highlights, but you can minimize the damage by under exposing a bit. I’d rather have muddy (less detailed) shadows then blown highlights for an image like this because the delicate nature of the highlights are more important than the shadows. The shadows for this image represent the base and gives the image a stronger low end tonality, which is also why I put the darker clouds at the bottom of the frame.
This was shot as a RAW and JPG image, but I used the RAW file for the image you see here. The RAW image allows me to stretch and compress the tones where as a JPG image is pretty much as is and doesn’t allow for the best compression and stretching. What the hell am I talking about? During the RAW conversion (I use Photoshop Camera RAW) I’ll adjust the Exposure slider to make global adjustments to the overall exposure of the image, followed by a healthy (near max) adjustment to the Recovery slider to try and pull in as much detail in the highlights as I possibly can. After that I might use the Recovery slider to lighten the darker tones in the image without shifting the overall feel of the exposure. That’s the basic adjustments for the exposure. I’ll run some noise reduction and a little sharpening and then open in the image in Photoshop for further adjustments.
In Photoshop, with an image like this, the very first thing I’ll do is duplicate the layer and run the Shadow/Highlights adjustment (Image - Adjustments - Shadow/Highlight). I’ll make adjustments to both the highlight, shadows and mid-tones to further compress and or stretch the image to suite my taste. Granted this is all seat-of-the-pants adjustments. I can’t give you a set of numbers that will work with every image as every image is different in it’s tonal range. I also prefer to do this on a serrate layer as I can then change it’s blending mode and opacity to suite my needs. With aggressive adjustments using the Shadow/Highlight adjustment I find the saturation is increased to a point beyond acceptable, the easiest solution for this is to just change the blending mode from Normal to Luminosity, and you still have the layer opacity setting to play with for additional ‘dial-back’ capability.
Once all that is complete I might enhance the colors with a LAB color boost, and another round of noise reduction and sharpening. The image should be pretty much done at that point, I just need to resize and sharpen (again) for presentation.
The Kurt Markus Workshop
It’s difficult to put into words just how important a week in your life can be. I looked for a portrait photography workshop from the Santa Fe Workshops, found one that seemed interesting, taught by someone I really didn’t know, Kurt Markus. After spending a week with Kurt and fourteen wonderful people, I’m still not sure I know Kurt Markus (I think if I spent a night drinking a case of beer and and a bottle of Crown it would make total sense, only to be lost the following morning, but at levels not understood at the surface, days, weeks, months, years later, bits of brilliance will bubble up thanks to Kurt), but I do know that he is a wonderful soul who touched the lives of fourteen very special people for one week in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
This portrait is from one of our models, Freddie Lopez, actor, musician, nut case. Point a camera at him and watch him go. I initially glossed over this shot and when I got back home and started going through the images again, pow. This is a more sombre Freddie but it touched me to the core. The entire week was like that.
To my friends from the workshop, what can I say? Every one of you touched my heart and inspired me daily. Your photos were so amazing, your friendships even more so.
I’ll keep this a short post. Enjoy the photo, take a few minutes to let it sit in, some things in life are like that.
Who’s to say you can’t get a good picture from your backyard? Technically I was lazy and drove to this spot, but I could have walked from my house in Lehi to this pond, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to lose the light, which happened shortly after taking this picture. In a perfect world I’d prefer a slightly different foreground, but when you are racing against the light, you get what you get.
This is a location that I’ve photographed from on many occasions. Why? Because it is simple and within walking distance from my house. It’s a location that is somewhat easy to predict, if I have a good sunset then I can get some reflections and probably get a decent shot. This night, I had a good sunset. Do you have a favorite location near your house? Try to find one. If there is a slight chance that you might have a good sunset (not as easy to predict as you might think), then pack up your camera and head to your spot. Chance favors the prepared mind (as the saying goes). And it’s very true with photography. Put yourself in a position that will favor a good image, and if the light becomes sweet, you’re already there to grab the photo. Have your position, subject, foreground, and background worked out in advance and wait, be patient. These are lessons that I learned from Dewitt Jones years ago.
For example, rainbows. You will only see a rainbow if you have a storm in front of you and the sun behind you. So if you’re out and about and there’s a storm brewing, position yourself in order to catch the rainbow before it happens. You may have to wait but at least you will be in a prepared location (physically and mentally). There’s nothing worse than having a snippet of great light, and your driving, and then you are in a hurry to try and find a safe place to stop, do a quick composition, and fire off a shot hoping for the best. I’ve been there and it is difficult to get a good shot. Sometimes life just happens and that’s the best you can do, but, if possible, plan for it in advance.
Pay attention to weather patterns in your area. If you know you will get a late afternoon thunderstorm, where do you need to be in order to get the most of the situation? When I lived in Rio Rancho, NM, late afternoon thunderstorms were the norm in the summertime. I could drive a short distance north and point my camera east looking across the valley of northern Albuquerque and get the Sandia Mountains in the background as the storm would roll through the valley. Sometimes I got great light, sometimes I got rained on, sometimes I had to run back to the truck due to imminent lightning. The point being, I knew the locations I wanted to shoot from, I knew how the storms would typically track, the rest was just being there in anticipation of something happening.
Trinity Methodist Church
This week I’ll dissect this church interior from Trinity Methodist Church in downtown Denver. I took a day to walk around Denver and take pictures of buildings and had planned on visiting some churches along the way. From a pre-planning perspective, sometimes I start with Google maps to get a feel for a particular area. If I find something that I think might be interesting, I’ll do a Google image search or a Flickr search, say Trinity Methodist Church, and take a look at images that other people took. If it seems interesting, I’ll add it to my list for the walk. This saves some time and at least gives me an idea of how many locations I want to check out. Keep in mind that half the fun of these walks is just exploring an area and stumbling across locations along the way.
I’m no expert on photographing churches, but let common sense prevail. These are houses of worship and should be treated with due respect. I always find someone and ask if it is OK if I photograph the church, and I won’t photograph without someone giving me permission. Also, I only go where the normal public would go. If the church is open in the middle of the week, good chance you’ll find an empty church to photograph and you won’t bother someone wanting some peace and quiet.
I took a fair amount of photos of Trinity Methodist since it is a beautiful church. I brought my tripod but opted to not bring it with me. This puts me at a slight disadvantage as I can’t use it for slow shutter speeds, which is typical for dark interiors. The workaround is to increase the ISO setting on my camera in order to photograph at slightly higher shutter speeds so I have a fighting change of not blurring the image. Image stabilization is a wonderful addition to the modern day cameras. Needless to say, I had image stabilization turned on for all these images. With higher ISO settings (like 800+), you will get more noise artifacts, and a lot more noise artifacts in the darker regions of the image, so a good noise reduction program does wonders for cleaning up the noise when you’re doing your post-processing. More on noise reduction when I talk about post processing this image.
For this particular image, I liked the lighting on the pipe organ, that caught my eye. I also liked the lighting on the angel (lower left) and bible stand (lower right). I’m sure these things have proper names, but I’m ignorant of such things, my apologies. These items are placed specifically, both by the church and by me with this zoom selection and where I physically stood. The composition is a triangle. A rather obvious triangle and after post processing, a very obvious triangle. Maybe it’s too obvious, but that’s OK.
I’m thinking black and white all the way with this image. The color version is pretty, but the feel needed to be BW. The overall tone of the image is dark and quiet, as I think it should be. I wanted the pipe organ to pop against the darker background and I wanted the angel and bible stand to be brighter, forming the triangle. Like any BW conversion, there are a million and one different ways to convert the image into something pleasing. You’ll have to work your images in different ways and pick one that is pleasing to you. Separating the tones in the dark background is not difficult but does require some more advanced Photoshop skills. You basically make a selection and then use the curves tool to add or subtract contrast and brightness. Almost always I’m adding contrast, as for brightness, it just depends on the image and what I want to present. By adding contrast, I’m separating the tones. If I don’t do that I’ll end up with a rather dull, flat, looking background. Again, this is a season to taste thing.
This image is slightly toned as well. I added some dark brown to the dark areas of the image and kept the highlights untoned. If you choose, you can add some toning to the highlights as well. Split toning is the term used if you tone the dark areas of an image one particular tint and the highlights a different tint. You can use tools like Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 for toning, or Photoshop. I like both, but tend to favor the controls I have using Photoshop. The way I do it is arguably over complicated and probably worth a blog entry by itself. Quickly, it is done by adding a colored layer, changing the blend mode, and then using the Apply Image command to mask the toning effect. I may need to do this a couple times to get the effect that I want to achieve.
Regarding noise reduction. For this image, and most that I work on, it’s a two step process. I’m almost always shooting RAW, that means I make some basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). One of those adjustments is two-fold, reduce noise, and apply a little sharpening to the image, not too much of either. The brunt of the noise reduction and sharpening will be done later in Photoshop using separate tools. For noise reduction I use Nik’s Define. Noiseware is arguably the best noise reduction production, but, on the Mac, it has a serious flaw, it only works in 32-bit mode and not 64-bit mode (for you PC folks, look closely at the fine print on the Noiseware site to make sure you’re compatible with 64-bit mode), all Nik software is 64-bit compatible - thank you Nik.
Vignetting. I once read that a good vignette mask isn’t seen. I like that statement. Either make it that way or hit me with a brick and make it very obvious. I darkened the upper corners with a vignette mask to help keep the eye in triangle and from wondering off into the corners of the image. And lastly, cleaning up the image. I have another version of this image where I used the rubber stamp tool and Content Aware fill to remove the lines just above the pipe organ. Personally, I like it better than this image as I find the lines a bit distracting. This is a matter of choice.
The obligatory thing in the foreground.
A mantra amongst nature/landscape photographers is to put something in the foreground of your image. OK, not a bad idea to help break things up. If you are shooting in a canyon, in this case, American Fork Canyon, in Utah, there was something I could place in the foreground, albeit a weed, but a pretty yellow weed. Yellow foreground, blue sky background, cool, I’ll do it. These things tend to help add some balance to the image, but it can become cliche if overused. This falls into a ‘season to taste’ thing. My best advice, if the object in the foreground can/does compliment the overall composition of the image then give it a try. A lot of times i find myself at the bottom of a canyon shooting up at mountains or cliffs, and, a lot of those shots are done with longer focal lengths so I can get optically closer to the mountain or cliff. In that scenario, it’s prohibitive to use a wide angle lens since it will make the thing that I’m interested, the mountain, or cliff, whatever, that much smaller. You do end up with shots with NO foreground, and that can, give a two dimensional look to the image. One way to work around that problem is in post processing and tonal controls, darkening and lightning certain parts of the image to create the illusion of depth. Wide angle and very wide angle lenses tend to create a nice sense of depth within the image, but keep in mind if there is something in the distant background that is of interest, it will tend to be small. Trade-offs. Photography is all about trade-offs.
The technical challenge with this picture was the range of light. The foreground and mid-ground were evenly lit, the sky in the upper left was fairly bright and quite a bit brighter than the rest of the frame. The real deal breaker are the clouds immediately over the mountains on the left. They are quite bright and have a lot of delicate detail. This is an HDR shot, high dynamic range. Your eye/brain can see this scene and take in all the details from the dark areas to the bright clouds, no problem. Digital cameras (and film) can’t do as well as our eyes. You have to squeeze, or compress the range of light so that it will fit ‘into’ the image without losing the highlight and shadow details. In the film days, I would have used a split neutral density filter to darken the sky a few stops and hope for the best. Now, I take three or five images and combine the images with programs like, Photomatix, HDR Efex Pro, or Photoshop.
It’s not difficult and I strongly recommend using a tripod. A lot of cameras these days have the ability to program custom settings. I have mine set so I can switch to a custom setting for HDR imaging. Once I have a composition that I like, I set the camera on the tripod and let the camera do the work. There’s TONS of information on HDR imaging on the web, so I’ll skip a detailed explanation, and if you do an Amazon search for HDR photography, there are a lot of good books on the market. As with ALL technical photography books, I don’t recommend buying any book without looking at it at the bookstore to make sure it’s a good fit for you.
In a nutshell, you will take three or five images of the same scene. One will be ‘properly’ exposed (that’s the one the camera will calculate as the best shutter speed and aperture combination for that scene, that lighting. Side note, that doesn’t really mean it’s the BEST combination, it’s what the camera calculates as best. I’ll save that discussion for another post. Of the remaining four images, two will be under-exposed and two will be over-exposed. The under-exposed images are used to reduce the highlights and the over-exposed images are used to boost the shadows. I recommend one stop, or one step increments (so the exposure sequence will look something like (-2, -1, normal, +1, +2)). You then load the five images into your HDR program of choice and through the miracles of modern science, they get merged into a 32 bit image (say what?), which will then get squeezed down into a 16 bit image that you can see on your screen.
HDR photography is all the rage these days. Some people love it, some people hate it. To me, there are two forms of HDR photography, the natural look, theoretically the look with this image, and the good old fashioned HDR look (which a lot of people hate). I like both, depending on the image.
Two books that I have physically looked at and strongly recommend, Rick Sammon’s and David Nightingale’s. I haven’t had the chance to see Tony Sweet’s (with Jason O’Dell) new book, but I’m sure it will be terrific.
I recently purchased an Epson 3880 printer (terrific printer), but after I had calibrated the monitor and printer with a ColorMunki from X-Rite, I noticed a light cyan border around my prints in the white area of the paper. I did a Google search and found a thread on an Adobe forum that indicated it had something to do with the version number of the ICC color profile. Apparently Mac OS (I’m using Snow Leopard 10.6.7) has a bug when you use an ICC profile with the newer version 4 of the ICC profiles.
I called X-Rite and they confirmed this issue. The solution was to recreate a color profile for both my monitor and the printer, using version 2 instead of the default version 4. There is a preference setting that you can change from the default V4 ICC profile to a V2 ICC profile. Do this for both the monitor and printer profiles and then step through the calibration process.
The test print I made after making these changes did not have a cyan border.
Hopefully this will be fixed with the release of Lion later this year.
Another creek shot, great. Well, while this image uses the same camera techniques as the previous post, it was in the post processing where things got more interesting. I tried and tried to make this into a BW photo. As you can see, it just didn’t work. I had three different versions, albeit minor changes, none of them really spoke to me as, ah ha, that’s it. I had an incomplete version of this shot and got a second opinion, and we agreed that the slightly colorized version was the best to present.
As with the previous image, camera, tripod, and variable neutral density filter make for the bulk of the image capture. The lighting was high overcast so it wasn’t casting harsh shadows. FYI, the creek is in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was driving around the park on Sunday looking for opportunities and there were a ton of elk all over the park, but they all looked ratty, I’m assuming they were shedding their winter coats and hadn’t developed their summer coats, so I opted for other subject matter.
The post processing, I was determined to make this a BW shot. I threw everything at it that John Paul Caponigro taught our class and I just wasn’t satisfied. I re-did the image three different ways thinking I might come up with a better combination of adjustments, didn’t happen. I tried using Silver Efex Pro 2, from Nik Software, no luck. Side note, if you haven’t tried Silver Efex Pro 2 and you’re interested in BW photography, give it a try. Through the trial and error process, I had an image that was partial color and partial BW, which eventually led to this image. Various aspects of the color in this shot were desaturated, the trees on the far right and left were desaturated a bit to downplay their respective color on the edge of the frame. The black and white quality of the water is almost totally desaturated in color. The water flowing in this image was actually very brown, not necessarily the most attractive color. I suspect that the brown color of the water was more like a sledgehammer to my personal bias to make this a BW image. On the final version, I did add just a tiny hint of color back into the water. The rocks were painted individually, which sounds more painful than it really is to do. You can use a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, mask it, and then just paint in the effect that you desire, in this case, it was painting back (removing) the saturation of some rocks to achieve a specific color balance in the image.
The other big part of the post processing was contrast control. There is a lot of different contrast adjustments made to this image to try and give it some depth. One of Photoshop’s little tricks is the Shadow Highlight adjustment, it’s becoming my goto tool for mid-tone contrast adjustments. I also used it heavily on the highlights on the water to create that streaky appearance (season to taste). The flowing water was hand painted to darken the darks and lighten the lights. Since the rocks were wet, how do you make them look more wet? Contrast. Add a Curves adjustment layer, give it healthy contrast boost, then mask that layer with black (this blocks the contrast adjustment you just made). Then paint on the mask with white to reveal, or dial in, the contrast as desired. In this case it was just a matter of painting the contrast on the rocks that were wet to give them a ‘more wet’ appearance.
From a compositional perspective, I don’t think this is a strong composition, not bad, but not great. Part of this is due to the location where you choose to shoot from. In this case, this particular angle was the best I could get, meaning I could get the main part of the creek flowing over the rocks and minimize the visual noise (distracting elements) in the rest of the scene. I probably could have walked down a short narrow edge to see if there was a better angle, but I liked this angle, plus I hate falling on large rocks. The rest was trying different focal lengths until I could get a pleasing frame. This is one of the locations where you get a decent shot, but not a great shot. The point to all this is, GO BACK. If you have the opportunity to re-visit a location, do so. Do it throughout the year and watch how the seasonal change influences your location and your choice of framing. Another fun option when shooting these scenes, try some really tight close-ups on certain rocks with the water flowing around the rock. It always amazes me when I work on these images, wow, why didn’t I see that when I was in the field? It’s not a matter of not being in tune with the scene, but due to our personal visual biases, we tune out things that don’t catch our attention or don’t seem important at the time.
I picked this particular image because there is so much to talk about with it. The location is American Fork Canyon, Utah (close to Alpine). I lived in Lehi and this canyon was a very short distance from my home. It was my get-away location. There was always something to photograph every time I visited this canyon (which was often).
The technical aspects about the image; shot with my Sony A850, on a tripod. In order to get the soft water effect, you need two things, a tripod and a neutral density filter of some sort. A neutral density filter blocks light, plain and simple. In order to get the right amount of light to the sensor/film, if you reduce the amount of light, you have to increase your shutter speed (which is technically confusing, I had to slow down the shutter speed, in this case, it was a shutter speed of 1.5 seconds). If you ever try this, experiment with shutter speeds as the speed of the water flowing will influence the image. You might need 2, 4, 8, or 16 seconds depending on how fast the water is moving. The aperture setting on this particular image was F8. I use a variable neutral density filter made by Singh-Ray. These filters are STUPID expensive and worth every penny. Being that it’s a variable ND filter, I can rotate the lens (it’s a screw-on lens) and dial in the amount of light loss, and thus achieve the desired shutter speed in order to blur the water. Shooting at very slow shutter speeds requires a sturdy tripod. I don’t use a shutter release cable, but I do use the built in 2 second timer, which allows the mirror to flip up and the camera to stabilize before the shutter trips.
When I converted this to a black and white image, I used Photoshop. I place a Hue/Saturation layer over the background image, and a Chanel Mixer layer over the H/S layer. I set the Chanel Mixer to monochrome, and then try a couple of the presets to get an overall feel for the tonality of the image. Then I’ll go to the H/S layer and play around with the color slider for some additional tuning of the tones. Once that is complete I use a couple more layers for additional dodging and burning (lightening and darkening) in specific areas of the image. Contrast is the key to just about any black and white image. Not every image requires a full black to full white set of tones, but this particular image has all that tonality, so the key was to give it some three dimensionality by lightening and darkening certain areas to 1) give it some depth, and 2) guide you eye through the image.
Photographs, generally, are read left to right, from areas of low contrast to areas of high contrast. The stream enters in the upper left and flows to the mid lower right. What makes this image awkward visually, is the circular flow of the stream towards the mid lower left. Your eye has a difficult time with the flow in this image, and it’s intentional. You kind of get into a do-loop visually.
Converting an image like this into a BW offers a TON of options. As with any BW conversion, there are so many ways to interpret the image, it just comes down to how you want to present it. Accentuating the highlights to help guide the eye, and accentuating the darker tones to help highlight the brighter areas are effective visual tricks. Try not to blow out the highlights so you don’t loose details and don’t make the darks so black that you loose detail. Lastly, something that is critical for good BWs - mid-tone contrast. It can make or break an image. Currently, I’m using the Shadow Highlight adjustment in Photoshop and using the mid-tone slider to adjust to taste. Other options include a blurred High-Pass filter.
Give this a try and see what you can come up with. If you don’t have a ND filter you can always change your aperture to F16 or F22, but that still may not be enough light reduction in order to get shutter speeds of 2 or 4 seconds. Also, try not to shoot in the bright sun, the range of light will be really difficult to capture and typically doesn’t make for a pleasing photograph. If you can photograph on an overcast day, all the better. Shade works equally well.