Friday, April 24, 2015

Drama In The Sky

There are times when Mother Nature serves up some amazing shows. On an autumn day in the Grand Teton National Park the clouds and the lighting conditions combined to help create a dramatic image.

This was a tough shooting situation with a very dark foreground and some very bright areas of clouds. While you might think that HDR was the best option, in cases where the scene is constantly changing as the wind whips the clouds, several shots in succession will not be identical, and combining them for a successful HDR blend is not always possible.

So what do you do? You take several shots looking carefully at the histogram each time. You check for serious underexposure and serious overexposure. I say "serious" because often either the light or the dark areas will be improperly exposed. BUT, once you find an exposure that minimizes the exposure problems, then you can depend on Lightroom to bring down the whites and lighten the darks. That is what I did here.

Because the sky and the mountains were so dramatic, the foreground is the least important part of the image. For that reason it is kept small, relative to the sky. It serves as a base to the overall image but does not warrant much attention. While Lightroom could have lightened the foreground much more, doing so would have taken attention away from the imposing sky.

So when using image optimization software, always consider the overall look that works for the particular image. It is not always important to see full detail in every part of the image if doing so will detract from the main subject and the emotion that it conveys.

Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm."  --anonymous

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dark Against Light

One of the most challenging shooting situations is a dark subject against a light background. Typically the camera will provide you with a reading that will under-expose the dark subject. When that happens, a great deal of noise can appear in the dark areas because they are underexposed.

To avoid this problem, it is beneficial to use Exposure Compensation. This is an easy setting on most cameras. Check your owner's manual to get details on how to use it on your camera. For this image, an Exposure Compensation of +1 was used. That means that one stop more light was used, giving more exposure to the blacks.

In this kind of situation, even if the Histogram shows a good exposure, it still can be beneficial to increase exposure by +1 or more, depending on how light the background is compared to the dark subject. Doing so will assure good detail in the dark tones, and will minimize the appearance of noise.

Shutter Speed 1/640 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 1600.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with 2X extender for an effective focal length of 761mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Camera stabilized on car window.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come."  --Chinese proverb

Friday, April 10, 2015

Simple Is Super

Flowers make wonderful subjects, and the simpler the composition the better. Why mess with Mother Nature?

This straightforward image of a cultivated orchid is enhanced by the angle and the background. Tipping the camera at the time of exposure created a diagonal composition, adding strength and interest. And a low camera angle, using the blue sky as the entire background, created a clean unobtrusive look.

So often we try too hard in an attempt to create a unique image, or something with visual power. But sometimes a simple, straightforward approach works best.

If you are in the Hickory, NC area on Wednesday, April 15, I will be giving a presentation to the Catawba Valley Camera Club at 7PM. It will be held at the Hickory Museum of Art. Directions here

The following day I will be leading a macro photography workshop near Charlotte, NC. This is a private workshop commissioned by the Catawba Valley Camera Club, and is not open to the public. If you would like to arrange a presentation or a private workshop for YOUR club, contact me. It is a great service to your club members, and a good way to reinvigorate your creativity and your enthusiasm for photography.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/4.5.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Simplify, then add lightness."  -- Colin Chapman

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Refresher On Moving Water

Springtime is a great time of year for moving water shots. Most rivers and streams are running full and fast, and make great subjects.

To better represent the flow and movement of water, I prefer a slow shutter speed, resulting in a somewhat silky look as in today's image above. Here are some tips to help you get the best shots:

1. Use a sturdy tripod, emphasis on the word "sturdy." A flimsy tripod will not be rock solid, especially on breezy days.
2. Use a cable release, or a remote control to fire the shutter. If you press on the shutter button, you will introduce a little vibration and your images will not be razor sharp. If you do not own a cable release or a remote control, just set your shutter to a 2-second delay. That will allow the camera to settle down after you have pressed the shutter button, and before the image is actually taken. In addition, you can use the mirror lock-up function to raise the mirror BEFORE you trip the shutter to reduce camera vibration even further. Note, however, that I never do that and do not have any problems.
3. Set the ISO to 100.
4. Set the aperture to at least f/16.  If your lens goes to f/22 or f/32, that is even better. That will provide good Depth of Field so that all parts of the image will be sharp.
5. Try a variety of different shutter speeds. There is no magic shutter speed that works in all cases. Generally a shutter speed of 1/4 sec is a good place to start. Also take some shots at 1/2 sec, 1 second, 2 seconds, and so on if you can. The silky look of the water will increase with longer shutter speeds. Some people prefer a slightly silky look, while others prefer a very soft mushy  look. My personal preference is the look in this image  -  slow enough to show movement but still showing some streaks of water as it cascades over the rocks. The shutter speed needed to produce the look you want will vary depending on the speed that the water is moving.
6. Lens choice  -  depending on what you wish to portray, you can use either a wide angle lens or a telephoto lens.
7. Neutral density filters  -  on sunny days when it is difficult to get a slow enough shutter speed, a strong neutral density filter can be invaluable. These are sometimes called "black" or "dark" filters. They are filters that screw on the front on your lens and are so dark that they reduce exposure (by allowing you to slow down your shutter speed) by several stops. There are two types - fixed and variable. Both work well, but my preference is a fixed 10-stop or 8-stop neutral density filter. (WARNING: do not waste your money on an inexpensive one. The build quality of the low-cost ones are very poor and will degrade your image terribly. It is a shame that manufacturers can even market these inferior products. The ones I am familiar with that have the best reputations and the best track records are these brands:  B + W, Lee, Singh-Ray.) Be prepared to spend about $150 on a good fixed one and significantly more than that on a variable. My advice - get a fixed, and do not spend the extra money on a variable.

So now, go out and find some moving water and practice and play. And while you are at it, allow yourself some time to just sit by the water and enjoy the view and the sounds.

Shutter Speed 2 seconds.  Aperture f/32.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In every drop of water there is a story of life."  --Leena Arif


Monday, April 6, 2015

Call Of The Wild

Seeing wildlife truly wild is one of the many joys of photography. So many of us live in cities or suburban areas and rarely see anything wilder than a squirrel or raccoon. So visiting our national parks or other areas where wildlife roams freely is a wonderful experience.

This male elk was in superb condition and was certainly feeling his oats. He bellowed several times, as is evidenced by his open mouth and head and neck position. The sound of an elk call is eerie and truly wild. It reverberates and echoes. It is unlike any other sound you will hear.

I was fortunate to be fairly close to this elk and his small harem of females. In fact I and a hoard of over 60 photographers were at the same place. One of the laws of the photographer's jungle is that when you see someone with a camera in hand, chances are there is something to shoot, so you stop the car and take a look.

In most national parks, photographers come to wildlife like moths to a flame. Often a traffic jam or a full parking area is a good indication that something is going on.  In those situations it is all to easy to forget common sense and put yourself in danger, or frighten or antagonize the animals. It is important to reign yourself in quickly and be responsible, careful, and respectful.

1. Don't stop the car in the middle of the road. Pull off the road safely.
2. Don't talk loudly since that could cause the animals to flee.
3. Don't move quickly. Moving slowly and quietly is always important around wildlife.
4. Don't make noise when assembling your gear. Banging or clanking sounds will spook the animals. Close your car door quietly, and do not use a remote lock that beeps or honks.
5. Don't block the view of others, whether photographers or not. It is rude to thoughtlessly step in front of other people who are there to enjoy the scenery / wildlife.
6. Don't walk too far into the scene so that you become an unwelcome part of everyone else's shot.
7. Most importantly, don't get too close to the animals. They need space, and if you get too close they will either leave the area or become aggressive. If they begin to back away, OR huff or stand up, OR make vocalizations, OR stop eating you can be sure that you have disturbed them. Immediately back off slowly - do not run or move quickly since that could trigger an attack response. Try to avoid eye contact since that could be perceived as a sign of aggression, even when you are backing away.

This shot was made with the lens set at 560mm, and I was about 30 to 40 yards away from the elk. A general rule is that the larger or more dangerous the animal, the farther you should be from it at all times. Maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from bears or wolves, and at least 25 yards from other animals. It is crucial to remember that animals can move much more quickly than we think. An elk can run at 45 miles per hour, bison 30 miles per hour, pronghorn antelope 60 miles an hour, bear 30 miles per hour, and fox and coyote 40 miles per hour. By comparison we lowly humans can run a short burst of only about 25 miles per hour, and that is for someone in good shape. So no matter what, it would be very difficult to outrun a charging animal.

Remember that when viewing wildlife in the wild, you are NOT in a protected area. It is not a theme park, and the animals are NOT tame, nor are they approachable. As much as you might want to get closer, it is unsafe to do so. In addition, in most areas it is illegal to approach animals too closely.

None of this is intended to frighten you. It is intended to keep you safe while you pursue your photographic endeavors. So get out there, be safe, and have fun.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L with Canon 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 40D. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher."  --William Wordsworth

Friday, April 3, 2015

Glorious Spring

Spring is here and it's time to get out there and go shooting. Fresh spring flowers make wonderful subjects no matter where you live.

These delicate Crested Dwarf Iris grow wild in many areas. Since each bloom only lasts for a day or two, it is a treat to come across a patch of them when they are fresh. They are a bit tricky to photograph since the small flowers are fairly deep and require reasonably deep depth of field in order to maintain sharpness from top to bottom of the bloom. But since I like a relatively shallow depth of field overall when shooting flowers, it becomes a balancing act to assure sharpness in the bloom while allowing the background to go a bit soft.

One trick I often use is not to place the camera too close to the flowers. I decide on the composition, and then back off a little bit in order to maximize depth of field, even when shooting with a large aperture, in this case f/3.2.  By doing so, most of the blooms are rendered sharp while the background still appears somewhat soft.

Of course this technique requires cropping after you have downloaded your images on the computer. Here is the original uncropped image.
Even though it is a good plan to make the image as good as it can be at the moment you click the shutter, there are many times when cropping after the fact is a good tool to use. Don't be afraid to crop in a variety of ways. If  you use software like Lightroom, you can crop as many times as you wish and still return to the original, since cropping in Lightroom is not destructive and you never lose any of the image information.

Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/3.2.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."  --Hans Christian Anderson

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Charleston Charm

I can't wait to return to Charleston, SC in May. While I would never characterize myself as a city gal, I do love Charleston. Its lovely historic homes, sweeping plantations, huge live oak trees draped with spanish moss, and fabulous world class restaurants combine to make it the perfect place for a photo tour.

This gorgeous 17th century home has it all  -  lovely entryway with hand-wrought gates, massive front door with beautifully arched frame, original brickwork and windows. These kinds of photo ops are all over town, with one eye-catching subject after another.

When shooting architecture with so many details, it helps to take a few minutes before starting to shoot to just look at all the elements and decide how to approach it best. Usually a combination of close-ups and long views will cover the subject well. When photographing this house, I decided to start with the impressive entryway, and used the brick columns and gates as a framing device for the massive door which is the center of interest.

The curved brickwork above the windows repeats the curved shape of the doorway, and adds interest. Repeating shapes is something to keep in mind when photographing any subject. It helps to tie elements together and improves compositional strength.

I also took shots closer up of just the doorway in order to have a variety of different views to choose from. It is a good practice to shoot subjects from a variety of angles, especially when traveling. You never know when or if you will return to that location, and the more variety you capture, the more options you will have to work with once you return home.

Click here for details on the Charleston Charm photo tour, May 17 -  21.

Shutter Speed 1/80 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 27mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment."   --Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Has Sprung

Happy Spring! Even though snow is still falling in some parts of the country, spring is definitely in the air. At this season of new life, it is a good time to consider infusing fresh life into your photography. Try new things, learn all you can, and enjoy your photographic endeavors more than ever.

Get your camera gear out and go in search of new turf. Consider taking a photo workshop to improve your skills and your creativity, or go on a photo tour to expand your personal and photographic horizons.

Today's image is a close-up of a sunflower. Often the sunflower images we see are large fields of them, stretching out to the horizon. But when photographing sweeping scenes, always pay attention to the small things as well. Get in close, show just a portion of the subject, try unusual angles of the same subject, and walk around it if possible to take advantage of different angles of light.

When you take an Awake The Light photo workshop or photo tour, I will help you see all those things and more. You will get personal attention and individual help as needed. You'll see new things and will see things with fresh eyes. And you will have lots of fun and meet new people.

Spring trips coming up are Soar With Songbirds in late April   ONLY 2 SPACES LEFT.

Also join me at the exquisite location of Charleston, SC in May. The Charleston Charm photo tour    provides  opportunities to photograph many of the iconic historic homes, a restored plantation, a boat trip to Ft. Sumter, and much more.

Wherever you go and whatever do, try to look at your surroundings from a new perspective and enjoy all that is around you.

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/9.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant."  --Anne Bradstreet

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Depth Of Field

How do you control Depth Of Field (DOF)? No special software, no slight of hand, just plain old fashioned DOF. The answer is by controlling the aperture (F-stop) of your lens. It is easy to learn and easy to do. And it is REAL, done on the spot while shooting, not a decision made later in the glow of your computer screen.

I am a strong proponent of getting things right in the camera as much as possible, without having to resort on software to do the job later. That being said, some things MUST be dealt with after the fact, like optimizing the image with software like Lightroom.

But DOF is a decision that should be made at the time of shooting. With close-up bird photography, shallow DOF is the best approach. It allows the details of the bird to stand out while allowing the background to go soft and muted.

DOF is created by the optics of lenses. All you have to do is to learn the basics, and the lens will do all the work. For shallow DOF, use a large lens aperture like f/4 or f/5.6. For deep DOF, allowing most everything in the image to be sharp and in focus, use a small lens aperture like f/16 or f/22.

That's it. No complicated formulas, no time-consuming decisions. With a little practice you will easily create the DOF you desire in your images. And you will have the satisfaction of knowing that YOU controlled it, and did not have to rely on software for the look you want.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 560mm..  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Taking care of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your life."  --Warren G. Bennis

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sunrise Serenade

Sunrises and sunsets make wonderful photographic subjects. The mix of warm and cool tones, and the drama of the light can make our hearts skip a beat.

Here are some tips to make your shots better:

1. Always arrive at least one hour before official sunset or sunrise time. That will give you time to set up and find a good vantage point.

2. Start with a wide angle lens, but be prepared to also shoot with a telephoto zoom. That will provide some variety, and allow you to zoom into smaller areas that might have great clouds or interesting colors.

3. Start with an ISO of either 200 or 400.  Higher than that will introduce noise, especially visible in smooth areas of sky and darker areas.

4. Use an aperture of at least f/8 or smaller. The smaller the aperture (the higher the number) the better you will be able to retain good detail and sharpness throughout the image.

5. A slow shutter speed is OK if necessary. If it is a calm day, there will be very little movement of the clouds. If it is windy, some cloud motion could prove interesting.

6. Some of the best shots are when the sun is below the horizon. The colors will be more subtle and you will not have the super bright sun overpowering your image.

7. It is also good to shoot when the sun just peaks above the horizon, as in today's image. That helps to retain some color in the sun itself, and minimizes the chances of having an uncontrollably bright  white circle of light.

8. For sunrise, shoot a lot before the sun breaks the horizon. For sunset, don't leave once the sun dips down below the horizon. Continue for at least 20 minutes afterwards, slowing your shutter speed as necessary. You will be amazed at the colors and subtlety that your camera will capture.

Shutter Speed 1/250 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere."  --John Muir