Monday, May 25, 2015

Charleston Geometry

The Charleston Charm photo tour is now over, and what a wonderful trip it was. All participants were relaxed and easy-going, and captured some amazing world-class images. It was a joy to spend time with them and to see their amazing images.

Charleston is known for its lovely historic homes and churches, and this is just one example. Sometimes zeroing in details rather than the entire building is a more powerful approach. In this case I chose to concentrate on the curving stairway and the lovely ironwork. Because of the checkerboard pattern on the sidewalk, I tried to incorporate geometric shapes and lines to create the composition.

There are the horizontal lines of the steps, the verticals of the ironwork posts, and the curve of the stairway. And of course the squares of the sidewalk pattern. Each of these elements works together to bring your eye into the scene and ascend the steps.

Because this was shot with a wide angle lens, there was some distortion in the vertical lines. Lightroom's perspective controls helped to fix those issues. I also used the Clarity slider to soften the overall image by moving it to the left about 40 points, providing a slightly less realistic look.

Have a happy and enjoyable Memorial Day. 

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTES: "America is hope. It is compassion. It is excellence. It is valor." -Paul Tsongas
"On Memorial Day we honor [not only] the combatants [and those who lost their lives], but those who came out of the trenches as writers and poets, who started preaching peace, men and women who have made this world a kinder place..."  -Eric Burdon

Friday, May 22, 2015

Morning Magic

Morning came early for those of us on the Charleston Charm photo tour. And what a wonderful morning it was. We went to the Botany Bay Boneyard on the Atlantic Ocean for sunrise. While at first it appeared that a thick cloud bank on the horizon might keep sunrise colors at a minimum, we were lucky when some color finally appeared, along with patches of blue sky.

We were also lucky that it was low tide, breezy, and no biting insects on patrol. We spent a couple of hours exploring along the waterline, and viewing the gnarly dead trees in the vicinity.

We decided to go light, with no tripods, and each person was able to capture some fantastic images. We will return there this evening for sunset, with high hopes of being rewarded with even more great photo opportunities.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday weekend.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/18.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "We can only appreciate the miracle of a sunrise if we have waited in the darkness."  -unknown

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Majestic Drive

The Charleston Charm photo tour began today, and what a spectacular place this is. Ancient live oak trees draped with Spanish moss line country roads leading to the area's history.

It was tempting to photograph this road symmetrically, but moving off to the side creates a better flow and a feeling of depth. On this partly sunny day, the light was constantly changing as clouds came and went.

When photographing from a road, safety is paramount. Always watch for cars. It is easy to get involved in what you are photographing and not hear approaching traffic. Stay off to the side as much as possible.

Later in the week you will see more images of Charleston. Stay tuned.

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/6.3.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set at 70mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn."  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Nature's Miracles

What a miracle to have stumbled across this scene. A perfect spring morning, a perfect spider web, and perfect naturally occurring water droplets from the morning dew. There is no substitute for being in the right place at the right time. An hour later, the droplets had evaporated as the sun rose higher.

When you come across a unique photo opportunity, you will get the best results if you understand your equipment, and know how to get the best shot under the circumstances. It is vitally important to study and understand Depth of Field (DOF). In this case shallow DOF helps the web stand out from the background. I focused on the center of the web, and with the lens aperture set at f/5, the background was rendered out of focus which is what I wanted.

Had the background been as sharp as the web, the web would not have stood out as well.

In 35 years of photographing, this is the most perfect web I have ever seen. So don't despair if you rarely come across the perfection you seek. Keep getting out there and be prepared for whatever you happen to find.

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The difference between utility, and utility plus beauty, is the difference between telephone wires and the spider web."  -Edwin Way Teale

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Check The Angles

Regardless of what you photograph, composition is key. Every successful image must have visual integrity.

This shot of an osprey has a diagonal composition that adds strength and power. When photographing birds in flight, it is difficult to pick and choose a composition when the action is occurring. While he was angled somewhat when I clicked the shutter, I took the liberty of tipping the image a bit more in Lightroom to improve the diagonal flow.

I was lucky that his flight path was such that he was backlit, making the tail and wing feathers glow and appear somewhat translucent.

Osprey are eagle-like birds that are more prevalent and less reclusive than eagles. They can often be found near many water courses far inland. I have seen them in Yellowstone, as well as at the ocean and other locations.

Their wingspan is impressive, and their vocalizations are unmistakable. They are the most photogenic when they are fishing, soaring overhead searching the waters for their next meal.

Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 200mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain."  -Doug Coupland

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Birds Of A Feather

This is a great time of year for baby birds, geese, and ducks, and they can be everywhere. This family of Canada Geese is living behind a restaurant not far from my home.

Sometimes luck is with us, and that was certainly the case with this shot. The parents were leading the babies along a gravel walkway toward fresh grass just perfect for munching. I was able to work my way around and behind them, keeping enough distance to not present a threat. Had I gotten too close, the family might have quickly moved out of range, or one of the parents might have gone into protective mode and noisily moved toward me.

Either way, not only would I not have gotten this shot, but the disturbance to this young family would have created stress and interfered with their need to feed. It is vitally important when photographing any form of wildlife not to disturb their normal behavior or interfere with their feeding, breeding, etc. We are fortunate observers and should not do anything to upset Mother Nature.

This family was moving quite quickly and I only have a few seconds to get the shot before their positions changed when they reached the grass. The babies obliged by keeping some distance between them so that each head is fully visible. What a stroke of luck!

Lens choice is what helps to make this shot work. It was shot with a telephoto zoom lens, which compressed the distance between the geese, and provided a nice tight shot of their waddling rear ends.

Shutter Speed 1/160 sec.  Aperture f/7.1.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5/5.6L IS II.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "If you feel the urge, don't be afraid to go on a wild goose chase. What do you think wild geese are for anyway?"  --Will Rogers

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