Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Go With Your Gut


As I have said so many times when speaking to groups and individual photographers, when deciding which images to enter into competition, use your best judgment based on the judges and the venue, but ultimately enter the images that move YOU the most.

I don't always follow my own advice, but thankfully I did in this case. Every year I enter images in the Professional Photographers of America worldwide annual competition. The competition is going on now, and I just received word today that this image did well.

This is one of my favorite places, Antelope Canyon in Arizona. It is a special and magical place, sacred to Native Americans, with beautiful light and an unending array of rock formations. I have visited there several times at different times of year, and each time the canyon provides compelling images with lovely colors and sweeping lines.

I was not going to enter this image because often in this type of competition, scenics of places that the judges have seen many times before do not stand out enough to get their attention. But because I love this place, and love this image, I decided to go ahead and enter it anyway. I fully expected it to be rejected, so I was thrilled when I heard that it had done well.

As many of us who have entered photo competitions have experienced, it can be a blow when a favorite image gets slammed by the judges. It can leave us feeling inadequate and makes us question our photographic worth. But regardless of what the judges say, we should not allow the results to make us doubt our skills. Just because a judge does not respond well to one of your images, YOUR love of the image is still important and should not be jeopardized by the judge's opinion.

To boost the chances of an image doing well in competition, here are some tips to enhance its impact:
1. Make sure there are leading lines or other strong compositional elements.
2. For color images, complementary colors or warm against cool can provide more impact.
3. For black-and-white images, good contrast with strong blacks and bright whites do best.
4. Do not over-sharpen or over-saturate.
5. Use images that have been properly exposed and well-focused.
6. Select images that create a mood, or have emotional impact.

When all is said and done and the competition is over, never let a judge's rejection of your image or thoughtless comment have a negative effect on you. Yes, it can be crushing, especially when you have not entered very many competitions. But ultimately it is your opinion that counts the most.

TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 13 seconds.  Aperture f/20.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 29mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Don't lose your perseverance and always trust your gut instinct."  --Paula Abdul 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

New Workshop Announced!!



LIGHTROOM UNLEASHED WORKSHOP
OCTOBER 13, 14, 15
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS

Brand new! By popular demand, another Lightroom Unleashed workshop has been added to the schedule. This workshop will be held in suburban Boston on October 13, 14, and 15.

This is an in-depth hands-on experience that will catapult your Lightroom skills higher than you ever thought possible. This is not a speed-through-and-leave-you-confused class. This workshop is a carefully organized approach to REALLY teach you how to use Lightroom to your best advantage. Created with you in mind, the entire workshop provides both group and individualized instruction.

At the beginning you will work along with me to learn and understand how Lightroom can turn unexciting images into works of art. As things progress, you will begin to work on your own images which will increase your understanding and skills.

By the end of the workshop you will have a new-found confidence in your use of Lightroom, and will be well on your way toward creating a polished portfolio of superb images.

The approaches are proven and methodical. And we will have fun along the way! Limited to only 12 participants, the class will fill quickly. For more information or to register, email awakethelight@charter.net or call 757-773-0194.

"Mollie is an outstanding instructor. She broke things into small pieces, demonstrating how it works, then having us try it on our own computers. She made sure we "got it," and she also made the class fun. I recommend this workshop without reservation!"    --D.E. 

"I've always admired the fine quality of Mollie's images. In this workshop she shared her techniques by guiding us through the wealth of Lightroom tools while making sure that each of us understood how to apply them. The workshop brought my images to a new level."    --H.E.

TECHNICAL DATA:
Shutter Speed 1/800 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS set at 185mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young."  --Henry Ford

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Horizon Decisions


In landscape photography one of the first decisions to make is where to place the horizon line. You can choose to place it high in the frame, or low, or centered as it is here. So how do you decide?

In general, placing the horizon line in the middle creates a serene and balanced composition. Placing it high or low creates more visual tension and sends a different message. Placing it high in the frame makes the ground the central subject. Conversely, placing it low in the frame makes the sky the main character. On days with an unexciting sky, place the horizon high in the image to eliminate what is not interesting. But when you have incredible clouds or a dark stormy sky, place the horizon low.

A central placement for this image works well with the scene - a quiet, calm, misty sunrise. The composition is very symmetrical from top to bottom, but there is some visual interest when you let your eye move through the image from left to right. The dark area on the left is large and imposing, while the right side is softer because of the mist, the delicate colors, and the individual trees.

Cropping decisions were made very deliberately. The right side was cropped to not show the bright sun just rising since it would have overpowered the softly fading darkness in the rest of the scene. And the left side was cropped to show enough of the heavy bank of trees to balance the mist, clouds, trees, and reflections on the right.

Lightroom was used to make sure the colors were saturated. I intentionally did not increase Shadows since showing detail there would have detracted from the overall moody nature of the scene. When working with Lightroom, make your optimization decisions based not only on technical considerations but also on creating or enhancing a mood or feeling in the image.

TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 1/30 sec.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 17mm.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Gtizo tripod with ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Only from the heart can you touch the sky."  -Rumi


Friday, July 17, 2015

Pretty As A Peacock

AFTER

BEFORE

Bad news. Bad light. Good peacock. Good Lightroom.

So how did I manage to create such a poorly exposed image? It was easy. What went wrong? Nothing. How was it fixed? I'm glad you asked.

This captive peacock was strutting his stuff in a very shaded area. There was sunlight on the foliage behind him, but very little light on his face or body. My tripod was in the car, and I was sure that if I returned to get it this moment would be gone, so I would have to handhold my 100-400mm zoom lens. To avoid the appearance of any hint of camera shake I knew I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec. And I wanted an ISO of no more than 400 in order to avoid too much noise showing in the image.

I quickly set my camera to those settings, which meant that the aperture would HAVE to be wide open at f/5.6. I took a shot and saw that the histogram showed an underexposre of almost 3 stops. And here is why it pays to understand your image optimization software. I knew that Lightroom would save an image underexposed to this extent.

Why did I have to underexpose it so much? Because the only way to get a more accurate exposure would have been to either increase the ISO which would have introduced too much noise, OR to set the shutter much slower which would have potentially shown either camera shake or subject movement, resulting in a less than sharp image. So I hedged my bets and took a chance on the 3-stop  underexposure.

You can see how dark the original exposure was in the Before image above. But here's the real benefit of knowing your software  -  I did NOT use the Exposure slider in Lightroom to lighten the image as shown in the After image. The Exposure slider is the LAST thing you should resort to when dealing with an underexposure. It can introduce more issues than you started with, and is not the best tool to use in most cases.

It is best to use other options in Lightroom, like Shadows, Highlights, Clarity, Saturation, and Luminance. It is important for you to learn your software, and I highly recommend that you take a Lightroom workshop from a knowledgable and competent instructor. Online tutorials are fine as far as they go, but they are generally not suited to providing a real learning experience.

I will be teaching two Lightroom Unleashed workshops this fall. One is in Massachusetts  October 13 -  15, and the other is in Northern Virginia (outside Washington, DC)  November 7 - 9. These are both in-depth and hands-on workshops that will cover everything you need to know to use Lightroom like a pro. For information or to register, email awakethelight@charter.net, or call 757-773-0194.

TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  ISO 400.  Aperture f/5.6.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 349mm. Camera: Canon 7D Mark II handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere."  -Chinese Proverb

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Guest Blogger - The Story Behind The Image



In October of 2014, I went to the Outer Banks with Mollie/Awake the Light and a group of very delightful and enthusiastic workshop photographers.  I know that we all expected to take wonderful images of sea, sand and sun.  I did not, however, expect to come back from the Outer Banks with my all-time favorite image.  That image is "The Milk Bottles," shown above.

It does not have the best impact, contrast, subject matter, etc.  In fact, when I entered this image in my photography club's monthly competition it did not fare that well, receiving average scores.  I was comfortable with that because this image was, and is, personal for me.  It became my favorite due to the journey it took me on. 

The image was taken on an impromptu stop at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, an historic site and museum in Rodanthe, NC.  It was a gray day, with spotty or little sun.  For some reason, this set of milk bottles on the back porch spoke to me.  I loved the old time feel and the look of the cracking paint.  I took the basic shot and moved on.  But I knew this image could be more and deserved a second look.  So, back I went.  I set up the tripod, refined the composition I envisioned, and waited for the sun!!  I decided that this was the image I wanted, and even if the sun never made an appearance, this is where I wanted to be.  I knew that this was going to be at the expense of capturing other images, but so be it.  When the sun peeked through a few minutes later and cast wonderful shadows and reflections, my normally non-existent patience was rewarded. 

This image has taught me a lot.  It taught me to slow down and really evaluate what is in front of you.  It taught me to remain open to all opportunities.  It also taught me that sometimes the image has to take time to come to you.  Most of all, it taught me to listen and appreciate what speaks to you.  I believe that this is what it takes to keep passion in your photography. These take-aways gave me inspiration and rejuvenated my love for photography.  And, hopefully, these lessons will make me a better photographer. 

Mollie knew what this image meant to me.  So I shared with her a personal victory.  At our club's annual awards banquet, this image was given the “Creative Print of the Year” award.  I believe it was because the passion I had for this image came through, and the journey this image took me on was experienced by others.  That’s the story behind “The Milk Bottles.”  

TECHNICAL DATA:    Aperture f/22.  ISO 400.  Camera: Nikon D800.  Lens: 70-300 Nikkor Lens set at 250mm.  5 Image HDR processed in Photomatix.  Antique brown/gold gradient texture added in post processing using “Multiply” blend mode. 

TODAY’S QUOTE: “Patience is the art of hoping.”  -Marquis de Vauvenargues

MOLLIE’S COMMENTS: From a distance, I saw Cindy watching and waiting. She was hopeful that the light would do what she wanted, and that she could get the shot she envisioned. Her patience and perseverance, plus her innate creativity and superb eye, enabled her to capture this magnificent image. Congratulations, Cindy!  

Cindy Gosselin Bio:  Recently retired after 26 years as an industrial / fire debris chemist in the insurance industry.   Chemistry did not allow for any creativity, so photography came along just in time.  I had dabbled a "little" in photography before joining Charter Oak Photographic Society in 1998.   This unleashed and freed up my creative side and I have loved photography ever since.  I started with slides.... loved the color and saturation of this media.  Digital followed, and unleashed even more creativity.  I am on the Board of Charter Oak.  I am also on the boards of NECCC and CAP (Connecticut Association of Photographers). I have a friend who once stated that the most significant improvement to his photography occurred when he retired.  I can't wait!!! 
  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Find What's Hidden

AFTER

BEFORE

There is a hidden gem inside nearly every image you capture. What you see when you first download your images is a dull representation of what is really there. Much information is hidden, not visible until you bring it out with image optimization software.

Look at the Before and After images of the osprey above. Notice how much more color is visible, and how much more detail. This is not smoke and mirrors. It is not artificially created. All those details were lying latent in the image but needed software to extract that information and make it visible.

One of the best things you can do to improve the look of your images is to master image optimization software. There are a variety of choices, but far and away the best one is Lightroom.

Lightroom is easy to learn. The best and fastest way to learn is to take a good class from a knowledgeable instructor. While online tutorials can be helpful once you understand the software, they are not the best way to get firm footing or to hone your skills. It is all too easy to take a quickie class and get confused, or come away feeling Lightroom is too complicated to learn. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If you are ready to take your photography to the next level, and want to learn Lightroom the easy way, there is good news. I'll be teaching a Lightroom class in November just outside Washington, DC.

DATES: November 7 and 8, plus an extra optional day November 9
WHERE: Hampton Inn, Manassas, Virginia
CLASS SIZE: Limited to 12 participants  -  only 4 spaces left
FEE: $950
FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO REGISTER: awakethelight@charter.net  or call 757-773-0194

TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II, set at 280mm.  Camera: Canon 7D MarkII.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know."  -Daniel Boorstin

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th!!


Happy 4th!! 

Make today a celebration of freedom, friends, and family. 

Enjoy a safe and fun-filled day.


Mollie


TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/2.8.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "...to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."  -Nelson Mandela

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eye To Eye With A Butterfly


They fly, they flit, and often refuse to stay put long enough to get a decent shot. But when they do, butterflies are super subjects.

As a general rule, butterflies are less flighty in the early morning and the late afternoon. This one, however, was photographed at mid-day as it feasted on a lantana plant. It stayed put long enough for me to get a few shots.

Full disclosure  -  I was NOT this close to it. All critters need to be given a certain amount of space so that they do not become alarmed. I got as close as I could, given the size of the plant it was on, but even so the original image shows the entire butterfly and some of the flowers it was sitting on. It was seriously cropped later when I optimized the image in Lightroom. What you see here is only about 10% to 15% of the original image.

With today's fine cameras and lenses it is possible to crop out considerably more than half of the original image and still retain good quality. BUT in order to preserve good quality at such an extreme enlargement the original image must be sharp. Very sharp.

Some photographers do very well using manual focus. I am not one of them. I rely on autofocus for all my images. In order to get the sharpest images it is important to focus on an area of contrast or a hard-edged line. That is how autofocus works best.

Set your camera to show you just one small square in the center of the viewfinder. Place that square over an area you want to be sharp and then press the focus button. It helps to also have your camera set for Back Button Focus. I highly recommend using ONLY Back Button Focus for all shots. I never use the shutter button to focus. If you are not familiar with the concept of Back Button Focus, do a Google search for more info. Consult your owner's manual for information on how to set the viewfinder to show you just one square in the middle.

For this shot, focusing on one of the dark lines against the yellow color works best to assure a sharp image.

TECHNICAL DATA:
Shutter Speed 1/1600 sec.  Aperture f/5.6.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L.  Camera: Canon 40D.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free."  - Charles Dickens

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Unexpected


So many times in this blog I have written about seeing the unexpected. This is another example. While photographing water lilies at the macro Longwood Gardens workshop last week, we saw this huge dragonfly attached to one of the blooms.

It took a moment or two to realize that it was no longer alive. While I would not have wished that, it did make it very easy to photograph. Often dragonflies perch fairly briefly, fly off, and perch again, sometimes back to the same spot over and over again. At those times it pays to stand your ground and wait patiently for it to return to the same place.

In this case, however, we were able to take many shots to get exactly what we wanted. Because of the distance he was away from the edge of the pond, use of a moderate telephoto lens worked best.

A little optimization in Lightroom helped the look of the final image. The leaf and flower were darkened slightly in order to help the bright green body stand out.

It was a treat to see this large beautiful dragonfly close at hand.

TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 1/320 sec.  Aperture f/13.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 200mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."  -Aristotle  

Monday, June 22, 2015

Soaring Skimmer


Capturing birds in flight is exhilarating and gratifying. They are graceful in the air and glide beautifully past our lenses. But they are fast, change direction without warning, and are in constant motion. So what do you do?

Set your camera on its rapid burst mode. Check your owner's manual on how to do this. Rapid burst is a setting that enables you to fire off several shots in quick succession. Different camera bodies have different speeds, and most cameras give you two choices - either more shots or fewer shots with each press of the shutter button. Always select the setting with more shots since that will fire your shutter at a faster rate.

Regardless of how many shots your camera will fire with each press of the shutter, listen carefully and remove your finger from the shutter button after it has fired off 3 or 4 shots in a row. On many cameras, if you shoot more than that in succession, the camera's buffer will fill and you will be unable to take more shots until the camera has processed all images and is again ready to shoot.

This beautiful skimmer sailed past me several times in a row, first in one direction and then the other. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to capture the action. I took many shots, some better than others. This is one of the better ones.

TECHNICAL DATA
Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II with Canon 1.4x III extender for an effective focal length of 520mm.  Camera: Canon 7D Mark II.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who...looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space...on the infinite highway of air."  -Wilbur Wright