Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Simply Subtle



I feel it is important for the Awake The Light blog to show Before and After versions of images when basic optimization has helped make an ordinary image more appealing. Before reading further, take a minute to look at each version and make a list of the modifications you see. Once you have done that, I will walk you through what was done and why.

As most regular blog readers already know, my preferred software to optimize images is Lightroom. Most of the time, the optimization techniques are used to make the final image look as it did when I tripped the shutter. Sometimes I will go a bit further in order to create a more artistic effect.

Digital camera sensors do not always record a subject as accurately as we would like. It is the nature of the sensor to reduce contrast and often to diminish the intensity of the colors. That is why optimization is helpful on all images. Yup, all images all the time.

So, have you completed your list? If so, read on.

The following modifications were made to this image:
WHITES SLIDER was moved slightly to the right in order to increase the brightness of the whites.
CLARITY was decreased to minus 30 in order to soften the entire image a bit.
VIBRANCE was increased to +95. It was only then that I remembered that this water lily had lavender tones in the petals, and not just white, because it had been awhile since I had shot the image.
HSL Yellow Saturation slider increased to +80 to deepen the yellow center.
HSL Blue Saturation slider increased to +30 to boost the lavender tone.
NOISE REDUCTION Luminance slider was moved to 30 to reduce the appearance of noise.

So a total of 6 easy steps took an OK image to a higher level. The final image has more color, and more depth. What is your opinion? Was it worth the 5 minutes to create the After image, or do you prefer the Before image? There is no right or wrong answer. As always, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I value your opinion and would like to hear from you. Please comment either on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Awake-The-Light/123508281034128   or email me at awakethelight@charter.net 

Shutter Speed 1/400 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS, set to 150mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection."  --Kim Collins

Sunday, July 27, 2014


This was a happy series of coincidences that combined to create a pleasing image. The cardinal happened to land in a spot I was focused on. He happened to be in partial shade and partial sun, and the sunlight happened to light his head, and created a catchlight in his eye.

While this was a series of good things that could not have been predicted, it is not unusual that unexpected things combine to give us unique opportunities for good images. In order to be ready for these opportunities, it is vital that you be ready to shoot quickly and effectively.

Have your camera set with an aperture of at least f/8, and a shutter speed of at least 1/500 sec. That will assure you of adequate  depth of field, and a fast enough shutter to freeze at least most of the bird's motion.

Know how to change settings quickly, and which direction to zoom your lens to get in tighter. Have your camera set to AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous (Nikon), and rapid burst. Then shoot about 3 to 5 images in a row. Stop, and then shoot another round of 3 to 5 images.

Be prepared to see many unsuccessful images, but you will get a few that will work well. It is normal to have to delete many images when shooting birds and wildlife, so do not feel that that is unusual. A tip about deleting images  -  do not Trash or Delete images while shooting. Leave them on the memory card, download them when you get home, and then delete the unsuccessful images from your computer.

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 200.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4 with Canon 2x Extender for an effective focal length of 800mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Luck, that's when preparation and opportunity meet."  --Pierre Trudeau  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Splendor In The Grass

This beautiful Great Blue Heron in breeding plumage was doing his impersonation of a statue in the grass. He did not move for quite a long time, which was great for getting good, sharp pictures. So often birds are either moving or in flight, which makes it more difficult to capture good quality images.

Fortunately for me, he was in the perfect place  -  the line of grasses dipped down slightly just behind his head. That allows the eye to trace down the horizon of grass against water, which serves to bring your attention directly to his head.

The light was ideal, being fairly soft with no harsh shadows. His light feathers stand out nicely against the green and blue tones. I chose to crop this as a narrow pano to eliminate some out of focus grass in the foreground, and a large expanse of water in the background.  The wide view also serves to make him look small in the scene, and yet clearly he is the main subject.

Shutter Speed 1/3200 sec.  Aperture f/10.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4x 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: "Great things are done by a series of small things brought together."  --Vincent van Gogh

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Indoor Options

Too hot outside to consider going out to shoot? Or too rainy? On days when the weather makes you want to stay indoors, you can still create some lovely images. Just use windowlight to make images of shells or flowers, or other still life subjects.

A north-facing window is good all day long and will provide fairly even, soft light. But you can also find soft light by using an east-facing window in the afternoon, or a west-facing window in the morning. 

Experiment on where and how you position the subject. For starters, I recommend finding a room with just one window, a fairly large one if possible. The larger the window, the softer and more controllable the light. Place the subject about 3 feet away from the window and position yourself so that your shoulder is fairly close to the wall with the window. That will provide nice, wraparound light that will add a sense of dimension to the subject.

Avoid shooting straight into the window since that will tend to underexpose the subject, and possibly cause the background to be too bright.

For backgrounds, sometimes the color of the wall behind the subject works well. At other times you might try a sheet of light or dark colored poster board or fabric to provide a clean background in the color of your choice.

Try a variety of things and shoot a lot of images. Try different f/stops to vary the depth of field. It is great fun, and you will end up with some wonderful images, all in the comfort of your home.

Shutter Speed 1/60 sec.  Aperture f.3.5.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort."  --Jane Austen

Misty Mountains

The Tetons are absolutely beautiful mountains, and they have been photographed hundreds of thousands of times if not more. It is always tempting to photograph an iconic landscape the same way we have seen it represented in some of the world's most famous photographs. And when traveling to special places, those are the kinds of pictures you should definitely capture.

But in addition, you should try for something a little different. A different angle, an unusual lens choice, something that stretches your imagination and your creativity, or something that creates a mood or a feeling and is not about a literal representation of the scene.

While this is not an unusual view, it is a slightly different approach. On this afternoon, the sky had fabulous clouds and there was a bit of mist in the air. Since the trees in the foreground were closer to the camera, they do not appear misty, but the mountains behind them do. I could have optimized this image in post-processing to cut through some of the mist, but I chose not to. I also could have increased detail in the silhouetted trees.

But this image is not about how the Tetons SHOULD look, or how shadowed trees should have more detail. It is about mood. The dramatic clouds, the misty mountains, and the silhouetted trees all work together to create a sense of how it FELT to be there, not exactly how it looked. 

So the next time you are presented with a world class scene, by all means get the expected shots, but also go for the unexpected, the creative, the moody.

Shutter Speed 1/1250 sec.  Aperture f/11.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 17-40mm f/4L, set at 26mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Great things are done when men and mountains meet."  --William Blake

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Split Decision



The lighting on this bison is called “split lighting.” That is because the sun was illuminating his left side (as we view the picture), with his right side being in shadow. Hence he is “split” by the light.

Determining exposure can be difficult with this type of lighting. I was lucky that the grasses around him were evenly lit, and only his right side was in shadow. So a straight meter reading worked well. But I had to check the histogram to make sure of that. Always, always, always (and did I say “always?”) check your histogram every few shots, especially if the subject is changing direction, or if the light is changing. Reliance on the histogram is the best way to be assured of good exposures.

Some people think that if the image looks good on the view screen on the back of their camera, that the exposure is fine. That is not the case. The brightness of the view screen can be changed (it is a custom function setting in your camera, and comes pre-set to an “average” default setting by the manufacturer), and does not provide any reliable information on the accuracy of the exposure. Only the histogram can do that.

Here is what the histogram looks like for this image.
There are no issues with the exposure. No data is jammed up against the sides to the left or the right. But look at the Before image above. It does not have any richness of tone or color, even though there is nothing wrong with the exposure. And there is no visible detail in the shadows. What it needed was optimization in Lightroom.

In less than 5 minutes the After version was produced. It only took six simple steps to dramatically improve this image. Moving the Shadows slider all the way to the right (to +100) opened up the shadows, and moving the Highlights slider to the left to minus 84 reduced the brightness of the yellow grasses. 

Then, using the "HSL" (Hue/Saturation/Luminance) controls set to Saturation enabled me to selectively saturate the yellow grasses. The Vibrance slider was then increased to +29. 

The final two steps were to increase Clarity to +30 (which boosts the mid-tone contrast), and to reduce noise by moving the Noise Reduction Luminance slider to  30.

That's it. In just a few minutes the image was optimized to look more like the actual scene at the time I made the original exposure.

Don't be afraid to experiment with the optimization options that are available to you. Play with different sliders and practice. In general, keep a light touch so that you do not over-tweak images to the point of looking unnatural. 

Shutter Speed 1/1000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800. Lens: Canon 400mm f/5.6L with 1.4x extender for an effective focal length of 560mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "The starting point of all achievement is desire."  --Napoleon Hill

Thursday, July 17, 2014


In general, conventional wisdom says that an odd number of elements in an image is more eye-catching than an even number. While that is not a hard and fast rule, it is certainly something to consider when selecting a subject.

These water lilies were in a larger grouping, but I chose to frame the shot with only these 3 flowers. I knew that I wanted the one in the front to be the sharpest, so I chose a relatively shallow depth of field, using an aperture of f/4. Then I focused on the center of that flower.

I positioned myself so that the main flower was more or less in between the two in the background. It is not perfectly in between because I wanted a little separation between the petals and the stem on the right.

Part of the appeal of this image is its simplicity. Basically there are only 2 colors - purple and green (which are complementary colors), with a touch of yellow at the centers of the flowers. The background is dark with minimal detail.

I often find that the simpler the image, the more compelling it becomes. It allows the viewer to enjoy the basic elements with no distractions. With most of us leading such busy and crowded lives, it is nice to view a simple image that allows us a glimpse into the unhurried, natural world.

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

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."  --Albert Einstein

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tipping The Balance

This simple image took some time to set up. The first decision was how to frame the shot. I saw the main flower and the two buds in the background, and wanted to center the bloom. At my standing height, I could not see up into the yellow center of the flower so I bent my knees a bit to bring me lower and provide a better vantage point. Then I had to shift my position slightly so that the main flower was more or less centered between the two buds.

The flower was actually hanging straight down, but I wanted to introduce a slight diagonal line to the composition. So I tipped the camera slightly so that the flower was positioned at a slight angle.

The decision for depth of field was easy, since I prefer a soft look for flowers  -  a large aperture of f/4.

The only other main consideration was to be careful not to touch any of the poison ivy that was on the ground near my feel, and hanging down above my head. It seems that some of the most beautiful spring flowers in the mountains live in the same conditions that allow poison ivy to thrive!

Shutter Speed 1/200 sec.  Aperture f/4.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Good art is art that allows you to enter it from a variety of angles and to emerge with a variety of views."  --Mary Schmich

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Swept Away

When photographing moving water, look for the direction of the flow and any shapes that might be created by that flow.  You might have to stand and watch for awhile, and slow your mind down in order to see shapes that might be there. You can learn this technique easily if you are patient and concentrate.

Look for gaps between rocks where the water is channeled and generally flows faster because of the narrow channel. It is in those areas where finding shapes is easier. You will see the water funnel in, creating a triangular shape as in this image.

Also look for colors reflected in the water. Again, take your time and be patient. You might have to take a shot or two and look at the image on the back of your camera in order to see hints of color. After a little practice you will be able see the colors with your unaided eye.

When training yourself, you do not have to be at the most spectacular stream or the fastest moving water. Find any nearby stream or river, and then sit and watch. Be patient with the water and be patient with yourself. It may take several visits and many shots before your eye begins to see which areas of the water are best to shoot. Shoot a lot of images from different angles and different vantage points.

Over time you will notice that your success rate has improved, and that finding interesting sections of water to shoot has gotten easier.

Shutter Speed 1/4 sec.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 100.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III. Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Have patience with all things, but first of all with yourself."  --Saint Francis de Sales

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Egret Duet

The number of egrets at Bombay Hook in Delaware a couple of weeks ago was astonishing. They were everywhere. Their elegance is lovely to watch, and a real treat to photograph. They are delicate, leggy birds, and look especially graceful when just landing or taking off.

In all wildlife photography, taking a lot of shots is imperative. Subtle changes in the position of the head or wings can make or break a shot.

For the greatest chance of success, set your camera to its rapid burst setting. If you have a choice of high or low speeds, always choose the high speed. That means that the shutter will fire in more rapid succession. BUT you do not have to fire off the maximum number of shots your camera is capable of. Each time you hit the shutter button, take only 3 or 4 shots in quick succession, and then stop. That is usually more than enough to capture a wide variety of positions. Give your camera a few seconds to recover and then shoot another burst of 3 or 4. By using this procedure, you will rarely have an issue with your camera's buffer filling.

The buffer is essentially a waiting room where data sits while it is being processed by the memory card and the camera. As information enters the camera (when you hit the shutter button) it stays in the waiting room while the data is being processed and recorded onto the memory card. Once the information has been processed and recorded, the waiting room becomes empty and can then accept more data from the next round of shots.

If the buffer fills with too many images, your camera will not be able to fire again until the waiting room is empty, and that will not happen until all the information from that series of shots has been processed and recorded on the  memory card. Sometimes that wait time means that you miss an important series of shots. By limiting the amount of data that enters the waiting room, the buffer will clear more quickly, and your camera will allow you to fire off more shots with a shorter wait time. 

So be patient. Take your time. It will be well worth it.

Shutter Speed 1/4000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with built-in 1.4 extender plus external 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 784mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY QUOTE: "He that can have patience can have what he will."  --Benjamin Franklin

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Odds Have It

This trio of Avocets was peacefully feeding in a quiet pond on a pristine spring day. They were perfectly spaced, with wonderful reflections. This is the kind of scene you wish for but rarely get. You want everything to be perfect, and indeed it was. In addition, they stayed pretty much in the same spot for quite some time. A photographer's dream.

Several elements combine to make this a successful shot. In addition to the spacing and reflections mentioned, all three birds are facing the same direction with their heads in profile to the camera. At times one or the other turned its head or spent a few minutes preening, making the body positions less than attractive. But patience paid off, and every so often their heads would nicely align and I could get a few shots.

When shooting near quiet water, often insects are in abundance, and that was certainly the case on this day. I hate using insect repellant because of the mess and the smell. But my shooting companion had some Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard, and it seemed to work well for the biting flies. The mosquitoes were not as controlled, but still not bad.

When using any insect repellant, it is recommended that you not get it on your hands. That risks transferring it to your camera, and apparently that can cause damage to the plastic parts on cameras and lenses. Using a pump spray or an aerosol enables you to apply it without touching the repellant. I tried spraying it just on my forearms, and that seemed to be enough to send the little beasties away.

Another helpful component when shooting outdoors when insects are present is to wear a hat. I have a hat with a wide brim. Apparently the bugs did not like my fashion statement, and they stayed farther away when I wore the hat than when I took it off.

Another helpful item is a head net. A truly ugly fashion accessory, nevertheless it helps to keep the bugs out of your eyes and ears. It does tend to frighten small children, and many adults as well, so be forewarned! 

Shutter Speed 1/2000 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 200-400mm f/4L IS with internal 1.4 extender + external 1.4 extender for an effective focal length of 784mm.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Gitzo tripod with Really Right Stuff ballhead and Wimberley Sidekick.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "Three essentials to happiness...are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."  --Joseph Addison

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Faux Macro

This close up shot looks like a macro shot, but technically it is not. I say that because I was really not in this tight when I took the shot. You can see the original shot here.
That was the closest I could get with the macro lens, since I did want to scare the butterfly away.

You have heard me talk about cropping many times before. Cropping can be a very powerful tool. I am not suggesting being sloppy in how you frame your shots, but there are times when you just cannot, for a variety of reasons, get the shot you want. In those cases there is no shame in cropping, even as tightly as I did here.

Today's cameras and lenses are usually good enough to allow you to crop in tightly without losing significant amounts of detail. That being said, I would not recommend cropping to this degree in hopes of getting a beautiful large print to hang over the mantle. But for smaller prints as gifts, or small prints for competition, or images to be shared electronically with family and friends, you can often get away with some pretty extreme crops.

When you crop to this degree, you want to crop away extraneous areas and find the heart of the image. What is the image all about? What do you want to highlight? Think about those questions as you are cropping. Try different crops to see what works best.

Consider it play time. Play to your heart's content until you find just the right crop and the right ratio that makes you happy.

Shutter Speed 1/500 sec.  Aperture f/8.  ISO 400.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "It is impossible to be truly artistic without the risk of offending someone somewhere." Wayne Gerard Trotman

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tunnel Vision

Learning to see light and use it to your best advantage is one of the most valuable tools in photography. It is a learned skill, and one that you can teach yourself.

Study the light in this image. The large overhanging tree in the foreground is darker than the bright greens and whites in the background. More light was falling on the distant trees than on the near ones. At a different time of day, the light might have been completely different.

This type of lighting condition provides a sense of tunnel vision. Your eye is drawn to the lighter portion of the scene. The darks in the foreground act as a funneling mechanism, forcing your eye to look at the brighter areas.

This is a picture about place and light. What is the main subject? Is it the quality of the light, or the trees, or the road leading you into the background? Let me know what you think. There is no right or wrong answer, so either email your response to awakethelight@charter.net or post a comment on our Facebook page  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Awake-The-Light/123508281034128

Shutter Speed 1/125 sec.  Aperture f/22.  ISO 800.  Lens: Canon 100mm macro f/2.8L IS.  Camera: Canon 5D Mark III.  Handheld.

TODAY'S QUOTE: "There is always a light at the end of the tunnel but it's not about what you find at the end, it's what you find on the path there."  --Anastasia wild