The Plateau

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2014 by chamimage
Cottonwood Inferno

Cottonwood Inferno

I have been reading a book by Seth Godin called “The Dip”. I would probably have called it The Plateau because it is about that plateau you hit when you take up something new, like photography, French, tennis.

At first you learn quickly and relatively easily, but once you learn the basics you reach a plateau where your improvement has stalled, and it is obvious it is going to take a lot more time and energy to take this thing any further. And even then, you will improve in baby steps from that point on.

This is the place most people quit, or continue on being mediocre. As Galen Rowell said, the difference between whether you make the effort or not depends on the size of the rat eating at your gut. My rat is humongous.

Bitterroot

Bitterroot

The payoffs at the end are good  because so few will make the investment in getting through the slog that it takes to break through to the next level. You will be in rare company in most pursuits if you master something. Maybe not so much with photography. There seem to be a lot of very talented photographers out there. Maybe we are wired differently. A lot of photographers will tell you quitting wasn’t an option, they had to see it through.

I tend to throw myself at pursuits so it is always surprising to me when I talk to local amateur photographers and make a suggestion about how they might improve and the response is almost always negative. They can’t (won’t) invest $150 in software that would help them process their images better and open up some creativity. These are people with good jobs, it is just not a priority to them. They want to BE better, but they don’t actually want to GET better.

Agate Beach Sunset

Agate Beach Sunset

One of the points made in the book is about how the internet has changed things. It is no longer good enough to be the best artist or gallery in town. People can now search worldwide so you have have to be the best in the world now.

And the difference between the best and number two is enormous. Why would anyone settle for second best? At least with photography the best is a matter of taste, and photo editors have many factors that influence what image fits their needs.

So if you want to win photo contests, publish images, sell stock images, or sell fine art prints, you have got to put in the work to be up there competing with the best in the world, because the competition for all of that is global now. One thing that is worthwhile trying is to do an image search on-line (use 500px or Getty or Corbis) for a subject of which you have a great image. See what the competition is. See where you have to get to. Remember, yours needs to be better than the best one there. In the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs they have a contraption in the swimming pool that they harness a swimmer into and then set it to move at world record speed, just so he knows what that feels like and knows how far she is from swimming that fast. Brilliant.

Winter Storm_Coastal Range, Oregon

Winter Storm_Coastal Range, Oregon

Everyone has their own way in which they learn the best so there is not one path to get there from here. One thing everybody advises is shoot a lot a lot, and edit mercilessly. Remember, good is no longer good enough, you’re going for great. Maybe it is my humble upbringing, but I still have a hard time trashing a good image just because it isn’t great,even though it is just pixels. I’m too thrifty for my own good.

Another universal recommendation is to look at a lot of good photographs. The Popular and Editor’s Choice galleries on 500px is a good place to do that on a daily basis. Compare those images with what you see on Flickr and you will soon appreciate the difference between good and great.

My favorite illustration in the book shows one stick figure saying “But, what if I fail?” And the other stick figure says, “We all get to laugh at you.”

Grass Widow

Grass Widow

All of the above images were old chrome slides I pulled and scanned recently. Even back then, five to ten years ago, I could take a decent photograph, I just couldn’t do it as consistently as I can now. I cringe at what I didn’t throw away. But back then I was trying to get to good, not great.

Once you have mastered photography and can consistently take great photographs that everybody loves, then you will hit plateaus with your marketing and need to either work through it, or change direction with something new. It never ends.

Nikon Capture NX-D beta

Posted in Photo Gear with tags , , , , , on March 24, 2014 by chamimage
Nikon Capture NX-D

Nikon Capture NX-D

I have been toying around with the new beta version of Nikon Capture NX-D.

Nikon Capture is the program Nikon provides to work on and convert Nikon RAW files. It will only read RAW files in Nikon’s NEF and NRW  formats, jpeg files and tiff files. Unfortunately, Capture does not show PSD files so cannot be used as a browser to find a psd file and open it.

Previous versions included NX-1 and NX-2. The two previous versions were a collaboration with NIK and they included NIK’s control point technology for selective editing. Nikon has gone a completely different approach with NX-D and no longer has control points or any other selective editing option, at least in the beta version.

On the plus side, the browser has been laid out in a much more user-friendly and familiar way. The new look is impressive. It is a browser and the layout is much like what is found in Lightroom or Bridge, very familiar. It generates jpegs faster than Bridge (who doesn’t? Really Adobe, that is the best you can do? Little Breeze systems and Photo Mechanic with a millionth of your budget have no problem generating jpegs fast), but you can overwhelm it and freeze it up if you go from one end of the film strip at the bottom to the other end too fast. Hopefully that will improve with the final release this fall.

The jpegs it generates are gorgeous. Flipping back and forth between Capture and Lightroom with the same image shows a clear advantage to Capture. Jpegs and TIFF files are equal in the two programs.

Which leads me to what I use Nikon Capture for. Mainly I want to convert RAW files with it. I want all of those beautiful colors that Nikon intended for that image to have. I do very minimal work in Capture, just global exposure, contrast, Picture Control settings, and Active D-lighting, which is Nikon’s way of handling highlights and shadows. Adobe Lightroom and Camera Raw have come a long way with their camera profiles for Nikon files, but they can’t match the colors you will get converting RAW files in Capture NX. I had been very lazy lately, just using Lightroom for all my basic editing and RAW file conversion. Then I ran across a problem I haven’t seen for a while. I worked on a file in Photoshop for thirty minutes before discovering there were color shifts in the gray of the clouds. Greens and magentas that didn’t belong there. They will also crop up in shadows from time to time as well. I had to start all over with a file converted in Capture NX to get rid of the color shift.

There has been a lot of hand wringing about how Capture NX-D does not allow any selective editing. It is not a stand alone product that will let you do it all in one program. I have never used one program alone for processing my files so it is less of an issue for me. I rarely used the Control Points in Capture NX2. I do now have Capture NX-D, Lightroom, and Photoshop all open at the same time, but I like the Capture NX-D RAW conversions so much better than what Adobe can do it is worth it for me.

There are a few nitpicky things I hope they change before the final version comes out. There is no zoom or hand tool so to zoom to 100% you need to use a keyboard shortcut or go into the Image drop down menu. The same with sizing the image to fit your screen. I hate that. If you zoom a horizontally oriented image and then fit it to screen, your next vertical image will not fit to screen. Argh!

There is no longer the Double Threshold check box above the histogram on previous versions of Capture NX that allowed you to adjust both your white point and black point. You have to, again, use a keyboard shortcut or drop down menu to adjust white point and then go back and do the black point. There are no white point and black point eyedroppers in the toolbox above as before, but  they are in the levels and curves tool below on the right column.

There is a way to batch process and there is a way to paste your setting changes to other images, so if you have five images from the same set-up you can adjust one image and paste those setting to the others. You can even save recipes to your hard drive if you create something wild and wacky you might want to use again.

My workflow for RAW files has now become 1.) Edit globally in Capture NX-D for exposure, white balance, contrast, and Active D-lighting to bring back any errant blown out whites or blocked up blacks. 2.) Convert RAW file to a tiff in Capture NX-D. 3.) Make further minor changes in Lightroom to white point, black point, gradient tool, etc. 4.) Open in Photoshop for application of NIK filters (they can be put on a layer and painted in or out on a layer mask in Photoshop), levels and curves (again, layer masked), dust spotting (I always forget to do it in Lightroom so do it in ACR as a filter {in CC version of PS only}), rarely color correction or saturation. 5.) Save psd file with layers intact, save flattened large jpeg for stock agency upload, save small jpeg for web.

I am hoping Nikon users will try Capture NX-D beta out and comment to Nikon on what they would like changed so we can get some changes made. When Capture NX-D is released this fall it needs to be the best it can be because Nikon will then no longer support updates for Capture NX 2 so as soon as we get into the next generation of cameras Capture NX2 will not have a camera profile for them.

One fine day

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2014 by chamimage
Baby Green Sea Turtle

Baby Green Sea Turtle

By far the highlight of our last full day in Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica was finding hatching baby green sea turtles. We had been told none of the nests looked like they were ready to hatch that evening. They always hatch at dusk, I assume to avoid bird predation.

We had been entertaining ourselves while our local boat driver took a look up and down the beach. He had given up and was almost back to the boat (which, strangely, was on the other side of the Tortuguero airport runway) when he came across the hatching nest. I had to sprint about one hundred yards in sand so was pretty breathless when I got to the turtles.

They go fast. The trick is to photograph them without leaving big old footprints in the sand for the next turtle to fall into. You lean a lot.

Todd

Todd

Here is our trip leader, Todd Gustaffson with his 15 mm fish-eye lens, getting the turtle, Caribbean, and sky all in the same shot. Tells a story. You can see where a little turtle might fall into foot or knee prints, but they were strong and climbed right out when the did. I wonder how they know which way the ocean is?

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

As fun as the evening was, the morning started off with a bang, as well. We had exhausted the rivers and lagoons by then so opted to take our morning boat ride northward, past the village of Tortuguero, itself.

I think the yellow-crowned night-herons are especially lovely. This one is on a sea wall.

 

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

The fog didn’t suddenly set in. I must have shot through someone’s hat or something. It was surprising how quickly we learned to not lurch around an rock the boat while shooting. It still helps to keep the shutter speed 1,000 or higher.

Tiger-herons

Tiger-herons

On my previous trip to Costa Rica I had seen just one tiger-heron so was hoping to find more. We ended up seeing them everywhere this time. These are bare-throated tiger-herons standing in a blue and white boat that is docked. The orange is a retaining wall.

Tiger-herons

Tiger-herons

Maybe they were waiting for a ride? The lagoon eventually leads to the Caribbean. Some of the lodges near where the herons were cater to marlin fishermen. All of the lodges were serviced by boats. There are no roads in Tortuguero. You get in via about a twenty mile boat ride, then end of which is pretty wild. Big boats speeding up and down a narrow, narrow river – both ways. We didn’t lose anybody. It costs a dollar to pee at the car park before your long bus ride back to civilization.

Caribbean

Caribbean

 

Night Critters

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2014 by chamimage
Red-eyed Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frog

Night macro wildlife photography is the most technically challenging for me. We made several forays into the night in Costa Rica in December.

There is a balance between depth of field and high ISO noise that is a problem even with our newer cameras that do better at noise suppression at high ISO’s.

Sleeping red-eyed Tree Frog

Sleeping red-eyed Tree Frog

I usually err on the side of narrow depth of field. Higher ISO images look fine on a computer screen, but are throw-away’s if you look at them in full size. Spiders are especially problematic because they are small and the closer you have to get the narrower the depth of field. Not to mention the risk that the spider might jump onto you in the dark.

Drab Tree Frog

Drab Tree Frog

It helps to have a big, bright flashlight when looking for these critters. Then it helps to have LCD video light panels to keep them illuminated while trying to focus the camera. Obviously it is almost impossible without at least two people, unless you are especially good at aiming a flashlight and holding camera at the same. I tried it. It’s not easy.

Turnip-tailed Gecko

Turnip-tailed Gecko

Some of these guys bite. I guess I am surprised that they don’t bite more often than they do. You can see in the image above that someone is holding an LCD light panel behind and my macro flash is acting as front fill.

Gecjo Silhouette

Gecko Silhouette

The silhouette through a banana leaf is a bit of a cliche, but you have to do it.

Smoky Jungle Frog

Smoky Jungle Frog

This guy was huge so was actually the creepiest critter of the night for me. He secretes toxins through his skin. I didn’t know that at the time, but it is always a good idea to wash your hands as soon as possible if you handle a frog or lizard in the tropics. Usually the worse that will happen is you will get nauseous.

The Nikon R1C1 macro flash system is a Godsend with these macro shots in low light. I use it on macro shots even during the day at lower power. At night it takes full power so bring lots of batteries because they will go fast. Bring two flashlights because you really don’t want to be out there in the rain forest in the dark with a dead flashlight. It’s not really dangerous, but try telling that to your pounding heart.

 

Glamor Glow Rescue

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , on March 5, 2014 by chamimage
Tortuguero Rainforest After

Tortuguero Rainforest After

When I looked at the Before image of this in Lightroom earlier today I asked myself what in the heck I was thinking for not deleting it on the first edit. What did I see in it? It was way too busy and the light was harsh mid day light. Not flattering at all in a rain forest.

Yet I still didn’t delete it. There was something there. Maybe it was the reflections. So I opened it in Photoshop.

Tortuguero Rainforest Before

Tortuguero Rainforest Before

This was what I had to work with. I use Google Nik filters on most of the images I process. I like to use them in Photoshop because it makes the changes on a layer that I can mask and brush in or out the effect as I please. Sometimes it causes an area to be too contrasty or blows out the whites in an animals fur of feathers. I can use the opacity slider if the effect is too strong.

I still thought I would have to give up and delete the image after my usual color correction and contrast adjustments. Then I decided to try one last thing – Glamor Glow. I almost never use it at its strongest, but that is what it took to make me finally have to admit, this image was suddenly working for me.

I am trying to be a more ruthless editor and delete more images, but sometimes there is just something there and you have to mess around a bit to find what it is that will bring that out in the image.

Newborn Fawn

Posted in Natural History, Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2014 by chamimage
Doe and Fawn

Doe and Fawn

I found this black-tail doe and newborn fawn near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park in Washington state. The series of photos that ensued told a story. These are all straight out of camera. None of them are great photos in and of themselves, but I like them as a series.

Newborn Fawn

Newborn Fawn

Momma decided to move away and stepped over a fallen log.

What's a Fawn to Do?

What’s a Fawn to Do?

The log was Mt. Everest to that little fawn.

He threw himself at it.

He threw himself at it.

He threw himself at it with all he had, but fell back on the first try.

The Second Try

The Second Try

His second attempt looked like it was going to end with the same result…

Kicking

Kicking

He was high-centered, but he managed to get his feet under him and start kicking his way over.

Success

Success

He made it.

Reunited

Reunited

Time for some security time beneath mom.

On the Road Again

On the Road Again

This image is all blurry, but shows how tiny and fragile this little guy was.

Hopefully, they lived happily ever after. The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tell a Story

Posted in Philosophy and Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2014 by chamimage
Anhinga with Rainbow Bass

Anhinga with Rainbow Bass

Most days all of the social media sites I visit just seem like one big time suck that I should live without. But then I will run across a gem of a post that makes it all worthwhile. I will share of few of those gems today. They are words to live by for 2014 for me.

1. Tell a Story - I got this one from Karen Hutton on The Grid podcast last week. When you find a subject and you are looking for The Picture, try looking for The Story, instead.  That will inform your decision on how much of the environment you need to include, what mood to go for. It wasn’t hard to find the story above – that anhinga may have bitten off more than he can chew. Adding more rain forest wasn’t needed for that story.

Wild Timber Wolf

Wild Timber Wolf

A tight shot of this wolf would have been ugly, but showing what a miserable day it was to be out in the woods was the story. He was walking along the cleared road side to keep out of the wet brush, cars be damned. A good photograph informs the viewer of an aspect of the subject they had not previously considered, a new truth, like leading them to think about the wild animals out in the forest on a wet, stormy night.

1a. I can’t use the one above without adding the famous saying by Jay Maisel as a corollary – “If you want to take more interesting pictures, be a more interesting person.” Listen to music, watch dance, read classics. It can be pretty interesting what bangs around in your head while you are out with your camera.

2. “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” – a quote from John D. Rockefeller I found on Sue Bryce’s Facebook page last week. I don’t think he had photo editing in mind when he said that, but that is certainly where I will apply it. We all have the problem of all of those technically good documentary images that we can’t get ourselves to delete. Let them go. They are not great so they are of no value to you. Post only your great stuff. My recent trip with Todd Gustafson was helpful in terms of seeing that he chose to keep maybe twenty images from the 300 we had shot that morning. On the first edit. That is my goal. To be able to find and keep only the images that speak to me without having to edit the folder four times to get there.

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

3. Find your passion, then build a body of work in that area. This doesn’t mean you have to shoot just birds or do macro only, but it doesn’t make much sense to build a portfolio full of landscapes if your passion is wildlife photography. I remember a conversation with Wayne Lynch in Africa about how it would be better to work locally and build a deep body of work in your local wildlife refuge or national park than to try to piece together enough trips to Africa and the arctic, etc. Give yourself creative projects in your genre rather than doing assignments that someone else makes up that accomplish nothing on Google+. Build a body of work. Get better at what you love.

Slaty Flowerpiercer piercing a flower.

Slaty Flowerpiercer piercing a flower.

I have a few more that are appropriate to the conversation. They are oldies and on my New Year’s Resolution list every year lately, but always good to be reminded.

4. Live as if every thought and action affects the collective consciousness and might just possibly influence others in a positive way. 

5. Less lawn mowing, more adventures. Metaphorically and literally. See Brooke Shaden’s recent blog on busy-ness. Don’ confuse being busy with accomplishing anything worthwhile. I have a theory that every meaningless meeting I am forced to attend, every sales pitch I get sucked into, every soggy sandwich vendor-sponsored lunch I eat, and every PBS pledge break is like smoking a cigarette, they shave minutes off of your life.

6. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Live accordingly. Leave nothing undone and nothing unsaid. Lie in your death bed with no regrets about the life you lived.

7. No negativity allowed.

8. Be generous.

9. Be humble.

10. Be loving and kind. Speak gently.

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