Archive for the Photography Technique Category

Photo Editing

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2015 by chamimage
3 day old Elephant Baby

3 day old Elephant Baby

I had a recent epiphany about photo editing. In the past I have spent a lot of my time editing old folders of images that I felt guilty about not having finished with editing all of the images. The problem with that is that I have already gleaned the family jewels images from those folders so I am spending a lot of my time editing and Photoshopping my second best images.

Samburu Elephants

Samburu Elephants

That thought occurred to me as I looked at my Google Analytics one day and confirmed that Guanajuato, Mexico at night was still my most viewed image on my web site again for another week, as it has been for much of the past year. I don’t know why. But the point is that I also realized I had many more images of Guanajuato that I had never optimized.  Guilt be damned! I worked on Guanajuato images.

So now I let the fickle winds of supply and demand determine which images I will be editing, not guilt about old un-edited images. I check Google Analytics and my stock sites to see what images are being viewed, both my own site and in general. Today it was Australia, France, and elephants. I have elephants, so I’m working on elephants.

Elephant and Crocodile

Elephant and Crocodile

Being an elephant means you don’t have to bother about no stinkin’ crocodile.

Banff Elk

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , on November 17, 2014 by chamimage
Bull Elk

Bull Elk

I photographed this elk in Banff two years ago (yes I am still editing images from 2012). I got some great shots of him, but the backgrounds were all very busy with that evergreen forest behind him.

I have yet to find a good way to blur a background without being obvious about it, though the new path and spin blurs in Photoshop CC 2014 are pretty cool for other uses, especially motor sports. I can’t bring myself to do any compositing when it comes to wildlife images so putting him on a different background was really an option for me.

I decided to do my best with Nik Color Efex Pro (still can’t bring myself to call it Google). The darken light center filter is one I have all but forgotten about lately. I put it to work on this image and was quite pleased with the result. I did some dodging and burning of the areas closest to the elk. I then still wanted the background a little bit darker so I opened it in Adobe Camera Raw (from Photoshop, which is totally cool since I always forget to dust spot before opening files in Photoshop and this way I can go back to do it using the dust spot finder in ACR) and moved the shadows slider to the left. This is a cool trick for darkening most backgrounds, as well as use in astro photography to make the Milky Way and stars pop.

This went from being an image I was kicking myself for not throwing away on the first edit to one I am pleased with. So now I am encouraged to procrastinate all the more about throwing out images that are flawed in some way. Perhaps I will think up a way to use it or perhaps someone will come out with a magic filter that will save it.

Photoshop Tutorials

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2014 by chamimage

Caribbean Sea

I find myself not getting much work done today because I keep running into interesting Photoshop tutorials everywhere I look. And I look.

Some of them are so good I thought I would pass them along for anyone interested in going beyond the basics in Photoshop.

Jimmy McIntyre has become a great source for Photoshop education. His weekly newsletter not only gives links to his latest offerings, but also links to others he has found over the week.

This week he hit it out of the park in a tutorial on landscape image editing he did for 500px at http://iso.500px.com/post-processing-tips-for-landscape-photos/. There should be enough there to keep you busy for a few hours.

Julianne Kost is my prime source for all things new in Photoshop and Lightroom. Any time there is a new release she is all over it with videos on the new features. This week she gives a very good review of what is new in the latest Camera Raw 8.2 release at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a4UTmTai5FU#t=375. I learned several new things I did not know in that 15 minute video.

Lastly, I discovered an amazing new natural light portrait photographer, Lisa Holloway, from a link in Jimmy McIntyre’s newsletter (you really ought to subscribe, it’s free) at http://iso.500px.com/backlight-natural-light-portrait-photo-tutorial/. It is also on 500px, which is coming up with some very good tutorials lately.

Those ought to keep anybody remotely interested in improving his or her camera and Photoshop skills busy for several hours.

Rialto Beach Sunset

Washougal National Motocross Race

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2014 by chamimage
Marvin Musquin

Marvin Musquin

Motocross races are a photographer’s dream. There are brightly colored subjects perched on a chocolate brown river of dirt. There is the gesture of speed and athleticism. And, as in all sports photography, there is no end to the ways you can do it better next time. You never stop learning.

I went to the National Professional Motocross race in Washougal, Washington on Saturday. I thought it had been thirty years since I had been to Washougal, but my son says I took him there in 1994. He even recalls the photograph I took of the first corner in one of the races. It now hangs on my wall. I have better cable  TV this year so have been following the pro circuit as it tours the country. I was getting kind of tired of just taking nature photographs and can’t afford to travel to Europe for travel photos, so the national race in my backyard was an opportunity to mix things up a bit and challenge myself.

As you can see in the image above, I used flash all day. It was bright bright mid day sun and you can’t shoot an HDR of a moving motorcycle. I used my Better Beamer to project my flash, but for some reason it was shooting low all day. Next time I’ll leave it off. There were the lucky few photographers in blue aprons with press passes that got unrestricted access behind the gates and I noticed they were all using bare flash units. One of the downsides to a national race is that you don’t get close enough to the track at times, and when you could, there are people standing three deep. Looking at some of the magazine photo galleries already up from the race I recognize a lot of the exact same images I shot on there. Spooky the same in some cases.

First Corner_250 cc Class

First Corner_250 cc Class

I used my 70-200 mm lens, with and without the 2x teleconverter. I tried not using my polarizing filter, but ended up putting it back on. It really helps with the dirt and the reflections, especially after they have watered the track between races. I shot at ISO 200-400 most of the day. At least with a bright mid day race the settings don’t really change all day so I left it on manual mode at f/8, 1/250th second.

The trick with motor sports is that you have to shoot a low enough shutter speed to let the wheels spin a bit. 1/250th of a second is about right for motocross. Of course that drops your keeper rate significantly, especially when you are panning with a rider parallel to you or going off of a jump. I actually did kick it up to 1/1000th of a second for some of the jump images because when you are on the far side of a jump (a hill, basically), you have to get on the rider, focus, and shoot in a millisecond as he goes flying by.

Washougal Motocross

Washougal Motocross

One of the most important pieces of equipment at a motocross race is earplugs. I want to thank the school charity that was selling them at the front gate. I had thought about them, but forgot them. Now I will leave a pair in my camera bag.

I survived the day with only a minor sunburn. Unfortunately, wearing my baseball cap backwards to facilitate shooting my camera resulted in a funny sunburn pattern on my forehead that people are going to be staring at for a couple of weeks. Better to have brought a broad brimmed hat, I suppose. I’ve been to Africa a couple of times, you’d think I’d know better. My knee was another casualty of the day. I was already waiting to see an orthopedist about it. Walking up and down the hill at Washougal ought to make the diagnosis easier for him because it is ten times worse now. Of course, it is my gas pedal leg so driving is excruciating at times, like driving one hundred miles home after a motorcycle race.

Pourcel vs Musquin

Pourcel vs Musquin

It was a good day of shooting. I shot almost 1,000 images. As of right now I’ve edited that down to 195 images. One way to improve the keeper rate would be to shoot at a higher shutter speed and then use the new spin blur filter in Photoshop to add spin to the wheels. Not exactly photojournalistically kosher, but I’m not a photojournalist. I added a blur path filter to image at the top of this page to blur the cars and the television scissor lift in the background.

I might have to go back next year in spite of the 6 miles of stop and go traffic jam and the mile long concession lines. You think I exaggerate? Really, Washougal, a few more concessions would be nice on a hot day. Someone is going to get mugged for their lemonade if things don’t improve. Fortunate for me one of the equipment vendors was giving away free water and I had a couple of protein bars in my bag. But when the crowd thinned at the end and I finally got that strawberry lemonade it was heaven in a cup.

One of the downsides to seeing a motocross race live is that you can see only a small fraction of the track at one time and if you are busy shooting a camera you really can’t keep up with all that is going on. I basically knew who was in the lead and a few positions behind him. Once they start lapping slower riders it is easy to miss the leading rider when he goes by. I concentrated on the lead riders because they are going faster and doing more athletically interesting stuff. Apparently there were some crashes. My son in Las Vegas knows more about what happened than I do because he watched it on TV. I can’t find an official attendance, but it used to be about twenty thousand people and that is what it felt like Saturday.

Who knows, maybe by the time of the 2015 race I’ll have schemed my way into one of those blue aprons.

Luminosity Mask versus HDR

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , on June 16, 2014 by chamimage

Dump Truck

HDR has opened up some landscape opportunities that I otherwise might have had to pass up, like this truck in mid day. I used Photomatix Pro on it. Interestingly, the Interior 2 setting seemed to work best. That is not the first time the Interior setting pleased me the most. Maybe because I want a natural look.

Recently on 500px blog there was an interesting article on luminosity masks to stitch landscapes together (http://iso.500px.com/luminosity-masks-in-digital-blending/?utm_campaign=may222014digest&utm_content=link&utm_medium=email&utm_source=500px). I had first been introduced to the concept in a John Shaw Photoshop CD several years ago. The concept of making the luminosity masks was a bit daunting and I never took it up. I think I tried it once and it didn’t work out very well because of my skill level at that time.

In the 500px article Jimmy McIntyre proffered a link (http://www.throughstrangelenses.com/easy-panel-download-for-photoshop/) to his free easy panel for Photoshop that has an action for making luminosity masks, among other things like an Orton effect action (soft focus, like Glamor Glow in Color Effects Pro) and a Detail Enhancer action.

In a nutshell, The action makes a series of masks based on brightness. The masks are displayed in the Channels palette. Typically in a landscape you are wanting the sky to be darker and the foreground to be lighter so the mask allows you to choose a mask that includes just the brightness corresponding to the sky and then paint the darker sky into the brighter foreground image. It is a relatively easy process that is well-explained in the 500px article.

Why do it? HDR blends several different images together and to do that it has to make some compromises in sharpness and in noise. It also fails in images with wind-blown vegetation, fast moving clouds, etc. Luminosity masking is a way to maintain maximum quality in your image, which is handy if you are going to print a large landscape print or if you just want an edge on what everybody else is offering. Luminosity masking is also useful if you want to composite, say, a sky from a completely different image.

International Dump Truck

International Dump Truck

This is the result using luminosity masking instead of HDR. I was quite surprised when I finished this one and compared it to the HDR image how little difference there was in the result. The shadow areas are a bit more realistic and the glare on the paint was a bit more pronounced.

Dump Truck Vertical

Dump Truck Vertical

I did this one using luminosity masking as well. I did not do an HDR version of it.

The down side for me is that I am not very experienced with refining masks and in these truck images it was really difficult to get a clean edge between the sky and the truck. I used Refine Edge and Smart Radius and I still had to take a lot of time cloning along the truck edge to remove artifact. There was also some weird artifact in parts of the sky, but that was easily dealt with by deselecting the luminosity mask and just going back over the funky areas with the layer mask highlighted and a black brush.

I heard a Photoshop guy recently say he had little use for HDR any longer because he can just composite a darker and lighter version of the image together and get to the same place. The caveat here, I think, is that this particular Photoshop guy wrote a book on compositing and knows how to refine masks to blend them seamlessly. In reality the horizon, of a landscape would be much much easier to blend together than the sharp delineation between the truck and sky here, but I am gland that I discovered the weakness in the method for a lot of us that could use some work on refining selections. I wonder where I put that compositing book?

 

 

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.

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.