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Pat Beaudoin is an amateur photographer living in beautiful Northwestern Ontario, Canada.  She took up photography with retirement and credits her involvement with Elements Village as well as the friendships arising from our annual blogging challenges with keeping her motivated and learning.  A visit to her blog, PatB Photo Impressions, will reveal her talent and affinity for landscapes and macro florals, as well as natural light portraiture.  Pat has embraced the Lensbaby as a tool to express her creativity and we’re lucky to have her share her experiences and suggestions in this guest post.   Thank you, Pat!

 

Getting Started With Your Lensbaby

Having enjoyed these Guest Blogger articles a great deal over the past months, I appreciate the opportunity to give back to this talented group and share my Lensbaby experiences.  I am by no means an expert with the Lensbaby but hopefully I can help someone get started with a creative and fun diversion from our usual quest to capture the technically perfect photograph.

That’s the great thing about a Lensbaby lens… using it encourages you to put aside the technicalities and the “shoulds”  and be a little more free-form.   Lensbaby images tend to be less literal, which is a great thing to help left-brainers like myself to unwittingly switch to the more creative right-brain in the process.


About the Lensbaby

When I first purchased my Lensbaby, I had no idea what the lens was all about…

The Lensbabies are actual SLR lenses, which means you need a camera with interchangeable lenses to use one.  You cannot fit a Lensbaby to a point and shoot camera, nor will it attach to an existing lens.   Lensbaby offers mounts for Canon and Nikon, as well as mount options for several other popular SLR cameras.

The lenses are without electronics, therefore, there is no digital connection to your camera.  Focusing is performed manually.  F-stops cannot be set from the camera but instead take the form of magnetic aperture disks which are placed onto the front of the lens itself.

Automatic light metering in aperture priority mode is available for almost all digital and film SLR cameras except for a few certain Nikon bodies.  Manual mode is also available to set your shutter speed for metering.

The focal length of a Lensbaby is approximately 50mm on a full frame camera, which equates to about 80 mm on a 1.6 crop sensor camera.

Lensbaby currently offers three versions of the lens – which model is right for you depends on your personal taste and the type of results you are looking for. Rather than list all of the options and accessories available, visit the official Lensbaby site for a more definitive description than I can give here.  There is also a great chart which compares the different optics, here .

Of the three lens models, the Composer is the easiest to use and my Lensbaby of choice for that reason.  Designed with a ball and socket rather than the tubing of the other two lenses,  the front element stays put where you aim it and focusing is achieved simply by twisting a standard focusing ring.

My Composer lens came with a set of Aperture Rings and case, the Double Glass Optic (the sharpest optic) and that cute little cleaning square you see in green.   I must admit I fell for the cutsie “baby” packaging.

I added the Macro Filters very quickly as I knew I would be photographing flowers, followed by the Single Glass Optic that is a little softer for portraits.  Next came the Telescopic and Wide Angle accessories, but I have to say that they don’t get used – I tend to use my regular lenses for these types of shots.  Only recently have I purchased the Soft Focus Optic, hoping to enhance my floral work.


Lensbaby Basics – Getting Started
The Lensbaby can be frustrating to use at first but with practice you will very quickly get the hang of it.  The lens is very much about selective focus and your goal is to have your subject in focus within the sharp “sweet-spot” and surrounded by the unique graduated blur of the Lensbaby.   You accomplish this by moving the focus from the middle of your image onto your desired point of focus or “tilting” the lens (unless your focus point is intentionally in the middle of the frame of course) and then fine-tuning the focus.

Step 1
For the first week or so I would suggest that you only practice manually focusing with the focusing ring on the lens.  Aim to get a centred subject in focus.   Most of us have depended on the camera to tell us when our subject is in focus and you will find it surprisingly tricky to judge on your own.  Take this initial time to retrain your eye, I found this to be my biggest hurdle.

  1. Attach your Lensbaby to your camera and set the camera to either Aperture Priority or Manual Mode.  Use your normal metering setting.
  2. Keep the lens in the centre position (straight ahead, not tilted).  You are able to lock it into that position if you’d like.
  3. Insert the f/4 aperture ring with the magnetic tool provided.  F/4 is a good aperture to use while  you are learning – it will give you plenty of blur and a large enough sweet-spot to recognize.
  4. Frame your subject in the centre of your viewfinder using the centre focus guide.  Turn the focusing ring until the centre of your subject comes into clear focus.  Concentrate on the small area within the circle of the viewfinder’s centre focus guide.  You may also find it helpful to adjust your camera’s diopter on the viewfinder.
  5. Snap that shot!    Take a lot of shots, refocusing each time.


My centred practice with f/4  – sooooo many deletions, very few keepers!


Step 2
Now that you have mastered manually focusing with your Lensbaby, it’s time to start tilting or “moving” your lens.

Assume that the focal point of interest, which you want to be in sharpest focus, is not in the centre of your composition.  What you will be doing is moving the sweet spot of focus, from the centre to your desired focal point.  The confusing part at first, is that nothing changes in your viewfinder; the camera’s centre focus guide does not actually move in the viewfinder and your “relocated”  focus point becomes more visible only after you have fine-tuned the focus.

  1. Continue with the f/4 aperture disk.
  2. Begin with the lens in the centred position on your camera (not tilted).
  3. Frame your composition with your subject or focal point of interest off centre or choose a smaller element of a larger, centred subject.
  4. Using the manual focus ring, bring the centre area, whatever is in view within that circular guide area on your viewfinder, into focus as you did in step one.
  5. Now, grasp the barrel of the lens, think about where you want the sharpest point of focus to be and move the barrel in the direction of your select focus point.  How much to move the barrel is basically guesswork at this point, so don’t be taken aback by that or think you are doing something wrong.
  6. Fine tune your new point of focus to it’s sharpest with the focus ring once again.
  7. Press the shutter.  That’s it, you’re on your way!

A small tilt of the lens goes a long way; experiment with small tilts and larger ones to see the effects.  It will seem awkward and cumbersome at first and you will miss your mark, but not for long.  Once you have put in some time and grown comfortable with the lens, placing your sweet-spot will become faster and more intuitive.  Continue on to experiment with all of the aperture disks from f/2.8 to 22.

Only a small tilt of the lens was needed to place the focal point on the rim and f/4.  (This is only a 2″ vase so I also needed the +4 macro to get close enough).

Whoops – I was aiming to place my focus point on the chipmunk’s head, instead landing on his body.  Focus looked fine on the camera’s LCD screen but not once it was displayed on the computer screen. (image cropped for example purposes)

A large tilt of the barrel here to place the sweet-spot on the head and draw the viewer’s attention to the inukshuk with the strong directional blur. 

 
 Lensbaby Tips  
  • Don’t delete your images until you see them on your computer.  The LCD panel makes it difficult to accurately judge the sharpness of your focus point or appreciate the blur effects.
  • Don’t take just one shot of a subject when shooting, especially in the beginning.  Stay away from moving subjects for awhile –  I still avoid them.
  • If your vision makes seeing the sweet-spot difficult, try adjusting or replacing your camera’s diopter magnification.  Others have had more success with matte and split-prism focusing screens.
  • The larger the aperture hole, the smaller your sweet-spot will be and the more blur effect you will  have  i.e., the least amount of focus to your image.  In contrast, the smaller apertures like f/11 and up, will result in more of the image in focus, as in a landscape.
  • Since you are using aperture rings, the camera’s metadata will not include the aperture size.  At the time of an aperture change, hold up an equivalent number of fingers to indicate the new size  and take a picture.  Or take a picture of the aperture disk itself to record the change.  This works when you change optics or add a filter as well.  Later on my computer, I record this info with the first image of the series and delete the indicator pictures.  Beats taking notes.
  • Having to manually focus is actually a good thing, it will slow you down.  Really look at your subject, decide which is the most important part and how you can use the sweet-spot and the blur to emphasize your viewpoint.
  • Do not obsess about the degree of sharpness in your chosen sweet-spot.  In my opinion, as long as your subject is in obvious focus a Lensbaby image will look fine.  Don’t set an expectation that it always stand up to 1:1 scrutiny.
  • Crop in-camera.  In this case, cropping your image during post-processing means you are throwing away at least part of the Lensbaby effect itself. 
  • PLAY with this lens…  it does wonderful things with highlights and you will often get surprise results that you will love!
 

 
An example of  the softer Single Glass Optic, f/5.6  &  1/160s, SOOC with a contrast adjustment


The Soft Focus Optic came with 3 of it’s own special Aperture Disks as well as the full standard set.  These create a sharp underlying image with a soft overlay.


Another example of the Soft Focus Optic but with the wider aperture disk.

 

I most enjoy creating photographs that have an impressionistic or ethereal lean to them – something I only realized through experiencing a more creative outlet in the Lensbaby.   My final tip and my preferred way to use the Lensbaby, is to use it wide-open, meaning without an aperture disk.  This gives you a very small sweet-spot at about f/2.0 and very little DOF.   Flowers are my favourite and I will often pair that with a macro filter.

© Pat Beaudoin 09/2010 

 

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Astrophotography

Welcome to our July Guest Blogger!! This month’s guest is Steve who some of you know as Mevets. Steve blogged last year in the “365 in 2009” so you may be familiar with his work. He has written a wonderful article on Astrophotography and included some photographs and links. Please welcome Steve.

While I’ve been visiting the blogs of various PhotoWalkers over the past six months, and finding plenty of good images (and leaving the occasional comment), I’m not a participant in the Virtual Photowalk. I decided to take a break from themed photo-blogging this year. Thus I was surprised and flattered when Mary Lou asked me to be a guest blogger. I hope I can live up to the confidence she, along with Julie, Karen, and Tammy, have in me and give you enough information to get started taking nighttime shots of the heavens.

I’ve been a stargazer for quite some time, starting back in the late ’60’s when the Apollo project captured the imagination of this then young lad (and most of the world). I got started in photography when I was fourteen when my dad gave me present from his trip to Japan, a Minolta SR-101 35mm SLR. I still have this camera, although it doesn’t see much use these days. As you might imagine, it wasn’t long before I was attempting to shoot the stars.

I was not very successful. There was very little in the way of books on astrophotography in those days (and no blogs!). It was all trial and error (mostly error). Discouraged I gave up. At least until Halley’s Comet made it’s last visit to the inner solar system. And although it was not a great apparition, I did manage to get some, for me at least, decent images.

As I got on with life after college my interest and time for both astronomy and photography waned. But in the early ’90’s I got the astronomy bug again, joining a local club. A trip to Yosemite in 2003 got me reinvigorated about photography, as I discovered digital imaging.

Film astrophotography can be very hard. Digital astrophotography is easy in comparison. I’m not promising Hubble like images from the get go. But today’s best amateur astrophotographers make images which rival those made forty years ago by professional astronomers. I’ll be giving you some basic pointers on how you can use equipment you probably already have to take photos to amaze your friends and family. Lets get started.

Star Trails

The easiest astrophotos to take are star trails (click any image to see a larger version).

Polar Star Trails

To do this you’ll need a tripod, a camera with a bulb setting to allow for multi-minute exposures, and a clear dark moonless night.

Set your camera securely on the tripod, aim at the stars, and click the shutter. The longer you leave the shutter open the longer the trails will be. Depending on your camera you may need a cable release to make long exposures, check your camera manual. With my cameras, Canon 300D, 20D, and 50D, I need to use a cable release to go longer than thirty seconds. You’ll also need to experiment with exposure times for two main reasons, sky brightness and sensor bloom.

Sky brightness is a product of the amount of ambient light, or light pollution, at your site. The more light pollution the shorter the exposures must be before the stars get swamped. Sensor bloom is a brightening in a corner or side of the image where the electronics are connected to the imaging sensor. It was a real problem on early DSLRs, and I couldn’t make exposures longer than five minutes with my Canon 300D. Newer DSLRs can go significantly longer, I routinely do fifteen minute exposures with my Canon 20D, and I’ve not noticed any issues with my Canon 50D at any exposure length. (I’ve had people tell me they make hour long exposures with the latest model cameras).

The upper image shows what you’ll get if you aim at the pole (in this case the north pole). The trails will be circles about the pole as the earth rotates beneath it. It is a single fifteen minute image taken with my 20D at f/5.6, ISO 1600 using a 10-22mm lens at 10mm. The image below shows the results if you aim at the celestial equator; the farther from the pole the straighter the trails are. It was also made using my 20D and the 10-22mm lens at 10mm, f/3.5, ISO 400, but is is a composite of five separate images, four fifteen minute images for the trails and then one thirty second image for the ‘star’ at the end of each trail. See the March 2004 issue of Sky and Telescope for how to make such composite images (alas there does not appear to be an online copy any more, so try your local library). The technique, while simple, is too long to go into here. (Note that post processing for all my images is done in Photoshop.)

Stars and Trails

A Note on Focusing

Achieving accurate focus is one of the most difficult tasks you’ll face as an astrophotographer. The objects you’re attempting to image, except for the moon, are generally small and dim. If you really get into astrophotography you’re sure to try all manner of methods and devices to achieve focus, but for now here is what I do for shots like these.

My cameras can autofocus on the brighter planets, Venus, Jupiter, and Mars, and on the brighter first magnitude stars such as Sirius and Canopus. Set your camera to center point focus and put the bright object in the center point, and attempt to focus. If successful immediately switch to manual focus and don’t touch the focus ring for the duration of your astrophotography session. Some folks will mark the lens at this focus point and others will tape the lens down to prevent focus change.

If autofocus fails then I’m forced to focus manually. Unfortunately, looking at very dim items through the camera viewfinder and trying to focus is non-trivial. Prior to the introduction of live focus DSLRs, it was another trial and error process: focus, take a test image, review on the camera, tweak the focus, take at test image, review, … repeating until satisfied. Live focus has made the process much easier, with a much brighter image on the LCD monitor. The first few times you try this will no doubt be frustrating. Don’t give up! Practice will be rewarded.

The Moon

Moon and Saturn

The moon is a temping target, big and bright in the night sky. But most first time efforts result in overexposed blurry images. There are two reasons for this.

First, the moon is in bright sunlight. So set your exposure accordingly. Second, the moon moves, moving it’s own width in approximately an hour. That may not seem like much but watch one evening as the full moon comes up over the horizon. You’ll be able to see how it moves against the foreground objects on earth.

Another reason for disappointing images is that most first time moon imagers shoot the full moon. But when the moon is full it is noontime on the moon, with the sun straight overhead. Most photographers know that midday light is the least pleasing for landscape shots. It is the same with the moon. Shots of the crescent or quarter moon phases find the moon in a much more interesting light (pun intended!), as the features are now side lit and much more dramatic.

Moon and Venus

Also note that the moon is a rather small object, subtending a mere half of a degree in the sky. Thus you’ll want to use a fairly long lens and for long lens shots I strongly recommend using a tripod. In fact, I use a tripod for almost all of my photography, day and night. The old adage that to get sharp pictures use a tripod really is true.

If you search the web you’ll find information about the “Lunar 11 Rule”, which is a modification of the sunny 16 rule. It says that for lunar images set your aperture to f/11, and your shutter speed to 1/ISO. This may be useful but I’ve never used it. Unlike the sun, the moon has phases, which means the rule will need to be tweaked appropriately. Note that the better websites that explain this rule will note these tweaks, so by all means give it a try.

I use the meter in my camera as a starting point and then switch to manual mode to set the exposure. I take some test shots and adjust accordingly. And I bracket exposures, shooting above and below the recommend setting. The key is to get sufficient detail in the moon without overexposing or getting motion blur. This is easy for the brighter phases of the moon, like the Moon and Saturn image above, which was taken with the 20D, using a 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/5.6, at ISO 100 for 1/30 sec. Both the moon and much more distant Saturn were at similar brightness, so the same settings worked well for both.

For the Moon and Venus image, the data are 20D, again using the 100-400 lens at 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 400 at 1/500 sec. The reason for the shorter exposure time on the second image is that Venus was much brighter then the thin crescent moon, so to avoid overexposing Venus I had to underexpose the moon. The nice thing about shooting digital is that we can experiment with the exposure values and see the results as we are shooting, and change the settings as needed right there in the field.

Recapping, the key thing to remember when shooting the moon is to start with relatively short exposure times, as the moon is both in bright sunlight and moving. Check the image on your camera’s LCD monitor and tweak until you are happy with the result. Shoot multiple images at different shutter speeds while in the field for review on your computer monitor, bracketing the settings, trying to get the best combination of brightness and sharpness. If needed up the ISO setting as you want faster shutter speeds to prevent motion blur.

Finally, go ahead and shoot all of the phases of the moon, but remember the most dramatic shots will come when the lunar features are side lit, which means you’ll want to be sure to shoot the crescent and quarter moon phases.

And use a tripod.

First Quarter Moon

(300D, 100-400mm Lens at 400mm, f/5.6, ISO 100, 1/60 sec)

Deep Space

Now we are entering the realm of the dedicated astrophotographer, shooting small dim objects using specialized mounts to track our targets across the sky. I won’t go into too much detail here, just enough to get you pointed in the right direction should your interest be peaked. Note that down this path lies madness, many sleepless nights collecting photons, hours spent post processing, and the opportunity to spend thousands of dollars on equipment.

Comet Lulin

(20D, 100mm Macro Lens, f/2.8, ISO 400, 3 min, Losmandy GM-8)

Sounds like great fun, doesn’t it?

The key to taking star trail images is that the stars move across the sky. Of course we all know that it is the earth moving under the stars which causes the trails. To take deep space astrophotos we need to counteract that apparent motion of the stars across the sky. The most common way to do that is with an equatorial mount.

An equatorial mount has one axis aligned with the earth’s axis, along with a motor that moves the axis at the same speed as the sky. Thus keeping the camera pointed at the same point on the celestial sphere for at least the length of the exposure.

There are a variety of good tracking mounts available to the aspiring astrophotographer these days. I’ve several, two of which I’ll mention here. The first is the Losmandy GM-8, which is a German Equatorial mount made for small astronomical telescopes. I use this for both prime focus astrophotography, where the telescope serves as the camera lens, and for piggyback photography, where I mount a camera and lens on top of the scope. The second is an AstroTrac TT320X, which is motor drive used on a regular photo tripod in combination with a geared head set to the correct latitude to align with the earth’s axis. I’ve obtained good results with both.

Andromeda Galaxy

(50D, 100-mm Macro Lens, f/3.5, ISO 800, 10 min, Losmandy GM-8)

For the mechanically inclined among you a simple barn door mount is an inexpensive way to get started. It is essentially a pair of boards hinged at one end with a screw between them which when turned pushes the boards apart. When turned at the proper rate a mounted camera will track the celestial sphere. The screw can be turned by hand or be motorized.

If you are interested in trying deep sky astrophotography I strongly recommend getting a copy of The Beginner’s Guide To DSLR Astrophotography, by Jerry Lodriguss, a CD ROM book . Jerry recently retired from his position as a sports photographer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his passion for many years has been astrophotography. (Disclaimer, Jerry is a friend and I was a reviewer for drafts of his book.)

Orion’s Belt and Sword

(50D, 200mm Lens, f/3.5, ISO 800, 3 min, AstroTrac Mount)

I mentioned joining an astronomy club in the opening paragraphs above and strongly recommend that if you get bit by the astrophotography bug you do so as well. I was fortunate that Jerry was a member of the club I chose to join, the Willingboro Astronomical Society. And for the past ten plus years I’ve had the pleasure of being in the field with Jerry and of being the recipient of his freely given help and advice as I’ve learned to shoot to sky.

The Sky’s the Limit

Literally.

Hopefully this short article has intrigued you enough to go out and try your hand at shooting the night sky. As you do be sure to experiment with composition and exposure. Use astronomical features as part of traditional landscape shots. Or use landscape features as part of star trail shots, painting the foreground with flashlights.

Moonrise over Canyon de Chelly

(300D, 24-105mm Lens at 105mm, f/9.0, ISO 400, 1/30 sec)

And realize that there will be times, as with my Adventures in Astrophotography blog post, where things just won’t work out. The good news is that unlike in film days, you’ll know right away when somethings gone wrong, and can often salvage the night. So don’t let a few mishaps discourage you, like they did me when I first started out.

I look forward to seeing the results of your efforts. Good luck and have fun!

Steve is just returning from the French Polynesian atoll of Tatakoto. He was there to photograph the total solar eclipse. If you have any questions you can ask them in the comment section and he will answer them.

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Welcome to our June Guest Blogger!! This month’s guest is Val who some of you know as Vawitt. This being the start of summer vacations Val has written an article on Vacation Photography. It is full of lots tips for taking great vacation photographs. She has included some of her photographs as well as some informative links. Please visit her blog Another Year in the Lens.

The Journey to Interesting Vacation Photos

~Val Wittman

Thanks to Mary Lou, Tammy, Karen and Julie, who invited me to write some tips about taking great vacation photos. I’m fortunate in that my job (I’m a college teacher) allows me some travel time in the summers. My high-school teacher boyfriend Jon and I take advantage of our breaks and take our cameras along on our adventures. We live in Illinois, pretty much in the middle of the country, which means we can drive to either coast in 2-3 days. We like to camp, hike, and are fortunate to have relatives who live in interesting places (Phoenix, Seattle, Boston) who don’t mind hosting us from time to time.

EQUIPMENT
While it’s nice to have a DSLR and a pile of lenses for every occasion, it’s certainly not necessary. One of my very favorite images was taken with a 2MP Fuji FinePix camera, through the scratched-up window of a 6-seater plane that was flying us to a trailhead in Alaska. I little work with levels and the Hue/Saturation slider in Photoshop Elements, and my “snapshot” turned into this:

We later graduated to “prosumer” cameras, with full manual control and built-in ultra-zoom lenses. My last camera was an Olympus 570UZ that ran on 4 AA batteries and easily flipped between wide angle and zoom at the flick of a switch. Both of us, who like to attempt animal and bird photography, grew weary and frustrated with the shutter lag and expensive memory cards (the Olympus uses xD cards and Jon’s Sony, the pricey Memory Stick Pro) and this past Christmas, he surprised me with a Canon XSi and snapped up a T1i for himself. Ho ho ho! Mine was outfitted with a Tamron 18-270mm “walkaround” lens, which means I don’t have to hassle with changing lenses. He opted for kit lenses and recently purchased a 10-24mm wide angle to capture the landscapes we also love to photograph.

PLAN A LITTLE
Jon’s a great planner. He loves to pore over maps, read back issues of “Backpacker” and “Outdoor Photographer” magazine, and more than once has selected a particular hike or destination based on a photograph. We love to visit the U. S. National Parks and a typical early stop for us in a new park is the ranger station/bookstore. Browsing the posters for sale often leads to asking the ranger where the photo was taken, and off we go. Two of my favorite Park photos were captured this way. The first is from the Wall Street hike in Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. After about a half mile of down-hill gentle switchbacks, you arrive in a narrow, walled canyon with a tree growing right in the middle. The November afternoon light was low, brightening the orange walls. This shot, similar to the poster in the bookstore, was straight out of the camera.

On a trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas, we spotted a poster taken from the state’s high point (Guadalupe Peak) of the Texas version of El Capitan. I liked the poster so much we not only took several photos of it from the summit of Guadalupe, but I copy-catted the poster and created one of my own…

BE OPEN TO NEW EXPERIENCES, AND PHOTOGRAPH THEM
While on that Texas trip, we discussed doing some river rafting. When we visited the rafting outfitters, we discovered we could take a two-day trip down the Rio Grande, with an overnight camp stop at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, before tackling the Rockslide rapids run. We decided on the spur of the moment to book that trip, and it was fabulous. Most of the trip was on mild enough water that we got to capture some gorgeous images without worrying about our cameras getting wet.

GET THAT CAMERA OUT OF YOUR PACK,PURSE,CASE
By the time you fumble it out of its hiding place, the opportunity for the shot may have passed you by. Carrying a camera – particularly a DSLR – can be clumsy. I tried every conceivable position of the strap – over my neck, under an arm, threaded through my fingers. Nothing was comfortable for long. I finally did some web-surfing and came up with this little back-saver. A simple harness of webbing, it distributes the weight of my camera, keeps my hands free, but lifts easily to take a shot. I wasn’t sure if I wanted the one of webbing or elastic, so I ordered one of each. I kept the webbing and Jon has the elastic version. I still want to be able to use my regular strap from time to time, so I visited the hardware store and purchased two small “O” rings, like you might find to wind a set of keys. I put those on the camera body, and fit the harness to two, small snap hooks. I put two additional hooks on my Canon strap, and now I can quickly swap harness for strap.

CONSIDER PURCHASING A WATERPROOF CAMERA FOR RAFT TRIPS, WATERFALLS, AND PLAIN OLD RAINY DAYS
I’ve always been paranoid about water around my gear. After Jon had his camera infused with salt water by getting swapped by a “rogue wave” on the beach in Hawaii (we subsequently spent the better part of our next day shopping for a new camera for him) he adopted my paranoia. When one of our favorite stores, Circuit City, was closing its doors, we attended a going out of business sale and lucked out in scoring an Olympus Waterproof, Shockproof camera for half price. We’ve since taken it on rafting trips, and into the waterfall spray in Yosemite. It’s been a great addition to our camera family! Here’s a Yosemite shot from the Hetch-Hetchy area in the summer of 2009. At this point, our bigger cameras were safely buried in our packs and stashed off-trail.


TAKE LOTS OF PHOTOS – SEVERAL OF THE SAME VIEW
o zoom in
o zoom out
o try different exposures
o Take a couple on Automatic exposure..just in case?

It’s digital. You can always delete the images you don’t like, but it’s tough to recapture the images you missed. If you shoot in the Manual modes, don’t be afraid to take a few shots on full auto, just in case! At least you’ll have the image, and if you have some Photoshop skills, you have a good chance of further improving the image once you get home.

Jon and I hike together and frequently stand nearly side by side to take photos along the trail. It still never ceases to amaze me how differently we see and frame the same photo. He’s only about 4″ taller than I, so it’s not only because of height.

GET YOURSELF IN THE IMAGES
Balance that camera on a bench, or rock, or on that mini-tripod you’ve been toting around. Hand your camera off to a stranger. If you are traveling with a companion, take photos of each other. It’s not all about the famous building, or the pretty view, or the national monument. You were THERE, and you should record that memory. When all else fails, stick your arm out, lean back, and take a quick self-portrait.

ESTABLISH PLACE
Take photos that tell people where you are. We like to photograph trailhead signs, and license plates from the states we visit. On a tour? The bus company or side of your boat or raft probably has a name emblazoned on the side. We spent 3 weeks ferry-hopping in Alaska a few summers back, and always photographed the life-preserver, which showed the name of the particular vessel taking us to our next destination.

WOW – these notes are getting long. Here are some bullet-point ideas to explore:
• Keep your eyes open for surprises (a coyote ran right in front of me on a trail and I was able to snap his photo)
• Watch composition (trees growing out of people’s heads, passers-by who blur into the corner of a photo)
• Learn the clone tool in PSE/Photoshop to remove unwanted objects (see bullet above)
• Be patient – you may have to wait your turn at famous view points
• All the photos don’t have to be taken by you. Ask a passer-by to snap your photo so everyone can be in the shot.
• It’s OK to have people in your pictures – they add perspective.
• Check your settings before you go out (f/stop, “scene” modes, white balance ISO speed)…anything you might have changed. I missed a chance to photograph a wild javalina because my camera was still set for a dark room the night before. My wild pig shot was just a white, blown-out, 1600 ISO mess.
• Keep your batteries charged – carry spares. This is especially true if you have proprietary batteries and can’t just buzz into the local drugstore for more double-As.
• Check for memory cards before you leave for the day – don’t leave them in the computer. On most cameras, memory cards are inexpensive. Add a few to your stash when you see them come up on sale.

• Every image doesn’t have to be a work of art – play around. Take snapshots. You are not just striving for gorgeous images, you also want to preserve memories.
• If you are taking pictures of people, and they are the focus, get up close. If you are taking pictures of scenery, don’t worry about the people…they are likely to be small and used for perspective.

• People pictures – check for sunglasses (take ’em off!). Get them off the tops of people’s heads (they can reflect the sun & give a big flare or blown-out spot).
• Look at your subject from unusual perspectives. Get down on the ground, or up on a bench or hilltop.

It’s true – for great light, you have to skip sleeping in. Get up early to catch sunsets. Hopefully you have scouted the location the day before.

Toss a tripod into your bag for moon shots, sunrises/sunsets. For those self-portraits, you can find a rock, bench, or other object to stand in as a tripod.

Be respectful of wildlife. They just might chase you!

Here are some links to more ideas. Can’t wait to see YOUR great travel shots on your Virtual Photowalk blogs!

How to take better vacation photos

Take better vacation photos

Focus on travel photography

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Most of us love to photograph the people in our lives but getting just the right look in our portraits is not always easy. In this guest post, professional photographer Heather McCullah will share some secrets to capturing the perfect casual portrait. Heather’s business, One Shot Beyond Photography, is based in Murrieta, California and provides a fresh and modern take on portrait photography to clients throughout Southern California. Heather’s skill with the camera is evident in all her work but it is her ability to connect to her clients that makes her portraits shine.

Heather is a great friend of the Photowalk where her warm and supportive comments are much appreciated. Please visit Heather at her One Shot Beyond Photography blog where you’ll not only see some more of her beautiful portrait work but have your taste buds tempted by her weekly food post, Tasty Tuesdays.

How to Take Better Portraits With Any Camera at Any Level

Practice

It’s the number one thing that will help you find your style and learn how to take a technically sound portrait. Shoot anybody and everybody who is willing to let you practice with them as your subject. Take self portraits when shooting others is not an option. Learning what works and what doesn’t is the best trick to have in your back pocket when taking portraits of people.

Find Ideal Lighting Conditions for Highlighting Your Subject

1. Try to place your subject out of harsh light.

2. Avoid midday shooting when in wide open areas where shade or partial shade will be hard to find.

3. Place your subject with natural light coming in from behind them when possible.

4. Look in your subjects eyes to find whether you’re catching light reflecting in their eyes…if there is none it’s not the best light for highlighting them. Move around to find a better spot.

5. Look for natural light filtering through the subjects hair. Backlighting the subject will add depth to the photo and make your subject stand out.

6. Use a fill flash for extreme conditions or when time does not allow for ideal placement of subjects.

Samples-

Absolutely no clutter in the background, soft light coming in from behind this handsome young man, beautiful highlights in his eyes & light filtering through his hair.The background below could have been even less distracting, but the highlights in the eyes really shine here. The background was full of harsh light so I put the subject in full shade and worked around the harsh elements as best I could.No harsh light, slight highlighting in the subject’s eyes and some creative style with only one eye fully showing.Just a classic portrait taken in front of simple and easy to find rust bricks. Gorgeous lighting gives my subject a great natural glow and striking eyes.
Eliminate Clutter in the Background

There are two options for doing this.

1. Use the camera itself to control your depth of field.

2. Place your subject in the least distracting area you can find.

Having your subject stand out from the background makes for a more professional looking image.

Samples-

I used grass as a background for the subject below to have him stand out and coupled with a shallow depth of field, it provided a softly blurred background.
I used pool water as a background for this next subject and converted the portrait to black and white.

Capture Emotion, Expressions & Feelings

1. Set the mood for the emotions you’re looking for by choosing the location, props or by securing a more private setting when necessary.

2. Always fully engage your subject; encourage them to connect with the camera or in essence you.

3. Build up your subject and infuse confidence into them through your words and direction (examples-tell your subject to flirt with the camera…have them imagine their significant other; use phrases like pout for me, be playful, go crazy, look sad, be sexy & look strong). Always compliment their efforts while directing with phrases like you’re doing great, that was perfect or you look amazing.

4. Don’t push them too far out of their comfort zone. Keep the energy up and have fun with them. If you’re having fun they will too and it will show in their photographs!

When emotions, feelings or a great expression is captured it trumps some of the minor technical errors on the part of the photographer.

Samples-

The emotional connection between the couple below is evident despite the use of fill flash in poor lighting conditions.Poor focusing doesn’t distract from this little one’s expression, the parents welcome shots like this despite any technical errors in the photograph.Focus & Composition

1. Always focus on the eyes or at least one eye.

2. Keep your subject as the most important part of your photograph even when shooting in scenic areas.

3. Break composition rules anytime you feel like it!

Samples-

Despite the enormity of the scenery behind her, my subject stands out and the scenery becomes part of the shot without taking over and minimizing my subject.
Focus on this next one was right between his eyes.Be Creative

1. Use light and shadows to add a depth to your portraits.

2. Use post processing effects to make your photos pop when necessary.

3. Use props or themes to make a portrait series become an artful piece.

4. Try out different angles and shooting perspectives (examples-get down low or extra high, move around while shooting your subject or find foreground to shoot through.

5. Don’t cancel your shoots when the weather is bad (try shooting in different elements-rain, snow & at night).

Samples-

Post processing helped this dark photograph become a grainy & moody shot that works. Only one eye is showing and the dramatic expression is unexpected out of a youngster. One of my favorite candid portraits.
Breaking lots of rules with this one, but I still love it. It’s got unique energy and mystic.

Is this a portrait? I think so. I think you want to see more of her…are pulled in to wanting to see her eyes. The photo drifts the viewer up and down over and over trying to find “more”.
Shot using a lot of tilt to add a little something extra to the photograph. It already had a gorgeous subject and beautiful background…but shooting straight on wasn’t quite enough for me. I liked this photo much better once I tilted my camera.
Lovin’ the tilt!

Using props like balloons, hearts made out of construction paper, umbrellas or anything you can come up with that fits the scene & mood of your photograph is always a great thing to experiment with.

Put your whole heart into your shooting and your portraits will shine! 🙂

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Thank you to Mike for writing this 2-part article for us on HDR images. Enjoy Part 2!!

I apologize for taking so long to finish part 2 but it’s been very busy in my life the last couple of weeks……

So, you’ve all been good students and have gone out and bracketed a few scenes, now it’s time to process these images. After you’ve imported your shots into Lightroom (and installed the export to Photomatix preset) you need to prepare your shots to export to the HDR software of choice. If you don’t have Lightroom you can import your shots directly into Photomatix and then export them to process them in PSE or PS. Generally, the only adjustments I will make to my photos is for white balance. I want my files as unaltered as possible.

This is a capture of my settings for exporting my bracketed images to Photomatix. I generally leave the reduce noise button checked.

Next you will see the generated HDR shot. It’s ugly and nasty but don’t panic there’s nothing wrong with the picture, but there is something wrong with your monitor. It’s not able to render the high dynamic range of the picture. Fear not, we will fix this in the tone-mapping process.

Press the tone-mapping button to start the process of giving your shot the desired HDR “look”. You will then see a screen that looks similar to this:

If not, it might be time to panic. Anyway, this is when confusion sets in. I remember when I began to delve into Photomatix I was totally confused and intimidated by all these adjustments. Mind you, I still am at times with this program but I will make this as easy as possible for you to understand.

After 2 years of working with this program I’ve come to realize  (yes, i am a slow learner) that the most adjustments I ever make are to the following buttons:

Strength, Smoothing, White and Black points, Micro-smoothing and Highlights Smoothing.

Strength: I generally set this between 80 and 100.

Smoothing: 90% of the time it’s on high, 10% on Mid.

White and Black Points:  I adjust just as any other levels adjustment, as desired.

Micro-smoothing: low for more details and higher for less details.

Highlights Smoothness: most important in landscape shots, 50-70 for normal looking skies and under 50 for real contrasty skies.

If you enlarge the shot you can see my settings, always remember there is no right way or wrong way to use these settings, it’s all personal taste. Like red cars, you either like them or you don’t.

Okay, so once you get the desired look in Photomatix you’re anywhere from 50-75% done. I save the photo as a tiff in 16 bit form and return back to Lightroom for further adjustments.

In this screen shot you can see the adjustments I made to the tone-mapped shot. My main goal here is to return the HDR image back to as close to the original as I can while accentuating the details in the shadows and highlights. Wow, after a few adjustments I think I’m done.

HDR is a hot topic in the photography world right now and like that red car I mentioned above you either like it or you don’t. All I can say is that it is a technique that, when used correctly and creatively,  can enhance and even save an average picture.

Before…..After

This is the link to Photomatix where you can download a 30-day free trial.

I hope you enjoyed my little tutorial on HDR and should you have further questions please feel free to email me. I will do my best to help you further.

If you would like to share your HDR images please add your name to Mr. Linky. It make take a little while for your name to show up so please be patient.


1. Mary Lou
2. Edmund
3. Tammy McChesney
4. Julie McLeod
5. Tammy
6. Julie McLeod

Powered by… Mister Linky’s Magical Widgets.

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Welcome to the second edition of Guest Blogger! This month’s guest is Mike who is also known as Boomer. Many of you are already familiar with Mike’s HDR images from his blog. Mike has written an in depth two part article on HDR. The second part will post next week. Thank you Mike for your very informative article.

Let me first just say thank you to everyone for your positive comments on my blog, I never would have thought that my work would garnish your praise let alone ask me to write about it. Secondly, a special thank you to Julie, Tammy, Karen and Mary Lou for organizing such a well organized and fun challenge. It’s a pleasure for me to be a part of it.

My journey into the HDR world began approximately 2 years ago while pursuing the books in the photography section of our local Borders store. This is the book that got me hooked instantaneously on the possibilities of the HDR technique. I was mesmerized by the vivid, detail-rich photographs throughout this book. Although artists such as Asmundur Thorkelsson, Valerio Popando, Domingo Leiva and John Adams are featured throughout, it was Trey Ratcliff (who is also featured) who inspired my journey to learn more about the technique. Trey has the #1 travel photography website on the internet and if you check out some of his work you’ll understand why. If that isn’t enough I believe he also has had an HDR photograph featured in the Smithsonian within the last few years. Lastly, Trey has started a new website that spotlights only HDR photographs and it is designed to increase viewership of all submitted photos.  His website can be found here. I have a few photos on this site as well so check it out, good stuff.

HDR or High Dynamic Range photography is not a new technique, in fact, earlier forms of this type of photography can go back as far as 1850. It’s main expansion in the photographic field can be seen during the 30’s and 40’s. Computer software with advanced algorithms for producing monitor compatible renderings have become popular over the last 5+ years.

Essentially, the dynamic range of a device (camera sensor, human eye, etc) measures the range of pure darkness(no details) to pure lightness(blown out highlights) as measured on a histogram. A cameras range is approximately 8 f stops where as a humans eye range is approximately 24 stops. Big difference between the range of luminance of a camera sensor compared to the human eye. So what’s a photographer to do when faced with a scene in which the dynamic range is too big for the sensor?

Bracketing your exposure (in aperture priority mode) and merging them into one is the answer. This is part 1 of a 2 part  tutorial on the workflow for HDR photography.

PART ONE: click on each screen shot for larger version….

Below you will see a shot I took at Princeton in which the histogram shows no details in the shadows and blown out highlights(2 triangles that are white).

When this happens the next best thing to do is take 2 more shots, one at 2 stops brighter and another at 2 stops darker, these are shown below.

2 stops brighter….

2 stops darker…

Notice how on the first shot (over exposed) the histogram shows no lost shadow details (triangle is dark) and on the second shot (under exposed) the histogram shows no lost highlights (triangle is dark). This provides 3 perfect exposures for HDR.

This ends part 1 of the tutorial. In the next step I will take you through the processing workflow of the HDR process, please post all of your question in the comments section, I will answer them the best I can.

Okay, so that ends the picture taking process for HDR photography. If you go on beware because that was the easy part, the fun and agony is only just beginning when you enter the post processing phase..

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Welcome to the newest feature of the 2010 Virtual Photowalk Blog! We have a planned series of guests who will be sharing their knowledge on a specific topic of interest.  Many of you already know this month’s guest, Edmund (Eddie), whose blog can be found HERE. He has written a very informative article on “How to Make and Use Your Own Light Box”. Thank you, Eddie, for all the hard work you put into writing this article for us.

Introduction

I would first like to thank our four hosts, Julie, Karen, Tammy and Mary Lou, the organizers of this year’s 2010 Virtual Photowalk, for asking me to post a  tutorial on how to make and use a light box.  I am deeply honored to be chosen for this task and I will, to the best of my ability, try to enlighten everyone on the subject matter.

I have a deep love for photography and now in my retirement years, I am exploring all kinds of new possibilities, methods, and techniques to expand my visual horizons.  While participating in the 365 Photos in 2009 challenge, it became apparent that if I wanted to post still lifes, macros, or product shots taken under indoor light, I would have to do something different than the normal snapshot of my subject on the dining room table or living room floor.  Most of the images I’d seen in magazines and product literature were so outstanding and eye catching and I wondered how the professionals produced these shots.  Ever since I was introduced to photography,  I had always heard and read that photography was indeed the essence of capturing light. In general terms, if the lighting is very poor, most likely the photo will be poor.  If I take a picture of a well known subject, say the Golden Gate Bridge, during not-so-ideal lighting conditions, the image will most likely be just an ordinary, flat snapshot.  If I go back another day and capture the image during the twilight hours with the warm, golden setting sun and all things being equal, I may have a so-called keeper.  It is the quality of  light that made the difference.  So what, we can ask, does this have to do with still life or product photography? Everything! The experts go through all kinds of extremes to set up and display their subjects under the best lighting available.  The clients demand at least that much.  So how can we do this at home?  Simple, just buy or make a small light box in a size which suits our individual needs.  Those with unlimited funds might decide to purchase a light box,  but a do-it-yourself project was definitely the answer for me. I think the best part in making my light box was the knowledge that I gained during the research and building phases of the project. Remember that one of our goals is to try and achieve a shadowless image and at the same time have proper lighting.

Last year, I provided instructions on how to build one type of homemade light box and I will repeat those instructions here.  I will also will try to explain the various techniques for using it and discuss some unforeseen problems that I encountered. This particular light box is by no means the only option but I found it to be both cost effective and simple to make – a perfect way to get started exploring the use of light boxes for your photography. I would say from start to finish it took about one and a half hours and the cost was less then $50. That included all the materials, including light fixtures and bulbs. Of course, if you have any of these materials already, the cost will be much lower.
Continue reading the rest of the tutorial here

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