Archive for the ‘How To Articles’ Category

Making a Photograph – Sheep Pass Morning (2016)

May 8th, 2017

When you get up early and leave at 4:30 in the morning for a sunrise shoot there are no guarantees. You pick a location that has potential and, by getting out so early, you up the potential for great light.  It might, and then it might not happen.  But you’re out there anyway.

When you arrive, the desert is still dark. You stand by your car, talking quietly with friends, sipping hot coffee and watching the emerging light on the eastern horizon. There is a sense of eagerness balanced with patience. Often, however, just being there is its own reward and coming home with a keeper is icing on the cake.

The earth brightens quickly this time of day and soon you grab your gear and head out into the desert. For me, just wandering and not looking for anything in particular is the best approach.

I prefer to let images come to me rather than hunting them down. When something I see stops me in my tracks, these turn out to be the best photographs. It’s not because I’m searching for leading lines or applying the rule of thirds or any other of the many ‘rules’ of composition. I don’t like to think when I’m photographing; I prefer to become quiet and simply experience. And when I’m in that state of mind I stop in my tracks because it just feels right. And the stop is usually followed closely by an utterance of surprise and joy – “Oh Wow!”.

Such was the case with “Sheep Pass Morning.” The morning shoot was winding down, meaning the sunrise had come and gone and the wonderful golden hour light was quickly fading. I wandered aimlessly and “Boom,” there it was. I was excited. This just felt right.  And yes, I did say, “Oh wow!”

I set up my camera and composed the shot. I was conscious of the cluster of rocks in the lower right corner and their relationship with the Joshua trees on the right edge. I was conscious of outcrop of rocks on the left, the mountain range in the background (Queen Mountain) and the clouds. All these elements were in my mind but mostly I was seeking balance and harmony. During that time, distant Queen mountain into shadow so I waited for the light to came back, cheering it along. Then the moment came and I tripped the shutter.

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Dust, Darn Dust

May 1st, 2016

Dust spots. How annoying. They can give a blue sky chickenpox.

Dust spots on your sensor can mean hours of laborious effort removing them one by one in the digital darkroom. But, because they are on the sensor, that most sensitive component of our digital cameras, we are sometimes terrified to attempt removing them. So we either put up with them or we send our cameras out to a repair guy and pay good money to have him remove them.

Oh yeah, our cameras do the dust removal shake thing every time you turn them on and off. But some cameras work better than others. And there are conditions where the camera can shake the sensor as much as it wants but it won’t get rid of all the dust.

As frightening as it seems, removing dust from your sensor doesn’t have to be all that dangerous. As it turns out, there are three levels of dust removal – which are performed in that order. Any one of us can do the first level. And most of us would have enough confidence to do the second. The most stouthearted of us will even attempt the third but that’s not a level that needs to be resorted to very often. So what are these levels?  Let’s take a look at them one by one.

Level 1 – Blowing

When the camera is turned on there’s a small static charge on the sensor that can attract particles of dust. They are held to the sensor by the static electricity and typically the attraction is fairly weak. So the first level involves giotto rocketblowing the dust particles off the sensor with a gentle stream of air. The trick is to use the right source for the gentle stream of air. One thing you absolutely do not want to use is canned air. The aerosols contain propellants which can squirt out solvents along with the air. And that’s not very good because the solvents will get on your sensor and create an even worse problem. But there are blowers that are specifically designed just for this purpose. The Giotto Rocket is one excellent example. The thing that makes the Giotto and others like it so special is that it draws the air in from the back and blows it out the front. That way it doesn’t inadvertently pull in a particle of dust that it just dislodged, only to shoot it right back out at the sensor – and at high velocity. Smart.

To blow the dust off your sensor, check your camera’s manual and find the menu option for manual sensor cleaning. Remove the lens from your camera body and activate the option. When you do this, the mirror will flip out of the way and expose the sensor. Hold the camera body so the lens opening is facing down and gently (with emphasis on the word ‘gently’) blow a stream of air against the sensor. I like to direct the air not only to the center of the sensor but the edges and the corners. When you’re done turn off the camera and the mirror will drop back in place. (Of course, if you have a mirrorless camera there is no mirror to flip out of the way. When you take the lens off the sensor is already exposed.) Many digital SLRs will not allow you to do a manual cleaning if the battery does not have enough charge. I think that is so that the camera will not run out of juice before the mirror is put back in its place. This process is  pretty easy isn’t it.  Nothing touches the sensor but air. Continue reading “Dust, Darn Dust” »

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Images with Impact – Contrast in Nature

February 16th, 2016

Last year I started a series of articles under the general theme of Images with Impact. In it we are discussing things you can do with your images in Lightroom and Photoshop to enhance their impact. When I got to the topic of contrast I came to an abrupt halt. The more I thought about contrast, the more I wanted to begin that discussion with some real examples from nature. But to do that, I needed some photographs that illustrated what I wanted to share with you. And in Southern California, the types of photographs I wanted are only possible in winter. But it’s winter now. And I’ve been able to capture the photographs that I want, so now we’re picking up the series again.

What distinguishes a photograph created by the serious student of photography from one taken by a casual photographer? Many things to be sure. But one thing that stands out is a sense of clarity, a clear quality. The casual photographers’ photographs are just what the camera captures and are often like looking through a bit of haze and I don’t mean that they are out of focus. It’s the light. The effect may be subtle but it is very real. A more accomplished photographers’ photographs have a special quality to them, a quality that engages us, that draws us in and holds our attention. You might describe it as a crisp quality.  (You can click on the photographs to enlarge them.)

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(My daughter some years ago as we hiked out of a late spring backpacking trip in the local mountains.)

The serious student of photography skillfully applies contrast in the digital darkroom to achieve this look. But before getting in to how this is done, let’s step back and take a look at how we respond to contrast not only in photographs but also in nature.

In the following discussion I will use examples from nature to illustrate the affect contrast has on us. The idea is to understand how it works so that we can more effectively apply this knowledge to our photographs.

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“There Are No Rules of Composition”

October 23rd, 2015

It is often said that there are no ‘rules’ of composition. And yet, there they are – Rule of Thirds, Golden Rule, Leading Lines, S-Curves, Layers, Off Center, Symmetry, Perspective, Lines of all sorts and on and on. And why is it that when so many fellow photographers comment on one of your photographs they comment about the rules of composition and not what the image expresses? In fact, most books and courses on composition begin by stating that there are no rules of composition before launching into an exhaustive analysis of, yep, the rules of composition. And of course, it’s not fashionable to refer to the rules of composition as rules anymore because ‘there are no rules of composition.’

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And yet we diligently study them all the same.

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Making a Photograph – A New Approach to Tonality Adjustments

July 4th, 2015

For some time now I’ve been using and teaching a process of working on photographs in Lightroom. It consists of basically four steps: manual adjustments, tonality adjustments, hue adjustments and finally saturation adjustments. Quite some time ago I had the brilliant idea of converting the image to black and white before doing the tonality adjustments. The technique I used was the B & W tab in Lightroom’s HSL group.  Once the tonality adjustments were done, the image would be converted back to color and the process continue.

It didn’t work out because when I converted the image back to color, the colors were so oversaturated and unnatural that the image looked horrible. It was just easier to do the tonality adjustments on the color image. So I quickly gave up on that technique. But the other day I was reading an article in Popular Photography magazine that rekindled this idea. It took a different approach. It turned the image to black and white by setting the Saturation adjustment to -100. Now the author did this in the middle of the process but I thought that if I applied this to my process and did that at the start it just might work. So I was eager to give it a try. Let’s try it with this image of the Watchman in Zion National Park.

utah_141010__SM32783 This is the original raw file. I haven’t done anything to it yet. It doesn’t need any mechanical adjustments. These consist of removing spots, straightening the image, maybe some noise reduction and the final crop. But since none of these are required we can move on to the tonality adjustments.

 

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Creating Images with Impact – Black Point

April 14th, 2015

In this series of blog posts were talking about how to create Images with Impact. You know what I’m talking about. These are those images that really grab our attention, that capture our imaginations. There’s something special about them and it doesn’t have to be a mystery how they are created. There are a few simple techniques that you can use in Lightroom and Photoshop to add impact to your images. Now if you don’t use Photoshop, you can still do everything were talking about in Lightroom.

In the first article we talked about utilizing the full dynamic range of your medium. This is something Ansel Adams taught in his books and classes that was an essential element of his stunning landscape photographs. As he developed his technique which became known as the Zone System, the primary goal was to use the full dynamic range of his medium which, in his case, was the black and white print.

So we talked about that technique first because it is the most appropriate place to start. I do want to add that in color photography or color prints not every print benefits from a white point but virtually all prints benefit from a black point – which is what we want to talk about in this article.

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What exactly is a black point? It is small portions of the print that are pure black. If you’re printing on paper than these are small portions that are the blackest black that the combination of paper and ink can achieve. As a side note, different combinations of paper and ink achieve different levels of blackness. But regardless of the combination you use, the blackest black that can be achieved is your black point.

You want to keep the black point areas very, very small because they have no detail. And generally speaking we like to see detail in our shadows, another guideline that I picked up from studying Ansel Adams. But you don’t want to eliminate black points, that is, in most cases. There are a few exceptions to this rule that I will talk about later.

Let’s take a look at the before and after images of our photograph. I shot this at the Huntington Library in South Pasadena a few weeks ago. It’s in their incredible cactus garden – endlessly fascinating.

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Creating Images with Impact – Dynamic Range of the Medium

March 29th, 2015

We’ve all seen those photographs that stop us in our tracks, that inspire us, that speak to us. Some photographs seem to have a special power, a special presence. Often times we hear ourselves saying, “Wow.” They have qualities that make them stand apart from other photographs. These are images with impact.

The masters of landscape photography seem to have the ability to capture a special quality of light in their photographs. It doesn’t matter whether they use film or shoot digital, their images stand out.

There are certain things about these images that do more than just appeal to us – we are drawn into to them. They capture our imaginations, stir our interests and perhaps show us moments in nature we could only hope to experience. We want to linger with them, explore them, take them in, get lost in them.

Without a doubt these photographs have compositions that are very strong, are bathed in fantastic light and have technical qualities of exposure and sharpness that are perfect. These are all decisions that the artist makes in the field, decisions that are critical to a strong image.

In the days of film, a good portion of the magic was done in the darkroom. That’s where their genius really became apparent. And it hasn’t changed today. We don’t actually have dark rooms to work in, closed rooms with the strange array of mysterious orders and the soft, dim yellow lighting. Today we have powerful software running on even more powerful computers. But really, how is that different from what the film Masters did in the darkroom? I don’t believe it is. I can’t think of anything that’s been done with “Photoshopped” photographs that hasn’t already been done in the darkroom. It’s probably a lot easier to do it in Photoshop but in the end, both the chemical darkroom and the electronic darkroom serve the same end, that being creating those “Wow” images.

In this series of posts I want to spend more time considering some techniques you can apply in the darkroom that will add impact to your images.

Use the Full Dynamic Range of Your Medium

The first darkroom technique I would like to discuss is the importance of using the full dynamic range of your medium. This is not something new. When Ansel Adams developed the zone system it was precisely for this purpose – to use the full dynamic range of the black and white negative and ultimately the black and white print. But what exactly does it mean to use the full dynamic range of the medium. Let me illustrate with an Ansel Adams image I have loved for many years, one I’m privileged to be able to live with in my home – “Moon and Half Dome.”

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In this exquisite photograph if you are able to examine an original closely you will notice that the shadow on the left may look like it is totally black but actually there is subtle detail. However, there are some very small areas that are pure black. Also, the moon and the bright parts of Half Dome may look like they are pure white but a closer look will reveal detail in these areas also. This photograph takes full advantage of the full dynamic range of the paper, from the blackest black to the whitest white.

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Mastering Night Photography – Focusing

February 15th, 2015

A lot of people are doing nighttime photography these days including yours truly. There are many good sources of information on nighttime photography. I’ve written a few blog posts myself (Exciting Nighttime Photography in 10 Easy Steps). Nighttime photography falls into two categories – star trails and night sky. In this post I want to elaborate on something I’ve discovered recently with regards to night sky photography.

double-arch-joshua-tree-140628Nighttime photography is pretty much like daytime photography. The biggest difference is you can’t see what you’re doing. Let’s run through a quick comparison of camera settings in daytime and nighttime photography.

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Photo Tips – Getting Great Exposures the Easy Way

December 13th, 2014

If you’re a person who’s interested in just taking pictures and don’t want to be bothered with all the technical details, you are probably photographing with your camera set to automatic mode. Often times automatic mode is indicated by a green box. Probably the handiest feature of automatic mode is that the camera makes all the decisions for you. All you have to think about is getting the people you’re photographing in the frame and pressing the shutter. The camera does everything else.

But the problem is that the camera doesn’t always get it right. Often times it will overexpose parts of the image making them look washed out. But there’s a simple way to avoid this without mastering all the complicated technical details of shooting in manual mode. And that is P mode.

Using P Mode

The P and P mode stands for Programmed Automatic. In P mode the camera allows you to make some of the decisions while it makes the rest. You get to choose whether or not to use flash, and set the ISO, exposure compensation and white balance. The camera sets the f-stop and shutter speed.

Let’s take these controls one by one. Let’s start with flash. You can decide whether you want to use flash or not. If you’re shooting in bright daylight or even on a cloudy day you probably don’t need flash. But if it’s a little darker you can always choose to turn the flash on. If you don’t know how to turn your flash on or off you’ll need to consult your camera’s manual.

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Making a Photograph – Two Sides of the Coin

November 23rd, 2014

I recently read an article by William Neill in the September Outdoor Photography magazine titled “Need to Know” that really resonated with me.  His main point is, don’t let the acquisition of gear and techniques interfere with the experience.  There’s so much information out there, so many people offering advice on techniques for composing, exposing and post processing.  But in Neill’s journey he has developed what he calls, ‘… a simple but effective tool set.”

A foundation of gear and technique is important in capturing the experience.  But it is the experience that is what we’re out there for, not histograms or depth of field or leading lines.

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