I was experimenting with silhouettes early one morning in Kauai, HI. The camera was triggered with a wireless shutter release (was thankful I didn’t have to scramble back and forth through the sand and rocks using the self-timer). I’m sure that someone thinks that there’s only one right way to shoot silhouettes but my preference is to error on the side of slightly overexposing relative to a completely black silhouette. This varies based on the background but I want to make sure to get enough detail in the non-silhouetted portions of the photo. Of course I could composite multiple exposures but I find it simpler to use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to reduce the exposure in the appropriate areas to get a complete silhouette if that’s what I’m after. Often there’s no need for this extra work though — I usually can get I what I want in-camera (I did with this one). Shooting brackets isn’t a bad idea either if you’re unsure. The textures were added via OnOne Perfect Photo Suite.
On a recent trip to Seattle my daughters and I paid a visit to the first Starbucks. I’m not usually very interested in something like this but thought, “Hey, we were right here so we might as well do it.”. While the place isn’t that interesting or unique when viewed as just bricks and mortar it becomes a bit more when you think of what Starbucks has become. This location also operates in a different manner than your typical Starbucks — and that gives the place some charm. Upon entering the door an employee welcomes you, inquires where you are from, and directs you to the next available person to take your order. Once your order is taken, your cup is tossed across the room to the barista. We witnessed a couple of misses…maybe they were rookies. They were all having fun though.
Of course I had to take a few pictures. Using my 50mm @ f/1.4, I quickly figured out an exposure and fired away. There were a lot of people so I limited my shots a bit. For the image at the top my hope was to frame the counter, barista, the neon “Espresso…Cappuccino” sign, and Starbucks sign such that they were all completely readable but I never quite got it. Unlike some photographers, I’m not willing to sit there in everyone’s way, holding up the crowd, etc. just for my shot…just not that important to me. I could have waited for an opportunity but when I’m hanging with non-photographers (especially family) I try not to push their patience *too* much by spending all day taking pictures.
I processed the image at the top with the intent to make it look rather vintage and I added some grain to top it off. The rest were straightforward edits — basic tweaks.
“If you own a house which faces west on an island in the Indian Ocean and your youngest sibling is left-handed and your primary vehicle is white, then subtract line 21 from line 13, multiply by 0.285, subtract your latitude and longitude and enter the result on line 85.” What’s that got to do with anything? I just did my income taxes and it seems like half the directions are as nonsensical as the one above. So, I’m just venting…our tax code is too complex and MESSED UP. It doesn’t matter what political party affiliation you claim, whether you think the system is fair or unfair, or you think the rich should pay more or less — I don’t see how anyone could disagree that it’s a mess. Solutions? I don’t get into those kinds of debates online
In a previous post I showed a bokeh panorama (or “bokehrama”) from the same place the above picture was taken. The one above was a quick snapshot as we packed up to get out of the rain. I hadn’t planned on doing much with it but as I continued to see it among my photos it grew on me — I like the overall gloomy mood contrasted with the random colors of the skyscraper windows for example. Having a bit of detail and drama in the clouds helps too and I don’t think I would like it as much if the skies had been a flat gray.
This image is from a single frame captured with a 50mm lens. You may note the odd settings used — not typical for a landscape shot. The fact of the matter is that I had just used roughly the same settings for the panorama I linked to above. For this skyline image I sped up the shutter one stop with a flick of the dial (didn’t need quite the length of exposure that I needed for my daughter’s dark skin) and snapped this quickly so we could get going. Something like f/8 would’ve been sharper, etc. but there was no time to worry about that stuff. I cropped to a more panoramic aspect ratio (and cropped out another visitor to the park who was in the left side of my frame) then processed mainly with a bunch of curves and masks to selectively adjust contrast. I tweaked the white balance a bit to move from a completely black and white cast toward having a wee bit of warmth.
We’re having a great time in Hawaii. Scenes like the one above abound here on the island of Kauai. This shot was taken at Ke’e Beach which is at the end of the road on the north shore of Kauai. The land beyond is only accessible by trail, boat, or helicopter. Jurassic Park was filmed somewhere in those mountains so many of you have had a glimpse of what it’s like.
As much as I like to take (and process) photos, I *try* to limit it when on family vacations. We went all over the east and north shore the other day but I only dragged my tripod out of the car once. When we walked along Ke’e Beach I didn’t have a tripod so I put the camera down on some mossy rocks and used the timer to fire off 3 exposures. I didn’t quite eliminate the blown-out highlights in my exposures but I didn’t want to be a drag on the group and spend a bunch of time fooling with the camera. I used Photomatix to tonemap the exposures then Photoshop to play with some curves adjustments.
Another quick one in this post…still really busy. The Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago (aka “The Bean”) is just like a fun house mirror with infinite possibilities as far as my children are concerned. We took a lot of group/self portraits on our last visit to Millennium Park and I’m sure this won’t be the last one I post. I put this one through all sorts of tweaks in Lightroom in an attempt to highlight the subjects (us) and to bring out the various fingerprints, dirt, streaks, and distortion on the sculpture. I pulled the image into Photoshop and tweaked some colors here and there (to mute them a bit). I used Topaz Adjust to do some wild-ish things on a duplicate layer and blended that into most of the image at about 30% opacity. Finally I used selective (via masks) sharpening and noise reduction to touch it up.
I posted this picture a long time back in a post about candid shots but I decided to re-post since it’s one of my favorites. We were visiting friends in Rockport, TX and my son spent much of his time picking up little things on the waterfront. As the sun headed toward the horizon one afternoon I spotted him intently searching the beach again and grabbed this shot.
What have I come to like about this one? For starters, parents just like pictures of their kids. Second, he has that cute little look of concentration on his face. Third, from a photographic standpoint I like that there’s just enough of his face showing to include him personally in the picture as opposed to some faceless “subject” (umm, yeah…I planned that…sure). Finally the light and surroundings are just nice IMO. As always, there are a few things I’d change if I were planning/posing this but I won’t dwell on those
I processed this picture differently this time. I first cloned out a few things (a piece of plastic on the shore, a pole in the water, and a tiny clump of grass). I then used several curves layers to selectively adjust areas of the shot and to add some vignette. These layers were in luminosity mode since I wanted to pretty much leave the colors (which were very warm due to the setting sun) intact. In Lightroom I did a few more minor tweaks with clarity and very specific exposure adjustments.
I loved Montana. There were scenes like this everywhere — wide open spaces, mountains, horses — beautiful. I passed this place several times and decided I needed to take a picture of it. I waited a little bit for the horses to move into an interesting position (ie not with ALL their backs turned) and took the shot. Simple, but I like it.
Processing consisted of cropping and playing around with things in Lightroom. The main effect is the semi-desaturated, “old picture” look.
Just down the road from this ranch, I captured this shot of an old, rusty tractor and gave it a similar “old picture” treatment.
[Update in response to questions]
What a surprise to featured in Freshly Pressed. Thanks, everyone for the kind comments! What I liked about this picture was its simplicity and its portrayal of the vast open spaces — glad you like it too.
The picture was taken near Nye, MT in the Stillwater Valley. For those familiar with the area it was approximately half way between the Nye post office and the Stillwater mine. While I’ve driven through other parts of Montana, the Stillwater Valley is the only area where I’ve spent significant time (three different trips). There is basically no tourism which makes it that much more attractive. I’d highly recommend a visit to the forests and wilderness in this area. I’d also recommend renting an ATV (http://www.benbowatvrentals.com/) and heading up into the mountains — AMAZING views to be had. Unfortunately severe rain was threatening (and eventually arrived) when we rented the ATVs so the camera gear stayed in our cabin — no pics. The camera used was a Canon 5D mkii with a Canon 24-70 f/2.8L (at 70mm). The image was cropped slightly for aesthetic reasons which slightly reduces the “vastness” effect but improved the overall image. Over time I’ll try to visit everyone’s blogs, but it may take a while!
During my not-a-photo-trip to Paris and London this past spring I still managed some interesting (IMO) shots. This image taken in the Great Court inside the British Museum has been one of my favorites from the standpoint of its composition and the contrast of the blues and greens against the drab-ish stone. Again, that’s just my opinion of course.
I’ve had difficulty processing this image, however. I really wanted to process as an HDR and the three original handheld exposures were extremely difficult to line up properly. I’ve noted that when shooting wide angles a slight bit of movement and/or rotation between exposures makes a huge difference. Because of this, Photomatix did a very poor job of alignment and this left a lot of ghosting in the image. Of course, I had the ability to mix the tonemapped image with the original exposures but it was proving to be a lot of work to tweak pieces of each layer to line up with the section I wanted to mask it into. It also took more work than usual to get the original exposures looking just right in order to match the main image. I pushed the texture and HDR-ishness farther than I normally do…just because it seems to work here.
One mistake that I couldn’t overcome was the fact that the light coming through the glass roof was blown out in all the exposures. I call that a “mistake” but I really wasn’t taking the time to think through all the shots because I was doing very well at keeping the trip about time with my wife, not about photography. Heath O’Fee has a good post about mistakes like this by the way — they don’t always ruin the shot [Here's the link: http://yycofee.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/mistakes/].
Well, there it is — one of *my* favorite images.
I got to second-shoot my nephew’s wedding in Seattle a few weeks ago. Since I wasn’t responsible for the primary set of photos I spent my time experimenting and attempting to get some unique images. When the main photographer was using a normal lens, I mostly used my 10-20mm or my 70-200mm. If she was using a telephoto, I typically went normal or wide, etc. My goal was to capture things from a different angle (literally and figuratively) and get a different perspective on this blessed event.
For the shot at the top of the post I used my 10-20mm from about a foot off the ground. This was the bride and groom’s first dance and I shot the whole thing from that angle.
The shot below of the groom and his mother (my sister-in-law) was taken with a focal length of 200mm. It was tough getting this shot framed when zoomed in this tight on a moving couple. However, since the main photog was getting the normal shots I just went with it and hoped it worked.
As it got darker, things got tough. There was almost no light where the dancing was taking place. I shot with my widest aperture (f3.5 on the 10-20mm I used for most of these shots), bumped the ISO up, and then dragged the shutter a lot to get at least some ambient light from the background [I could write a whole post on how I played with flash/ISO/shutter/etc]. Here’s a shot from the dance floor well after dark:
I had a great time, and while I certainly had to cull many images from the set, I ended up with many good images for the bride and groom to enjoy the rest of their lives.
Since our trip to Paris it seems that I’ve never been able to catch up with “things”. Photography has certainly been a temporary casualty but I’ve managed to process most of the photos from the trip. Most pics got the quick exposure/contrast treatment but I managed a few HDRs as well.
We spent our six nights in Paris but included a day trip to London during the week. I booked us in “leisure select” (effectively what we’d call business class) on the earliest Eurostar between Gare du Nord (Paris) and London St. Pancras and then the latest train back to Paris. Frankly the train rides were quite enjoyable and relaxing. The image above was taken in the St. Pancras train station and shows a statue called The Meeting Place by Paul Day. The architecture (interior and exterior) of the train station alone would have made for a decent day’s photowalk. I read somewhere (probably wikipedia) that the station underwent a $1 billion+ renovation in the last decade. There are still some construction fences around portions of the exterior — I only noticed because they ruined some photo opportunities.
The pic below was taken on the bridge at the entrance to the Tower of London. A catapult sits in the long-ago drained moat surrounding the walls. While this image doesn’t really capture the essence of the Tower itself, it certainly helps me re-live that single day we spent in London. Sunny and warm, blue sky with awesome clouds — such a rarity in London. It seemed that everyone we met made some comment to the effect of “You sure got some of our best weather for your visit”.
The Tower was amazing. The history of the place is SO interesting. The Beefeaters tour was quite entertaining as well. We spent about three hours inside and that was skimming a lot of the text on plaques and such. We’d certainly go back and spend more time if we visit London again.
The HDR above was created using three handheld exposures. Tonemapped in Photomatix with some typical contrast, sharpening, etc…no blending with original exposures.
Off to Paris this morning with my wife. We never really had a honeymoon so this is it — after 23+ years of marriage. We’re pretty excited about it.
This is NOT a photo trip. Of course I’m taking the camera but only a bare minimum of gear. None of my ‘L’ lenses are in my bag (going with the lighter options). The tripod is going along just in case but I’m not carrying it with me everywhere. I’ve got 32Gb worth of memory cards to last me a week — not taking a laptop to empty the cards. I typically shoot in RAW format but I’ll make the switch to jpeg if I get short on space. Bracketing for HDRs? I’ll do a few but with limited card space I can’t go crazy.
Sometimes I have a brief panic about the fact that I’m going to Paris (and spending a day in London) and will not be making the most of the photo opportunities. However, I quickly am reminded that my relationship with my wife is far-and-away the more important thing…and I’m fine with that.
See you in a week or two!
I happen to be one of those types who loves the military. I’ve never been in the services myself but many family members have. I’ve got nothing but respect for those who serve and it bugs me when people diss them.
I also happen to love (fast) military aircraft. I don’t geek out about them in the sense that I get to know everything about them — they just impress me to no end and my jaw drops when I see them perform. When I remind myself that the performance I’m watching (the Blue Angels for example) consists of jets performing maneuvers at one-third to one-half their maximum speed, I’m even more impressed. What I wouldn’t give to witness a high-speed pass at full speed! I remember the days when Bergstrom Air Force Base was still open in Austin. Several times a day pairs of (old) F4s would fly over our house. I loved how the whole house would rumble when they flew by.
The picture above was taken at Kingsville Naval Air Station (Kingsville, TX) and shows a host of T-45 Goshawk training aircraft used by the modern-day Navy to train pilots. When I saw these my first thought was of my grandfather, who did his Naval flight training in Kingsville and Corpus during WWII (he would have loved to fly these). My grandfather graduated from flight school on August 14, 1945 and says “When the Japanese heard I was coming they surrendered immediately”. These T-45s also bring to mind all the current pilots who are preparing to be the next wave of defenders of our freedom. I respect them.
The image above was created from three exposures which were then fused (not tonemapped) in photomatix. The single, center exposure wasn’t too bad but fusing brought back the blown-out sky and added subtle detail in the cockpit and landing gear. Did very basic curves and sharpening after that.
Experimentation – Silhouettes
When starting out in photography it’s always good to experiment with creative ideas. Experimentation is a great way to learn about exposure, lighting, posing, etc. You discover what works and doesn’t work and will certainly retain that knowledge better than if you had just read about those things in a book. You will also refine your own style as you try out ideas and develop a knack for particular things.
One great thing to experiment with is silhouettes. You don’t need fancy equipment — the sun, a lamp, or a flash can be used to create a silhouette. Soft, reflected light combined with shorter exposures often creates striking silhouettes in images. You might try posing someone under (or near) a streetlamp at night and then get down on the ground to shoot the silhouette. Another element you can vary is how much the silhouetted subject is exposed (as you increase the exposure you eventually lose the “silhouette” effect of course).
Here are a couple of images which I created on a whim to experiment with silhouettes. I created the first while out catching the sunrise in Rockport, TX (see some of my Rockport images here). My daughter happened to show up on the scene so I asked out her to stretch out her hand roughly in front of the sun. Not a great overall composition but it’s useful as an illustration here.
This silhouette of my son jumping on the trampoline was just an idea I had while sitting on the porch watching him jump. I got underneath the edge of the trampoline (be especially careful with larger children or you’ll end up with a concussion!) and fired away. The shot I set out to make was one of him jumping high in the air with his arms stretched out (I did get some of those). However, the way the sun flared out from my son’s hand in the following photo made this a favorite.
Have some fun and experiment with silhouettes. You’ll get some great shots, and hopefully learn a few tricks which will become a useful part of your photoshoot arsenal.
Had a wonderful weekend camping with a large group of families at Pedernales Falls State Park near Austin. We have the most awesome group of friends that any family could hope for.
It’s tradition on these trips that we get a group photo to cement the memory. In one of his tweets Dave Wilson (click his name to check out his blog) recently mentioned how taking the group shot of his singing group was scarier than the performance itself. I agree 100%! Everyone wants it to look good and they’re counting on you. In our case they’re also all in a hurry to get back to playing games, eating junk food, and conversing around the fire.
For this year’s traditional shot I wanted to take it from a slightly elevated vantage point so that I could get all the faces in view without having to spread the group too wide. I set up the tripod on top of the toolbox in my friend’s dually and found a likable perspective. My friend set his camera up on top of his enormous camper.
You might be wondering what this posed group shot has to do with candids? While everyone was getting in place for the shot I snapped off a series of shots — some of the whole group, some zoomed in to certain people, etc. The shot below is one of my favorites because it captures so much about the people in this picture.
A wife viewing this image will be laughing at her husband because his eyes were closed. A mom is saying, “I love that picture of my daughter with her dog”. Another mom is laughing at her little son forcing a smile so hard that it looks painful. The parents of the little guy in the yellow shirt are saying, “He’s SO cute!” (full disclosure: he’s *my* son and we really were saying that). The one with the tongue out will get a talking-to about not making faces in pictures (OK…he’s mine too).
When you are getting paid to shoot for a client always remember that they are often less interested in technical perfection (depends on the situation of course) than they are capturing the moment. Don’t discard (all) the images which aren’t perfect from your technical perspective — they may be the very ones that your client would call “perfect” because they are intimately familiar with the personalities of those involved. Shoot LOTS of candids while you’re trying to get your subjects posed into position (digital film is “free” after all). Tease some laughter out of them and capture it. Press the shutter while they’re fiddling with their clothes or hair. You’ll get some great shots.
© 2009 Michael Tuuk
Chase Jarvis’ recent book “The Best Camera” puts forward the idea that we can (and should) take photos anytime, anywhere, and with whatever equipment we happen to have. In my experience there is one necessary characteristic of that equipment — it has to be “ready”.
This post is not for you if the *only* type of photography you do consists of lugging the camera and tripod to some destination, walking slowly around your subject to carefully examine all the composition possibilities, going through all your camera settings one-by-one, and then taking the shot. However, I don’t know anyone who is that limited in their photography.
All “serious” photographers have some pre-shoot checklist they go through (often subconsciously) before pressing the shutter button. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, maybe setting up mirror-lockup or the self-timer. Very wise to run through a checklist such as this. I’m now a firm believer in a *post*-shoot checklist due to having recently missed a golden opportunity for some cool shots of a black bear in the wild because I didn’t use a *post*-shot checklist.
This past summer my wife and I spent a four-day weekend with a group of friends in Nye, MT. The trip was entirely unrelated to photography but I certainly took advantage of photo opportunities when I could. I went to the Woodbine Creek Campground at 5 am one morning to get some shots like these:
I purchased a new Manfrotto tripod for this trip and was eager to see how it would improve my landscape photography (This is the first non-Wal-mart-Velbon tripod I’d owned…anyone who has owned a cheap Velbon understands how elated I am to have a “real” tripod).
I captured a bunch of images, packed up the suburban, and headed to some other locations I had previously scoped out. A mile or two out of the campground I saw a black bear — about 20 feet from the vehicle! Understand that this was the first bear I had ever seen in the wild. I slammed on the brakes, coming to a stop right next to the bear. Heart racing, I grabbed for the camera…which was still attached to the tripod…which still had its legs extended…which doesn’t move around in a vehicle very well. In the few seconds it took me to free the camera from the tripod the bear jogged down the road into some brush. I drove down the road after and was delighted to find that I once again had a clear view of the bear. Looked through the viewfinder and pressed the shutter button halfway…couldn’t get a decent exposure. I’d left the aperture set at something like f/11 and the ISO at 100 and there was still not a whole lot of light. I was literally trembling with excitement at the chance to photograph this bear so close and this made it difficult for me to adjust the camera’s settings. By this time the bear had made a run back to where I originally spotted it. I hit reverse and found it just standing there again, but as soon as I stopped it decided to walk across the road right in front of the car. Excellent! Viewfinder…shutter halfway…click. No slap of the mirror going up or click of the shutter. THE SILLY SELF-TIMER IS STILL ON!!!! I only had it set for 2 seconds but by the time that exposure completed and I fixed the drive settings the bear was well up the hill on the other side of the road. All I ended up with was this image:
The subject is too distant, the image is not sharp at all (I couldn’t hold the camera steady due to the combination of excitement and frustration). Upon examination of the results my first thoughts were that the best use of these images would be to start Bigfoot rumors with the locals. I ended up semi-salvaging the memory by cropping the bear a little tighter, way over-sharpening it, and running a canvas effect filter on it so that it has that “I meant to do that” artsy look.
I’ve formed a new habit out of this missed opportunity. Whenever I set the camera down with no immediate plans to pick it up again, I change my settings to something in this ballpark: ISO 400+, Program mode, drive…anything not-self-timer, mirror-lockup off if I’ve been using it, auto-bracketing off. I might choose Av mode instead of Program. I might choose ISO 800 or higher if it’s evening and I suspect I’ll be grabbing the camera shortly to take some candids with poor light. I think you get the idea. Keep the camera ready for those fleeting opportunities. If your next shoot ends up being on the tripod with the self-timer, you’ll have ample time to readjust your settings.