I was revisiting some of my favorite photos recently – most of which don’t get shared because they aren’t worth much photographically speaking. I decided to share this one since it’s a good illustration of a semi-candid shot that one might not consider taking but ends up being a (personally) memorable shot. After opening all our presents on Christmas Eve morning we gathered all of us (minus the two out-of-town siblings and the baby who was sleeping), threw wrapping paper around, and snapped some photos. The setup was simple: camera on a tripod with on-camera flash bounced on the wall behind the camera. I have a remote but I just used the self-timer here. If I were trying to get the “ideal” shot I would have rearranged the room to allow a longer lens to be used and avoid the distortion from the wide-angle. I would have also lit up the background (simply by turning on lights in the other rooms) so it wasn’t so dark. I probably would’ve gotten out an umbrella or two and the remote triggers. However, I would have also annoyed everyone and made them impatient In the end we got a fun picture that we all like.
Most of my family still lives in the Chicago area so we make a yearly trek to IL. As part of this year’s trip I took some of my family on an overnight visit to downtown Chicago. Life has kept me from being able to spend much time on photography but I had hopes of doing some “serious” photography in the city this year. I figured that being on vacation would allow some time for pics but the highest priority was spending time with the kids and that’s what I mostly did. I did manage some shots but really couldn’t spend time composing or trying different vantage points.
That said, I snuck out of the hotel room at sunrise and headed toward Michigan Avenue. I caught a glimpse of the orange light of the early morning sun on the Trump Tower from a block away so I picked up the pace and walked to the Chicago River a block east of Michigan Ave. In order to get the composition I wanted I had to set up the camera on one of the pillars of the stone wall above the river. I was a bit nervous about that but just moved with caution to avoid knocking everything over the wall.
There are several things I like about this shot. The orange glow of the Trump Tower was just right. I liked how the wide-angle lens makes the buildings on either side of the river lean as if they’re getting ready for a cross-river showdown. Finally, I’m partial to Chicago and therefore just think any downtown shot in the city looks cool. I hope you like it too.
As for processing, this shot started life as a 4-exposure HDR (-4, -2, 0, +2). Three exposures were nearly sufficient but I needed the -4 exposure to tame the reflective highlights at the bottom of the Trump Tower. I brought the tonemapped image into Photoshop with the four original exposures and masked pieces of each into the image. I use Noiseware to clean up the sky. Finally, some sharpening and curves adjustments and I was pretty much done. I had intended to play around with Topaz Adjust to see what I came up with but I never got around to that…maybe I’ll have some fun with that in the future.
Here’s a daytime shot of the Trump Tower. As you can see, there’s no orange in that building at all — the morning sun was simply *that* orange.
Practice makes perfect as they say. The shot above — which is by no means perfect — was the result of some practice attempts to capture the motion of an Austin Capitol Metro bus as it sped up South Congress Ave toward downtown. I was taking a photo workshop and the main purpose in taking this shot (and a whole series of others like it) was to get better at capturing a subject going by and get it in focus. Of course there were many other considerations like exposure, etc but mainly I wanted to practice the setup and the panning (handheld) of the camera.
I was using “Raul’s Rules for Motion” as I’ve taken to calling them. A few hours before this shot was taken, Raul Touzon had explained to our photo workshop his method for doing shots like this. Here are his rules:
1) 1/15s (or slower) shutter speed
2) Multi-frame mode
3) Pre-focus on subject’s path and turn off auto-focus
4) Shoot perpendicularly to the subject’s motion (ie the line between you and the pre-determined focus point is perpendicular to the subject’s travel path)
5) Follow the subject to get in a rhythm (lock onto its motion) and start shooting before it reaches the point you focused on
For the workshop critique we had to present images straight out of the camera but here I’m showing one post-edit. I played with all sorts of tweaks and settled on this treatment. Here’s basically what I did (all using Lightroom): B+W…some vignette, mild clarity and contrast adjustments, and used the adjustment brush to add a bunch of contrast and clarity to the bus. I added extra clarity to the cross walk lines to highlight them a bit as well. There are some weird streaks in the top of the image — maybe a bird in the frame? Not sure, but it adds to the mystery of all the background blur.
This shot didn’t have perfect execution — I would prefer that the bus was a bit sharper — but I like it anyway. I like the how the cross walk lines lead to the bus and how the circular motion can be seen in the street in the foreground — exaggerated by the 15mm focal length that was used. The bus stands out just like it is supposed to as well. I’ll certainly experiment with this type of shot again.
Other posts (from me) about Raul Touzon’s workshops: http://michaeltuuk.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/my-first-photo-workshop-experience/, http://michaeltuuk.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/raul-touzons-portable-sun-workshop/, http://michaeltuuk.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/zipping-by/
[Update: Some very important edits -- mainly a shout-out to Dave Wilson -- stayed on my desktop rather than making it into this post. Adding them in the second paragraph now...]
I took a photography workshop this past weekend (my first) and learned first and foremost how much I have yet to learn about photography. Teaching the workshop was Raul Touzon, a documentary photographer who does work for many big publications, including National Geographic. Thought I’d share a bit of my experience here.
The first thing I need to do is call out Dave Wilson and thank him for setting up this workshop and inviting me to it. Dave recently took a workshop with Raul and has been regularly posting images from that trip over the past few months. When he sent out a note saying that a workshop was being held in Austin AND it was very heavily discounted due to a mix-up in dates, I jumped on the opportunity. I’m extremely glad I did. Great learning experience. Great social experience as well — awesome, encouraging classmates.
Raul doesn’t mince words in his lectures and critiques and I got the definite sense that he rankled a few feathers among some students. Admittedly I was scared to death in anticipation of my first critique, and unfortunately I was the last (of 20-ish students) to be critiqued…had butterflies in my stomach for a couple hours. I did find it helpful to sit through the earlier critiques and by the end could predict much of what I would be critiqued on. I thought that Raul kept a good balance between getting in your face and encouraging you — I came away without any emotional wounds
For our photoshoot on the second day we spent the afternoon inside the Broken Spoke — an iconic Austin country bar and dance hall. We had models to shoot and were to work with the many different light sources in the place and to use off-camera flash when appropriate. We had the following general rules for our shoots:
(1) Use your widest lens — 10-20mm in my case
(2) NO headshots or plain-old portraits — if you’re shooting people make them
environmental shots. Use interesting angles.
(3) NO edits allowed — images presented for critique in front of the class had to
come straight from the camera w/o adjustment or cropping.
These restrictions were quite difficult for most of us — weren’t used to shooting this way at all.
I enjoyed shooting with the models (I can’t ever get my kids to model for more than 3 clicks these days). As the day finished up I approached the young lady in the image above (a customer) and asked if I could photograph her. She was more than happy to oblige and began to tell me about herself and some of the other ladies at the table. This is one of the shots that the instructor picked as keeper-ish out of the 20+ I had to submit. I was shot handheld with the camera in my right hand and the flash in my left.
While no one would describe this shot as “way out there”, it definitely is something I never would have shot before. Wide angle for a portrait? Would never cross my mind. Angled composition? Nope. That half sign in the background? No again. What did the instructor like? Unique angle, foreground of the hands on the menu, menu has the name of the place, the sign adds to the sense of where you are and explains the lighting on the hair, the contrast on the face. The eyes — while normally you want to get those eyes lit the shadows exaggerate the heavy mascara put on for a night of dancing. He explained much that could be improved of course but he pointed out some positive aspects that I could keep in mind for future shots.
I was certainly challenged to approach photographs in a new way. While I need a lot of work to consistently execute what I learned, I have another set of tools and more ways to approach an image moving forward.
Dave Wilson’s site: http://davewilsonphotography.com/
Raul Touzon’s site: http://www.touzonphoto.com/
I always liked the stars that adorn the gates and fences on the Texas Capitol grounds. I played with variations of this shot for a while but couldn’t seem to capture what I really had in mind — both the star and the Capitol in focus, with this perspective. The formula may exist but I didn’t figure it out. The wide-angle lens (used for this shot) gave a perfect perspective but I had to use a focus distance which precluded a deep depth-of-field. Stepping back with the wide lens pulled in some out-of-balance elements (IMO) of the gate unless I centered the star (blocking the Capitol building). Tried the 24-70mm but the bit of added compression in perspective wasn’t quite to my liking. That compression does help square up the star and Capitol relative to each other but again, it wasn’t what I was after.
I decided to post the shot anyway — still an interesting shot IMO and I hope you enjoy it. It’s interesting how the tonemapping process turns the background blur into a somewhat dreamy scene while keeping the star a nice, realistic focus point. I might experiment with this shot again someday.
For the past several years I’ve taken my family to watch the Blue Angels perform in Corpus Christi. This year my family was out of town during the performance but nonetheless I made the trek to Kingsville Naval Air Station to watch them this year. I carried two lenses: a 70-200mm to capture some of the aerial performances and a 10-20mm wide angle which I used for 80% of the ground shots.
I took only a few pictures of the Blue Angels performance this year (I really like to *watch* and didn’t want to be overly distracted always trying to get the best shots). However, I took plenty of shots of the static displays on the ground. I bracketed many (shooting handheld) in hopes of generating some HDR images from the show. On side note, I did try the panning IS mode on my 70-200mm lens and it did an amazing job capturing jets screaming past.
The image above was generated from three handheld exposures and shows the underside of a B-1 bomber with it’s bomb doors open — and a couple young girls doing some modeling. It was quite a processing challenge (for my skill level anyway) due to the movement in the crowd. In a night shot I’ve found masking in crowds to be far simpler because the darkness of the shot generally gives you a lot of leeway. With a day shot like this I found it very difficult because when you mask in a moving subject from a particular exposure you often bring in bits of background (previously hidden by the moving subject in the tonemapped image) which severely differ from the tonemapped image. Adding to my difficulty was the smoke in the background sky from the Tora, Tora, Tora performance. As I worked to fix the background after masking this smoke created challenges in cloning in some sky…a great exercise for improving my skillset.
Here’s the rough outline of my processing on this image: Tonemapping in Photomatix and lots of masking to get the people looking OK. On a duplicate layer I played with exposure and contrast to adjust the sky to my general liking then I masked it in where I could — I wasn’t able to mask in everything around the people because of them being in a different position. To get around this I used the clone stamp to add sky where needed (had to do this a bit on the ground as well). I used Topaz Adjust to modify another duplicate layer and masked portions of that in. Exposure/Levels/Curves followed that. Finally, I tried a new sharpening flow which I picked up from @TipSquirrel today. It involved using “Stamp Visible”, converting the new layer to a smart object, then using unsharp mask with that layer set to luminosity blending. Probably unnecessary for this image but I wanted to learn something new.
I’m pretty happy with the image — my first handheld HDR (though it isn’t too hard to get decent exposures in broad daylight) and certainly the most challenge I’ve faced relative to the need to mask moving subjects. Do you like it…?
Even in the days before I truly was interested in photography I understood that zooming out and taking a picture near someone’s face makes their nose look big. However, I never really understood the full impact the choice of focal length makes on an image. I decided to write a simple post for my “more newbie than me” photography friends which will hopefully get you thinking about focal length with each shot.
Even the most amateur photogs know that a wide-angle (short focal length) lens will expand your field of view (zoom out = fit more in the picture). They also know that a telephoto (long focal length) lens will allow you to get closer to a subject. What many new photographers don’t understand is how the focal length can completely change the perspective of an image. They don’t understand the concept of “compression” or how lines completely change as focal length changes.
Let’s examine the two images below. In both of them the two subjects are standing 10 feet apart and the nearer subject fills up approximately the same percentage of the frame. In the wide-angle image on top, a focal length of 10mm was used and in the telephoto image, 200mm was used.
The far subject appears very distant in the wide-angle shot yet the subjects appear practically next to each other in the telephoto shot. We say that the telephoto lens (long focal length) compresses the scene (ie makes things look closer together). Why does this happen if the subjects haven’t moved? Ignoring the background for the moment, think of the total depth of the image as being the distance from the lens to the far subject. In the wide-angle shot this distance was 12′ and in the telephoto shot, about 80′. The 10′ distance between the subjects is roughly 84% of the depth in the wide shot (a large percentage of the total depth — therefore exaggerating the distance) vs. about 12% in the telephoto (a small percentage of the total depth — effectively compressing the subjects together). That’s a very crude explanation but hopefully makes some sense to you.
Note also how, in the wide-angle shot, you almost lose the fact that the far subject is standing slightly downhill but in the telephoto shot it appears that the ground just drops away — you can’t even see her feet anymore.
I remember noticing the effect of compression while watching the Olympic marathon trials in 2008 (Of course I had no idea about focal lengths or compression at the time — no idea *why* I was seeing it). A good friend of ours was competing so we took the time to watch the coverage. At one point in the race the leader had opened up some distance from the others. However, on one stretch of the course the camera focused on the runners as they approached and it appeared that her competitors had completely caught up to her — they appeared to be maybe 10′ behind. We were actually seeing the effects of compression from a telephoto lens. Footage from a helicopter showed that the leader still held a significant lead.
The choice of focal length also has a dramatic effect on perspective and appearance of lines in an image. Using a wide angle has the effect of making lines converge more quickly. Go shoot something with strong lines (a brick wall for example). Use your shortest and longest focal lengths to experiment.
One can also have some fun with the wide angle. This shot was taken right in front of this boy’s face with a 10mm focal length. Note the apparent huge eyes/head and tiny feet. There are all sorts of games you can play with perspective.
Do you simply choose a focal length on the basis of filling your frame with a subject? Or, do you take the time to choose a focal length and move your feet based on what you want to portray or emphasize? It can have a dramatic effect on the final image.
[Yes, I know the more proper title may be "To Tonemap or Not to Tonemap" but it just doesn't sound as good]
HDR is fun — a downright blast I’d say. It’s very easy to get caught up in it to the point where you (1) always bracket your shots and (2) always tonemap in Photomatix or similar software. Why? The images are often stunning.
Lately I’m finding more and more high-dynamic-range situations where tonemapping isn’t my preferred option. Take, for example, these exposures of 6th Street in Austin taken on a photowalk organized by Alex Suarez during SXSW. I wanted to tone down the intensity of some of the lights yet show detail in other areas.
After tonemapping, I got this:
I played with combinations of settings and some were better than others. In the end though, no tonemapping settings produced an image which I was personally happy with. I decided to start with my center exposure as the base layer and see what I could do with it. I rather like the final result and I’ll explain below how I processed it. I’m sure there are better ways to do this but frankly I’m a CS4 novice and this fits in my current skill set.
Here’s the short description of what I did: I started with the layer which contained the normal (“0″) exposure on top. I placed the -2 exposure underneath, created a layer mask and blended the darker layer into some of the blown-out areas (neon signs for example). I darkened a few other spots according to my taste as well. Using the same masking process I blended in parts of the +2 exposure to bring out some detail in the shadows — went very easy on this because I still wanted this to look like a night shot under the streetlights. I also played with all the layers to get the look I wanted with the moving traffic.
Next, I had to do something with the people on the sidewalk. Ideally I would have taken them from the normal exposure but there was too much motion blur. The only acceptable exposure from this standpoint was the -2, but the subjects were far too dark. I simply duplicated the -2 layer and gave it some treatment — bumped up the exposure, played with the contrast, etc. — in order to make the sidewalk and people roughly match the normal exposure. This allowed me to blend them in reasonably and obtain the (roughly) still look I wanted. I also used that layer to touch up a few other areas. One of the guys in the foreground still ended up without an arm…but I worked with what I had and he was moving in all the exposures
Of course I finished off with curves, sharpening, etc.
So, that’s it…I hope you like the shot and I also hope I’ve inspired some simple non-HDR experimentation. I’d love to hear your comments, particularly related to what approach you might have taken to process a shot like this.
Recently I went on a photowalk on the University of Texas campus with my friend Beecher. It was early morning on a foggy, drizzly Saturday and we hoped to capture some cool shots of some structures lit up in the fog. We had imagined shots of the UT Tower or Littlefield Fountain glowing in the fog-diffused light. What we got instead was enough drizzle to prevent us from wanting our gear out in the open.
What did we do? We found other things to shoot. We stopped by the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum where there are lots of overhangs under which to avoid the rain. I captured this shot of the (beautiful) lobby through the glass.
3-exposure HDR. Center exposure: 2s, f8, ISO 100, 12mm focal length
There were two tricky things to this shot. First, the reflections on the glass completely overwhelmed parts of the image so I leaned the lens hood on the glass and blocked the reflections with my hands. As you can see, there are some leftover reflections but I find them rather appropriate as they give a sense of where the shot was taken (outside the glass). In hindsight I’m glad that I wasn’t able to avoid the reflections altogether.
The second thing I had to deal with was the cleaning staff — they kept wandering around in the lobby and occasionally showed up in the exposures. I shot and re-shot. I timed my exposures such that the shutter would open when the staff was behind a pillar. This is much like when you are attempting a portrait in public and you have to ‘click’ at just the right time to avoid people in your foreground and background…just something you deal with.
Anyone else have tricks for shooting through glass? Or, do you have opinions on how to treat a shot from the standpoint of allowing/eliminating reflections? Do you purposely include them in your shots? Do you go through lengths to avoid them?
Littlefield Fountain is a World War I memorial at the University of Texas created by Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini and financed by George Washington Littlefield. There’s some great information on the fountain here. While researching a bit of information about Coppini I ran across a quote by J. Frank Dobie who said of Coppini, “…he has littered up Texas with his monstrosities”. I find that quite funny given that Dobie’s namesake (Dobie Mall) is located practically across the street. Coppini did many works in Texas — they’re worth checking out.
For photographers in Austin playing with HDR, Littlefield Fountain seems to be one of those required shots — analogous to the required elements in figure skating or gymnastics. The State Capitol and a skyline shot along Lady Bird Lake are among the other “required elements”.
Friday evening I took my friend and daughter to the University of Texas campus for a short photowalk. We got a parking space right by the Littlefield Fountain and it became our first stop for pictures. On a personal note, as soon as we stopped in front of the fountain we were face-to-face with my sister-in-law. She’s a visiting professor in the business school for the spring semester and just happened to be headed home for the day…great to run into her like that. Seeing our cameras, she commented on how someone is *always* taking a picture of the fountain.
The water is full of algae…it’s really the green color seen in these images. I frankly don’t care to ever see green water but I’ll be nice and say that it “adds to the images”. There are many great perspectives and angles to be had around this fountain but I stuck with a couple “safe” and standard shots here.
I got the idea of shooting the Texas Capitol reverse rotunda in this manner after seeing Pete Talke’s awesome photo here.
I didn’t have a fisheye lens to get as wide as Pete did…but I did what I could with what I had. Nothing fancy but I think it’s kind of a cool perspective and I had fun trying out various angles. It was quite a challenge to get the tripod safely balanced and in a position to “reach” over the railing while remaining stable enough for the shot. So, even though I was making somewhat of a copy-cat image I was able to learn quite a few things along the way.