Kauai Silhouette


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.

Always A Bridesmaid…

Bridal Party     140mm, f/5.6, 1/200s

Bridal Party 140mm, f/5.6, 1/200s

Last weekend in Orlando I shot my first wedding as the primary shooter and thought I’d share this picture of one of the bridesmaids (my daughter).  I was fortunate enough to catch this candid moment as she walked down the aisle with this groomsman.  It’s perfect IMO that she was looking at him when he did his little pointing gesture.

Some of the shooting situations were challenging as the ceremony was held in the afternoon as the sun set — the light constantly changed, the sun streaming through the trees caused a lot of mottled sun and shade (as seen in the photo above), the bridal party was a mix of very dark and light skin (see photo above again), the clothing was a mix of brilliant white and jet black which doesn’t leave a lot of latitude for exposure errors on either end (glad I wasn’t shooting film!), and there wasn’t a great choice for locations to shoot the bridal party.

Most of the pictures turned out quite nice.  I’ve dealt with the skin color issue before — my own children are a mix of four ethnicities — so I was (somewhat) prepared to deal with it.  With the changing light I couldn’t just get my settings dialed in once and fire away, but I knew to be careful about exposing the dark skin enough while avoided blowing out the exposure of the light skin.  I also attempted to avoid blowing out the highlights on the white tuxes but was willing to give that up if necessary.  The recovery slider in Lightroom was able to compensate for most of those highlights in the end.  I used some amount of fill flash for most of the pictures — on-camera for the ceremony, off-camera for the bridal party pictures, and a mix of each for the reception.

Logistically there were many issues.  I’ll spare you the boring details but we ran out of time to get all the bridal party pictures that we had listed (got the most important ones though).  I didn’t have an official second shooter (but did have another photographer who agreed to capture the groom as the bride walked in, while I concentrated on the bride).

A sampling of things I learned while shooting this wedding:  Shoot more (in some situations).  In particular, when shooting groups of people during the ceremony, shoot enough to ensure that there are at least one or two frames where everyone looks good (in a pinch you can replace a head or two in Photoshop but that eats a lot of time).  I ended up with some sets of group photos where I’m not certain I have an acceptable image due to someone looking “bad”.  If shooting multiple cameras make sure the time stamps are in sync.  This isn’t absolutely critical but makes things easier.  I forgot to do this and things have been slightly painful when sorting in Lightroom. Positioning…too much to explain here (maybe will go thru them someday) but I learned that some of the positions I thought would be ideal for certain shots weren’t so ideal after all and I was forced to make do.

Lady Cougars 2012

For the second year in a row I’ve taken pictures for my daughters’ volleyball team.  The individual shots were pretty much a piece of cake and they turned out great.  The set up for those involved spreading a neutral-colored paint tarp on the floor to eliminate the red glow on the girls’ skin, standing the girls on a stool, setting up one speedlight (triggered with Elinchrom Skyports) shooting through a white umbrella for the key light, a strobe flashing the gym behind the girls to add light to the background, posing them with a volleyball, and firing away.  These went very quickly as there was no change in setup between each girl.  The gym is horrible for pictures but was workable for these individual shots.

We also goofed with some dramatic shots with the girls looking serious and got the shot above.  The main light is the same speedlight-thru-umbrella held nearly on axis with the camera (slightly toward high camera left).  The back light is simply a speedlight plopped on the floor.  These took longer to get the girls set and posed, and as you see above, we never got the posing or the spacing quite right.  We didn’t have all day so I had to take what I could get as they say.  There are lots of photographic flaws but the girls and parents are plenty happy with the pic, which is what really counts.

I did some basic processing in Lightroom then headed to Photoshop to grunge out and darken the background (mostly with curves), do some very minor edits and retouching, noise reduction, and add the text.

Winter Dresses…In July

Winter Dresses 90mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 200

I’ve been very delinquent in taking the picture above — my youngest girls in their matching winter dresses.  Between the baby’s sleeping schedule, weather, and that general “don’t feel like doing it now” feeling that we all get (wasn’t just me) we haven’t gotten these done.  I took the day off today and I made it a definite to-do item for this morning when our infant (“Dolly” as we often call her) is usually happiest.  We ended up pushing it a little — Dolly was ready for bed by the time we were done.

The usual caveats apply: I don’t like this or that, I’m not happy with the light (we waited too late in the morning), I don’t like the setting/background, and I’d change/fix/tweak many things.  There wasn’t so much posing as there was “Hold her and look at the camera quick before she gets fussy”.  However, my wife says: “I don’t care about the professional photo — I just want a picture of them together with their dresses so get it done”.  It’s hard for me not to try to make everything as professional looking as I can, however meager my attempts may be.

Exposure was a bit tricky.  The dark skin, light skin combination was challenging to balance (always takes some effort in our family pictures since we have four races and a wide range of skin tones).  I chose to use no additional lighting — we just wanted to get this done and not fiddle with triggers, umbrella, and adjusting flash power.  The sun was in and out of the clouds which affected the exposure dramatically.  Ultimately I determined my exposure by metering Dolly’s light skin to avoid blowing it out (I shot in manual mode).  For my taste we couldn’t go any brighter than you see above and we got sufficient exposure in the dark skin so we could make do.  There were of course the usual difficulties in getting two children to look good at the same time.  The littlest didn’t cooperate very well — she wasn’t a complete crank but wasn’t her usually smily self.  In the end I ended up swapping a head to get them both looking good.  I lightened the dark skin a bit more and tweaked the image with several curves, exposure, and saturation adjustment layers.

Jesus Loves The Little Children

The Line 70mm, f/6.3, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

I’m sticking with the pool theme for this post.  We recently were invited to swim at a friend’s pool (cheers all around from the kids) and I decided to lug the camera along to get some pictures.  It was 5pm and the sun was high in the sky.  Fortunately when the kids were on the diving board the sun was slightly behind — meaning that if I could manage to get *enough* light reflected off the kids’ faces it would at least be *even-ish* light.  Coming up with that light — while saving the background somewhat — was the first challenge then.

Belly Flop!!! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

The next challenge was the huge dynamic range in the skin tones.  In the song “Jesus Loves The Little Children” the line goes “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.  We didn’t have “yellow” but we had red, black, and white figuratively speaking.  If you light for the lightest skin the darkest skin might be way too underexposed.  Expose for the darkest skin and the lightest gets completely blown out in the bright sunlight.  The challenge was to maintain the best balance in the situation — via my camera and flash settings.

(Most of) the Gang 70mm, f/4.5, 1/200s, ISO 200, flash

My gear: Canon 5D mkii, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L, and Canon 580exii flash gel’ed with a 1/4 CTO.  I started out using shutter speeds of 1/200 to 1/250s to stay within the sync speed of the flash.  This was reasonable for much of the action and gave me quite a bit of flash power, which I needed when shooting from these distances (50’+).  Remember that the light follows the inverse square law — double the distance and you are only left with 1/4 the light.  Later I switched to using high-speed sync which allowed shutter speeds up to 1/500s to freeze the action but reduces the power that the flash can put out.  Both methods were effective in their own way.  With the 5D mkii I also had ISO as a lever.  I didn’t want to go too high with it (but I did use up to 3200 some of the time).  A higher ISO also reduces the need for so much flash power but you pay in noise.  Note that sometimes when using flash in bright light you *can’t* go very high with the ISO because the flash sync speed is a “long” shutter speed (relative to the overall brightness in the scene) and is allowing a lot of light to hit the sensor. In summary, I can’t tell you what the “best” settings are for a situation you might be shooting, but hopefully I’ve given you enough info to jump start your thoughts and get you experimenting with it.  Keep in mind that in the evening the light changes rapidly so you’ll have to adjust for that as well.

Jump! 70mm, f/6.3, 1/320s, ISO 200, flash (high speed sync)

In Lightroom I still had to use an adjustment brush to even out the exposure of the faces a bit (in most pictures).  All in all, I was very happy with the way they turned out.  The important parts of the backgrounds were preserved and the kids are exposed well enough.  There’s always plenty of room for improvement though.

Pool Monster

Pool Monster 70mm, f/13, 1/125s, fill flash

My son leaping out of the water pretending to be a monster.  I love how the motion makes his hands look like claws.  And the mask?  Well, nothing needs to be said.

It was in the middle of a bright sunny afternoon — terrible time for photographs.  I used a flash so that I could dial down the ambient a bit.  We took several shots like this, using a fast-ish shutter speed but not so fast that it froze all motion.  In post I processed things pretty heavily in Lightroom — lots of contrast and clarity.

Ruined Reflections

Ruined Reflection, Austin Skyline, Panorama stitched from 3 HDR frames, 45mm, f/8

On a still day Austin’s Lady Bird Lake (still Town Lake to me) is a great spot to shoot the growing skyline (note yet another construction crane gracing the view) and get great reflections off the water.  I met an out-of-town friend at Lou Neff Point this morning and was surprised to find that the lake was completely overgrown with a plant called Eurasian Water Milfoil.  In hindsight I might have expected it as we had seen a lot of milfoil while kayaking on the lake recently but even then I wouldn’t have expected so much of it on the surface.  Adding to the disappointment was that the forecast of “some clouds in the morning” wasn’t to be (until well after sunrise anyway).

Well, we were there and figured we might as well shoot some “stuff”.  We fought off the mosquitos and fired away.  I decided to shoot a panorama in order to increase the resolution a bit.  I shot 3 frames — each bracketed +/-1 stop — and used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create very subtle (IMO) HDR images.  Photoshop stitched them together nicely and I used several curves and saturation adjustment layers to tweak the final image.

Family Portraits…Another Lesson Learned

(Mostly Salvaged) Family Portrait

As much as I don’t want to post my mistakes — especially the really stupid ones — they can be helpful to look back on and point out to others.  It depends on the natural light situation of course, but in a portrait like the one above I often use a single strobe through, or reflected from, an umbrella placed above-camera.  This may be to provide a catchlight in the eyes, a bit of fill in the eye sockets, some overall light, or all of the above.  I occasionally use a bare strobe (well, sometimes with a gel but no other modifiers) to give a hint of a rim light on the shoulders to help separate the subjects from the background. My daughter typically holds this in position behind the subjects when I use it.  During a recent family portrait shoot on the grounds of the Texas Capitol I pulled a real boneheaded move with this light.

Just before we shot the pose above (which fortunately wasn’t the “preferred” pose) I got my rim light strobe out of the bag and quickly tested that everything was working (flash on, remote trigger operational, my guesstimated manual power set).  All was well so I dropped it in the grass and we set to arranging people and reminding the kids not to watch the squirrels running around.  We shot a bunch of frames to make sure we caught everyone looking their best-ish and moved on to our next pose.  I had decided not to use the rim light because the separation from the background seemed fine.

To my horror, when I loaded the pics up on the computer at home, I noticed that all the shots of this pose had a bright light in the grass and two of the subjects were lit like they were being blasted by the sun.  Well, they *were* being blasted — by my portable sun as you see in the picture below.  I had left it turned on and the trigger active…probably at 1/4 power.  Oops.  I couldn’t believe I had not noticed this while chimping my test shots.  My (young) daughters didn’t point it out — one didn’t even notice and the other assumed that I intended to use the flash that way.

Needless to say it was a big mistake.  While this was not the ideal pose we wanted to keep one from this set.  I was fortunate enough to have a reasonable fixable frame in the bunch so I went to work.  Switched a head, toned down some of the effects from the misplaced strobe, and made the other usual edits.  I believe the photo *is* completely salvageable given enough effort and time and I may work on it for practice in the future.

Lesson learned.  Chimp and look around the *whole* frame — Check everything…check again.

Unedited Frame

Harbor Hotel At Rowes Wharf

Harbor Hotel Entrance 17mm, f/8, 5 exposures, ISO 100

Sometimes a wide-angle lens isn’t quite wide enough.  I took this shot at the wide end of my 17-40mm lens and it just couldn’t capture it all.  The entrance to this hotel is amazing and is visible from across Boston Harbor (see here).

I used 5 exposures to make this HDR but I honestly could have gotten by with only two or three.  As always I wasn’t trying to eliminate the shadows by using HDR but rather attempting to bring out some depth and tone down some highlights.  Notice that the building on the left out by the harbor just disappears into shadow — that’s how it should be as it really looks that way.  I used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create the starting image, then used a dark exposure to tone down a few of the bright lights.  There was a bit of masking for the couple standing near the left, a couple of tonemapping artifacts fixed up, and basic contrast adjustments.  One thing that bothers me a little is how the lights near the left doorway have quite a green tone while the lights on the right are rather white (I’m a poet and didn’t even know it).  I decided not to balance them out — for whatever reason that’s just the way they were (see original exposure below).

One of the Original Exposures


Honda 30mm, f/7.1

I’m making arrangements for another trip to Boston and it put in mind some of the photos I took on my last trip.  While taking this photo of the Boston Skyline, a young couple pulled up on a motorcycle, parked it, and walked off to enjoy the view of the skyline across Boston Harbor.  The bike had all sorts of accessory lights which cast a deep reddish-orange glow around it (see below but note the white balance isn’t quite right on the color version).  I took some photos of it and generated this B+W HDR.  There was a bit of noise in the result…I left it in, I kind of like it.



I was headed to my trolley tour stop in Boston when I spotted this picture.  Sun peeking from behind the building, moderate interest in the sky, sky and cloud reflections in the windows of the tall building, and dappled reflections of light in the short one.  As I took the shot I got a bonus lens flare and guy crossing the street.  It’s not an *amazing* scene, but pleasant enough IMO.

This is an HDR and naturally it bugs me that there’s a slight halo around that tall skyscraper.  The thing is, that halo is present in the original exposures too.  Despite the fact that there will be those who attribute the halo effect to “bad HDR”, I decided to leave it as is.  For those of you interested in one method of fixing this (particularly in difficult, detailed scenes), see Dave Wilson’s handy tips here.

The bright portion of the street (and the guy walking across) were masked in from a single exposure.  That exposure (fast shutter speed to freeze his motion somewhat) was tweaked a bit to match the scene as I saw fit.  Given that it was a bright, sunny day I wanted it to still look “bright” and I wanted the portion of the street at the left to remain in shadow.  One could argue that I should have used a slower shutter speed to show his motion but that’s simply a matter of personal preference — neither one is more correct than the other IMO.  Various curves were masked in all over the place as usual.

The Making Of A Family Portrait

Family Portrait, Texas Capitol Grounds   80mm, f/4, 1/60s, ISO 100

This post could also be titled “What Are You Paying A Portrait Photographer For?”.  Important caveat: the comments below have nothing to do with the family in the portrait.  Their portrait just provides a convenient moment to bring up the subject.

There’s great debate in the world of photography regarding business and pricing models.  Some well-known photographers go so far as to denigrate other photographers because they price things cheaply, sell CDs with all the images, charge only $1000 to shoot a wedding and reception, etc.  I’m in the camp of “I’ll do things my way but I couldn’t care less how someone else does it”.  If someone wants to charge $50 for a photo shoot and a CD of images, so what?  If someone wants to let a publication use an image in exchange for “exposure”, so what?  I’m amazed when photographers actually get personally offended at other photographers for this — it’s a free world and everyone is free to give away whatever they want.  I’m not going to shoot weddings for $1000 or hand out digital images on the cheap (except for photo donations to certain organizations like this — shameless plug — I donated the Austin skyline image at the top of the American Red Cross of Central Texas page and images for a couple other sites) but I don’t care if anyone else does.  If I cannot add enough value to make it worth purchasing my services — taking photos, providing prints, etc. — then I don’t deserve the business.  If Joe Blow undersells me by some huge margin and the client is happy with the result, that’s my fault for not clearly differentiating myself (and I’m apparently not as good as I might think!).  If the client isn’t happy with Joe Blow…it’s either my fault for not convincing them my services are worth it or theirs for being duped by the “too good to be true” offer.  Also, not every client is willing to pay for the same level of service and/or quality — that’s true for any type of product.  That’s why there are both Toyota Corollas and BMW 750s available on the auto market for example.

Along those lines, a common remark is “I can’t believe I have to pay so much for a print!”.  Often the comment includes “…when I can just go to Walgreens and pay $XX”.  Ignoring the issue of the poor print/color quality you may get at a Walgreens, I’ll tell you what went into producing the family portrait above in hopes of giving some understanding of why you might pay so much for a “print”.  If you’re not convinced, that’s fine — not everyone cares about the same level of quality or detail and it’s completely within the rights of every consumer (of any product) to choose the product that suits them.  It’s also the right of a photographer to specify “You aren’t printing anything with my name on it at a Walgreens”.

The short answer: You’re not just paying for a print (ie just a piece of paper).  You’re paying for equipment, art/creativity, editing, making you look your best, years of skill building and practice, etc.  After all, you’re hiring a photographer because you know you can’t just hand your point-and-shoot to someone on the street and get the family portrait you are after.  You are also (hopefully) hiring a photographer because he *knows* how to go make that picture you want and doesn’t just press the shutter over and over in the hope of accidentally getting a good shot.  I think that people accept this more when it comes to most other forms of art or craft.  If you commissioned an artist to create an oil painting to hang over your mantle and he charged $500, would the first thing out of your mouth be “But you only had to pay $50 for the canvas and paint!”?

So, what went into this photo?  Here’s a partial list:

(1) Picking a decent time and location.  Upon arrival, quickly picking a specific spot to provide good light, a good background without distracting elements (subjective of course).  Or…scout a location ahead of time.  The location for the above portrait is the Texas Capitol grounds.  The time was chosen in an attempt to balance getting a family out the door early enough for good light and cooler temperatures, yet late enough to not be miserable.  There was a partial gamble here — we went a little later than I’d like gambling that the partially cloudy skies would block the sun often enough.  That gamble paid off.

(2) Pick the right lens.  Long/wide/normal…this has a big effect on the final image.

(3) Determine aperture.  I wanted to go as wide open as possible for maximum blur in the background.  However, in a family portrait in particular, depth of field really comes into play.  Even if you calculate the “right” DOF you have to be careful where you focus.  For example, if the people in the portrait are 2 feet deep and you use an aperture which gives you a total DOF of about 2 feet, you had probably better not focus on a face in the front of your group.  If you do, some of your in-focus plane will be in front of the group while the rear of the group will start to go out of focus.  I’m not explaining that well but suffice it to say that it matters.  There’s always the option to stop way down and get a bunch of the background in focus to be safe but that’s not (generally) what you want.  For this photo I varied position and focal length a little bit but was generally working with about a 3′ depth of field at f/4.

(4) Determine optimal exposure around the chosen aperture — shutter, ISO.  If using a strobe, be sure the shutter is within the maximum sync speed (Don’t know what that is? That’s why you pay a photographer.).  Set up a strobe — triggered remotely — and umbrella with enough light to provide good fill yet not so much light that the image screams “FLASH WAS USED!”.  Yes, flash was used in this image.  Direct assistant (daughter) to position the light certain ways.  Shoot whenever the sun is behind the clouds.  I set my exposure for this case and timed the shooting accordingly.

(5) Arrange the family reasonably — lots of options and opinions here but time is precious (see next item).  I could name 5 immediate things I’d change about the posing in this photo but we were trying to get something quick.  Pay particular attention to dad being in a masculine pose of some sort.  You don’t know the difference between masculine and feminine poses?  That’s another reason you pay a photographer.  Have you ever seen a family photo where the dad has his knees turned together and his hands folded gently on his lap?  It doesn’t usually look masculine.  Note that it has nothing to do with “macho”, but most dads don’t want to look like a total sissy.  Shoot the family arrangement with enough margin in the photo for various cropping options (uncropped photo above).

(6) Do all the above before the kids have the meltdown that the mom warns you about (picture-taking is pure boredom for kids and they may not last long).  That’s why the background may not be perfect, light may not be perfect, and posing may not be perfect — you need to get *something* before you hit the point where you can’t get *anything*.

That’s the picture “taking” part.  Then you have the “picking” part:

(7) Import your photos to your favorite software.  Go through them one-by-one with a semi-critical eye to weed out the absolute rejects and pick the possible candidates for editing.

(8) Go through the pictures with a MORE critical eye.  Smiles, eyes, hair, positions…which are the keepers?

Then come the edits.  The saying is “Get it right in the camera” but some realities come into play.  Pick the best photographer you know and ask them if they use many images straight out of the camera.  Not a chance.  In our case, remember all that hustling to get *something* before the kids melt down?  We got our exposure right in the camera but I didn’t try to perfect the posing, didn’t take time to pick up every distracting leaf/branch.  I left some background elements in that I knew I could reasonable fix later.  And so on…

(9) General edits…tweaks to white balance, contrast, etc.  Includes making use of your experience regarding how a photo will print in addition to what it looks like on your screen.

(10) Switch mom’s head to get her nice smile in the same image as her kids’ nice smiles (resize it, rotate it, mask it in and make it look like it belongs).  Fix gaps in mom’s hair so it’s as nice as the head we replaced (thanks to Scott Kelby for excellent tips on how to replace/add whole sections of hair — worked like a charm).

(11) Replace one child’s face.  Same smile as the one we started with but in the original they were moving and therefore blurry.  Fortunately we had an exact match (size, position, and smile) in another frame which was sharp.

(12) Remove a scab, some drool, and stray hairs.  Tone down a few specular highlights on the lips.  Remove dead leaves in the grass.  Replace some background elements with trees and vegetation.  I even added a technical flaw (on purpose) to make the photo more aesthetically pleasing.  I won’t point it out but some clever person will probably notice it.

(13) Touch up bags under eyes…hey, the kids got up really early for this.  I don’t like to go to an extreme but I at least tone them down.  Some photos might require significant skin touch up (this photo didn’t need any other than the bit under the eyes).

(14) More general stuff…vignette, selective sharpening, local exposure and contrast tweaks to taste.

All told — hours worth of work.  Although I have MANY more skills to learn, what skills I do possess so far came not only from work on this photo, but hours worth of practice in weeks, months, and years past to learn the skills needed to set up, take, and edit the photo.  Maybe a few things are overkill and just part of my perfectionist bent (I see plenty more that I would tweak even).  However, I don’t want mom to walk by the mantle for years and think “I wish that tuft of hair wasn’t hanging down over my forehead” or dad to think “I wish so and so would have held still so they would be in focus” and so on.

Wouldn’t Mind Some Rain

While we’ve gotten much more rain this year than in past years, we could use more. I’d love to see the sky go black, hear some good thunder, and feel the rain coming down again. During one of our spring rains my daughter and I had lunch at the Whole Foods mother ship (as we sometimes call the headquarters) and walked around downtown Austin in the rain. I went monochrome, super contrasty, and dark/moody with this shot of my daughter walking along Lamar Blvd. For most of our walk I had to keep the camera put away — too much rain — but we had a lull here.

Dark Down Below

Stairway to nowhere…looks kind of eerie down there.  HDR of an outdoor staircase in Snohomish, WA.  One of many random(ish) shots I took while my wife was enjoying a massage in town.  In keeping with my view that many HDR guys (and gals) go too far and bring out too much detail in the shadows, I tried to process just enough to give a sense of what’s down there without bringing it out completely.

Missing The Beach Now…

Sharkfest, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas 250mm, f/5.6, 1/1000s

I’ve gotten over my thing about missing the snow and am now thinking about getting back to the Texas coast.  My 7-year old son brings it up constantly so we’re just going to have to set a date and do it.  The shot above was taken on our last big trip which was during Sharkfest at Padre Island National Seashore.  When we scheduled our trip we weren’t aware of Sharkfest and on arrival were very surprised by the crowds.  This 63-mile stretch of beach has one way in and out (via land) as is mostly limited to 4×4 vehicles so it’s generally rather empty.  Of course “crowded” is a relative thing and even with 10x the normal crowd there were still plenty of places along the seashore to fish and play in the water without crowding anyone out.  Normally you can pick a place where you have at *least* 1/2 mile between you and your nearest neighbor.  We had to settle for 1/8 – 1/4 mile this trip (once we made it 30 or 40 miles)…first-world problems.  Unfortunately we saw no sharks being caught.  On our “normal” trips we often see them and thought that with all these shark fishermen we’d see several.  No luck.

For those of you not familiar with shark fishing in the surf, here’s the very rough description of how it works.  Gear consists of short-ish, stiff rods with reels capable of holding hundreds of yards of approximately 100# test line.  At the terminal end there are leader rigs made out of materials ranging from 400# test monofilament to stainless steel cable.  Hanging from those are huge hooks (the size of your hand).  For bait something like a big chunk (even half) of a jack crevalle is used.  Once the rig is ready, the bait is generally paddled out with a kayak and placed beyond the third sand bar.  Then you wait, and wait, and wait.  When you get a decent sized shark on the line the fight often lasts well over an hour.  It’s pretty amazing to watch.  On a side note, it’s extremely interesting to witness the various vehicular rigs that people come up with for their shark fishing — giant platforms on top of trucks, etc.  If I’d known how unsuccessful our fishing was going to be on this trip I might have just spent time photographing the shark rigs.

I processed the image to make it appear a bit like an old print from film.  Kept the colors reasonably saturated (via the vibrance slider in Lightroom) and made the image warm like prints in the “old” days.  In Lightroom I added grain to taste.  I rarely use additional grain in images but really like it for this beach scene and if it weren’t for the vehicles it could pass for a pic from the ’70s.  I wasn’t “into” photography in my film days so I can’t wax nostalgic about this film or that film or tell you that I mimicked a certain film.  I bought whatever was cheap.

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Fenway Park in HDR, 17mm, f/13, 3-exp, ISO 100

Here’s another view of Fenway Park which I processed as an HDR.  I took a bunch of pictures around the place a few weeks ago and am only now getting around to looking at most of them.  The back of the scoreboard provides a nice main subject IMO.  Ideally I would have gotten the foreground people at full height (i.e. head-to-toe) in these shots but my lens wasn’t capable of that at this tripod height (and I didn’t like the perspective with the tripod all the way down near the ground). I took lots of exposures (range of 7-9 stops…can’t remember) but only used three of them for this image.  Why only three?  Because I don’t mind a few blown-out highlights where “appropriate” and I certainly don’t mind shadows without detail.  In fact, my number one criticism of HDRs is that many people process them in a way which brings out far too much detail in the shadows and eliminates too many of the blacks.

Processing…After running the three exposures through Nik HDR Efex Pro I brought the image into Photoshop with the three original exposures.  I only ended up using two exposures: One for partially blending in the sky to help keep the colors reasonable-ish and the other one was masked in for the street and people (after an exposure tweak).  As always I used several masked curves adjustment layers (in luminosity blend mode because this image had plenty of color saturation already).  The jet contrail bugs me but I’d make a mess of it if I tried to clone it out.  Since I was standing below the sign and using a wide-angle lens the perspective (tilt on the sides) was rather extreme.  A quick free transform was used to stretch out the top corners of the image somewhat.  I didn’t attempt to eliminate all the distortion of course.  After this type of stretching with a free transform, the height of things (the people in particular) gets a bit squashed so I used a reverse crop and another free transform to stretch the image vertically and bring the people back to normal.  Maybe I’ll do a poor-man’s tutorial (the only kind I have the skills for) showing those steps in an upcoming post.

So…Are You Going To Take My Picture Or What?

Impromptu Portrait 125mm, f/2.8, 1/160s, ISO 400

When I sat down at the dinner table this evening I found this grin staring at me.  How could I not get the camera out?  I used my Canon 5D mkii with the 70-200mm f/2.8 — shooting wide open to blur the window frames and scenery outside as much as possible.  I bounced a flash off the wall behind me.  There was no posing, very little attention to what was in the frame, and only minimal attention to composition.  I spent most of my efforts on catching my daughter’s eyes in focus.  With the shallow DOF and my daughter’s constant motion it was tough and I missed it a lot.  How could I not love the pictures anyway?  I took 60-70 shots and ended up with quite a few keepers.

Editing was all done in Lightroom — white balance, slight crops, exposure, contrast, vignette, and a tad bit of noise reduction.  I did none of the typical overdone baby skin stuff.  In fact, I did no “retouching” at all (it would have been a lot of work to fix all those healing chicken pox marks anyway).  No skin edits, no eye enhancements.  They are cute enough the way they are 🙂

Boston Skyline…Blue Hour

Boston Skyline At Blue Hour 23mm, f/8, 6 exp, ISO 100

Last weekend, after spending the day touring Boston, I walked across the pedestrian bridge (near the left side of the above image) next to Seaport Blvd which connects downtown to the old seaport district.  The bridge is part of the South Bay Harbor Trail.  I stopped for dinner and waited for the sun to set behind the city.  As I neared this photo spot I found that four photographers were already sitting there — tripods and cameras already set up.  I walked toward them and without a word stopped 10′ in front of them and pretended to set up my tripod.  Silence.  After a few seconds I turned and said I was just kidding and relieved laughter set in.  I asked if it was OK to set up just behind them and they were nice enough to extend an offer to make room in the middle of them if I wanted (I just set up behind and above them).

My intent was to bracket a bunch of exposures as it got darker using f/22 to get a starburst effect.  I switched to f/8 because (1) I really wasn’t getting much of that effect, (2) f/8 is good and sharp, and (3) my exposures were getting longer than 30 seconds and I was too lazy to start timing the exposures manually even though I was using a remote 🙂  White balance was set to daylight.  That’s somewhat arbitrary since I always shoot in RAW but it helps keep things consistent when viewed in the LCD.  I included a couple of straight-out-of-the-camera exposures below so you can see a sample of what I was working with.

On my flight home I plugged six exposures into Nik HDR Efex Pro.  My personal default is to use the realistic-subtle preset as a starting point 99% of the time and I tweak a bit in Nik.  Tweaking and saving complete, I took the Nik output into Photoshop along with a couple of the darker exposures and masked in a few spots which were still over-exposed after the HDR junk.  I toned down the colors in the water and burned the sidewalk darker a bit (more on the dodging and burning below).  Relative to colors, I did want an “HDR look” to this image but I sometimes find the reflections and colors on the water to be a bit overdone for my taste in these skyline shots.  I also dropped the overall saturation by 20 points to bring it back to realistic colors as tools like Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix tend to saturate everything a lot.

Finally, since the perspective wasn’t too bad I decided to fix it by stretching out the top corners a bit and aligning the buildings with rulers to make them more upright on the edges (the SOOC images above do not have that correction).  If you do too big of an edit like this it can degrade the image but it’s fine for this one.  The final image turned out crisp and sharp at high resolution.

This screenshot shows my dodging and burning layer.  A trick I learned watching a Joe Brady video (something about Photoshop for landscapes sponsored by Xrite) is to create a new layer, fill it with 50% gray, then dodge and burn on that with black/white.  There’s no real need for that but the layer gives you a visual to show where you’re doing your adjustments.

The First Starbucks

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.

You ordered HOW many shots?!?!

Cour Napoleon

Cour Napoleon, The Louvre, Paris

[Update: By popular demand I cropped the original image (which is now at the bottom of the post) to remove the railing.  Once I did that crop, I really felt like the fountain was too close to the edge of the frame so I cropped that out too.  Hated to lose it, but it needed to go.  I also used Lightroom’s healing brush to get rid of a few heads and such which were on the edge of the frame due to the crop.  Finally, I cropped out the top of the sky to get an aspect ratio I liked and added a touch of vignette.  If I were reworking this image I’d probably do some cloning in the sky to make it “fit” better on the edges of the frame but I’m not going to go through that effort for this shot.  Thanks everyone for the input!]

My wife and I are planning a trip this summer with three of our older girls.  We haven’t settled on a destination yet but in the process of thinking about  the upcoming trip I couldn’t help but reminisce about our trip to Paris two years ago.  I would happily go to Paris again — so many things I didn’t get to see last time (and so many I’d like to see again).

I took the shot above (an HDR processed from three handheld exposures) on our first day in Paris.  This one is almost impressionist in feel.  The edges are soft and I only partially masked in some of the ghosted people from the various exposure.  It would be unacceptable as a print but makes a nice, moody image when viewed at the appropriate size (smallish).

Cour Napoleon, Paris

I Miss Her…But Don’t Tell My Wife :-)

BMW in Black and White 16mm, f/10, ISO 100

A couple of days ago a friend of mine emailed to ask my opinion regarding new tires for his car.  That car — pictured above — was my car and daily ride for four years and his inquiry reminded me of some of the pictures I had taken of it.  I wrote that I was thinking about selling it when I posted this street scene from Paris a couple of years back.  Shortly after that post I did sell it (obviously).  I think I gave my friend a really good deal, but my wife thought we should pay him to take it off our hands.  So, don’t tell her that I miss it!

As for the picture itself, first know that I wasn’t so into my car that I took pictures of it all the time.  Rather, I occasionally used it as a test subject when I wanted to learn something new about photography.  The picture above was taken in my driveway for a assignment — “mode of transportation”.  I started out to make a “normal” HDR (if there is such a thing) but bagged that idea.  Here’s what I wrote about it at the time: “Another opportunity to try for a decent shot of the car. From the beginning I intended to make a black and white HDR image so I took bracketed exposures. However, the tonemapped image (from Photomatix) was terrible and I quickly determined that the best image would come from the normal exposure with a few bits and pieces masked in from the over-exposed shot. Still HDR in the manual sense (manual processing), just not tonemapped in Photomatix (or similar software).  Lots of room for improvement but there’s that real job thing…”.  There *are* a few glaring defects in the photo but I like the overall look and decided to post it in spite of those.

For any car buffs out there, this is a 2000 BMW 540i with the six-speed manual transmission and sport package.  I miss the power of the V8, the handling, and the six-speed manual, but not the constant repairs 🙂

Filters And Layers


Another post written on a plane between Austin and Seattle the other night…I like this WordPress post scheduling thing…

A few months ago I tried out a new “technique” (for lack of a better word) to create the image above.  I used — with some tweaks along the way — this tutorial at Digital Darkroom Techniques.  You may or may not find the actual image interesting (I only like *some* things about it) but the method to create it may be of interest to you — and you can tweak/customize it to your heart’s content.  It came to mind to post about this when I saw a similar image last week.  The creator of that image didn’t mention where they got their inspiration but I immediately thought of my image above.

My starting image was the one below, which happened to be sitting around on my desktop when I decided to try out the steps laid out in the tutorial.  You can read about how I made the starting image HERE.

Blue Hour Baseball

I won’t go into any details on the steps involved since the tutorial does a fine job of explaining it.  Try it out, try changing things up with respect to which filters/angles/layers you use, and if you don’t mind, put a link to your results in the comments.

Textured Flower

Textured Flower

I’ve been experimenting with textures recently.  I’ve seen so many good images using textures and I generally like the effects.  Here’s my latest attempt using a picture of a flower growing in my backyard a couple of years back.  The textures are all courtesy of Jerry Jones at Shadowhouse Creations (check his stuff out — lots of great textures).

I used three textures as follows: “Notaclue-1” in soft light blend mode (100% opacity), “In The Beginning 8-1-2009 #29” in overlay blend mode (36% opacity), and “Retro” in overlay blend mode (30% opacity).  All three texture layers were tweaked for color (mainly some desaturation) and had light masking in the area of the actual flower itself.  Finally, a slight s-curve was added in luminosity blend mode (50%) — slight masking of the flower again.

Think it looks OK?

[Update: Jerry Jones, if you ever happen across this know that I attempted to comment on your site and give you kudos but the robot prevention code thingy always said I entered the wrong letters…which I know isn’t the case.]

More Experimentation With The Brenizer Method

Bokehrama (cropped a bit) 50mm, f/1.4, 1/400s, stitched from about 20 frames

Single Frame (cropped a bit) 50mm, f/1.4, 1/400s

I’ve just got to get out and try this bokehrama thing (see my first post on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about) in a better setting but I’m posting this quick experiment for my friend Pete Talke (check him out here, here, and here).  At lunch today Pete was asking how this compared to just a straight shot with f/1.4 for example so I grabbed a couple of shots out in the yard to experiment.  For starters, you’ll just have to trust that my subjects were standing in the same place for each photo.  That’s not obvious given my differing position in the shots.  The top image is a bokehrama created from a stitch of almost 20 frames.  The second image is from a single frame.  Both were shot in manual mode with the same exposure @ f/1.4.  I bumped the exposure of all frames up equally but they are otherwise straight out of the camera.  I’ve made them a bit smaller in this post in hopes of allowing them to be viewed together on most screens.

I really don’t intend to scientifically analyze the shots.  I design microprocessors for a living and I get enough technical stuff at work and am not interested getting too deep into the techie stuff with photography.  Some random qualitative observations: You’ll notice that the bokehrama (top) has a wide-angle look and that’s simply because my panning around from a position close to the subject mimics what a wide-angle lens would do.  I cropped both shots to get make the subjects roughly the same size and you’ll note that the subjects in the single frame are super soft — the 50mm isn’t known for being all that sharp at f/1.4 and being cropped from a single frame it’s not a big surprise to see this.  The subject in the top image is very sharp (at least when viewed outside this post — hopefully you can see that on WordPress too).  Even if I zoom in quite a bit he’s still sharp because his image comes from a single frame where he filled much of the sensor.  Finally, with respect to the depth of field you’d be hard-pressed to get this bokeh out of many wide-angle lenses.  Note how the tree trunks have completely lost their detail in the bokehrama at the top image compared to the bottom one (which was also shot at f/1.4).

As I said, I want to try this in a different setting.  I also want to experiment with longer lenses (toward the longer end of my 70-200 f/2.8) to see what this does to the perspective and DOF.  There are probably different looks that can be achieved and your mileage may vary on how much you like it (both the bokeh effect and the wider perspective), which is of course one of the cool things about any art — it’s all subjective and personal.