Technique

Kauai Silhouette

Image

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.


Longhorn Open 2013

Paola Longoria

Paola Longoria   24mm, f/3.5, 1/800s, ISO 3200

The 2013 Longhorn Open (annual racquetball tournament at the University of Texas) featured the #1 ranked women’s racquetball player in the world, Paola Longoria.  Learn how to consistently hit shots like the one above and you’re one step closer to a #1 ranking.  I decided to take a few pictures on the final day of the tournament — just to see how they’d turn out.  I shot in manual mode and played around with the balance between aperture (depth of field), shutter speed (freezing the players and the ball), and high ISO (noise considerations).  The lighting was actually pretty good in most of the courts, allowing “reasonable” settings.  Most of the courts didn’t have any viewing area except from above.  That isn’t so great for pictures but I was just experimenting anyway.  Focusing was another challenge and I frankly never figured out a good strategy.


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.


Birthday Candid

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/8185029570/in/photostream

Birthday Candid 140mm, f/6.3, 1/160s, ISO 200

Our youngest turned one year old recently and on her birthday I wanted to capture a “good” portrait.  It would be her “official” one-year picture.  Of course I decided to try something I hadn’t done before — a high-key portrait with a white background — which ensured it would take three times as long as something I’m already comfortable doing.  I don’t have white seamless paper and I don’t have a proper background stand.  So…I have a huge (12′ x 20′ I think) white polyester background that I picked up on clearance for $20-ish.   I draped this over the back of a couple of chairs (with my subject being only a couple feet tall I didn’t have to worry about the height).  My main light was a speedlight into a reflective umbrella at high camera left, triggered by an  Elinchrom Skyport.  I placed a large white reflector on camera right and used a speedlight behind the subject to light the background.

My first issue was to decide how I wanted the background to actually look.  Blown out?  Super smooth (problematic with the deep creases in the freshly unpackaged cloth and being draped over uneven chair backs)? Don’t worry about it and fix in post?  From a quick internet search I learned that I couldn’t simply iron that polyester cloth and get rid of the creases in a few minutes.  In the end I went with an aperture that blurred the background somewhat but provided a safe depth-of-field for the shots.  My daughter was far enough from the background so it would be reasonably out-of-focus and I could reasonably edit it in post for a few shots if desired.  The background light was adjusted “to taste”.  I had planned to shoot with a much brighter background but the light was too uneven (no surprise when trying to light with a single speedlight in the center).

The shot above was taken as a test during setup.  The hair and clothes are a mess (hadn’t prepped her yet) — but it’s cute and I decided that this is actually one of my favorites.  The only edits were crop, slight WB adjustment, sharpening around the eyes, vignette, and the removal of a small scratch on the skin.  I really like the way it turned out overall even if the background isn’t ideal.


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.


Quit Using Auto White Balance

White Balance Fixed 50mm, f/1.4, 1/160s

Ever since taking Raul Touzon’s workshop I almost never shoot using auto white balance (AWB).  The camera rarely gets the white balance correct when it guesses, and the photos from a single shoot are often inconsistent in color when they are shot with AWB.  If they are going to be “wrong” when AWB is used, you might as well guess wrong yourself by choosing one of the manual white balance modes — at least the images will be consistent with each other.

Ideally one would shoot an image of a gray card (or a similar type of product) which has a known color and use it either to set a custom white balance in the camera or to sample it in software to do an automatic adjustment.  If I don’t use a gray card, I pick a WB mode (my default is “daylight”) and shoot everything with that.  In Lightroom I either sample a white point to fix up the WB or I adjust it to taste (I might even want to make it wacky here and there).

The shot above was snapped in the kitchen while I was testing my newly-repaired camper.  Canon had changed all my default settings of course and I don’t even remember what WB was set in the camera.  No matter, I simply used the WB eye dropper to sample one of the white polka dots on my daughter’s dress.  The image above is the result — straight out of the camera except for the white balance.

White Balance Settings In Lightroom

Original image:

Original Image


Chair Abstract

Chair Abstract 50mm, f/1.4, 1/50s, ISO 200

Just like the kite photo I recently posted, this image is out of the ordinary for me — I don’t shoot many abstract or fine art types of photos.  During the week I picked up my Canon 5D mkii from being repaired [related sad story below] and yesterday got a chance to fully check it out.  I popped my 50mm f/1.4 lens on the body and started plinking.  As I sat at our little breakfast table I opened the lens up completely and started shooting through the rails of one of the chair backs.  There were a lot of colorful things in the background which were nicely blurred by the wide aperture and close focus distance.  I then started shooting while moving the camera up and down, resulting in the image above.  I rather like it.  The image is straight out of the camera except for cropping.

So the sad story is this:  This year I decided to try shooting some pictures at a fireworks show.  I’d never done it — I’d rather concentrate on *watching* the fireworks and it just seemed like a headache overall.  Before the fireworks we attended a BBQ dinner catered by the Salt Lick and as dusk fell I hauled out the camera and tripod and began getting set up.  I put my wireless remote into the cameras hot shoe, put the camera on the tripod, then proceeded to adjust the length of the tripod legs.  I heard a loud crash — my 5D mkii hitting the pavement from a height of about 5 feet.  Looking on the bright side, the camera had turned over on the way down and landed flat on the wireless remote which was in many pieces all around us.  That definitely spared me from the damage I could have had.  The camera “worked” here and there but mostly gave an error.  It would even randomly try to focus the lens — when the power switch was off!  Anyway…a couple hundred dollars later I have my camera back refurbished and sporting a new shutter box and mirror assembly.  I managed to put all the remote pieces together but it was dead as a doornail.


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.


Happy Independence Day!

Love 24mm, f/13, 20s

I wish I had a photograph with some deep meaning behind it (maybe I’ll come up with one tomorrow), but all I have is this shot taken two years ago.  My wife was out of town over the July 4th holiday so I sent this to her.  This was my 2nd or 3rd try — kind of challenging to write backwards neatly in the air.

Hope all my U.S. friends have a great holiday!


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.


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


Fort Worth Water Gardens

Water and Steps 40mm, f/16, 0.4s, ISO 100

Taking pictures of flowing water is always fun but it requires a bit of experimentation.  Of course the definition of a “good” result is completely subjective — Do you want to completely lose the definition of the water? Completely blow out the water’s highlights? Freeze the motion or splashing of the water?  All of those things are cool at times.  My objective in these pictures was to open the shutter long enough to show the motion of the water yet keep some definition in some of the individual streams/strands of water as it flowed over the features of the water park (i.e. not turning all the water into a plain white blur).

There’s no one method to use when doing this.  My ideal aperture would be something around f/11 to be in the sharp range of the typical lens and have reasonable DOF.  However, I don’t own a neutral density filter so I sometimes have to stop down to be able to open the shutter as long as I’d like (I used f/16 in these photos, f/22 in some of the others I took).  Sometimes I’ll use my circular polarizer (gets me 1.5 to 2 stops).  I pick a shutter speed next — via experimentation to get the definition (or lack of) that I’d like in the water.  ISO is ideally 100 but I’ll vary that as necessary.  Then I play around with all three exposure variables until I get “good” results, the definition of which varies from outing-to-outing.

Composition options were endless in this park, but rather tricky.  Unless I was zoomed in very tight on a feature, the angles were such that something always looked out of whack.  When one feature was nicely framed, something else was awkwardly framed.  It made it rather interesting…

Post-processing was simple Lightroom tweaking.

Cascading Water 35mm, f/16, 1/4s, ISO 100


Moving Bus

Moving Bus 24mm, f/22, 1/6s

Practiced capturing some motion “stuff” during a recent-ish photowalk on the University of Texas campus. I think the red blur and subtle wheel-spinning pattern from the passing SUV adds to the photo.  To shoot this I set my aperture to f/22, pre-focused on the far lane and switched to manual focus, used some test shots to pick a shutter speed, and then panned with the next bus which came by.


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.


Candid Baby Girl

Smile 105mm, f/4.5, 1/20s

Most of our family’s favorite pictures are candids like these.  While at the dinner table our daughter was being cute as usual and the 50D was just sitting out from having been used for these pictures of a fawn.  My 70-200mm lens was attached and while I was tempted to open all the way up to f/2.8 (love the bokeh) I stopped down to f/4.5 to keep a little more depth of field in the portraits.  The toughest part, as always with a wriggling baby, was focusing on the eye and taking the shot before she moved out of the plane of focus — which was 2″ at the wide end of the lens with this body/lens combo @ f/4.5.  I had mixed success but the shots we ended up with are fun.  Exposure, contrast, vignette, and noise reduction in Lightroom…

170mm, f/4.5, 1/30s

I Want That Cup!!!  70mm, f/4.5, 1/45s


2011 NCAA Volleyball Championship

My daughters and I can’t wait for NCAA volleyball to start…

At most sporting events I’m in attendance because I want to *watch* the event.  I’m always tempted to carry my camera with me but I generally leave it at home so I’m not distracted.  When I attended the semi-finals of the NCAA volleyball championship this past December I left my camera behind.  However, when I saw that fans were allowed to carry in any camera/lens combo they wanted, I decided to take my camera and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to the championship match and at least take a few pictures.

While warm ups were going on I experimented a bit with settings.  When shooting any fast-action sport one is generally trying to freeze the action (there are exceptions to this of course).  If you don’t use a relatively fast shutter speed you have no chance of getting a decent photo of a hard kill for instance — unless your goal is to turn the ball into a blur that you can hardly see in the frame.  Manual mode is pretty much a given in a venue like the Alamodome as the light never changes and being very well-lit a fast shutter speed is possible (the gym where my daughters play is not so well-lit and a really fast shutter speed isn’t possible) .  For shots of the action on the court I settled on using manual mode with 1/750s to 1/1000s shutter, f/2.8 aperture, and ISO 2000.  Generally the only time you vary your exposure is if you are taking shots of the crowd as opposed to the court (the crowd near the court was lit a stop or so less than the court).

I was able to convince the elevator operator to allow me and my son upstairs to the skybox area so we could take some pictures from a different perspective.  While there, a pro photog plopped down two seats away from us and we got to chatting a bit.  I asked him what settings he typically used in the stadium and they were 1/1250s, f/2.8, ISO 2500 — not far off what I was shooting.  He said my settings were fine for the lens I was using (70-200mm) but he wanted that slightly faster shutter because he was using a 400mm lens and needed some help compensating for lens movement.  We talked about depth of field (DOF) a bit too.  Up in the balcony we were maybe 200 feet from the net which gave him a DOF of approximately 10-12 feet (depends on the camera body…he had one of the Canon 1D bodies I’m sure).  That really required accurate focus — if he accidentally focused on a back row the action *at* the net would be out of focus.  When I shot at 200mm, I had a great DOF of about 52 feet to work with.

My 5D mkii has great high ISO performance which is nice for these sporting events but one huge deficiency is its (relatively) low frame rate — not so great for sports.  I was kind of jealous of the pro as he machine-gunned frames when a kill was imminent.  Of course, the slow frame rate cuts down on the number of images I need to go through in post 🙂

The Kiddos…


Chadwick Lead Works

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6980991446/in/photostream

Chadwick Lead Works 5-frame panorama

This building, in the heart of downtown Boston amidst very modern skyscrapers, was once the home of Chadwick Lead Works (obviously).  Given that it was built in 1887 it was amazing (and rather charming) to see it standing in a modern downtown area.

This shot is a panoramic stitch of five frames taken from the sidewalk across the street.  I would shoot one frame then move down the sidewalk a bit to take the next shot.  Having been stitched from several frames you can zoom in and see quite a bit of detail (click the image to get to flickr where you can view the larger size).


Boston Skyline…Blue Hour

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/7116298547/in/photostream

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.


Milky Way, Central Texas Skies

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6891294400/in/photostream/lightbox/

Milky Way, Central Texas, 17mm, f/4, 30s, ISO 1600

Our family went on a great camping trip in Central Texas this past weekend.  I woke up at about 5 am on Saturday morning and stepped outside to amazing skies.  I thought to try my hand at some night sky photography but had no idea where my camera, tripod, and wide-angle lens were at the moment.  Of course I was not about to shine a light and go looking for things, especially with our 4-month old soundly asleep.  So, Saturday night I set the appropriate gear out in case I woke up early Sunday morning.  I *did* wake up early and spent a bit of time trying to get some good images of the stars.  I experimented with aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and found some reasonable combinations.  Only later did I hear of the “600 rule” which says that for these night shots you should set your max shutter duration to 600 divided by your focal length if you want to avoid obvious star trails.  My results roughly correlate with that.  A quick internet search yields all sorts of information about night sky photography and post-processing by stacking images…I’ll leave it to you readers to do that research if you’re interested.  I may dig deeper someday myself.

I tried a bit of light painting in an attempt to barely show the trees and add interest to the photo but all I had was a Streamlight brand flashlight (an amazingly bright little pocket flashlight which I highly recommend).  I first of all didn’t want to disturb any campers and then even when I could shine the light away from other campers it was simply too bright to have reasonable control over the exposure.

I believe the glow on the horizon is from San Antonio.  The city is quite far but a long exposure will pick that up quite a bit.  The camera is definitely pointing toward the city.

In the image above you can see a faint shooting star to the lower left of the milky way clouds (kind of tough to see at this size). In the shot below I captured a more obvious shooting star but the overall image is kind of boring.  I did minimal processing on these — noise reduction, slight contrast adjustments.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6894569100/in/photostream/lightbox/

Shooting Star


Seattle Skyline…Rained Out

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6840336856/in/photostream

Kerry Park, Seattle, Bokeh Panorama 50mm, f/1.4, 1/2000, ISO 200, stitched from 16 frames

My daughters and I went to downtown Seattle today to hang out and on the way we stopped in Kerry Park (thanks, Jim Nix for suggesting it).  I had low expectations regarding the weather but did hope to grab a skyline panorama in any case.  Long story short, the rains came and other visitors got in the way somewhat so all I managed was the quick, handheld bokeh panorama (from 16 frames) shown above.  I look at it as making lemonade out of lemons — we did what we could given the conditions.  I gave up on my plans for a high-res (zoomed in and in-focus) panorama since the rain was hard and blowing directly on to the lens.  We headed to lunch at Pike Place Market and afterward the clouds broke and the sun peeked out.  We headed back to Kerry Park on our way back home but by the time we got there it was raining hard again — could barely even see across the water.  I didn’t bother trying any more photos.  I may try some black and white treatments with this one someday…


Filters And Layers

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6967631567/in/photostream/

Twirl

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6821511114/in/photostream

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.


Hail!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaeltuuk/6821499550/in/photostream

Hail! 30mm, f/10, 1/40s, ISO 100

Writing from the friendly skies between Austin and Seattle…

We’ve been getting a lot of rain in Austin lately, which is a huge blessing! I worked from home today and shortly before noon the skies let loose with some hail. Despite the risk of damage to cars, roofs, and whatever else, it’s always fun to have a hailstorm. This one was good. Most of the hail was about marble-sized but for about 30 seconds we got some that was nearly the size of golf balls. It was quite entertaining to watch the large ones sky off the trampoline.

Of course I got the camera out. I realize the scenery isn’t all that interesting but the hail is IMO. You can see hail from the sky (falling right-to-left), from the roof (left-to-right), and bouncing helter-skelter off the trampoline. Using ISO 100 and playing with shutter speed and aperture I attempted to capture streaks of hail stones as opposed to freezing them (no pun intended) in time. While it would’ve been fun to play with a flash and stop the motion, I needed to get back to the job which pays the bills.

One final note: This hail came down at about 11:30am-ish and when my daughter and I left the house at 3:40pm there was still ice in the yard despite the fact that (1) it was March and (2) it had rained all day. It was amazing how much ice came out of the sky.


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.