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.
This sign just cracked me up. Driving in Redmond, Washington almost two months ago I came across this doctored sign and without the iPhone camera handy I wouldn’t have been able to share it with you. I’m not a big fan of iPhone photography necessarily. It’s a fine camera but I’m not enamored with it to the point some seem to be and it’s frankly a pain not to have control of the various settings most of the time. That said, in a pinch it’s very handy to have around. The only edit was a crop done in one of my iPhone photo apps (don’t remember which).
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 dailyshoot.com 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 🙂
My wife and I (and several in her family) attended a luau while in Hawaii last week. I have no idea what an old traditional luau was like or how authentic the festivities were but in any case it was immensely enjoyable. Knowing that the main show would be after dark, I fitted my camera with my 50mm f/1.4 lens. Night photography has never been something I’ve been good at (maybe that can be said about all my photography 🙂 ). I’m always going back and forth with myself on the best combination for getting good exposures — shutter/aperture/ISO. Noise is always a consideration (not so much now that one of my bodies is a 5D Mkii).
For much of this show I wanted to mostly freeze the motion (like in the second shot above) so I shot in manual mode with an aperture between 1.4 and 2.8, shutter speed in the 1/500s – 1/640s range, and ISO 1600-3200 (the stage lighting varied from act to act and I tweaked settings accordingly). Depth of field wasn’t much of an issue because my focus point was quite far. However, I also spent time trying to capture some of the motion in the dances. I was shooting handheld so I did have to consider that when deciding how long to open the shutter. I played around with various shutter speeds and came out with some fun shots. For the fire shots I had hoped to be able to reduce the exposure enough to avoid blowing out the highlights of the flames completely but in doing so I ended up underexposing everything else much more than I liked. In the shot above I like the balance between capturing motion in the flame yet keeping some clarity in the dancer. Some shots blurred things more (see image below) and that’s interesting in its own right but I prefer the balance in the shot at the top of the post.
Processing was quite simple for all these shots. I shot with daylight white balance so that I effectively captured the colors consistently. The color turned out rather well. I used a bit of clarity and sometimes bumped the exposure up a hair in Lightroom. Finally, I exported from Lightroom with a preset that ran the images through a noise reduction action (using Noiseware) in Photoshop.
Last summer I took my 6 year old son camping for the weekend at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS…see this post, and this post). I didn’t do a lot of photography but managed a few shots to document the weekend.
The night shot that I recently posted from Big Bend National Park brought to mind some of the pictures I took at night at PINS. The shot above had some really cool clouds and it looked to me like an angel with its wings spread across the ocean (kind of sappy I know). The surf is always pounding down there but I like how the long exposure gives the Gulf a smooth look.
I can’t explain why, but the view of the stars from the beach is every bit as clear and amazing as the view in the middle of west Texas (which has some of the darkest skies in the US). Depending where you are on the beach you may be as close as 15 miles from Corpus Christi — a decently-sized metro area of about 430,000 people according to wikipedia. There’s a lot of glow from the city but on a cloudless night the Milky Way is as clear as ever (looks like clouds in the sky). Obviously this picture was taken with a bright moon which kills much of the view of the stars so there were no Milky Way pictures that night.
My goal was to make this image rather dramatic given the cloud formation and the processing steps to get there were rather simple. In Lightroom I removed a couple of stars within the angel shape with the spot removal tool. They detracted from the aesthetics of the overall image because they were too bright. [My opinion is that one is free to do this kind of thing as long as they don’t dishonestly portray the final result as 100% accurate]. Then in Photoshop I used the channel mixer to tone the image to a blue-ish monochrome — I didn’t want a straight black and white image. [David Nightingale’s tutorials have inspired a lot of experimentation with things like the channel mixer and with “dramatic” images in general]. I used a vibrance adjustment to back off on the blue a bit (couldn’t quite figure out the channel mixer settings to get the color just how I wanted it). I added one general s-curve and then another curve masked in to provide a touch of vignette. Some noise reduction and sharpening for the stars topped that off the Photoshop work. Once I was back in Lightroom I tweaked the color a tiny bit more because I wasn’t quite satisfied upon a second look.
On a whim last weekend, my wife and I went to stay at a nearby resort called the Hyatt Lost Pines. It’s a great place set on 405 acres along the Colorado River near Bastrop, TX. Our goal was purely to get some relaxation time and we accomplished that in spades. The rough schedule was eat, read, nap, snack, walk, read…then repeat it all again. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
On a side note, many people who haven’t ever been to Texas think only of plains and tumbleweed (that pretty much sums up my picture of Texas when I lived in Illinois). However, the geography of Texas is quite varied and the eastern portion — starting around the location of this resort just east of Austin — is full of tall pine trees. Bastrop has dense areas of pines and this continues through much of the eastern part of the state. I’ll leave it to the reader to research where the “Lost” reference in the resort’s name originates but now you know why the “Pines” reference is applicable.
I managed a few pictures early Sunday morning. Normally on a trip like this I make it a point not to “do photography”. However, since the goal was to do whatever we found relaxing, I did spend about 45 minutes taking pictures early Sunday morning. There were many interesting things to photograph in the halls and main lobby but there were a surprising number of people milling about at 6am so I was limited somewhat.
The photo at the top of the post shows a table which was made from the trunk of one of six large pines which were removed from the property. It was a nice centerpiece for the main lobby and had a finish with the potential to provide some great reflected images. It wasn’t meant to be though as I didn’t find any pleasing compositions at the correct angles to make use of the mirror-like properties of the table. I tonemapped six exposures in photomatix then masked in pieces from the original exposures. One tricky thing about this image was controlling the white balance because the room was heavily tungsten-lit. I kept a lot of that warmth but found that each exposure had a bit of a different color cast and had to be individually adjusted in order to match the tonemapped layer for masking. I ran a copy of the nearly-finished image through Topaz Adjust and included that at about 60% opacity. Finally I used two curves adjustment layers to tweak parts of the image and selectively used Noiseware for noise reduction in parts of the frame.
This picture below of the main lobby was processed in much the same way as the above image. Note the light fixture hanging from the ceiling. It was also made from one of the pines on the property.
The final image is a panorama stitched from 10 frames. Due to the way I shot the frames I was left with a piece of sky which had no pixels and thus I either needed to crop the image accordingly or clone in some sky. I chose the cloning route and it turned out reasonably…I’m not overly skilled with the cloning tool. I increased the exposure of the buildings with an adjustment layer and mask. Then I increased the tonal range of the sky with a curves adjustment layer and mask. “Increased the tonal range of the sky” makes me sound really smart but I have to admit that I got that from David Nightingale’s tutorial on curves (see here: http://www.chromasia.com/tutorials/online/curves/). This really helped to sky out a lot. I added some noise reduction here and there and voila…a panorama of the main lobby area of the resort. It’s nothing too exciting but it was good shooting and post-processing practice. It really has to be viewed large to appreciate it (click on the image to view on flickr).
Desperate to do *something* photography-related I was going through some old bracketed exposures. I had the thought of looking through old exposures after reading Mike Criswell’s (aka Theaterwiz) blog (see this post: http://theaterwiz.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/rust-never-sleeps/).
I came across some brackets for this man-made waterfall I shot in TN a long time back and decided to do a little processing to see what look I could bring out in the rocks. I noticed that the center exposure was nearly a perfect exposure in the sense that almost nothing was blown out or unexposed. I decided to try tonemapping two versions — one using the two lighter exposures and one using all three exposures. After tonemapping each with the same settings, I processed them exactly the same way: blended the tonemapped layer with Topaz adjusted version of that layer at 50% opacity, added a saturation adjustment layer with +6 for the saturation, and a slight s-curve adjustment layer.
It’s very subtle and you may not really even be able to see much difference here on the blog, but the image using only two exposures has better color and contrast. The part of the image where the waterfall hits the rocks is more pleasing as well. Now, I could easily process the “poorer” image further and make it look almost exactly like the two-exposure version — mask in original exposures to get the water looking how I want and adjust color and contrast. However, no need for that if I start by tonemapping only the exposures which provide useful information. That turned out to be two exposures for this image — maybe I should call it MDR for “medium dynamic range”. Here’s the 3-exposure version. I don’t think you’ll see the difference on the blog but included it anyway for those of you with a discerning eye.
One might point out that possibly I didn’t choose a good center point to start with but in this case a brighter exposure wouldn’t have been useful either as I really don’t want to bring out any more details in the shadows. It was an overcast day and, if it weren’t for the brightness of some of the water, a single exposure would have done the trick.
Anyway, I thought this quick experiment mildly interesting and thought I’d share it. I was going to make a fancy split image thing for you compare side-by-side but it just isn’t dramatic enough to make the effort 🙂
Off to Paris this morning with my wife. We never really had a honeymoon so this is it — after 23+ years of marriage. We’re pretty excited about it.
This is NOT a photo trip. Of course I’m taking the camera but only a bare minimum of gear. None of my ‘L’ lenses are in my bag (going with the lighter options). The tripod is going along just in case but I’m not carrying it with me everywhere. I’ve got 32Gb worth of memory cards to last me a week — not taking a laptop to empty the cards. I typically shoot in RAW format but I’ll make the switch to jpeg if I get short on space. Bracketing for HDRs? I’ll do a few but with limited card space I can’t go crazy.
Sometimes I have a brief panic about the fact that I’m going to Paris (and spending a day in London) and will not be making the most of the photo opportunities. However, I quickly am reminded that my relationship with my wife is far-and-away the more important thing…and I’m fine with that.
See you in a week or two!
Practice makes perfect as they say. The shot above — which is by no means perfect — was the result of some practice attempts to capture the motion of an Austin Capitol Metro bus as it sped up South Congress Ave toward downtown. I was taking a photo workshop and the main purpose in taking this shot (and a whole series of others like it) was to get better at capturing a subject going by and get it in focus. Of course there were many other considerations like exposure, etc but mainly I wanted to practice the setup and the panning (handheld) of the camera.
I was using “Raul’s Rules for Motion” as I’ve taken to calling them. A few hours before this shot was taken, Raul Touzon had explained to our photo workshop his method for doing shots like this. Here are his rules:
1) 1/15s (or slower) shutter speed
2) Multi-frame mode
3) Pre-focus on subject’s path and turn off auto-focus
4) Shoot perpendicularly to the subject’s motion (ie the line between you and the pre-determined focus point is perpendicular to the subject’s travel path)
5) Follow the subject to get in a rhythm (lock onto its motion) and start shooting before it reaches the point you focused on
For the workshop critique we had to present images straight out of the camera but here I’m showing one post-edit. I played with all sorts of tweaks and settled on this treatment. Here’s basically what I did (all using Lightroom): B+W…some vignette, mild clarity and contrast adjustments, and used the adjustment brush to add a bunch of contrast and clarity to the bus. I added extra clarity to the cross walk lines to highlight them a bit as well. There are some weird streaks in the top of the image — maybe a bird in the frame? Not sure, but it adds to the mystery of all the background blur.
This shot didn’t have perfect execution — I would prefer that the bus was a bit sharper — but I like it anyway. I like the how the cross walk lines lead to the bus and how the circular motion can be seen in the street in the foreground — exaggerated by the 15mm focal length that was used. The bus stands out just like it is supposed to as well. I’ll certainly experiment with this type of shot again.
Other posts (from me) about Raul Touzon’s workshops: https://michaeltuuk.wordpress.com/2010/04/27/my-first-photo-workshop-experience/, https://michaeltuuk.wordpress.com/2011/03/01/raul-touzons-portable-sun-workshop/, https://michaeltuuk.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/zipping-by/
There has been a worldwide outpouring of support for Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January. Governments contributed on behalf of their countries. Individuals donated time, money, and materials. Our son spent time in Haiti helping deliver much-needed healthcare.
Last night I took in a soccer match at Austin’s House Park and what a perfect night for a game — temps in the 70’s, mild breeze.
What does that have to do with Haiti? The game was friendly match between the Austin Aztex (pro team in the USL) and the Haitian National team. The Haitian team has no home currently because their stadium is serving as housing for displaced Haitians. The Aztex did not charge for attendance and donations of cash, cleats, and other soccer gear to benefit Haitians were being taken at the door.
I brought the camera along just for fun. I took some shots here and there but mostly concentrated on watching the game. Although I have zero experience with sports photography, I managed to capture a few cool action sequences. However, the images that are my favorite were captured *after* the match. I had wandered behind the goal for the last few minutes of the game. The whistle blew and I prepared to make a beeline to the exit. What stopped me was the fact that as soon as the match ended, the players who had been adversaries for the past 90+ minutes suddenly became friends and began to hug each other. That isn’t unusual after a sporting event but I had a sudden sense of what the Haitian team members must be going through emotionally. I flipped the camera back up and captured a few images of this scene.
Oh — the match was a 0-0 draw.
[Update: The match drew 4132 in attendance and raised $11,500]
So — I finally found a camera bag that I like and am not going to return for a refund. Mind you, it’s not the perfect bag for all situations (no such bag exists IMO), but it fits my immediate need for a bag to carry some gear in a manner I’m comfortable with. Bags are such a personal thing but I thought this little review might give someone an idea of what to expect from the Domke F-2.
The type of bag I was searching for was something to carry on photowalks and also transport my camera and a lens or two in the trunk of my car (keep gear from rolling around and be available so I can just grab the bag if I decide to stop and take an impromtu photowalk). I was also hoping to find a bag which would do double duty and serve as a half-camera/half-general-purpose bag on an upcoming trip to Europe. Since I’m fortunate enough to live in a city which has a full-blown camera shop (Precision Camera in Austin, TX) I was able to take my gear into the store and try packing it in various bags — that helped eliminate many possibilities up front. I also had a friend who allowed me to borrow a Kata sling for a month or two.
I ended up really liking the Domke in the store and when I first used it “for real” I just loved it. The image below shows the bag along with the gear I’ve recently been carrying in it. I could easily fit more if I chose to stuff every corner. Please excuse the lousy product shot using on-camera flash and taken with no thought regarding setup or background.
I had the following gear packed in the Domke F-2 with room to spare:
Canon 50D with Sigma 10-20mm and hood
Canon 24-70 f2.8 L with hood
Canon 70-200 f2.8 L with hood – sticks up into the top flap a bit but isn’t problematic
Canon 50 f1.4 with hood
Canon 580EXII in its case
Lens cleaning stuff
Hand strap (for the bag)
Black Rapid RS4 strap
coiled flash sync cord
cable shutter release and a wireless remote
batteries, mem cards
Granted, the bag was heavy with those items but they easily fit and I still found the bag easy to work out of. The shoulder strap is a couple inches wide and is quite comfortable. Note that I wouldn’t normally carry all that gear but I wanted to put the Domke through its paces.
The bag itself is extremely lightweight and forms to your body. There are removable inner compartments (velcro) but even when those are used, the outer shell of the bag remains flexible and allows the bag to effectively collapse and shrink into a smaller bag when you don’t stuff it full. This is a big plus in my book — I don’t like the stiff, permanently-shaped bags. A downside to this is that there’s no outer padding (just the internal compartments are padded).
The four outer pockets (two in front, one on each end) have no padding whatsoever. Advantage: pockets collapse small when not used. Disavantage: if you’re putting delicate items in those pockets you need to be extra careful with your bag.
Zippers…the only zipper on the bag closes the pocket on the inside of the top cover. I wish there were zippers on a few other pockets because the loose flaps make me a bit nervous that something small might fall out or that someone with a small hand might be able to grab something out unnoticed when in a crowd. The top cover includes two metal clips in addition to velcro to keep it securely closed.
I’ve tried shoulder/messenger bags, a sling, and backpacks. Each has certain advantages and disavantages but I found none to my liking before I tried this Domke. Of course, when it comes time to haul all the camera gear along with a laptop and other items, I’ll be shopping for a second bag and writing a second review…
The Domke is available in a regular canvas material or a waxed canvas. I chose the wax for a little protection.
[Follow-up: Attended a photo workshop after posting this…both our instructor and another pro in the workshop were carrying this bag]
[Follow-up #2: Lugged this bag all over Paris and London. Carried my 50D, 10-20mm Sigma, 18-200 Sigma, batteries, cards, etc. and still had plenty of room for maps, my jacket (had to stuff it when both the jacket and camera were in the bag at the same time), phone, water bottle…still love this bag. I would have liked a shoulder pad for those days I carried the bag for 12+ hours, but the strap is wide enough that it wasn’t really a problem.]
I happen to be one of those types who loves the military. I’ve never been in the services myself but many family members have. I’ve got nothing but respect for those who serve and it bugs me when people diss them.
I also happen to love (fast) military aircraft. I don’t geek out about them in the sense that I get to know everything about them — they just impress me to no end and my jaw drops when I see them perform. When I remind myself that the performance I’m watching (the Blue Angels for example) consists of jets performing maneuvers at one-third to one-half their maximum speed, I’m even more impressed. What I wouldn’t give to witness a high-speed pass at full speed! I remember the days when Bergstrom Air Force Base was still open in Austin. Several times a day pairs of (old) F4s would fly over our house. I loved how the whole house would rumble when they flew by.
The picture above was taken at Kingsville Naval Air Station (Kingsville, TX) and shows a host of T-45 Goshawk training aircraft used by the modern-day Navy to train pilots. When I saw these my first thought was of my grandfather, who did his Naval flight training in Kingsville and Corpus during WWII (he would have loved to fly these). My grandfather graduated from flight school on August 14, 1945 and says “When the Japanese heard I was coming they surrendered immediately”. These T-45s also bring to mind all the current pilots who are preparing to be the next wave of defenders of our freedom. I respect them.
The image above was created from three exposures which were then fused (not tonemapped) in photomatix. The single, center exposure wasn’t too bad but fusing brought back the blown-out sky and added subtle detail in the cockpit and landing gear. Did very basic curves and sharpening after that.
A friend who’s running for a state-level office had made arrangements to take photos with Texas Governor Rick Perry at an event and asked me to take the pictures for him. While milling around I was shooting candids using my flash for some fill. I got wildly mixed results — some shots looked great, sometimes faces were blown out.
I noticed some pro photogs also shooting with flash so when one of them was taking a break I asked him how he was using his flash — What modes, settings, etc. He was more than happy to discuss it and pulled me off to the side so he could explain the way he worked. I thought I’d pass on his tips to you. On a side note, after he pulled me aside he commented “I really like the way you carry your camera”, referring to my recently acquired Black Rapid RS-4 strap (which I completely love — check one out sometime).
First, some description of the shooting conditions: Mix of complete shade, mottled shade from trees, and some completely sunny areas. It was about 8:30am, sun still relatively low which caused a half-moon effect depending on your shooting angle (full sun on half the face, shaded on the other). It was very easy to get blown-out highlights on the sunny side.
The way both of these pros typically shoot in conditions like this is as follows (probably obvious to you experienced photogs). Flash in E-TTL (both were Canon shooters). Camera set to shutter priority mode with a shutter speed of 1/250 (max sync speed). One used a sync cord to move the flash off-camera, the other had his on-camera. Both dialed in -2/3 flash exposure compensation and only changed that if they weren’t getting good results. One of them explained that he would try to catch 6-7 frames of a situation (for example taking a shot of the Governor shaking a hand) in relatively rapid succession in order to bracket his flash exposure. Basically the first shot gets full flash and subsequent shots get varied flash power depending on how much the flash had recharged. He picks the best exposures in post. Not very scientific but he’s been shooting 50-ish years…must be effective and certainly is easy when shooting digitally (I didn’t ask him what he did in his film days). The other photog that I talked to said he pretty much shoots this way also. I was already finished shooting and about to head out so I didn’t get a chance to try this out myself.
For anyone who wants to check out this guy’s work, check out harrycabluck.com. Here are some of the very cool pics you’ll find on his website: Carlton Fisk celebrating his winning home run in the 1975 World Series (most of us old folks have seen that picture many times), Franco Harris with the “immaculate reception”, Terry Bradshaw in the Steeler’s locker room. Amazing stuff.
I found an article about him and it said that he was in JFK’s motorcade when he was assassinated and has taken photographs of every president since then. He’s covered “more Superbowls, World Series, and national championships games than he could remember”. What an interesting (and very pleasant) guy. He gave me his card and I think I’m going to call on him one of these days and see if he’ll trade a lunch for some stories.
One parting piece of advice Harry gave me: Keep your non-photography job so you can afford to keep taking pictures 🙂
Thought I’d share a couple more night shots from the recent photowalk with Alex Suarez & Co in downtown Austin. Both shots are 3-exposure HDRs. The shot above shot is on 6th St. and shows a typical stretch of the club district before any crowd developed. The shot below shows the intersection of 6th and Congress from the vantage point of the parking garage.
I processed both of these mostly as an exercise in improving my work with night scenes. Even though I had abandoned tonemapping for some of my recent night shots, I found it to work reasonably well for both of these images. In truth, the main “skill” I learned was patience. Each image had to be worked on little-by-little in order to properly bring out certain details. Sometimes the original exposures needed processing to make them suitable for blending with the tonemapped layer. The skies needed to be masked in, noise needed some reduction (and then some masking to keep detail where necessary). I had to determine how I wanted to show the traffic (mostly still-ish or really bookin’?) — and then had to work to execute on what I decided. Lots of work around some of the lights…I spent a fair amount of time on these images, but it was enjoyable.
On a side note, while I processed these images I “watched” (half watched, half listened) some episodes of Foyle’s War. Look it up on the net. Really great show (available on Netflix).
Let me know how you like the images…or Foyle’s War.
I always liked the stars that adorn the gates and fences on the Texas Capitol grounds. I played with variations of this shot for a while but couldn’t seem to capture what I really had in mind — both the star and the Capitol in focus, with this perspective. The formula may exist but I didn’t figure it out. The wide-angle lens (used for this shot) gave a perfect perspective but I had to use a focus distance which precluded a deep depth-of-field. Stepping back with the wide lens pulled in some out-of-balance elements (IMO) of the gate unless I centered the star (blocking the Capitol building). Tried the 24-70mm but the bit of added compression in perspective wasn’t quite to my liking. That compression does help square up the star and Capitol relative to each other but again, it wasn’t what I was after.
I decided to post the shot anyway — still an interesting shot IMO and I hope you enjoy it. It’s interesting how the tonemapping process turns the background blur into a somewhat dreamy scene while keeping the star a nice, realistic focus point. I might experiment with this shot again someday.
On Wednesday I left work mid-afternoon — wasn’t feeling so great. I walked in the door at home, said ‘hi’ to my family while making a beeline to my bed. Three hours later I woke up to miserable aches and fever. While (barely) standing at the sink to get a drink of water I looked through the window and saw my daughter swinging. Loving that backlight from the sun, and remembering that the dailyshoot assignment was to take a photo using natural light, I grabbed the camera (which is always handy) and took this shot. I purposely included the window frame to give a sense of someone inside looking out. Headed right back to bed for the night at that point…
I had in mind to try and use the window frame in a rule-of-thirds mode but it just didn’t work out with the other elements in the frame as I tried options. Of course I only tried for about 30 seconds because I couldn’t get back to bed fast enough. I got a little lens flare…that’s OK sometimes and doesn’t detract from this shot IMO.
Finally processed the image the next day — picked a preset in Lightroom, added a bit of warmth and clarity — done.
A friend called up this afternoon to let me know that a “photographic opportunity” was coming up this evening. The University of Texas Men’s swim team had won the national championship so the UT Tower was being lit orange tonight in their honor. Now, I’m not a huge UT fan (flame away) but as a photographer I recognized that it truly was a unique chance to get a great image. I really felt like staying home for the evening (my wife and I had bagged some errand plans for that very reason).
My wife reminded me that I’d regret not going so I packed up and went to campus with one of my daughters. The weather was perfect and we had a great evening out. I even took some street portraits for some ladies who wanted their picture taken with the tower in the background. They were quite the jokesters — “I want my head put on Sandra Bullock’s body…I want so-and-so’s body…Do a lot of that soft-focus thing on my face”. We had a good time.
The image above was generated by taking four manual exposures then using Photomatix to fuse the exposures (no tonemapping). I used to darkest exposures to bring back a few highlights. I’ve only played with fusing exposures a little, but I’ve found it to generally produce a nice, clean image. If fusing did not work out I would probably have gone the composite route (manually blending the exposures in Photoshop). I didn’t even try tonemapping as I often don’t like it much for night shots. I added some sharpening a smidgen of clarity in Lightroom. That’s all I did — no noise reduction, no curves.
I hope all you UT fans like this photo. Well, I hope you all like the photo…
For the past several years I’ve taken my family to watch the Blue Angels perform in Corpus Christi. This year my family was out of town during the performance but nonetheless I made the trek to Kingsville Naval Air Station to watch them this year. I carried two lenses: a 70-200mm to capture some of the aerial performances and a 10-20mm wide angle which I used for 80% of the ground shots.
I took only a few pictures of the Blue Angels performance this year (I really like to *watch* and didn’t want to be overly distracted always trying to get the best shots). However, I took plenty of shots of the static displays on the ground. I bracketed many (shooting handheld) in hopes of generating some HDR images from the show. On side note, I did try the panning IS mode on my 70-200mm lens and it did an amazing job capturing jets screaming past.
The image above was generated from three handheld exposures and shows the underside of a B-1 bomber with it’s bomb doors open — and a couple young girls doing some modeling. It was quite a processing challenge (for my skill level anyway) due to the movement in the crowd. In a night shot I’ve found masking in crowds to be far simpler because the darkness of the shot generally gives you a lot of leeway. With a day shot like this I found it very difficult because when you mask in a moving subject from a particular exposure you often bring in bits of background (previously hidden by the moving subject in the tonemapped image) which severely differ from the tonemapped image. Adding to my difficulty was the smoke in the background sky from the Tora, Tora, Tora performance. As I worked to fix the background after masking this smoke created challenges in cloning in some sky…a great exercise for improving my skillset.
Here’s the rough outline of my processing on this image: Tonemapping in Photomatix and lots of masking to get the people looking OK. On a duplicate layer I played with exposure and contrast to adjust the sky to my general liking then I masked it in where I could — I wasn’t able to mask in everything around the people because of them being in a different position. To get around this I used the clone stamp to add sky where needed (had to do this a bit on the ground as well). I used Topaz Adjust to modify another duplicate layer and masked portions of that in. Exposure/Levels/Curves followed that. Finally, I tried a new sharpening flow which I picked up from @TipSquirrel today. It involved using “Stamp Visible”, converting the new layer to a smart object, then using unsharp mask with that layer set to luminosity blending. Probably unnecessary for this image but I wanted to learn something new.
I’m pretty happy with the image — my first handheld HDR (though it isn’t too hard to get decent exposures in broad daylight) and certainly the most challenge I’ve faced relative to the need to mask moving subjects. Do you like it…?
Center exposure: 10mm, f11, 1/2s, ISO 100
I didn’t attend the University of Texas but I take advantage of the architecture (by photographing it) on campus whenever I can. My alma mater (the University of Illinois) has some incredible architecture as well and I can’t wait to do a photowalk there someday. In general universities have very unique buildings and places which are a joy to look at (maybe that’s why higher ed is so expensive).
Construction of the UT Tower began in 1934 and completed in 1937. It was originally intended to be used as a library. Students would fill out a slip requesting a book and it would be sent up via tubes (think bank drive-thru). Books would be sent down via an 18-story dumbwaiter. It’s primarily used as office space at the present time.
Rather than present the typical shot of the tower itself I chose this hallway beneath the UT Tower. It’s a great subject to photograph as there seemingly are a thousand angles and perspectives to choose from. There are also many unique textures — stone walls with imprints of shells, stone tile floor, wood ceiling. Hope you enjoy the shot.
My daughter and I recently took up the task of doing a daily shooting assignment handed out by the folks at http://dailyshoot.com. I’m finding many benefits to this:
– Simple ideas that challenge me to increase my photography skills.
– A project to do with my daughter
– Accountability (sort of)
Regarding the last point, while I have an assignment so to speak, I don’t *have* to complete it if I’m not interested in a particular one or if other obligations rule the day. I can put as much or as little effort into it as I’d like. I usually make a sincere effort to put thought into the idea and execution of an assignment. This includes thinking about ideas before pulling out the camera. Sometimes I never get time to actually set up and execute my planned shot and settle for something quick, but I believe that even just going through the thought process grows my creative skills.
Today’s @dailyshoot assignment was to take a photo that illustrates the coming of spring (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Immediately upon reading the assignment I knew that I wanted to capture an image with a redbud tree as they are in full bloom this time of year. Since I had to get up at dark o’clock to help the family get off to Colorado, I decided to head out before the sunrise to work on another photo project I have going. This brought me near the Capitol so I decided to use it as a backdrop for my redbud shot. The shot above is one of my favorites and I hope you like it too.
Another favorite shot was from the assignment to make an image of something being made or fabricated. For a while I couldn’t come up with anything interesting but suddenly I remembered the longbow I had been making. I arranged the bow and tools on my workbench and sprinkled some of the sawdust around. I played with different perspectives and compositions. A friend had loaned my a couple of lights so I even spent time working on lighting angles and balance. I ended up with a very satisfying shot — I made the bow, and I created the image from start to finish. Here it is:
Maybe you should consider some type of dailyshoot/365 project…
Even in the days before I truly was interested in photography I understood that zooming out and taking a picture near someone’s face makes their nose look big. However, I never really understood the full impact the choice of focal length makes on an image. I decided to write a simple post for my “more newbie than me” photography friends which will hopefully get you thinking about focal length with each shot.
Even the most amateur photogs know that a wide-angle (short focal length) lens will expand your field of view (zoom out = fit more in the picture). They also know that a telephoto (long focal length) lens will allow you to get closer to a subject. What many new photographers don’t understand is how the focal length can completely change the perspective of an image. They don’t understand the concept of “compression” or how lines completely change as focal length changes.
Let’s examine the two images below. In both of them the two subjects are standing 10 feet apart and the nearer subject fills up approximately the same percentage of the frame. In the wide-angle image on top, a focal length of 10mm was used and in the telephoto image, 200mm was used.
The far subject appears very distant in the wide-angle shot yet the subjects appear practically next to each other in the telephoto shot. We say that the telephoto lens (long focal length) compresses the scene (ie makes things look closer together). Why does this happen if the subjects haven’t moved? Ignoring the background for the moment, think of the total depth of the image as being the distance from the lens to the far subject. In the wide-angle shot this distance was 12′ and in the telephoto shot, about 80′. The 10′ distance between the subjects is roughly 84% of the depth in the wide shot (a large percentage of the total depth — therefore exaggerating the distance) vs. about 12% in the telephoto (a small percentage of the total depth — effectively compressing the subjects together). That’s a very crude explanation but hopefully makes some sense to you.
Note also how, in the wide-angle shot, you almost lose the fact that the far subject is standing slightly downhill but in the telephoto shot it appears that the ground just drops away — you can’t even see her feet anymore.
I remember noticing the effect of compression while watching the Olympic marathon trials in 2008 (Of course I had no idea about focal lengths or compression at the time — no idea *why* I was seeing it). A good friend of ours was competing so we took the time to watch the coverage. At one point in the race the leader had opened up some distance from the others. However, on one stretch of the course the camera focused on the runners as they approached and it appeared that her competitors had completely caught up to her — they appeared to be maybe 10′ behind. We were actually seeing the effects of compression from a telephoto lens. Footage from a helicopter showed that the leader still held a significant lead.
The choice of focal length also has a dramatic effect on perspective and appearance of lines in an image. Using a wide angle has the effect of making lines converge more quickly. Go shoot something with strong lines (a brick wall for example). Use your shortest and longest focal lengths to experiment.
One can also have some fun with the wide angle. This shot was taken right in front of this boy’s face with a 10mm focal length. Note the apparent huge eyes/head and tiny feet. There are all sorts of games you can play with perspective.
Do you simply choose a focal length on the basis of filling your frame with a subject? Or, do you take the time to choose a focal length and move your feet based on what you want to portray or emphasize? It can have a dramatic effect on the final image.
[Yes, I know the more proper title may be “To Tonemap or Not to Tonemap” but it just doesn’t sound as good]
HDR is fun — a downright blast I’d say. It’s very easy to get caught up in it to the point where you (1) always bracket your shots and (2) always tonemap in Photomatix or similar software. Why? The images are often stunning.
Lately I’m finding more and more high-dynamic-range situations where tonemapping isn’t my preferred option. Take, for example, these exposures of 6th Street in Austin taken on a photowalk organized by Alex Suarez during SXSW. I wanted to tone down the intensity of some of the lights yet show detail in other areas.
After tonemapping, I got this:
I played with combinations of settings and some were better than others. In the end though, no tonemapping settings produced an image which I was personally happy with. I decided to start with my center exposure as the base layer and see what I could do with it. I rather like the final result and I’ll explain below how I processed it. I’m sure there are better ways to do this but frankly I’m a CS4 novice and this fits in my current skill set.
Here’s the short description of what I did: I started with the layer which contained the normal (“0”) exposure on top. I placed the -2 exposure underneath, created a layer mask and blended the darker layer into some of the blown-out areas (neon signs for example). I darkened a few other spots according to my taste as well. Using the same masking process I blended in parts of the +2 exposure to bring out some detail in the shadows — went very easy on this because I still wanted this to look like a night shot under the streetlights. I also played with all the layers to get the look I wanted with the moving traffic.
Next, I had to do something with the people on the sidewalk. Ideally I would have taken them from the normal exposure but there was too much motion blur. The only acceptable exposure from this standpoint was the -2, but the subjects were far too dark. I simply duplicated the -2 layer and gave it some treatment — bumped up the exposure, played with the contrast, etc. — in order to make the sidewalk and people roughly match the normal exposure. This allowed me to blend them in reasonably and obtain the (roughly) still look I wanted. I also used that layer to touch up a few other areas. One of the guys in the foreground still ended up without an arm…but I worked with what I had and he was moving in all the exposures 🙂
Of course I finished off with curves, sharpening, etc.
So, that’s it…I hope you like the shot and I also hope I’ve inspired some simple non-HDR experimentation. I’d love to hear your comments, particularly related to what approach you might have taken to process a shot like this.
More about the picture of Texas Governor Rick Perry later in the post…
Anyone who knows me would tell you that as long as the discussion stays civil, I’m more than happy to sit and discuss politics over coffee or a meal. However, I try hard to avoid political discussion in any online setting.
Why? Here are some of the reasons:
1) It takes (me) a lot of time to write thoughtful, insightful, well-reasoned commentary. I don’t have the time (nor the skill probably) to write *well*. With verbal, face-to-face communication you still have to be thoughtful, insightful, and reasoned but you have the benefit of immediate rebuttal and explanatory remarks. You also have the advantage of seeing facial expressions and hearing the “tone” of the conversation.
2) The Kevin Bacon theory…There are six degrees of separation between the “I don’t agree with that” comment and the guy who says, “You’re a !#$%#$! jerk and your mother wears army boots”. People are very brave (and thoughtless) over an internet connection. What a waste of time. Now that I’m thinking about it I’d say it’s usually only 2-3 degrees of separation.
3) Discussions often end up in a barrage of anecdotes flying back and forth. Healthcare debates are a great example — “So and so died because they didn’t have health insurance” vs “So and so died because such and such country’s healthcare bureaucracy prevented them from getting care”. Both stories may be true…but did you really get anywhere in the discussion? Anecdotes have their place but IMO a handful of anecdotes are not a sufficient basis for most policy decisions.
3a) Candidate discussions tend to focus on anecdotes as well. In any discussion about imperfect humans there will be no shortage of flaws to point out. A candidate’s character, skeletons, inconsistencies (real or apparent), etc. are all important to evaluate. However, at some point one needs to make a judgment about who will do the best job, do the right things, etc. Online discussions of political figures rarely seem to get there…they’re mostly just rants about people you really only know through carefully-crafted sound bites (pro and con) and a few sentences of print.
So…about that photo of Texas Governor Rick Perry.
The Texas primary elections were held this past Tuesday. I’ll skip the details but my daughter and I ended up getting invited by a new acquaintance to Governor Rick Perry’s election watch party at the Salt Lick BBQ restaurant in Driftwood, TX. The Salt Lick is right around the corner from my house so we decided to join in. I stopped by my house and grabbed the camera and flash and headed over there.
I didn’t realize ahead of time how big a deal this was going to be. Every news outlet in the nation was there — I have never seen so many news trucks and satellite dishes in my life. CNN and a few others had immense broadcasting tour buses. Inside, the podium was lit by a wall of lights from all the news coverage. Maybe I’ll add a picture of that later…
Once inside we took care of “first things first” — hit the buffet line and ate some great BBQ.
I was using a Canon 50D with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens with my 580EXii on camera. I was fairly close to the action but had to experiment quite a bit with settings. The first problem I had was blown out highlights. The Salt Lick Pavilion is relatively dark and has dark wood on the walls and ceiling. The camera automatically thinks it needs a bunch of flash to light the scene. However, the main subject (the governor in the shot above) actually needs very little light due to the bazillion watts of light from the news orgs at camera right. When I let the camera have complete control with no compensation the governor’s face (at least the side toward the news lights) was completely blown out. I tried bouncing the flash — “no worky” — those dark wood ceilings and walls eat almost all the light. I had to shoot with the flash pointed straight at the governor then I experimented with a combination of dialing down both exposure and flash compensation to get my preferred combination of governor and background. I really just needed enough to see the crowd a bit and fill some shadows on the governor. Then there were all those other flashes going off which messed things up here and there…was a great photography learning experience.
I also took this shot below of my daughter with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Notice that there are almost no shadows on the faces. I did have the flash partially bounced off the ceiling here but the lack of shadow under the nose shows that almost all the exposure came from the part of the light that went directly from the flash to the faces. That’s my reading of the situation anyway. Love the face of that guy in the background!
We actually had a great time and met some interesting (in a good way) people at the event. I also learned some photography lessons along the way. Practice makes perfect.
Recently I went on a photowalk on the University of Texas campus with my friend Beecher. It was early morning on a foggy, drizzly Saturday and we hoped to capture some cool shots of some structures lit up in the fog. We had imagined shots of the UT Tower or Littlefield Fountain glowing in the fog-diffused light. What we got instead was enough drizzle to prevent us from wanting our gear out in the open.
What did we do? We found other things to shoot. We stopped by the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum where there are lots of overhangs under which to avoid the rain. I captured this shot of the (beautiful) lobby through the glass.
3-exposure HDR. Center exposure: 2s, f8, ISO 100, 12mm focal length
There were two tricky things to this shot. First, the reflections on the glass completely overwhelmed parts of the image so I leaned the lens hood on the glass and blocked the reflections with my hands. As you can see, there are some leftover reflections but I find them rather appropriate as they give a sense of where the shot was taken (outside the glass). In hindsight I’m glad that I wasn’t able to avoid the reflections altogether.
The second thing I had to deal with was the cleaning staff — they kept wandering around in the lobby and occasionally showed up in the exposures. I shot and re-shot. I timed my exposures such that the shutter would open when the staff was behind a pillar. This is much like when you are attempting a portrait in public and you have to ‘click’ at just the right time to avoid people in your foreground and background…just something you deal with.
Anyone else have tricks for shooting through glass? Or, do you have opinions on how to treat a shot from the standpoint of allowing/eliminating reflections? Do you purposely include them in your shots? Do you go through lengths to avoid them?