Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Personal Projects

This is for you and for me.  It is about the importance of finding interesting things to shoot during a normal day...not on a tour or a workshop, but at home or at work or out walking. Why is it important to have a personal project? Is it important or a waste of time?
Personal projects are one of the most important things you can do with a phone or point and shoot camera. You carry a phone around because it is small and relatively obscure; easily put in a pocket or pocketbook, but it is your link to better photography if you know how to think creatively. You will develop a better eye for composition if you use it regularly.
I often give myself little projects for the day or week when I am out walking my dog or driving around doing errands. Last week, even though I hate to compose with trees because they are so darn chaotic and difficult to make into a composition, the idea was to photograph trees for one week whenever I was out in the woods. Therefore, whenever I was walking the dog, I had my point and shoot or phone with me: looking, getting cranky, pulling ticks off, then looking for compositions again.
Attached are a few images from my week, they are not great shots that will win competitions, but who cares?
They are my practice images, forcing me to try harder to make sense of the forest and maybe learning a little more about graphic elements. You can photograph anything for a day or week..forks with different lighting, light bulbs, doorknobs, light fixtures; I have even stooped to photographing an old toilet discarded near a shed.
Don't be lazy; make the effort.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Creating Images with Impact

 All of us have seen photographs that move us emotionally. Images with impact or mood that have an elusive "something" that makes us go wow. It might be the color, light, composition or subject, but how it is presented to the viewer is what makes that image special. The Canadian Rockies are amazing in the right light, but pretty dull when cloud or fog covered. The ocean can be beautiful but it can be boring if the composition and light are bad. 
  Since I am primarily a landscape photographer, the light is critical to my images.  In the wrong light or bad light, images can really fall flat...I speak from experience. 
  There is a learning curve to photography, it takes time to develop an eye for good composition and a feel for lighting...it has taken me years of practice (and looking at photographs and paintings by masters of photography and art) to get somewhat proficient. But there are many days when my images fall flat and must be deleted: don't be afraid to delete the junk! Some people never delete images until they see them on the computer, however, I will delete in camera if the composition fails when I review them on the LCD. You must be cutthroat about your images, because as good as you may be in Photoshop or Lightroom, if your shots are bad, admit it..why waste time editing something that should be deleted. Some people don't like to shoot at the same places; that's ridiculous...I keep going back to Beavertail or other areas on the coast because weather is always changing; even my attitude changes day to day..I might be cranky one night, but in a good mood the next: it will have an impact on how I photograph.
   Here are a few examples of what I am discussing.  The first one is taken at Ponagansett Falls in Scituate. Be patient!  This night the sky looked like a dud, but as the sun set some clouds appeared on the horizon and things began to change..These three images were all taken within a half hour of each other.
The next image is a wide angle taken at Castle Hill in Newport. I was moving around on the rocks looking for a good composition about an hour before sunset. Always try to get to your location at least an hour prior to sunset; it gives you time to scout for the best spot and do test shots. The second shot was taken as the sun was setting and the clouds and rocks formed diagonals leading to the lighthouse.
The next image is in the Canadian Rockies...the first shot was taken without sun. It was cloudy and foggy but it was worth waiting for the sun to break through the clouds, because it burned off a lot of the cloud cover revealing the mountains in the background.
The last one is the combined use of twilight and slow shutter speed. The first ferris wheel shot was taken when it was not moving but was somewhat lit near twilight. The second, which is obviously better, was taken at twilight when there were passengers and the wheel was turning.

   I know a lot of photographers will tell you they shoot only at F8, the sweet spot on their lenses..that is nonsense. I shoot at F16, 18, 22...the diffraction is minimal with the newer lenses; I need to shoot at those apertures to allow light to hit the sensor a long time to get the effect I am seeking; F8 doesn't work for me unless there is wind, then I will use it on the foreground to stop movement..also, I use every filter imaginable on my lenses: soft edge grads, hard edge grads, NDs, polarizers, reverse NDs: whatever it takes to give me what I want... 
To me, the most important thing about getting an image with impact is looking at the world with awe. Nothing is jaded to me. Think of everything you see as if it were for the first time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Photographing at Home

  Most people tend to do most of their photography when on a workshop, meetup, tour, or on vacation. The problem with this is that between those times, there is almost no shooting.  The camera is put away until the next adventure; this leaves you at a disadvantage dealing with composition and creativity. To improve your eye, it is important to photograph consistently and in order to do this, it is necessary to shoot near home or even in your home.
   And it is important to know your camera well; this can come in very handy at night or when your flashlight fails. If you are struggling with your camera settings, how can you be creative? If you have custom functions, learn to use them. I am primarily a landscape photographer and have three custom functions set up for this genre.  If I am under pressure to shoot as the light is changing rapidly, these are my fall back settings:  they can be manipulated if necessary.
   A lot of you are saying,"It is boring where I live; there is nothing to shoot.". This is when you have to be creative and dig deep into your  brain for ideas. The images I have attached were all taken in or near my house.
This is a light bulb in a dark corner of my cellar...I flipped the image vertically.
The next image is a bunch of leaves on a thistle plant that I happened to pass on a walk with my dog.
The next image is a bunch of trees in the woods...nothing special about them, so I used a slow shutter speed and moved the camera vertically to get something interesting.
The final image is a coil of rope..that's it...it was at a boatyard lying on the ground. I picked it up and changed the shape of the coil so it had more of a vortex feel.
As you see, there is no great image here, but there is a learning opportunity.  They are all decent images that gave me an opportunity to work with composition and creativity. And even with color.
Maybe you have to force yourself to do it initially, but the exercise is well worth the effort.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Composing Creatively

  This image shows implied diagonals which drive the eye to the center and directly to the lighthouse. This is a very powerful way to get the viewer to look into an image. The clouds point to the lighthouse as do the rocks in the foreground...there is no doubt about where you are supposed to look. There is no escape from the dynamism; the use of diagonals aimed toward your subject is one of the strongest ways to lead the eye.

This is a photograph with a diagram of the Rule of Thirds imposed. The rule is often overused but if you are a newbie photographer it can help a lot to achieve a better composition. When I began photographing digitally quite a few years ago, it helped me to superimpose the grid on my live view image, so try it and see if it helps with composition.

The two images below demonstrate the use of time (with a 5 stop ND filter) to improve or change an image.  The top one is taken at f18, 24mm and 15 sec.

This image was taken with the same aperture and focal length, but with the 5 stop ND: the time was 150 seconds.
The feeling is totally different when an ND is used on an image..in the second image the clouds show more movement as they streak across the sky and the ocean is a lot softer.  So it is important to remember that time can change the whole look of an image. Also, any people moving will disappear from the image at 150 seconds.

Who says you can't use bulls eye images, and have to keep things out of the center? If a subject is round, it works well.

and remember that a spiral can really draw the eye into an image:

Curving shapes are also leading lines into an image; look for them everywhere: the curve of a beach or a stream. In this image of Mistaya canyon, the river leads the eye to the mountain in the distance:

Remember that while it is a good idea to keep the horizon out of the center of an image, sometimes with reflections it is best to keep the horizon dead center.

Balance is very important to an image: light and dark must balance and act as counterpoint to each other. Look at Rembrandt's images, he is the master of chiaroscuro...he placed light where it was important, yet maintained dark to balance the image. This image has light behind a seastack from the sun, but the dark, larger shapes on the left help to balance it.

Try to incorporate some of these ideas in your images, or not if you choose...but work to improve composition every day; be creative as a child again.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Learning light

   Light is the life force of all landscape photographers; it can make or break an image.  Learning about light should be your primary goal if you are a landscape photographer. This is an easy primer about light and the difference it can make in an image. Underexposing a stop will often increase the color saturation when shooting at the edges of light. Use graduated neutral density filters, polarizers and solid neutral density filters as needed.
   It is important to remember that when shooting sunrise or sunset there are clues that tell you where you are in the progression of light and time. When shooting at sunrise there a change of hue giving  an indication of the progression of daylight beginning with the predawn colors: blue, lavender, pink, red, orange, yellow...all of these may appear quickly one after the other and when it hits the yellow color, that's when you are about finished with sunrise.
  Sunset is the opposite but after sunset you may be able to continue shooting for quite a while in the twilight hours, even continuing into darkness if you choose to photograph the stars. So here is the progression of sunset: yellow, orange, red, pink, lavender, blue, then black...remember that an hour after sunset there is twilight with beautiful blue skies for photographing cities enabling the buildings to stand out against the sky; whereas with a black sky, the buildings have no edges and disappear.
Also, in the mountains and sometimes along the shore there is a brief moment of alpen glow when the sky suddenly lights up with a pink color after the sun sets.
Here are some examples of the effects of light on an image:

In the upper image, the light is too pale; it was shot a little too early for good color...the lower image was shot shortly afterward when the sun had almost set and color was intense.

Here in the Andes at Mt Fitz Roy: the first image was taken too late after sunrise so it is washed out..the lower one was taken as the sun hit the mountain directly and lit up the red granite.

 The two images below show the effect of photographing in a short time...the sky in the image at bottom was taken right as the sun came up and lasted about 10 seconds..but it gave some color to the sky.  The image below on left was taken a few seconds later when I put the camera in vertical position, however, the light was over.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Fun With Fisheyes

Hallgrimskirkja in Iceland

You have heard about fisheye lenses and have often seen them used for many weird images:
people with huge distorted faces, pets with massive noses, bent horizons, bizarre buildings, etc.  Do you want to use one?
Of course!
The fisheye lens can create absolutely amazing images unlike any other lens. The distortion of the fisheye lens compared to a rectilinear lens adds a completely new dimension to photography: creativity. And as photographers we want to be creative, don't we? But as with all good things, there can be bad results, therefore the lens must be used with discretion and only when it adds to an image, not detracts.
I have a Canon 15mm F2.8 fisheye.  It goes everywhere with me;  do I use it a lot?  No.
A fisheye lens is very light and usually small, therefore it is easy to bring along in your bag or in a pocket. You don't need filters, it would be hard to fit one on the bulbous front lens element, so if I am shooting, the bracket ability of my camera takes away the element of surprise when I review images.
By bracketing, I can combine the sky in one image and the foreground in another if necessary...many times it is not...
I have found that there are certain times a fisheye can do wonders for an image. Night sky images can be incredible. My thought process is simple: if it looks like a fisheye will add something to my composition, I try it...at least by trying the lens, it can be ruled out if the composition fails.
There are even telephoto fisheyes... many manufacturers have fisheye lenses: Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Rokinon.
The lens I have was about $600...they are usually under $1000...some can be found used at Amazon for a lot less.
Here are some examples that may get you motivated to rent or purchase a fisheye:

In this image, taken in Canada on a frozen lake, the camera was tilted down...when you aim down
with a fisheye the horizon becomes a semicircle and curves upward like the earth

In this image, the camera was tilted up, thus the horizon lowered to give a dished image.

If you can position the horizon dead center with your fisheye, it will be almost level and show very little distortion.
fisheye in a canyon
Looking up in a canyon at some ice climbers works well with a fisheye...anytime you are in a canyon and looking up, a fisheye can add extra punch to your image because it causes a circular form which the human eye loves.
This is Cape Kiwanda in Oregon; on this side of the cape there is a long peninsula reaching into the ocean. I thought a fisheye would capture the whole scene in a dramatic way...it seems to work

There are times at night when a fisheye can add a large amount of sky plus do good things to shapes in the foreground...the rocks in the next image are immense, but the fisheye compresses them in a unique way.

and as a final image, the fisheye can do some bizarre things to the interiors of abandoned buildings...this is an abandoned boarding house:
A few more thoughts on a fisheye:  remember that you can get incredibly close to a subject, sometimes just inches depending upon the lens...mine will focus down to a foot away...also, remember that the field of view is an incredible 180 degrees, something that no rectilinear lens can give you. The widest rectilinear lens is the Canon 11-24mm which has a field of view of 126 degrees.
Try it, you'll like it!

Monday, May 30, 2016

What would you do?

There are weird things that happen when shooting; cameras stop working sometimes, there are issues with the best way to shoot an image, and other things that might crop up; here are a few questions with some answers that may help you when in distress:

Q. What do I do when shooting raw, running out of space on the memory card and forgot to bring another?
A. Switch to shooting in jpeg large..you will have a lot of space on the card...better to get a jpeg than nothing.

Q. My camera gives me an error message or stops working: (start with #1 and work your way down the list if nothing is working.) How do I prevent myself from tossing the camera into the ocean?
A. 1. remove and replace the battery; power up again.
     2. replace the battery with a new one.
     3. after doing the above, and camera isn't right, return to default camera settings.
     4. upload the latest firmware
     5. Call a rep from the manufacturer. (Actually, this happened to me. The ability of my camera to auto focus was lost, I couldn't get the center focus to even appear on the viewfinder; the rep was able to talk me through some weird button strokes and the auto focus worked afterward.)

Q. The sky is bright blue, I'm shooting with an ultra wide angle and there is a dark blue blob in the middle of the image. What do I do?
A. Take off the polarizer or turn it so there is a negative effect...polarizers cause uneven skies on ultra-wide lenses.

Q.I am photographing a waterfall, it is cloudy but the water is very reflective..what should I do?
A. Use a polarizer to cut the glare and slow your shutter speed to get flowing soft water.

Q. I am at the beach at sunset, but the darn sun is too bright on the horizon..How do I control it?
A. Use a reverse Neutral Density filter...it is darker in the middle, put the darkest part on the sun.

Q. I am at the beach and want the water to look misty and ethereal..what do I do?
A. Use a polarizer and a 5 stop ND filter for a long exposure...use an aperture of around f16 or f18

Q, I am stuck shooting in the middle of the day on vacation...it is sunny, bright, blue skies with harsh shadows...how do I handle this?
A. Bracket three images.  convert them to an HDR image, then use a program like Silver Efex Pro to convert to black and white...because of the HDR treatment, the image will be dynamic in black and white.

Q. It is a cloudy, windy, overcast day...not good for photography...Is there anything I can do to shoot?
A. Pull out a 10 stop ND filter...it will give the clouds movement and drama, convert to black and white.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Leveling up your Landscapes

Here is an article recently written for the Photographic Society of RI website:

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Get that Black and White Feeling

This is an article written for the Photographic Society of RI simplifying black and white photography.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Conquering sensor dust

This is an article written for PSRI about cleaning the sensor of your camera.

Photographing the Winter Landscape

This is an article written for PSRI about photographing in winter:http://www.psri.us/2016/01/the-winter-landscape-own-it/

Monday, February 15, 2016

Shoot for the Stars

light painted rocks at Arches National Park
light painted rocks at Arches National Park
Admit it!  A lot of you are afraid to shoot the stars at night: afraid of mistakes, blurring, messing up the images somehow. Well, I am here to help you succeed with a few simple tips that will get you on the right track: good images right from the start. It isn't hard at all but you must follow my formula at first, then you can feel free to try other options after you get some experience.
First, there are some important things to remember about night photography: cameras and lenses.
  1. A full frame DSLR will give the best results. Why? Because the pixels are larger, therefore more photons are absorbed and less noise is visible.  If you have a mirrorless or APS-C sensor, try it and see if the noise can be controlled.
  2. A fast wide angle lens.  Glass is god at night...if you have a cheap lens forget night photography, so invest in one good quality wide-angle lens if you are serious about night photography.  I usually use a Canon 15mm F2.8 fisheye because it can give 180 degrees of view: more sky is better in night photography; my other lens is the Canon F 2.8 24-70mm.     You can use an F4 lens: I have used the Canon 17-40mm.  All these images were taken with one or the other of those two lenses.  Fisheyes can be amazing at night; I correct the perspective in PS and noise in ACR (adobe camera raw).
  3. Sturdy tripod with ballhead:  I have a Gitzo that is over 10 years old with a reallyrightstuff ballhead. This stuff is kind of expensive but there are loads of other options out there.
  4. To shoot star points you don't need a cable release unless you think it looks cool.
Ok, now that we have our equipment ready.  What next?  Get your night infinity setting! During the day, you are going to go into  "live view" on your camera, make sure you have the wide angle lens attached and set the widest F-stop you have: F1.4, F2.8, or F4 with the camera on Aperture Priority. ISO isn't important for this part, whatever works for you; let the camera choose shutter speed.  Put your lens on "manual"(MF) not automatic:  this is to get the infinity setting you will need. Point the camera at an object about thirty feet away and set the live view to 10x : there is usually a button to enlarge the live view image. While in this mode, focus with the focus ring manually until that object is absolutely sharp, then review the image for sharpness: if it is sharp, look at the setting on the distance scale, it is usually just short of the infinity mark; the infinity mark is not a good place to put the lens as it keeps searching for infinity. You will find that the sharpest point will be perhaps a quarter or half inch left of the infinity mark.  Memorize this spot!  If you can't remember this spot on one lens, tape it with an easily removable tape.   Do this procedure in daylight or you will go crazy at night.
Now you are ready to go!
The Milky Way is pretty weak in the Northern Hemisphere between December and February.  It is more vivid in summer...the featured  image of the light painted rocks at Arches was taken in January; the Milky Way is visible but faint. The following image was taken in Rhode Island, at a beach, in the middle of summer. Notice the difference.
Milky Way over Charlestown
Milky Way over Charlestown Beach
Ok, now you are excited to go:  grab the camera, tripod and put the lens on the camera.  Make sure you do the following things:
  1. Put the camera and lens on manual. Be certain to shoot in RAW.
  2. Set the distance scale on the lens to the infinity setting you figured out during the day.
  3. Set the aperture for the fastest F-stop on your lens.  It is 2.8 for me.
  4. Now, this is important, so pay attention:  If your widest aperture is 1.8, use an ISO of 1600, if it is 2.8 use an ISO of 3200, if it is an F4, use 6400.  These are good starting points, and may need adjustment up or down depending on results.
  5. I usually use Auto White Balance and by shooting in RAW, you can adjust the color of the image in PS.
  6. What about exposure length? Now comes the math part, but you can do this!  The most important number is 500 for night photography (some people use the number 400)  OK, what is this 500 thing?
Here is how it works:  Your exposure is your focal length multiplied by seconds but less than 500.  simple isn't it?   If your focal length multiplied by time in seconds exceeds 500, you will not have star points, but star blurs or short trails and it looks like hell.  Another important point:  don't let your seconds ever exceed 30 since the Earth is rotating and the rotation will be obvious in stars at a greater than 30 second exposure. You want to get as close to 30 seconds to allow more light into the camera, but not exceed it. Sounds complicated but it isn't: here are a couple of examples:   my  F 2.8 lens is 15mm and I want to get as close to or at 30 seconds but not exceed it or the 500 point:
15 x 30= 450  so that keeps my exposure under 500 and not above 30 seconds...
So my camera setting would be:   F2.8, ISO 3200, 30 seconds (at the infinity setting) with an Auto White balance.
If I had a F4 and 24mm lens:     24 x 25 seconds would give me 600, which is too high...so I reduce it to a 20 second exposure and it gives me 24 x 20=480.  There is the best setting:  F4, 20 seconds, ISO 3200, (preset infinity setting), and AWB.
Look at each image and make sure it is clear:  x10 on the LCD.  If the image is too dark, go up to the next ISO..If 3200 is not giving enough light, use 6400...I personally don't use long exposure noise reduction as it doubles the exposure while it shoots a dark frame.
Another important item:  I always bring a strong flashlight to light something of interest in the foreground...it will improve your night images if there is some foreground element of interest. This is when you can practice a little light painting.  If you don't want to light paint, shoot the foreground before dark, then combine it with the night sky image taken much later in the same spot.
Shoot away from light pollution on crystal clear nights with little moisture in the air. Also, there are apps for your smartphone that can help locate the Milky Way for you:  I use Stellarium, but there are others: StarWalk and SkySafari.
Practice will make your images amazing...be sure to dress warm while shooting at night or you will get cold and cranky and as everyone knows: multiplying cold x cranky= bad images.