Welcome to (The Occasional) Photo Tip of the Day! Please also visit my main site jeffwignall.com. Text and photographs Copyright 2016 Jeff Wignall.

“The best way out is always through.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Getting Buzzed with the Kitties

I took this photo on Easter Sunday, as my kitties slept together with dreams of catching a glimpse of the Easter Bunny (thankfully for the Bunny, she came and went while they slept). I found them curled up together as I came downstairs and had to quietly slip by, grab a camera, pop up the built-in flash and grab a few quick shots. The original is fine (though there's a bit of clutter behind them that I can paint out if I want), but I ran this through a Photoshop plug-in filter called Buzz-X that was made by a British company that no longer exists. It's too bad that the filter is no longer made (and I think the company has gone out of business completely) because it was a great simplification filter--easy to use, had great creative effects and was quite popular. I even tried to buy the rights to the software at one point, so that I could market it in the United States, but was unable to even locate the owner. A company called Topaz Labs makes a similar filter, but I haven't tried it yet (it requires a PC or an Intel Mac and I don't have either). If you've done any shots using their simplification filter, let me know and I'll post one (or a few) on the blog. Using Buzz is incredibly simple, you just adjust the inner, outer and middle portions of the image while watching the results more or less live and then when you see what you want, tell it to process. It takes just a few minutes. I'm sure the Topaz product is probably just as easy to use. (By the way, the orange thing in the front right is the pet fox that they often sleep with--your pets need pets, too.)

Photo notes: Shot with a Nikon D90 with a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom lens; ISO 200, in the night-portrait mode. Exposed for 1/60 sec., at f/5.6. Recorded in both RAW and JPEG simultaneously.

Friday, April 22, 2011

World Wildlife Fund Photo Contest

Here's some fun contest news for wildlife shooters! World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today launched the "Life Grows On" photo contest - presented by CVS/pharmacy Photo - to commemorate WWF's 50th Anniversary and to coincide with Earth Day. The contest is aimed at raising awareness of species and land conservation issues and seeks photos in three separate categories: wildlife, wild places, and people connecting with nature.
The contest is open to both amateur and experienced (not clear if that includes pros--you'll have to read more on their site) photographers and the first-place prize is a trip to see and photograph polar bears! Cool or what? Three first-place winners will win a trip for two on the Classic Polar Bear Photo Adventure provided by tour operator Natural Habitat Adventures. This travel package, one of the group's most popular polar bear tours, includes a journey into the realm of the polar bear with an expert photographer. Winning photos will be published in several communication vehicles across the organization that will reach more than 8 million people. There is an entry fee ($15) but it allows you to enter up to fifteen photos.

Here some more info from their press release:

  •     150 finalists will receive a WWF red baseball cap in recognition of their amazing photos. There will also be an instant game prize (10 prizes given out each day), which is a WWF reusable coffee mug.

  •     To enter the contest, from April 22 until June 17, 2011, participants must submit photos either online at www.WWFPhotoContest.org or by mail on a CD to WWF-US headquarters at 1250 24th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037.
  •     Submitted photos must be the photographer's original work.
  •     Limit 15 submissions per photographer. Along with the photograph, the following information is needed:
  •      Description of photo
  •      Name of Photographer
  •      Mailing address
  •      Email address

  •     Entries will be judged by a WWF-selected panel and will be based on creativity, originality, technical quality, and fit to category.
  •     The judges will select the top 50 from each category by July 1, 2011, after which the judging and decision-making will be handed over to the public for final vote. July 2 until July 15, 2011, the general public can vote for their favorite photos and select the winners.
WWF is the world's leading conservation organization, working in 100 countries for half a century. With the support of almost 5 million members worldwide, WWF is dedicated to delivering science-based solutions to preserve the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, halt the degradation of the environment and combat climate change. Visit www.worldwildlife.org to learn more.

And by the way, if you want some tips on entering and winning photo contests, I've written a book on the subject:  Winning Digital Photo Contests (Lark Photography Book).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Smart Libraries: Like Dominoes? You'll Love This

This is a great video for book (paper and ebook) and library lovers. It's also just a pretty cool dominoes video.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fun Fixes for Faulty Fotos

While most of the work that I do in Photoshop is trying to make acceptable photos better, there are times when I like to see how much I can improve a really terrible photo. This usually happens around four in the morning when I've been writing and Photoshopping for 12 hours already and I'm totally fried and I just need to let my imagination play a bit. That's how this shot happened. I had been working on the update of my exposure book (Exposure Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent) all day (and all night) and was looking at photos of the Statue of Liberty when I hit the reality wall. I just couldn't do one more curves tweak or reshuffle any more layers; I was toast.

But I was too wired to do what most people would do in that situation (i.e., go to bed), so I played for a few minutes to cool my brain instead. I had noticed this really crappy almost silhouette of the SOL (below) while I was choosing photos and decided to use that as my victim. I don't recall all of the steps that I went through (again, too burned out to write anything down), but essentially this is what I did:

  1. I opened the RAW file without any changes.
  2. I used curves to zap the contrast--making the sky white and the statue black.
  3. I selected the sky area using the magic wand and then reversed it so that I would only be working on the statue and not touching the sky.
  4. I took a paint brush and using black paint, I painted the statue to make sure she was black. I think I also then used curves again and set the black as the black point, just to be sure it was really black.
  5. I then just reversed the selection again, and used a quick levels or contrast adjustment (I forget which) to make sure the sky was even and light.
  6. I used the "fill" option (Edit>fill in with color> to fill the sky with magenta color.
  7. I then went to the filters menu and chose Filter>Render>Lighting Effects to create that series of circles around her head. My memory is a bit foggy on how i got the repeat circles, but again, it's just playing and no one could duplicate that exactly anyway.
  8. I think used hue/saturation to mess around with the colors
That's about it, I think. And I don't like the angle of the shot at all--another failure of the original shot. But it's fun to see just how much you can do when you're half asleep and not trying to get anywhere specific, but just playing. And the worse that can happen is that you'll learn something about Photoshop tools and then trash the photo if you don't like it. I spend so many hours doing critical work in Photoshop, I wish I had time just to play more--I'm sure I'd learn a lot of cool things. Here is the original shot:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

April Showers Bring Crabapple Flowers

I have no idea where this crabapple tree in my yard came from; I gather a bird left me a seed and, miraculously, it grew. In fact, it's now the prettiest tree in my yard and is probably about 12' or so tall. I don't know how tall it's going to get, but I'm hoping not too much bigger. (But isn't it fascinating that a single seed dropped by a bird can create a beautiful tree?) It produces zillions of crabapples each year (if you want some, let me know in September!) and though I've seen recipes online for using them in jellies, jams, etc., I've never tried to cook with them. Supposedly they make a nice jelly. But produce aside, it's an extremely pretty and cheerful tree to have in springtime and I'm so glad that I never cut it down. I shot this photo last year, on April 23, so in the next few weeks it should begin to flower again and I can't wait. I just find the white and pink and green color combination extremely cheerful. Isn't it amazing the nice photos you can shoot in your own yard?

Years ago I knew a botany teacher that used to have each student throw a Hula Hoop into a meadow and then the student had to identify every plant and insect within the hoop's circumference. Not surprisingly, sometimes that was a list of a few hundred plants and insects! It might be a good creative photo challenge to do the same thing with your camera and macro lens: toss the hoop and then photograph every thing of interest where it landed. Speaking of which, this past winter I sold my 105mm Micro Nikkor and now regret it deeply. I'll have to rebuy it one of these days...but it may be a while. In the meantime, I'm just thrilled that my garden has flowers once again...and that the ice is finally gone.

Photo notes: Shot with a Nikon D90 with an 18-70mm Nikkor zoom lens; exposed at 1/320 second at f/9, at ISO 200. This is one of the last JPEG images I shot--I now shoot only in RAW.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Photographing Fog: Some Quick Tips

Spring is a great time to look for fog photos, especially in areas that were cold this winter, because as the warm air tumbles down onto the cool earth or onto the cold water in harbors or the ocean, fog is much more prevalent. In some areas that are close to the sea (San Francisco and Cape Cod come to mind), fog is pretty common all year round, but even in these areas, spring (and fall) are much more prone to producing that nice thick photogenic fog. Here are a few quick tips for finding and shooting foggy pictures:

  • Get up early in the morning: Fog is very common where warm air mixes with cool water (or a cool meadow) or vice versa. But the heat of the sun burns off most fog in the first half an hour or so after sunrise. I shot the photo here at dawn and in fifteen minutes, the fog was gone.
  • Use a longer lens to magnify the effects on fog--singling out one boat using a moderate telephoto, for example. I used the equivalent of a 93mm lens for this shot, but also shot some pictures of an oyster boat with a 300mm lens and the fog is much denser looking--though they were shot only minutes apart.
  • Be sure to add an extra stop to a stop-and-a-half of exposure using your exposure compensation feature, otherwise the fog will fool the meter into underexposing the scene. Fog reflects a lot of light and meters are easily fooled. 
  • Try to find a fairly bold subject to stand out against the fog. Delicate shapes and details and soft colors get lost in fog, so strong lines and dark shapes work best.
  • Shoot in the RAW mode if you are able and have the software to edit RAW files because then you can adjust both the exposure and the white balance after the fact. For the past year or so I've shot 100-percent of all my photos in RAW and I'd never go back to jpegs. 
My last tip is to be sure that when you see fog you make an effort to find at least a few quick photos. When I'm illustrating photo books, almost regardless of the specific topic, I almost always need more photos of weather events (rain, fog, snow, ice) which means I don't shoot them enough and it's been a frequent source of frustration. So now when I see weather events, I try to force myself to get photos, just so that I don't get angry at myself for being lazy when I had the opportunities. If you do the same, you'll find a lot more variety in your landscape photos and you'll find a whole new realm of subjects to photograph.