When Photoshop was first introduced (I started using it in the early 1990s, not sure exactly when it was first introduced) seemingly everyone became a surrealist. You could hardly open a photo magazine without encountering an elephant swimming in a wine glass or a flock of geese morphing into flying dogs. It was a lot of fun. I don't see as much of it as I used to see and I kind of miss it. Recently I've been doodling in Photoshop for fun and exploration as opposed to just enhancing my photos for publication--it's a blast. I created this image in the middle of the night and it has a kind of dreamlike quality to it (and it's actually called Stony Creek Insomnia #1). Puttering around creatively in PS is a great way to learn the program and to see how different tools work together and it's an excellent ways to learn to use layers and layer-blending modes.
The best way to start a surrealistic montage is to first open a blank document in PS and size it for whatever finished size you want. I typically size things 20 x 24-inches at 300 dpi--which will create enormous files by the time you're done (so you'll need a lot of RAM--I have 5.5 gigs). The reason I work so large is that if I create something I really like, I can have a lab make huge prints. Always work in high resolution, by the way (again, 300 dpi). It would be a shame to create an image you really want to print big only to find the file doesn't have enough resolution (been there, done that).
I typically add images simply by opening the images and then using the move tool (the top tool on the tool bar) to dray the images into the blank document (yes, you can just drag images in) and then I use the Edit>Transform options (scale, skew, rotate, etc.) to size and/or distort each element. Then, once again, use the move tool to position them. Each image is its own layer so I can turn them on and off at will, or rework them (or delete them) as necessary. Another source of cool image elements, if you have a flatbed scanner, is to scan household or natural objects and incorporate them in your collages.
One of the primary things that I like about creating collages is that you can combine
different parts of your world and your experiences. This shot is
made up from images taken in Connecticut and Florida (and the moon is
the super perigee moon) shot years apart. I have absolutely no preconceptions about what I'm going to combine or why, I simply keep adding things that seem to create an interesting dream story.
As I said, I'm usually just doodling but it can become somewhat obsessive if you let it. I had no idea I was going to create this image. I was between couch and bed and sat down to read email for a minute and the next thing I know, two hours later, I'm lost in a PS dream. In my fantasies, I envision myself being able to afford to sit at a computer for days at a time creating just one image.
I grew up in the town of Stratford, Connecticut, named after the more famous Stratford, in England. Last week, however, for about two days we had a fog that would make even Britons feel right at home. I took a quick ride to the grounds of our Shakespeare Theatre (sadly, it's been dark for decades while the town seemingly does nothing to save it) and shot some quick photos of this lovely wooded grove. I love the bolder dark shape of the large tree on the left and the figure of the statue (Shakespeare, pondering) in the center (though I also shot some frames with him off-center). I'll write more about shooting in fog (use plus exposure compensation!) some other time, but for now, just wanted to post this pretty scene. The state of Connecticut (and the country, I'm sure) has been in a sort of ponderous fog since the terrible tragedy in Newtown. This photo seems to symbolize our deep thoughts and confusion. It's such a profoundly sad event it's hard to even begin to wrap your mind around it. God bless those sweet little angels--though the words just don't seem adequate this time.
My photo books: By the way, all of my photo books are up on Amazon if you're thinking of buying someone a book during the holidays. I really meant to publish a list of good photo gift books this week but never got around to it. If I have time before the weekend I'll post a few.
Knock on wood, we've had some really beautiful days here in Connecticut lately and this past week I've been to the beach a few times to shoot the sunset. I saw this composition the day before I actually shot it. I was having a late lunch with a friend of mine in a seaside cafe and saw this scene out the window--and there was a spectacular sunset going on. It was one of those nice slow early-December sunsets that we get over Long Island Sound with a beautifully hazy and soft sun. Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera with me (which is rare, trust me).
I was so disappointed that I was determined to return to the beach the next day, with my cameras--and I did. I went back to the exact same beach in front of the cafe (in fact, I shot this right below the window where I'd been eating the day before) with my Nikon D90 and a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom and my Manfrotto tripod and I got there just as the sun was about to set. I only had time to pop off a few frames and then the sun disappeared into the clouds. But I really like this shot a lot; I like the contrast between the dark deck (I darkened it up a bit in Photoshop) and the very pastel colors of the sunset. Simple foregrounds can do wonders to improve a sunset. And part of the reason that I was able to compose it so quickly and knew that I wanted to include that little deck as a frame, was that I had seen it the day before. I knew exactly what the composition was going to be before I even took the camera out of the case.
So if ever you are out and about and see a pretty scene at sunset but don't have your cameras, keep the composition in mind and return another day. To me sunrises and sunsets are a miracle of color and light that happen every day (weather permitting) and they're just waiting for you to go capture their beauty.
In the world of strange-but-true news, Ilford has introduced a pair of black & white disposable cameras, but so far only in the UK. Here are the specs from the Ilford press release:
"The ILFORD XP2 Super Single Use Camera gives the convenience of being
able to have the film processed at any High Street photo-processing
centre using C41 colour negative systems, with proof prints made on
colour paper. These can either be close-to-neutral black and white
prints, or colour toned monochrome prints, and are ideal for deciding
which negatives to print on black and white paper.
The ILFORD HP5 Plus Single Use Camera is intended for processing at
locations with standard black and white film processing and printing
chemistry, resulting in true, real black and white prints that have a
unique look as the images are made from silver."
Both cameras are complete with built-in flash--cool! The cameras are pretty much being aimed at the wedding market (you know, leave cameras on the reception tables and guests take their own photos), but I'm guessing they are vastly underestimating the interest these cameras will generate with those of us who miss shooting black and white film. I think it would be great fun to toss a couple of these in the carry-on luggage (don't check them--the Xray machines will ruin the film) on a trip and do some b&w shooting for fun.
No word yet on when (or if) they'll be introduced to the U.S. market. I can't imagine why Ilford would skip the biggest market in the world.
My photo books: By the way, I discovered a forgotten cache of a few of my photo books in my office, including The NEW Joy of Digital Photography and also Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course (and perhaps a few other titles) and I'm thinking of selling them directly from this blog. Oh, I think I have some copies of the Winning Digital Photo Contests Book, too. Let me know if there's any interest. I have to charge more than Amazon, but probably not full retail. Also, I took my main site down for a month or so while I create a brand new one--should be up by the first of the year if not sooner. The old site was looking a bit dusty and it's easier just to start a new one these days.
Normally when I'm out shooting photos I go out of my way to exclude things like power lines from landscape scenes, but in a way that kind of feels like I'm creating a false reality. Lately I've been hanging out with a friend, just taking drives around town and plunking shots with my little Olympus zoom camera (an Olympus UZ 810 with a 36x optical zoom) and I've been trying not to be too critical about what goes into the frame. Really all I want is a record of what the town looks like now, today, without trying to clean up the scenes too much. I shot this frame--power lines and all--as I walked into a beach-side cafe and literally just pointed at what I saw and shot--I made no effort to get rid of the power lines.
Of course, the picky perfectionist in me did walk a few more yards and I took some more shots without the lines, just to show this pretty little beach at twilight sans power lines or cottages. The shot (below) is cropped a bit differently, but the significant difference is just the lack of anything man made (other than the stone jetty). Is one better than the other? I kind of like the shot with the cottages and the power lines--the beach seems more lonely when you know that its inhabited, I think. And those power lines leading into the shot help to exaggerate that feeling. The second shot is quite a bit more blue partly because it was 10 minutes later, but largely because I Photoshopped them differently.
Note: My main site is down temporarily. I've taken my
main site down temporarily because I wasn't happy with the hosting
service. I'm looking for a new host and when I find one I like I'll
create a brand new site. The old one was looking kind of dusty anyway.
I'll keep you posted (a blogger's joke, arr arr).
I live on the Connecticut shore (actually a few miles inland) and so had a front row seat to Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately I was able to keep power throughout and so felt relatively safe--even with 80-90 mph winds smashing the house for hours at a time. It was scary, but quite exciting, too. Tragically, however, the storm ruined a lot of lives and totally destroyed parts of Connecticut, New York and especially New Jersey.
Once the storm was passed I figured that going out to shoot photos would only be gawking at other peoples' misfortune, so I resisted the urge. But I did find a site with some excellent photo coverage--and I highly recommend taking at look at the great photos gathered there. I hope that the folks who were most affected can regain their normal lives as quickly as possible.
(Photo: MICHELLE MCLOUGHLIN/REUTERS)
I've just written a new tutorial on photographing autumn's colors on my main site. Check it out if you have a minute! We're still waiting on the colors here on the Connecticut coast, but they should be peaking elsewhere around the northern parts of the country.
I love cruising around on a sunny autumn day looking for pretty scenes to shoot. One of my favorite local venues is a small pond just a mile up the road from my house. For whatever reason that pond seems to be surrounded by trees of many types (oak, maple, sycamore) that produce a beautiful assortment of colored leaves in autumn. I took this shot while standing on a small dock shooting scenes of the shore at the opposite side of the pond. As I was shooting, I noticed noticed how pretty the scene was if I eliminated the shore itself and just shot the reflection of the trees, so I ended up shooting a few dozen shots of various parts of the reflection.
I was shooting toward the end of the day (my favorite time to shoot almost any landscape) and as the sun got lower the colors on the trees and in the reflection got more and more intense. In fact, I think the colors in the water were even brighter than in the trees themselves. The trees that are in the reflection face west, toward the setting sun, so that really helps bring out the colors, too. The water was very still--like a mirror--and I think that helped, but I also experimented with throwing pebbles into the pond to create ripples and I like some of those shots as well (and if they weren't buried somewhere in one of my six hard drives, I'd post one of them!). Make sure if you toss things into the water to make ripples that you use rocks so that they sink--otherwise you end up with something floating around in your shots.
If you're out shooting the autumn colors this year, see if you can't find a nice reflection in a pond or a stream. I think that one of the tricks to a good reflection shot is to completely eliminate the source of the reflection and just shoot its mirror image, though again, while working this scene I also shot a lot of photos that included the shore. Hey, digital is free, shoot lots!
My new travel blog. I've recently begun another blog, this one devoted to travel topics. The blog will be a collection of tips, news, ideas and photo tips all related to traveling. And please don't forget to check out my main site from time to time. And, as always, feel free to leave me comments!
This is a memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center attack. It
is located on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River in Jersey City.
The Manhattan skyline is in the background and it looks out on exactly
where the WTC once stood. The memorial was created by an actual beam
from the WTC and has been adorned with various mementos, angels,
American flags, etc. Ironically, this memorial is just a short drive
from Liberty State Park where you catch the ferry to visit the Statue of
Liberty. It has always seemed stunning to me that tourists were on
Liberty Island, visiting the Statue when 9-11 happened--and from that
great monument to liberty, they watched America being attacked.
I've started another blog--this one is devoted to all things travel. Right now it's called Travel is Good for the Soul. I considered calling it Soulful Traveler, but was a bit afraid people might think it was a New Age blog. I'll be talking about places I've been, places that I want to go, good travel deals, ideas, etc. And, of course, I'll be offering travel-photo tips. If you have a minute check out it and bookmark it.
The Monarch butterfly migration has begun and I've already begun seeing them in my garden here in coastal Connecticut. The Monarchs stop daily along their route to feed, so if you live along their migration route, you're sure to have quite a few chances to shoot photos. There is a pretty extensive tutorial on my main site, so if you have a few minutes, take a look. And here is a map of their migration routes/patterns. I shot the photo here on a tithonia blossom in my backyard last September.
A few weeks ago I was coming home from a photo assignment and my mind was so fried that I decided to stop at a seawall on Long Island Sound just to stare at the distance and unwind. It's amazing how much a few hours of concentrated shooting can take out of you.While I was zoning out a boat with a very colorful sail started tacking back and forth in front of me, sailing out a mile or so, then turning around and sailing back. I realized after a few minutes that it was an old friend of mine (we went to kindergarten together!) that lives on the beach. With those pretty colors and the nice late-afternoon sun, there was no way I could not shoot some photos--so out came the camera and the 70-300mm Nikkor lens. Since I had the hood of my van to lean on, I ended up shooting handheld--which is extremely rare for me. But with an exposure of 1/1250 second at f/9, I knew I had all of the shutter speed and depth of field I needed to safely shoot handheld.
A week later I was having lunch with another friend at a restaurant on the same seawall and my friend Peter (the person sailing the boat) came peddling by on his bike (this is a very outdoorsy guy!) and he stopped to talk for a while. By utter coincidence he started talking about having a nice sail a week or so back and I remembered the shots I'd taken! I was so pleased that it was in fact him in the boat! He also told me he was in the process of trying to sell the boat, so there was a good chance that my 50 or so shots of him were the last photos he'd have of him sailing his pretty little boat.
Anyway, coincidence plays a huge role in photography (and in life) and it's up to you to take advantage of the moment. I could have just sat, worn out as I was from an afternoon of corporate portrait shooting, to enjoy the pretty boat sailing back and forth. But now that I know it was a childhood friend of mine, I'm so glad I made the effort to take the photos. As I tell all of my students and readers, my mantra is: When you see it, shoot it! Reality doesn't provide many second chances to capture the shots you want.
My New Book: Digital Photography FAQs is now available everywhere. It's nearly 400 pages long and features 365 questions and answers about digital photography. Please tell your friends about the book and about this blog! I've got 138 followers now, but I'd love to have 1,000!
My latest book Digital Photography FAQs: 365 of Your Digital Photography Questions Answered has been released and it's now shipping from Amazon and is available at your local bookstore. The book is aimed at a pretty broad audience and has a lot of information for those just starting out in photography but also goes into some pretty advanced questions like how to use remote triggers to photograph lightning and wildlife and how to use wireless flash. There are also a lot of creative concepts discussed, like what is the best time to shoot night city skylines (hint: it's not in the dark of night), how to photograph flying insects and how to enhance the colors of a rainbow. The answers are pretty short and you can pick up the book and just flip it open to a question that interests you. While the questions are grouped roughly by topic, they are offered in no particular order. It is, as I told the publisher when suggesting the book, a great bathroom read! A good book for your kids to take to college with them!
The other day I was sitting on my porch with a camera in my lap and the cats nearby and I was waiting for them to do something interesting. They both fell asleep--cute, by hard to photograph them. While I was waiting, I noticed some interesting color patterns in the surface of the frosted glass table I was sitting next to. The table has a shelf about 10-inches or so below the glass top and I store bits of junk under there--glass dishes, candles, magazines, etc. The sun was illuminating the stuff under the glass, but not the surface of the glass and the rippled surface of the frosted glass was creating all sorts of pretty colored patterns.
I sat and played with the patterns for a half hour or so using an Olympus E-PM1 camera (it's what they call a "MILC" or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera). The camera is tiny and the zoom lens that I was using has the equivalent focal lengths of 28-84mm in 35mm terms; I was using it at approximately 42mm in 35mm terms. I really wasn't paying much attention to camera settings or exposure because I was in a kind of awkward physical position and had to shoot handheld--so I just went with whatever was happening. I wish I had used a smaller aperture for more depth of field (though it's hard to tell, some areas of these images are a bit soft), but it is what it is--I was more after the color patterns than detail.
As I shot the "found" photos, I decided that I wanted more color and so I started shoving bits of paper and things that I had nearby just to add different color and patterns. Ideas starting going off in my head--pretty colored things I could shove under there to create even more intense patterns--but I had some writing to do, so I left those ideas for another day. This winter I think I'll bring the table in from the porch and set it up in my basement and spent some evenings experimenting with various objects and lighting under the glass.
The next time I shoot this table (and I will shoot it again) out on the porch, I'll probably use a Nikon dSLR and a wide-angle lens and a tripod and pay more attention to technique. Of course, the spontaneity will be gone and I'll probably ruin the fun of the discovery. Oh so typical. But that will teach me a lesson (again), I'm sure: sometime it's better to just go with the flow and take what you get at first blush.
By the way, if you'd like to try this yourself, all you need is a small sheet of tempered/textured glass (an old shower door form the dump would be great). You can probably find a scrap in the junk bin at your local glass dealer. Then just set it up like a table (use stacks of books to hold up the corners) and slide stuff under the glass and light it from below. You'll be amazed how addictive this can be.
My new book: My new book Digital Photography FAQS should be out in the next two weeks (you can pre-order it on Amazon right now). It features 365 questions and answers about all aspects of digital photography and the text for each answer is mercifully short--so it's an easy read. The book also feature a few hundred of my photos as well many by some of my very talented photographer friends: Jennica Reis, Derek Doeffinger, Robert Ganz and Lisa Aliperti. And if I'm forgetting anyone in that list, I'll correct it shortly!
One of the very first subjects that attracted me to photography was live music. I've always been passionate about music (I've done my own FM show on WPKN FM in Bridgeport, CT for more than 20 years) and the ability to photograph some of my musical heroes up close has always been a ton of fun. Over the years I've photographed everyone from Van Morrison to the Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix. I started shooting concerts as a teenager with a point-and-shoot camera and eventually got to the point where, as a professional, I was allowed to join performers (including greats like Rod Stewart, Pete Seeger and Van Morrison) on stage. I shot this photo of the great singer/songwriter Jonathan Edwards at the FTC (Fairfield Theater Company) in Connecticut.
The toughest part of shooting concerts (particularly indoors--outdoor festivals are much easier) is getting close to the stage and not getting busted by security. But some venues are much more tolerant than others and if you're discrete and polite you can get a lot closer than you think. I used to walked in festooned with photo gear--and if I had permission, that was fine. But these days I am much more sleek (i.e. low key) in my approach and my gear. I tend to bring one dSLR body and a 70-300mm lens. If I think I might want a few wide shots, I'll slip a wide-angle zoom into the pocket of my denim jacket. (Speaking of which, my denim jacket has huge inside pockets that are great for sneaking camera gear into shows.)
Once you're in the venue though, getting the shots is pretty easy. In small halls with a 70-300mm lens (it's the equivalent of a 105-450mm on my Nikon bodies, so long enough by far) I can usually just shoot from my seat. I try not to annoy the people around me and only shoot during "loud" moments unless I can turn off all of the sounds the camera makes (look for a "silent" or "museum" mode). Here are some tips for actual shooting:
Crank up the ISO to 1600 or higher. I shot the photo above of singer Jonathan Edwards at ISO 2500 and the exposure was 1/50 sec at f/4.
Turn off the focus-assist light. This is the white light that shoots out to help the camera focus. The performers can see this and it's extremely annoying: shut it off (it's a menu option on most cameras).
Focus manually. I tend to focus manually about 70-percent of the time simply because it lets me focus on a performer's eyes (or fretboard, etc.) without the camera getting fooled by a mic stand or another instrument. If I have a clean line of fire, though, I will use AF.
Bring a monopod if you're allowed. I shoot at a small theater in Connecticut a lot with whom I have a working relationship (and I give them free photos for their site, etc.). A monopod buys me a few extra stops of shutter speed and helps keep my arms from getting tired. Of course, image stabilization works very well, too.
Set the white balance manually. Forget auto white balance in a concert setting--the lights are just too unpredictable. I shoot in RAW (so I can modify the settings later) but I also set the WB to tungsten and then use the fine-tune adjustment to manually adjust the color balance to the existing lights. Most dSLR camera have a "color picker" feature that lets you visually adjust the WB. Then just take a few test shots and see how your settings are working. I love this WB feature because it lets me keep a nice neutral look to the photos but still lets the colors show up.
My new book is out in two weeks. My new book Digital Photography FAQs (Wiley) will be out at the end of July. It contains 365 questions and answers about all aspects of digital photography--including some pages on concert photography and is illustrated with several hundred of my photos.
You wouldn't think that a kitty sitting in a pool of light on a sunny porch could result in such a dramatic bit of lighting, but it's all in how you compose and expose the shot. I took this photo while sitting with my cats on a screened porch and though she was surrounded by shadows, they weren't really as dark as they look here. But by taking my exposure reading exclusively from her (and excluding most of the shadow areas during metering), the camera underexposed the shadows. (I also used -.3 stops of exposure compensation, just to tone things down a tad further). The real drama came from two other things: for one I was using my Olympus SP80 that has a 36x optical zoom and so I zoomed to the 35mm equivalent of a 210mm lens--and that was from just a few feet away. By zooming in so tightly on her, I cropped away anything (including several white chairs nearby) that might have broken that nice dark area surrounding the cat--so the composition consists of just two things: the cat and the shadows.
I also adjusted the exposure a bit in Photoshop, using the curves tool. I pulled the heel of the curve down a bit so that the shadows went from dark gray to black and then I raised up the toe (top) of the curve a bit to lighten the what areas of fur. I also did a tiny bit of dodging with the dodge tool to bring up some highlights in the golden areas of her fur and to lighten up that front paw (not the one she's washing, the other one). The image was sharpened a tiny bit using the unsharp masking tool. I shot this image with jpeg (normally I shoot in RAW) because the Olympus doesn't have a RAW mode.
I really was just playing with the cats and hoping to get a few snapshots--but that's usually when the most dramatic photos happen. I've learned from a lot of experience that if you're sitting around with pets, it pays to have the camera nearby.
My new book: My newest book Digital Photography FAQs (Wiley Publishing) is due out in July and I hope you'll buy it. In the book I answer more than 365 questions about digital photography--a lot of them that came to me from questions post as comments on this blog. And by the way, the cover has been changed, so the one you're seeing on Amazon is not the cover that will be on the book--thankfully the publisher is adding photos!
If you're into dSLR photography but don't want to carry around a bag full of lenses, Nikon has introduced a new lens just for you: an 18-300mm f/3.5-5/6 G ED VR DX lens. This is the longest focal length range in the Nikon lens system and gets you the 35mm-equivalent focal-length range of 27 to 450mm. That means from moderately wide angle to super telephoto in one lens. And if you need something wider than 27mm (which would be nice), just add a super-wide zoom to your kit and you'd pretty much have all you needed in two lenses. I've yet to try any of Nikon's all-in-one zooms, but this one is pretty tempting. The lens has a variable aperture of f/3.5 to f/5.6. The lens will be available at the end of June and the price (I think this is suggested retail) is $995.
By the way, as of this year, Nikon says that is has now manufactured 70,000,000 lenses. I think if you stretched them out end-to-end they'd probably circle the Earth quite a few times! Shall we try?
All about lens apertures: If you'd like to learn more about lens apertures, lens speed and why some lenses are faster than one another, have a look at the multi-page Lens Aperture Primer on my main site. It's probably the most extensive aperture tutorial online and it's free, of course.
Silhouettes are a lot of fun to create because they simplify scenes by stripping away most textures, colors and surface details and leaving mainly shapes behind. Creating silhouettes is very simple: just position an opaque subject (one that light doesn't pass through) in front of a bright background and then expose for the background. The simplest way to set the exposure is to aim it at the brightest part of the background (in the shot here I used the sky, but the water would have worked as well) and then use your exposure-lock feature to hold that exposure setting. Then simply recompose the scene and shoot.
On most cameras (all cameras--whether compacts or DSLRs) holding the shutter release halfway down will lock the exposure reading. So, if you point the camera at the sky or water and hold the shutter button halfway down to trigger the exposure system, as long as you don't let up on the button the exposure remains locked (and I know that most of you know this already!). The only problem is that when you lock the exposure you also lock focus. If the bright background and your primary subject are at different distances from the camera, you'll have to work around it. One way (with a MILC or dSLR camera) is to switch to manual focus and then you can still lock the meter reading, but you can focus manually--and this is what I do 90% of the time. Another solution (again with a more advanced camera) is to shoot in both manual exposure but keep the autofocus working--so you set the exposure for the sky manually, but the camera does the focusing. Many dSLR cameras also have a separate override that enables you to lock focus and/or exposure separately (see your camera manual for more info).
What about compact cameras? Since most point-and-shoot type cameras have very extensive depth of field (near-to-far focus), focus isn't that huge an issue as long as you're not right on top of your subject. So just leave the camera in the full auto mode (the green mode) and lock your meter reading on the bright background and let the focus do it's thing. If you need more depth of field (DOF) try switching to the Landscape exposure mode. In this mode the camera will automatically select the smallest possible aperture for the given lighting and ISO combination and this will increase the DOF.
One problem you often run into with silhouette photos are "merges" where a part of the foreground is lost in a dark shape in the background. In the shot here you can see that part of the sailboat's mast is lost in the shape of the island. There's not much you can do to solve this problem other than to change your position a bit and try to avoid the convergence.
Read more about exposure and silhouettes on my main site.
Check out my exposure book! If you'd like to learn more (a lot more!) about exposure, be sure to look for my latest book: Exposure Photo Workshop, 2nd edition. It's a comprehensive look at the entire world of exposure and Shutterbug magazine called it "...possibly the best book ever written on the subject."
This morning I read a very tragic story on MSNBC.com: Tens of thousands of elephants were slaughtered in 2011. This is the saddest animal/nature story I've read in years. Please take a few minutes out of your day to read the story and repost it to Facebook, Twitter, etc. It is just so tragic that nature must always pay the price for human greed. Something must be done on a global level to stop all poaching once and forever. So much has been tried: paying the poachers not to kill, training them to work as guards in the parks, etc. But greed just rears its ugly head time and time again and nature always pays the price. May the poachers rot in hell. (Photo by Mike Hutchings.)
Spring is (photographically, at least) probably my favorite time of year because there is just so much life happening outdoors. And after a winter spent hiding at my computer writing, being outside is such a nice change. In particular, I love wandering around the garden with a macro lens and just looking for interesting things to shoot. But getting really outstanding close-up photos is not always as easy as it looks and what starts out as an innocent pursuit of pretty pictures usually turns into me cursing the breeze for moving my subjects around (cover the kids' ears if you're near me) or wrestling with my tripod while trying to avoid smashing the plants I'm shooting. Eventually though I calm down, go back to basics and get the photos that I'm after.
Among my favorite close-up subjects are bleeding heart flowers because the buds are just so fascinating in their shape and I've shot hundreds of photos of them (I had a huge plant growing in my side yard but a neighbor weed whacked it into oblivion--I just hate lawn people). I particularly like this pretty backlit shot and in studying it I came up with a quick list of five tips that I think make the photo work:
I chose an attractive segment and was careful that all of the blossoms were in good shape (i.e., not fading or misshapen in any way). Again, these bleeding hearts are very different in shape from most flowers and that pinkish-red color is just beautiful.
I used strong back lighting from a late-afternoon sun. Most flowers are somewhat translucent and when the sun comes through them from behind they seem to glow. You'll have to experiment with adding some exposure using the exposure-compensation feature to prevent underexposure--particularly if the background is very bright. I used +1 stop here.
I used a dedicated 105mm Nikkor macro lens and close-up extension tubes. Prime (one focal length lenses, as opposed to zoom lenses with a macro setting) are sharper that most zoom lenses. Extension tubes have no glass in them so they don't degrade the image in any way.
I used a wide aperture to toss the background out of focus and create an attractive "bokeh." Bokeh is a Japanese word that refers to the "smooth" quality of the out-of-focus area.
I shot in RAW and that allowed me to adjust the white balance and exposure after the fact. The exposure I used was pretty accurate, but I did warm up the white balance a bit during the RAW conversion process.
One other thing that I strongly suggest is using a tripod for close-photos whenever possible. It's a bit awkward to find a placement for the tripod at times, so at times I'll use a rolled up sweater or towel instead, but a tripod is definitely worthwhile in most situations. With all of the magnification that is going on in most close-up photos it's very hard to compose accurately without a tripod.
Good graduation gift! If you're looking for a good digital photo book for a graduation gift (to go with a new camera perhaps?) my book The NEW Joy of Digital Photography has sold nearly 100,000 copies and is a great introduction to photography and digital cameras. By the way, I'm looking for new ideas for my next photo book--so if you have any suggestions just email me or leave a comment!
I have a love-hate relationship with Ikea, I love about half the stuff in the store (especially the cheapo stuff in what I call the flea-market area), and the other half (ugly modern furniture) just leaves me cold. I'm not sure which category to put this in: at a recent trade show Ikea was handing out Ikea-branded re-usable cardboard digital cameras in their press kits.
The camera is apparently a fully-functioning digicam wthat will shoot up to 40 exposures. You can then transfer the images to your computer via a flip-out USB plug. The camera runs on a pair of AA batteries, and the internal memory is emptied (after downloading, of course) by inserting a paper clip into the trash-hole. It uses two AA batteries (something I like since you can replace them anywhere if they run down). I don't know the specs for camera resolution.
With everyone snapping away with their iPhones these days I'm not sure how big the market is for an almost-disposable digital camera, but what the heck, if Ikea sells them for just a few bucks (as they probably will), I'm sure there will be lots of them placed on tables at wedding receptions or stuffed into Christmas stockings.
Please visit my main site: I hope you'll take a look at the many free tutorials on my main site. There is also a camera-buying guide there that I'm currently updating.
In the never-ending quest to be king of the megapixel pile, Nikon today announced a somewhat amazing (and amazingly priced) consumer-level DSLR that features a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor (this is quite a leap from the 14MP Nikon D3100 camera that it is replacing). The camera supports a high-speed shooting rate of 4fps (frames per second) and has an ISO range of 100-6400 (with 12,800 available in extended range).
The camera features a 3-inch LCD and has a Live View mode that lets you view your scenes live on the LCD as well as both
1080p30 and 1080p24 video recording modes with full-time autofocus. There is also a built-in microphone jack.
The D3200 will be sold as a kit with Nikon's AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm
f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens and is set to hit stores in late April. The suggested price is $699.95--so I imagine it will be even less when it hits the street. Nikon is also introducing a Wi-Fi add-on accessory (the WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter) that will sell for $59.95, and clips into
the side of the camera to add wireless file transfer and shutter
control. This feature lets you transfer files directly from the camera to your
smart phone, and also lets you control the camera using your phone from up to 50 feet
Sound sweet? It does to me. It continues to amaze me that consumers these days can shoot with cameras that pros would have killed for just a few short years ago. And my guess is that cameras like the D3200 will find a place in pro bags as a backup body.
My Exposure book on Kindle. My book Exposure Photo Workshop is available as a Kindle book and you can view it in full color using your iPad, iPhone, etc. with a free app. It's the most comprehensive book published on the subject of exposure and Shutterbug Magazine called it, "...the best book ever published on the subject."
I found this great review of my book Exposure Photo Workshop on YouTube. (The Amazon link at left is for the newer edition, by the way.) My thanks to Diana Varela, the very nice woman in the video for giving the book such a nice review and for doing such a professional job with the video! Please visit her site Zoo Animal Photos. There are lots of great photo tips on her site!
Have you ever fantasized about traveling elbow-to-elbow with a National Geographic photographer? Here's your chance--it's the first prize in the National Geographic Traveler magazine photo contest. If you win first prize you get to travel to the Galápagos Islands in the company of a National Geo photographer. I know a lot of pros that would jump at that prize. Anyway, rather that just reword their announcement, I'll just post it for you.
How It Works
To enter the contest, submit your photos to National Geographic Traveler between April 5, 2012, and July 11, 2012. Photos can be from your travels or your own backyard! Submit as many photos as you’d like.
First Prize: A ten-day Galápagos Photography Expedition with National Geographic Expeditions, where the winner and a guest will travel with a National Geographic photographer
Second Prize: A two-and-a-half-day photo workshop at Santa Fe Workshops
Third Prize: Admission to a National Geographic Travel Photo Seminar
Merit Prizes: Seven U.S. $200 gift certificates to B&H Photo
Winning images will be showcased in the National Geographic Traveler magazine and on the National Geographic Traveler photo contest website.
My contest book: If you're looking for some inside information on photo contests and how to win them, be sure to check out my book Winning Digital Photo Contests. One of the people that I interview in the book, coincidentally, is a judge for many of the National Geographic contests.
In the last posting I wrote about taking portraits (animal and human) by window light, but today I'm just showing some pretty flowers I also shot by window light (the same window that I shot my cat sitting near in the last post, come to think of it). I went downstairs a few days ago to make tea and one of my orange clivia miniata plants was in full bloom and sitting in a gorgeous pool of sunlight. I really had no intention of taking pictures that day but my philosophy in photography has always been: when you see it, shoot it. So back upstairs to the office I went, grabbed my D90 and ended up shooting the plant for more than an hour. I've known for some time that I needed to begin filling the photo well again for a series of self-published ebooks that I'm writing and these are among the first shots. (And by the way, after more than 20 books published by commercial publishers, I'm not longer writing for any of them--I've begun my own publishing company. And I'll write more about that decision soon, but suffice to say I've been screwed by publishers long enough: let them write their own books from now on.)
As the sun set the puddle of light was moving, so every few minutes I had to tug the plant back into the light. I did a lot of experimenting too: I shot with both 18-70mm Nikkor and 70-300mm Nikkor lenses and I also played with using flash fill. The flash was a bit overpowering at first, but I wanted to fill some light shadows created by parts of the blossom so I set the flash compensation to -2 stops and that way I was able to use flash to fill those shadows, but the sunlight remained the dominant lighting source. There is, however, no flash in this particular frame--I just aimed the flower into the light. Also, since I shot in both RAW and JPEG simultaneously (uses up a lot of card space, but nice to have both formats automatically) I just set the white balance to auto, knowing that I could adjust it in the RAW file later wherever I wanted it. As it turned out the JPEG was fine and was plenty warm just from the light of the sun, not to mention the orange color of the flower. I didn't use a tripod, which is extremely rare for me, because I was shooting from a couch (my kind of photography) and was able to rest the camera on the arm of the couch.
Photo Notes: The photo was shot with a Nikon D90 dSLR with an 18-70mm Nikkor lens. Exposure, recorded in both RAW and JPEG simultaneously, was 1/200 second at f/8, handheld. There were no adjustments made to the image other than a slight sharpening using the unsharp mask in Photoshop. I used Kenko extension tubes to get closer to the flowers.
Windows provide a beautiful light for portraits and by choosing
the side of the house that you’re shooting on, you can actually vary the
quality and color of the light that you’re using. North-facing windows, for
example, produce a gentle even lighting, though the color tends to be on the
cool side much of the year. East and west windows provide gentle warm light
early and late in the day (respectively) and for much of the day any windows
facing south will provide a relatively strong and warm light. In this photo my cat is facing west and watching the sunset and so her face is filled with a very pretty warm light (and she really does watch the sunset most days which is one of the reasons I love cats so much--they get the mystery of it all!).
With the exception of light from north-facing windows, however, light
coming in through a window can get quite bold and contrasty. One way to handle
this contrast issue is to have your subject face the window (the cat chose that position on her own) and then
shoot them either from profile or, if you have room to maneuver, by getting slightly in front of your subject. By doing this you’re turning the window light into a front light and
this illuminates the important parts of the face. Alternatively you can sit your subject sideways (so the light is just illumination one side of their face) and then use a sheet of white art board to
bounce light back into the shadow side of the face. Just aim the reflector so that it
bounces light from the window back toward the dark side of your subject. You can use flash too, of course, but you have to be careful not to let it overpower the window light or you'll lose the drama of having the window be the primary lighting source.
Photo Notes: This photo was shot with a Nikon D90 and a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom and was handheld. Exposure was 1/80 second at f/5.6 and I used a small amount of fill flash with -2 stops of compensation on the fill. My latest book is Exposure Photo Workshop, 2nd edition and it has lots of good info about lighting, lighting direction and using flash.
The rare green phase of the pink flamingo. This bird will only shows its green coloring on St. Pat's Day and by the next day has morphed back to its original pink color. It's a stunning thing to see, however, and is said to bring luck to anyone that sees it! And now, of course, you have seen it!
My 500th posting! This is the 500th posting on this blog! I had no idea I'd stick with it for so long. I even published a book based on the blog: Jeff Wignall's Digital Photography Crash Course. I was going to post a photograph of one of my kitties (who has helped me write almost every post) today, but I'll post her for the 501st posting. Today I just had to share this rare ornithological sighting. ;)
Most photo writers (myself included) tend to dismiss built-in flash as a worthwhile lighting tool, but there are times when it's built-in or no shot and I always prefer to take the picture. There is no question that built-in flash has some limitations in terms of both power and flexibility. Typically it has a range of about 3-12-feet and it only comes from one direction: wherever you're standing. It's also not that easy to diffuse built-in flash, although Lumiquest (who are celebrating their 25th anniversary this month, by the way--see below) makes a useful diffuser called the Soft Screen.
Despite its limitations though, you have to love the convenience of having built-in flash. I shot this little saw whet owl at the Guilford Fair in Guilford, Connecticut this past September and it was pitch black out. From a distance of about three feet, however, I was able to get a perfectly exposed shot of him and, to be honest, I'm just fine with the lighting--it looks quite soft and clean. I'm not sure the shot would look much better if I'd been hauling my big Nikon Speedlight with me--and this was just a fun walk around the fair, so there is no way that I would have had it.
Many dSLR cameras (like my Nikon D90) also offer some nice flash modes to help you improve night and low-light shots. One of the options that I like best is a "slow sync" flash mode that lights the subject perfectly and then leaves the shutter open long enough to pick up some background lighting. Professionals call this technique "dragging" the shutter because the shutter speed drags on after the flash has fired; it's a nice technique for shooting portraits of friends at night where you want the background lighting to show--like on the sidewalk in Times Square. Nice that it's built into a lot of cameras these days. The Night Portrait mode built into most compact cameras does essentially the same thing.
By the way, this is my 499th posting with this blog, in a few days I'll post #500!
Happy Anniversary to Lumiquest: Lumiquest has been making light modifiers for direct flash for 25 years now. The company was started by Quest Couch (my favorite name in the photo industry) and Heidi Kenny and their first product, the original Pocket Bouncer, is one of the most popular flash modifiers ever made and I'd guess that there isn't a pro working in the world that doesn't have one in their camera bag. I first met Quest and Heidi while working for PDN (Photo District News) soon after they began the company and we've been friends ever since. To me Lumiquest is the quintessential model for turning a great idea into a great company: they saw a niche that needed filling and they created a product that turned into an instant bestseller. Today they make a whole line of great products for flash photography.
Not much time for writing a new post (still working on two books and daydreaming about a day off!) but wanted to show this photo. It is a detail of the stonework on the facade of the P T Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Barnum was the mayor of Bridgeport at one time and used to winter his circus there. The building has a lot of neat details including this wrap-around band of carvings that seem to tell snippets of several stories--about the Civil War, the circus, etc. I'll bet people walk by this building every day and never look up to see this cool art. Next time you're walking past an old building, look up: you never know who might be looking down!
Photo notes: Shot with a Nikon D90 and a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom, on a Manfrotto 3021 tripod. Exposure was 1/1000 at f/8--and yes, I still used a tripod even at that speed. Why? So that I could frame it carefully! Captured in RAW and processed in Photoshop.
Happy Birthday to Ansel Adams (February 20, 1902-April 22, 1984). Ansel Adams was, I believe, the greatest landscape photographer that has ever lived and was also one of the country's most articulate conservationists. Ansel's images are often pointed to as being technically brilliant (and they were) but more than this his photographs sang with passion and drama born of a lifetime devoted to waiting for light and land to meet in wondrous instants. Thankfully for all photographers Ansel generously shared everything he learned along the way in his many books. Here are the words of President Carter in presenting Ansel with the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
"At one with the power of the American landscape, and
renowned for the patient skill and timeless beauty of his work,
photographer Ansel Adams has been a visionary in his efforts to preserve
this country's wild and scenic areas, both on film and on Earth. Drawn
to the beauty of nature's monuments, he is regarded by environmentalists
as a monument himself, and by photographers as a national institution.
It is through his foresight and fortitude that so much of America has
been saved for future Americans."
I've been writing a new book for the past few months and I have to say that I must be getting old because this one is exhausting me. I guess they all exhaust me, writing is tough work, but you just kind of chop them out, one day at a time. The current book has a lot of tips on composition and image design and one way that I'm coming up with ideas is to just look through my photos and see if I can suggest any design tips based on those photos. It's a kind of fun exercise. Here, for example, are some of the concepts that this shot (taken in Florida) triggers for me:
Fill the frame. Notice how there is not an inch or extra space in this frame--the peacock's fan fills the entire area.
Look for vibrant colors. Could you get any more vibrant than a peacock in full display?
Play with symmetry. Symmetry is sometimes regarded as a negative thing (it's considered too static an arrangement in the frame and has no dynamics the way that off-center images create), but it can also be very powerful when used carefully.
Use fill-in flash. I used just a tiny amount of fill-in flash here to light up the colors a touch
Look for patterns. I just love the patterns of the "eyes" in the feathers. Again, you'd be hard pressed to find any patterns more interesting than a peacock's display.
Use radiant design. This one isn't mentioned much in books, but if you're photographing a flower or a seashell, you get a lot of energy by letting the power of the design radiate out from a central point.
Envision your shot. I've always wanted a head-on photo of a peacock in full display. The moment I saw this one walking toward me I already knew the shot I wanted. Don't be afraid to daydream about the great shots you want to take--sometimes they may walk right up to you (and sometimes they screech at you in a shrill voice--as this one did).
Appreciate beauty. Sometimes you just have to let beauty wash over you and try your best to capture it. Even if you don't get the photo you envision, you'll have shared some time admiring creation--and that is what it's all about--yes?
My photo books: My latest book is Exposure Photo Workshop. It's a very comprehensive and up-to-date look at all aspects of exposures. It's available in both print and Kindle versions. (The earlier version is available in English, Spanish, Polish, Chinese and for the Kindle.)
If you're a wildlife photographer, listen up! The Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2012 is now open for entries. This is one of the most prestigious wildlife competitions in the world (it's the former BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Contest) and if you should happen to win an award, you will not only share in the £30,000 prize fund, but you will also:
Have your image:
• showcased in the Natural History Museum’s acclaimed annual exhibition, and toured nationally and internationally, reaching over 3 million visitors worldwide.
• published within a hardback commemorative Portfolio book by the Natural History Museum and co-edition partners, and translated into at least four international languages.
• published in BBC Wildlife Magazine.
• enjoy international exposure through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year website - more than half a million page views were received on the day the winners were announced.
There are categories for both adult and young photographers. You can read more about the contest at their site and there is a lot of info there, as well as galleries of previous winners. It's no exaggeration to say that if you win an award here, you've arrived.
Photo Notes: I shot this photo of a dragonfly at a small pond in Stratford, Connecticut. It was shot with a Nikon D90 body with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens (with close-up tubes), using an SB800 Nikon Speedlight, all mounted on a Manfrotto tripod and captured in RAW.
For the past few months I've been working on two new books and, as usual, that requires me digging into the files to find enough photos to fill the books. I found this picture while scrounging around in some photos that I shot in France a few years ago and while it's a pretty horrid photo, it reminded me of an interesting moment. While poking around the Château at Amboise (Amboise is a pretty touristy town in the Loire Valley) I came across a sign board that gave some of the history of the chateau including the astounding claim that Leonardo da Vinci died (and is buried) in a chapel adjoining this building. I'm not sure but I think this round portion of the chateau is that chapel. He is also apparently buried in there. Da Vinci, as a guest of King Francis, came to Amboise in 1515 and died there in 1519 and lived in the chateau during that four-year period.
The thing that was shocking to me was that I had no idea I would encounter Leonardo in the middle of France! The very thought that I might be touching a building that Leonardo had once touched was staggering to me. The fact that he was buried in there (though there is some skepticism about that claim in some sources) was even more profound. The lighting was awful on the day I shot this and, being tourists, we didn't spend a whole lot of time in one place, but I'd love to return again and do justice to this very interesting building (much more attractive when seen from a distance on the other side of the Loire River).
Anyway, just a fun find in the old photo files. I'm always amazed at the things you find when you're traveling. One minute you're buying postcards and stuffing yourself full of French pastry (oh, the bakeries!) and the next you're nearly trembling to be touching a wall that Leonardo, at the very least, looked at several years. For all I know he peered out of one of those narrow tower windows looking toward the area where I was happily munching lunch.
Photo Notes: Photographed with a Nikon D70s and a 28mm Nikkor lens. Converted to black and white and toned in Photoshop.
My Books: My latest book is Exposure Photo Workshop and it was described by Shutterbug magazine as "...probably the best book ever written on the subject." It's available as a Kindle book and is in full color on Kindle Fire, your iPad, etc.
I'm kind of busy trying to make a book deadline this week, so not much time for blogging. But I'm using this photo in one of my upcoming books and so I'll let a warm and fuzzy photo take the place of a photo lesson today. I shot this mute swan cygnet on the shore of the Housatonic River (near the mouth of the river) in Connecticut. I don't know why the story of the "ugly duckling" was based on a baby swan, they seem irresistibly cute to me. I shot this one in August of last year, so I'm guessing it's about 12 weeks old (they're typically born toward the end of May, beginning of June). The parents were just a few feet away from me keeping an eye on me (and my tripod) but I was able to get very close and to shoot several dozen frames. Mute swans are hugely powerful animals, but they are much less aggressive than people think; their posturing and hissing is mostly just a warning that you've crossed into their circle of safety. They are very good at setting a perimeter and will let you know when you've entered into their comfort zone.
Photo Notes: Photographed with a Nikon D90 with a 70-300mm Nikkor zoom lens. Exposure was 1/640 second at f/5, on a tripod.
I created this image the other day while just doodling in Photoshop. Basically all that I did was to perform my normal corrections in the RAW converter (white balance, exposure, saturation, sharpness, etc.) and then I messed around with the blue channel in the Channel Mixer. In this case I just slid the blue slider all the way to the right and it left most of the colors fairly close to normal but turned the green grass a soft pretty blue. The photo has the look of a color Infrared slide (for those old enough to remember false-color Infrared slide film); a look that I have always liked. Very simple do, try it if you have a Channel Mixer in your editing software. I'm not sure if Photoshop Elements has one or not, but it probably does.
By the way, you can create a somewhat similar effect by misusing the Curves control. I use it to turn sunsets into moonlit scenes. I don't always get the look I want, but it's worth experimenting with sometime.
Photo notes: The photo was shot in Shelton, Connecticut using a Nikon D90 and an 18-70mm Nikkor zoom lens. It was shot on a Manfrotto tripod, in RAW, and the exposure was 1/2 second at f/20. The image was converted using the Adobe DNG converter and worked in Photoshop CS3. This is posting #490.