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.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

Good news: jeffwignall.com is back online

After a long sleepy online nap of about a year, I finally decided to re-launch my main site jeffwignall.com. I had taken it down for several reasons. One reason was that I was extremely unhappy with the host (a horrible company whose initials are "NS"). Since then I have found a terrific hosting company called Fat Cow based on the recommendation of a friend. Fat Cow offers some great and very cheap hosting services and a great web-creation software called Weebly.

One of the other reasons that I took my site down was that it had more than 100 free tutorials posted there and I decided that, in addition to the fact that a lot of them were getting outdated, I also wanted to *sell* some of the information found in my tutorials as part of ebooks. In the next year I hope to begin a self-publishing venture where I can teach photography via ebooks and have total control over the content and appearance of my books. I don't know if a single soul will ever buy one, but it will be a fun experiment. And, better still, I'll own the company. I am also considering starting a series of online digital photography classes with critiques, etc.

Yet another (and I think important) reason that I took my site down was that I just wanted to put more space between my life and the cyberworld. Every day it seems like the Internet becomes more and more like George Orwell's Big Brother from 1984 (a book that is on my list for rereading this winter--I hope I can find my old paperback copy!) and it felt good to be less entangled for a year. In fact, I think it's a good idea for anyone that doesn't depend on their site for income to shut their site down now and then for a few weeks or a few months or, in my case, a year. Yes, I lost a lot of ground in my search-engine standings, but who cares? I know how to get it back and that is all that really matters.

So, I'm not sure how much useful information will be on the new jeffwignall.com (right now it's pretty much just a resume) but I will find interesting things to write about and ideas to share. And soon, on this blog and on my site, I'll introduce my new book that is coming out in the spring, being published by Ilex Press in Europe. I'm very excited about the book and I can't wait to see it!

Happy Christmas, War is over (if you want it) and I hope you'll join me in welcoming the return of the sun on Saturday!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Photographic Issue #20: I wrote the entire issue!

If you're headed out to the newsstand soon, keep an eye out for Petersen's Photographic, Issue 20--I wrote the entire issue from cover to cover. The issue features profiles and portfolios by eight master photographers that I interviewed about their specialties--why they chose them, how they've managed to thrive in the very competitive photo business and what they love about their work. Each of the photographers also shares a lot of inside secrets about how they do such incredible work. Really, this issue is like a master class in magazine form. The photographers included (and their specialties) are:

Janet Loughrey: Garden photography
Ron Niebrugge: Alaska wildlife
Jill Reger: Classic and antique cars
Brian Oglesbee: Fine art photography
Jon Van Gorder: Food photography
Greg Hartford: Maine landscapes
Derek Doeffinger: Wilderness waterfalls
Steven Hyatt: Architectural/church interiors

The reproduction in the magazine is superb and there are no ads so the magazine is 100% editorial content. It's a super issue and the editors and production staff did a fantastic job. I couldn't be happier with the look of the magazine. You can read two sample articles from the issue on the Photographic site. By the way, I'm about to finish a brand new book and I'm pretty excited about how it came out--so I'll post more about it soon.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Harvest Moon over the Housatonic River

This is an in-camera double exposure shot this past Wednesday, the night of the Harvest Moon. Both exposures were shot with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens on a Nikon D90 body. I first shot the moon at 300mm (450mm on my D90) and, remembering where I  had place it (in the upper left slightly), I then recomposed for the boat shack and made the second exposure using the same lens but set at a wider focal length. Both shots were made on a Manfrotto tripod.

The camera did all of the exposure work for me (halving the exposure for each of the two frames), but I did set the camera to -1 stop of exposure compensation to keep the shot somewhat on the dark side (mainly to hold detail in the moon). I shot the scene in RAW (as always) and adjusted both exposure and color balance a bit during editing.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fun experiment: In-camera multiple exposures

I haven't post anything here in a long time largely because I've begun writing a new book and so have been spending a lot of time doing research. Also, July was so godawful hot here in New England that I couldn't work in my office (which has no a/c).  I have been shooting a little, mostly experimenting with different creative techniques. The shot here is the result of an in-camera triple exposure of several different bottles and a blue wine glass (shot in natural light on my back porch). The multiple exposures are pretty simple on my Nikon D90--you just set it to the multiple-exposure mode (in the menus) and then tell it how many exposures you're going to make. The camera automatically adjusts the exposure based on the number of exposures you're using to make one frame.

In the old days (film) you had to trick the camera into making in-camera multiples by pressing in the film rewind button so that the film didn't advance when you cocked the shutter and  you had to be bery careful to keep the tension on the film tight or it shifted slightly and  you ended up with overlapping frame. Using digital cameras to make multis is certainly world's easier! All that I did between exposures was to change the composition or zoom the lens or slightly shift my angle of view. This shot is pretty much right out of the camera--that green background color is just the green of my backyard. See if your camera has the mode, it's a blast.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mute Swans Struggle to Survive in Connecticut

The other day I was sitting down by the river with a friend and a family of swans glided up to where we were sitting. I was really surprised to see this brood of 14 cygnets bracketed by the two parents. The  trouble was that they came so close I couldn't widen my 70-300mm zoom out wide enough to take in the whole family--I had to cut the adults in half. Kind of looks like you could join the two adults up to make one complete swan. But it's OK, I just wanted a snapshot to record this nice family. Normally swans lay odd-numbers of eggs, so I was surprised to see an even number of babies. Perhaps something happened to one, or perhaps there was a straggler that I didn't see.

There used to be a ton of swans near me in Connecticut, but the state passed an "egg addling" law that allows for the shaking of swan eggs to destroy the babies. This is done because the duck hunters complained about the way that swans "attacked" the ducks they were hunting. This from the people that want to shoot the ducks and eat them.

It sickens me that the state took the side of the hunters and not the swans. The year before the law passed I would commonly see dozens of swans in a 10 mile drive up the river. Now I see almost none. It struck me as odd (very odd) that the year that the bill was passed, suddenly dozens of adult swans also disappeared. What happened to them? Swans don't migrate, so where did all of the adults go?

It's a damn shame when the lives of such beautiful animals are wiped out so that a tiny group of people can have their selfish way. Thousands of people are denied the joy of seeing these majestic and beautiful birds so that a handful of hunters won't have to deal with swans. (And hunters will tell you that swans are not a native species--but neither are the starlings in your backyard!) And, by the way, I am *not* an opponent of hunting for those who use the food to feed their families--but I am vehemently against an entire population of swans being destroyed when there is no hard science to back up the claims of the damage they are supposed to cause. And, as any biologist will tell you, when you try to wipe out a species like this in a limited area the breeding goes into overdrive. The egg-addling program is creating the problem they were seeking to solve.

I'd like to see the numbers of how many swans are left in Connecticut and the rest of New England but because of the economy there is probably no staff collecting this important data. If you happen to know someone who is going to school for wildlife biology, perhaps you could suggest a swan study as a class project.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Greg Hartford's Acadia Magic

If you've been thinking of taking a summer vacation in New England but haven't decided on a destination yet, let me be the first to suggest a visit to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine. Acadia was the first first national park east of the Mississippi and it's really the crown jewel of wild New England places. The park includes a 27-mile scenic drive that provides some of the most spectacular, rugged and pristine ocean views anywhere on the planet. From sandy beaches to sheer granite cliffs, this park is amazing and the drive will provide a front-row seat to all of this beauty.

One of the nice things about the drive is that there are lots of places to pull over so that you can get out and explore and take pictures to your heart's content. You can really travel at your own pace--even when it's relatively crowded (and it is pretty busy in summer, trust me). If you want to leave the crowds behind, however, there are also 45 miles of "Carriage" roads that are open to bikers and hikers, as well as another 115 miles of hiking trails. The vehicle fee to get into the park is just $20/week--a bargain.

Photographer Greg Hartford has produced a wonderful site about the park called AcadiaMagic and it's the perfect place to start planning your trip. Greg is a lifelong resident of Maine and has spent much of his photo career capturing amazing photos of Acadia. Greg's photos are just beautiful and they'll give you a great appreciation for the beauty of Acadia. In addition to all of the stunning photography, Greg has also put together an extremely informative site for travelers--easily the most comprehensive site about Acadia on the web. There is a ton of information on dining, lodging, shopping and sightseeing.

If Greg's photos don't inspire you to want to visit Acadia, nothing will. I'm not sure if he gives private photo tours or not, but you might want to ask him--contact info is on the site. (Photo courtesy of Greg Hartford. Copyright 2013 Greg Hartford)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Peaceful Beauty of Twilight

I live near the water and twilight is one of my favorite times of day--it's a very peaceful, calm time of day and the breezes have died down a bit so that the water surfaces are generally much more calm. Also, after the sun has set there is often a pretty afterglow in the sky. In this scene you can just see slight tinges of pink. That pink was actually stronger a few minutes before, but I wasn't set up in time to capture it. A friend of mine on Facebook commented on the geometry of this shot and I have to agree that when I shot it I placed that larger foreground boat carefully between the others. I think that being careful not to let the boats overlap helps to reveal the space of the scene and also helps maintain a feeling of balance

The photo was shot with a Nikon D90 and a 70-300mm f/5.6 Nikkor zoom. The exposure was 1/60 second at f/8, ISO 320. I captured it in both RAW and jpeg, but this is from the jpeg version--I will play with the white balance much more when I work it from the RAW file.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Ferris Wheel Fun at the Carnival

If there is one thing in the world that I'm highly attracted to visually, it's the combination of color, light and motion--and nothing combines those three elements better than a Ferris wheel. I've been photographing them since I was a about 16 and stopped one night at a carnival in a nearby town to take some snapshots. While I was shooting, a cop who was patrolling the carnival stopped to chat and asked me what shutter speed I was using. At the time I was just trying to record an image of the wheel and hadn't thought much (or at all) about the motion of the wheel. I was shooting as I always did, just using a shutter speed that was slow enough to record the Ferris wheel when it was stopped--probably 1/30 second or so. This cop (who told me he did a lot of photography for his department--in Shelton, Connecticut, by the way) suggested that since I was using a tripod I should try to capture some motion shots and experiment with long exposures--a second or more. And so I did. I shot a whole roll (Ektachrome slides in those days) of photos at between one and four or five seconds.

When I got that film back from the lab, I was completely blown away. Instead of just still shots of a pretty ride, I had these intense swirls of color and light. Wow, cool! Many of the shots were grossly overexposed (what I wouldn't have given for an LCD back then!). Ever since then I've been drawn like a moth to the light at carnivals and I think of that nice cop every time I shoot ride photos. Many of these photos have been published in my books and, in fact, the cover of my book Exposure Photo Workshop (the first edition) features a motion shot of a Ferris wheel (the 2nd edition features a shot of a different carnival ride).

Getting shots like the ones here is easy--and I didn't even use a tripod for the second shot, I was just resting the camera (a Nikon D90) on the roof of my friend Pam's car. The exposure for the second shot was about 1/8 second at f/8 and for the first shot above it was a full second at f/22, on a Manfrotto tripod. I shot both nights at ISO 200 to preserve image quality (though I did bump up the ISO for a few shots as an experiment). I shot hundreds of photos over the course of the two nights, endlessly experimenting with shutter speeds. There are three things that will effect the outcome of your photos: the shutter speed that you're using, the  speed of the wheel and the color patterns since the lights are almost always changing. Also, these days one wonderful change in the wheels is that most use LED lights which are vastly brighter and more colorful--a really tremendous improvement for photographers. I also did some "zooming" shots both nights, racking the zoom during the long exposures and I'll post a few of those in a few days.

Finally, one thing you should do is experiment with your white balance. I set my white balance to tungsten lighting and then used the color picker graphic (available on most dSLR cameras) to custom set the balance. I had to play with the setting many times to get it to record the colors of the wheel accurately (and you're never really sure until you see the images on a bigger screen--which is partly why I went back the second night, to work more with white balance). Of course, I always shoot in RAW (and jpeg simultaneously most of the time) so that I can play with the white balance after the fact, as well. Both of the images here are exactly as they came out of the camera--I did nothing to the color balance other than set the black point for the background using curves (and you should be sure you have a good rich Dmax to set off the colors nicely). They are not sharpened either, though you could do this to crisp up the edges if you wanted.

Fun stuff, right? Well summer is here, so get our your tripod and make sure your batteries are charged (long exposures use a lot of battery power) and go have fun at the carnival.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Happy 94th Birthday to Folk Legend Pete Seeger

The wondrous singer/songwriter/activist/storyteller/ecologist Pete Seeger turned 94 on Friday May 3rd. Happy Birthday to you Pete! Thanks for all you've done for music, for art, for the Earth and for humanity.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Alaska bear photo workshop: Last-minute opening

If you've ever fantasized about photographing bears in Alaska, this may be your opportunity. Due to a cancellation, Alaska photographer Ron Niebrugge has an unexpected opening for one more photographer for his August 7 - 13, 2013 (7 days/6 nights) bear photo workshop in Lake Clark National Park. Ron is an Alaskan native (and resident) and is one of the country's premiere wilderness and wildlife photographers; I profiled him for Outdoor Photographer magazine a few years back.

On his blog Ron writes: "In August the spring cubs are a little bigger and a bit more independent.  The possibility of photographing fishing bears; bears chasing, catching and eating salmon is always high in August as the salmon start running. Another opportunity is perching Puffin. In August the Puffin are busy feeding chicks, and will be flying to and from their burrows with mouths full of needlefish."

Time magazine said of Ron's tour: "This tour around Lake Clark National Park promises bear sightings, and thanks to a precision-timed itinerary, they're prolific: brown bears walking, sleeping and feeding on salmon." 

I can't think of a more exciting way to spend a week than photographing brown bears in Alaska with a master wildlife photographer. According to Ron airfares to Alaska area also extremely cheap right now. Life is short, have fun, go photograph bears!

(Photos courtesy of Ron Niebrugge)

Monday, April 1, 2013

Choosing a New Digital Camera--Nice Guide from Time Magazine

Probably the one question that I'm asked most about digital photography (particularly from Facebook friends) is: What's the best digital camera to buy? I'm always happy to hear the question because it shows that at least some people realize that there are cameras beyond the cell-phone camera in their pocket (an important warning about those in a minute). It's often a tough question to answer because the models seem to change so quickly and also, not all of the best digital cameras are made by the traditional camera makers (Canon, Olympus, Nikon, etc.). Companies like Samsung and Sony, better known as electronics manufacturers than camera companies, make some very respectable cameras--which isn't surprising since (lens design aside) all digital cameras are, in fact, electronic gizmos.

The first thing you have to consider, of course, is price. How much are you willing to invest in your photography? You can get a great compact digital camera for well under $150 and probably even under $100 if you aren't looking for too many features. You can get a great digital advanced zoom camera (essentially an advanced compact with a larger optical zoom and more exposure features in most cases) for around $300. And if you're willing to go to the $500-1,000 range and you want the ultimate in digital-camera flexibility and sophistication, you can get a very good MILC (mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera) or a dSLR. Both of the latter allow you to change lenses.

Time magazine has published a pretty handy introduction to camera buying and it covers the rest of the basics pretty well. One thing I'll add (or at least emphasize) is not to get too caught up in the megapixel wars. There was a time when more pixels meant much better images but we've long passed that point. Now manufacturers are cramming more and more pixels (light-gathering elements) onto tiny sensors (the smaller the sensor the smaller the camera, which is what most people want) and image quality is actually beginning to degrade--and I'll write more about that in a future post. But for now, keep in mind that any camera that offers 10 or 12 megapixels will provide excellent pictures and very big enlargements. Bigger or "full frame" (the size of a frame of 35mm film) sensors have more real estate an so can offer more and bigger pixels and so they are an exception--with those sensors more pixels can vastly improve image quality.

My cell camera warning: It has happened to another friend of mine--he lost his iPhone! Painful enough to lose a $500 phone, but he also lost hundreds and hundreds of digital photos and videos that he never bothered to download. One of my primary complaints about cell phones is that people either don't know how to download their images or they don't bother. Either way, if that is your primary camera (a mistake, I think) and you lose the camera or have it stolen--there go your photos. Forever. If you are using your phone as your primary picture-taking device, learn how to download the images and do it on a weekly if not daily basis. Yes, you can upload images to Facebook or Flickr, but those images are crunched (for space reasons) and you'll never be able to get a good digital file from them for printing purposes. Download, download, download. And back up your downloads, too.

(Photos courtesy of Nikon and Olympus)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Train-Hopping Photographer Mike Brodie and His 50,000-Mile Odessey

If you’ve always fantasized about chucking it all and hopping a fast freight but just didn’t have the nerve, not to worry—you can still sample this gritty lifestyle through the eyes of an incredibly gifted and brave shooter: photographer Mike Brodie. Brodie hopped his first freight train when he was just 17 and rode it from his home in Pensacola, Florida to Jacksonville and then home again. Seems innocent enough. But that trip ignited something in Brodie’s imagination and what started as a whim turned into an all-out passion. Between 2002 and 2012 he rode on more than 170 freight trains in 46 states and logged more than 50,000 miles. In 2004 he started recording his journeys, at first with an old Polaroid and then in 35mm. His pictures are an amazing record of a lifestyle most of us have only seen through Hollywood's eyes and they have now been collected and published in a hardcover book called A Period of Juvenile Prosperity published by Twin Palms Publishers. A non-signed casebound first edition is available immediately and there is a signed version on back order. The latter should be available on March 25, 2013. A fascinating book, the photos are incredible--I'm sure the first edition will sell out quickly. (Photos courtesy of Mike Brodie.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

For Spring: A Poem by Pamela Starland

Winter holds on
With claws tight 
Around rooted trees
Flakes fall to remind us

Spring is gaining strength
As migrations ride
The southern wind's
Warm currents

They chase the chill
Of bitter cold 
Off the clouds
To fall into the ocean

Father sun and Mother Earth
Grow closer
As their union melts
The frozen terrain

Their tears of happiness
fall in the freezing breeze
Seasons transition
As crocus emerge

A bittersweet visit
Each year - winter and Spring
To win the season

              --Pamela Starland

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Simple Photoshop Softening Technique

We had a warm day in Connecticut today, it reached the mid 50s and I'm not sure how they know how warm it is outside, but the kitties requested that I let them out to the porch first thing. Later I took a break from a retouching assignment to go and check on them and found them in this sweet pose. I had to run and grab a camera, change lenses and hope they were still cuddled up when I got back. Thankfully they were.

The porch had plenty of light, but I wanted to use flash to brighten it up a bit more. I put the flash of my D90 into the "slow sync" mode so as to catch some of the daylight around them but the flash was still a bit too harsh. Normally I might just toss a Gaussian blur on to soften the look a bit, but lately I've been experimenting with the median filter (Filters>Noise>Median) and that's what I used for this shot. Prior to playing with the median, I did my basic adjustments: crop, a curves correction and some minor color corrections (using hue/saturation mainly). Then I applied the median filter, as follows:

  1. Duplicate the background layer (Command J on a Mac).
  2. Apply the Median filter (again, Filters>Noise>Median) and choose an amount. In this case it was arbitrary, but I used a pretty heavy setting of around 25. At this setting the image is barely recognizable but don't worry about that. You're going to use the opacity setting to bring back detail from the original background layer.
  3. I then adjusted the opacity of background copy to about 40%.
  4. I made some tweaks to color balance and saturation and that's it.
 I think this would be a nice technique to use for portraits, too. The effect kind of reminds me of some more complex softening methods, but this is so fast you can do it in a few seconds.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The World's Biggest Panoramic

If you're a panoramic-photo lover like me, you'll find this story from American Photography's Pro Photo Daily very interesting. If printed out the pano would be 322 feet across and 79 feet high! The photo takes a few minutes to load but it's pretty cool.

World Records: 320 Gigapixel Shot Is the Biggest Panorama Ever

PetaPixel   Tuesday February 26, 2013
An image of London made by stitching together 48,640 exposures taken with seven Canon EOS 7D DSLRs is the hugest panoramic photo ever, reports PetaPixel. The big picture, taken from the top of London’s BT Tower, offers a detailed, browsable 360-degree view of the city. (Go here to start your browsing.) Each of the 7Ds was equipped with an EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and Extender EF 2x III teleconverter, and then attached to a Rodeon VR Head ST robotic panorama head. It took three weeks to stitch the images together.   Read the full Story >>

American Photography's Pro Photo Daily is a free newsletter about what's happening in the photo world and you can subscribe for free by visiting their site.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Glory of Melting Snow

I shot this photo years ago with one of my first digital cameras, an Olympus C5050 (still one of my favorite cameras of all time) and it's been published in a few of my books. The flower is called Glory of the Snow and it's one of the very first flowers that blooms here in New England and often comes up when there is still snow on the ground. My garden is still buried in up to two feet of snow but this week is supposed to be very warm and I'm hoping by week's end the snow has pretty much disappeared--and that the flowers begin to make their valiant return. With the exception of one giant blizzard the winter wasn't that bad (at least in terms of snow), but I'm thrilled that spring is only 24 days away.

The time is now to begin to gather up and organize your close-up gear. My favorite tool the past few years has been a set of close-up extension tubes that I bought (Kenko) for around $200. Close up tubes have no glass elements so they don't degrade image quality at all; they simply reduce the close-focus distance of your lenses. The tubes are sold as kits of three different-sized extensions that can be used individually or together in any combination. There are cheaper versions out there on Ebay but be sure they fit your camera and lenses and that they retain all auto functions in terms of exposure and autofocus.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Some Scenes of My House in the Blizzard

Well, you've no doubt heard about the Blizzard of 2013 in Connecticut--here's what it looked like in my front yard. Official totals say we got about 33" in my town, but I'd say it was closer to 40" based on looking at the level areas (which were hard to find). In the top photo you can see the view from my front door during the start of the storm (on Friday) and in the next photo, you can see the view on Saturday morning. My poor van is buried for a while--I have no intention of digging it out just yet. The bottom photo is my great neighbor Rich who, seeing that I couldn't push my door open with a five-foot drift against it, climbed over a mountain of snow to dig out my front door! Thanks Rich! The next day Rich dug out the entire sidewalk for our 85 year old neighbor who lives alone. I am guessing she'll bake Rich a cake pretty soon. It's been quite a storm so far--and as of this writing, not a single plow has come down our street--and the storm ended on Saturday, it's now Monday morning.

Thankfully we all kept electricity in the neighborhood and it's been kind of fun hanging out with neighbors in the street and shoveling and talking, meeting neighbors some of us didn't know, etc. And a lot of my neighbors, like me, are second generation (some even more) homeowners, so we have childhood tales to tell of the igloos we built in storms long ago. Everyone seemed in really nice spirits and several families were walking a mile into town to buy pizza, etc. (Thankfully, too, the great people at Paradise Pizza stayed open.) Of course, those who braved the walk (not me!) had to walk in the single traffic lane of Main Street since you can't even find the sidewalks, let alone walk on them. Drifts everywhere are up to six feet everywhere. It's pretty incredible. Normally at this time of year, though, we'd all be huddled inside hiding from nature, but this blizzard pulled everyone outside, which was nice.

I wasn't at all prepared for this storm--had no food in the house, very little heating oil, etc., but it's been just fine. And the cats have been enjoying that when I come in from shoveling, I immediately take a nap. They just love to nap on snowy days, and so do I!

And best of all, we'll all have tales to tell about the Blizzard of 2013.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Straight vs Artsy, Take Your Pick

Today was a "phone day" for some reason--I had several long conversations in a row and it was a nice way to kill a Tuesday afternoon (let's hope none of my writing editors are reading this). But not being one who likes to waste time (or who can keep his paws off of Photoshop for very long) while I was talking I started doodling with a shot I took last week (of a marine repair boat on the Housatonic River near my home in Connecticut) and came up with a few variations of the original. I started both as I usually do with a quick crop and a quick curves correction (to get the tonalities close to the correct range), and then I started dipping into a few things like gradient mapping, posterization and some basic drawing filters. I really wasn't too thrilled with the original because it was a tad too warm (I shot it very late in the day) and also, parts of the boat sort of merged into a dark strip of marsh in the background.) The two variations are pretty predictable, but as I always say, the more you play in Photoshop the more avenues you explore and you can always put what you learn to work on important shots that need some creative tweaking.

Before I make any changes to a shot, I always dupe the background layer (Command J on a Mac, Control J on Windows) and then do the rest of the work on that duplicate layer. There are two reasons for this: one is so that if I don't like where I'm going with something, I can just drag the background-copy layer (and any additional layer that I don't want) to the trash but leave the original background layer alone. Then I don't have to bother re-opening the original image--it's still sitting there as the background-layer original. The other reason is that once I've got some creative work done to the dupe layer, I can experiment with layer blending modes, changing the relationship between the background layer and it's duplicate layer(s). I can also adjust the opacity between layers, further changing the relationship between the two. In fact, I often create multiple dupes of layers so that I can use blending modes and opacity adjustments between each layer.

This is all  much simpler than it sounds and if you've never experimented with adjustment layers (and opacity changes), try it. Just duplicate the background layer and then, at the top of the layers palette, use the pull-down menu to try different blending modes. It's kind of hard to explain what each blend mode does, it's much simpler to just experiment and see what happens. I learned a lot about the blending modes from a workshop I took with the legendary Ben Willmore--one of my Photoshop heroes. Ben doesn't seem to write books any more, but his older books are a treasure trove of great info and advice. Ben is a really interesting guy who lives (I kid you not) in a big classic old tour bus and travels the country shooting and teaching Photoshop. Do check out his site & blog.

In the meantime, you can't hurt your computer or your software by messing around with Photoshop and while a lot of what I come up with might be kind of artsy or trite, I find that for me, playing is the absolute best way to learn.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunsets: Timing, Lens Choice and Horizons

Believe it or not, I shot both of these sunsets on the same day standing in essential the same place (on the shore of Long Island Sound) with the same camera (an Olympus UZ-810) and they were shot only about 10 minutes apart. The photos look very different from one another and that is due largely to three choices that I made for each shot: when I took the picture, the focal length that I chose and, very importantly, where I placed the horizon for each shot.

The top shot was taken first and was made with a zoom setting (in 35mm equivalent) of 159mm. That's on the long side of the medium telephoto lens range (typically a medium-telephoto lens is in the 85 to 135mm range, so this is just outside that, but not yet in what I would call the super-telephoto range). You can see in this shot that space has been compressed and that the stone jetty (that dark finger sticking out into the water) is much closer and larger. Also, by aiming the camera down at the foreground the shot emphasizes the foreground, not the sky. And finally, the sun was still a few degrees above the horizon when I took the picture. The thing that I like about the shot is that the color of the sky is reflected nicely in the little tidal area in the foreground. What I don't like is that the sunset sky seems awkwardly  cropped out of the frame. Probably a better choice would have been to widen the zoom setting a bit to take in a bit more sky while still keeping the foreground dominant.

In the second (bottom) shot, I waited until the sun was just touching the horizon--which is my favorite time to shoot sunsets. You have to shoot quickly when the sun gets this low because there is an odd little phenomenon going on: the closer the sun gets to the horizon, the faster it disappears from view. Also, I switched to the widest setting of the zoom lens (around 24mm--and that Olympus has a huge 36x optical zoom--it goes from about 24mm to nearly 900mm!). I also aimed the camera upward because I wanted to emphasize the sky and that beautiful whispy cloud pattern that was happening. The clouds look to me like an artist had put some dabs of white paint in the sky and then smeared them a bit with a wide brush or a comb--and I guess that's exactly what happened with Mother Nature being the artist. Whenever you place the horizon low in the frame you emphasize the sky.

So there you have two very different looks at one sunset based on three simple technical and creative decisions. Both of these shots were made handheld, by the way, something I almost never do. But the camera has image stabilization and I was out for a ride with a friend and just didn't want to inflict a tripod on him. Oh, by the way, you'll notice in the bottom shot that I lined up the sun right over the tip of the jetty. In art terms that's known as a "point of tension" and it's a small compositional trick that really works--your eye naturally goes to that spot because the tight spacing and close alignment create a kind of visual anticipation that something is going to happen there.

My latest book is the Digital Photography FAQs Book and you can read more about it or order it on Amazon or find it in your local shop. Or see if your local library has it and you can read it for free.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dreams of a Young Pharaoh

OK, one more Photoshop montage (for now) and I'll try to move back to photography. I have no idea where this burst of Photoshop energy came from, but I haven't been shooting much lately and so I guess the fire to create something still burns and so I turn to existing images. Combining old images in this way is actually a lot of fun (and I have no idea whatsoever what these images mean) and, as I said in a previous posting, it gives you a lot of editing practice. Creating montages is a nice way to spend a cold winter's evening, too.

One of the more interesting aspects of doing this kind of work for me is that I have no idea where I'm going when I begin. When it comes to taking straight photos, of course, I know exactly what I'm after and I know how to get there. With these montages, on the other hand, I just start with one image, then keep adding more and doing things like changing the sizes, the shapes, the colors and, most fun, the layer blending modes. Another fun thing is that these images come from all different times and places. The montage here, for example, includes the shot of the pharaoh (taken in an antiques store in Connecticut), the water lilies (shot at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia) and the peacock tail (shot in southern Florida). How could I have any idea they would end up together in one image? Interestingly too, I have a writer friend that wrote a very pretty and insightful poem based on this montage.

So, when you start meandering down a creative path, you never know where you'll end up. Also, I've learned that I need to take some advanced classes in Photoshop. While I've been working with the program a long time (since 1993) and I'm pretty good at it, there are some things I need to learn about montage work--like creating gradients between layers/images and refining selections. But every time you work an image you learn more about Photoshop--and about your own imagination--and so while it might seem you're wasting time, you're really not. At least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Today's Creation: The Birth of a Flower

Created from two scanned images: one of a chambered nautilus shell, the other of an eggplant blossom. Both elements physical elements scanned on an Epson flatbed scanner. There is only one flower image, repeated multiple times, re-sized for each layer and then each layer was blended using different layer-blending modes for each flower image.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Little More Montage Fun

These are the same two base elements of the previous posting (the silhouette of the family and the shot of the perigee moon) but without some of the additional elements. The color was manipulated using the channel mixer tool--very simple to use. These images are really just sketches for much more elaborate scenes that I want to create. It's a good idea to sketch out things with fewer elements so you can see how things work together, but it's worth keeping notes so that you don't forget how you got there. The history legend will keep track of things while you're working, but once you flatten the image, it disappears. The one thing that I particularly like about this version is that the color of the moon and the sky/water color go nicely together--something I'll keep in mind when if I go further with these shots.