Monday, December 15, 2014

Fun with Bokeh and Christmas Lights

Boken is essentially the aesthetic quality of the the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light. Although it is part of nearly every image to some degree it is often used to make spectacular images this time of year with Christmas lights.
The image to the right is an example of this common, if not over-used effect.

But with a little extra effort you can make something a little bit out of the ordinary.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Making a Difference

Why are you are photographer? Is it for the money? Is it just a hobby?  Maybe just to pass the time or perhaps to help you relax and get away from the daily job?  Hopefully in the end there is something about it that makes you feel good about what you are doing.

Ive sat in my basement studio photographing water drops, flowers, fire and all sorts of things, but I get not true joy out if it. It all seems lifeless... and when you think about it, it is.  Nothing about that drives me to want to do more.  Even spending the day hiking up a mountain or walk local trails, although fun and possibly exciting at the time,  is rather lack-luster when the day is over.

I have found the photography that makes me feel best about the time I am spending is when I can make a difference in someone else's life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

And for my next trick -- Burning Light Bulbs!

It's cool. It's fun. It has an ever so slight edge of danger.... But it can give some fascinating results.
Yes, it is photographing broken lightbulbs.
(examples below found here:

I've been wanting to do this for years.  With all of the days off work due to snow this year, I finally got the time grab the necessary supplies gave it a whirl.  

There is not all that much to it.  A little preparation, a little safety, and a bit of luck to go along with it. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What were they thinking? No. 2: more nonsense things I've heard people say

Sometimes you hear people make comments or reiterating "rules" of photography and you just have to ask yourself "What were they thinking"?

So, how many times have you been given the following helpful piece of advice or criticism?
"Always keep your horizon level"

It may not sound like such a bad rule on the surface, and for the image to the right, it certainly seems to make sense. :-) :-)

Sadly, I find that it is one of the most overused comments from new photographers and by those who like to throw around rules without actually knowing what it is that they are talking about.  

Lets take a look at why this statement rarely applies in the real world and why you need to question the other person's reasoning when you hear it being said.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree

Have you ever tried to photograph your family in front of your beautifully decorated and lit up Christmas tree only to get a bland green tree with no apparent lights?

If you simply turn on your flash, you're likely to get  a nice green tree, but the lights do not show up.

The camera's flash is so much brighter than the lights on the tree that they simply do not have a chance in being seen. The tree also ends up being full of dark shadows and no life.

It just isn't worth wasting your family's time having them come out and pose just yet.

Here are a few tips for getting a more decent image.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Know Your Equipment

Here's a short little story you're sure to love.
So I've been using Apple Macs for the past few years.  At the time the switch form Windows allowed my blood pressure to drop several dozen points.  Although honestly with today's operating systems, I would not recommend one over the other to a new user.  They're each equally as good/bad as the other now. Well, up to Windows 7... that Windows 8 schtuff is an utter disaster. But that is neither here nor there to my point. :)

Anyway... I recently upgraded my iMac in January of this year and have been doing fine since.
Until this past week while post-processing a group of images for the weekend's event.

Well, every few minutes the brightness on my monitor would change. Nothing drastic, just subtle enough that after 20 minutes or so I could tell it was different than my second monitor which had stayed the same.

Anyone who works on photos knows how critical it is to keep your monitor color and brightness stable and calibrated to ensure proper results.  So needless to say this was quite frustrating when I am doing work for customers.

Long story short, there is now a setting in the Mac OS that allows the brightness of the iMac to be adjusted automatically.  Apparently there must be a light sensor in there somewhere! How am I supposed to know that? And who really wants their monitor settings to change "randomly"?

It just happened that this was the first day I worked during daylight hours with the curtains open.
As the sunlight changed, so did my monitor.

Sort of funny ... once I figured that out.

Maybe this will save someone some frustration.
Under your Display settings, find the following check-box and turn it Off.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cherry Blossoms - another year

Well, this was certainly a fabulous year for viewing the cherry blossoms.  Certainly the best I have had the pleasure photographing for the past, maybe five years.  Regardless of the weather; if it be darned near freezing and requires three layers of clothing, gloves and every pocket filled with hand-wamers... or like this week with temps near 70 degrees, photographing the cherry blossoms is something I wait for every year.

I tend to arrive by 3am and circle most of the tidal basin before sunrise, capturing some unique images of iconic landscapes.  It is a very peaceful and relaxing time to visit the DC Mall, and taking photographs at that time is almost therapeutic.  When I started photographing the cherry blossoms in the pre-sunrise morning I saw no one around the tidal basin.  Each year I see more and more photographers joining me in this seemingly crazy ritual. :-)

Crowds congeal around the tidal basin as soon as the light starts to shine. I tend to think of them as anti-vampires.  They only come out when it is light, yet they will also suck the life from an otherwise perfect photo of the DC cherry blossoms.

Therefore, I try to get out before the crowds and arrive long before sunrise.  This not only alleviates having people in all of your photos, but it results in unique images few others will have or be willing to get.  For example, this year sunrise as 6:40am.  But to beat the sunlight altogether, you need to be out before 5:00am when the first signs of light start to fill the sky even before the sun crosses the horizon.

Since the word "photograph" has origins from the Greek words roughly meaning "drawing with light", you will need some soft of light.  We are lucky in the downtown DC area that the major monuments are lit up all hours of the day. So taking nigh-time photos of these is trivial.

Sadly, there are few lights available for photographing the cherry blossoms themselves, and the results are not very impressive.  Below you can see the results when additional light is added to what would normally be a disappointing photograph.  Even with the first example, some light was available from giant industrial flood light behind me. Even these were not enough to add much life to the image.

no flash - ordinary
with flash - extra ordinary

You could bring a flashlight, or many photographers may have a handheld flash, a "speedlite"for example.  My lighting weapon of choice is a battery power studio strobe -- Paul C Buff's  Einstein to be exact. Powered by their Vagabond Lithium Mini.  Its a few extra pounds of weight but the extra power and light coverage well worth it!!

no flash - less than ordinary
with flash - extra ordinary

At night, all photos will require long exposures.  The wind will almost always be causing the cherry blossoms to move and sway throughout your exposure.  Use of a flashlight  will invariably result in a blurry mess by the time you're done lighting your scene.

Even a "speedlite" may result in poor results.  You may need to pop off multiple flashes during the long exposure to light all of the cherry blossoms you want to capture.  This will often result in multiply exposed blossoms, as they move in the wind and are exposed repeatedly in different positions by your flash.

If necessary, limit your field of view and increase your flash power as high as possible to allow your flash to fire only once.

As the sun rises and the sky lights up, you may run into additional problems but with a little care you can still use your flash.  If your camera/flash has an option called High Speed Sync, it might help.  But the effective distance diminishes so greatly, you're often just wasting your time!!

Once the sun is completely up, put away your flash and enjoy the splendid beauty of the cherry blossoms themselves.  Don't forget to be creative.  Sometimes that full canopy of blossoms can make a great background for other images. Or blend images and create something completely unique.

So be bold and daring, and set your clock for the wee hours.  Relax and have fun before the "cherry blossom anti-vampires" feeding frenzy begins and you feel like you've just stepped into the Metro at rush hour.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cherry Blossoms in Washington DC - Photography Walking Tour

One of my favorite times of the year is late March / early April when the cherry blossom blooms are at peak levels.  This year they are expected to peak about April 2 - 6.  Of course, it is really a guessing game as any change in weather patterns can alter that target window.  That is part of the fun, of course -- watching and waiting for the right time to head out and capture a scene that is rather unique to our area.

The early morning is a great time to photograph the cherry blossoms and the nearby monuments.  You do not have to contend with the literally thousands of people that flock to the tidal basin after sunrise this time of year.
For the past few years I have been leading dedicated photographers out long before sunrise to help them learn how to take fabulous photographs using both long-exposure and flash.  This year is no different.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Its all in the bits... Why edit in 16bit mode when your image is 8bit.

8 bit v.s. 16 bit

Today I look at whether we should edit our photos in 8 bit or 16 bit mode?

We all know that JPEG images are 8 bit images.  Meaning that the color of each pixel made from 256 levels of Red, Green and Blue (16 million color in all) . Most of us also know that RAW images may have 12 or even 14 bits per color potentially giving each pixel over 16,000 levels of each Red, Green and Blue (nearly 4.4 Trillion colors).  It therefore seems obvious that if you shoot in RAW that you are probably going to edit in 16bit mode to retain that extra information rather than throw away 4+ trillion colors..

But lets say you're not ready to jump into taking photos in RAW mode, or perhaps you have decided for whatever reasons that JPEG is the best method for shooting for your style and workflow.   Does that mean that just because your photos are 8bit images that you should also edit those photos in 8bit mode?
Of course not!  Silly question.  Forget I asked. I wouldn't be wasting time with this post if that was the answer. :-)

What were they Thinking? No. 1: Remembering How Masking Works in Photoshop

Photography like any specialty has its own sets of buzzwords, phrases and rules that just make you ask "What were they Thinking"?  I have a few that I swear were created merely to confuse novices and make people in training videos sound like they have something relevant to say.

Lets start, for example, my least favorite phrase regards use of masks in Photoshop.  It is very simple and goes something like this,

 "white reveals and black conceals".

Or is it "black reveals and white conceals"?

Its a quick little phrase to help you remember whether you want to paint in black or white in the layer mask to hide or expose what is underneath.   I don't know where it started, but popular training professionals regurgitate the phrase like its a message from the Heavens to save humanity from their confusion.