Friday, December 2, 2011

Good Farming AND good Cooking...

One of my most favorite websites (tmelive.com) includes a “daily critique” feature that uses a recently taken photography, and utilizing the “language of  design”, discusses the strengths and merits of an image.  Occasionally, they demonstrate ways to reinterpret or “improve” that image with possible editing enhancements and techniques.  I’ve learned a tremendous amount though these lessons and examples.

This same website started a new feature earlier this year called EditMyImage.  It’s basically a user-driven discussion group where someone posts an image of their own, and then the other uses download it, and edit it anyway they want, and re-post the result.  The original person then chooses the edit they like best and declares a “winner”.  This winner then restarts the process by posting a new image of their own.

The two images here show the current photo being worked on.  The first, full-color image (above )was the contributor’s original, and the second, altered image (left) is the edited version I created and have submitted for consideration.  In addition to converting to a sepia-toned background, I used a fair amount of "digital gardening" and clone-stamping to simplify the image and reduce what I thought was distracting clutter.

I think the EditMyImage forum is an excellent way to not only hone your own post-processing skills, but it let’s you see how others respond to the identical image.  You realize quickly how many different ways there are to reinterpret and add uniqueness to an image.   If you have several photography friends, or are a member of a photography club, suggest using this activity as a learning tool--it will give you a lot of enjoyment and learning, and it will make you a better photographer.  After all, photography isn’t just pressing the shutter and creating captures.  That part of the process is obviously important, and arguably the MOST important part, but photography also includes whatever post processing (we used to call developing) techniques you choose to apply to your captures.   

I think of the capture component as “farming”, and the post-production component as “cooking”.  You need both good farming AND good cooking to create a great meal.  A good capture AND good post-processing will give you something you'll be proud of, and proud of sharing. 

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Don't be Stingy with Keywords

Photo organizing is a chore.  It’s probably the least favorite part of the photographer’s workflow, but arguably one of the most important.  It’s important because of the need to be able to retrieve images at a later date—and that need drives the importance (and the benefits) of good organization.

How many times have you gone to look for an image but forgot exactly where you were when you shot it, or even when you shot it, and unfortunately the subject was not something you used as a keyword…so you just start scrolling through images hoping to stumble upon it. 

My recommendation to you, and it’s from personal experience, is to use keywords as part of your organizing, and don’t be stingy with them.  Most photo organizing software allows you to “tag” images with keywords that can later be used as criteria for finding images.  It’s tempting to keep keywords at a minimum, but I’ve learned that the more key words you use, the greater your chances of finding a particular image later.  Don’t write paragraphs and be so specific with keywords that you’re describing details of a single image, but rather use enough keywords so that your searches will narrow down to retrieve a group of  50-100 images that would include the one you’re looking for.

Think of keywords along the lines of who, what, when, where, and why (the “5-Ws”).  If you do that, you will greatly increase your chances of finding what you want, quickly.  I was recently looking for this image of a tractor that I shot.  Only because I remembered where I took the image, was it relatively easy to find—but memory is not a good system when you have as many images as I do.  Had I used more keywords at the time of downloading, I would have been able to quickly find the image, spending less time searching, and more time on the project that I was working on.

So I would encourage that you make it a priority in your workflow to tag your images with keywords immediately after downloading.  I've had really good success now using the “5-Ws”—if you have another system that you’re using and getting good results from, drop me a line and share how it's working.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/


(metadata for this image 1/250 sec at f/8 ISO 200, focal length 28mm)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I like HDR

For all that’s been written about High Dynamic Range (HDR), it still carries a stigma among some photography “purists” who believe it to be an unnatural manipulation.  I won’t try to convince you otherwise, but what I will do is tell you that it’s a tool that I’m glad to have discovered, and in certain situations it’s about the only way to capture what’s in my mind’s eye.

Take for example this sculpture that I was admiring in the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  I was there last month and enjoyed touring the gardens and was in awe of the talents of this amazing artist.  This particular sculpture spoke to me yet it was obvious that the lighting conditions were not favorable for capturing what I was feeling in a single exposure.

The clouds were amazing, and the deep blue sky provided the perfect backdrop for the sculpture and a beautiful color pairing for the red desert rock.  The problem was that the sky and clouds were very bright compared to the relatively dark bronze of the Indian sculpture.  The details and subtle colors of the sculpture could only be captured by opening up the lens, but that action would further blow out the sky (not to mention shallow my depth of field, which I didn't want).  It was quite clear to me that this was a capture that would depend on using HDR techniques to convey everything I was after.

I use Photomatix for my HDR processing.  I prefer it to Photoshop, just a personal preference.  I also prefer to have my HDR images appear within the range of realism.  Some people enjoy creating wild, exaggerated, surrealistic imagery—I haven’t developed an appreciation for that sort of artistic expression.  If someone looks at one of my pictures and asks if it’s an HDR, then I feel like I’ve failed.  If instead, they look at my pictures and “ooh” and “ahh”, then I feel like I’ve succeeded in not over-processing. 

Here I was able to capture the full dynamic range of the subject matter in my composition, and convey the complete idea that was in my mind’s eye. This is the reason that I like HDR, and it's why I feel that it's a tool worth having in your repertoire.


Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/


(metadata for the contributing images 1/250 sec at f/8 (the overexposed). 1/500 at f/11 (the underexposed), 1/350 at f/9.5 (normal—what the meter wanted), and ISO 200, focal length 18mm)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don't Leave Home Without It!

I’ve taken to heart the advice I've seen many photographers give to always have a camera with you.  That said, I don’t ALWAYS have a camera with me, and even when I do, it’s not always my Nikon.  But I've made a concerted effort recently to carrying around my “point and shoot” camera--especially on those occasions where my activity is not purposely photography-oriented.

Such was the case this week as I was taking a walk along the river trail near my house.  It’s easy to carry the camera in my hand all the while I’m speed-walking.  If I find something interesting, I stop and shoot it.  It gives me a great feeling to know that I’m getting fresh air AND getting a few shots off here and there.

I wish that I had taken this advice a bit earlier, because it was during a similar walk last week that I spotted a coyote—a big one!  I had a great vantage point, and the coyote was looking back at me…what a great shot that would have been.  Oh well, live and learn.

If you don’t have a camera with you at all times, consider getting a small point-and-shoot camera to keep in your car, bike bag, etc… you’ll be glad you did.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/200 sec at f/4. and ISO 100, focal length 24mm)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Are You a Nervous or Anxious Photographer?

I was anxious before my trip to New Mexico.  I wasn’t concerned about the flight, family, or the typically important things people worry about when travelling.  No, I was nervous about balloons!  Yes, really.  I wasn’t going up in one, I was simply going to take pictures of them…but nervous?!
I’ll never forget a similar feeling of nervous anxiety I had moments before officiating my first boys under-16 soccer match.  My mentor, a former FIFA referee, who was there to assist me along the touchline, told me that if I was excited, that was a good sign, and meant that I was ready.  In the early days of my referee training, this same mentor emphasized the importance of reading, and re-reading the Laws of the Game.  This, he said, will set the foundation for everything you’ll see out there on the field, give you confidence, and will prepare you to act decisively in the moment when the need arises.  
So let’s see… nervous excitement would be a good thing—meant I was ready, right?  But wait a minute, I haven’t touched my camera’s manual in months…do I know my equipment inside and out, ready to act decisively in the moment, when the need arises?  I want to say yes.  But truth be told, many of us learn enough about our equipment to get it out of the box, and the learning often stops there.  Experimentation and trial-and-error typically become our only learning method after that.
(Note to self:  find manual, read manual)
The other factor explaining my nerves was the pressure I was putting on myself to capture some amazing images. I had high expectations of myself—but wasn’t sure that I would live up to them.  I’ve watched a lot of video interviews of professional photographers (Silber Studios has some great ones), and there are two common messages of advice these photographers give:  1) take a lot of pictures, and 2) research your destination before going there.
To point number one, you may have hear that practice makes perfect.  Not true.  PERFECT practice makes perfect.  If you practice bad habits, you just ingrain bad habits into your workflow.  Taking pictures is the culmination of the visioning, techniques, and thought process that goes into the capture.  If you’re not working to expand your visioning or techniques, then you might not be advancing your photography.  It’s the practicing of the new learning that’s important.  When the pros say to keep taking pictures, they assume you’re interjecting learning into that process.
To point number two, researching a destination is more than determining where you’re going to stay and what you plan to eat.  Have you ever heard that luck is where preparation meets opportunity?  I like “happy accidents” as much as the next guy, and serendipity can play a part in your getting that amazing image.    But it’s the planning that sets us apart.  Professional photographers say that the difference between them and us is not that they take better images than you and me, but that they do it on a greater frequency.  It’s their planning and preparation that often makes the difference.  Would you go on a trip and not take an umbrella?  Ok, me too.
So, you want to be better, and more confident, then be a continuous learner and a practitioner of that learning.  Then couple that with planning and preparation prior to your photoshoots.  You’ll be amazed with how much better you’ll feel, and your friends/clients will be amazed at your results.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/90 sec at f/4.8and ISO 200, focal length 13mm)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

40th International Balloon Fiesta


My visit to New Mexico included some great photographic opportunities including Old Town, Casa Rondena Winery, Villanueva, and Houser Sculpture Gardens.  But nothing quite says Albuquerque like the internationally renowned Balloon Fiesta.  Having grown up in Albuquerque, it was easy to take this spectacle for granted.  My first photoshoot of the balloons was in 1976, using Kodacolor film and my Pentax Spotmatic F.  A lot has changed since then.

Since the first “Balloon Fiesta” in 1972, which included only 13 balloons, the event quickly outgrew its original venue, and after moving several times has settled on a 360 acre venue (launch field alone is 80 acres) called Balloon Fiesta Park.  This year’s event featured over 700 balloons, and remains the only major balloon event where the spectators are allowed on the grounds with the balloons and their pilots and crews.  You can literally touch the balloon gondolas and feel the heat, and the roar, of the propane burners.  It’s hard to describe the combination of excitement and amazement, and the pictures barely do justice to the feeling of being there.  That’s why over 100,000 people pack the venue to be part of the action each day of the week-long event.  The attendance reported for the last day’s mass ascension was estimated at 130,000.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/500 sec at f/5.3 and ISO 200, focal length 80mm)

Houser Sculpture Garden

Allan Houser was a prolific sculpter whose work can be found throughout the southwest, and on display from Washington D.C., to the Japanese Royal Collection in Tokyo.  I visited the Houser Sculpture Gardens during my visit to New Mexico last week.  The gardens, and the foundry used to duplicate the many works of art, is located south of Santa Fe, near Madrid, along what is referred to as the “Turquoise Trail”.  A short dirt road winds it’s way up to the visitor’s center, which is a modest building on the edge of an amazing garden of sculptures.

What we learned about Allan Houser, who died in 1994 of cancer, was that he was born in 1914 in Oklahoma to parents who were members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe.  Many members of the tribe moved to New Mexico to join the Mescalero Apache reservation, but it wasn’t until 1934 that Allan was enrolled in the Painting School at the Santa Fe Indian School.  After leaving New Mexico for some period of time, it wasn’t until 1962 that the family returned to Santa Fe when Allan jointed the faculty of the newly created Institute of American Arts.  It was from this time period through his death in 1994 that Allan’s artistic output blossomed.

This was an inspiring place.  It was hard not to feel connect to the deep emotions that the artist must have had when creating the many unique and incredible scuptures.  They call New Mexico the Land of Enchantment, and if you visit here, you'll begin to see why.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/500 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 200, focal length 70mm)

A Simpler Life in Villanueva


As the name might suggest, a new village it isn’t.   Neither is it a place on the way to somewhere.  Off the beaten path, east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Villanueva is a small community of less than 300, tucked along the Pecos River, in a valley cut between red sandstone hills. 
Villanueva is a quiet place.  It is also a friendly place, and yet a very simple place.  Mostly an agricultural area, this was a land where the beauty was in its authenticity.  A town with no pretenses, everything here had a purpose, a utility.  No frills here.
As the warm afternoon winds whistled gently through the trees, it was easy to feel like you were the only one in town.   Along the road you could see that some buildings and equipment had seen better days.  This tractor was a beautiful example, bright blue with the contrast of rusting red.  It's motionless state belied the work and productivity this ruggest machine must have accomplished during its life.  This place could grow on you.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/750 sec at f/6.7 and ISO 200, focal length 70mm)

Yodelling Cowboy

If you haven’t been to Old Town in Albuquerque, New Mexico, then you’re missing out on a classic southwest experience.  The sights, sounds, and smells of the historic plaza surround you, from the mariachi band players, the wafting aromas of fresh tortillas and sopapillas from the local restaurants, to the vibrant reds of the drying chili ristras…this is New Mexico.
While visiting there last week, I was drawn to a western singer sitting on a stool with a guitar across his lap, and a can for collecting tips hanging from the headstock.  I'm not sure if it was his traditional attire, or his somewhat stark contrast to the native American Indian vendors around the plaza, but to be sure, his yodeling is what drew me in.

I asked if he'd mind if I took his picture, and without hesitation he welcomed me to do so.  I found myself shooting every angle, even changing lenses, but it was this final image that upon reflection evoked the great feeling I had in that moment.  This cowboy seemed larger than life, yet in the most simple way, he was life.  A man singing for his supper.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/125 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 200, focal length 11mm)

Casa Rondena Winery

Nestled along the Rio Grande River in Albuquerque's North Valley are some of the oldest ranches in the southwest.  The transformation taking place in this increasingly valuable real estate market has resulted in the development of beautiful new estate homes intermixed with the old traditional farms.  Almost out of place, but in a beautiful way, is Casa Rondena Winery.
According to their website, Casa Rondena Winery was established in late 1995.  Their tasting room opened in 1997, followed by the winery building in 2004, and finally their barrel aging and storage facility in 2008.  Their grounds are quite beautiful, with an architecture inspired by traditional Spanish influences, but with a New Mexican flair. 
They make all their own wine on the premises, with grapes brought in from mostly southern New Mexico vineyards (in addition to some estate grown fruit).  Many of the visitors I saw appear to have been there before and were content to buy a glass of wine and enjoy the quiet shade of the rotunda. 
I tasted all of their wines and found that my favorite was their 1629 Founders Reserve, a Tempranillo/Syrah blend.
When you think of Albuquerque, you might not think of wine, but that could be changing...

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/750 sec at f/6.7 and ISO 200, focal length 105mm)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Manual Exposure Settings—the Art of HOW

Another snap of the shutter, another opportunity to exert control over your image capture...  How you composed the image determines WHAT will be seen, but it’s your combination of shutter and aperture (and to a lesser extent ISO) that controls HOW it will be seen.  You know all this already.  The point is, do you apply this knowledge before pressing the shutter?

You know that shutter speed generally dictates the amount of motion-freeze or motion-blur you allow in your image.  You also know that aperture choices generally dictates the depth of field, that is, what you allow to be in focus.  So, once again, before you press that shutter, HOW do you want your resulting image to appear?

The two images here of grape clusters demonstrate the result of different decisions being made prior to pressing the shutter.  Of the complete grape cluster, my desire was to be able to see the entire bunch of grapes clearly, and in focus.  Because of this, a fairly broad depth of field was desired.  By choosing an aperture of f/5.6, all grapes would be well within the depth of focus resulting in the desired outcome.  (The necessary shutter speed for proper exposure under this condition was 1/250 sec. with ISO at 200.  A focal length of 105mm was used.)

Conversely, the tight, almost macro image of the grapes was shot at a wide-open f/1.8 because of my desire to have focus only on the surface of a few select grapes, with the remainder of the grape cluster falling off into a gentle blur (an effect often referred to as “bokeh”).  (For this aperture setting, a shutter speed of 1/750 was needed, also at ISO 200.  A focal length of 35mm was used.)

With all the advantages that today's software gives the photographer in post-production (i.e. after the fact), it can’t make up for the important decisions you make as part of the initial capture.  Photography is thinking, not just reacting or snapping pictures.  That said, sometimes conditions are such that you don’t have the luxury of time to think, plan, or prepare for your shot, and that's ok—that’s when you need things like fully-automatic, aperture-priority, or shutter-priority.  But if you have the luxury of time, indulge yourself by also taking advantage of the luxury of manual settings in order to exert full control over HOW you want your image to look.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

There Once Was a Girl and Some Ducks...A Post Production Journey

I was at Descanso Gardens in Los Angeles a few months ago and had the opportunity to capture an image that was full of anticipation.  The scene developed rather quickly as a young girl hesitantly approached a group of ducks nestled on the ground next to a pond.

Barely having time to take up position and adjust the camera, I captured the moment just before she started to pet the closest duck.  This moment was full of excitement and tension and I couldn’t wait to get back and see the image on a larger screen.

In post production, one thing that I noticed that was dominating the image was the bright blue of the young girls dress.  This seemed like one of those times when a color image works against you because of color distraction, and so I decided to convert the image to black and white.

I liked what black and white did, but was never completely satisfied with the result.   I liked the image enough that I shared it with friends and with my local photography club.  The reaction was consistent…nobody liked the image.  The ducks were completely lost in the background.

So I went back to the drawing board.  I started with the full-color image, de-saturated the dress and worked more on the lighting and contrast of the ducks.  I was pretty happy and ran the result past those same friends of mine who had seen the black and white version.  Reaction was all favorable, but interestingly enough, another consistent response came out—the girl’s leg was now a distraction, and a tighter crop was recommended.  This response came from two friends who don’t know each other and live in different cities—I found their common observation interesting.  I didn’t see the leg as a problem, and in fact thought that its position helped convey the tentative approach the young girl was making.  I did see how the high contrast between her leg and the surrounding would draw the eye’s attention so I thought I’d try out their suggestion.

So, my final edit was the tighter crop, and you know what?  I like it, but I also like every other version of the image.  I think it was a strong image to begin with, and a stronger image with each post production improvement. 

My journey helped reinforce two points…1)  starting with a strong image IN CAMERA is really important, and 2)  don’t be afraid to get the opinions of your friends and be open to trying their suggestions.

Feel free to contact me at CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com or check out my website gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/

(metadata 1/180 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 320, focal length 105mm)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Aebleskiver? And you eat them??

Yep, and with powdered sugar and jam!  So I learned on my first trip to Solvang.  So close to Los Angeles, but continents away in terms of charm. 

The Santa Ines Mission was founded on September 17, 1804 and was named in honor of Saint Agnes, an early Christian martyr of the fourth century. The Spanish for Agnes is Inés, hence the name of the church; the American Yankees anglicized the spelling of the Spanish pronunciation and named the town Santa Ynez.  The Mission, which commands a superb view of the Santa Ynez River Valley and the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountain ranges in the distance.

The community of Solvang was founded in 1911 and began as a dream of three Danish immigrants: Reverend Benedict Nordentoft, Reverend J. M. Gregersen, and Professor P. P. Hornsyld. In January, 1911 the Danish-American Colony corporation bought almost 10,000 acres of prime land in the Santa Ynez Valley, California. The new colony was named “Solvang” (meaning sunny field).   Early buyers, almost all Danish, came from California, the Midwest, and Denmark. 

In 1936, the 25th anniversary of Solvang’s founding, the people in Solvang decided to throw a party. The three-day celebration (June 5-7) included a torch-light procession, plays, pageants, a parade, folk dancing and singing, a concert, barbecue, and a street dance — and was a huge success. In 1937 Solvang put on another celebration and the tradition of Danish Days was born.  In January 1947, the Saturday Evening Post magazine published a feature article about the “spotless Danish village that blooms like a rose in California’s charming Santa Ynez Valley.”

Oh, the smell of fresh baked pastries… That’s one of the main attractions when walking the town square.  And Aebleskivers?  Well, they are traditional Danish pancakes in a distinctive shape of a sphere. Somewhat similar in texture to American pancakes crossed with a popover, æbleskiver are solid like a pancake but light and fluffy like a popover.  Oh, delicious!!

Check out my complete collection of Solvang-area photos (including some great wine country) at http://costamesaphotography.com/

And as always, if you have comments or suggestions, drop me a line....

(photo metadata:  1/500 sec @ f/4.0, ISO 100, focal length 45mm)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

When Color Matters

I don’t profess to be an expert on color rendering.  You can stop reading now if you are hoping to delve into the science of how colors are captured on your camera’s sensor, differences between RGB and sRGB, monitor calibration, and the like… Much has been written about all of these topics, so I’d encourage you to seek out those technical resources if interested.

I had an “aha” moment recently when a friend of mine came to me with a request to shoot images of a fabric sample (more on the “aha” later).  My friend is in the business of providing natural fur products from the shearings of Angora goats for mohair and Alpacas.  The sheerings are then woven into a 100% cotton backing and then custom die provides for the variety of products their customers desire.  My friend’s challenge was having photographs on their website that looked like their actual products.

How naïve I was when I started… “Sure”, I said…this should be easy.  I’ll just shoot a few frames in the sun, and shoot a few in the shade—they can pick the one they want and voila, project done.  The problem was that when I got my images back into Lightroom, they all looked a bit different from each other—and when I compared the images to the sample in my hand, there were difference there too.  How could this be??

I know, white balance…you’re already ahead of me.  I knew this going into the shoots.  What I didn’t really appreciate is that the color of an object is different under different lighting, nevermind the photographic side of that discussion…just looking at the fabric in sun was different that looking at it in shade.  A red apple though will always look red to you…your brain will just tell you that the apple is red, regardless of the warmth or coolness of the lighting.  But which red is red?   Reminds me of the old joke of the accountant on an interview, who when posed with the question of what 2+2 was, responded, “what do you want it to be”?  THIS was the “aha” moment!  I realized that color perception is in the eye of the beholder, and that your brain adjusts to perceive things the way it EXPECTS to see them. 

So I took my photographic project to the next level and borrowed an 18% gray card from a friend.  Again, much could be written about this, but suffice it to say that I used the card to more accurately adjust the color temperature of my images when shot in sunlight and in shade with the hope of minimizing the ambiguity.  The adjustments I could make based on the gray card were a big help.  Instead of just going with my camera’s assessment that the “daylight” color temperature I shot in was 4650 degrees Kelvin, or guessing that it should be slightly warmer or cooler, the gray card helped me calibrate it more precisely.  My end results were quite good—by the definition of looking the same on screen as the sample in my hand.

For 99.9% of my photography, the preciseness of the color temperature rendering has not been important.  I’ve made adjustments and enhancements to my images when capturing, or in post production, and the results have been quite pleasing, and to my viewers, quite satisfactory.  It’s near impossible to you (or me) to look at one of my sunset images and determine if the shade or orange or pink in the sky is exactly what it was if standing there…and quite frankly, it doesn’t matter that much, because I’m not trying to convey that scientific precision…I’m trying to convey a story or an emotion through the art of photography.

But with my friend’s fabric, there is no story to be told…they want to show the color of their product that will show up on your doorstep.  My only question for you…is your doorstep typically in the sun or in the shade???

(photo metadata:  1/250 sec @ f/8, ISO 200, focal length 52mm)


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

HDR--Just Because You Can?

My wife and one of her friends just returned from the Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach. Although I’ve never been there, I understand it’s an extremely popular annual arts and crafts event that features among other things a photographic exhibit. When my wife came come, she reported that she had seen quite a number of “HDRs”. That comment struck a chord with me that I wanted to share with you.
 
First of all, can you imagine a friend coming back from an art exhibit and telling you that they saw a bunch of watercolors? Or a bunch of pen-and-inks? Or how about a bunch of frescos? To all three of these questions, I think the answer would be “yes”.  The friend has only told you about the art’s medium, not the art itself. So because my wife and her friend said they saw a bunch of HDRs, what does that mean?
 
HDR is a medium for photographic expression, just as is B&W--it's another medium, or technique. In fact, like painting, photography has a myriad of different techniques and mediums through which photographers express their emotion and point of view. And depending on whether the photographer is working in the realm of photojournalism, or documentary, or landscape, or portraiture, or macro, or sports, etc…the techniques used can involve elaborate capture setups and/or elaborate post-production efforts. HDR is simply a tool, or technique, or medium that can be utilized in some or all those various realms.
 
Now let's look at when someone might or might not want to use HDR as part of their image creation process. Just as saying “watercolor” describes a broad range of end-result styles, HDR is a term that describes a broad range of results, from the radically process extremes sometimes referred to as “grunge”, to the more sedentary balancing and evening out of wide tonal ranges in a scene (like my HDR image in this posting). Unfortunately, HDR has come to carry with it a connotation that many photographers associate with unpleasing results, when in fact, some of the most awe inspiring images are HDRs—and were created in the darkroom years before there were computers and software designed to deal with high dynamic range…ah yes, the days of dodging and burning…you remember them, right? That was “HDR”.
 
I heard a good friend once say “that’s a hammer looking for a nail”, and another friend told me that "if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail"… Both statement conveying the same singular mindset.  In photography, if you’re starting out with intent to create an HDR, then you are a bit like that hammer. Keep the hammer in your toolbox until you’ve decided what story you’re trying to tell with your imagery. What did you see, how did you decide to compose it, what camera settings were most appropriate to capture the essence of motion, color, depth, contrast, and finally, what post-processing techniques will help you complete the story telling--maybe HDR is the tool/technique you need, maybe not.  Don't use HDR just because you can...

(photo metadata:  1/60 sec @ f/3.5, ISO 1000, focal length 18mm)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Visualizing the Post-Processed Result

Twice in the last week, I took photographs that in and of themselves were not creative or inspiring captures. Instead, they were shots where I saw potential only through post processing. I felt a little guilty because this approach is counter to most things you read about photography, particularly the emphasis (which I agree with) to capture as much of your desired end result “in camera” instead of in the digital darkroom.
Let me describe both situations.

I was walking through my neighborhood to complete an errand and came upon an old-model Ford pickup truck. Because I also agree with the advice that you should try to have a camera with you at all times, I was carrying my point-and-shoot camera for that “just in case” opportunity. The problem was that the truck was parked such that I couldn't get a clean shot without a lot of clutter behind it. I could have uses my f/1.8 lens to throw the background out of focus, however, like I indicated, I didn’t have my Nikon with me, and second, putting the background out of focus would have also meant having some of the truck also out of focus.
 
Therefore, I opted to take my shot, knowing that I’d deal with the background in post-production. I didn’t labor hours, but rather did a simple selection and applied a Gaussian blur as well as a slight de-saturation coupled with a decrease in exposure. These adjustments made the truck the star of the image, in spite of a background I had no control over.  (email me if you'd like to see how this came out)
 
The other situation where post production was part of my image capture strategy was during my visit to the Getty Center this weekend with some of my family, including one of my sons and his girlfriend. There was a point where they were walking ahead of me, hand-in-hand, and the way they were holding hands caught my attention.  As you can imagine, with them walking, and me walking, it would not have been possible to accomplish “in camera” the end result I was visualizing (refer to the photograph to see my final result).
 
My plan quite simply was to kick up the shutter speed and make a sharp capture in shutter priority mode, and then deal with completing the concept in post production. A tight crop and a bit of vignetting gave me the final result I was after.

So next time you’re out with your camera, open your own “aperture” a bit more and consider captures where post-production is central to your photographic visioning and story telling.

(photo metadata:  1/750 sec @ f/6.7, ISO 200, focal length 62mm)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Victoria--warm up after that great Alaskan Cruise!

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia and was named after Queen Victoria.  Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1841. The city has retained a large number of its historic buildings, in particular its two most famous landmarks, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings (finished in 1897 and home of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia) and the Empress hotel (opened in 1908).

Staying at the Empress Hotel (see photo of dining room), facing the inner harbor and the Parliament Building was a real treat.  I found the history of the Empress Hotel quite interesting.

In addition, the city's Chinatown is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco's and was within short walking distance. Nicknamed the "City of Gardens," Victoria is an attractive city and a popular tourism destination—it was easy to see why!  The weather was sunny and warm, with an occasional need for a light jacket when walking around in the evening or early morning.

Have you been there?  Would love to hear about it... CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com

(photo metadata:  1/60 sec @ f2/.8, ISO 1600, focal length 11mm)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Alaska's Glacial Wonderland

According to the USGS, Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier on the North American continent. It has been thickening and advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska since it was first mapped by the International Boundary Commission in 1895 (Davidson, 1903). 

This is in stark contrast with most glaciers, which have thinned and retreated during the last century. This atypical behavior is an important example of the calving glacier cycle. If Hubbard Glacier continues to advance, it will close the seaward entrance of Russell Fjord and create the largest glacier-dammed lake on the North American continent in Historic times.

This was our first official stop after leaving port at Seward.  After entering the initial ice flow, our speed slowed to an imperceptible crawl as it took another couple of hours to actually get to the closest point the captain was willing to approach.  From this vantage point, we were able to see some calving, but more than that, we were able to see the drama of scale, colors, textures, and experience first hand the marvel and wonder of glacial flow.  The crowds on the upper ship decks were initially full, but after the two hours approach, many went below deck where it was warm (and where all the food was no doubt!!).  

This was when the real magic started for me.  There were only a handful of us remaining, and it was completely quite and it seemed as if the air couldn’t have been cleaner and the water couldn’t have been colder (it actually had a surface that was a crystaline sheen of icy water).  This was an inhospitable place, yet there were birds, sea lions, and greenery on the steep hills…and of course the several thousand of us visitors on the Celebrity Millennium.

Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you thing...  CostaMesaPhotography@gmail.com

(photo metadata:  1/750 sec @ f/5.3, ISO 200, focal length 200mm)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Colors Gone Wild!

If you've been keeping up with the newest editions to my gallery at http://costamesaphotography.com/ you’ve seen my collections of the Navajo Bridge, Hanging Gardens, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon Dam, Horseshoe Bend, and Paria Rimrocks/Toadstools.  You’re probably thinking (and I wouldn’t blame you), you mean there’s MORE?!  I know, I find it hard to believe myself.  I mean, this was Page, Arizona.  Half of the people I talk to never heard of it.  The other half are vaguely familiar with it…some guess and think it’s near Hoover Dam (nice try).

The visual diversity of this place is hard to describe without pictures—I simply wouldn’t have the vocabulary to even try.  I’ve attempted to explain the Antelope Canyons by starting with “Have you seen 127 Hours?”.  If they have, I say, they’re slot canyons sort of like in that movie, but only psychedelic.  (If they haven’t seen the move, the next conversation devolves into a brief overview of the struggle for survival depicted in that film).  I guess that’s why I’m a photographer and not a book writer—I’ll let my images show you what this place was like…superlatives seem inadequate.

This image is from the LOWER Antelope Canyon (yep, there’s an UPPER too…check out my galler to see those--truly amazing).  The Lower Antelope Canyon experience was fantastic.  It was quiet, cool (figuratively and literally), very narrow, and colorful beyond belief.  The colors in the images below are all natural…no lights, no grotesque post-processing.  The yellows, reds, browns, blues, magentas were all there.  Some of this is due to actual variations of color in the geological formations, but the other is due to the physics of the reflected light spectrum—a bit like what a prism does. 

About half of these images are HDRs. Since many on my distribution are photographers, no explanation needed, but for the other half… HDR stands for high dynamic range.   Digital cameras (and films cameras to a lesser extent) have a difficulty capturing the wide range of light intensity that the eye and brain simply deals with automatically.  In these canyons, the lighting conditions go from the darkest of shadows to the very bright blinding intensity of the sun—all in the same composition.  What “HDR” is, is a technique where three pictures are taken of the same composition, with each exposure adjusted differently—overexposed to capture shadow detail, underexposed to capture detail in the sun-drenched rock.  Special software (I use Photomatix) then allows these images to be combined into a single picture that allows you to see the complete tonal range of the image--the same way as if you were standing there.  Because standing there the eye and brain work together to allow you to see this shadow detail when you look there, and the brightest area details when you look there….make sense?

Your comments and feedback are always welcomed.

(photo metadata:  1/20 sec @ f/9.5, ISO 200, focal length 16mm)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Going in Circles

I was reminded today of the importance, and power of considering perspective, that is multiple perspectives, when framing your subject.  On a short walk around my neighborhood, I was following a familiar path and noticed a tree that caught my attention as having potential for great image.  

The problem was that when I framed the image, it wasn’t giving me that magical look.  Since I wasn’t in any hurry, I started walking around the tree like I was stalking it, and came upon an angle that had all the right stuff—lighting, shadows, glint of the sun, along with the backdrop of a deep blue sky.  When I got back to the digital darkroom, I was really pleased with what I had.  By going in circles, literally, I found my picture.

I often tell my friends when we’re out on photo shoots, to periodically stop and look over their shoulders because that perspective is the one that most people miss.  I have to remind myself of the same thing, and today I learned a corollary…look at your subject from more than one angle and you might just be surprised, and rewarded with what you find.  It takes time, and it takes practice.  And it's because I know that it takes practice that I will grab my camera and just go out on walk-abouts...that way I'll be better prepared when going on destination-specific shoots.

(photo metadata:  1/180 sec @ f/6.7, ISO 200, focal length 11mm)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Seeing the Big Picture

I don't know about you, but I sometimes find myself in information overload.  When it comes to photography, I watch videos, read blogs, follow forum posts, research and experiment with tutorials, and spend countless hours practicing photography on outdoor photoshoots, or editing images in the digital darkroom.  Who has the time?

Funny thing though, I'm loving every minute of it.  It was after returning from my recent trip to Colorado Springs with another couple hundred photos that needed viewing, culling, processing, and sharing that I was able to catch a glimpse of the "big picture".  Instead of that overwhelmed feeling, I had an excited feeling...similar to a child at Christmas.  I was looking forward to seeing what I caught, and how I'd be able to improve the good images--all the while knowing the joy of sharing them was to follow.  The "big picture" was simply realizing that I just love photography, and more than that, I love taking pictures, editing pictures, and sharing pictures...almost equally.  The big picture became a little clearer--I'm simply having a blast with my photography, and my photography friends!

It's easy to lose sight of the big picture.  Who hasn't been swallowed up in the debate of JPG vs RAW. Or how about the discussion of full-frame sensors vs smaller fractionally-sized sensors.  There are endless decisions, trade-offs, evaluations, and in the end compromises that one makes throughout the photographic process--but if you can keep YOUR big picture in focus, you won't get lost along the way.

Here's to finding your big picture!  (my big photo above happens to be a panorama with the Garden of the Gods in the foreground, and Pikes Peak in the background).  See more of Colorado Springs on my website at:  http://costamesaphotography.com/

(photo metadata:  1/350 sec @ f/9.5, ISO 200, focal length 24mm)