Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Breaking News! I have officially moved up and created my own website! This will be my last post here. If you want to follow me to the new website point your browser to:

Up At Dawn Photography

 Hope to see you there! Thanks!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Old Camera's - Part II

I was looking through some of my archived files this morning, when I came across some photos from another of my older digital camera's.  This time, it's the Sony Cybershot DSC F707.

In my early digital photography days, I really wanted this camera.  It was stylish, and had some very nice features for what was technically a Point and Shoot camera.

Some of the features included:
  • 5 megapixels
  • 5x Optical Zoom
  • Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar Lens
  • Hologram AF Laser Focus Assist
  • Hot Shoe

I really liked this camera, and used it quite a bit.  It went with me on vacation photo shoots from San Diego to the Eastern Sierra.  I spent many cold mornings in the Alabama Hills and Mono Lake waiting for the sun to rise with this camera.  

Back to looking at photos.  I opened a few images up and was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of each picture.  Very sharp, with warm nicely saturated color.  The images below are the originals, no Photoshop tweaking at all.  Take a look for yourself:

That F707 was quite a camera.  But being a little short sighted, I got rid of it to trade up to the Canon 300D.  My biggest regret is that I don't have the F707 anymore, if nothing else to than to be displayed with my other camera's on the shelf.  Oh well, I could buy another one!  Yes, if you look online you will still find them used.  And varying in price from about $100 to $200.

Until next time, happy shooting!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Before and After.

I love looking at photos from our vacations.  Sometimes even the goofs will bring back a memory of that day, and even the second that I pushed the shutter to make the image.  Not all images are winners and deserving of posting and some are really good right out of the camera.  For this post, I'd like to talk about one that wasn't so good and what I did with it (other than deleting it).

Here's the before image, taken with my Sony NEX3.  I made this photo at the scenic viewpoint on Hwy 395, coming down from the Conway Summit, looking back to Mono Lake.  It's pretty clear that there are several things wrong with it.  The first and most obvious is how the horizon line is leaning so far to the left it looks like I must have been drunk when I took the shot.  There's also some vignetting in the corners (from my polarizing filter).

For some reason, I still liked the scene and wanted to try a couple of things to take it from blah to not bad.  I opened the image in Photoshop and corrected the horizon.  Then I cropped the image a bit to remove the vignetted corners.  And last but not least, I converted it to black and white.  Here's the after:

This version is much more dramatic.  I love the tones and textures in this image.  Black and white really seems to add some punch to an otherwise lousy snapshot.  With a little post processing in Photoshop, this image went from being on the brink of deletion to being sent out for printing!

The message I suppose would be to revisit your stockpile of photos, and after you are inspired by another image or you learn a new technique, don't be afraid to try it out.  Who knows, you may have a masterpiece sitting on your harddrive just waiting for you to discover it!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Tale of 2 Cameras!

Over the past couple of weeks I've had a chance to get some use out of my Canon 60D and 70-200mm Canon L lens, and my Sony NEX3.  Once again I'm very pleased with both.  Yes, each can have certain limitations, but when used with this in mind they work out quite well.

First up - my Canon 60D with 70-200mm L lens.  The 60D is a great combination of features, speed, and image quality and is my workhorse.  Both of the occasions were outdoors, and with plenty of mid-day sunlight.  My 70-200 L lens is the F4 model.  For it's size it's light, and it will lock on focus very quickly.  Compared to my Tamron 70-200 F2.8 the L lens is much easier to spend a couple of hours with.  If you haven't used a larger lens like the Tamron 70-200 2.8 you'd be surprised at how the weight will begin to fatigue you after a while.  I needed the lighter weight of the Canon L lens to chase around the grand kids that day.

In this image you can see how nicely the background is blurred, but the subject is in focus.  This is an example of a shallow depth of field.  To get this effect I did a couple of things.  First, I used a large aperture (small number), in this case F4.  The further increase the effect, I stood back from my subject and zoomed in to 200mm.  The result is a very shallow depth of field, or in other words, a very limited area both in front of and behind the subject that is in focus.

I really like this shot.  You can see how much fun this kid is having.  And the background is in focus just enough to know that he's on a bike path near the water.

Both of the images above were made with just the available light, no flash.  The sky was slightly overcast otherwise I would have had trouble with deep shadows across faces and very flat contrasty light.  I suppose that if I had carried my flash that day I could have tried to use it for fill, meaning to soften the shadows.  For the portrait, I instead looked for a nice evenly shaded spot and positioned my subject with her back to the brightest part of the sky (it was still somewhat overcast).  I was also careful to make sure there were no streaks of sunlight sneaking in to cause problems.  The only thing I would have used flash for here would have been to add a catch-light to the eyes.

I had an opportunity to go up to our local mountains the other day, and I needed to travel lite.  But, I also wanted good image quality.  My Sony NEX3 met those requirements nicely.  I've talked about it before, but I'll mention a couple of features that I really like again.  Size and quality are first.  The physical size of the camera is perfect (at least for me) when I want to travel lite.  While it's a little larger than most point and shoot camera's, it's small enough for me to take on extended hikes or when I just want something smaller than my larger DSLR.  Second is image quality.  The sensor in this camera is an APS-C, the same size as the one in my DSLR.  The quality of the images are great, and to my eye better than what I could get out of the smaller point and shoot camera.  Here are a few images from my quick trip to the mountains near Lake Arrowhead.

You can see in this photo that I was not making this image during the golden hour.  It was just about mid-day, with the sun almost straight overhead.  But I wanted to take a few pictures so I started looking around.  That's when I noticed how the leaves of this little oak tree were glowing, back lit by that mid-day sunlight.  Such a contrast from the darker greens of the rest of the foliage in shade.  Just to have a little fun, I positioned myself so the sun would peek between the branches of an overhead pine tree.  I kicked the aperture to F16 to create the star burst.

Here is a closer look at the wonderfully back lit oak leaves.  They really pop against the blue sky background.

I liked this scene because of all of the texture, and 2 interesting groups of trees.  With the harsh mid-day sun there was quite a bit of contrast.  I switched the NEX3 to HDR mode, and it quickly took multiple shots and combined them to bring out detail in the shadow and highlights.  I took the in-camera HDR image, and combined it with the original single exposure as metered by the camera.  Using Photomatix I created this image.  Personally, I really like this method because it allows me to make photos all day.  While I could easily have gotten carried away with the HDR, I tried to keep it realistic.  If you decide to try HDR yourself be sure to do what works for you!  If you share your work online, there's bound to be a critic out there that doesn't care for one of your images.  That's ok, to each his own.  Just be sure that you are pleased and don't worry about the critics.

That's it for now!  Happy shooting!

** Thanks again Andy!!

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Doorway

This post will be about something that may seem ordinary, but it's something I've been looking for.  I've seen many interesting photo's of hallways and doorways, and have been wanting to capture one of them for myself for quite awhile.

My wife, 2 little dogs and I, were in the San Diego area last weekend on a short get-a-way trip.  One of those days we chose to drive to Balboa Park.  There are some very unique buildings here, and also the long hallways I been looking for.  As wonderful as the hallways were, there was just one problem, too many people.  On that particular day, there were a lot of other people also enjoying this delightful place.   I was unable to capture the hallway shot I was after, but there was still another option, a doorway!

We came across several open doorways, but had the same problem, too many people.  After walking for a bit, we came across a closed doorway.  And as luck would have it, no people!  I stood back and quickly fired a couple of shots with my Canon 60D and 18-55mm EFS IS Lens.

Here's what the original looked like:

Not bad, not great either.  Here are my settings:
  • Format = RAW
  • ISO = 400
  • Aperture = f/4.5
  • Shutter Speed = 1/15

I thought this shot could be better with a little post processing.  Since I only had the original image, I needed to create 2 others at +1 and -1 stop from the metered exposure.  This is easy to do with the RAW file using Canon's Digital Photo Professional software.  After that I opened all 3 files in Photomatix and created my HDR tonemapped file.  Then, into Photoshop for some final tweaking.

Here's the result:

I like this because it's much closer to what I experienced while looking at this scene.  This version is warm (just like that fantastic day), and the color and texture more pronounced.  To me photography is as much what you feel when you press the shutter and take the shot.  I felt the drama and history of this place, and the warmth of that spring day.

Wrapping up, I'd like to point out a couple of things I would do differently.  First, go earlier or later in the day.  Once I figured out what part of the day has the best light I would be back and ready.  Second, I'd bring a tripod or monopod.  Somehow I got away with hand holding the camera at a very slow shutter speed.  Actually I was very lucky.  This could have easily been blurred by the slightest movement, and ruined.  Having said that, I will be back and better prepared!

In a future post, I'll go into more detail on the process I use to create an image.  Until then,
Happy shooting!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Planes of Fame Airshow

It's that time of year again - the Planes of Fame Airshow in Chino California.  This is a fantastic show, with many different types of WWII Warbirds including the P-51 Mustang, P-38 Lightning, and usually something modern to spice it up a bit like the F4 Phantom.  If you're interested in Warbirds, or aircraft in general and want to mix in some great opportunities for photography this event should be on your go-to list!

The show this year is couple of weeks earlier than usual, which normally wouldn't have been a problem except this year I had another commitment.  On Saturday I was going to be the photographer for a motorcycle event benefiting the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.  Ok, no big deal.  I'd just readjust my plans and go on Sunday (unfortunately that didn't work out either).  In the meantime, I had discovered that I could access the pre-show practice sessions simply by purchasing an admission ticket to the Planes of Fame Air Museum!  What a great opportunity for access to the planes without the big crowds.

Getting ready for my day at pre-show practice, I had some decisions to make, specifically regarding how much camera gear I should bring.  For something like this, I try to travel light.  There can be a lot of walking around with aircraft on display from one end of the runway to the other.  Here's a list of what I ended up taking with me:
  • Canon 60D
  • Canon 40D
  • Tamron 200-500mm Lens (on long time loan from my friend Walt)
  • Canon 70-200 F4L Lens
  • Canon 18-55 EFS IS Lens
  • Extra batteries
  • Extra memory cards
  • Slinger bag
You may be asking why bring this stuff, and why 2 camera bodies!?  Good questions!  My thoughts were to have the big Tamron 200-500 lens mounted on my 60D, and the 70-200 on my 40D.  That way I could switch between each setup (depending on what was going on) without having to take time to disconnect one lens and switch to another.  While I did find this very convenient, I did end up with a stiff neck and sore back.

How did all of this "stuff" perform?  Another good question!  Overall I'm pleased.  Both my 60D and 40D worked quite well.  Here's how I configured each camera:
  • Shutter Priority
  • 1/160 sec.
  • AI Servo
  • Drive - High Speed Continuous
  • ISO 100
  • White Balance - Daylight
  • Format - Jpeg, Large 60D, RAW 40D
Here are the results:

This is an aerobatic team know as the Horsemen.  What an incredible sight, a P-38 with 2 P-51's!

Here's a P-38 with an F4 Phantom.  In both cases, you have aircraft in the sky that are rare and unique. It was quite a privilege to see them fly!

I did mention that overall I was pleased with my gear, and generally pleased with my photos.  This is the 7th year in a row for me attending airshows in one way or another.  Every year I come away with literally thousands of images.  By and large there are many duds.  There's a reason for this, the slow shutter speed!  The mark of a good Warbird image (especially vintage propeller aircraft) is for the props to be blurred.  To be successful you need to pan and track you target carefully, smoothly, and push the shutter as you continue to pan through the shot.  Easy to explain, not so easy to do!  There's also the excitement factor (some call this Buck fever).  I get very excited when I see these Warbirds in the air, and make mistakes or get busy watching the action overhead and am late on the shutter.  And then there's the equipment.  That big Tamron is slow!  This lens will sometimes miss focus and start hunting.  And this usually happens at the most in-opportune time, leading to out of focus shots.  In contrast my Canon 70-200 L Lens is fantastic!  It would focus very quickly, and I could really grab some quick shots at 6.5 fps with my 40D.

In closing, I'd like to mention again how great a venue the Chino Planes of Fame is, and what a fantastic airshow they put on every year.  Here the link to their website: Planes of Fame
What would I do different next year - bring a chair!  Until next time, happy shooting!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

From Oops to Acceptable!

Are you "that guy"?  The one who comes to family functions with your camera?  In our family it's usually me.  I just can't help it, and I've been at it for quite a while.  If it's you, you've probably heard the same moans and groans that I have.  But, you are also doing the family a great service!  Things change over time, especially kids and grandkids.  You may be capturing those fleeting moments that will never come again, and looking back at your photos most of your family will agree.

I found myself in a family function a couple of weeks ago.  For reasons I can't explain I got out my trusty old Canon 40D and 50mm F2.5 and new Tamron 70-200 f2.8.  All of this gear fit nicely into my Tamrac medium sized slinger bag.  I could have brought my much newer 60D or Sony NEX3, but just wanted to use the 40D that day.

It was fun sitting back and snapping a few frames without having to intrude in the grandkids play or interrupt conversations.  The faster lens that I had with me also allowed some indoor shooting without flash.  This was a great event to welcome back an out of town family member, an addition to the family, and bring four generations together (offering many photos ops)!  As the day wore on, I did end up popping the flash on, and setting it to fill rather than provide all of the illumination.

For this post, I want to share just one of those moments.  To start off, here's how my camera was set up:

  • F/5.6
  • 1/200 second
  • ISO 200
  • Auto white balance
  • Aperture priority
  • RAW
  • Fill flash (to soften any shadows caused by high midday sun).
Here's the original as it came out of the camera:

While it's not bad, it could also be a lot better.  To critique this, I'd have to say that I'm not pleased with the overall composition.  I like my subjects expression, it's not one of those kids mugging for the camera forced smiles.  And her hair is a little wind blown, very natural for a kid at play.

Leaning against a tree seems to work, and there's no look of discomfort here.  I think main problem area is how her hands are cut off.  Unfortunately it looks like she has two long stumps instead of arms.

There's another distracting element, and that's the exposure.  It was the middle of the day, no clouds in sight, and very bring out.  Not really the best time for photos, but sometimes you have no choice.  The background is on the verge of being completely blown out, and there are some hot spots on my subject.

Luckily, I had the camera set for RAW.  Shooting in RAW has it's advantages, and being able to adjust your original exposure by up to 2 stops is definitely one of them.

When I open the file in Photoshop, the 1st thing that happens is Camera Raw starts:
As you can see, there are quite a few adjustments that can be made, including Exposure.  In the next screen shot I made a couple of small tweaks.

You can see by the pointer/arrows where I made my adjustments.  To try and tame some of the bright areas I decreased the exposure by 3/4 of a stop, and increased my blacks by 10.  This seemed to add just enough contrast to the scene without going overboard.

Before opening the image in Photoshop, I'm going to crop it here.  No real reason to do it in Camera Raw rather than Photoshop, it's really your choice.  I did it because I wanted to see how this would look as just a head and shoulders shot, and I like it much better.  

Now that I've finally gotten the image in Photoshop, there's really only one thing I want to do.  I have a filter by Nik Colorefex for portraits called DarkenLighten Center.  Here's what it looks like:

The only adjustment I made using this filter is the placement of center.  For this photo, I put the center right on her nose.  Here's the result:

Personally I like this version much better.  Most of the distracting brightness of the background has been eliminated, and by focusing on a larger head and shoulders shot theres more personality and playfulness jumping out of the image.

For the critics, yes I agree with you, I could have done any number of things differently to make this the perfect image.  But this is what I had to work with and made the best of it.  This shot isn't going on the cover of a magazine or will probably not win any awards, but it makes me happy!  And I'm sure that the rest of the family and some friends will agree that this shot did capture this little girls personality perfectly in that moment in time!

My intent in sharing all of this is to encourage anyone reading to take your camera to family events.  Don't worry about the comments or any complaining.  Without being too much of a pain, grab some shots.   Some will be better than others, but that's ok.  Maybe some of the information above will help you tweak a couple of shots you didn't think worked into something worthy of your scrapbook or online album!

* Thanks to Andy for giving me permission to use this image, I appreciate it!