Saturday, January 28, 2012

Black and White

Black and white photography isn't for everyone.  For some, if it's not in color it's just not very good.  Or they may think that it looks old.  I have to admit that I've been interested in black and white photography since the first time I laid eyes on Ansel Adams work.  There's just something about those wonderful, rich tones that can add such a sense of drama to an otherwise ordinary image.  I feel the same way about black and white movies.

Even with all of the special effects of present day film making, the original black and whites just can't be beat.  Examples - King Kong, and The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The originals have such depth, character, and mood.  Due in my opinion to those fantastic tones.  The sense of drama is amazing even without all of the graphic special effects they throw at the movies of today.  I'll take the originals over these re-makes any day.

Back to photography, when I want black and white, I actually shoot the image in color.  Why?  Because it's easy to convert the image to black and white in many different programs.  Unfortunately, if you switch to black and white in your camera and take the shot, it's virtually impossible to convert it to color.  Lets take a look at some examples:

This is an image from Montana De Oro State Park.  This is an amazing place located just south of Morro Bay on the Central Coast of California.  I was walking along the beach watching the cloud formations.  It must have been windy up high as the clouds were moving fast and quickly changing shape.  I took my Canon 60D that morning, and used a polarizing filter on my 18-55mm lens.  While I'm pleased with the original, I couldn't help but think that it would look great in black and white.

Here it is again, this time converted to black and white.  I used Photoshop and applied a red filter to darken the sky and add some contrast to the clouds.  To me, this version is much more dramatic than the original.

Let's look at another one.  Again, this is an ok shot.  There are some interesting clouds and rock formations, and the incoming wave adds a little bit of action.  Same set up as in the previous photo, Canon 60D, 18-55mm lens and a polarizing filter.  A couple of minor differences are a longer shutter speed to try and slightly blur the water, and this was a few hours later in the day.

The black and white version is more dramatic and interesting to me.  I love the contrasting tones and the clouds just seem to come alive.  I used Photoshop again for the conversion, although there are many other programs that will do this such as Photoshop Elements, Picasa, ACDSee, and Gimp.

I'll go into more detail on how I use Photoshop to convert an image from color to black and white in another post.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Best Camera...

You've probably already heard this, but sometimes the best camera is the one you have with you.  Now I won't lie, even though I tell people it isn't about the camera, I do own several (I just love camera's).  But, there are times when I will specifically choose one over another.  And, it may have nothing to do with any of the tech stuff, but rather with the overall size of one vs. another.  Depending on where I'm going and what I have to do to get there, I will choose small and light almost every time.

It wasn't always like this.  Several years ago while visiting the Eastern Sierra, I decided to take a hike above the little town of Big Pine, up to a glacier.  The trail starts at 8000 feet, and goes up up up from there.  In my excitement, I made the mistake of taking a backpack with all of my camera gear, and a very nice but heavy tripod.  Even though it was a cold November day, I worked up quite a sweat on that hike.  It was so unnecessary to take that much gear, especially since I didn't even use half of it.

Moving forward, I think I'm a little smarter about camera and gear choices.  When I'm out riding my bike and want to bring a camera I use a small point and shoot, or my GoPro HD (more about that in another post).  And now when I go on a hike, I take my Sony NEX3.  The NEX3 is smaller than my Canon DSLR's, but has the same size APS-C sensor.  It will shoot both RAW and .jpg, has an image stabilizer, and a very nice screen.  While the NEX3 is larger than most point and shoots, it's still the perfect camera for me when hiking.

During our latest visit to the Moro Bay area we had a chance to go to Montana De Oro, a beautiful State Park just south of Morro Bay.  There is an area that you need to park and walk a bit to get to, but it's worth the effort.  Leaving the parking area, the hike is down a narrow path with high brush on both sides, and it's downhill.  The path is over a mile long before you get to see the rugged cliffs and waves breaking on the rocks below.

Once we reached our destination, I couldn't have been more please with my NEX3.  Sure, it would have been nice to have a large selection of lens and other goodies, but then again I didn't have to lug all of that stuff back up the hill to the car.  

There I am, with my Sony NEX3.  You can see how small it is in my hands.  Fortunately, I can use a high enough ISO to get a shutter speed that will freeze action and reduce blur, and still have a very clean image (meaning low or no noise).  It doesn't hurt to have an image stabilizer either!  Traveling so light allows me to concentrate on the scenery and not the gear.

So, beside sharing how I like to go light on the gear, what else am I driving at?  How about making use of the gear you have, and not being too worried about having the biggest or the best.  I only have 1 lens for my NEX3, an 18-55mm mid range zoom.  So, if I need to get closer to something, I use my feet and walk up to it.  Same thing if I need to get a wider angle, I start walking.  The other thing I do is crop an image to make my subject appear larger.  Now, if you really want to spend money on gear, that's ok too.  As I already mentioned, I have several cameras myself.  Just do it because you like the stuff, not with the misunderstanding that a new camera will make you a better photographer.

The camera is just a tool.  It's the photographers vision that makes a great image.  But, there are many tools to choose from, and as the title of this posts states - the best camera is the one you have with you.  So, choose wisely!

** Photo credits - all of the photos in this post were taken by my lovely wife Aggie!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Something Old

In my last post, I went through a process of creating an HDR like image, and it was very subtle.  This time I'm going to "grunge" things up a bit.

This image of an old truck is from my last visit to the ghost town of Bodie.  Bodie is located about 13 miles off of Highway 395, near Bridgeport California.  Bodie is a real ghost town, and is kept in a state of arrested decay.  The are all sorts of wonderful old buildings, cars, and other items laying around to explore and photograph.  While wandering around, I came across this wonderful old truck.  Using my Sony NEX3, I took a couple of shots.  This is the one I liked the most, probably because of the unusual angle of the truck, and the puffy clouds in the background.  Since the original image is in RAW format it needed to be opened with a program that could read it, so I used Adobe RAW.  Here's what it looked like:
Although there are quite a few adjustments I could have made, I chose instead to open the image and do my tweaking in Photoshop.

This is what my screen looked like with the truck image opened in Photoshop:
I think there is a lot of potential for this shot.  The truck is an excellent subject for "adjustments".  I want to try to bring out the textures of the metal with is flaking paint, scratches, and rust.  So, here we go.

In this screenshot, you can see the truck image is beginning to take shape.  The texture I'm looking for is starting to show in the grass, and the metal of the truck.  Even the clouds are showing a little more personality.

Here's the truck again, with more adjustment.  Things are really starting to pop now!  Notice how there's more detail in the shadows compared to the original.  You can almost feel the scratchy, bumpy surface of the trucks fender.  The colors also seem more rich and saturated.

More adjustments have created an even more textured, sharp, and saturated image.  Unfortunately this is starting to take on a fantasy look.  For me, this is a little more grungy than I would like.

So, how exactly did I get my normal truck image to look like the one in the screen shot above?  I used my Photoshop plug-in, Nik Color Efex Pro.  The specific filter I used is Tonal Contrast.  In fact, I used it 3 times.  Each time I used it, it created an additional layer in Photoshop.  It was the last layer that I used to do some clean up work.  I used a mask, and a soft brush to take the clouds and a little of the truck back to the previous layer, softening some of the grunge.  To get the final image, I also cropped in tighter around the truck.  There were some people in the background on the left side, and a distracting building on the right side.  I also had to clone out a telephone pole over the left fender, and a piece of the building still poking into right side behind the bed of the truck.  I also ran a filter to remove noise since there seemed to be quite a bit of it in the sky.   Here's the final image:

I'm very pleased with the final image.  There is no doubt that the truck is the main subject of the image, and appears larger than life.  The color is vivid, and there is a wonderful sense of texture.  I also like the unusual angle of this shot, it gives it a unique point of view and adds some interest.  In fact, I like this shot so much I printed it at 16 x 20, and put it in a very rough frame.  It looks great!

I hope this all made sense and that it helped give you a couple of ideas.  Don't be afraid to experiment, and if you'd like, leave a comment on how you "adjust" your images.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

How Did I Do That?

I have to admit, it's kind of flattering when someone likes one of my photos enough to ask, "how did you do that?"  And lately, this is usually regarding some of my HDR images.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) is something I discussed in a previous post, and there are lots of great references online, including Trey Ratcliff's website  What I want to show you in this post is how I "work" an image when I didn't necessarily set out to take photo's with HDR in mind.  What this really should be called is fake HDR.  I can get an HDR like effect without having to take multiple images and run them through an HDR program, then process the output of that further in Photoshop.  My process allows me to get a similar, and hopefully pleasing effect.

Let's start off with a .jpg file as it came straight out of the camera.  Other than resizing for this post, this is how the photo looked as I made the image with my Sony NEX3:

This is a P-40 sitting on the tarmac at the Chino Airport during the last Planes of Fame Air Show.  Overall, this isn't a bad image, but I'd think it could be better.

In this second image, I applied a filter from a Photoshop plug-in called Nik Color Efex.  There are many different types of filters available, and the one I used is called "Tonal Contrast".  The effect is subtle, but noticeable, especially in the clouds and the mountains in the background.  There is more texture and everything seems a little sharper.  I could have left it alone, but I want to see what would happen with a little more tweaking.

Now things are starting to pop!  The sky is really taking shape, the plane seems so sharp and radiant, and even the tarmac has a grainy texture to it.  All I did was to rerun the "Tonal Contrast" filter again, making no changes in the settings.  Here's a screenshot of the Nik plug-in:

I'm sure there are several other ways to get a similar effect.  Topaz is another plug-in program that's popular and seems easy to use.  There may also be so options for those of you that are using GIMP

Back to the photo.  I really like the way this looks, especially the clouds.  There is definite definition between the dark and light, and the P-40 really pops.  There's just a little clean up to do before calling it done.  While I think I did a good job of having more sky in the shot than tarmac, I did kind of leave the plane almost dead center.  There's also an annoying orange cone on the right edge that's distracting.  A little cropping can take care of both problems, and this is the result:

I'm pretty pleased with this version.  The cone is gone, the plane is slightly off center, and the tarmac has also been trimmed.  The final result is something I would be happy to post and share.  Admittedly this isn't as crazy as it could have gotten because I wanted to keep it somewhat real this time.  I'll go deeper into the grungier side of this process in another post.

Hopefully this helped, and will give you some ideas on how to adjust some of your own images.  Leave and comment and share your techniques!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Time to Shift Gears (or Propellers)!

This post will deal with another aspect of photography, fast moving objects.  I love photography, and I also have a great interest in World War II aircraft, also known as Warbirds.  Other than landscapes, this is my next favorite thing to do with my camera!

Every year the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino California has a fantastic air show featuring many different types of Warbirds.  And with few exceptions, they put them in the air.  There's nothing quite like it, seeing these fantastic relics in pristine condition and right in front you.

It's not easy getting good clear shots of these planes as they fly by.  I've been working on this for many years now, and even though I've shot literally thousands of photos, I usually only get a handful of keepers.  In fact, I did something I don't usually do, and that is to buy equipment trying to up my odds.  The first time I shot an air show, I was using the original digital Rebel, the Canon 300D.  I really liked this camera, but it was slow.  Slow meaning frames per second (fps), which can be important when tracking and panning the fast moving planes.  I would get the front of a plane, sometimes another piece of it, and every once in awhile, I'd get lucky and get the whole thing.  When the Rebel XT came out (Canon 350D), I bought one.  At 3.5 fps it was much better than my trusty old 300D.  Next came my Canon 40D, and at 6.5 fps, it was a great improvement.

There are some other considerations.  One of the biggest is shutter speed.  This would be a lot easier if I kept a fast shutter speed and just froze the action.  Unfortunately, this doesn't give you "professional" results.  When you freeze a prop, it looks like a dead stick.  With a slower shutter speed, you get a blurring effect on the prop which gives the plane a sense of motion.  The only time the prop should be still is when the plane is parked on the ground.  It takes some practice to pan the plane as it passes by, and squeeze the shutter while still tracking the plane, keeping your image sharp with the prop blurred.
Some of the other things to set in the camera are auto focus to AI Servo, High Speed Shutter, and the lowest ISO you can get away with.  AI Servo allows the camera to keep a moving subject in focus and the High Speed Shutter setting allows the camera to continuously fire until the cache is full and it just can't stuff any more images into memory.  It also helps to have a fast memory card.  I typically shoot with a shutter speed of 1/200th or less.

After I take a few shots, I review the images and see if I'm getting the results I'm looking for.  With all of the action, I also bring plenty of memory (16 Gig for the last air show).  I've been trying to slow down and be more picky but still ended up bringing home over 2000 images.  It's hard not to get caught up in the action and blast away.

The shots below were made using my Canon 40D, with a 200-500 Tamron Lens while at the Chino Planes of Fame air show.

P-51 Mustang

P-38 Lightning

B-25 Mitchell

Just a couple more comments on the subject.  When you are shooting jets (like the Blue Angels), forget the slow shutter speed.  It's ok to kick up the shutter speed and ISO.  Freezing the action with jets is ok!  You'll still need to pan, squeeze the shutter and continue to swing through.  The Blue Angels fly F-18's and they are colorful, and fast (not to mention loud).  For the shots below, I used my Canon 40D, with a 70-200 F4 L lens.  I was in El Centro (California) that day and working almost across the street from the El Centro Naval Air Station, the winter home of the Blue Angels.  And as luck would have it, the Blue Angels were practicing their routine almost directly overhead, and twice that day.  It was like having my own private air show!

One way to practice is to go out and take pictures of birds in flight.  They may be smaller than a plane, but they are flying, and can be fast.  It can help you practice your panning technique.

That's it for this post.  Thanks for reading and leave a question or comment if you'd like!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Showing Off...(Your Photos)

For this posting, I'd like to share my experience with photo sharing sites.  I've been at this for several years, sharing photos online.  And looking back, I've learned a lot from all of them.

Starting out, I was lucky enough to have a friend that was into photography, and sharing photos online (thanks Walt!).  He got me interested in a site called Photo Points.  This started out to be quite fun, I'd upload a photo, and people would not only rate it with points (1 - 5), but also provide a critique.  In addition to learning from good and not so good critiques, I also started to learn just by viewing all of the other entries.  There were/are some very good photographers on this site.  Unfortunately, this point system started to get out of hand, and people got offended if they didn't get top points for every image they posted.  At times it got quite nasty.  So, I moved on.  Life is too short to put up with nonsense.  Here's a link to Photo Points if you want to check it out.  It's been awhile since I've been away, and maybe things have gotten better:

Next up - Pbase.  Pbase is an interesting site, quite different from Photo Points.  Once you've joined you can customize your site, create galleries, and start posting photos.  There are quite a few forums to get involved with covering a range of subjects.  People can find your photos in any number of ways, and you can tell if something is popular by the number of hits it receives or how many comments are posted.  As with Photo Points, there are a lot of very talented photographers on Pbase, and I learned by looking at their beautiful images, and the comments others left on my photos.  I enjoyed this site and would still be there except it seemed to suffer from poor performance and crashes on more than one occasion.  It seemed like the site was down for weeks the last time it happened, and the response from the site owners was very poor.  So, once again I packed up my photos and searched for another venue.  Here's the link to Pbase in case you are interested:

After doing some research, I decided to go with Zenfolio.  This was a fairly new photo site and offered some interesting features.  There are templates that you can use to build your site, or you can tweak them or create your own to really customize your sites look and feel.  There is a great slideshow feature and if you'd like, you can add music.  Zenfolio has a great following on Facebook, and they had a contest that gave the winner a free site review and critique with a professional web designer.  I entered on a whim, and actually was selected.  This turned out to be a great experience, and the web designer was kind and gentle with her critique and suggestions.  So, my Zenfolio site has recently received a face lift.  Here's a screen shot of the home page:
The link to my home page is:  Check it out if you have time.
If you're interested in Zenfolio you can go here for more information:
One thing I should caution you on is that Zenfolio is not really geared to be a photo sharing site like the others I've described above.  It's a place to show off your best images, and a lot of professionals use it to market their work.  You have the ability to sell your photos and services directly from Zenfolio (with the proper level of account).  I use it because I think my photos really look good here, everything works as advertised and so far I haven't had any negative experiences.

Since Zenfolio is for showing off and selling, I still wanted a fun place to share photos and get more involved in community experience.  Flickr has been around for awhile, and for some reason I never really took it seriously.  About a year ago I decided to give it a try and as it turns out, I really like it.  While you can't customize it the way you can with Pbase or Zenfolio, you can share your photos in various groups and contests.  I've made some Flickr friends and have enjoyed all that this fun site has to offer.  A "Pro" account is a bargain and you can upload all you want.  This can be another great way to get some exposure for your images and learn a thing or two along the way.  You can find Flickr here:  and here's the link to my photostream (my collection of images):  I just renewed my Pro account and after a little time off will become more active as time goes on.

And finally, there is my Fine Art site:  Fine Art America  While this isn't really a photo sharing site as it is a place to sell art  (photography included) I thought I'd give it a quick comment.  This is where I upload what I consider to be marketable images, set my prices and keep my fingers crossed that folks will like what they see enough to make a purchase.  This is what the home page looks like:
It's a little early to tell if this venture is going to be successful or not.  One of things I like is reviewing the stats.  People from all over the world have been to my site and taken time to look over my images.
This site was easy to set up, and once I uploaded some images, I was able to offer them for sale almost immediately.  The options are all set for prints, canvas wraps, and fully matted and framed images.  The site owners take care of printing, handling, and shipping.  I like this because I can concentrate on my images, not running a printing shop.

So, that's it.  Photo sharing, commenting, critiques, selling, it's been and continues to be quite a ride.  You never know who may be taking a look at your images and what you can learn by looking at the photos of others.  If sharing your photos is something you're interested in, then pick a site, and just do it.  
Don't worry about the camera you are using.  As photo blogger Ken Rockwell says "It's not about your camera, it's about you, it's about your ability to see, it's about your vision"  Ken Rockwell, It's Not About Your Camera.

That's it, leave a comment about your photo sharing experiences!