Sunday, March 18, 2012

Always Something to Learn (HDR).

There's one thing about photography, and that is there's always something to learn.  If you think you know it all, you're just not trying anything new or different, or you're in a rut.  I've been interested in photography for a long time, and it seems like there's always something new.  Whether it's a new piece of equipment, some new software, or a new post processing technique, there's always something to learn and keep it interesting.

Now I've mentioned in previous posts the technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range).  The process involves the blending of 3 images of varying exposure and ending up with 1 image that not only has detail in the highlights, but in the shadows as well.  It allows the image to be much more real in terms of what the person experienced when they made it.  Your eyes (and brain) can process much more range of light and dark in a scene than your camera can.  That's why when you look at a scene of a beautiful cloudy sky, trees, and a lake, you can see all of it.  Then you take a picture and are disappointed when the sky is blown out an you can't see any of the clouds, and the trees near the lake are so dark there isn't much detail.  This is the perfect time to try HDR.

You can find a lot of information on HDR.  One of the best places to start is Trey Ratcliff's website:
Stuck in Customs

After dabbling in HDR for a little while now, I've been wanting to refine my technique.  But it seemed like I was always ending up with the same type of image, kind of edgy, maybe a little over done, and everyone once in a while I'd really nail one.  In my quest for more information, I found a great resource in an ebook.  I have a Nook Tablet and love to use it for reading so I started to search for photography books in general, and found "Improve Your HDR Photography" by Jim Harmer.  This book is only 138 pages, but gets right to it.  I found some very useful, very specific information on improving my HDR photography, just like the title says.  For less than 10 dollars this little ebook is a real winner.  You can see some of Jim's work here:  Jim Harmer Photography

So, here's what I have after reading the book.  This is a re-do of an image that I wasn't really happy with from the 1st go round with HDR.  Here's the before:

It's ok, but I thought it could be better.  For my re-do I merged these 3 shots with Photomatix:

 Normal exposure.
Underexposed by 1 stop.
Overexposed by 1 stop.

All 3 were opened in Photomatix, blended, and tone-mapped.  After that, it was into Photoshop  for some final adjustments.  

The final product has more realistic colors and tones.  Compared to my 1st attempt, I think this version is more dramatic and true to what I actually experienced that wonderful evening.

That's it, hope you liked this post!  See you next time!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Finally, Some Action!

I finally got a little action, photographically speaking of course!  This post is about my recent visit to El Centro California, winter home of the Blue Angels.  If you haven't seen or heard of the Blue Angels go to this website  - Blue Angels Home Page .  The Blue Angels are the U.S. Navy's Flight Demonstration Squadron, and are amazing to see in person.

Every year, the Blue Angels go to the El Centro Naval Air Field and begin practicing for their busy year of air shows across the country.  And, it just so happens that I have been in the area for the past couple of years and have had a chance to take a few photos of the Blues as they perform.  There's quite a loyal following that sits on the dirt road behind the runways and watches, listens to scanners, and takes video and photos.  Most of their adventures are posted on a great website and forum dedicated to air shows -  Airshow Buzz .

So, there I was, arriving a little late that morning with the Blues already in the air.  We got to our spot on the dirt road and I jumped out and immediately started firing away.  My camera of choice this time was my Canon 60D with 70-200 F4 L Lens.  I do have a 300mm and 500mm lens but opted to stay with the L lens because of its quality optics (and the Blues are usually not that far away).  I set the camera to AI Servo for the focusing, shutter priority, ISO 400.  Shutter priority allows me to set the shutter and the camera adjusts the aperture.  With the speed of the Blues I opted for a fast shutter speed in order to stop the action.

The action overhead was sometimes fast, and usually pretty loud.  Sometimes it seemed like the Blues were everywhere at once, and then nowhere.  I took over 400 shots in a very short amount of time.  Some were great, some ok, and some were total crap.  But that's ok, it happens.  Fortunately I had a 16gb SD card because I had the camera set to take RAW images rather than Jpg's.  I did this intentionally for additional post editing capabilities.

This kind of action will test your abilities.  Can you pan your subject and press the shutter at just the right time to get that perfect shot?  Or, can you adjust your camera on the fly and not miss anything.  Did you bring enough memory cards and batteries.  The good thing is if you missed a shot, its no big deal.  In this case, the Blues would fly again in the afternoon, and you could always try again.  Now if the was a wedding and you missed a shot, well - your screwed, sorry.  So, the message is to know your gear and be able to use it without fiddling around when its show time!  I can't wait till next year!!

Here are some of the shots from that morning:

Until next time - happy shooting!