Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Planning and Light

This Thursday the family and I leave for East Tennessee for a two week vacation. I anticipate going to the Great Smoky Mountains more than a few times for the purposes of "making" photographs. Pre-planning a photo trip is a necessary evil. Often times I like the idea of “spur of the moment” decisions but when it comes to photography this isn’t always possible. Simply finding a good location is only 1/4 of the work involved.  For example;  the best times to photograph nature landscapes and/or wildlife during the “magic hour”. This is one hour before to one hour after sunrise and sunset. This means that some level of planning has to go into your trip. It is good to know where the sun will rise and set so that you can achieve the lighting that you are interested in capturing. If you plan on photographing critters then you have to ensure that the sun is not behind them darkening the face. With respect to landscape photography front light is not always the most appealing (sun coming from behind you) because you lose the definition that shadows provide and backlight (sun behind the landscape) can often cause a large amount of contrast leaving the scene without detail. The best case scenario would be to find a location where you can get images of the sun just as it rises or sets and then shift to an area that has the lighting from the side.

Well, as you can see I am a wee bit excited about this trip. Another milestone will be met on this vacation. I will get to take my son to his first mountain stream and let him play in the cool clear water. You can bet there will be images to follow. Thanks for reading and please understand that after Friday you may be seeing some mountainous posts!  Check back soon!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Just a few shots from Thursday's outing.

The following four photographs were taken while walking around Dadeland here in Miami.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Move Outside Your Comfort Zone

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Living in Tennessee I had amazing access to one of the most beautiful National Parks that we have in this country. When my wife and I moved to South Florida I was convinced that there was nothing to photograph. Then, a friend of mine invited me to take some photos with him one night. I was somewhat reluctant to go but I charged my batteries and headed out the door. Wow, was I wrong about South Florida. See, I was comfortable with nature landscapes because I knew how to photograph them and in my mind there were no photographs that could be taken to even compare to those landscapes. Needless to say, I was wrong (thanks Diego for pulling me out the door). Nature photography is still my passion but something tells me I could enjoy this too!

The following image was taken at a local fresh market while I was walking around checking the place out. Nothing to photograph indeed!

It just goes to show you that you never know what you are going to run into. Get out there and take some photos!!!!!

Friday, April 16, 2010

An unsuccessful outing does not mean failure.

I was sitting around the house and it was nearing sunset when I noticed that the clouds seemed right for a quick sunset trip to the Everglades. I grabbed my gear, wife and son then headed to the Glades. I decided to try a new location. The only other time I had been to this specific location was after sunset to do some star trail pictures. Well, I got there and the landscape that I was hoping to get simply was not present. There were too many trees blocking a clear view of the sky and clouds. Then, the clouds moved in to block the sun just as it dipped below the horizon. It was a disappointment. So, why was this not a failure?

I learned a few things; it was not a great place for sunsets but it would be a good place for sunrises.  More importantly though...

The wind was blowing a nice cool breeze and when it was quiet you could hear the wind traveling across the grasslands. Peaceful, calming.

My 20 month old was there with my wife and they just walked around together while I did my thing and then suddenly the boy just had to have his “Dado”. It was simply not enough that I was there with him but he HAD to be on my shoulders. I decided that since nothing was really cooperating I would pack up and oblige my son. Shortly after packing up and putting him on my shoulders the sky came alive with color. It was a beautiful sunset after all. No, the pictures were not anything to write home about but I could not have asked for a better ending to the trip.

Sometimes you have to know when to put your gear up and enjoy what’s around you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The world of Macro!

Sunday, the family and I decided to visit some friends at a cookout. They have a sizable amount of land so I brought along some of my equipment with the hopes of breaking away for a short time. What happened always seems to happen… The clouds moved in and stole the sun. That day however, it was good thing. I was smart enough to bring my Macro equipment.

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The nice thing about cloudy days is the clouds become a massive light source which softens the typically hard sunlight lowering the contrast. This allows for a much larger range of color capture.

I walked around for a good hour and a half just having a blast. Don’t ignore the seemingly small world of Macro especially on cloudy days. Macro photography can really open up a whole new world. Enjoy!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Importance of Depth of Field

Depth of field is one of the most powerful tools that a photographer has... More often than not it is the depth of field that causes a snap-shot to be a photograph. Depth of field is the plane of focus (what is sharply in focus) within the photo. The aperture of the camera controls this field. The more open the lens (smaller f-stop number) the shallower the depth of field. This photo for example has a very shallow depth of field.

Notice how the flower in the center is sharply in focus while the surrounding flowers are out of focus. Look too at the flower in the far back. The further away from the plane of focus an object is the more it becomes a blur. A shallow depth of field can be used remove distractions from your main subject. Use this tool sparingly because if you have an extremely shallow depth of field (f-1.2 or 1.4) and you are photographing people it is possible to have the eyes in focus and the nose out of focus.... Not very flattering.

So, what is the opposite end of the spectrum? You guessed it... A large depth of field that shows much of the photograph in focus. This is what you get with most point and shoot cameras so use this sparingly as well. You achieve this with a very narrow aperture (large f-stop number). See the example below and notice how the rocks in the foreground and the trees in the background are sharp.


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What do you use? Well, that is totally up to you. Go out and try different f-stop numbers to see what effect it has on a given subject. You simply have to understand depth of field. Again, I must state that the use of depth of field is one of the photographer's greatest tools. Use it wisely! 

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Just look around.

There was one morning, when I lived in Tennessee, that I decided to go to a pasture field early one morning to try and capture some large hay bales in the morning fog. When I arrived to my desired location the fog was absent from just this one location. Needless to say I was a bit annoyed that I had gotten out of bed so early for no reason. While I was packing up to go back home I noticed a weed growing above all the rest. It was perfectly positioned for this photograph.

What is the point? The point is don’t get your mind set on one idea so much so that you fail to see the beauty around you. There is ALWAYS something to photograph… you just have to open your eyes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Which magazine?

I subscribe to several photographic magazines because they are the best way to stay current in the field of photography (other than the internet but that is a topic for another day). Magazines show you images taken by top professionals all the way down to the newest enthusiast. They provide tips and technique as well as display the latest in popular trends. The question is…which one do I choose? Below is a quick review of each magazine that I subscribe too. I will also give my take on the audience the magazine seems to be written for.

Popular Photography
Popular Photography has been around for a good bit of time. The magazine is typically geared to the generalist or enthusiast photographer. They cover a wide range of topics and do not spend much time on select topics. If you are new into photography this is a great place to start. They will show just enough of each topic so it gives you some options.

Number of issues per year: 12

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Link: http://www.popphoto.com/

Outdoor Photography
The title along should tell you what the main topic of this magazine revolves around. The majority of subjects deal with travel and landscape photography but on occasion they will through some articles on street photography. Each year they do a landscape special and I eagerly await that every year.

Number of issues per year: 11

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Link: http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/

American Photo
American Photo deals mostly with the trendy fashion aspect of photography along with new styles for abstract or situational photography. There are times when I have difficulty making it through some of the articles…. To be honest, the only reason I get this publication is because I had a special opportunity to purchase a year’s subscription for $1.00

Number of issues per year: 6

Rating: 2 out of 5

Link: http://archive.popphoto.com/americanphoto/

Shutterbug is one of my favorite magazines. Many years ago it was so focused on gear and contained mostly retail advertisements. Seldom did it have more than one or two articles on photography itself. Well, times have changed and they now have more articles than advertisements. It could be viewed as a generalist magazine but they do tend to focus more on gear than the other publications. It is good to stay true to your roots at times. Nevertheless, this magazine is one I wait for each month.

Number of issues per year: 12

Rating: 4 out of 5

Link: http://www.shutterbug.com/

Nature Photographer
Nature Photographer is very specific regarding its topics. The name suggests that it has to do with nature photography and that holds very true. What sets this publication apart is that most of the articles are written by the field contributors and not just staff writers. The benefit is that each issue contains many different images and points of view on the specific season being covered. This magazine is also focused on the preservation of nature and often displays articles on endangered species and/or endangered habitats. If you are a photographer and a naturealist you will like this publication. The only downside is that they print just 3 issues per year (Spring, Summer, Fall/Winter).

Number of issues per year: 3

Rating: 4 out of 5

Link: http://www.naturephotographermag.com/

Friday, April 2, 2010

High Dynamic Range Photography (HDR)

First off, what is HDR? HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a new way of showing a greater tonal range of a given scene. The human eye is a marvelous instrument and is capable of seeing far more than our digital sensors can record. The human eye can see about 11 or 12 stops of light (stops represent the method of determining tonal range). The digital sensor can record about five. This, as you can imagine, can cause some issues for photographers. Have you ever been out on a beautiful sunny day and taken some pictures only to be confused with the light areas contain no data and look washed out or the dark areas turn black?  Like this:

No, these are not good images...  Please keep reading.

Our eyes see the tonal range from the brightest to the darkest but the camera cannot. That is why this happens.  There are a few ways you can overcome this limitation. First, you could take a couple of images exposing the dark tones and then the light tones… Then, you mask them together using Photoshop. This is very possible but can be a bit on the time consuming side. Second, you could make sure to shoot very early morning or late evening during the “magic hour” because the tonal ranges are much closer together at that time of day. Even then though you will often find the tonal range is well beyond the 5 stops the camera can record.

HDR is a new way of displaying more of the tonal ranges seen at the time of capture. What HDR does is takes several different exposures of the same image and blends them together. Then you tonemap the image allowing you control over the light and dark areas. This is a very good way to produce beautiful images in high contrast situations.  Some photographers overdue (in my opinion) the processing of HDR images showing a surreal scene with over saturated tones. The best HDR images (again, my opinion) are the ones that you don’t overly realize they are HDR. The fact that you are looking at an image that has a huge tonal range should be enough to make you realize the image has been tonemapped.  Using three exposures, two of which are displayed at the begining of this post I was able to render a high contrast image in HDR.  See below:

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