Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Great Thing About Learning New Post Techniques

One of the best things about learning new post processing techniques is that you can go back to some of your earlier photos (you know the ones you may have overcooked because you were a complete nooo-b and didn’t really know what you were doing) and make them look like you wanted them to look in the first place.

Now, there’s one thing that I did learn very early on in the digital darkroom and that was never, ever make edits to your original image, always make a copy. If you screw up the copy just delete it, make another copy of the original and start again. Always preserve your original. You never know, 5 years later you might want to go back and take another crack at that photo. It’s the same reason I shoot RAW almost exclusively now. And, thanks to much better non-destructive editing programs like Lightroom, I can make as many versions as I like while still preserving the original RAW file.

Here are a few of my earliest photos from 2005, when I was still a nooo-b and didn’t know very much. At that time I was using Photoshop Elements 3 and knew only 2 moves (Levels Adjustments and Saturation). I know a few more tricks now so I thought I would try them out on a few older photos.

This first one is of the Botanical Garden in Sydney, Australia, with Sydney’s familiar skyline in the background. I wanted to bring a little more colour to the sky, similar to using a polarizing filter (which I didn’t have back then).

This next one was just overly flat and no amount of Levels or Saturation at the time was going to fix it. Again, wanting to enhance the sky a little bit and pull a little more detail out of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

For the last one I wanted to re-create the drama of the sky as I had remembered it. Digital cameras don’t see things the same way the human eye does so they often need a little encouragement. I wanted this to be dramatic and edgy to show off what was going on in the sky. I have probably pushed this one a little closer to the edge than my normal style, but I like the result anyway.



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What's Your "Keeper" Rate?

Thom Hogan posted an article yesterday over on his site ( talking about his "keeper rate" and how some pros view this. It's worth a read, especially for an amateur photographer.

As for myself, there have been many times that I have shot over 100 images during an outing only to come back and find myself continuously hitting the reject button in Lightroom; realizing that I hadn't shot anything all that special. I struggle with trying to find a decent image in order to justify the time spent. So I end up with a zero in 100 keeper rate, whooo hooo!! However, I take solace in the fact that I have more good days than bad. 

Anyway, Thom's article left me with a couple of questions... Do professional, or serious hobby photographers, really have any magical little secrets to capturing stunning images? Or are they just more dedicated to their craft and demand nothing less from themselves than exceptional creativity and quality? If Thom's keeper rate is around 1 in 76, then I'm going to vote for the latter. I'm also going to take his advice about learning to push the boundaries of creativity. How about you?


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Two Foot Putt - Golf in Still Life

Golf season is right around the corner up here in my part of the world. In fact, since the weather has been warmer than normal in the past week some courses have already opened up. Me, I’m already getting the itch to get out there.

This photo was part of a still life assignment for one my photo classes a couple of years ago. My initial idea was to arrange a couple of clubs, tees, ball markers and a golf ball, but I couldn’t get the arrangement that I had envisioned. I began to clean things up when I noticed my golf shoes on the floor. These shoes have seen a lot of fairway time (and yes, some forest time, too) so I grabbed them and began arranging the scene. I rolled a golf ball into the scene to see where it would rest, and that looked pretty good. Next I grabbed my old putter to see if that would finish the scene, and there it was.

How did I do this? I used a Canon Rebel XT with the 17-85mm IS lens and a 430EX flash shot through an umbrella off to camera left. I also used a piece of white foam core on the right as a reflector to add some fill light.

The challenge - since neither the Rebel XT nor 430EX have PC sync ports, I had to figure out a way to trigger the flash from off camera. I chose to use a couple of PocketWizards. One on the camera hotshoe and the other attached to the flash. However, as already mentioned the 430EX doesn’t have a PC sync port and I needed something to be able to hook up to the PocketWizard. I ended up using a Hotshoe to PC Connector - flash to hotshoe connector and PC sync cord from connector to PocketWizard. I can’t take credit for this idea though; I borrowed some great tips from David Hobby over at Strobist.

The one thing about using the PocketWizard this way is that the flash can only be used in manual mode, no eTTL/iTTL allowed. I started with ½ power and eventually dropped to ¼ power. I was metering with a handheld Sekonic L358. It’s a little bit of trial and error, adjust this, tweak that, to get the light the way you want. But in the end, I was happy with the result.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Few Random Shots From Last Week

We had some really nice weather up here last week so I took the opportunity to get out and do a little shooting. Here are a few random shots.

Can't decide which of the following two I like better, the landscape or portrait version. However, black and white seemed a better choice than colour:



Friday, March 12, 2010

Amazing Landscape Photographer - Peter Lik

I originally came across the photography of Peter Lik while I was in Australia back in 2005. I had wandered into one of his galleries in the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney. I was completely blown away by his photography; filled with strong composition, amazing colour, light and extraordinary detail, his photographs are truly inspirational.

You can check out his site here:

Peter Lik - Fine Art Photography



Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Turn at HDR

It seems like everyone nowadays is turning to HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing. Whether this is a good thing or not is still up for debate and there's a lot of opinions out there. Where do I sit on the topic? I think that HDR is another creative tool for photographers and that HDR is a creative choice. I don't really see a difference between choosing to produce an image using HDR vs. choosing to produce a black and white. It's the final image that is important to you as the photographer.

What is HDR or High Dynamic Range imaging?

Essentially, it is way to allow a greater range of tonal values between the lightest and darkest areas of an image. This is accomplished by taking multiple exposures, 1 normal exposure, 1 underexposed and 1 over exposed and then layering these 3 photos on top of one another and then doing something called Tone Mapping. Tone Mapping adjusts the overall contrast to bring out the the details in the light and dark areas.

The most popular and sophisticated HDR program is probably Photomatix by HDRsoft which is what I am using.

Now, I've seen a lot of HDR images and I have to say that they fall into three distinct categories: the good; the bad; and the downright awful. The good are the images that you didn't know were HDR, or the images that are clearly HDR, but are extremely smooth and free of artifacts and noise. They also have a strong composition that draws you into the photo. The bad are the images that could have been good if perhaps a little more time was spent on the processing (i.e. cleaning up the halos). And, the downright awful are the images where there was no thought to composition, excessive halos, noise and artifacts and just look like puke! You look at it and know that it's an HDR hatchet job. It doesn't matter how you slice it, HDR will not make a bad photo look good!

This was my weekend to try out HDR for the first time so I went out and took some test shots that I will explain below. After playing with HDR for a little bit, I can see why some may get addicted. It creates a really cool effect that is simple to produce. Trying to do something similar with Photoshop, unless you are guru or close to it, would take some time to learn and probably has more moves than Kung Fu. As with any new technique you may think "hey, this easy and it looks cool, I should do this for all of my photos!" I'll be honest, that went through my head, too, but then I thought about the good, the bad, and downright awful and decided that I would try create some guidelines for myself with hopes of staying out of the downright awful category at the very least.

  1. Restraint - I think this is crucial for all types of post processing. We have all seen photos that have been overcooked in one way or another and HDR is no different. Exercise some restraint here and try to keep things from looking overcooked. I think it's great to push the sliders all the way to the right to see what it looks like, but then back things off until they look more pleasing.
  2. Does it really need the be HDR? - I think this is a great question. HDR works best when you have a range of tones that is outside of your camera's ability to capture (usually about 5 stops is all a DSLR can capture). I realized after I got home that my test shots below were probably not the best to maximize the HDR effect. My normal exposures were pretty bang on, no clipped highlights or shadows which means that my D300 captured all of the tonal range for the scene. Did I lose any detail? Not really! So I was thinking, if my normal exposure does have clipped highlights (blinkies if you have your highlight warning turned on) then it may be a good candidate for HDR. Exposing for the highlights will loose detail in the shadows so create another exposure for the shadows and combine in HDR.
  3. Composition - Remember HDR is only a post processing technique no different than post processing in Photoshop. Also remember that no amount of post processing can save a really bad photo. This is the mantra of "get it right in the camera the first time". You still need to have a good composition and proper technique.
Here are some standard HDR shooting tips:
  • Use a tripod - although Photomatix will auto align your photos, the tripod will minimize any drastic differences;
  • Shoot in aperture mode so you can maintain the same depth of field throughout each exposure;
  • Use auto exposure bracketing to set your exposures;
  • Use continuous high speed mode if your shutter speeds are high;
  • If shutter speeds are low (i.e. night shoot or indoor low light), you may want to invest in a remote/cable release to avoid camera shake.
Below are a few of my test images. It was only after reviewing and working with these images that I came up with the guidelines above. I like them, but I would not call them spectacular, but the beauty of photography is that we get try new things, learn from them and go out and try them again.

This first one, to me, is slightly overdone and probably didn't really need to be done in HDR to begin with. My original exposure was pretty good with only a little clipping in the shadows as you can see in the original. However, it did bring out the colours pretty well. I like the composition, but I should have given more thought to the orange cones. I could have gone out on the ice and moved them or spent some more time in Photoshop to remove them. A second look and that black strip in the lower centre is a little distracting, too. But again, this was for testing only.



Second, there is still a little bit if halo fringing along the horizon. Did this really require HDR? Look at the histogram, it's a pretty well exposed original. Composition was not so strong so I adjusted it for the next image.



Third, pretty much the same scene, I just moved closer and put the horizon more in the upper third. Original exposure was not too bad either. I did get a nice "painted" effect, but there is still some glow along the horizon.



I do like the HDR effect and will try some more of this over the next little while. I'll also try to keep my my guidelines in mind for the next time, too.

Please feel free to comment or add some additional advice.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I've Always Hated Winter - There's Multiple Places I'd Rather Be

I've lived in Southern Ontario all my life; winter is always an absolute. This year it's not been too bad and I know other places have had it worse, but I still hate winter.

Where would I rather be? Where would you rather be?

Somewhere in the Caribbean?

How about the beach down under? It's summer there now.