Category Archives: Tutorials/How To

Landscape Photography Twilight LE Technique

One great benefit of having some interest in the sky during sunrise or sunset is the opportunity to photograph a scene at different times, and be able to come away with more than one acceptable image.

On this particular morning, there was very nice cloud cover above Lake Tahoe. Hoping to make the best of the situation, I set up to photograph not only at sunrise, but also just before and after sunrise. I also used different filter techniques to photograph each moment, so I could capture multiple effects. For this image I used a 10-stop ND filter, to show the effect of streaking pre-sunrise clouds above Emerald Bay. When shooting in the direction of the sun, I like to use a long exposure to obtain this streaking cloud effect just before sunrise and also after sunset, through twilight.

Carefully check the first couple of exposures in the camera’s viewfinder. If you notice blown-out highlights in the sky you will have to adjust the in-camera exposure. Another option is to attach a neutral density grad filter to your Big Stopper filter. This will eliminate blown-out highlights,

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Image Stacking for Landscape Photography Part One

Zerene Logo

Just four images needed to be stacked to create this image

Just four individually focused exposures were needed to create this image.

Typically used during post-processing of macro photography, Zerene image stacking software processes multiple images taken of a single composition to create a completely in-focus output image. Being a Landscape Photographer, I was curious if this concept would work for the type of images I capture. After using Zerene focus stacking software, I am now convinced that I am on to a really good thing, and in part one of my review I will explain why Zerene Stacker can be an invaluable tool for much more than just macro photography. I have added “Part One” to this review title simply because I have used the software to process just a couple of images so far. I intend to photograph and process more images using Zerene Stacker, which will allow me to fully illustrate the software’s limitless potential, in this field. First lets take a quick look at the Zerene Stacker interface.

The Home Screen where you begin by adding files (images) to the current project

The Add Source Files dialog box will appear, from where you will simply select and upload images from the location they are saved in. The number of images uploaded for each project will depend on the number of focus points you have photographed of that particular scene. I recommend a series of at least three shots, at different focus points when photographing a landscape. One advantage of using focus-stacking software for landscape photography is you will not need to take many shots to process a completely sharp image in Zerene Stacker, for most scenes. This means that after a short learning curve, you will have the ability to process images with more impact in just a short amount of time.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Image files are now loaded into the current project

For this project I have selected twelve images, which are displayed here as a single image stack. Clicking on any of the twelve image files listed in the Input Files column on the left, will bring that file to the top of the stack, making it the visible file. Next, select Stack from the task bar. Here, you will discover that there are two image stacking options from which to choose from, each based on creating an output image using a different processing algorithm. These are PMax and DMap. I found each method capable of producing different results, and therefore, experimentation is the best way to determine which method will produce the best output image for you. Read a detailed description of both stacking methods here. DMap versus PMax 

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Output image ready for the magical Retouching Tool

Once the all important stacking step is completed, it is time to use the program’s Retouching Tool. With just a little time and concentration, this is where you will eliminate any artifacts and image-stutter, which are a result of moving elements in the scene such as clouds or in this case lupines blowing in the wind. For this step you will need to magnify both images. I use a setting of 100%, which allows me to easily see details, while quickly scrolling through all parts of the image. Each file on the left of the screen represents each individually focused shot. Simply match the best focused shot with the area of the image on the right you are using the Retouching Tool. The tool itself is very easy to use. Just like the Paintbrush Tool found in Photoshop and Lightroom, simply brush over any area that has been effected by movement or wind. When zooming into the lupine image, I was able to see and correct several areas effected by motion-stuttering. Using your mouse, you can easily control the size of the brush area, on the fly. Once you have finished retouching the image, go to Edit>Commit Retouching. Your image will then appear in the column at the left of the screen, under Output Images “Retouched.” Not all projects will require retouching. For example, the image near the top of this review of the tree and Half Dome includes features that were not affected by wind or movement, during the time it took to capture the series of shots needed. For some reason this screenshot did not record the Retouching Tool Brush. Click here Landscape Tutorial Page  and look at the forth image to see an example illustration of the Brush Tool in action.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Save Output Image(s) Window

Save Output Images will open the output options window. From here you will choose the output file size and type that matches the workflow you typically use. My preferred settings are to save each new image as a TIFF file, at 300 ppi. Next, chose a location on your computer where you wish to save the new file. This will be the location where you will open your stacked file for further post-processing such as color correction and sharpening.

Click on screenshot to enlarge

Click on screenshot to enlarge

http://zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker

Detailed product information and support can be found here: FAQ Page  Tutorials  Support
Zerene Focus-Stacking

Ingredients for Long Exposure Photography

One of my favorite ways to share my work and express my passion, is through Long Exposure photography. With this medium, it is possible to enhance color and fading light in a scene, where to the human eye; both color and light would normally appear to have all but disappeared.

I especially like to use this effect for color photography; however this technique can produce fantastic looking effects to Black and White images. In either format, images can take on a surreal look, especially when the motion of moving water is transformed in to a sheet of silk, or clouds are turned in to streaks of light.

The ingredients (or elements) needed to produce these effects, can vary according to each scene. However, below is a list of ingredients I used to capture the image featured in this blog.

1. Tripod  Really? Dare I mention the obvious? An exposure of 300 seconds was used to take the image accompanying this post, so a steady hand just would not do it.

2. Cable Release  Keeping your hands off your camera during a long exposure is critical, to avoid camera shake that would result in image blur.

3. Pro or Advanced Level Camera  A camera with the ability to be set to record exposures upwards of 30 seconds.

4. Neutral Density Filter  When attached to the front of your lens, or placed into a filter holder, this filter will allow increased exposure times. The strength of this filter is measured in stops. The highest stop value will allow the longest exposure times. There are several companies that make ND filters. The brand I use are circular glass screw on filters, and are made by B+W. I own two 10-Stop filters; to accommodate both 67mm and 77mm lens thread sizes. This filter is often used in combination with a Neutral Density Graduated Filter. A 10-stop ND filter is also great for long exposure photography, during the daytime.

5. Colorful Sky  Even well after sunset, color can be recorded and enhanced with a long exposure.

6. Clouds  If you want to create a streaking clouds effect. A sky with both cloudy and clear patches is ideal to obtain an effective surreal look.

7. Water  Water in motion such as ocean waves, usually yields the greatest effect. The longer the exposure, the smoother the water. Thirty seconds may be enough; however an often used exposure to create the most surreal effect is around 240 seconds.

8. Wristwatch or Stopwatch  To obtain an accurate desired exposure time. An alternative is to buy a cable release that can be electronically programmed to shoot chosen exposure times. These are called intervalometers, or timer remote releases.

9. Patience  Like most things, obtaining the desired result can take patience. Having an understanding of how light works, and how light will effect the scene you are attempting to shoot is very important. Practice is often needed to perfect not only each ingredient of the shoot, but to also strike the right balance between them.

Choose the right scene, exposure, aperture and timing, and you just may find that you will develop quite an appetite for this form of photography.

Image

Swiftcurrent Lake, Montana

The above image was taken 30 minutes after sunset. The exposure used was 300 seconds, at f/11.

Essential Backpacking Tips for Wilderness Photography

Image Introduction by Christopher Robinson – Editor of Outdoor Photographer Magazine

“Spanning the width of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, King’s Canyon National Park features some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. Along with Sequoia National Park, which is immediately south of King’s Canyon NP, a priceless segment of the wilderness is preserved by the National Park Service. While paved roads traverse the combined Sequoia & King’s Canyon area, if you can park and hike up into the higher elevations, you’ll find vistas like this.” 

Image

Bullfrog Lake – Kings Canyon National Park

Reaching wilderness vistas such as Bullfrog Lake, may seem intimidating to many outdoor enthusiasts. However, with careful preplanning, accessing these beautiful higher elevation views might not be as hard as you think.

Being prepared and knowing your limitations are just two of the most important elements to consider. Below, I will cover what I feel are the most important tips to assist you in reaching the heart of nature.

1. Know your limitations

First and foremost, it is very important to know what your body is capable of. If you are in reasonably good shape, you can probably prepare yourself quite easily for a longer hike. Keep in mind that many wilderness areas will require that you not only hike the distance lengthwise, but that you are also able to complete the elevation gain. Therefore, ensure that you have first attained all the details of the hike you are planning to take, so you know it is within your personal comfort level.

Hiking into the wilderness usually means that you intend to camp overnight. With this in mind, if your destination is say, 5-miles, you will have enough rest and a chance to refuel before making the return hike.

2. Physical preparation

If you are new to hiking, start by walking in a local park, or an area that you want to photograph that has an easy to moderate trail. Maybe a mile or two round-trip. The important thing is to start out slowly, before steadily increasing the length of your walk or hike. Comfortably walking 5-miles in a day, is a good indication that you are ready for the next step. If you are preparing for an overnight backpacking trip, put some items in your backpack, and carry the pack during your practice walks. Doing this will also help you get used to hiking while carrying the extra weight of your gear.

3. Elevation Acclimation

If the hike you are planning to take requires a substantial elevation gain, first make sure that you spend a good hour or two at a location where the altitude is higher than you are used to. Depending where you live, you may be able to do this by simply driving somewhere that is located at a higher elevation, such as a State Park. Once there, walk around as much as possible, and don’t forget to pack a lunch. Exercise, eating and resting are all important things to experience while acclimating your body to higher elevations.

Many visitors traveling just to experience the great outdoors, make sure they have the extra time needed to get acclimated to the high elevation, before beginning a hike. I have met several people while on the trail, that have told me they are just hiking part of the trail, as a day hike, just so they can get used to the conditions. This is a great idea for hikers who are traveling from an area where the elevation is low, and have not experienced conditions at high elevations.

4. Dress Comfortably

Dress with the option of adding layers. Depending on the season, you may start out wearing just a tee shirt. However, temperatures in high elevation areas can drop dramatically towards the end of the day and into the evening. You will probably add at least one layer by the time you reach your destination.

Your feet will probably feel the brunt of a long hike more than any other part of your body; therefore comfortable footwear is a necessity. If you buy hiking boots specifically for this hike, make sure you test them to make sure they are going to remain comfortable, throughout the journey. I usually test my new hiking boots thoroughly, by going on several long walks, in the days leading up to my trip.

5. Pack Light

While you will want to make sure that you pack everything needed for your trip, it is very important that you pack as light as possible. This will go a long way in maximizing your overall comfort level, during the hike.

Before buying any item for my trip, I always do extensive research to determine each item I eventually choose to buy. This determination is based on three important factors. They are quality, weight and cost.

All of my camping gear, including clothing was bought from REI. They have an excellent website, where you can find a detailed description of each item, as well as many customer reviews for most of the items. REI stores also usually have great customer service, and a very relaxed return and exchange policy.  http://www.rei.com

6. Test Your Gear Before You Go

Take enough time to learn how to use your new gear, and to make sure everything works correctly. Whether it be your new mini-stove, headlamp or tent. I cannot emphasize this enough. Can you imagine trying to setup your new tent after a long hike, only to discover that you are not able to figure out how to do this. I always practice putting my tent up at home several times, to avoid what could lead to an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous situation, while out in the wilderness.

A comfortable backpack is also essential for your trip. Another great thing about shopping at REI, is they have very knowledgeable staff. Not only will they recommend the best backpack for you, based on your needs, but you will be able to put the backpack on in the store, and walk around. They will even put items in the pack, as well as help you adjust the fittings to fit your body comfortably.

7. Gear Essentials

Below is a list of gear I include in my backpack, while on an overnight stay in the wilderness. While I believe each item on this list to be essential, this is not an all-inclusive list, nor do I always use each item on every trip I take.

  1. Tent (Rain and windproof)
  2. Sleeping Bag (Rated to 20 degrees or lower)
  3. Thin Floor Mattress (A blow-up mattress is a good option)
  4. Extra clothing (Think layers and having dry clothes available)
  5. Liquid (I take both water and Gatorade)
  6. Water treatment filter (Optional, but a necessity on longer hikes)
  7. Food (Nutrition bars, dry snacks, soup) All available at REI
  8. Small camping stove (Cup-a-soup can feel like a 5-star meal in the wilderness, and can really warm you up)
  9. Small can of burner fuel
  10. Waterproof matches plus some type of auto lighter
  11. Small first aid kit
  12. Aspirin (Headaches are common while at higher elevations)
  13. Flashlight (Headlamps are exceptional for handsfree operation)
  14. Spare batteries
  15. Bear spray
  16. Toiletries
  17. Something to bury waste or take-out
  18. Map and compass (Or GPS unit)
  19. Bug repellant
  20. Whistle (For making noise in bear country, or to make people aware of your location)
  21. Pocketknife (A multi-tool utility knife would be ideal)
  22. Sunscreen Lotion

Always let someone know where you are going, and when you plan to return home.

By now, you have probably realized the importance of choosing the lightest gear possible. Don’t forget, you will be adding camera gear! I try to plan in advance for the exact type of shots I want to capture, and take just the necessary camera gear needed to achieve my goals.

With enough preparation and careful planning, you will be far less intimidated at the thought of trekking into the great outdoors. The wilderness can be an incredible source of beauty and inspiration, and the rewards for getting into the heart of nature are often simply priceless.

Ediza Lake – Ansel Adams Wilderness

Reviving Old Images

An image originally marked for the scrap file pile, given a  simple, but effective makeover.

An image originally marked for the scrap file pile, given a simple, but effective makeover.

It’s true; when I originally reviewed this image taken in April 2012, I decided that it would be no more than a simple reference shot, and sent it to my living scrap file folder. The reason I use the term “living” is because my intention is to return to these files someday and attempt to figure out how to improve my overall photographic technique.

In this case, I decided that a simple technique that has become an invaluable part of my workflow, could turn this image around.

The first time I reviewed the image, all I could think of was that the tones were all over the place. It was not until recently that I realized that the only major problem with this image was the awful white balance. After all; my white balance is typically always set to auto, for every shooting condition. In this case the resulting image looked so bad, I failed to give it a second chance.

The Simple Fix

After completing my usual initial workflow in Adobe Camera Raw, I opened the image in Photoshop. I then selected a new layer, by clicking Layer-New Adjustment Layer-Levels, and then clicked OK. In my new Levels Layer, I selected the White Point Eye-Dropper. I then placed the Eye-dropper on the brightest part of the image; in this case, the white square, located at the left edge of the Golden Gate Bridge. I clicked the brightest white area, and just like magic the image was transformed into something I can now consider as much more pleasing to the eye. Just as importantly, I had now restored the image to a more accurate rendition of what I witnesses during that particular Bay Area morning.

The image was captured using an exposure of 173 seconds at f/22. This view is found at the end of the Berkeley Pier, in Berkeley, California.

Sunset Curtain Call at Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Tutorial: Blending Two Images

Due to the heavily debated preference between users of HDR software and On Camera Grad Filters, a third very useful option is often overlooked. Whatever your current preference, the blending option described below is easy to use, effective and can produce images that portray a very accurate rendition of the actual scene. This method was used (in Photoshop) to create the image featured above; “Sunset Curtain Call at Seljalandsfoss.”

The Scenario: Attempting to capture this scene from behind the waterfall, was extremely difficult, due to the heavy spray shooting straight back to where I had my tripod set up. All I could do was take several different exposures, quickly replacing the lens cap in-between each shot. I was honestly amazed to find that there was not one drop of water on my lens after completing the shoot.

Blending the Images: Choosing not to use my preferred method of an On Camera Grad Filter, I discovered that I was left with captured images that were either well overexposed or underexposed. The following workflow was used to make the final image of the falls.

1. First, open both the overexposed and underexposed images in Photoshop. Viewing the images side by side you will see that one image is lighter, displaying a well exposed foreground; however the highlights in the sky are too bright. The second image retains good detail in the sky; however the foreground is too dark.

2. The next step is to place one image directly on top of the other. To do this, click on one of the images. For this example, I selected the darker image. In Photoshop, go to Select>All then Edit>Copy. Then click on the lighter image to make it active, and go to Edit>Paste. You will notice that the two images now appear in the Layers Palette. The images should be perfectly aligned which can be verified by setting the top layer to about 50%, so the lower image is visible.

3. Once you are satisfied with image alignment, look at the tools palette to confirm that the front layer box is black, and the back layer box is white. If not, simply click on each box to set the color.

4. Now you will add a Layer Mask to the top layer. To do this, click on the top layer to highlight it, and then click the New Layer Mask Icon found at the bottom of the Layers Palette. The highlighted top layer will now have a white Layer Mask next to the image icon in the Layers Palette.

5. This is where you will begin to paint on the mask, using the Brush Tool. Select the Brush Tool, and set the Brush Diameter. Choose a large brush for areas with no defined lines, such as horizons to quickly paint areas of light in. Use a small Brush for areas where better control and care is needed. With black selected as the front layer box, you will be simply painting light in. By clicking X on your keyboard or the double arrow in the Tools window, you can switch between the white and black layer boxes, which can be useful if you need to remove areas of light.

Using the Paintbrush, you are literally revealing the lighter bottom layer with each Brush stroke. By setting the Brush Opacity command located in the toolbar above your image, you can modify the strength of the effect. This is a great way to experiment, giving the effect of using lighter brush strokes. Using a lower Brush Opacity is also a good way to fine tune your strokes in areas that require more accuracy.

As with any method you choose to process an image with, the technical aspect can take a back seat to an individuals artistic impression. Using the image blending mode, one can choose to produce images that are very natural, or to add individual artistic impression. One other thing about the image blending mode is unlike HDR or On Camera Filters, it is not an extra expense. This process can be completed with almost any software program that facilitates the use of layers.

How I Was Able to Sell Prints Internationally

“A New Day” Sunrise illuminates Laurel Mountain reflected in the still waters of Convict Lake.

I was honestly a little surprised to be selling my work so soon after launching my new website. Then, after a couple of weeks, I received my first international print order. Wow, I thought; this is amazing! Little did I know of the horror that was to follow.

A few days after the order was placed, I picked up the finished print from my local photo lab. As usual, the lab did a great job and I was so excited to ship the print to my new customer. I arrived at the UPS Store, and proudly requested that they package and ship the print to my new customer in Sydney, Australia. “No problem” the clerk replied, “that will be $143.00.” Well, I was shocked, and at this point realized I was also just a little naive to think that the cost to ship a print this way would have been any less expensive.

Firstly; I did get to sell that particular print, even if it was at a slightly discounted cost. Secondly; I now needed to come up with a solution to complete this sale, and any future print sales that would need to be delivered to potential overseas customers.

After some thought, the solution was quite easy, and maybe obvious to many other photographers. I simply spent adequate time surfing the internet, until I was satisfied that I had found a quality and reliable photo lab as close as possible to the location where the print order was placed. The photo lab also had to agree that they would have the print packaged and picked up for delivery by a major shipping carrier of their choice. I would also request an email containing shipping information, including the package tracking number. This extra service did come at a cost; however I thought it was very reasonable and well worth it to resolve what I first believed to be something I was not even going to achieve.

In the case of the Australia sale, I did not even have to pick up the telephone. Everything was processed using email, including confirmation of a satisfied new customer. Since that first sale, I have successfully processed and shipped prints to Switzerland, Finland and the UK. The first print sold was the image pictured above; “A New Day.”

My Recommendations:

1. When deciding which photo lab to use, first read all their print service information to ensure that they can thoroughly complete the print request. Search for any reviews online about each photo lab you are considering working with. How other photographers rate each labs work, will go a long way in determining which international photo lab you ultimately decide to work with.

2. Make sure their print prices and any extra services needed, such as packaging and shipping are in-line with your sale costs and required profit.

3. Make contact, whether by email or phone if necessary, with an employee at the lab.

4. Communicate your shipping method with the customer.

5. Let the photo lab know that you need to be copied on all shipping information.

6. Follow up with the customer to make sure that they have received the print by the time stated on the tracking information, and that they are totally satisfied with the print quality. I do this with ALL customers, regardless of location.

7. Most importantly; don’t take your print to a shipping store with the attitude that you have done everything perfectly, only to do a complete U-turn, walking out the store almost in tears…Guess who?

Alternative:

Even though I have not tried them, I believe that there are website building programs which offer packaging and shipping, as an option available in their list of services. I decided not to use one of those services, so I can maximize my websites profit potential.

I do however, believe it is very wise to look at as many options as possible before investing in a new business. This has now become more than just a hobby to you, so thoroughly research each possibility, and you will be much more comfortable with the services you choose.

Suggestion:

Try weighing up the pros and cons of both the two website building options listed below. I personally use Photodeck, and have been very satisfied with the results so far. There are also many other website companies and options to choose from.

http://www.photodeck.com/  

http://www.smugmug.com/