Category Archives: Photography Lesson

Topaz Labs brings Clarity to the Milky Way – Photographing the Milky Way

Milky Way Shoot ABDSPTopaz Labs brings Clarity to the Milky Way – Photographing the Milky Way 

I’ve always loved looking up at a star filled sky in wonder. When I was a kid we would go camping in Canada. It was so dark up there away from all civilization I don’t think there was a star you couldn’t see. I remember seeing satellites fly across the sky when satellites were still new. 

But the truth was/is I’ve lived most of my life in or near big cities, first NYC and Philadelphia and now San Diego. So in my normal everyday life there wasn’t much star gazing. But there was something special about it. 

In my photography there wasn’t much of it either. Sure I did a few long exposures when I was out in the National Parks like Zion or Yellowstone. But that was when I shot film and film didn’t always offer the same possibilities or capabilities, whether it was max ISO or reciprocity. This was especially true when it came to shooting the Milky Way in color and having the stars static. 

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Twilight – Nature’s HDR

13_MG_3603-TI’m often amused when I shoot the sunset and there are other photographers around. As soon as the sun dips below the horizon line, they fold their tripods and pack up their gear and head home. Sometimes it’s when I just start shooting.

Twilight is a wonderful time…sometimes.  It really can be seen and used well in the desert, especially the low desert that is surrounded by mountains. When you shoot around mountains, the twilight period is extended by 1/2 to a full hour because the sun will set behind the mountains, but still has not set below the horizon.

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HDR does not = Light

We get caught up sometimes thinking HDR is the cure all to everything. No matter the situation, shooting HDR will make it all better. But it simply does not. HDR allows you to capture the light our eyes can see and possibly our cameras can’t but it does not turn bad light to good. 

This was hammered back in my head once again two weeks ago as I was out in Joshua Tree NP on a shoot. A friends I was traveling with called me over to see an area he was looking over down into the valley. It was a beautiful scene in front of me, but quite honestly the light sucked. It was an hour too late to shoot that area and no good light was getting down into the rock outcroppings, just a small area of great golden hour light was hitting the peak of one of those rock formations. 

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I got the Hippy Hippy Shake

I’ve got the Hippy Hippy Shake 

No one remembers that song huh? It was by this little group called the Beatles. OK, enough music nostalgia. 

Reader Duane W had a question on camera shake while ON A TRIPOD. 

Duane wrote: I was shooting at the beach back in May and tried to pull off a shot.  What I did not expect or plan for was the amount of wind in the evening.  A storm was working up and the wind was gusting off the water about 20-30 mile an hour. 

I love shooting water and getting that nice shutter speed about 1/4 – 1/6th of a second.  That made the water perfect, but because the wind was strong made the rocks not sharp due to my camera and tripod shaking.

So thinking about it, there were a couple things I could have tried.  Continue reading »

Reader Question Answered

In our post the other day about shooting Mid-Day, Reader David Ames…who is also a good friend and a great photographer and also one of those people  you just always say “What a great guy” when they walk away after seeing them. Asked this question:

I’ve been shooting quite a few custom cars lately using HDR. Getting these car owners out during the golden hour is pretty much impossible. Talking about specular highlights, these cars are more than shinny. What adverse effects if any would using a circular polarizer and HDR have. Probably going to test it out tomorrow at a car show but wanted you take on the subject.

Which is a great question.

Shooting cars is a very difficult thing to do and do right especially Mid-Day particularly because they are so shiny. Reflections cause a multitude of problems. From causing metering to be off from specular highlights, Reflections of unsightly objects into the cars, Balance of lighting in different areas of the cars and probably a few more I can’t think of at the moment.

Sometimes you can use these reflections to your advantage, such as getting a cool Gleam of the sun off of a chrome piece. and sometimes they just ruin the shot completely.

Polarizers

So let’s adress David’s question about the polarizer first.

The quick answer is Maybe; We have to know one fact about polarizer first. THEY HAVE NO  EFFECT ON REFLECTIONS ON METAL OBJECTS. You can Google why not but they just don’t. So with a lot of Custom Cars especially from Days Gone By. Those cars have a lot of chromed or plated areas. The polarizer will have no effect on reflections on that part of the car. Metallic finishes that have a large amount of metal flake in them also may not be as affected as straight paint color may. And lastly polarizer work in relation to angles or planes. Mostly at 90 degrees to the reflective source at maximum and tailing off from there. And if we look at a car, we can see there are MANY different planes and angles to them.

So let’s look at a quickie shot I did today to see some of the effects.

The first image was shot with a polarizer at maximum in relation to the side of the vehicle (My Blue Stead)

Looking at the green arrows, They show that reflections in the window glass and the side of the vehicle have pretty much been eliminated.

Looking at the red arrows, you see that it had no effect on the hood because that is at a plane that is 90 degrees from the plane of the door. Also you can see that the specular highlight in the chrome of the headlight had zero effect from the polarizer.

The orange arrow shows  the real problem area. The hot spot on the fender cause by a specular highlight from a point source light ( The sun) Because of the angle I shot at, that angle relates exactly to the opposite angle that the sun was to the car to me. Angle of incidence – Angle of reflection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that was not an angle that was affected by the polarizer

Now if we look at this second shot, same shot but the polarizer set at the minimum for the side reflections or 180 degrees from the first shot.

Looks what happens to the side, how the reflections now appear, but then look at the hood, how the reflections have disappeared.

And finally notice, that the specular in the headlight and then the fender remain unchanged

So the bottom line is, polarizers can help but you need to understand them and then JUST USE YOUR EYES.  OK, I have a reflection here I don’t like, can I eliminate it this way or that way? Look and see.

Use of HDR Mid-Day

Yes it can help your mid-day image. If you look at the above images you notice a lot of harsh shadows and if you can use HDR to even out some of those shadows you may get a better final image. BUT HDR will NOT help tame reflection, in fact it may make them worse because it brings out detail. I’m sure you’ve seen some of those highly processed HDR’s of say totally chromed out motorcycles. Well you can see the detail in every tiny reflection there is. So there are some advantages to using HDR for the Mid-Day or any time of day automotive shoot. But you still need to be totally aware of reflections.

Here is an example of how a reflection can ruin a great shot…and I love this shot…but there is a reflection of another car in the side of the Spyder that makes me Cringe every time I look at it. But I couldn’t control where the car was and where the car reflected into it was.

 

 

So what’s the real bottom line here when it comes to shooting Automotive shots and reflections, specular highlights, Polarizers and HDR.

Because you are dealing with such a highly reflective object you have to be aware of all light sources and you have to be aware of everything that reflects into the object. This is just like doing highly reflective  Product photography except you can’t fit it into a table top light box. And doing that type of photography it teaches us that we CAN NOT have point source lighting. It just doesn’t work unless we want a glint or gleam in certain areas

So what do you? if you look at a lot of great automotive photography, you will see two things. They shoot at dusk when we have eliminated the point source light of the sun. In the studio they use HUGE diffuser panels above in front of the lighting. They may be as big as and some time 2 to 3 times the size of what they are shooting.  Then they add smaller diffused source light to put highlight where they want them. So you get nice even light without the hot spots that are a problem shooting during the day from specular light and point source light.

Check out a couple great examples of automotive lighting, These guys rock. Study what they do and try to apply it

Easton Chang

Tim Wallace

Also check out Porsche’s Website under each vehicle they have images and wallpaper downloads. they have some great automotive photography there and if you study it you learn a lot

I also want to say, I am not an automotive photgrapher nor do I pretend to be. The above is just some common photography tips. Study and learn from the people that do it great.

As a final word to David. I totally get you don’t always have the option of shooting in the perfcet place at  the perfect time with a $10,000 light bank above the car.

So look, use the tools you have whether that is a polarizer, HDR or just moving 10 feet to the left to tame as best you can the reflection and put them where YOU want as best you can. It is possible to shoot during the day. BUT you have to LOOK

 

Hope that helps,

 

Peter

How to shoot Fireworks in 15 Seconds

How to shoot Fireworks in 15 Seconds

  1. Camera – Wide Angle lens
  2. Great Location
  3. Camera on Tripod
  4. ISO 100 or 200
  5. f/16, 15 Second exposure
  6. When you hear the mortor fire, press the shutter
  7. Have a Hot Dog
  8. Happy 4th

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edit: c/o Sport Photgrapher Dave Hahn:  “Don’t forget to pre-focus” (most likely with a wide angle you will focus at infinity AF turned off)

You can vary the Shutter Speed between 8 and 15 seconds, The longer, the more possibilities for multiple bursts being captured.

You can open the aperture up a bit if you need to expose the ambient light of the location more but for the condition I shot in and the exposure time of 15 seconds I liked the greater detail and clarity that f/16  gave. Opening up the aperture in this situation made the  background too bright because of the city lights. If it is very dark where you are shooting you may want to open up the aperture just a bit

Experimentation is the key but these are some starting points

Shoot Mid-Day, Yes, Yes you can!

Shoot Mid-day, Yes, Yes you can!

 
Anyone that’s been into photography knows, one of the most taught rules is “Never shoot in the middle of the day”. Even Scott Kelby during a The Grid broadcast a couple months ago during the “Live Critique” show that got a lot of buzz said so. To Paraphrase him. ” If you are a landscape shooter, there are two times a day to shoot. Other than that forget it”. And to directly quote him, talking about shooting during Golden Hours. ” That is the absolute most basic thing” ,  And,  ”If you don’t do that, you can throw it in the trash”
 
Rutt rowww…Mr. Kelby, Did you just tell me I can’t do something? Not a good thing to do to this dawg.
 
But of course he is right and it also extends to portrait/wedding photographers and others. He’s right…well maybe he was right.
 
So why do we not shoot during the Mid-day? Well, the light is harsh, shadows are in the wrong place, colors are bad and I’m sure we could state a few more things and I guess we would be right.
 
But I’m going to say. We’re not.
 
Case in point. Saturday I took a drive down PCH ( Pacific Coast Highway) on a simply beautiful day. I pulled off in Cardiff by the Sea in one of the few remaining parking spaces that was left because it was such a beautiful summer day. It was about 1:30PM, certainly not a time of day we would shoot.
 
I got out, grabbed my camera and headed to the water. It was spectacular, the sky was a beautiful deep blue with white puffy clouds, the water a beautiful seafoam green. The sand a warm golden tone and the kelp washed ashore a sparkling emerald green. Wow how wonderful.
 
Snap went the shutter.
 
And I got this: 
 
OK Mr. Kelby you’re right. I can’t shoot Mid-Day. The light is harsh, the color is bad, it’s all washed out. The dynamic range is multiplied by the specular highlights off water which can drive meters batty. It’s just an ugly day with bad light…Hey wait a minute! I’m standing here looking at it…
 
Umm…no it’s NOT. It’s FRIGGEN beautiful out!
 
So is the light really bad? Or, can our camera, as we knew them, just not capture it? 

A flawed system 

No matter what we may think, now or years ago. Digital or Film. Small formats or big honking 8 x 10 Large format. Cameras are a flawed system. They just are. They don’t see as well as our eyes and when you really consider that our “Human” camera is a system of both Lens (our eyes) and our mind that make up that system. They don’t even come close.
 
In fact our mind plays a huge role in how we see. Without our mind’s interaction, everything we see would be upside down and backwards. Our mind corrects for our eyes, the lens. We even use composition to do what our mind does naturally.
 
As a photographer, what can make us great or better than another photographer is knowing these flaws and how best to correct or compensate for them. It is, in some ways, what made Ansel Adam’s so great. Besides a great eye for light, composition and quite frankly shooting places that not many people could see without his photographs at the time. Mr. Adams knew and understood the flaws of his camera and film. It was the basis for his Zone System. It what made him know to expose a certain way, then process another and develop this way. To get the most out of a system he knew very well and knew if he didn’t do this he could not recreate in art what his eyes saw.
 
Getting back to my day at the beach
 
What my eyes actually saw was this: 
 
 
Brought to you courtesy of…yes…HDR. High Dynamic Range Imagery.
 
So the “Rule” of photography of not shooting mid-day is not one brought about by our subject and “Bad Light” but it really was brought about by a flawed system that just wasn’t capable of capturing the light that was there. And while our lenses do a pretty good job of replicating our eyes, the sensor somewhat less as far as dynamic range goes. But the part that really is missing is that our camera is incapable of the manipulation our mind adds to this of putting together the range of luminance and color and in some ways boosting the midtones into the scene at an acceptable and pleasing level (The “Two Looks” theory).
 
Now don’t get me wrong, The Golden Hours are still an amazing time to shoot, as can be the Blue Hours (You forgot them Mr. Kelby) And I am not saying that HDR can make up for truly bad lighting situations. I still maintain it must be great light. In fact I will say that part of the day usually is not the best time to shoot. The 2 or 3 hour period leading up to the Golden hour when the haze and pollution in the sky increases. The angle of the sun is just in a bad sometimes in those hours. What I AM saying is. Look, Look around, does it look nice to your eyes? Then we should be able to capture that and HDR may allow us to do that or at least do that more often.
 
The truth is there are times that it is just is better to shoot mid-day.
 

What to shoot Mid-Day 

 
A few  examples of things that may be better shot Mid-day: Well we have the beach scenes that we already talked about. Think about the above scenes with a colorful umbrella in the image or children’s sand pails at the waters edge. Just be careful of specular highlights on the water. Take them into consideration when metering the scene. Remember what a specular highlight is; it is a reflection and in this case it is a refection of the sun which can be many times brighter than our ambient EV15 light of a typical sunny day.
 
Shooting in Canyon Areas or close to a mountain range. When you are close to a mountain range that the sun sets or rises over. You really can’t wait for the Golden Hour. In fact the sun may set behind them a good two hours before civil sunset.
 
Shooting in Slot Canyons can be even worse. There may only be a short window of time that a great shot is possible in slot canyons and the dynamic range can really be high from the interiors to the sky. Waiting till too late in the day can really yield some really poor results as was shown in this article I wrote last year.
 
Wildflowers: This is one that really needs consideration. One of the reasons we sometimes can’t shoot wildflowers  during Golden hours is that a lot of flowers have not yet opened or start to close during that period. (Some flowers also close when it is windy and winds can increase towards sunset) And there are times shooting huge fields of wildflowers just looks great in the middle of a beautiful blue sky day.
 
But shooting wildflowers in the middle of the day do pose a couple problems. Ome that isn’t instantly recognizable if we do our usual HDR routine of measuring the Dynamic Range or brightness of the scene. At first with measuring the scene it may appear that it isn’t even that high of dynamic range. But our meters do get fooled with this and it’s one time we may be better off taking a shot and looking at our RGB histogram. One color channel usually blows out. 

Red Channel Blowout and Flower movement are a problem in this image

Most often, especially with, red, orange, Yellow flowers, it is the red channel. So shooting HDR helps with keeping this channel under control and giving us a much sharper image than a standard one because just like when we blow out all channels (white) it causes a great loss in detail.

 
But there is something that does get in our way of shooting flower fields with HDR. Movement. Even with a subtle breeze wildflowers move, sometimes they simply vibrate but that causes more loss of detail and sharpness. It makes it difficult enough with a single image because we have to keep the Shutter speed up to stop the motion. I often end up shooting at a higher ISO because even though there may be bright sun, using f/16 for my aperture yields a 1/100 shutter speed and I need much more.
 
Now, consider that,  plus  now you want to do multiple exposures? I think not. So this is an instance where I will recommend a single exposure but then using some of the tools we have with HDR and doing a Single Image, Tone Mapped.

Single Image Tone Mapped Shot 12:24PM



No it is not a true HDR but what we are instead doing is something I alluded to earlier. How the mind puts together an image sometimes more so than the eye and we can simulate this by using tone-mapping to bring down the highlights till they fit and don’t blow out and then boosting the mid-range that our eye/brain combo gets so right but our cameras, as we knew them, get so wrong.
 
 
 
 
 
So get out there and experiment, try, look around. How do the conditions appear to your eye? If it looks nice, maybe it is nice. Maybe we just didn’t have the tools we needed before. But with HDR we do. I’m not sure that people yet understand the power that HDR enables us. Once we understand that as well as we did the limitations of our system, we may be quite limitless.
 
And images like this are possible. Okay Mr. Kelby, anything else you would like to tell me I can’t do?
 
 

Shot 3:55PM

 
Hope that helps,
 
PT
 
PS For you portrait shooters, did you know it’s possible to shoot mid-day too? Not HDR but there are ways that you too can overcome the limitations of our flawed system have. Ask me.
 
 
 
 

Composition Part Deux

Composition Part Deux

 
Hi everyone, sorry I’ve been away. Had a new magazine assignment and that kept me busy this week. Sorry to neglect you.
 
Seeing that I started the week with a quick hint on composition I thought I should end the week talking about composition again. This time with a more complete guide to it.
 
I think it’s important to go over basic photography lessons because what I find is that all too often when shooting HDR, the HDR becomes the most important part of the image and we throw everything else out the window and we loose some of the essence of what makes a great photo…a great photo. HDR does not make a great photo, it only allows us to capture the full dynamic range of a great photo. If we make it first and foremost, we may just have a perfectly exposed…bad photograph.
 
So let’s look at a few things to looks for in composition that can help us achieve a better photograph. Nothing is etched in stone as some may lead you to believe and if you break one rule you may actually have just fallen into another one without knowing it and if the end result is something visually pleasing and adds to the image and captures an audience, then do it.
 
One quick thought on Rules of composition. Nothing in composition was man made. Man only quantified why something was attractive or pleasing to the eye. It wasn’t like the rule of thirds was invented when the first man wrote it down, it was merely that he quantified why something looked better that occurs, quite naturally
 
 

A foreground subject

For me this is just something I find to be really important and I tend to stress it more than maybe other photographers do. But I have heard that when choosing photographs for magazines a lot of editors reject images because they lack a foreground subject. After all we have seen millions and millions of shots of a beautiful sunset, but all that may be of interest is the beautiful sunset itself, we didn’t do anything to add to that and make it a beautiful PHOTOGRAPH of a sunset.
 
So, always, in the right situation have a foreground subject. A start for the viewer, Here, look here, see this, then move on as you are carried to the background and the rest of my photograph.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rule of Thirds

I don’t think anything gets pounded into new photographers for composition than the rule of thirds. We naturally like to center things and people that just start taking photographs often do just that. But it may not be the most pleasing and visual interest to our photographs. Placing our subject at the intersection of Thirds of the scene add better visual interest and balance to our photographs. If you have a horizon line in your image, place that at a Third also from top to bottom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Golden Mean or Ratio

Based on a mathematical formula that appears in nature (Fibonacci numbers) – think Nautilus shell here – Golden mean is another way to place object within our scene in a pleasing way.
 
I’ve demonstrated it here using both a Golden Spiral and also Golden Triangles
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Leading Lines

We capture our viewers attention with our primary subject, then we use leading lines to draw the viewers eye farther into the image and our secondary subject. Leading the viewer to look where we intend
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
But leading lines don’t have to be so hard and obvious 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symmetry

Sometimes symmetry just works, sometimes it can be boring. But with the right balance, again, it can bring interest to the work
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance and weighting

Even though it is obvious in the photo below that the cars behind our main subject are not the same scale as our subject, the weight of all those cars together equals the weight of our main subject
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Natural Framing

 
Use existing elements in the image to frame your subject. Again what we are trying to do is lead the viewer where we want. An image has just seconds to grab a viewers attention. We don’t want them to have to take too much time to find what we want them to find. They may just loose interest
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use Color and Brightness

Our eyes are drawn to certain colors, that’s why Fire Trucks are red. Certain colors make an object stick out, some make the object retreat. Use that to lead the viewer where you want. Also brightness  or contrast draws the eye. So make your subject the brightest part of the scene to draw the eye too it
 
When our subject is yellow, our eye goes immediately there
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
But look what happens when we change that flower to a recessive color. The eye hunts for the subject
 
 
 
 

Mix up your orientation

Have you noticed something about a lot of my “Landscapes”?Tthey are shot in a vertical or “portrait” orientation. People assume that Landscapes are shot in Landscape orientation and portraits are shot in portrait orientation. The funny thing is my best friend is a great senior portrait shooter and we have always found we naturally go the other way. My hands when they go up to shoot naturally go for a vertical or portrait orientation, that’s the look I want most times. She on the other hand for her portraits will go for a landscape orientation. They just work for us. But it’s fun to mix things up even if you find it un-natural. Sometimes it just gives a different perspective on things

 

And then sometimes…I just don’t give crap about the rules at all and I just want something centered 

 
 Notice, I didn’t center the horizon though ;)
 
There is much to be learned about composition. But a lot of it depends upon how your mind works. Are you right brained (the so called artistic mind)? Or are you left brained (the analytical mind)? Right brained people tend to just see composition but not really know why. Left brained people, it will be more of a  thought out process but they may not see it naturally. Both may get there, they just do it differently. Well, that’s my opinion anyway.
 
Hope that helps a bit. Like I always like to stress it is STILL all about good photography, we are just using a different tool to realize our artistic vision. But don’t make HDR the star of the show if there is not a good stage below it.
 
Hope that helps
 
PT