Saturday, December 17, 2011

It's all about LIGHT, It's all about MAGIC

Castles in the Sky After processing and viewing this image, I am reminded once again that it is all about light. Of all the considerations that go into a great photo, light must be of prime importance. The direction, the color, the quality of light work together with a particular subject and composition to endow the image with character, feeling, and even emotion.

This image taken a few minutes after sunrise is dull, yellowish, and lifeless... sandhill3ORG And yet, just moments before at the instant of sunrise the scene has a much more pleasing character and interesting light... sandhill2ORG Still earlier during "Civil Twilight" and about 20 minutes before sunrise the light is soft and warm, much more powerful and evocative than the later images... sandhill1ORG This principle has been demonstrated and reinforced with me many times as occurred on this recent morning at Convict Lake where my first shot about ten minutes before sunrise was unquestionably the best... Magic at Convict

Always remember to get to a location early, even an hour before sunrise to catch the fleeting and inviting light of that magical time, Civil Twilight!

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A New Perspective

I'm always looking for a new, interesting, or unique perspective on a common subject. And so shooting this image has been a rewarding project for me and motivated a quick early winter trip to Moab, Utah and Arches National Park.

A New Perspective

It all started last Christmas when my Brother and Sister-inlaw gave me this beautiful National Parks photography book.

I was immediately struck with the cover image of Delicate Arch and it's shadow from a perspective I had never seen before. Voltaire said "Originality is nothing but judicious imitation." So with this thought in mind I decided to attempt my own spin on this beautiful and unique image. And so started a year long project.

The first thing I needed to do was find out the time of year the image was taken. I used an ipad app called LightTrac to determine the time of the year that the arch shadow would be in the position in the cover photograph. This app is very helpful in planning sunrise and sunset shoots especially if you are not familiar with an area. It will also show moonrise times and angles which is awesome if you want a moonshot!
It seemed to be December. And so I would have to wait a year for the attempt. Another thing was that there was no snow or wet rock. Arches often gets snow in December and January so I thought to make the attempt late November or early December.

Next I had to determine vantage point. Using Google Maps Satellite view I was able to determine that the shot was taken from a ledge to the south of Delicate Arch. The ledge is often visible on images of the arch from a more traditional perspective. I had just never noticed it.


Now I had to plan to get to that point at sunrise. I figured I would be hiking in the dark and I had never been there before so I again used Google Maps to determine the waypoints for the location and the point where I would need to deviate from the normal trail. I also wanted to make sure I was walking on rock and avoid any cryptobiotic soil that may be present. This is a very important consideration if leaving a prescribed trail to avoid any environmental damage. If you don't know what cryptobiotic soil is find out before you leave the trail!

Finally I entered the waypoint coordinates in another Ipad app called MotionX-GPS HD by MotionX. I also downloaded the Google Satellite image and cached it so it would be visible on my hike.

The blue line is my track the first morning. The red is the track the 2nd day. It was then a piece of cake to follow the trail with my Ipad and deviate at the proper point even in the dark getting me to my destination 30 minutes before sunrise.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Alignment Update

The latest version of Photomatix Pro 4.1.1 has a much improved alignment routine. I almost didn't notice the unheralded improvement. So I tried a handheld bracketed set which Photomatix previously had a problem with and the results were quite amazing. The alignment was similar to that achieved with Photoshop CS5.



This change is quite liberating for me making handheld HDR much easier and attractive. Thank you HDRsoft!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Multiply Through a Mask and More - A Tutorial

Don't like HDR? How about using digital blending to equalize the exposure in an image with light and dark components? The image below is a digital blend of two bracketed shots blended with a method explained in the video below...


In this tutorial we will review "Multiply through as Mask" and then extend the technique to other situations including digital blending adding one more tool in your processing toolbox to combat high dynamic range images.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Inside Look

It was a slow day at the office. Not really, this was done all after hours! I scanned my Nikon D700 with a 70-300mm lens attached in a GE 64 slice Lightspeed CT scanner. The images were then rendered in 3D on the GE AW workstation make the rotation animations.

For a lot of fun try this QuicktimeVR model of the camera here. This is an 18 meg file so be patient.

D700 Exposed

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hitting the Streets in London

While walking the streets of London on our recent visit and inspired by an excellent exhibit at the Museum of London, I thought it was time for a bit of "Street Photography."

Click here to view a full screen slide show.

I made a conscious decision to depart from Jay Masiel's technique of no image manipulation and process these images to a greater or lesser extent as pseudo HDR images to give them a bit of a gritty, urban feel. Sorry, Jay. But then you taught us to find our own vision ;-). I used Nik HDR Effects Pro to process the single RAW files.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Choose the Right

Choose the Right

I was hoping for a nice sunrise as a reward for getting up at 4:00 am. I had to find a place within an hour drive from Idaho Falls. I wasn't sure which direction all of the action would be happening in and where the clouds would be so I needed some place that I could shoot in many different directions. And I love reflections so somewhere with water. Decisions, decisions! I got in the car and had about 2 blocks before I had to turn and commit. And the decision is...Camas National Wildlife Refuge north of Idaho Falls.

As I enjoyed the fresh air, sounds of the abundant wildlife, and the beautiful sunrise I was reminded of Galen Rowell's famous quote,

"You only get one sunrise and one sunset a day, and you only get so many days on the planet. A good photographer does the math and doesn't waste either."

and I was glad I made the decision to get up early and come to this place.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Your Turn to Shine

Your Turn to Shine

A MFA worker carefully cleans the Zhan Wang sculpture entitled "Artificial Rock #85" located in the Shapiro Courtyard at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. She used a small bottle of some cleaning fluid and slowly worked around the bottom of the sculpture with what looked like a Q-tip. It was fascinating to watch her carefully and meticulously work.

My challenge was to capture the scene in an interesting way. How would Jay Masiel photograph this? But then Jay would probably tell me something like "Be yourself, make the photograph unique to your style" or maybe his famous quote, "You've got photography in your life. Now put some life into your photography." ;-)

Jay really changed the way I look at photography and I hope I will always remember and use the ideas and principle he taught. The slide show below has a few more images inspired by Jay's teaching...

Click here to view a full screen slide show.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Have A No Return Policy

Does something cool, interesting, or beautiful catch your eye? Take the shot! If you think you will return and get it later, you probably won't or if you do it will be gone or changed. I have learned from experience that these special moments are fleeting and the opportunity must be seized. Stop and take the shot!

As a group of us were driving up the Whitney Portal Road a large dust storm could be seen in the valley below. The morning sun reflected on the road making it appear as a silver ribbon winding through the Alabama Hills. Finding a place to stop was difficult and inconvenient but I am so glad I acted on this impulse...

Opportunity Knocks

Always remember that opportunity only knocks once. Don't think you will return and be able to get the image. Stop and take the shot!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


After concentrating on lighting and portraits recently I have returned to my roots by visiting Moab, Utah (daughter and son-in-law) and leading a landscape photography workshop with my good friend Bill Wight in the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine, California. It is interesting to me how I look at lighting and composition a bit differently after taking the lighting workshops. The crossover learning from the different types of photography is significant, for instance...

Side lighting...

Sierra Lenticular over the Alabama Hills

or Leading Lines...

Mixed Lighting

Lead Me Along


Guys Only

The Last Stand

Composition and framing...

Ascent to Turret Arch

Well, you get the idea. We should never stop learning or trying new techniques because the process will make us better. Our photographic eye will improve, our creativity will be enhanced, and technique will advance. Crossover learning is not only fun but is a sure way to improve your photographic vision and results!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

It's in the Eyes

It's in the Eyes

During the last day of our workshop we shot in the studio. The lighting for this shot is with a large octabox directly in front and above the model. A small softbox with a grid was placed at camera left at 90 degrees. I stood imediately in front of the octabox as you can see from the catch light.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Mixed Lighting

Mixed Lighting

Location lighting often presents the challenge of balancing the natural and artificial light. This image is really split lighting with the right of the model being window light and camera left being a medium softbox at 90 degrees. And remember that no matter how well a subject is lit we need to consider and interesting perspective and compositional elements!


A little closer with the split lighting pattern...

Here the softbox was moved to camera right to mimic the window light and giving a Rembrandt lighting pattern...


A little clowning around by our model and Alan Thornton ( Instructor ). Even though the shutter speed is only 1/30 sec. the motion is frozen by the short flash duration...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Change It Up

Change It Up

During our recent lighting workshop we shot manual, metered everything, and used artificial lighting; a lot of work to get set. But once set up, Alan encouraged use to change it up; come in close. back off, change angle and perspective, and of course change the models pose. As a result, once the initial work is done building a scene and lighting, you get a lot of variety of shots from one setup.

As simple and sensible as this sounds I had a tendency to take a few shots and then modify the lighting or change the position of the set requiring new significant time and effort. I needed to constantly remind myself to thoroughly work a set before moving on.

This image uses a single medium sized softbox on the left elevated above the model's head.


Beyond Boundaries

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Small Spaces

Small Spaces

One of the location shoots during my recent lighting workshop was particularly challenging since we shot in the small rooms of the Cottonwood Motel along the classic Route 66 in Santa Fe. How to light the subject and not completely flood the small spaces with light. In this shot I had one medium softbox to the left and a black flag blocking the spill to the white wall behind.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Beauty Lighting

Another of my location portraits, this image was lit with a 24 inch beauty dish placed immediately in front and above the model. I shot the image from underneath the beauty dish. This type of lighting is called "Beauty Lighting" which refers to the position and not necessarily the type of light used. It could just as well have been done with a softbox rather than a beauty dish.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Learning Lighting

I just returned from a wonderful workshop on Lighting taught by Alan Thornton at Santa Fe Workshops. During the workshop we did 3 location shoots and 2 studio shoots with about 13 different models. It was a great experience.

We were not allowed to use photoshop or any processing. Alan didn't want us looking at the images at night. we uploaded and critiqued them the following day. This really helped me concentrate on fundamentals of lighting and exposure to get it right out of camera. Although at first I was not excited about these rules, in the end I could see the wisdom of this approach.

Top of the World

In this location I was trying to balance ambient light with artificial. A small softbox was placed on the left elevated above the models head and a reflector was low on the right (see the diagram below). Exposure was manual and metered. Because there was so much ambient light I left the shutter at the maximum synch speed of 1/250. I thought that I would have to drag the shutter a bit to bring up the ambient level but this level seemed appropiriate so I left it at 1/250.


The final day of our workshop we spent in the studio trying various studio lighting techniques. This on called "Slash Lighting" or "Rim Lighting" uses two vertical strip banks, one on each side and a small softbox set to low power in the front (see the diagram below). A great lighting pattern for males and typically not so great for a feminine look.


We had a interesting variety of locations and models. One of my favorites was the Cottonwood Motel along the old Route 66 in Santa Fe.

For this daylight shot we used a large softbox on the right which blocked the direct sun on the model and also provided nice soft light to illuminate the subject (see the diagram below). Because we were competing with the sun the we nearly maxed out the 1200 Ws capacity of the Profoto strobe!

The Cottonwood


Friday, February 11, 2011

Join Us in the Alabama Hills

The Alabama Hills

There are still a few spots left in our spring workshop in the Alabama Hills out of Lone Pine, California. Visit Mountain High Workshops for more information. We would love to have you along for what looks to be a wonderful workshop!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Alignment with Handheld HDR


Ever had difficulty aligning images from a handheld HDR set? Well I have! But the built in alignment routines in most HDR software are fairly rudimentary. They particularly have a hard time with complex motion or when a wide angle lens. Below is a magnified image showing poor alignment with Photomatix Pro 4.0...


And this one used Nik HDR Efex Pro...


But this is what can be achieved with Photoshop CS5...


Watch this video to see how...

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