Like so many photographers I was caught caught up in the HDR (high dynamic range) craze a few years ago. From time to time I made “grunge” photos and “artistic” images. Now, my goal is to use HDR tools less frequently, favoring selective image adjustment utilities in Photoshop and Lightroom. In the past couple of years the dynamic range of single images has become so good that one shot will do it.
© Paul Mozell
For those of us lucky to live in a part of the country where October’s burst of foliage color is most intense, it is hard to resist the urge to photograph the 2 or 3 week parade of orange, yellow, and red hues. There is always a compelling image just around the bend.
When is the best time for “leaf peeping”?
Although the PR folks who help fill the country inns and bed & breakfasts in Vermont and New Hampshire would like you to believe that Northern New England has the best fall color, they may be short-selling the rest of the East Coast. As a non-native New Englander I can testify to the brilliance of the trees in the Mid-Atlantic where I grew up. In fact, the foliage show extends all the way down to the Great Smokey Mountains. What does set the Northeastern states apart are the
Red Maples and Sugar Maples that show off the most brilliant reds and intense yellows. The tall white church steeples of classic New England villages, help punctuate and isolate the changing colors. In the hilly or mountainous terrain of the region the highest elevations have the earliest color, while the valley levels below are still green. Our Rocky Mountain friends would argue that the hillsides of bright yellow Aspen leaves set against deep blue skies of the Teton or Wind River Ranges are equally impressive.
The first color shows up in Northern Maine and the Adirondacks in late September, with the fully developed trees making their statement during the first week of October. Peak color hits The New York/New Jersey area in mid to late October, and even later in the Smokies. It seems that global warming has delayed foliage time by as much as a week in some regions. If you have the time, plan a 2 or 3 week trip following the progression of peak color South. You’ll return home with a large portfolio of colorful images. Beware the websites that offer what appear to be authoritative reports on fall color. I’ve found very few that are accurate.
Cloudy days, sunny days
If you are not blessed with dry, sunny days do not despair; a hazy or cloudy day has its merits. Shooting in the woods on a sunny day is often a prescription for blown out highlights and noisey shadows. Instead, find middle distance forest scenics or closeup shots of leaves, water, and bright berries that benefit from the soft light of a cloudy day. Use a tripod as often as you can and take care to select shutter speeds that won’t blur the windblown leaves and ferns in your composition.
You may prefer to use a polarizing filter to darken the blue sky, reduce reflections and increase contrast. But if the light is variable you may find yourself wanting to remove that filter to regain a stop and a half every time the sun is blocked by a cloud.
Finding strong compositional elements
As much as we are captivated by the autumn color,
colors alone do not make good photographs. Put buildings, people, tree trunks, boulders and water in your compositions. Use foreground and middle ground objects to build perspective into your images. If the landscape is flat, exploit the two dimensional quality by using a long lens to isolate objects and patterns. Grey Birches (the species with the smooth white bark) will often be the defining element of a fall photograph. Use still green trees to counter the brighter colors of nearby trees. And always, always, look for reflections in still or moving bodies of water.
As the most colorful season draws to a close, photographic opportunities remain. The oaks whose colors are not as rich as those of the maple, remain on their branches after most of the beech, birch, and hickory leaves have fallen. Bright berries remain, and the shrub plants of Viburnam, Fireweed, Virginia Creeper, and Blueberry may still be bright red as well. Golden brown branches, grasses and cattails are warmed by late afternoon sun. Once you get past the cliched photograph of the covered bridge over the perfect Vermont river, Autumn photography has many secrets to reveal.
© Paul Mozell 2015
I just registered several thousand new images with the US Copyright Office and was pleased to discover that the process has been streamlined.
Although the interface is still archaic and 1990’s-looking, an announcement states that as of January 2015 they have tuned things up. A few years ago I found the online process so frustrating that I resorted to burning images onto a DVD and mailing them. Today, for a $55.00 fee you can register a nearly unlimited number of images. The system will time out after one hour but you can log in again to the same job and continue uploading.
What, you’re not registering your photographs? As I learned after reading and reviewing “The Photographers’ Survival Manual,” watermarking your images does not actually protect your photographs when you are taking legal action against an unauthorized user of your photography.
My workflow is pretty straightforward. I start in Adobe Lightroom where I identify a date range of images I want to copyright. The easiest way to do this is to make a Collection. Next, using a preset, I export the selected photographs at 72 dpi with a maximum dimension of 800 pixels, and a JPEG compression of “5”. The files just have to be large enough to be identifiable in court or an online search of the Copyright archives.
One of the changes they have made is to increase the maximum size of uploadable files to 500 meg. Using the zipping/archiving utility Stuffit I make zipped packages that each contain several hundred tiny files. I haven’t read anything stating that there is a limit to the number of files you can send, but I envision that there is a live human being somewhere at the other end who has to acknowledge receipt, decompress, and register my work. Currently, about 8 months will pass before you receive a printed certificate in the mail acknowledge your registration. If you US mail the files on a disk, it will take much longer.
It is easier than ever to stitch two or more images together into a panorama. Many cameras have a pano function built-in and there are plenty of utilities and plugins on the market that can do the job. I’m still relying on Photoshop’s ever-improving pano function. Regardless of which tool you use, there are a few common guidelines that will help you get consistent and predictable results.
- Level the camera — If your camera has a built-in level or artificial horizon, great. If not you can use an accessory spirit level that slides into the camera’s hotshoe. Alternatively, use a level in the tripod head or base. Photoshop can correct horizons that are not level, but only within limits. If your pano image sequence is out of whack you’ll have to crop more of the image in the final pass; assuming that you want an image that is a clean rectangle.
- Lock in your exposure and white balance or else the transitions between images will not be smooth. You can use your camera’s preset buttons to accomplish this, or do as I do, and keep everything on manual.
- Do not use a polarizing filter! As you are probably aware, the polarizing effect varies with the angle of the lens to the sun. The blue sky will often come out blotchy and unnatural-looking in the final composite file.
- Use a tripod. These days this is no longer an absolute as the software gets better and better along with big improvements in vibration reduction, but a tripod will give you better control of the composition, as well as sharper images.
- Position the camera vertically or in portrait mode — but only if your intent is to create a very large file. The pano in this article was made with about four images shot in landscape orientation because I knew that I wanted a long aspect ratio.
- Wide angle lenses make more distortion. This is especially noticeable in panoramas of architecture when you need to be assured of getting straight lines and accurate perspective. Often a 50mm focal length with its “normal” angle to view is the best way to go.
- Shoot a blank or dark frame before and after your pano sequence. This will give you a handy reference mark when you’re editing images.
- Overlap images by 1/4 or 1/3. This gives the software more to work with.
I was inspired to write this post yesterday during a visit to The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA where some of the work of photographer James Balog was on display. Among his many accomplishments, Balog has created dramatic images of some of the world’s largest, incredible trees. One huge photograph of a giant sequoia was assembled from over 400 separate files. The files are not blended into one seamless image. Rather, one sees a stack of imperfectly aligned images, which artfully give dimension to the final composition.
The first panoramas I created were the result of a laborious process. As I recall, Photoshop 1.0 did not have a stitching tool. Or, I may been using Corel Draw. Either way, the first step was to scan three 35mm slides. Next, the edges of each file had to be gently feathered. Finally, after much trial and error, the 3 files were fit together. Before there were any digital options the feathering was in the darkroom using layered film masks. We have come a long way.
The other day, I discovered why portrait subjects shot with Nikon Commander mode so often have their eyes shut!
On the surface, Commander mode is a great tool. You can remotely control the all the settings on one or more Nikon Speedlights directly from a Nikon DSLR. Menu settings on a cameras like the D7100, D610, etc allow you to designate off-camera flash units as part of a flash group, then change the output setting of each group. The settings are transmitted to the speedlights through the little built-in flash on the camera, which sends control pulses invisible to the naked eye. This of course means that the camera and flash have to be able to “see” each other through line of sight, otherwise it doesn’t work.
Prior to traveling to a portrait shoot I decided to test my lighting setup and gear and put up two speedlights, umbrellas, and stands. I stood in as the model, and triggered the setup with a wireless remote. In every frame my eyes were closed. There is a considerable delay between the time the on-camera flash fires and when the speedlights pop. During that interval my eyes blinked every time. The solution was to set up a true wireless flash trigger; in this case I used a RadioPopper. You can use a PocketWizard or any of the discount setups available on eBay with good results. You models will blink after the main flash has fired. Commander mode is still a useful, but I’ll never use it for portrait work again.
© Paul Mozell 2014
After you have built a responsive website that works on all devices, created a strong social media presence, implemented SEO and bought Adwords you might think you’re done with marketing. Well no… you’re not…especially if your clients are primarily in the business community. You still have to talk directly to people, on the phone and at business and social events. Here are some pointers put together by a photographer who spent many years in B2B sales, selling to large and small businesses and decision-makers at all management levels.
To show a sequence of several frames follow these steps:
- Fire away a sequence of continuous shots. If you can capture the sequence without moving the camera, you’ll save work in the next step. Otherwise, pan carefully, doing your best not to tilt the camera
- In Adobe Lightroom, select several of the best frames. Ensure that they all have the same exposure and color temperature values, as best you can.
- Open those frames as layers in Photoshop. Now you have to manually align the frames. Turn off the visibility on all but the top and bottom layer.
- Using Photoshop’s auto-align function may not work well because it is going to attempt to align the diver (or your key subject) when what you want is to align the background. Select the top layer and reduce the opacity to 40 or 50%. Then, grab that layer and move it until the backgrounds line up. If you remember rangefinder cameras this will be a bit like lining up the split image in those classics of the film era. Restore the opacity to 100%
- Turn off the top layer and turn on the next layer beneath it and repeat the alignment. Continue down the stack of images.
- With all the layers turned on create a layer mask for the top layer. Select a paintbrush tip with no feathering and paint away part of the top image to reveal the (diver) below. Switch the paint color back and forth between White and Black to paint in, or paint out the image.
- Work your way down through the stack of images turning layers on and off to check your work.
With a little practice you’ll get the hang of it.
One of the many blessings of digital photography is the ability to make super-sharp images with an extended depth of field. In this still-life of a vase of fresh daffodils sitting on my dining room table, my goal was to make the image sharp from front to back; something that could not be achieved with one shutter click. The process is known as focus stacking, or image stacking and is derived from methods used in scientific, medical, and industrial photography.
© Paul Mozell 2013
In these days of instant communications, choosing a new digital camera or upgrading an older one can be a challenging task. I’m going to try to make the choice a little easier with a brief glossary of terms and some street-level advice. Perhaps you’ll be better prepared at the height of gift-giving season.
Camera Phone: Even older flip-phones have cameras — albeit of rather poor quality — while the latest generations of phones have cameras and software that produce pretty good images. So, the question stands: “Is the camera phone all you need?” Well, the answer depends on your needs and expectations.
© Paul Mozell 2013
As digital photography continues to evolve, High Dynamic Range or HDR technique keeps pace with the cascade of changes. Until we reach a point where image capture and output devices can reproduce what the human eye can and transmit to our brains, HDR will retain its place in photography. Keeping us on track, Unified Color Technologies has simplified the process of combining a series of bracketed exposures into one harmonious image with ample shadow and highlight detail, minimal noise and subtle color rendition.
In this first example I
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