Things I Enjoy : Photo Workshops

As I have a lot of time due to the COVIDs, I wanted to bring back an old type of post – Things I Like/Enjoy.

I know this may not be a strange thing to say, but, I enjoy photo workshops.

This can be broken down into three main reasons: Knowledge, comradery, and difficult places to get to.

I am not a full time photographer. Sure, it sounds like it would be nice to be a full time photographer, traveling the world, meeting up with a network of friends. However, most of us who really enjoy photography are not able to, or do not wish to, make it a full time job. In order to really learn a location and get to know where and when to be in different areas, you generally need to visit a location over and over with multiple visits over many years. This can be a huge time commitment.

This is the first reason I really like photo workshops – they are normally arranged to coincide with things you may not think about. The Milky Way rising in just the right spot and a new moon, the peak of fall colors, the historically best time to see the Northern Lights, a full moon rising above a well known landmark, the arrival of a large flock of birds, etc.

A good workshop leader should also have experience to help you with your camera and ideally post-processing software as well. This is great for someone who is starting out – you will likely walk away from the trip with some amazing images. While you could hire a local guide, this can get expensive and misses out on my second reason for joining a photography workshop.

The second reason is the comradery. This is not something which you can understate. Having a 5-10 day trip with others who really enjoy photography in an amazing area is a great experience. There is also the motivating factor. When I’m out on my own, I may look out the window and decide it is just too early, or there are too many clouds, or some other excuse and skip a sunrise. When I’m with a group, I wouldn’t even think about skipping a sunrise, even if it looks like it will be a bust. While on a photography trip/workshop, I personally have only ever skipped one event, it was a sunrise, my 15th in Hawaii, and we had been out until 3am the previous night. In this case, I didn’t miss anything. Part of this not wanting to skip an activity may also be because you are paying to be there.

The third reason, and this one is my newest to the list, is getting to hard to reach locations. In 2016, I had the good luck to go on a Rafting Trip for Photographers run by Gary Hart, who lives in Sacramento California. While this was very similar to a normal Grand Canyon rafting trip, almost everyone in the group was a photographer. So while the raft behind us had several people trying to see how much alcohol one could consume and not die, our group was always awake in time for breakfast and always had our gear ready to leave before the time we needed to pack up the rafts. We also made some changes to the schedule to try to be in certain locations for certain times of day. Could you get most of this on a normal raft trip? Probably. Would people stay out of your way and not get mud and dirt in the pool where you are photographing? Probably not.

Group picture in the Grand Canyon. Deer Creek Falls is in the background.

Since this was a charter, we were also allowed to carry more weight. Normal trips limit you to 20lbs of equipment. For this trip, we were allowed to carry 30lbs, which includes cameras, cloths, medicines, etc. The extra 10lbs was definitely needed, since cameras tend to be about 3lbs for the body alone.

Red Island (Røde Ø), Scorsbysund, Greenland, near the village of Ittoqqortoormiit

My other trip with logistical challenges was in 2017 for a trip to the Scorsbysund Fjords of Eastern Greenland. This trip was organized by the world-renowned Joshua Holko out of Melbourne Australia. For this trip, he not only booked the entire boat, ensuring that no one had to share a cabin with anyone else and that there was always enough space on the zodiacs for everyone to go out on every trip, he also chartered the plane. It also meant that the luggage weight limits were not enforced. Many in the group had ‘carry on’ bags with their own seat.

A fully loaded camera bag, much like what I carried to Greenland

This trip also had one of the most frightening events I’ve experienced on a photo trip – the collapse of 1 billion cubic feet of ice into icecube sized chunks. There is a video of this, and it will likely be a future post.

For Greenland, the trip simply could not have happened in the way it did without it being a custom charter organized by a photographer. If it were a normal trip, there would have been nearly twice as many people on the boat, and there would have been more people than could fit in both zodiacs at the same time. This means that, for every iceberg cruise, about half of the people would need to stay on the boat.

As the Greenland trip revolved around photography, this also meant that dinnertime could be changed to fit the photography goals. On most trips, dinner happens at a certain time, even if the sunset is amazing.

Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve found the knowledge aspect of a workshop to be a smaller driving force. I’m very comfortable with my camera and software and can generally get what I want out of a scene. Sure, it helps to bounce ideas off of someone else, but that alone may not justify the price of a workshop. It has become easier than ever to find a location and when to be there via other means (search engines and photo sharing sites).

For an excursion-type trips run by a photographer, where the experience is otherwise difficult to have, locations can be fairly difficult to get to, and the logistics would be challenging, these trips are still very valuable for me.

-Brad

Photo Results : New Years Eve Seattle Space Needle Fireworks

Note: This post was started, but never finished, several years ago and references an event that occurred on January 1, 2017. Due to the lock-down, I have lots of time on my hands. As a result, I’m working on finishing some of the incomplete drafts.

I love fireworks. They always bring a smile to my face and are something that I find really enjoyable to photograph. Over the years, I’ve managed to get a collection of fireworks images that I am really happy with, and I’m always happy to share my go-to settings. They are iso200, f/8.0, 3.0 seconds.

In my previous post on this topic, I mention what settings I used for shooting fireworks.

I also have a post on my Instagram where I show my setup for photographing the Space Needle on New Year’s Eve.

The image I shared showing my cameras as setup for NY Eve Fireworks

Now with that shown, many people may realize that shooting through a glass window will create some really nasty reflections. So, here is what it actually looked like.

What my setup actually looked like for the NY Eve Fireworks

While it is certainly a lot less ‘gramable’, it works a lot better to keep the reflections down that would otherwise occur with shooting fireworks through glass. Maybe I’ll write more on this later.

With the background finished, let’s look at some of the results from each of the 3 cameras. When you get your settings just right, you don’t need a lot of changes in Lightroom, aside from whitebalance, crop, rotate.

Fireworks on the Space Needle ring in 2017

This was my favorite photo from the night. This was also from my primary angle, shot on a Nikon D750. The reason I like this shot is because it puts you right in the action, while keeping the sense of place. This is easy enough to guess ahead of time because the fireworks show always has rockets launched from the top of the needle. Plus, since I’d seen multiple shows from this same vantage point, I could guess about where show would be and pre-position, pre-focus, and pre-setup the camera. For me, getting the framing so it felt like you were inside of the show really helps to capture the energy of the fireworks. The show is exploding outside of the frame, which makes the viewer feel like they are right in the action.

Fireworks over the Space Needle, but a wider angle than before

Another photo I really like from the evening was from my wider angle. Since I’d seen the fireworks displays in previous years, I was able to guess about where the top of the display would be. Normally, you wouldn’t want the top of the fireworks off, and would want to have a bit of breathing room at the top, but in this case, I think it works.

A tip: when shooting really wide, make sure to include more of the sky than you expect to use in the final image. This is because often the image will need to be rotated slightly. Rotating often includes a small crop, and you need to account for this when shooting.

For my third angle, I went with something that was more of an experiment than the others.

Based on the results of a previous year, I tried to really zoom in on one side of the Space Needle to give a new perspective.

Here is the previous year’s image on the left, and the new for 2017 image on the right.

I wanted to experiment with such a tight framing. Since I was also using an older camera and old lens that I rarely use, if the experiment failed, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

This is a really interesting and unusual way to frame fireworks. But it is really difficult to pull off. The reason this was even possible, is because the launching point doesn’t move. When fireworks are launched from the ground into the sky, it is much more difficult to get these really tight frames. This image also works because the fireworks are exploding close to the launching point, which is also a fairly well-known landmark.

This was one of the last images from my old Sigma lens and one of the last images from my D300. At some point after this photo was taken, but, before I found it after my move, the focus ring has become difficult to turn. It was originally purchased around 2004 and was a surprisingly good example of a Sigma lens from a time when Sigma lenses were very hit or miss.

As another experiment on this post, I’m adding in a gallery of a other photos of the New Years fireworks.

-Brad

Take me out to the Ballgame

I am a baseball fan. And at risk of alienating many of the readers, I am a Phillies fan.

I have had the chance to tour the Citizens Bank Park twice. During my most recent trip, I brought my D850, about a week after I’d returned from the Faroe Islands (posts on the Faroe Islands trip will come…. at some point).

During this outing, the tour passed a wall in one of the nicer floors of the stadium. This wall is covered in baseballs.

My first attempt at the balls on the wall perspective

While this photo is mostly unedited, it is one of the few in focus to show what I was initially thinking about on this photo. I will admit, I do like this perspective. However, I was not happy with any of these photos. Perhaps I will be able to try again soon. Quite often when working the scene, you’ll find hints of things you like, even if you don’t like the final result.

At some point after this photo, my wonderful, beautiful, and amazing girlfriend who totally didn’t write this line started to take some interesting photos of this wall.

I really like this framing. It makes it look like the wall goes on forever, is clear what the subject is, and the images goes left to right. Left to right is the preferred kind of image in parts of the world where we read left to right.

I know this is basically the same as the last photo, but it is right to left, so it isn’t the same

I didn’t edit the previous photo, but you can see that the framing feels different. Right to left vs left to right is very different, at least in the USA.

If you like this second version better, let me know. Maybe I will revisit it and edit this photo to be a ‘keeper’ version.

Anyways, that’s all for this image. Until next time.

-B

2017, A Review

In what I hope to make an annual thing, I’d like to use this post to look back over 2017.  The travels, what cameras/lenses I favored, and what my favorite images of the year are.  Here we go, starting with the most straight forward items.

The Technical Stuff

In 2017, I created 21,446 photos and 268 videos.  This makes 2017 my second most prolific year of photography, after only 2016.  It was only slightly above 2011, which is now in 3rd place.

Images Per Year

2017, like 2016, was dominated by a single trip – in this case, my trip to Greenland.  This trip was responsible for 13,298 of the photos and videos.  2017 was otherwise a very low-photo year.  My lowest since 2012, when I last moved across the country.

For cameras per year, it is clear, I favored the D750 over the D800, which is the second year in a row.

It really wasn’t even close.  I think the weight of the camera, combined with the high burst rate really led me to favor this camera.  I also like to use this camera for night time time-lapse/star trails, which artificially inflates the camera usage – 1000 photos taken may only result in 1 final image.

The Leica is the only camera on the list that I do not own.  I had the chance to use it for an afternoon, which was a ton of fun.

My favorite lens for 2017 was the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8, followed closely by the Nikon 24-120 f/4.  It actually surprises me that the 70-200 is so high up on this list.  This is due to my Greenland trip where I heavily favored this lens.  The Greenland trip was responsible for 5481 of the 6984 photos taken with this lens in 2017.

I know that simply a large number of images doesn’t equate to a large number of images you like.  A large number of images only means you consume a lot of space on external disk drives, which 2017 certainly did.  2017 consumed 814 GiB, which is certainly a record for me.

The breakdown of Camera:Lens combinations is:
D800
D750

 

Originally I was going to put my favorite images of 2017 in this space, but I’ve decided to hold that for a new post in the next week or so.  Knowing me, it will take longer, but we shall see.

The Good Stuff – New Stuff

2017 was a small year for purchases.  I purchased a new camera bag for international travel and a new travel laptop.

The Good Stuff – Travels

My trip to Greenland was by far the largest excursion of 2017.  Other than this trip, I had a weekend in Utah; some day trips in and around Seattle; and some visits to family that allowed me to take some photos.

The Bad Stuff – Repairs and Damage

I hope this section doesn’t have large entries every year.  But this year has a frustrating entry.

This year, my D750 was subject to a recall on the shutter.  When I received the camera back after the first repair, there were issues with the reassembly of the camera.  It had to go back in to be reassembled properly.  I was lucky, as the camera nearly didn’t make it back to me for my Greenland trip.  But, I am also thankful to Nikon who went out of their way to ensure that happened.  I am also quite thankful that my D750 has a brand new shutter.  While my D750 has taken nearly 30,000 photos, the shutter only has around 6900.  The D750 will likely continue to be in use for 3-6 more years.

Outside of this, my gear experienced nothing more than normal wear and tear.

2018

Let’s now look at my plans for this current year.

Due to job-related reasons, I’ve relocated from the PNW to Pennsylvania.  But I’ve found a nice place near my new job and not too far from the outdoors.  So I’ll be photographing a new area of the country with new parks and things to explore.  I’ll also be visiting the Atlantic Ocean, which is fun.

In 2018 I hope to have a few more business-oriented aspects to my photography.  Until now, it has been mostly for fun.  In this new year, I hope to pursue tasks which offset the cost of my camera gear and travels.  More details as they become available and I can actually make them happen.

I’m also testing the water with video and learning the basics of producing a video.  I have an idea that I hope to launch in 2018.

Until the next post

-Brad

The Math of the F/Stop Progression

As a quick post, I’m going to mention something that everyone seems to have difficulty with.  This is a little math-heavy and I’ll try to simplify it.

F/stop progressions.  Why do I have to double my shutter speed when going from F/2.0 to F/2.8?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to double my shutter speed when I go from F/2.0 to F/4.0?

The F/stop is related to the diameter of the aperture of the lens, or the width of the circle of light that shines on the sensor or film.  The key word here is ‘circle’.

Everyone remembers that the area of a circle is area = pi * r^2.  The number in the F/stop is related to the Diameter, which is 2 * radius.  If you want to cut the area of the circle in half, you need to divide the diameter (and thus the radius) by the squareroot of 2.  The squareroot of 2 is 1.4142136 … but for our purposes, 1.4 is good enough.

This is why the F/stop progression is 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, etc.  Each of these numbers are about 1.4 apart (2 * 1.4 = 2.8, 2.8 * 1.4 = 2 * (1.4 * 1.4) = 2 * 2 = 4).  Each stop is the same as increasing the diameter/radius by 1.4, and doubling the size of the opening.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “self, this makes it look like the numbers are in reverse order”.  The piece to understanding the order is in how the F/stop is normally stylized, F/2.8, F/4.0, etc.  The / in math means divided by.  It means the aperture is set to the focal length divided by the number represented in the F/stop.  For example, on a 120mm lens, at F/4.0, the aperture is 120mm/4.0 or 30mm.  If we stop down to F/8.0, the aperture is 15mm.  A circle with a 30mm diameter has an area 4 times the size of a circle with a 15mm diameter, thus, F/8.0 lets through one quarter the light of F/4.0, and is a change of ‘2 stops’.

I hope this helps understand everyone understand one of the less obvious parts of photography.

-Brad

Compressed RAW Files

This post is my thoughts on this well intended, but slightly misguided, post on Digital Photography School.  NOTE – this post was written in June of 2016, if something changes, updates will be noted here.

Personally, I always shoot at 14-bit Compressed RAW.  For me, it is better to shoot at 14 vs 12.  While using 14-bit does create larger files, for me, this is not an issue.  But, I do not work weddings or sports where shooting 14-bit may clog down the system due to processing large numbers of large files.

Now, I like math.  I like math a lot.  I also understand light and electronics.  Here are my thoughts.

14 bit raw does not buy you much except when it does.  To fully explain what it buys, I have to explain how your eye works vs how an image sensor works.  I’m going to use an example.

If you take a room with 1 lit candle, then add 1 more lit candle, your eye will really notice the difference.  If you take a room with 1000 lit candles, then light one more, your eye will not notice this at all.  This is because your eye works on relative brightness.  Doubling the light is very different vs an increase of 0.1%.  However, a camera works off of absolute brightness, which means that both examples are the same increase in brightness, or an increase of 1 candle.  Minute Physics has an explanation of this.

With the Gamma Curve, and relative brightness levels, what does the bit-ness mean and what does it give you?

The simplest answer – the bit-ness matters in the shadows and the shadow detail.  If you have a well lit scene with very little shadow detail, there will likely be no easily discernible difference in 12 vs 14 bit.  There will certainly be differences between 12 and 14 bit RAWs, but they are mostly in the file size and the after capture flexibility.  The less you want to push the shadows in the final image (vs at capture) the less 14 bit matters.  If you shoot HDR or shoot brackets for some kind of HDR usage, you should be fine with 12 bit.

In this part, I do not disagree with the DPS post.

Where I do severely disagree with the post is in compression.  This part of the discussion shows where the author lacks computer science skills.

Side note – this is about lossless compression only, and is based on my experience with Nikon cameras.  This does not cover lossy RAW, which is available on Nikon and Sony cameras.  Nor does it talk about sRAW files.

Much like how in photography every choice you make is a trade-off, compression is the same.  But in compression, the trade-off is more interesting.

Let’s take a file that is 100MB.  In this situation, the file can be compressed to 60MB with 1 additional second for processing time.  This file can be uncompressed with a modern CPU in half a second.  The question very quickly becomes — does compression make sense?  The next question is, how long does it take to compress the file, and is the storage system able to handle uncompressed vs compressed faster.  For storing the file, if you can transfer 20MB/sec, the 100MB file takes 5 seconds to transfer and the compressed file takes 1 second to compress and 3 seconds to transfer, for a savings of 1 second.  If you can transfer 100MB/sec, the larger file transfers in 1 second, and the smaller file transfers in 1.6 seconds.

If you shoot compressed RAW, opening the file on a computer later could take slightly longer (due to needing to decompress the file).  But a computer normally is fast enough that this doesn’t matter.  You may not notice a difference in the compressed file vs the uncompressed, especially if you have a SSD and a CPU from the last 3-4 years.

Compression may shorten the battery life on your camera.  The longer the camera CPU and sensor are idle, the better your battery life.  Transferring and compressing both use power.  With a relatively new camera, this is unlikely to make a difference of more than 5% change in the number of images per charge.  My DSLRs can shoot nearly 1000 images on a single charge, so +/-50 isn’t a huge deal.  With a modern camera and a slower memory card, it is more likely that you notice that images save faster if you use compression.  Only once you hit the fastest of the fast for memory cards (say, a latest generation QXD card) would compression increase the time required to save a RAW to the memory card.  I am not saying you should buy cheaper cards, but I am saying that most people will not need the fastest generation of cards, and would be better off buying 2-3 of the previous generation of cards for the same price.  Also, if you compress your files, they will take up around 30% less space on the card, making those 3 64GB last gen cards even better than the 1 128GB current gen card.

In short, the math proves that for the vast majority of people, compressed RAWs will be a benefit.  I will be happy to edit/append this post if I am wrong within the next 2-3 years (note, the year this post was written or updated).

-Brad

Working With LightRoom Keywords

This is a post I’ve been wanting to work on for a long time. This will be a much more technical post than normal.  Sometime I may write more about how I specifically use Keywords.

But first, some background information on how I use Keywords in LR. There are 3 components to Keywords.

  1. Exportable Keywords – this is what the majority of keywords are
  2. Non Exportable Keywords – these allow you to build trees of keywords
  3. Synonyms – these are alternative words to a keyword

Toplevel Keyword List

For the most part, all of the folders shown are Top Level and set to be Non Exportable. I use this system because it lets me build a folder system to store my Keywords, but these do not show up when you export the file. This ensures that your storage folder for ‘Water Features’ is not alphabetically near your location folder for ‘Wales’ or ‘Whales’.

I also use Non Exportable Keywords for family members or exact locations of homes. For example, if I am at a family wedding, and I want to tag my cousin, I might use the non exportable keyword hierarchy of “Smith Family” -> “NY Smiths” -> “David”. If I am careful with my tagging, I can quickly find all photos of my cousin David Smith from the NY side of the family in the future using the LR Keyword search feature. In LR CC 2015 the feature was added to mark a Keyword as ‘People’, which is also a non exportable form of a keyword. I don’t use this right now because it would require me to redo a lot of my tags.

Let’s expand my ‘WORLD LOCATIONS’ folder to see why I use these Non Exportable items.

In this example, I’ve expanded my World Locations, and the subfolder ‘Europe’. This allows me to store all of my location keywords in one place, keeping them separate from other keywords (e.g., “sunrise”, “waterfall”) which may occur almost anywhere in the world.

One of the benefits to making subfolders that are exportable is that you do not need to add those Keywords to your list, they are automatically added on Export. In the case of ‘Rovaneimi’, I’ve added this label to around 1000 photos. But, Rovaneimi is a city in Lapland, which is in Finland. All I need to do is add the Keyword ‘Rovaneimi’ to a photo, and ‘Lapland’, ‘Finland’, and ‘Europe’ will all be added on export. If I wanted, I could make my folder structure something like Europe -> Finoscandanavia -> Finland -> Lapland -> Rovaneimi. It is up to you. For me, folder structure this in depth would normally require justification. I currently live in Seattle. Because I photograph here a lot, I’ve separated the USA into regions. My Seattle photos have North America -> USA -> Pacific Northwest -> Washington -> Seattle. If I had under 10 US States, this extra level of US Regions may not be needed.  Until I had about 20 US States, I kept each one as a sub of USA.

The final part of Keywords I want to explain is Synonyms or Aliases. These allow you to automatically add an additional Keyword to an existing Keyword. These Synonyms are exported as if they are an additional Keyword.

I use these in several different ways. I live in the United States. In the US, all states have a full name and a 2-letter abbreviation. So states like “Pennsylvania” have a 2-letter code of “PA”. Canadian states, like “British Columbia”, also have abbreviations, like “BC”. I can set my label to be “Pennsylvania” or “British Columbia” and set synonyms of “PA” or “BC”.  Obviously, there can be keyword collisions.  One that I frequently run into is that an old camera of mine, the Canon S30, has a tag for ‘S30’.  ‘S30’ is also an old version of the Nissan Z series, which is something I did not find out until searches for ‘S30’ became one of the biggest drivers to my Flickr photos.

I also like to set variations of words in my Synonyms. Last year, I was inside of a “Glacier Cave”. I found that I wasn’t being as consistent as I should have been, and ended up with the additional Keywords of “Glacial Caves”, “Glacial Cave”, and “Glacier Caves”.

If something has 2 different names, it is really easy to use a synonym to add both named in 1 Keyword. For example, “Northern Lights” is a synonym for “Aurora Borealis”. “Aurora Australis” is a synonym for “Southern Lights”. Or if you prefer, you can make “Aurora Borealis” as the Keyword, and “Northern Lights” as the synonym.

In addition to this, I use synonyms is for non-english variations of words or locations. What do I mean? If I go visit Munich, Germany, the locals would spell the city as “Munchen” and the country as “Deutschland”. I like to keep my Keyword as the English version, but add the name in the local language as a synonym. This doesn’t mean I can, or do, add every variation of a place, but I try to use the US English and Local variations.  I would not, for example, add Londres as a synonym for London, nor would I add Pays-Bas for The Netherlands.  I would likely add Uluru as a synonym for Ayers Rock, or perhaps the other way around.

I’ll also add variations for letters that do not exist in English. An example of this is my labels for Thingvellier National Park in Iceland. Icelandic has Thorn and Eth, 2 characters that no longer exist in English. My aliases for Thingvellier are “Þingvellir National Park“, “Þingvellir“, and “Thingvellir“. My sub Keywords are “Geysir“, “Gullfoss“, and “Oxararfoss“. Oxararfoss has a Synonym of “Öxarárfoss“. By using synonyms like this, I can keep my list alphabetized in the way I can remember.

All of this is great information. But what does it do for you? How do you really take advantage of it?

The real power comes from Lightroom’s ability to import and export keyword lists. If we export our keyword list, we can reverse engineer how to build new keyword lists for import.

Let’s look at a partial export for my own World Locations-

[WORLD LOCATION]
Europe
Austria
Innsbruck
Vienna
Schoenbrunn Palace
{Schönbrunn Palace}
{Other Variation}

What does this export tell us? A Top Level, like “WORLD LOCATIONS” has no indentation. Each sub item is a line lower, with an extra tab. So my “Europe” is actually a “[Tab]Europe”, and my “Austria” is “[Tab][Tab]Austria”. We also see that Synonyms are situated in the same place as a sub item, but are surrounded by {} type brackets. We can also see that Non Exportable items are surrounded by Square Brackets – [].

With this information, it is reasonable to assume that this is also the format that can be imported. Since this is really text, it should not be difficult to manipulate with a programming language like perl or python. It should also not be too difficult to create an input format for the purposes of outputting in the format required for a LR import.

Why do I mention all of this?  Because I’m working on building something like this for myself.  Once I have something that mostly works, I’ll release the code.  I had planned on doing this weeks ago, it is just taking longer than anticipated.

-M

#thedress and White Balance as an Artistic Choice

Hello everyone.

I realize I’m getting into this conversation well after it is relevant, but I was on vacation.

When #thedress went viral, it sparked a big conversation about how we see color.  Our eyes have evolved over a few million years [citation needed] to be able to evaluate the color in the surrounding environment to be able to subtract other colors and figure out what is the actual color of an item.

Personally, I performed an experiment where I would open and close the blinds on a window, and watch the color “change”.  It was fascinating to watch the perceived colors of an object change as the light source in my room changed.

So how does this relate to photography?

This is how ‘white balance’ works on digital cameras.  The electronics will evaluate the scene and attempt to handle this adjustment for you. If you’ve ever set your white balance to ‘cloudy’ on a sunny day, only to realize your photos have a yellow color when you get home, this is white balance (setting your white balance to sunny on a cloudy day will result in blue photos).

Normally, your camera’s auto white balance is good.  Not perfect, but good.  It will almost always be a little blue or a little yellow, but will usually be close enough that most people will not notice.

The other side of white balance is the purple/green color cast.  Outside of fairly unusual situations, this is something that most people will never notice.  Cameras will frequently favor green, which our eyes are more sensitive to, and we will end up liking it more with the green cast.

Since I like unusual situations, here is an example of the auto white balance not handling purple/green properly.

At first glace, this photo looks really cool.  There’s 2 people out taking photos underneath an aurora.

After a few minutes of letting your eyes adjust, you may start to notice that everything is probably more purple than it should be (especially the snow, that should really be close to white).  Why did this happen?  This goes back to the electronics guessing what is white.  Much like #thedress, the electronics of the camera and software of the computer are evaluating the scene and trying to guess what is the correct balance for blue/yellow and purple/green.  Due to the green of the aurora (an unusual situation for most images), the camera assumes it needs to compensate by giving the image a purple tint.  Normally, this would be the correct choice. In this situation, it is the incorrect choice.

This situation is easy to correct.  We move the slider (I use Adobe Lightroom, I’m sure other applications have something similar) for purple/green about 60 units, and we end up with this image.

So, what does this all mean?  Well, if you add a lot of blue to the scene, it can feel cooler or colder, while adding yellow makes the scene warmer.  Adding too much purple often looks like a mistake, while adding more green or yellow generally makes the image more liked.

If you want to take this further, you can use a tool like the paintbrush tool in Lightroom to paint different white balances in different parts of the scene.

Let’s take an example.  Recently, I was at the Jökulsárlón Iceberg Graveyard in Iceland.  It was a fairly cloudy day, but, the ice had this really amazing blue color.  When I was able to transfer the photos, the photos no longer had the correct ‘blue’.

This photo has some processing performed already.  The black point did not get set properly (the beach was black sand), so it was fixed for this photo.  For comparison, here is the photo before I fixed the black point.

Setting your black and white points is more important to printing than it is for composing to a screen.  But it does help to illustrate just how different the camera senses the world than our eyes do.  It also helps to illustrate part of the trend called Shoot to the Right, or STTR, which is probably a good topic for another day.

Back to the photo.  Since the resulting image was not a good representation of 1) What I wanted, or 2) What the beach looked like, I decided to fix the issue.  By taking a brush tool in Lightroom and painting in a bluer white balance on the ice, I was able to create a very blue iceberg on a black sand beach, which is what I wanted.

Looking back at other photos, this is likely more blue than reality.  But that is ok.  I chose to make it more blue to give it a cooler feeling, it is, after all, ice.

For a sunset, you may wish to selectively paint on a more yellow white balance to give that section of the image a warmer feeling.

But what happens if we give the cool/blue ice a yellower white balance?

Wow, that looks terrible.  I’ll leave it to the reader to decide exactly what shade of yellow that is.  One thing is certain, it has lost that cool/ice feeling that the heavy blue image had.

If we adjust the temperature (blue/yellow) and tint (green/purple), we can actually change the ice to a variety of strange colors.  Orange (yellow + purple), purple, green, turquoise (green + blue), etc, are all possibilities.  Some of these possibilities are better than others.

Much like in #thedress, colors can change based on other items in and out of the scene.  As a photographer, you can control the various elements in a scene to emphasize what you are trying to show, and balance the temperatures to support the main subject.

-M

Things I Enjoy – Smartphone Photography

Many of us have a lot of equipment.

Since I’m preparing for a trip, I may be a bit more aware of how much I have right now than other times of the year. On this trip, I’ll be carrying a primary and backup body, as well as a Micro 4:3 camera because it is small and easy to carry. My brother is coming with me, and for at last part of the trip, will be using my backup body as his primary. As a result, I’ll be carrying at least 8 lenses, vs the normal 3-4.

Sometimes, I just need a break from swapping lenses and use something that is as simple as possible. Enter the smart phone, something I carry with me at almost all times. It only has a handful of options, which means you don’t need to focus on if you should swap out the big lens for a macro because it is a bit annoying to swap with all of these people around and it is raining.

With a smartphone you generally only have a few options, 4:3, Square, Pano. And the entire device fits easily in a pocket.

When I first started using a smartphone, it was to get a quick picture on FB or for SMS to a friend or relative.

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Haha you are at work and I am here!

Or one of my favorites, “Here is my camera ready to take a picture tonight”.

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This is the setup for taking a photo at Bandon Beach, Oregon at Sunset

And of course a “Well, that was dumb” type of image.

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The result of being caught in a rainstorm with my camera

The entire camera is designed for much worse than this.  It looks kind of bad, but, everything is weather sealed and I’ve had it in worse conditions.

For a long time, I never really thought of a smartphone as a real camera. Then I was out on a rooftop deck in Seattle during an amazing sunset, and my phone managed to capture this image.

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Seattle Sunset

Oh wow, that is actually really nice.  I also enjoy wide angle photography, and, while I’m not totally certain, I think this image is fairly wide angle.

The real turning point for me was when I posted a photo from my iPhone and it was mistaken for a photo from my DSLR.

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Photo from an iPhone 5S, Fisherman’s Bridge, Rovaniemi Finland

I got far too many ‘wow, but you only got this photo because you have a nice camera’ comments.

One thing that I really enjoy about the iPhone is the automatic panorama stitching.  I’m sure it is available on Android, BB, WinPhone, etc, but I’ve only used the iOS version.

Panorama of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State

Panorama of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State

Yes, one could take a dozen photos with a DSLR and stitch them later, but there really is something amazing about the instant results.  Plus, my phone handles ghosting really well.

After some practice, I took a quick panorama during my trip to a volcano and a beach in Costa Rica.

Panorama from the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

Panorama from the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

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Tortugas Island, on the Pacific Side of Costa Rica

I really started to enjoy the panorama format.  And I enjoy how easy and fast it is when using my phone.

This last fall, I was boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming, and managed to capture this photo on a very clear day.

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Boarding a plane in Jackson, Wyoming

This is by far my favorite panorama to date.  I also would likely not have been able to capture it unless I used a phone.  I doubt the people boarding the plane would have had the patience to wait for me to unpack my camera, swap lenses, take a series of photos, and repack the camera.  But 20 seconds using a smart phone?  Yeah, I definitely had that much time.

Like any camera, a smartphone is a tool to capture images.  It is also a very light and simple tool which most people always have with them.  I enjoy the simplicity of taking the photos as a change of pace from setting up tripods and carrying around heavy cameras with multiple lenses.  Is the quality the same as my DSLR?  Nope, but that’s ok.

-M

Cannon Beach, Oregon, at Sunset

For this post, I would like to talk about how I created a photo from Cannon Beach, Oregon, last year.

Before I left on this trip, I read about a new technique that can create interesting patterns in the sky when you stack a series of photos taken about 5-10 seconds apart with fast moving clouds.  (The technique is described on PetaPixel, among other places, and it tend to resurface as a ‘new’ idea every few years)

I wanted to try it.  But the clouds were not moving very quickly and the sun was setting very quickly.

So I thought, since I was on a beach, why not try the same concept, but with waves.  Either way, it was too late to move to a new spot, so my choices were to work with what I had or give up and ensure I walked away with nothing.

I set up my camera and took a series several series of photos.  One particular group of about 20 photos is what I would like to discuss in this post.  Of this group of 20 photos, this was the first:

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First Photo!

 

Ok, not too bad.  There’s a lot I really like about this photo, especially in the color of the sky and the sea stacks in shadow.

I opened up the series of photos in Photoshop and stacked them on top of each other with Darken as the blend mode.  Darken, like Lighten, are really nice for working with this kind of scene.  In the earlier part of this post I linked to an article which talked about using ‘Lighten’ as your blend mode for clouds.  I have found that Lighten works best for lighter objects, and Darken works best for darker objects.  This is all subjective and mostly about what you like best or what just works best for you.

However, 20 photos was a bit too many.  So I turned layers on and off until only about 6 remained.  These 6 felt right, so I performed a merge visible on all but the bottom layer and set this new layer to ‘darken’.

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Oops, I left a little too much of the transparency on. That just won’t work right.  (See the Sun for what I mean)

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Ahh better.  I’ve masked out the area where the sun sits in the image.  This means that the bottom layer’s sun is now showing through.

What is left do do on this photo?  2 major things.  In Photoshop, I want to create a mask for the Oranges.  I feel like this color is just not where I want it to be.  So I’ll create a quick mask and adjust the Hue to make it a little more orange, and also underexpose the area a little to bring the brightness down.

Next, I’ll do the opposite for the waves.  I feel like they need to be made brighter, as well as have their colors saturated a bit more.

Finish it all up with a sharpening layer and we have:

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After this image had been published, I noticed that the orange in the waves that I so liked was actually due to me forgetting to turn off the transparency of the layer.  Once that was turned down, we get:

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Now we are nearly at our completed image.  I am really liking where this image is going.

There is still an issue with this image that I would like to correct.  Do you see the area between the sea and the sky?  There is a small color halo.  This is an easy fix.  We create a new Darken layer and using the paintbrush tool, we sample a nearby color and paint our way across the image.  The result is a subtle change, but, it eliminates the annoying halo.

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And there it is, the finished image.  By stacking images, we can make a relatively calm ocean look like a much more active ocean.

-M