Friday, September 23, 2016

Early Voting Results

It's only been two days and I've already received about half as many ballots as I did last year.  We're
well on the way to selecting the photos for the 2017 calendar!  Just as the media will do on November 8, I'm going to give you early reports on how the voting is progressing.

Voting Has Started


  • There are 37 candidate photos.
  • I've received ballots from 23 people so far.
  • Every photo has received a vote, but the last place photo has only received 2! It's not looking good for number 37.
  • The first place photo was voted for by 70% of the people voting so far.
  • June and I only had one big trip this year and that was to Iceland.  Three out of six photos from Iceland are in the running, including the first place photo.
  • Ten of the top 13 photos were taken within 100 miles from home.   One was taken in my own backyard.  Last year, two winners were taken from my backyard.   Just goes to show you don't have to travel far to make nice photographs.



Want to know which photo is in the lead right now?   Click here to find out.

Voting will continue one more week until Friday, September 30.   We sure to get your vote in so you can help pick the photos for the 2017 calendar.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

It's Time For You To Vote!

It's Time For You To Vote!

No, it's not November 8th just yet.   However, it is time for you to help pick the photos to go on my 2017 wall calendar.  Each year I invite anyone who has bought one of my calendars in the past or intends to buy one this year to help select the 14 photos to be included in the next year's calendar.  It's time for you to start the voting for the 2017 calendar photos.


Will one of these photos make the 2017 edition?
Appalachian Trail
Northern Lights
Crabtree Falls
The fun part is you get to help pick the 14 photos (12 months, plus the front and back covers).  In the past, I have picked some of my favorites before letting you vote on the rest.  This year I'm leaving it wide open and you get to vote on all of them.

The candidate photos are available online at
http://www.thesiggins.com/SpecialProjects/2017-Calendar-Candidates/

These were all taken in the past 12 months and include photos from Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Michigan and Iceland.  The best way to browse through the photos is to click on the first small thumbnail to zoom in on that photo.  You can then use the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard to flip through the full-size versions.  
How To Vote
Each photo has a title, such as Appalachian Trail, that displays at the bottom of the photo.

Send the names of your 14 picks (the order doesn't matter) to me at rcsiggins@gmail.com by midnight Friday, September 30 .  I will total up the votes and announce the winners on Saturday, October 1.

Cost and Ordering
The calendars are still only $15 each and all the profit goes to support Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.

To order send an email to Richard Siggins at rcsiggins@gmail.com.  Calendars will be available for pickup or delivery in Kingsport starting in the second week of November.   They can be mailed to you for $3.
Please help by forwarding this to your friends and family or sharing on Facebook, Twitter, etc.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

When Nature Doesn't Provide, Get Creative

As an outdoor / landscape photographer, I'm at the mercy of nature.   The wind, light, clouds and other conditions, can make really nice photographs.   More often than not, the conditions are not all that conducive to making good photographs.  Such was the case this morning at Warriors Path State Park.

I had gone there to scope out photography opportunities for a photography class I'm teaching.   My students will meet me there Saturday morning and I want to have some idea if I should take them left or right in search of photographs.  I wandered around for a while not finding much to capture my attention.  At one point I found this branch sticking out of the surface of the lake.  I tried to create something in the minimalist style and came up with this.


Not much there to get excited about.   Then I recalled throwing pebbles into the water to create ripples, making a scene possibly a little more interesting.   Lucky for me the lake shore was littered with round rocks perfect for tossing in the lake.   The results weren't much better.  Then I tossed a bigger rock in the lake and the splash caught my eye.

What if I zoomed in and captured the water splashing up?  The sunlight was coming from the side, making the splash brighter than the reflections in the water and highlighting the texture of the water drops in mid-air without being too bright. It was only me doing the tossing and shooting, but I had plenty of time and rocks.   I would toss a rock, put my camera up to my eye, guess where the rock would hit the surface and try to time the shot just right.  Let's just say I played the law of averages - take enough photos that one or two may work out.   People out for their morning walk at the park probably shook their head and the crazy guy with the camera down on the lake shore.

Here are the results of my creative rock tossing.

Bass jumping with mouth open

Jumping Leaf

Water Fountain

Man Looking Over A Wall

See The Face?

All were taken at 200mm, f/4.5, ISO 400 - 800.   Shutter speeds varied between 1/250 and 1/800.

In the end, I had fun and created some fun scenes to photograph.   Don't let conditions keep you from shooting.   Go out and see what you can find and maybe even create some really cool conditions for photography.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Look Behind

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.
― Bil Keane (The Family Circus)

We know we should always look ahead and not dwell on the past.  It's unhealthy and there is nothing we can do to change the past.

There are times we should literally look behind us, such as stepping back or just before changing lanes on an interstate highway.  It's helpful to remember to look behind when making photos as well.

Recently, I was looking at the beauty of creation in front of me while making these images on a foggy morning in Cades Cove.

Trees In The Fog

Fog can be an opportunity to capture some interesting surreal images.   The sunlight is diffused by the fog creating nice soft light.   Soft light is perfect for close up flower photos.

Yellow Wildflowers
After concentrating on the yellow wildflowers, I happened to turn around and saw this!

Sunbeam Lighting The Way


The sun broke through the fog and created this beautiful beam of sunlight across the road.  I quickly changed lenses and made this photo before the conditions changed and the sunbeam was gone.

When we're photographing outdoors we can get fixated on the subjects that are in front of us and thinking about the next photo opportunity just down the road.  Remember to take the shot in front of you, then stop and look around.  You may find the best photo is behind you.

Friday, September 2, 2016

First try using non-HDR techniques

High Dynamic Range or HDR is a popular technique for handling situations where the difference between the brightest and darkest parts of a photograph is too great for a digital camera to handle.   HDR is so popular that it is built into cameras and even cell phones.  However, HDR can produce images that appear unnatural.   This may be fine for some subjects, but it's not typically a good choice for landscapes.  

Here's a recent example.  I took the following three images
1 1/3 stops under-exposed
Default exposure
1 1/3 stops over-exposed
Using the Google Nik HDR Efex Pro software I created an HDR image from these three.
HDR Image
I used settings in the HDR software to create a result that was as natural as possible.  I then used On1 Effects software to apply some filters to take away some of the harsh look in the image.  As you can see, the HDR image just doesn't look right.

I then tried a new Photoshop technique called Apply Image Masking.  I learned this from a recent article on the Light Stalking website.   In less than one minute in Photoshop, I created what I think is a much more realistic image. I then applied the same On1 Effect filters.  Here is the end result.

Apply Image Masking in Photoshop
Click on one of the images above and you will be able to use arrow keys to flip between the different versions.

I think I have found a new go-to tool for my image editing toolbox that I will use instead of HDR. This will not work for all situations.   If there is movement between the different images, such as a person walking or trees blowing in the wind, defects will be produced that look like ghosts.

I love learning new things and the realm of digital photography is always changing.   I wonder what I will learn today?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Solving Color Problems in Photos

Selective colorization of a photo is not something I typically do.  In fact, I'm pretty sure this is only the second time I've ever done it.  In this case, it solved some serious color issues and made the story of this photo more dramatic at the same time.

Original

When you have strong lights of dramatically different colors it can make it almost impossible to make a photo with realistic colors.   The blue lights from the patrol car and the yellow street lights made this scene appear like something from The Twilight Zone.   I don't know how I could have fixed these colors.  Converting the image to black & white removes those color problems.

Black and White

This conversion caused another issue.  The red and blue of the flag were now gone and it just sort of blends into the photo.  The key to the story in this photo is the man preparing to carry the flag in the race that was to start in just a few minutes.   I want to draw the viewers attention to the man with the flag.   Bringing back the colors in the flag can do that.

Final

The blue lights made some of the red stripes appear purple and I had to use Photoshop to edit out some of that purple in the flag.  In addition, I turned down the brightest spots, increased the contrast and cropped a little off the left to remove some people that added distractions and took away from the scene. 

What do you think?   Do you like the original or final version better?   Leave a comment and let me know.


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Telling A Story

People like stories.   It starts early in life with "read me a story Dad" but it doesn't end as we grow older.   Storytelling is an important tradition here in East Tennessee with the National Story Telling Center in Jonesborough and the National Story Telling Festival.  You can even get a degree in storytelling at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.

We usually think of storytelling as an oral tradition but paintings, drawings, and photographs can visually tell a story in a powerful way.    Ansel Adams said there are always two people in a photograph - the photographer and the viewer.   The photographer needs to think about how to capture an image in such a way that it can tell a compelling story to the viewer.

There is a wealth of good information available on how to tell a story with a photograph.   Just try googling "photography storytelling" .

I'm going to try to use some of my photographs from our trip to Iceland to tell the story of geographic isolation and the forces of nature that define the culture of Iceland.

Although Iceland is not a large country it is defined by large expanses of wilderness with few signs of people or buildings.  The landscape is made up of volcanic mountains and very few trees. The people who live outside the capital of Reykjav√≠k and the small towns along the coast have to deal with being isolated from their neighbors.  How can I use my photographs to tell the story of isolation in Iceland?


A wide panoramic photograph that shows a single building in a vast landscape can make the viewer feel the building stands alone in a vast frozen wilderness.   If I had made the photo of the building without the mountains or just the mountains without the building it would not tell the same story.



Above is a photo of June walking on the black sand beach before sunrise.  A small single figure in a simple uncluttered landscape can give the feeling that the person is alone or maybe even lost.


Including a person in a photo can give a sense of scale.  Without the tiny figure in the photo above the viewer may not understand how big the landscape is.   


The photo above also includes a couple objects that give a sense of scale.   The pack in the foreground and the van in the distance connected by a path through the snow tells a story of a difficult journey.   It was not difficult to exclude signs of civilization in this photo.  We were miles from anything.


Iceland today is very connected via the internet.  In the past, people living in Iceland had to travel long distances or find other ways to communicate.  This is an old short wave radio that people used to get news and music from around the world. 


Do these photos tell a story?  You'll have to decide for yourself.   Next time you're out taking photos think about how you can tell an interesting story that others will want to see.