Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Useful Weather Page For Outdoor Photographer

In my opinion, the most important part of photography is light.  Sure composition and a sharp technique are key elements to making a good photo, but if you follow the light you can find the composition and use your photographic skills to make a great photo.   As outdoor photographers, we are at the mercy of the weather to give us the light we want. 

I have used an App called The Photographers Ephemeris or TPE for years.  It will tell me where the sun and moon will be for any given time and place anywhere in the world.  This is more than just knowing when the sun comes up or goes down.  It will tell me the direction and angle of elevation, which will tell me how the sunlight will affect the scene.  You can use TPE for free on the web https://www.photoephemeris.com/tpe-for-desktop or buy a smartphone version for a few bucks.  Check it out.

Besides the sun, other major factors include clouds, wind, dew, and rain,  There are many weather apps and websites available.  One website I find useful is Weather Underground https://www.wunderground.com/ because of the useful information on the 10-day forecast.
Some key pieces of information available on this single page.

  • General forecast - Partly Cloudy for today.
  • Forecasted temperature and dew point.  When the temperature falls below the dew point you get dew on the grass, flowers, etc. making for great macro photos.
  • Cloud cover - sometimes you want lots of cloud cover to give nice soft light.  Other times you want scattered clouds for photos that include the sky.  The example above shows cloudy in the morning and burning off around noon.
  • Wind speed - this is important if you are wanting to minimize plant movement in the image.  In this example, the wind is forecast to pick up around noon.
Using this example I can see that the morning is best for macro photos of flowers and the afternoon might be better for big landscape shots.

As photographers, we have a wealth of information that can help us plan our outings and improve out odds of making great photos.  Now, go out and make some.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Registration is open for the next Basic Photography Class


I teach a basic photography class about 3 - 4 times a year.  The next one has been scheduled for:

Thursday, Nov. 7    6 - 8 PM
Tuesday, Nov. 12   6 - 8 PM
Thursday, Nov. 14   6 - 8 PM
Saturday, Nov. 16   TBD  - outing time depends on what works best for the class.
Tuesday, Nov 19     6 - 8 PM

That's 10 hours of instruction!

The class will start out with learning the basics of photography - light, shutter speed, aperture and how to use them on your camera.  From there we will get into color, composition, lighting, techniques and photographic gear selection.  We'll talk about some common photography challenges and how to overcome them. We will go over different photo editing packages, organizing photos, printing, and sharing online.   The class will be a combination of classroom teaching, practicing our new photography skills, and reviews of photography assignments.

The class is designed for photographers of all ages who have a DSLR, mirrorless camera, or advanced compact camera.

Classroom sessions are November 7, 12, 14 and 19 from 6:00 PM– 8:00 PM in the Eastman Employee Center.



 There will be one field trip on Saturday, November 16 to practice what we have learned.  The Saturday time will depend on what works best for the majority of the students.



In every class we will have time for:

  • Review of Homework – yes, we are in school again.
  • Problem Solving - Bring your camera and problem photos to class
  • Question and Answer


The class is open to Eastman Camera Club members.  The good news is anyone can join the club by going to https://eastmancameraclub.net/ and clicking on About near the upper left of the page.

Cost - $45/person.   Maximum of 14 people per class.  Please sign-up at the Toy F. Reid Eastman Employee Center (229-3771)

Contact me if you have questions – richard@thesiggins.com
                   423-416-1258

Friday, August 9, 2019

Photo Adrenaline and The 1%

I got to do something few of my fellow photographers have gotten to do.  I went with June and five friends to Machias Seal Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary (MBS). It is a tiny, treeless oceanic island in the Bay of Fundy rising barely 30 feet above sea level.  This is one of the best locations where Atlantic Puffins raise their young before heading back out to sea.  It was something I was really looking forward to.

To get to the island you have to take a boat from Cutler Maine or Grand Manan Island New Brunswick. The number of visitors is strictly limited and you have to make reservations months in advance to get one of the trips in June and July.

Once we got there, we were instructed while on the island to always walk with a Tern Stick above our heads.  The ArcticTerns were also raising young on the island and they will aggressively attack anyone without the protection of a stick above their heads.

Tern Attack!
Arctic Term With Lunch

Camera and Bird Blind
After being given the strict rules of the island, we were led to one of several bird blinds where four of us stood shoulder to shoulder for about 45 minutes while photographing Puffins, Razorbills, and those aggressive Terns.

As I said, I was looking forward to photographing Puffins.  Once we were in the blind and opened the tiny windows, we saw hundreds of Puffins all over the rocky shore of the island.  They were everywhere and many were just a couple feet away.  Sometimes they looked right at me.



My photo adrenaline was pumping and I shot 1,439 photos in the one hour and 45 minutes we were on the island! Now, what am I going to do with that many photos?  Realistically, I should only need about a dozen photos, or less than 1% of what I shot.

Reviewing my Puffin photos I can identify several mistakes I made.

400mm, 1/2000 sec, f/18, ISO 10000

  1. Using a center focal area caused me to crop off the Puffin's feet when they were very close.  I should have moved the focus area higher in the frame to avoid this.
  2. Many photos are very similar.  I could have worked harder on composing more interesting environmental photos, shots that show cute behavior or other compositions rather than firing like a semi-automatic machine gun.
  3. I have many shots of the back of the bird where I can't see the eyes.  Why did I shoot these?  Adrenaline!
  4. Those shots of a Puffin with several small fish hanging out of their bill is rare, or it was for our group.  I only saw a Puffin with a fish once, and it quickly jumped down between rocks without turning it's head for me.
  5. Trying to focus on a bird in flight with foliage in the background is futile.  In most of these shots, the camera focused on the background, not the bird.  It was much easier to focus on the bird when they had clear skies behind them, then track them.  Once I lock on, the camera can do a much better job keeping the bird in focus, even when they fly by the foliage.
  6. Puffin With Fish
  7. When the birds were very close, the depth of field where things are in focus was small.  I needed to shoot with an f-stop of f/8 or higher to get multiple birds in focus.
Razorbill

It was mostly foggy while we were on the island, which I understand is the normal weather condition.  The fog made shooting birds at a distance difficult.  Either the camera couldn't focus or the fog made the photos too hazy.  I did get a few clear shots at a distance, such as the bird in the water and the one in flight.

I have now reduced the 1,439 photos from the Machias Island trip down to 175.  I have picked 15 that I like, which means I have reached my goal of narrowing my photos down to the 1%.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Use Limitations To Unleash Your Creativity

Over the years I have gathered quite a collection of cameras and lenses.  So much so that when June decided to try her hand with an interchangeable lens camera I was able to give her a mirrorless camera and three lenses.  This is my backup camera and three lenses that I no longer use but never got around to selling.  Not counting the three lenses I gave June, I have six lenses covering focal lengths from 12mm to 400mm (18-600mm in full-frame terms).  Because I use a cropped sensor mirrorless camera system I can easily carry all those lenses in a single backpack.  I pretty much have unlimited flexibility with which to create my photos.  I found this flexibility was putting me into a creative rut. I was relying on my collection of lenses to come up with a good composition. 

Don't misunderstand -- each of those lenses serves a different purpose, from fast wide 12mm lens for night sky photos to the 100-400mm zoom for wildlife photography.  Sometimes I would use a lens that is typically not used for a given style of photography, such as using the 100-400mm zoom for landscapes, but most of the time I was relying on a zoom lens to compose the photo without making other efforts to be creative.

Recently we took a couple trips to Knoxville Tennessee, Michigan, and Indiana.  For a couple outings on those trips, I took only one lens - a 35mm f/2 prime (no zooming) lens for my Fuji XT-3 mirrorless camera.    I recently added this lens to my collection because the 35mm focal length is close what our eyes see (normal lens) and the wide f/2 maximum aperture allows me to shoot in low light conditions and to blur the background in my photos.  It's a tiny little lightweight lens on a small mirrorless camera that doesn't attract much attention or weigh much at all.  I can carry it all day long and no one pays much attention to the little camera and lens.
f/2 at 1/50 sec, ISO 800
By limiting myself to a single focal length I had to compensate by moving around to get a good composition.  The wide f/2 aperture allowed me to shoot in dark places I couldn't with other lenses, such as the bar, but at the same time, I had to think about creatively using the depth of field.

f/4, 1/1600 sec, ISO 4000
f/2, 1/10 sec, ISO 400

I found myself having to look around and find new perspectives.  While waiting outside a gift shop, I found a whirlygig that had some cool shapes.  I could use the f/2 aperture to blur out any distracting elements in the background.  I focused on water dripping from a pipe.  I found a single yellow petal from a Sunflower in a bed of red leaves (I didn't put it there, this time.)

f 5.6, 1/90 sec, ISO 320

f/2.8, 1/2000 sec, ISO 200
Sometimes the 35mm focal length worked out, such as the bridge photo.  Other times I had to work to create a pleasing composition because of physical barriers that kept me from being able to stand where I wanted, such as the boat and lily pad flower and the red/orange flowers where I had to cut off the left petal.
f/7.1, 1/100 sec, ISO 200


f/16, 1/120 sec, ISO 640
I found that I enjoyed my single-lens outings and found some creative photos that I might have missed if I had relied on my arsenal of lenses.  My new photos don't look like the thousands I have already taken.  By restricting one area, I have opened up my creativity and made photography fun.

Give this a try.  You don't have to restrict yourself to a single fixed focal length lens.  Restrict yourself in other ways -- only make photos that contain a specific color.  Only do portrait orientation photos.  Limit yourself to a specific aperture or shutter speed setting.  You might find you have more fun while learning to be more creative.

Here are a few more photos from those single-lens days.
f/5.6, 1/105 sec, ISO 400

f/5, 1/150 sec, ISO 200

f/2, 1/125 sec, ISO 160

f/2, 1/50 sec, ISO 1000

f/4, 1/45 sec, ISO 160


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Don't Be A Digital Hoarder

Here are a few tips on dealing with something that can be difficult for some people to do - deleting photos.
Violets from a walk in a local park.


In the age of high-speed digital cameras and huge memory cards, it's easy to make several hundred photos in a day.  This is especially true when visiting a place rich with photo opportunities, such as a National Park.  It can be true when just going for a walk with your camera.  Sometimes when I load the photos on my computer I will have an overwhelming number to deal with.  Here's what I do to manage those.
Sandhill Cranes from Hiwassee, TN.


  1. I use Adobe Lightroom to manage all my photos on my home computer. First thing I do after loading the day's photos is to quickly go through and mark the obvious duds as rejects, then delete them.  There is nothing special about how Lightroom does this. Other software tools allow you to quickly get rid of the duds.  The important thing is to get rid of those bad photos.
  2. I find I want to pick a few photos to quickly edit and share online.  There is nothing wrong with this, as long as I don't stop there, leaving a lot of abandoned digital images on my computer.
  3. Wait a few days then go through the photos again, picking out some more favorites to edit and more importantly, deleting more.  I always have lots of photos that are just so-so that I will probably never touch.  My camera will shoot 11 frames a second on high-speed mode so I find I also have many images of the same thing.  I use the Lightroom compare feature to cull those down to one or two to keep.
  4. The final step is one I don't always do but can be the most important.  I will go back to the photos several months later and go through them again.  At this point, I will have several that I edited, and some of those are marked as my picks or favorites.  I want to be aggressive here, deleting the majority of those unedited photos.  Sometimes I'll find a photo that I hadn't edited that turns out to be a keeper, like the two in this post.  Most of the time I find I still have a lot of photos not worth keeping.  It is this final step where I do the most clean up.  When we come back from a photo outing we are excited about our photos and don't want to delete them.  It's amazing how much easier it is to get rid of them a few months later. This morning I went through just three photo outings and deleted 549 images.  
Like a closet or garage, it's easy to let digital images get cluttered on your computer.  Be aggressive and don't become a digital hoarder. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Fun With Panning

Panning photography can be fun and frustrating.  Fun because you can make some fantastic photos that really grab a viewers attention.  Frustrating because it is not easy and takes some practice.  The good news is you can do this with most any camera that allows you to set the shutter speed.

A panning example. 1/15 sec, f/13 at 27mm (full frame equivalent)

Panning is a technique where the photographer pans the camera along with the moving subject keeping the subject close to the same position in the frame.  When done correctly, and with a bit of luck, you end up getting a relatively sharp subject but a blurred background, like the photo of the red Mustang.

Recently June and I were exploring downtown Knoxville, Tennessee around the Market Square.  It's a fun place to practice street photography, which is candid unposed photography of people, typically in an urban setting.  There are plenty of interesting people in downtown Knoxville on a Friday night, doing many different things.  One thing we saw lots of were people zipping around on e-scooters.  People on scooters make great subjects for panning because:

  • They are slow moving
  • They are on predictable paths
  • The main subject is people

You can do panning with other subjects but faster subjects moving erratically are more difficult to photograph.
Too slow.  1/10 sec, f/14 at 53mm
Setting up the camera - You will want to be in Shutter Priority or Manual Mode.  For a slower moving subject, such as scooters and bicyclists, you will want a shutter speed between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second.  Using a  shutter speed slower than 1/15 will make it difficult to avoid motion blur in the subject, as in the motorcyclist above. You may need a faster shutter speed when photographing a faster moving subject.

Set the camera to continuous focus tracking so that it will adjust focus as the distance to the subject changes.  Using burst mode or continuous shooting mode will allow you to take many shots as the subject moves by you. 

1/18 sec, f/11 at 53mm
Setting up the shot -  you want to position yourself so your view of the subject is perpendicular to the direction of motion, as seen in these example photos. This will minimize the change in camera to subject distance and improve the odds that the camera will be able to keep the subject in focus.

Be aware of the background.  Just like any photograph, you don't want a bright colorful background to distract from the subject.  Also, watch out for objects in front of the subject as you pan.

I like to zoom out a bit and crop later to get a better composition.  As the subject approaches center them in the photo and press the shutter.  In burst mode, the camera will keep taking photos as long as you keep your finger on the shutter or the memory buffer fills up.  The key is to keep the subject in the same position within the frame.  It's not as easy as it sounds and this is the part that takes practice and a bit of luck.  Keep shooting while the subject moves past you.

1/15 sec, f/11 at 53mm
Go out and give this a try.  It will take a lot of practice so be patient. You can practice by heading to most any downtown area where there are cars or people passing by.  Add your comments to this post to let me know how you're doing.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Let's Get Rid of The Noise

I don't usually do software reviews but sometimes I run across a tool that is so much better than what I have to work with that I have to tell others about it.  This time it's DeNoise AI from Topaz Labs

I have plenty of photo editing tools, including Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, and On1 Photo RAW 2019.  Until recently I have resisted the siren call of the latest greatest piece of software that will make all my photos look fantastic.  I find it's better to be proficient in a few than to have a toolbox of expensive packages that I rarely use.  About a month ago I saw a review of the DeNoise AI package and thought I would give it a try.  Several friends use Topaz Labs software but I had not gone down that path.  They offered a free trial so I decided to give it a try.  I'm glad I gave it a try.  I'm now the proud owner of another piece of software for photo editing.

The reason I decided to put the $79.99 down and buy a copy is the quality of the images that come out of the software.  I like to photograph birds, which means I'm shooting at shutter speeds of 1/1000 - 1/2000 second.  My long lens that I use for bird photography works best at f/6.4.  That means I am often shooting at high ISO values that result in noisy photos like the one below.

1/1000 sec at f/6.4 ISO 12800
This photo is cropped down to about 25% of the original size of the RAW file out of my Fuji X-T3.  You can see the noise in the background.  That's more noise than I like.  I used the Lightroom Noise Reduction tools and was able to remove some of the noise, but lost some of the details in the bird.

Lightroom Noise Reduction Applied

The last version was editing using DeNoise AI.
Topaz DeNoise AI


The Topaz software was better at removing the noise and did a much better job at retaining the details in the feathers, eye, and claws.  If you want to compare each version, click on one and then use your arrow keys to flip through each one on your screen.

The DeNoise package is easily called from within Lightroom or Photoshop.  You can also open and edit files outside these packages.  It an take a few seconds to process the image.  On my desktop system it makes good use of the graphics card processing power to speed up the process.  This is something Adobe has yet to get working correctly. You experience may vary, especially if you are using a laptop.

Here is another example showing before on the left and after on the right.


This is not a tool I will use all the time.  A properly exposed image with ISO values of 800-1600 may not need to be run through DeNoise AI.  However, I will be using it on any high ISO images where that nasty grain shows up.

Now, the team at Topaz Labs is not perfect.  Their website has many broken links and I know of one photographer who had trouble getting their copy activated after purchasing.  He had some difficulty with their tech support but in the end, he got it working and is happy with the product.

I suggest you give the free trail a test drive and decide for yourself.