Saturday, February 26, 2011

Here's a blog any landscape photographer will enjoy

On the right side of my blog page is a list of other blogs that I keep up with.   You can find these under the "Other Great Blogs I Follow" section.   These blogs are from people I find to be great photographers that are willing to share their knowledge with others.   Every day there is are new posts in this list that contains exceptional photography, interesting stories, great instruction, and inspiring words.  I check it every day.

I want to point out a blog post that I found very useful.   The February 25 blog on In the Moment: Michael Frye's Landscape Photography Blog Site is a critique of another photographer's photograph.  Michael does these critiques on a regular basis and you find find all of them on his blog site.   This one is almost a landscape photography lesson in a single blog entry.  He spends a good deal of time analyzing the photo, making suggestions, and even photoshopped in a slightly different composition to illustrate a point.   Reading this blog has given me some new ideas and reminded me of things I need to know but tend to forget.  

Take a look at this blog post.  Then browse his site and read some of the others.  You'll find a wealth of good info to improve your landscape photography.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

eBook Review - Creative Landscape Photograhy by Guy Tal

Back on December 12 I posted about my expanding library of books on photography.  In addition to my collection of printed books, I've download several "ebooks" as well.  First a little explanation for those of you who aren't familiar with ebooks.   An ebook is a digital version of a book.  It's not printed but is downloaded to an electronic device for reading.   There are a number of different formats for readers such as the Kindle, iPAD, and Nook.  Since I don't have any of those, I download mine in Adobe PDF format, which can be read on all those ereaders as well as a Mac or Windows PC. 

One of the ebooks I've got in my library is Creative Landscape Photography by Guy Tal.   Guy is a naturalist, photographer, author and one of the Staff on Nature Photographers Magazine.  I look forward to the days when Guy posts new photos on that site.  They are always interesting, inspiring, and beautiful.

I recommend this book and you can buy it directly by clicking the link at top right corner of this web page or at the end of this post.   In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell youI get a couple bucks for each copy sold through my site.

This evening I have been enjoying sitting on the couch and re-reading this book on my laptop.  I downloaded it back in December 2010, long before I became an affiliate seller of the book.  I would recommend this book, even if I wasn't making a fortune, $2 at a time.   At 86 pages, this is the longest ebook I own.  In addition the the Introduction, it's divided in seven sections -- The Creative Process, Concept, Visualization, Composition, Capture, Processing and Presentation.

The first four are focused on the art of landscape photography.   In the Introduction, Guy says "creative photography is about the expression of subjective ideas, emotions, and sensibilities through the unique beauty of natural elements and using the medium of photography".  In the Concept chapter he does a good job of explaining the importance of Awareness and Knowledge and how to convey Emotion the strong role Imagination plays in photography.

The last three chapters contain more how to type information you might find in any digital photography book, including the camera, the lens, exposure, reading a histogram, color balance and stitching pano photos. 

This book came out of Guy's photography workshops and includes four exercises designed to get you out taking photos and thinking about the photos your are taking.   The exercises are short, usually one page, an assignment and a half dozen questions.   You can spend as much or as little time with the exercises as you want.   You'll get the most benefit by actually stopping and doing them.  

Spring is almost here and I'm re-reading this book to get inspired, recharged, and reminded of those things I need to practice as I head out into God's creation to capture the gift of beauty that's waiting for us.

If you want to buy and download a copy you can do that right here by clicking Buy Now.

Buy Now

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Happy Birthday Ansel

Today, February 20th, is Ansel Adams Birthday.   Perhaps the greatest landscape photographer of all time, Ansel shot almost exclusively in black and white.   His zone system is still used today to determine the optimal exposure to get contrast right and give photos true depth.

If he had hiked the Appalachian Trail through the Pond Mountain Wilderness, he would have passed by Laural Falls.  He might have made a photographic image like this

 At which point he would have tossed the negative in the trash. 

I love looking at his photos and reading about his life.  One of my favorite quotes is :

"Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter" - Ansel Adams 1902 - 1984.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Before and After - Nik HDR Efex Pro

I got a copy of the Nik HDR Efex Pro HDR software for Christmas.  Since then I've played around with it just a little trying to learn all the ins and outs of this package.   This evening I used it on a photo I took when we were in the Grand Tetons back in June of 2009.  

This was a frustrating image for me from the beginning.  First, this is one of the most beautiful spots to get a picture of the Tetons reflecting in the Snake River at Oxbow Bend.   I had anticipated taking this picture for months before going.   The clouds swallowed these magnificent peaks and ruined the image I had in my mind.  I never imagined it cloudy and rainy.

When I got home I tried to make this image a bit more interesting.  I cropped it down to a panoramic to get rid of those uninteresting clouds.  That helped a bit but it was still pretty flat and uninteresting.  

I then tried to add some contrast to make it more interesting by increasing the exposure, pulling some blacks back in, and then increasing the exposure of the dark areas using the Tone Curve in Lightroom.   It was better,

but still not what I was hoping for.  After a while I gave up and moved on.  

This evening I ran that image through the HDR Efex Pro software.   Most of the time your feeding HDR software multiple images taken and various exposures to capture a wide range of light.   In this case, I passed it a single photo that just needed a little more drama.   Not the over the top look of many HDR images, just something slight so the image still looked realistic.   Here's what I came out with.

I think I now like this photo of Oxbow Bend.  I still wish the mountains weren't covered up in clouds.  In hind sight, I wish I had taken several shots to stitch together into a panorama that could be printed large.  Even with the clouds, I wouldn't mind this one on the wall in the den.

If you would like a print of this photo it can be ordered on my website   You'll find it under the Earth, Sea and Sky gallery, then Grand Teton National Park.   It can be printed up to 10x30 inches on photo paper, canvas or as large as 12x36 on aluminum.  Now that would be cool!  If you want something in a non-standard size let me know.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day

I'm a little late getting this out. 

This Trillium was taken last spring on a hiking trail near Looking Glass Falls, which is near Brevard NC.   I "enhanced" the photo a bit by blurring and darkening the edges to draw attention to the flower.  I also cloned out some distracting bright spots where the light was shining through from behind (it was a bright sunny day).    I used a combination of Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop Elements (cloning), and Nik Color Efex Pro (bluring the edges).

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Morning Jewels

God's beauty can be found in nature, even in early February when everything appears to be dull grey or brown.   It rained overnight but the skies cleared at sunrise and stayed clear long enough to get out and find something to shoot.

I went out intending to get shots of the early morning sunlight shining through a light fog in the woods next to our house.   I couldn't find any angle that worked that didn't include the neighbor's house in the picture.  I wandered around a bit and found a couple trees that still have some of their leaves hanging on.  The leaves are a golden yellow, which makes a great background, especially when the sun is just coming up and back lighting the leaves.  There were raindrops clinging to many of the small branches on these trees.  I had found my subject for this morning!

The cool thing about photographing water drops is the image of what's on the other side inside the drop . In these photos you can see trees, leaves, and houses inside the drop. Look closely (click on a picture to zoom in) and you'll see they are upside down! That's caused by the way the light is diffracted in the water.

This last image is a little different.   I used a small aperture to create the star burst in the drop.   The angle was such that I didn't have any of the golden leaves in the shot and instead got the woods in the background.  I used Lightroom to tone down the background a bit and brighten the twig to make it stand out.  I also used Nik Color Efex Pro to blur the edges.

As I finished up the wind picked up, the clouds rolled in and the day turned grey and blustery.  Today I was at the right place at the right time today to capture some of nature's jewels.

These are all shot with a Canon 7D, Canon 100mm Macro lens with the camera on a tripod. 

These and other photos are available for puchrase online at   In addition to prints, you can get any photo printed on a number of different items such as mugs, t-shirts, puzzles, coasters and more.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

When Worlds Collide - Weird and Amazing Macro Photography!

If you recognize this blog post title as the title of a 1930's science fiction novel or 1951 film then you are a true Sci-Fi Geek.

I heard someone talk about doing this macro photography trick at the Wilderness Wildlife Week in Pigeon Forge last month.  It is a cool effect and all you need is a clear pan, water, oil and a close up or macro capable camera.  

I used one of June's pyrex dishes, a 1/4 inch of water and some cooking oil.   I put the dish between two chairs and positioned the camera so it was pointing straight down at the surface of the water.   I added some of the oil and let it collect into little spheres on the surface of the water.  

I learned you don't want to stir the oil/water too much because it will continue to move for a long time and it creates air bubbles on the surface, which are not as interesting as the oil itself.  

Click on any image for a larger view.

To add interest I needed something colorful to place under the dish to add some color.   What better than the gift bags my birthday presents were in!   By moving the bag around I got different color combinations.

I then used a small LED flashlight to shine on the bag, highlighting different colors.  I kept experimenting by moving the bag and light around.  You can see my simple setup below.

This was a lot of fun to do.  If you want to try it out, here are some suggestions.

  1. Use a medium aperture like f/8.  Smaller and your depth of field is too small.  Larger and you start to see details below the dish.
  2. Don't stir the water too much.
  3. Wait for the water and oil to stop moving.
  4. Make sure the camera is perpendicular to the surface of the water.
  5. Decide what you want to be sharp and focus on that.
  6. Try lots of different shots, lighting, colors, what ever you can think of.
Give it a try.  Amaze your friends and family!   It's fun and easy.  

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Before and After

This is not an ad for a new Miracle Diet Plan where they show people in very unflattering before pictures and glamorous after pictures.   This is an example of the use of post processing photo editing tools to take a so so photo and make it into something that some may find interesting.

OK, here's your before shot.   You can click any of the images for a larger version.

This was taken early on a foggy morning at Warriors Path State Park in Kingsport, Tennessee.  It had snowed over night, leaving a beautiful dusting on the trees and just an inch or so on the ground.   For those of you who care, this was taken at f/16, 6 second exposure, ISO 100, using a 50mm lens.

I shoot almost always in RAW format, which means the image has not been adjusted at all when in comes out of the camera.  If you don't shoot in RAW format the digital camera will adjust a photo for you, fixing color balance, clarity, sharpness, saturation, digital noise and in other ways depending on how you have the camera set.   I prefer to make these adjustments instead of depending on the camera to guess what they should be.  The before photo is an example of an unprocessed RAW image.   The color has a blue tint, it appears to be a bit foggy, flat and basically uninteresting.  

The first thing I did was crop the photo to a wide format.  This got rid of the uninteresting water in the foreground and brought the shoreline down to the middle 1/3 line instead of being right in the middle of the photo.

The second thing I did was fix the color balance, brightened the image, and brought the blacks back by using the tone adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.  This increased the contrast in the trees allowing the snow to catch your eye without washing out the dark tree trunks.   In addition, I also adjusted the tone curve to give the photo even more true blacks.  I also increased the Clarity, which is the local contrast adjustment in Lightroom that affects the contrast in the midtones in the image. It works by increasing some of the edge detail in the midtones.  My histogram now spans from true black (left side) to true white (right side).  All these adjustments added punch to the photo.

You can tell it's a color image but there is not much color in the image.  Snowy landscapes are often almost black and white and can benefit by being converted to true black and white, which I did using Lightroom.   You should always take a photo in color and convert it to black & white on the computer where you can apply different digital color filters.  These act like the color filters back in the film days, lighting some colors or darkening others.   If you shoot in black and white then that's all you have.  You are very limited in the kids of adjustments you can make if all you have is black & white.

Here's the image with the above adjustments and converted to black & white.

I then adjusted the B&W mix sliders to lighten the colors I wanted brighter and darken others.  I made sure I didn't over adjust so much that I lost details in the image.

Here's the final After image.

Like the diet ad after photos, I now have something worth printing.

Did I over edit the image?   That's up to you.  Everyone likes something different.   Like the diet ads, the before photo did not represent real life. That's not the way it looked to my eye at the time.   God has made our eyes and brains to make many of these adjustments without us even knowing it.  It's a good thing, otherwise the world would look pretty dull.

I used Adobe Lightroom 3 to do these edits.  I have some other tools, such as Photoshop Elements, and my latest software - Nik Complete Suite.   You can do many of these same adjustments with other packages, including some of the free variety.