Sunday, August 25, 2013

How to get both motion stopping and bluring shutter speeds in one image

If you've looked at my online photo gallery, especially the Waterfalls section, you know I enjoy photographing moving water.  My favorite technique is to use a slow shutter speed to make the flowing water appear silky and smooth.  Unfortunately, sometimes other elements in my photo that I want sharp are also moving.  This is especially challenging at the bottom of waterfalls because the falls themselves can produce a nice steady breeze that keeps the foliage in constant motion. 

I have recently started using a technique that keeps elements sharp that I want sharp and blurs the parts I want blurred.  This technique involves taking two exposures at different shutter speeds and blending them into one photo using photo editing software.  This is more advanced editing than I typically do on a photo but it can produce beautiful results.

Here's a recent example where I used this technique.

1.6 sec, f/20, 24mm, ISO 800
As you can see in this first photo the long 1.6 second exposure produced the pleasing blurred water effect I was wanting but the rhododendron leaves on the left were moving and blurred.  Most of the leaves around the base of the falls were moving but the movement of those that were further from the camera were not as noticeable.  I could have solved this problem by stepping to the right so the moving rhododendrons were not in my photo, however I wanted to include them because they framed the falls and also added a sense of depth to the photo.

1/30 sec, f/4, 24mm, ISO 1600
Without moving the camera I changed the settings to get a shutter speed that was fast enough to keep the rhododendron leaves sharp.  Because it was pretty dark under tree canopy I had to bump up my ISO to 1600 and open up my lens aperture to f/4 to get this speed.  Because I am going to blend these two photos together when I get home the tonality (brightness) of the two exposures need to be as close as possible.   If one photo was much brighter than the other it would look unnatural when blended.   I managed the tonality by shooting in Aperture Priority (Av) mode and letting the camera set the shutter speed accordingly.  I could have done the same thing by setting the shutter speed in Shutter Priority (Tv) mode and letting the camera adjust the aperture.  I verified the tonality of the two exposures were close by comparing the histogram for each on the back of my camera.

Histogram for first exposure

Histogram for second exposure
A histogram is a simple graph that displays where all of the tonality or brightness levels contained in the image  are found, from the darkest on the left to the brightest on the right.  You can see the two histograms above are not exactly the same but they are about as close as they can be in an environment where the lighting conditions are constantly changing.  Another important thing to remember is to take your two shots as close together as possible to minimize changing conditions.  If the sun had come out from behind the clouds between the first and second exposure then the tonality might have been very different, which would make blending later more challenging.

To use this technique you also need to make sure the white balance is the same between the two photos.   You can do this by not using auto white balance and setting the white balance on the camera or shooting in RAW mode and setting the white balance using photo editing software.  Since I pretty much shoot RAW all the time I didn't worry about setting the white balance on the camera.

When I download the photos into Adobe Lightroom I have two photos that are almost identical except for the shutter speed.  I need to take parts of each photo and blend them together into a new photo.  I used Photoshop Elements version 11 to do this.  You can use Photoshop for this, but I prefer Elements because it does everything I need and is only $65 versus over $600 for Photoshop CS6.

The blending technique using layers in Photoshop Elements is a bit advanced and more than I can cover here.  There are many free resources online that explain how to use layers.  Here are two video tutorials that are helpful:
In Photoshop Elements I created two layers from the two exposures and used the layer mask tool to reveal the rhododendron leaves from the second photo while preserving the rest of the photo. Instead of using a gradient tool like in the tutorial, I used the black paint brush over the leaves.  I was careful to not paint over the water, which would have revealed the water from the second photo, which I didn't want.

These two photos were pretty easy to blend together using layer masks because there was good separation between the leaves and the water.   If the water had been behind the leaves the layer mask would have been tedious and time consuming to create.   This is something to remember when composing the shot.

I saved the blended photo as a new file then used Lightroom to adjust the contrast, clarity, saturation, sharpness, and add a vignette. 
New Blended Photo
Once you had done this a couple times you will find it's pretty easy, as long as you think about blending when taking the photos.  Four things to remember -
  • No camera movement between shots - camera on a tripod.
  • Tonality of the two images as close as possible - shoot quickly.
  • Two images must have the same white balance.
  • Compose to minimize visual overlap of the elements to be blended.
Please let me know in the comment box below if you find these tutorials helpful and if there are others you would like to see here.  Feel free to share on facebook, Google+, etc.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

2013 Kelby World Wide Photowalk - Elizabethton Tennessee - Saturday October 5

According to the Scott Kelby website "a photowalk a social photography event where photographers get together (usually in a downtown area or trendy section of town) to walk around, shoot photos, and generally have fun with other photographers."  Last year, they had close to 30,000  people participate in the Worldwide Photo Walk in over 1300 cities.  I led a walk through Jonesborough TN a couple years ago and had a blast.

I was planning to go back to Jonesborough again this year.  Problem is October 5 is the weekend of the International Storytelling Festival and the crowds will be huge.  In East Tennessee vernacular "you won't be able to stir them with a stick!"

After some thought and a quick scouting trip I have decided to move to Elizabethton Tennessee.  Now Elizabethton does not have a "trendy section" and downtown is pretty small, but it is an interesting historic town.  My plan is to start downtown and wander the historic district, where we can shoot old stores, historic homes, and a covered bridge.

From there we'll drive a couple miles to Sycamore Shoals State Park and Fort Watauga.  

The will be having a "Knap In" that day and we can get shots of  primitive skills craftsmen making arrowheads, spear points, and other survival tools. There will be demonstrations of primitive tools such as the bow, arrow, and atlatl throughout the day.

Anyone who is interested in old cars will want to hang out for the Saturday night Cruise In from 5:00 - 9:00.

Tennessee is playing Georgia in Knoxville that day, but they have not announced the game time yet.   I'm going to start the walk early enough for people to have time to get back for a late afternoon or evening kickoff.

Anyone with a camera can participate.  All levels, including kids, are welcome.   One of the best parts is the sharing and helping that goes on in the group.

Click here for more info on the photowalk and to sign up.  The walk is free but you must sign up to enter the photo contest and be eligible to win prizes from Kelby Media.  The group is limited to the first 50 people.  Wouldn't that be great?!

Sign up and be there to Step Stop Click Repeat.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Learning All The Time

Seems like every time I go out shooting I learn something new, even without trying.

I wanted to capture the misty effect you can get with long exposures of several seconds or more with waves on the beach.   When I took this shot it was still too bright for a long exposures.  In order to get the longest shutter speed possible I set my ISO as low as possible (100), my aperture as small as possible (f/22), and added a neutral density filter to the front of my lens to cut the light even more.   I further slowed my shutter by making sure I exposed for the sky and not the sea stack.   I was able to get a 15 second exposure even shooting into the sunset.

Sea Stack Sunset

When I looked at the LCD display on the back of my camera I thought I had captured what I was after.  The waves on the beach blurred into a smooth misty surface that reflected the colors of sunset.  Good for me!

When I was working on this photo just now I realized my mistake, the results of which you can see in this close crop of the trees on top of the sea stack.

See the ghost image of the tree tops?  Obviously the camera moved during that 15 seconds when the shutter was open.   Then I remembered.  To get the shot I wanted without the sandy beach I had to set my camera out near the water.  I had my camera on my tripod, which I set down in the sand and composed the shot.  I waited for the waves to be where I wanted them and started the exposure.   What happened next was comical.  The waves did not stop just below my tripod but continued up the beach and around the tripod legs.  Anyone who has stood at the edge of the surf knows what happens.  The wave washed the sand out from under the tripod legs, which then settled into the sand.  The comical part was me with my hiking boots running from the waves while leaving my camera and tripod in the surf.   Some of my photo buddies who were there with me chuckled at my antics.

Lesson learned - make sure the camera is on a solid surface and is not going to move during the exposure.  Beach sand and waves do not make a solid surface to shoot from.

I had fun trying the long exposures and will try again when I get a chance.  I'm sure I'll learn another lesson in the process.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Benefits of Mentors and Encouragers

Everyone needs to spend time with others.  God has made us to be in relationship with other people.   It's the way we we're wired.  We gain from spending time with people who mentor and encourage us to be better at what we do and to be better people.   This applies to all areas of our lives, including fun times doing what we love.

I am blessed to have a wife who encourages me to spend time with my photography hobby.  She is the one person I most want along when I go out taking pictures, and she doesn't even bring a camera or take any pictures herself.  Not only does she encourage me but she mentors me in my photography as well.  I've learned that when she says "come over here and take a look at this" I need to see what she is looking at.  Some of my best photographs came about when June saw something and pointed it out to me.

I also have several good photographer friends that I enjoy spending time with and learning from.  
Harold Ross
They encourage me and teach me when we take off on a journey in search of photographs. My friend Harold Ross invited me to spend last Saturday with him in the Smokey Mountains, on the Blue Ridge Parkway and where ever the Lord led us.  I've not gone out to take landscape or nature photos many times in August because I thought it was not a great time.  I thought the flowers were gone or almost gone, the skies would be hazy, and the creeks low or dry.  He encouraged me to go out and was I glad I did!

We found waterfalls in great light, wildflowers in abundance, and flocks of butterflies.  Because he encouraged me to get out I have 19 new photos to share in the Appalachian Travels August 2013 folder.

Every time I go out with Harold I learn about a new place to shoot, new wildflowers, and new photography ideas and techniques.  

If you don't have friends to share your love of photography with then I suggest you join a local photography club, take a class, or look for other opportunities to make new friends.  Then get together, go out, mentor and encourage each other.   It's one of the best ways to improve your photography.

Laurel Falls in The Great Smokey Mountains

Estatoe Falls in NC