Category Archives: photography

Sand Soccer Team Pictures

Shooting soccer is a lot of fun since it’s a fast paced game and often times, a lot of action. With kids, the action slows down a bit but they are no less serious about their games and just as enjoyable to shoot. There is a different subgroup called “sand soccer” where the teams play on the beach. It’s very intense play on a smaller pitch than normal soccer.

Sand Soccer collage 1

A few things I’ve learned in shooting on the sand, is that you need to get a few neutral density filters if you want to run a reasonably shallow depth of field. If you have one, a circular polarizer filter is even better to be able to knock back some of the glare. Shooting at ISO 200, F 6.3 will be pushing the shutter speed upwards of 1/4000 on a cloudy day. Also remember to add minus one ( -1) compensation to your exposure to help make up for the extreme reflection coming off the sand which acts just like snow and will throw off your metering. I don’t really like shooting with spot metering for this type of image. The spot is promised to be on the wrong spot half the time. I use center-weighted which gives me some forgiveness if I am not aimed exactly where I need to be. The camera is set to continuously focus and also to shoot release+focus. In this mode, the camera won’t wait for the first time to sharp focus but will get it for the second. This keeps me from missing key shots while the camera tries to decide who and what is in focus.

Both of these sets of images were taken with a Nikon D700 and using a 70-200mm F2.8 lens. I’ve tested in both manual and aperture priority modes and honestly, AP mode works just fine and can help with the fine tuning if the lighting is changing a lot like with cloud cover. I try to keep the shutter speeds about 1/1200 to /2000. The slightly lower speed still gives a sharp image but will let the feet/ball blur slightly. It is a balancing act to be sure.

Sand Soccer 2

Post processing will vary quite a bit depending on the lighting but on a cloudy day before prepared to add some black and a touch of red plus crank the daylight balance up a notch. All of this does assume you are shooting in RAW which is highly recommended in order to take advantage of recovering bright highlights even when the exposure is set correctly.

DO NOT shoot this type of game without a sealed camera. The sand will get into the normal consumer camera and destroy it. Do NOT even think about changing lenses out on the beach. You can bag the camera using a zip lock baggie and some rubber bands but the best tip would be to rent the gear and then return it when you are done.

Also posted in Articles, editing, event photography, musings, sports, Travel Tagged , , , , |

Make Believe Awards

I wish I was there. How many times have I heard this about the Oscar awards in Hollywood. The Oscar award ceremony is always a popular around the house here. My wife loves to take advantage of the show as her excuse to “dress up” and have some fun with like minded movie folks. What has evolved over the years is that she takes on a costume of something related to the Oscars.  This year she rented a runway dress suitable for the awards and I did fast session against a grey background with the intent of putting her “into the Oscars” or at least in a movie style bake believe setting.

Why grey?  Because while white can look like rim lighting when you composite in your image, I would be working with mixed lighting images and I find that against the lighter dresses, grey works really well to help cut it out. The brightness of a light dress makes it  hard to get a clean edge against the white. And black is too noticeable when you don’t get a nice tight edge.

This image is one of the series I took of Jeanne in the runway dress. I used a single 42 inch octo with a 1600 watt alien bee. I had a V card reflector on the left side.

Jeanne on grey background for oscars

For one background, I used a image I found on Google of the past Oscar awards and chopped a section out of it. I had to do a touch of clean up to remove some feet and so on but I think overall it worked pretty good.
Jason-Sudeikis-stepped-back-take-snap-his-pregnant-fiancée

I then removed Jeanne from the grey background and added to her to my new background at the Oscars. I added a shadow to help add some depth.
Jeanne on Oscar red carpet

I also used a set up image of the Kodak theater and did some cropping and enlarging to get the sizing close.
Jeanne at Kodak theater
None of this compositing was difficult but the tricks like shooting on grey made it a lot easier than it could have gone. Another trick is that I use an average blue layer to blend in the different tones of the two images. That really smooths out the color blending, brightness and such. I also used a slightly different pose with the purse because that better fit the overall “theme” of my base images. If you can get 90% of the image to look right, the brain will fill in the rest without too much difficulty.

Also posted in composites, editing, event photography, technique Tagged , , |

Gorgeous Utah

For the last year my wife has been after me to take the family on something more like a family vacation instead of the “stay-cations” we have done since the girls were very small. So we tried a short trip up to Monterey Bay to see how we would all do in a small van for three days and to my surprise we survived. We even managed to have some fun and hit a few missions for Sara’s homework assignment.

That small success lead to our major trip this past year to the Zion Mountain Ranch in Utah. For those that do know about Zion, you are missing one of the true wonders of the west. It has spectacular scenery and you can easily fill dozens of flashcards with pictures. ZMR is at the border of Zion and is a working buffalo ranch.

Utah sky using HDR and iPhone

The accommodations are really small lodges with privacy and amazing views. Ours was a family sized lodge and had two levels with a bedroom plus bath upstairs with our own cast-iron room heater. The downstairs had the kitchen living room, bathroom and another bedroom.

Zion Moonrise

When we looked outside on the first morning, we had a herd of deer wandering through the front yard  and at night, the skies were so clear I felt I could reach and touch the stars. The kids had a ball running around and stalking the deer. Then they discovered the buffalo. The ranch feeds them and so they would come up to the fence. Let me tell you, you don’t understand how massive one buffalo is until you are next to it.

Reflections of Buffalo

We all went a trail ride on horseback which was a tremendous amount of fun. This was not a “pony ride” but a full featured trail ride along the rim of a canyon and through the scrub brush.

While I did bring along my D700 camera and good glass, I also brought along my Mamiya 1000S medium format film camera. But I took the majority of the photos with my iPhone. I wanted to have a vacation and not be dragging along 20 lbs of gear everywhere I went. The iPhone works surprisingly well for a travel camera and did exactly what I wanted it to do. It caught family moments with the least amount of fuss and bother. And yes, even “Flat Stanley” got into the act 🙂

Family at Bryce Canyon High Point

 

So one thing I learned was to let the wife do some driving while I happily shot pictures through and out the window of the van while we drove around.  My window tint as it turns out is a really good neutral density filter on the economy size. I shot this image coming back from Bryce Canyon with snow blowing into the windshield. I had a lot of fun with impromptu shots like this of the scenery and the family. Now that we are home, the girls are still talking about trip and they want to go back. So I think I should put another mini vacation together to hit Canyonlands and Arches National Park 🙂

Snow fall on the road

 

One of the best things about letting someone else drive is I could work on a slide show on my iPad while zooming across the desert in the passenger seat. I created this slide show using my iPad Air and a cool app called Photo Slideshow Director Pro. If you ever get a chance to visit the state of Utah, you really want to make time to see Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. The Bryce Canyon Lodge is a great place to grab lunch and soak up the atmosphere of Bryce.

Also posted in Articles, iPhone, musings, Travel Tagged , , |

You Need Wall Art

Bride in red bedroom
Often times when I’m showing images to clients, I find myself having to educate my client that there is whole brave new world out here for printed images. The old days of getting a couple of 8x10s and calling it an order are over. Modern technology and printing methods let us do things with our images that even five years ago we could not imagine.

This is a basic canvas portrait hanging in a bedroom
Bride Portrait in bedroom

Along with the standard printed image on a flat piece of photo paper, we have aluminum plate, metallic paper, wood, cloth, canvas, clothing, wall clings and more. In fact, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming to my clients. I choose just to show a few items to pick from but one thing that I love do is show off HOW the print can look in their home, business or office. I have a couple of ways I can do this. I use my iPad and a custom app that lets me take a photograph of the exact space then drop in the images or images in a template form that overlays on the real image. Pretty cool huh? I also have some images that I put together that show off size comparisons of the normal 8×10 to other size prints over a piece of furniture. This can really help my clients visualize the look they want on the wall. I also have prints of clusters of prints or “collections” where you can mix up many pictures or take one picture and “cut it apart” in a very artistic manner for wall art.

This is my Foot Prints collection showing off how several images can be clustered together.
Footprints Wall Art Collection

This type of wall art is heirloom quality and not printed at a big box store like Walmart. From the archival pigment inks to the high quality wood used in the stretcher frames of the canvas prints, everything speaks of quality. These prints are the types of gifts that you give when you want to give the best to someone. After all, you do not give a Casio watch to someone for a heirloom, you give the Rolex and for good reason. It will last a life time for the recipient of your gift. Or your life time if you wish to gift yourself. Everyone deserves quality in their life and since your pictures are for preserving a memory, shouldn’t you have the best?

Also posted in Art, musings, prints Tagged , , , |

Super Amazing Smartphone Tricks

Trick 1

Reflections

Reflectors are just a way to toss a bit more light onto your subject. In spite of the marketing hype in the photography world, there is nothing magical about a reflector. It can be anything that reflects light ranging from a simple piece of white paper or tin foil to a concrete wall. There is something to be said about the use of white vs. color and white vs. something highly reflective like tin foil. The reflected light will carry with the color cast of what you use so with yellow or gold, you can “warm” up a subject by way of a yellow light. Tin foil adds a sparkle and edge to the light which some folks like and some do not.

reflector in use

Trick 2

Light up small objects

Something that a smartphone like the iPhone excels at is shooting small items for sale on sites like eBay. The trick for this type of photography is using a lightbox that will evenly illuminate the item from all sides. You can buy a light tent or do a DIY version using a cardboard box with panels cut out and covered with a diffusion material like tracing paper. You cut out the panels and then position some lights at each panel. I use three 85 watt CFLs that are daylight balanced. I had them for another project and reused them for this project. You can use the cheap worklights but they put out a lot of heat. The CFLs are much cooler and can be color corrected by gelling or in post processing.

Trick 3

Diffuse Your Light

Diffusion is the opposite of reflecting in a sense. You are not adding light but evening it out by subtracting the brightest parts. You can accomplish this several ways ranging from making your own diffuser from a cheap canvas frame with the canvas cutout and replaced by something along the lines of Roscos Opal diffuser material, a piece of thin white ripstop nylon, tracing paper, cheap shower curtain or any other semi opaque material. In my case, I made a diffusor (or Scrim) from the canvas frame so I could clamp it in my C Stands. But you do not have to have that stiff of a frame. You can use a cheap white “shoot-through” umbrella which will cost about 10 dollars from various online stores.

Diffuser made from canvas and wooden stretcher art frame
DIY DiffuserHow does a diffuser work

How does a diffuser work

The left side doesn’t have the diffuser overhead and right side is using DIY diffuser overhead

diffuser in action

Trick 4

Increase Your Density

When you take pictures in bright daylight, the typical smartphone will lower the ISO and crank up the shutter speed to get a good exposure since the aperture is locked to something like 2.2 or 2.4. On the surface this sounds fine and in most cases this perfectly fine until you want to make a better picture than a snapshot. When you take a picture of something with motion, you need to show that motion and a fast shutter speed is not the way to do it. So how can we reduce the shutter speed when we really cannot control it from our smartphone? We fake the camera into thinking it’s darker than what it is by way of neutral density filters. We are playing off the camera’s programming that it will reduce shutter speed before it raises ISO speed. Sometimes it’s easier to show someone something. So here is a shot taken high high noon at Disneyland. Normally the water would have been stopped like it was frozen. But when I tape a ND filter of two stops over the camera lens of my iPhone, the phone thinks it’s darker than what it is and lets the shutter slow down. This bit of slowing is enough to let the water blur but still keep the submarine motionless. The moving water adds visual tension to the image which the brain likes to see. It shows motion which it expects to see.

IMG_8230

Trick 5

Light Up the World

You can spend a whole lot of money on lighting or you can be cheap. The good news is smartphones do not require expensive lighting. You can do amazing work with a 60 dollar video light. Since there is not any real way to connect and synchronize strobes to the smartphone, continuous lighting is really your best way to illuminate your subject. A common use is to supplement other lighting but you can also use it by itself.

Trick 6

Be crafty with your smartphone

When you go to anywhere that you will be shooting through glass like an aquarium, make yourself a foam gasket to seal the smartphone against the glass. Why? because the gasket will prevent reflections and absorb vibrations while giving you a way to steady the camera. The black foamie material is available for virtually any craft shop for a few dollars for enough to make several gaskets. When you get up close and personal to the glass, you can easily get shots like this taken at the Montery Bay Aquarium using my iPhone 4S.

Monterey Bay Aquarium
sea anemone

Trick 7

Use latex gloves

This trick is a bit of an odd duck. When you are carrying around your fancy glass encased iPhone or other smooth smartphone and it is a bit damp, the phone gets slippery. This is generally a bad thing but putting on a uber cheap throw away latex glove can give you much needed “stickiness” to keep a good grip on the smartphone. I’ve used this trick with my iPhone while at the best or out whale watching. Even when it’s really hot and my hands are constantly sweaty. Yes, I could use a case but I am always adding some type of filter over my lens or using a third party lens so cases become a real pain point and as a result, my iPhone tends to be naked most of the time.

Trick 8

Making a Case for a Case

This is not cheap trick but it is a very worthwhile accessory to invest in. There are a few different underwater cases for the iPhone and some for various droids but I will be talking about the iPhone since that is what I own. I would highly recommend that you get a GOOD case which means spending a fair bit of money. The Watershot underwater case I have cost close to 90 dollars but offers quite a few features for the money. You get a shock mount for the iPhone, waterproof to 140 feet, a safety clasp to prevent it from opening underwater, seals for the lens and a custom app to let you shoot and preview the images underwater. It’s not perfect but man is it fun to have in the pool or on casual diving. It is also the case to have in any adverse enviroment like high dust desert or in muddy situations ( think monster truck mud races). This is also a cool case for water soak amusement park rides. Some of the cases have threads so you can add filters or even a different lens.

Under the Sea with an iPhone

Trick 9

Join the Group

One problem we all face is that we want to take a selfie or we want a group shot and we have to either be out of the picture since we are taking it or we have to hand our phone to some stranger and hope they dont run off with it. With the iPhone and Android phones, there a a few different ways to trigger the shutter remotely. With the iPhone, you can use the much maligned earbuds to trigger the shutter by way of the volume controls. You can also use a bluetooth remote trigger or even a bluetooth remote keyboard (the volume controls). Some of the better units support many popular third party camera apps. The cheaper ones are bit more challenging to use

Also posted in Articles, DIY, equipment, iPhone, technique Tagged , , , , , |

Lightroom for iOS

Adobe has released Lightroom for iOS devices and I have to say it’s pretty cool. I was surprised with Lightroom on the iPad but the iPhone with its smaller screen was going to be “interesting. But the Adobe engineers really pulled off a coup with their release.

I’ve tried the major features and also the file syncing between the iPhone and my desktop version of Lightroom. Pretty slick!  I took a dozen shots today in a photography class and added them to Lightroom. Later I opened up Lightroom 5.5 on my Mac at home and like magic, the new images appeared in Lightroom.

In the coming days I plan to use it and abuse it then decide if I like enough to keep it on my phone. But, on the surface it’s impressive.  Everything works smoothly and so far I have not had any crashes of the app. I am using this on iOS 7 with an iPhone 5S so I do have top flight equipment. All bets are off with this working as smoothly on an iPhone 4S for example. You are going from 64 bit processor to 32 bit and you will take a hit. But I will be testing that also just to see. While iOS 7 runs on the iPhone 4S, it is not at it’s best. I suspect the same will be true for Lightroom Mobile.

You also need to have a Creative Cloud account such as the Photoshop Photography Program at 10 bucks a month. Any of the more expensive programs work too but I think many are using the 10 dollar program.  You will need to  have at least the 5.4 Lightroom update on your desktop/laptop version of Lightroom.

Lightroom Mobile is based on “Smart Previews” where the images are:

  • Built on the DNG format
  • 2560 pixels on the long side
  • You can make adjustments even without the original image available locally
  • These adjustments are applied when the original file is available

Here are screen shots for the iPhone 5S using Lightroom mobile

LIghtroom Mobile File Sync

No mess and no fuss. This is awesomeness at it’s best. You can see on the left the smart collection Lr mobile Adobe made and then created the iPhone  Photos folder.

OK.. thats cool but what does the interface actually look like? Exactly what you would expect if you have seen the iPad version. Just smaller 🙂

Settings for iOS Lightroom IMG_6882 IMG_6881 IMG_6883 IMG_6880 IMG_6876
IMG_6877 Photo Details in iOS Lightroom

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30 Days of Black and White iPhone Fun

I’m not much on things like 365 day projects and whatnot but a favorite group of mine on Google’s G+ called “Smartphone Photographers” is having a fun time with #30DaysBandW or 30 days Black and White. The deal is you shoot with your smartphone and post it as a black and white image. Thats right, no color, no fancy filters, no tints are allowed, just good old black and white images but we do allow traditional tinting like sepia toning, blue tones, duo tones and so on.

I find this really makes you think more about composition than you normally might. You always will find that you play with the tools more since a simple conversion to grey tones gets boring 🙂 You will rediscover that red, green, yellow and blue filter can really alter your tonal range in a B/W image. That grain is your friend much of the time. And that the iPhone (and others) very, very capable black and white shooting tools.

Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of concept shots, playing with processing, playing with textures and anything else I can think of. My go-to tool has been SnapSeed but I plan to use a few others before it’s all over. Here are several of my shots so far. All taken with an iPhone 4S and I’ve used Snapseed, Mextures, AfterFocus and Photoshop Express for the processing in various combinations. Something I’ve noticed is that with the iPhone, I tend to shoot much closer than I normally would think to do. The DOF is so much that I can be inches away and get a decent shot. None of this are using any third party lens, just the plain old iPhone lens.

Yes, I did a selfie as one of my shots but it’s a bit different than many. I tried to tell a bit of a story. What do you see as my story?
Mike Selfie iPhone 4S

I plan to try some landscapes and maybe some cool textures before it is all done. I also don’t think 30 days is going to be the end of it for me, I’m having way too much fun with this little challenge. And you know what? It carries over into my shooting with the D700 and other cameras. Practice is practice.

Also posted in Articles, editing, iPhone Tagged , |

A California White Christmas or A Snowglobe

When you live in part of a state that has a well deserved reputation for 75 and sunny, you need to get creative to enjoy a “white christmas”. In my case, what started as a bit of a joke went significantly further than I had anticipated. Last year I had seen what purported to be a “photoshop template” of a snow globe and I was intrigued. I could not understand how such a thing could be made into a template with layers. So I paid an obscene amount of money (four lattes) and was promptly disappointed. I had been snookered. The “template” was nothing more than a JPEG file in the PSD format. As it turned out, bad karma followed the individual selling this thing and it became quite the broo-haw on the internet. I missed all of that and found out about much later.

This was the basic so-called template. No, I won’t link to the source because of the outrageous price of a JPEG file.
Snow Globe Template

So roll the clock forward a year and I took the family’s Christmas portrait. It was sort of plain this year and on a lark, I decided to drop us into the snow globe and send it to my wife as a joke. Turns out she liked it.. a lot.. and gave me marching orders to fix up as she saw it should be. I had to get the right type of snow and I decided I needed a stereotypical SoCal background which meant sand and sun.

I found a cool picture of Huntington Pier at sunset which fit perfectly in my vision. According to the copyright posted, free to use for personal use such as this. Please don’t steal someone’s work. There is plenty available for your personal use like this.

I had this family portrait from my shoot this year.
Sweeney Family Portrait

And here is the cool sunset I found

beach sunset

And I found a good tutorial on making “snow” in photoshop plus I used some snow from another snow globe picture for around the bottom.

I ended up compositing everything together for this final image along with a free font from DaFont.com. While this composite didn’t take magical skills, it did take some patience and subtle work to blend everything together well. The biggest trick was to use the “average blur” filter to even out the tones of all the bits and pieces I stuck together. I also paid close attention to the background by blurring it as if I had taken it with a shallow depth of field and that it showed up correctly in the blur of the glass globe. It did take a few tries to get everything the way I wanted it but I think it ended up pretty successful.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

Also posted in composites, editing, technique Tagged , |

Be Anywhere or Anything You Want with Compositing

The art of compositing opens up a whole new world for photographers and the client. You can be anything or anywhere you want with a bit of preplanning and work. Many people think you have to set up a green screen like Hollywood but in reality, it causes issues with improper lighting. Shooting on a white or black background is much more forgiving and considerably easier to work with. The color selection of the background is really immaterial to a large degree, the still photographer needs the contrast between subject and background to get a clean “cut out”. Proper lighting avoids what is called “spillover” or contamination of the subject with unwanted light and color from the background. I tend to shoot white as much as possible since any spillage looks just like some extra light unlike the day-glow of a green screen.

The image below was shot on a white background with single octobank light. I could have used strip lighting for a more edgy look but this was a “off the cuff” shoot at the end of a family portrait so I used what I had set up.

Olivia on white background

The background was a stock photograph from Depositphotos.com that saved me from having to drive into some sketchy areas on a weekend to get graffiti shots. Note!! Always take element shots when you can and keep them in a library. I take various texture shots and odd bits here and there just for stuff like this.

The Photoshop tool “quick selection” is your friend for this type of work. It’s fast and very easy to get decent results right away. Of course, the more time and effort you put into the selection, the better the results will be. For some work you will find the pen tool to be a better choice but that is a topic for a different day. To get the hair, you can push up the radius up and up. As you go up, Photoshop will go further out from the edge to look for what it thinks to be part of the selected subject based on color.

Olivia Graffiti portrait

You can also use compositing for enhancing images such as I did here for a Christmas card. It was something of a joke for the family since we live in a “non-snow” locality while most of the family lives in snow country. I took a family portrait which I shot against white, a picture of a snow globe, a picture of a local pier at the beach and use a technique for “making snow” in photoshop. This all combined into one image that went on the annual Christmas card. And yes, this is a service I offer and not just for the holidays. Compositing can be the adding of a new board me member, removal of an unwanted person/place or thing and much more.
Final Snow Globe of Sweeneys

You can also use compositing to show off someone or someone’s skill. In this last image, the subject made her costume by hand for Halloween and I composited her into her own movie poster that fit the theme of the costume. To be sure, a composite of this type is not just a “drap and drop” cutout inspite of what some software packages would lead you to think. It takes some time and few tricks to get everything to work together. I hope you can start to see that composting can really open up a world for the more artistic image or a precisely tuned image.
Queen of hearts Composite

Also posted in commercial photography, editing, editing software, studio, technique Tagged |

Shooting a Camaro

So Fathers Day was very intersting for me this year. My oldest daughter decided that I needed something to bright up my day and that a RED Camaro was just the ticket  for said brighting. We went down to the local Enterprise rental car agency and I got to drive away in a screaming RED 2013 Camaro for the entire weekend.

Now since she was so kind to rent the Camaro, I had to shoot a picture or two of the car. And if I’m going to shoot a picture of the Camaro, then I am going to do it right. I had thought about this several months ago so I had found some likely sites to use for backgrounds. I grabbed my D700 and 70-200 then drove off for a few hours of driving and shooting.

In Santiago Canyon I found a abandoned gas station and some cool turnouts with oak trees. I started a bit earlier than I wanted because of the bright light but I was hoping on shade and shooting angles to help make up the lack of reflectors and the bright sunlight. Here is my first shot at the gas station.
Camaro at gas station

This image was also an experiment in processing. I shoot RAW exclusively but for the past year I have been working with JPEG files a lot from my iPhone and I’ve been impressed with how well the new tools can handle a JPEG. So this time I took the raw file and flipped it to JPEG in the D700 by way of delighting. I then dropped it into CS6 and retouched it and cleaned things up.

I then moved to a oak lined turnout and shot this image.
2013 Camaro by Oak Trees

I had an idea about “School is out for the summer” theme so I drove over to a local high school and used their parking lot. I did several shots and this was my favorite of the bunch.
Schools out 2013 Camaro

This image took some time since I did some work like removing the front license plate, various signs, cleaned up the reflections and lost some curbing. Here is what the raw image looked like before my edits.
2013 Camaro before edits

In the end it was a lot of fun renting the car and then shooting it. Most of these pictures were taken with a single D700 and one lens, the F2.8 70-200 zoom. The one exception is the oak tree shot which I used a 24-70 F2.8 since I was on the side of highway and did not feel like going out into traffic.

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