Category Archives: photography

High Dynamic Range or How to Love Sunny Days

Ah, Sunny days! We love them in Southern California but they cause significant problems with digital cameras of all kinds because of the limited range of exposure. You can see this effect on a bright day when you are trying to take a picture of something in shadow and the sky blows out to pure white. You lose the cool clouds or mountain peaks behind the subject. Or you are in a dim room and when you take the picture, the image is very dark or you lose the wonderful ambiance because the flash went off and blew it all to white. What is a person to do?

There is a trick in photography called High Dynamic Range or HDR for short. It is a method of taking multiple images seqentially at the same time with something like one stop of exposure difference between them. The range will go from dark to light and then the different exposures are stacked and blended to keep the highlights and the shadows in the final image. Many people will overachieve and end up with a cartoon like effect rather than a realistic image. This is strictly a function of taste and not a fault of the technique. The technique of HDR mimics what our eyes do naturally by letting us humans to see both shadows and highlights at the same time without us having to think about it.

This image of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland shows off what HDR can do for your photography. This image was taken during a very bright morning and normally when you exposed for the white building and trees, you would blow out the sky. But I took several images and used an application called “HDR Efex Pro 2” which handles the loading and merging of the images. It also gives a nice dashboard to adjust the final image to taste.
Disneyland Haunted Mansion

But I have an iPhone or other smartphone you say? What can I do? As it turns out, there are several HDR apps available for both iPhones and Droids. I happen to use an iPhone and I use an app called “TrueHDR” which will shoot three images and then merge them on my iPhone in just a few minutes. I can then edit a bit more if I want.

In this image, you can see the typical shot you would get with the iPhone without using HDR. In trying to get the shadows, the highlights blow out. The colors look a bit washed out also.

Before HDR and post processing

Before HDR and post processing

And here is what the final image looked like after TrueHDR blended the images and I tweaked up the saturation a bit. The beauty of this is that I was able to shoot and then process the image while walking to the next ride. I didn’t need my computer, laptop or extra software loaded up. I was able to process and adjust my images while munching on some treats and standing in line for a ride. How cool is that?

msmedia-2013- Final -HDR- TrueHDR- IPhone

You can easily see the marked improvement in the final image by using TrueHDR. You can do even more by shooting on a more powerful camera like a Nikon D700 or other DSLR. In the next image, I used a very high shutter speed to not just stop the action of the falling log but to keep it from moving too much between frames. The movement of something between frames in HDR causes “ghosts” to appear and the closer the images are, the easier it is to fix the ghosts. This is a feature of using a better camera and more powerful software (so far) then the amazing iPhone ūüôā As you can see, the riders while in deep shadow are easily seen and the clouds while in a bright sky are also easily seen and add a lot of drama to the final image.

Splash Mountain Disneyland HDR

Splash Mountain Disneyland HDR

I’m using images from one of my Disneyland trips because it is vacation time where you lose much of the flexibility for waiting for good light or time of day. You are on limited time and you need to make do with whatever light you have or don’t have. Shooting with HDR in mind is an easy way to really improve your images even while you are shooting with what is normally considered “bad light”. It will also work at night time to pick up cool details of lights and details of buildings. You will have more ghosting but that adds to the overall look and feel of the image.

Here is the Disneyland Tower of Terror as an nighttime HDR. The building picks up all the cool but subtle lighting in this image which normally cannot be photographed without the details blowing out.Disneyland Tower of Terror HDR

So learn how to use your camera for HDR whether it is a smart phone or a DSLR. Both will work really well for HDR shots and give it a try. The trick is to learn how to bracket your shots on the DSLR and finding an HDR app you like for the phone. The phone is cheaper by far to try but the DSLR will give better results overall. In my own case, I find that my iPhone does a very adequate job while on vacation and is the proverbial “good enough” for my vacation pictures.

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Making your environment work for you

For any photographer who is not in the safety of their studio, they are at the whim of whatever environment the location has to offer. The real professional and why the client pays for the professional is the small fact that the professional can make almost any situation into a great image. To¬† illustrate this point, I took a five year old to a local park on a blustery and cool day with virtually no skies, clouds or anything at all of interest in the sky. The light was basically flat and pretty low contrast from the cloud cover. So what is a photographer to do?¬† On the way into the park we passed onto a tree lined sidewalk and I was stuck by the beautiful yellow leaves on the trees, very fall-like even though it was mid December. My problem was the leaves are a bit high and my subject at five is a bit short. You can see my set up shot below. Just as a note of interest, the set up shot was taken with my 4S iPhone rather than my DSLR. I do this often in part because I use a location scouting app called “PocketScout” that lets me keep pictures of the site along with notes.

Tree lined sidewalk before portrait session at park

As I looked at it, I saw that at first glance while it is a nice landscape, it’s not much for a background with a five year old. But, we professionals have ways to make our images speak!¬† In this case, I pulled out the 70-200 F2.8 in order to use the compression of a racked out 200mm at a shallow depth of field. This compression of distance let me fill the frame with yellow leaves and get them nice and blurred at F3.5. I put my subject up on the rail and had her sit there. This got her up a few feet from where she stands and let me pull in the background right behind her. I shot a bit hot knowing I was going to go for the somewhat bright post processed look playing off the fall colour in the leaves.

little girl against fall yellow leaves portrait

 I shot several times given that kids do not give a natural smile on demand, you have to work it out of them. In the end, I was pretty happy with my final shot.

Also posted in commercial photography, musings, portraits, technique, training

So many words and a new book for iPhone photography

I’m in the last few laps of editing for my new iBook on Successful Iphone Photography. The writing of the book is easy, the editing will kill you. But I’m having a fun with this project. I’ve tried to put in imaginative images that I’ve taken with my iPhones and have gone outside the box to get some cool shots. This book is not a vanity project or an “art” project. God knows there are enough of those around. It’s just “here is how to get solid images from the iPhone”.

 

Here is a preview of some of the images being used in the book. None of these are traditional iPhone images but I have some of those too in the book. These are images to get you thinking about you can do with your own phone. The only limit is what you put on yourself.

 

Double shot of coffee

Nothing like a cup of joe in the morning ?

iPhone 4S using a Hoya R72 IR filter for infrared

Who says you cant shoot IR on the iPhone

Half a Moon with the iPhone

I had several people call me out and say there was not any way this could have been an iPhone shot. I have the EXIF data and the original file. Go ahead, make my day

Using Movie Filmmaking rigging and a iPhone

This was taken using suction cup, ball heads and rigging that I normally attach movie cameras or DSLRs to cars and trucks. This was a fun shot complete with the gaffers tape holding the neutral filter stack over the olloclip lens on my iPhone

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Brave New World of iBook Publishing

This post is sort of about photography but it also is about Apple, it’s about iBooks and it is certainly about diversification. ¬†One reason I have been very quiet of late is that I’ve been head down on learning how to use iBook Author to put together a new book called “How to be successful at iPhone Photography”. In a past life, I use to write very dry technical books on geeky things like network security, Linux and Cisco stuff. If you were a network geek, you probably read one but for the average Joe, not so much.

Now, with photography as my life, it came to me that I could recycle my writing skills into something more than just blog entries. I decided to write a book on using the iPhone since it would be somewhat more easy than writing for Android phones and I happen to own an iPhone. This made it even a more simpler choice on my part. The reason is in the past several months, I’ve become quite the enthusiastic shooter using the iPhone. I am always amazed at just how good it can be and what can be done with a smart phone and some clever apps.

The book will be finished in a few weeks and then submitted to the black hole of Apple approval which I’m told can take weeks and weeks if I’m not so lucky. The price will be very cheap, between 1.99 and 2.99, I have not made up my mind yet. The goal is to make it a good book and high value for less money than a decent latte would cost you.

Now, some of you might sneer at the idea of using a camera phone for anything other than quick and dirty snapshots. I mean, a real photographer uses a brand name DSLR with a five pound chunk of glass hanging off the end. A few years ago that was true and I would have said it myself. But, with the advent of the iPhone, in particular the iPhone 4, 4S and now the 5, the onboard cameras are very capable systems indeed.

I have exhibit A which is a photograph I took using my iPhone 4S and a cheap ETX telescope. I did upgrade the eyepiece from the OEM Mead ETX eye piece to a nicer but still inexpensive Parker Silver Series eye piece. Good glass is good glass whether it be a camera lens or a telescope. But, that was the extend of my “upgrades”. I did not use anything special on the phone and most of the post processing was actually done on the phone standing in the front yard using Snapseed and PhotoFX. I did load the image into CS5 for a high pass filter and resizing of the image. But this image looks better than many I’ve seen taken with much more expensive equipment.
New Quarter Moon September 23 2012 taken with iPhone and Mead ETX telescope

As you can see from the image, the quality is very good. And this was without any real magic or special tricks or high priced hardware. It’s this type of shooting my new book will show you how to do for cheap.

Here is another iPhone picture and this time, I broke a few hearts with it. It’s the expected “ring shot” but this time I used the Olloclip Macro lens on the iPhone 4S to take an ultra close up of the wedding ring. Then I processed it in CS6 just like I would any other deliverable image. There is virtually no difference in quality of using the iPhone vs. using a DLSR with the 800 dollar lens.

Wedding Ring Shot using iPhone 4S and olloclip macro lens

So here are a few samples from my upcoming book. You will get a sense of the book and how it’s going to look. And being an iBook, it will be interactive unlike traditional print books.

Chapter 1 of How to be a Successful iPhone Photographer

Sample Chapter Content of How to be a Successful iPhone Photographer

So stay tuned for my announcement of my booking being approved by Apple for sale in the iTunes catalog. It’s been alot of fun so far in writing it and I hope when I get it done, you will find it an enjoyable read and inspiration.

 

 

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Practice, Practice and more Practice

One of the things that any professional photographer will do is constantly practice their craft. Practicing may not be dragging out the strobes and the fancy background, it can be as simple as just bringing a camera on a family walk.¬† For myself, I always have a camera with me whether it be my iPhone or my¬† “professional” camera. I find that like anything else, constant practice with my chosen equipment helps me on the job when I’m shooting for you and being paid for it. I personally and ethically believe that when I’m shooting “for real”, it is not the time for me to be practicing while on your dime. Any true professional would agree with that statement and when you are shopping around for a photographer, it’s something to consider.

You might question the use of an iPhone for practice but when I have limited equipment, I find that I get much more creative to get the most out of the camera and myself for that matter.¬† It’s no longer having a two thousand dollar lens or a five hundred flash, it’s all about me and what I can do with what I have. This translates directly into better pictures when I do have my expensive equipment handy.

I also practice with my normal shooting equipment but I may limit myself to a single lens or a certain setting to better learn how my equipment works under a wide variety of conditions. This works to your advantage as I can be shooting rather then messing around with the camera and constantly looking at the view finder while missing key shots. This becomes critical for events like weddings where things can be moving at a quick pace under a wide variety of conditions.

Here are some practice images that I took while on walks with the family using my main camera and a single lens.  I also use these images to push my post processing skills and learn new techniques.

Sara Portrait in Oak Canyon Nature Center Anahiem

This was taken at the Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim right at dusk. I also used a technique in my post processing to give a soft glow to the image while keeping the eyes sharp.

Three sisters at Oak Canyon Nature Center Anaheim

This image was also at the Oak Canyon Nature Center and originally was more cyan or blue than the the finished print shows now. The sisters were in a cool shadow at dusk which does not lend itself to warm tones.¬† So post processing turned it around into a warm summer’s night as it was and gave the nice warm tones. Again, a professional can adjust to conditions both by shooting differently or by making critical adjustments in the processing of the image.

The final practice image shows how I can take a blah scene and literally change seasons with some judicious post processing. the original image is on the right and the changed image is on the left. This was practicing some advanced post coloring techniques.

Oak Canyon Season Change comparision

As you can see,  as a professional, I practice constantly just like any other professional. This way when you hire me, I can be ready to produce very high quality art and results without dithering around trying to learn on your dime and missing the images you hired me to produce.

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The making of a premium whiskey product shoot

Photographers tell stories, that is what we do with our pictures whether it is a bride or a family portrait. But, we also have to tell a story even if the subject is completely devoid of any emotion such as a product shoot. The photographer has to tell the story or “sell” the story by use of props, product placement,¬†environmental¬†conditions, colors,¬†lighting and shadows. All of this is to¬†evoke¬†a emotional response in the viewer, normally to make them want to buy whatever the product is. This can get very complicated very quickly for the photographer. It’s not just the normal details of F stops or aperture, it is the¬†psychology¬†of of the audience that the photographer must keep in mind. It can be the props to work with the subject, to frame it or enhance it or to give it an emotional hook as it were. The color¬†temperature¬†of the lighting can evoke just as strong of a response as the props can. Soft shadows or hard light can really set off the drama or provide a memory of hazy, lazy summer days.

I recently did a practice product shoot using a favorite whiskey called “Knob Creek“. Now, in my mind, premium whiskey is something enjoyed at the end of the day¬†primarily¬†by men. The name of Knob Creek gave me thoughts of the water used to make whiskey, the wooden barrels used to store it, and just the over all process of making fine whiskey.

So I have two parts of my concept for Knob Creek shoot. I have thoughts of how it’s made and that it would be a manly drink served in the afternoon or evening while thinking about the day. Ok, time to start the process of putting together the subject and the props. First was the subject which was an opened bottle of whiskey. I had an idea of using kraft papper and some¬†charcoal¬†to hook to the idea of how whiskey is made by filtering it through¬†charcoal. I also felt I needed to have a nice heavy glass with some whiskey in it as if it were ready to drink. The kraft paper and charcoal came from the backyard BBQ where I had some hardwood charcoal left over from BBQing last summer. I used a wooden table that I let the kids play on. It is honey toned and has been battered by the kids so it has some “character” in the surface. I set up one SB800 to shoot up and bounce off the ceiling for easy shadows and soft light. Here is the very first image of the session.

Knob Creek Whiskey Produst shoot -1st shot 3200K

It really does not look like very much does it? ¬†So what was next? Well, In my mind’s eye, I wanted things warmer since it was to be late afternoon and I got this by shooting on “shade” white ¬†balance rather than keeping it on automatic or flash. This warmed up the tones very nicely as you can see here.

Knob Creek 2nd shot with adjusted temp 5700K

Now things are working better conceptually for me. But it still needs alot of work to really work as a product shoot. This image does not make you want to buy or drink Knob Creek. So next I decided that I needed ¬†to add some “whiskey” the glass and some ice. Personally speaking, ice offends me in my whiskey but alot of people disagree with that. But, I did not have any fake ice and real ice looks so bad and melts rapidly. Instead of “ice”, I did have “whiskey stones” which are carved stones that you freeze and then drop into the drink to chill it but not dilute it. So now ¬†I have my ice but I need whiskey in the glass. For this shoot, since my kids were watching and I had limited amount of whiskey on hand, I made up some water with two types of yellow food dye which matched very well to the real whiskey. This way, if one of the kids got too curious as I was in and out of the room, no harm would be done.

Knob Creek product shoot with stones and drink

Closer, I’m getting closer but the stones are too white and the background is too blah. So what to do? ¬†I decided that someone who enjoys a premium old school whiskey like Knob Creek would also like to collect vintage items. I happen to restore vintage radios so I grabbed a small one so it would not compete with the subject and put it into the image. Now I also had to work out my fill light since I need some light on the glass, the label and the radio. I used a white board and bounced a second SB800 flash off that and onto my “set”.

Knob Creek product shoot with angle and lighting

I also started to settle on my angle for the hero shot at this point. I also made a fun discovery that by using a manilla envelop as a flag on the first flash firing up to the ceiling, it also put some wonderful amber highlights on the bottle. Who knew? I really liked what I had so far but the background was still lacking some balance.  Again, with thinking of the type of man who would be sitting here with a vintage radio, whiskey stones and classic whiskey, I thought some vintage books would work well.

Knob Creek product shoot with added books and cropping

Now I’m getting to be very happy with the overall look and feel of the image. At 70mm and F4, my depth of field is right about 4 inches which is just enough to keep the bottle in focus and foreground/background out of focus. I also wet the stones so they went more of a black/grey than white.

Now I was able to take this image and do some retouching on it which cleaned up some blue toned reflections that were out of place, darkened up the lettering of the label, removed some reflections on the glass and added a vignette. There also was the normal tonality adjustments and sharpening that takes place with any digital image.

My final image is here. I have a very successful image of tone, product, props and overall “look and feel”. It makes a¬†gorgeous¬†wall print in my office.

Knob Creek  final edits from photoshop

 

Here is a image showing the progression of the set and shooting.

sequence for knobcreek edited

Here is the set up for the shoot. As you can see, it’s very basic and not complicated at all. This session revolved more around color and props than it did about fancy lighting or accessories like grids and such.
My equipment for this shoot was:

Nikon D700 with a 24-70 F2.8 lens at 70mm and F4 – Two SB800 flashes with Atlas PW clone triggers

ISO 200 and a shutter of 1/125

marked up whiskey set up shot

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The Great Gatsby Photog Shootout at the Tangled Vine

Our SoCal Photog Shootout group had an amazing time in San Juan Capistrano at the Tangled Vine Florist for a Great Gatsby themed shootout. Why a florist? Because The Tangled Vine has a way cool shop which used to be an old home. The Tangled Vine is on a quiet street behind the train station and has all kinds of fun areas to shoot in. They had some of their wares on display to use as props for the models and to be used to help decorate the sets.

tangled Vine Flower Arrangements

I was asked to be a leader for the first time,¬† so I decided to cover image composition and using things around you as “frames” for the subject. Also, I went over some fun things like using alternative crops, using negative space and more.

We had pretty models and gorgeous vintage clothing plus jewelry to really set things off. And as it happened, we had a classic car of the correct vintage crash our party and the owner let us use it briefly as a prop. How cool is that?

The models had some amazing hair and makeup done by some of our favorite make up artists. And they pulled out the stops for this shoot. Everybody really got into the theme and had alot of fun with it.

This would be an amazing idea for an different kind of wedding session and would be relatively easy to pull together.   Themed weddings are so much fun for both the bride and groom plus the guests. They make for awesome memories that are very unique and everybody likes to see even years later.

 

STYLIST:

Hope Stanley

MAKE UP

Amanda McDaniel
Joyce Luck

Hair

Diego Ortega

Assisted by:

Heather Renee
Jenny Sims
Brissa Watson

FLOWERS:

The Tangled Vine

LEADERS:

Matthew Saville
Kaylee Sizemore
Brett Hickman
Michael Sweeney
Brian Hamilton


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Why You Should Be Printing Some Photographs

On a recent trip to Disneyland and to Chicago, I was struck by how prevalent the use of smart phones, in particular the iPhone was being used for photos. People were taking photos of themselves, where they were, friends, short video clips, long video clips, video conferencing to friends while on the road and more. Heck, I had a Nikon D700 with me and I still used my iPhone to snap a few shots of Chicago. What I did not see were any people sharing PHOTOGRAPHS, only electronic images. No wallet prints, no small albums or any other printed media. People were passing around their phones and other devices.

John Hancock Tower Chicago

In talking with a some of these people, I  learned that very few of them actual printed the images on to paper, ever. The images lived on the phone, Facebook, Flickr or home computer. They were  looked at briefly online and then never seen again as new images take their place. And unlike photo albums of years gone past, nobody pulls out their cell phone or laptop at home to look at pictures.

As it turns out, very few people are printing any of their photographs any more. That’s a real crime in of itself,¬† but it also goes to show that prints should be part of your collection. Yes, you can have a thousand images on your phone or tablet but what good are they if nobody ever sees them?¬† What good are they if the kids can’t see pictures of their vacation because they don’t know where the images are out on your hard drive, they don’t have access to your computer or they dont know what widget the images are on? How can they share with friends at school about where they went on vacation or show off to neighbors?

We re losing something precious by not printing photographs. Facebook is well and good but we humans are tactile bunch. W want to touch and hold in our hands things like prints. And it’s not the glow of a tablet, we¬† want pictures that do not require software, hardware, power supplies, dim rooms and all that goes it with the digital generation of viewing pictures.

This is something we as photographers need to educate our customers to do¬† and we need to do it ourselves. When was the last time you made 4×6 prints to show off to friends your last vacation around the dinner table or coffee shop? Did¬† you just dump a few hundred images on Flickr or Facebook and call it good? People get excited about holding real pictures.. They get excited about real time sharing of stories. They get excited about touching pictures. It’s time to get excited!!¬† Make some prints and spread them around!!

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The new cool, Vintage Collections and Props

Mad Men is a runaway hit in part for the fantastic¬† sets, costumes and not in the least, the acting. But there is a deeper part to what we connect to. There is a longing for what we were and what we had in the past. Each generation always looks back and wishes at some level that they had what is now gone.¬† This drives us today to the point of shows on cable about restoring old stuff to new, picking or the finding of old stuff in barns and garages and the uptick in vintage style photography shoots. it’s fun to dress up as Sam Spade for a black and white shoot or as Don Draper, Peggy Olsen or any of the other cast members from Mad Men. We have vintage style Pin Up photo shoots with cars, cafes or planes and then some retro post processing. We use vintage cars,¬† motorcycles, cameras, fans, radios and more as props for shoots to add authenticity to the vintage look. Vintage style clothing is making a huge splash in the market along with DIY books on vintage hair styles.

I’m not immune to this, in fact, I was probably ahead of the curve with antique telephones, my collection of vintage movies and restoring old tube radios as a hobby. Now it has spilled over into my photography and I’m not complaining at all. I have put together some images of some recent shoots using my cameras and radios plus a teaser from a Mad Men styled photoshoot I attended recently. So today I was goofing with my 1.4 50mm lens and some of my own vintage items.

The radios work and the camera do to. I love to have vintage items but I also like to use them as they were intended to be used. There is nothing sadder then seeing something stuck on a shelf never to be used again. My cameras and radios take pictures and play but they also serve as props for my themed shoots.

If you would like to set up a themed session, just drop us a line using the modern internet or call us and we would be happy to talk it over and work out exactly what you would like.

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What is old is new again

Kodak Starflex Camera with inserted babty portrait

So I picked up some old vintage cameras this past week to use as props and “frames” for images. They add a really cool look and feel for a fun portrait.¬† I’m putting together a set of these new “frames” to be options for your portraits. I have some samples here to look at and enjoy. If you have special colors you want to match or even a special camera, let me know and we can work it out. This particular camera is a Kodak Starflex which was a very popular camera in the late 50’s and was considered to¬† be a ten dollar “point and shoot” at that time. Now it works as a pretty cool vintage¬† frame for a baby’s portrait.

Here is a different camera with a retro style of portrait.

Kodak Duaflex Camera with vintage hollywood portrait

These cameras live again in photographer by providing a unique and very interesting way to show off your images. And it’s not just portraits, I can also add a bit of flair to a favorite set of wedding pictures like this one with a 1957 Yashica camera with the bride and groom.

If you like what you see, call us up and talk about it. Even if you have existing pictures, we can certainly clean them up and add them to a very unique frame like this.

DSC9893 1957 yashica with bride and groom

 

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