Cheap Third Hand Style of Clamp

As humans, we have two hands. But, every time you think two are enough, you need a third one. You can buy 3rd hand tools which is just a couple of clamps mounted on a bendable shaft of some kind. But being cheap, I decided to see what I could do with a few bits and pieces I had laying around the garage. I had a bag of plastic clamps I bought at Home Depot, some leftover aluminum clothes line wire, a few wooden clothes pins and gaffers tape. I was able to pot together a clamp in ten minutes that would hold a light flag or reflector or even a lightweight subject like a flower.

Posted in DIY, Hardware, musings, technique Tagged , , |

Clone wars – Bridal Retouching

While photographers strive for that perfect picture, often times we have to make do with where we are, the light we have and stray items or people in the shot. But, with modern technology and some skill, we can fix a good many things now in our digital darkroom. In this show and tell, I will be showing how I was able to remove a child who was not wanted in the image by the photographer. Just to make it clear up front, this was not my image, I do some work for hire and in this case, it was a friendly competition among several photographers as to who could do what with the image to meet the requirement of the picture being childless.

Bride and groom with child before edits

Here is our RAW image straight from the camera and without any edits at all. In the image you can see the color balance is off, the bride is not exactly the center of attention, there is the child in the foreground and there is the tilt thing going on. We need to fix several things here before we can give back the image to the photographer.  Now, there are many ways to correct this and I’m just going to show you one of many ways.  It does not make it any more correct or right than any other way. It just happens to be the way I worked this picture.

The first thing I needed to do was to remove as much of the little girl as I could. You could try and clone her out but it is a lot of work, you will fight the texture, the lighting, and you need the replacement floor, door jam and baseboards. So to keep things simple and because the human eye can be fooled given half a chance, I borrowed the wall from the right hand side and flipped it upside down. This gave me texture, lighting in the correct place and the clean corner.

start of edit with just the cloned wall

The result of the wall clone looks like this image. You can see with just the simple act of borrowing the right hand wall and moving to the left side then flipping it upside down, I have cleaned up the wall, the corner and erased most of the child. Now it looks much easier to fix what remains doesn’t it?

This still leaves me the floor, the door jam, baseboards and overall image corrections.  So lets move on shall we?  The next item on my list is the floor. It’s rather simple but like many things, paying attention to the detail is what makes it work. In this case, I selected a large piece of the floor and slide it sideways on it’s own layer. All my edits sit on their own layer so I can change and move things around without damaging my original image. I also lined up the darker boards so the eye is fooled into thinking all is well with the new cloned floor. A layer mask and a soft brush let me feather in the edges so there is not any hard line for the eye to see.

replacement floor with clean edge I drew in a selection with my polygonal lasso tool to get some straight lines, inverted the selection and then erased the wall that was in the way of the floor. This gave me nice clean edges.

This now leaves me with needing a baseboard. But, I dont have any baseboard to borrow or steal so what is a retoucher to do? You make it from scratch or in this case, I faked it by stealing part of the door jam and then using the transform tool to stretch it and bend it the way I needed it to be. If you notice, my wall is not straight but I have a perspective angle on the wall which is what you would see if it were real. The lines head back in a convergence and if you dont have this, the brain will note there is a problem and the picture will not look “right”.

baseboard and door jam replacement

I also took advantage of the good parts of the door jam to fix the parts that had the child in the way. One issue right now is that the edges of the new baseboard are too “sharp”, they stand out and do not really look part of the wall. A simple layer of gaussian blur takes care of that along with a soft brush to put just the right amount in place. Retouching is as much artistry as it is anything else so you have some leeway as far this sort of reconstruction goes. As long as you are close enough, the brain will automatically fill in the rest for you. And that is something you can use to your advantage when retouching.

At this point, I spent some time cleaning up the edges of the door frame by making small straight selections and moving them up against the door frame. This brought in texture and a clean edge to my edits and building out of the door frame. A touch of blur here also smooths things out. I used color sampling and a brush set to about 10% opacity to “paint” in color to smooth out the color on the door jam.

I used a grad filter on the left side to darken up the wall some which helps hide all the work. And then I used a white grad filter to add some “light” to the top. Again we are fooling the eye by putting in tones that the brain expects to see and using them to help blend everything together. My final layer was to color adjust and apply a high pass filter to the bride only.

Final Edited and rebuilt image of bride

In this image, I decided I liked black and white better as it fixed the color casts of the original. I was able to to use a yellow filter to really clean up the dress and I worked the face and dress to get good deals. The black and white version was the keeper and it made everybody very happy.

Asian bride with mom in black and white

 

I wish to thank Rengie Mendoza at renzaweddings.com for permission to use his image for this tutorial.

 

Posted in Competition, editing, musings, portraits, technique, training

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.

Posted in commercial photography, musings, photography, portraits, technique, training

Holiday Pictures, Santa Claus, Travels and More

Christmas means more than just family time, it is a time to get some really spectacular holiday pictures of the family on the road or with relatives. It’s also a time to see some places all decked out in their holiday best. Disneyland is a special place to my family and we actually stay at one of the hotels every few years as a “stay-cation” for the kids rather than traveling long distances. Trying to fly a family of five somewhere is very expensive and driving is not much cheaper so we just go the 30 minutes or so to Disneyland and leave our troubles behind for a few days.

One of the keys for nice pictures at any park, ship, theme park or even just in front of the Christmas tree is shallow depth of field. You blur out the distractions but leave them clear enough so people can sorta tell what they are and where you are. It makes for a nice background that adds to the story.  I typically keep my camera at an F stop between 2.8 and 5.6 with Aperture mode locked in place. When I’m at Disney with the kids, things move way too fast to be in full manual mode much of the time but I want that F stop locked to control the DOF.

Three sisters at Condor Flats at California Adventure, Disneylan

This particular image along with a relatively shallow DOF also uses the popup flash to throw some light on the faces. I had moved the kids from sun to shadow and I wanted the eyes to sparkle a bit. So up goes the popup flash and I dialed it down -2 so not to over power the nice light reflecting off the cement.

Night shots are the best in my opinion as you get all the color lights and such that people put up. In this case, full manual is almost mandatory as the camera will try to exposure the black sky and blow out the lights themselves. I use a bit more DOF so I’m shooting through the sharpest part of my lens and I crank up the ISO to compensate for this. The ability to shoot clean at a high ISO is one of the big benefits for shooting with either a very HQ small sensor camera or a full frame sensor like my Nikon D700.

Its a small world at Christmas

So get out your camera and shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Holidays are special days and it’s a great time to get some very memorable images of your loved ones. You never know what tomorrow will bring so enjoy today.

Posted in Articles, event photography, portraits, technique, Travel, venue

Creative Limits or How to Inspire Yourself

As an artists, we sometimes get into our comfortable rut of how we always do things.  We use the same lenses or we shoot the same way. We do this because it works and since it “works” we do not need to worry about the outcome. But, this leads to stagnation and boredom.

[blockquote_with_author author=”Orson Welles“] The absence of limitations is the enemy of art.[/blockquote_with_author]

Orson Welles’s quote is one that I have taken to heart. Often times, what I do is to limit myself with the camera , a certain lens or just a certain location that normally would not be a good place to shoot. I will intentional use environmental limitations such as shooting at high noon in the sun. I will  pick something that will push me out of my comfort zone and into someplace where I need to learn something.

I’ll do this with any camera I have at the ready ranging from my iPhone to my D700. I find that with the iPhone my composition becomes very critical since the iPhone is lacking many of the technical tools for adjusting the image when I take it. With my D700 I’ll pick one lens but tell myself that is the ONLY lens I can use. Or I’ll cover up the video screen and tell myself I have only 36 images in an homage to my film days. This kind of shooting really makes me think hard about my images. It makes me slow down and examine the world around me carefully and this is  a very good thing. I learn new things, I learn new skills for myself and for my clients to make better pictures.

Here is a set of images that show the set up  and then my final image using my iPhone.  Normally, the weeds by my house do not draw my attention but in this case, working the angles and using the limitation of shooting into bright light with the iPhone adds to the creativity.  I have drama,  powerful lines and you can  not see the light poles and condos as they are hidden behind the weeds.

Sky scene pull back and final dramatic iPhone shot

Who knew that weeds could be so much fun in photography!  In the second image, I went to Disneyland which is a favorite place of mine to shoot for practice. But, I limited myself to my 16mm fisheye lens. The normal convention is that a fisheye is a limited use lens. A funky lens where you take one or two shots to mix it up a bit.  I really, really like my fish eye because it makes me think and I can get really creative with it as you can see in this shot. I’m using framing of my subject and I’m using the frame to push the eye towards my subject. This shot would have been impossible without the wide angle of the fisheye lens.

Fisheye view of Star Tours at Disneyland
I have taken some of my best pictures while wearing the shackles of artistic limitations. Try it yourself the next time you are at lunch or waiting to pick up the kids at school. Take your camera phone and find something to shoot like the bricks in the wall or the plant behind you. Work the angles and the exposure for drama or details. You will find that you get into a zone and might forget the kids are waiting! I speak from experience on this one 🙂 Take your DSLR and pull out the weird lens you bought in a fit of being the artist and actually use it! If you shoot with zooms, borrow or rent a prime and use that only for a day. Use your flash ON the camera at high noon. Push your limits and you will find yourself pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

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Shooting with the iphone IOS 6 Panaroma Tool

One of the features of IOS 6 I talk about in my book is the new Panorama tool. This is a tool that allows you to take the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, swing it in an arc and then have a gorgeous panorama image in just a few seconds. If you dont believe me, then take a look at this sample shot from a fundraiser I attended the other day. We had set up two jogging tracks for the kids to run around in two different fields. I wanted to get an image that really showed off both sides and my D700 with the 16mm was not able to get it. Nor did I relish the idea of taking several shots and then spending time in Photoshop stitching it all together. So out comes my iPhone 4S !!

I did three different shots as I’m a firm believer in backup images even more so with this given all the variables such as kids walking by, lighting and so on.

Here is the normal blog image of the pano. The best I can really do is 1900 pixels or it scrolls off your screen.

Jog-a-thon Panorama IOS 6 iPhone 4S

But, with a built in feature of Photoshop, I can easily show you the high resolution image. I use a tool called Zoomify and now I can show off all the resolution I have. Or in this, as much as I grabbed. The original image was downloaded from my iPhone at a reduced size and even the, the image is over 9000 pixels long. All I did to the image was to sharpen it some and cropped it a bit. So for a iPhone stiched image, I think it looks pretty good!

Click here for the Zoomified Pano

As I say in my book, the iPhone is a very capable camera when used correctly. Have fun and go play with panoramic pictures! I am pretty sure you will be amazed and it wont cost you a penny since it’s built in. If you want extra features like a full 360 degrees or other items, buy my book 😀  or hit up the Apple App store and look around. 360 and Photosyth are two good apps for cheap prices.

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Posted in Articles, equipment, iPhone Tagged , , , , |

It’s done! My new iBook for iPhone Photography is done

Well, at least the PDF version of “How to Create Amazing iPhone Photographs” is done. The iBook version is waiting for Apple to bless it. But, in the meantime, you can buy and download the PDF which is exactly the same content as the iBook. You can download a free preview from Lulu Press who is my POD (print on demand) vendor.

Here is the description for my new book –

[blockquote]Your content here.The iPhone is an amazing tool. It is a phone, a database, a web browser, a camera, a video recorder and more. But this amazing array of features may overshadow the iPhone’s arguably greatest feature: its camera’s ability to capture a moment in time.  This book will teach you how to use the iPhone camera in ways you never dreamed, to fully capture the moment and to create amazing photographs.  You will learn about the basics of crafting images with the iPhone but also about interesting options such as infrared and underwater photography. You will see how to perform high-speed panning to capture a subject in motion and produce stunning images. I present a wide variety of apps, accessories and hardware, as well as tips and tricks, to aid you in creating your photographic art. I hope my sample images will inspire your creativity. When you have finished reading this book, you will know how to use your iPhone as a real camera to create amazing art and lasting memories.[/blockquote]

This book was a blast to write. Anytime I “need” to shoot pictures for a book is fun but this was great because all I needed was a small camera bag and my iPhone. It was liberating in a way to not have to carry around eight lbs of camera plus a big ol’ lens that bangs off things and people as I walk by.

iPhone camera bag contents

My bag has some interesting stuff. A ball bunji cord, a spare phone (my old blackberry), sync cable, Otterbox, Ultra Pod, spare power, MiFi, gaffers tape,  Glif, olloclip lens  and lens cleaner. All of this fits into a very small and light camera bag.  For really light days, I put the olloclip and glyph  into my coin pocket and the ultra pod in a back pocket.

Sample Page from iPhone Book

Here is a sample page from the book where I’m discussing converting the image to black-and-white. This is representative page of my book. I discuss how to shoot with the iPhone, how to add filters, lenses, using video light and more.

If you want to know how to creatively shoot awesome pictures with your iPhone even though it was not designed for it, buy this book 🙂

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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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Posted in editing, editing software, equipment, iPhone, lenses, photography, training Tagged , , , , |

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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The iPhone as a real camera

The iPhone burst onto the scene several years ago and the critics were vicious in their panning of the new and very expensive Apple phone. As time went on, it was clear who had the right idea and now Apple’s iPhone dominates the smart phone market from both numbers of phones and the overwhelming number of apps.

I have had an iPhone since V1 thought it took me almost a year to give up my crackberry for the iPhone. But I have since embraced it even though as a phone I find it to average. Why do I embrace it? because it does so much more for me than just calls. And in one area, I’m not alone in my loving the iPhone and that is iPhonography. The art of taking photographs with the iPhone. From instagram, to camera apps, remote triggers, facebook camera apps, framers, watermarking apps and more, there is an amazing number of ways to use the iPhone as a camera. And it’s not just the apps, the sensor is pretty good for what it is. It can be reasonably sharp, it has built in HDR and one of the worst flashes I’ve ever had the misfortune to use.

I decided to put a few images to show what the iPhone can do with some imagination and a few apps.

The next two images were taken using the 4S with an inexpensive telescope using a normal viewfinder and a X2 barlow converter. Nothing very special. I used a spring clamp on the eye piece to provide a platform to snap from and I used a remote trigger by way of the + button on the mic cord the second time to get away from the shake and shudder caused by having to touch the phone.

September 4th Moonrise using iPhone 4S

Close up of the moon using iPhone 4S and a X2 Barlow converter

Then there is what we do when we play tourist. In this case, I was at Disneyland and while I had my G11 hanging around my neck, I opted to use my iPhone because I could snap it, process it and send it to my wife who was not able to be with us at the park. The social side of the smart is in many ways, more of  driver than anything technical. The tech is just the means to an end which is social interaction.

Snow White with kids on iPhone 4S

And lets not forget the geeking out side of life. I found an app called “360” which is a way cool automatically stitching panoramic app. You set it up and start taking shots. The app handles the overlap and blending and does a fair job of it. Not as nice as my DSLR but for 5 bucks or so, how can you possibly complain? It’s good enough and that is the idea here. The phone is “good enough” on alot of fronts and some of the apps make it “better” than my DSLR. In this shot, I have been to catch the complete rainbow end to end.
Partial pano of rainbow using iPhone 360 app

I’ve taken beautiful shots at events, weddings, documented shoots, tourist shots, work shots, printed images and processed images all on the iPhone. It’s a very capable device and when coupled with someone who knows photography, it’s astoundingly good at being a camera.

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