Greetings folks! It has been good to talk to so many of you via email and telephone over this last month. I sincerely appreciate your comments and encouraging words.

I just finished up leading a series of workshops down in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with the Nikonians organization. We had a great time learning about digital photography, software and wireless flash systems. I am writing from my hotel room and have just spent a couple days taking photos of the great beaches and pretty palm trees. Since this is Memorial Day weekend, the beaches are just packed with people! It is quite an amazing sight to see so many beach blankets, umbrellas, towels and people.

We are ramping up for another big month of workshops in June. There are still a few seats remaining for the Seattle D70 workshops on June 16th and 17th ( as well as some slots available for the Phoenix Nikonians workshops (

Also, I�ll be working very hard to complete the iTTL wireless flash eBook by June 30th. I�ll have ordering information posted here: when we are ready to start shipping CD-ROMs.

Photo Techniques: Creating Compelling Silhouettes

There are many times when we are photographing on location and nothing really pops out as an interesting photograph. Maybe the light is dull or the clouds are out. Whatever it is, we just don�t feel like the images are really popping. When this situation crops up, I think �Silhouette�. When a silhouette photograph is done well, it almost always evokes a powerful mood and can make a mediocre scene come alive!

For example, while down here in Ft. Lauderdale, I wanted to get a great travel photo of the beach and the palm trees. My hope was to find a nice area with deep blue sky, a vast sandy beach and some pretty palm trees overhanging the ocean. I looked around for quite a while, but all I could find was flat light, some ok looking palm trees and millions of people. I snapped a few photographs with my Nikon D2X, but was unimpressed with the result. Rather than just giving up, I decided to wait a little while longer for the sun to set and then try to create an interesting silhouette with the palm trees and the sky. (see images at left.).

In my opinion, creating compelling silhouettes requires just a few good elements; a simple background, good separation between subject and the background and an instantly recognizable shape for the silhouette. Let�s talk about each of these independently.

Background: The background should be fairly even in tonality. Remember that the word tonality means brightness and doesn�t really have anything to do with color. A blue background can be exactly the same tonality (brightness) as a red background. Even and consistent tonality is important here because you don�t want the background to be chaotic. For example, a background of busy city lights might cause the silhouette of a person to be completely lost in the clutter of the lights. Good choices for backgrounds are blank blue skies, puffy clouds, sunset skies, a white bed sheet or the well-lit wall of a building.

Separation: For good silhouettes, it is important that the background is brighter than the subject. The very definition of a silhouette requires that the view of the object consists of the outline with a featureless interior. Obviously, this requires that the background is generally much brighter than the subject. Finding a bright background like the sky is generally fairly easy. Sometimes it is much more difficult to make your subject dark. I have found that it helps tremendously if you keep the subject in the shadow of a building, the shade of a tree or deep in a valley after the sun sets.

Shape: All great silhouette subjects have instantly recognizable shapes. If you are photographing people, then make sure you can make out individual�s arms and legs. Consider turning the person sideways so your can see their face profile. If you are photographing a tree or a plant, then make sure the tree doesn�t intersect with anything else like a building or other trees, but rather has perfect outline against the sky. The key is to create the photo in such a way that there is no question about what you are looking at.

A variation on a standard silhouette is the hybrid silhouettes (I made this term up just now). This is where the object you are photographing has been �kind of� lighted, but still forms a nice silhouette against the background. The photo example I have here of the palm trees against the blue sky was taken a couple days ago in Ft. Lauderdale about 25 minutes after sunset (not quite civil twilight). If I waited until true civil twilight (about 40 minutes after sunset), then I would have had much less ambient light to work with.

I mounted my 12-24mm lens on my Nikon D2X and laid it on its side in the grass. I then mounted my SB800 speedlight to a SC-17 flash cable and held the flash with one hand, far above my head. I mounted a diffusion dome to the fill flash to soften the light. The camera�s flash sync mode was set for �Slow Rear� and I dialed the flash power down to -1.3. Since the camera was lying on the ground and I couldn�t look through the viewfinder, I had to take about 15 shots before I got the perfect combination of level horizon, all the trees and the appropriate amount of light onto the grass/trees from the flash.

The fill flash lit up the foreground which added some nice color, but also subtly lit up the palm trees to provide a little bit of detail in their trunks and palm fronds. By not allowing too much flash to hit the tree, I created a �hybrid silhouette� that still has excellent contrast against the blue sky.

Finally, metering for good silhouettes is fairly straight forward. You�ll need to point your camera at the lightest portion of sky and set your exposure so this is about +1.7 stops or so. You�ll want the darkest portion of sky to drop out at about -1.7 to -2.0 stops and the area around the silhouette to be about medium brightness (0.0). If the sky is even tonality (like the photo of the moon and rock), then set your exposure so the sky is medium brightness (0.0).

Digital Tidbits: Preparing Your Images for Online Printing

There are more and more questions coming up these days from folks who are printing their images online at commercial labs. Questions like �What color space should I send them in?� or �How do I prepare for resolution and file size?� Since so many people are asking, I thought I�d take a moment to answer some of these questions.

First and foremost, when it comes to getting excellent prints, you need to have excellent camera technique. If your digital files are soft, blurry or underexposed, you will get very poor results from even the best commercial labs.

Many people also ask �how big can I print?� There is no easy answer to this question, but know for a fact that you can get amazing enlargements from 1 megapixel files if your technique is perfect. I routinely get very nice 12�x18� prints from �small� 6MP files and am not afraid to print at 20�x30�. It is true that you can print larger with more pixels; however it really comes back to camera technique and the quality of your digital file. Spend less time worrying about megapixels and more time perfecting your knowledge of exposure, composition and camera technique.

Here are my tips for printing online:
1. Color Space. The vast majority of commercial printing labs use machines that print in the sRGB color space. Make sure to convert your images to this space before you do any significant color work on your computer. This will prevent any surprises that may come from color shifting during the printing process. Also, make sure that you are sending the files as RGB images and not as CMYK images.

2. Calibrate your monitor. One of the most important things you can do to ensure excellent results when printing online is to calibrate your monitor using a colorimeter tool. You can buy these tools from many companies and they all work pretty much the same way. I currently use a Monaco Optix XR to calibrate my monitors.

3. Brightness/contrast. Fix exposure, brightness and contrast as your first Photoshop step. Use Levels or Curves and/or Shadows & Highlights tools to make sure exposure is perfect.

4. Fix Colors. If your colors need to be fixed, then now is the time to do it. I like to do my color correction using the Curves tool in Photoshop, however there are lots of other ways to do it such as using �Auto Color� or �Auto Levels�.

5. Blemishes. Repair blemishes such as dust, zits and imperfections with Clone Stamp or Healing Brush tools. You�ll need to do a good job here, otherwise your mistakes will be magnified when you finally print out at the lab.

6. Size for print. If you are taking images with a modern day digital SLR with at least 3 to 4 MP, then you can just about send your file to the lab with no sizing changes. They have very sophisticated interpolation (resizing) algorithms that do an excellent job of upsizing digital files. I generally just send the lab my file without having re-sized it for output myself (using Photoshop). For example, if I send a file to them from a 6MP camera and ask for a 12�x18� print, I have them do the resizing using their equipment and software. If the lab is using newer printing equipment like a Fuji Frontier or a Noritsu, then their resampling tools are very good. Leave the resizing to them unless they ask you to do it in your computer.

7. Sharpening. Just about every digital camera file needs to be sharpened and this should always be the final step before saving your file for print. If you are using Photoshop USM (unsharp mask), then use a fairly subtle amount of sharpening to do the job. Somewhere around 100%, 1px and a threshold of 1 or 2 is a good start for portraits. 150%, 1px and 1 threshold is more appropriate for detailed scenes and landscapes. Note that some laboratories ask that you don�t do any sharpening. If this is the case, then skip this step because they know how to properly sharpen for their own print output. 8. Saving Files. In general, you�ll need to send the laboratory either a JPEG or a TIFF file. I have found very little improvement by sending TIFFs, so I always opt to send my files as JPEGs. This also helps with my productivity since JPEGs are much smaller than TIFFs and take much less time to upload. When saving JPEGs, make sure to format them as 8 bit files and save them as the highest quality file possible (i.e. �quality 12� in Photoshop).

9. Uploading. Most labs have a very easy web user interface for uploading your images. This process can take a long time if you don�t have a fast internet connection. Most digital files you send them will range in size from 2 MB to 50 MB, so your downloading step can take anywhere from 1 minute to multiple hours. Another alternative is to burn your images to a CD-ROM and then deliver it to the lab. Obviously, this removes the convenience of �online� printing.

10. Auto Correct. If you have gone through the process of calibrating your monitor and you�ve also spent a fair amount of time correcting colors, then make sure to turn off the auto color correction feature during the order sequence. Most online printing houses have a check box on the order screen that says �Turn autocorrect off� or something along those lines. Please do this, or the lab will apply its own color correction to your digital images.

Make sure to test your lab by making prints before you finally commit to a large order. This is always a good idea for a number of reasons. First of all, your monitor may be out of calibration and you�ll receive bad results. Second, your lab may be producing poor results and you might just need to fire them and find another lab that actually produces consistent results.

Not all labs are consistent with their products or services. Unfortunately, some labs are staffed by people who just don�t understand printing or calibration. Here are some good labs that I can personally recommend through my direct experience:
– Pictage ( Excellent results, fantastic service, excellent quality. Very high end prints. They cater primarily to wedding/portrait photographers.
– MPix ( Great results, excellent quality, fairly quick turn around. They seem to cater more towards landscape/travel photographers.
– Costco ( Good results, great prices, very fast turn around. Not designed to be �high end�, but I�ve never been disappointed. Also, I can have the prints available for pickup at my local Costco in less than an hour or have them mailed to me.
– Photoworks ( Lots of printing options such as cards, photo books and calendars.
– Your local camera lab (i.e. or my local lab The great thing about shopping at the local camera lab is that you can speak face-to-face with someone who knows the process very well. Most local labs will also mail your prints to you.

Workshop Updates:

The Art of Travel Workshops
Want to learn how to take great travel photos? Attend the Art of Travel Workshop this September. Our premier Art of Travel workshop will be located in Mazama, Washington in the North Cascades from September 21st – 24th, 2006. Our focus will be on creating stunning travel photos in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We’ll be staying at the beautiful Mazama Country Inn ( and will divide our time between classroom study and outdoor photography field sessions. We�ll cover digital workflow, field photography techniques, printing methods, and much, much more. Go here for more details:

Nikonians Workshops
Our 2006 Nikonians workshops are more popular than ever. The workshops we held in Houston and Dallas were great fun. Sign up now while there is still space available because many have already sold out. We’ll be offering four different workshops in major cities throughout the USA. To sign up for a workshop, follow this link: Our workshop offerings will be:
– Photoshop for Photographers
– Nikon Capture
– Nikon D70
– iTTL Flash system.

The dates and cities will be:

May 25-28 Ft. Lauderdale
Jun 8-11 Phoenix
Jul 20-23 Vancouver BC
Jul 27-30 Seattle
Oct 5-8 New York
Oct 12-15 Philadelphia
Oct 19-22 Washington DC (at Penn Camera)
Nov 2-5 Chicago area

Photoshop Workshops
Our next Photoshop workshops will be in Seattle during September 7th – 9th. These workshops are a great way to learn Photoshop while using practical, real world examples that photographers face each day. We have three levels of Photoshop instruction � Photoshop I, II, and III. Take them one at a time or take them as a group of two or more and get a 10% discount. Go here for more information: (Note: If you can�t make the Seattle/Portland workshops, then you might check out our Nikonians Photoshop workshops around the country at

Nikon D200 Workshops
We�ll be offering workshops on this camera beginning on June 3rd, 2006 and extending into 2007. This new digital camera from Nikon is a fantastic professional system. Its image quality is superb and it has an unparalleled feature set for the price. Nikon has truly hit a home run with the D200. Come to our workshop to learn all the important features so you can optimize its performance to your shooting style. Follow this link for more information:

Nikon D70 Workshops
The Nikon D70 and D70s cameras continue to be big sellers and so we continue to run these very popular workshops through 2006. We offer two days of training on the D70: a D70 Level I workshop and an Advanced D70 workshop. Updated schedules and course outlines are posted here:

Digital Workflow
These workshops cover topics that every digital photographer struggles with. Questions such as how to manage those thousands of digital photos, how to profile and calibrate your system and how to automate your workflow so you don’t spend so much time at your computer. This workshop provides great “nuts and bolts” tutorials in a hands-on environment to make sure you learn the topics. We�ve just entered into an agreement with iView Media to provide their new digital asset management software at a reduced price. I guarantee you’ll enjoy this day of learning. Go here for more details:

Nikon iTTL Flash Workshops
If you’ve ever been frustrated trying to get your flash photography to look natural, then you need to attend this workshop. We spend all day learning the ins and outs of the Nikon’s SB600 and SB800 flashes. You’ll never again have to struggle with these flashes. More info at:

Nikon D2X/D2Hs
Nikon’s flagship cameras are marvels of engineering and capable of amazing results. We have created these two-day workshops to cater to those of you looking for professional level instruction on these incredible cameras. Learn how to use the outstanding white balance capabilities, multiple exposures, in-camera photo overlays and its lightning fast autofocus system during this feature packed two-day event. More info is posted here:

Private Tutoring
Each month, more and more of you are signing up for private workshops. These are becoming very popular and are an affordable way for you to learn specifically what you want to learn in a one-on-one environment. During these sessions, we are able to work specifically on your own photographic needs and at your own pace. Available topics are Studio Lighting, Nature Photography, Wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, digital workflow, flash photography, portraiture, etc. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (360) 750-1103 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.

I hope this newsletter has helped you take better photographs and that it provides some motivation for you to try new things. Keep photographing and feel free to send me your comments, emails and questions. I�m always happy to help.

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Out There Images – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
[email protected]

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