This is a great time to be in the world of photography. In fact, I�m more enthusiastic about photography than I�ve ever been. Camera manufacturers are outdoing themselves all the time with gear that is faster, easier to use and less expensive. Nikon has just announced a new camera called the D7000 that epitomizes this perfectly. 16MP, ISO 25,600, 1080p HD video, 14-bit RAW and six frames per second. All in a small, portable body that will retail for just $1,200. Just a few short years ago, I (painfully) recall spending $5,000 for my D2X that wouldn�t have been able to compete with this new D7000. Amazing. I�m really looking forward to putting a D7000 through its paces.
I�ve had a very busy fall season of running photography workshops around the USA. I�ve just returned from two weeks of Nikonians Academy workshops in New York and Washington DC. I met some wonderful new people, went out to dinner with some new friends and generally enjoyed the hospitality of the east coast folks!
I leave for Tanzania on November 1st, 2010 for a photo safari to capture some of this planet�s most compelling landscapes and wildlife. The workshop is sold out and we are going to have an incredible journey. We�ll be going to Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, Lake Manyara National Park, Arusha NP and Tarangire National Park. I can�t wait to photograph the cheetah, lion, leopard, zebra, giraffe, elephant, etc.
While I�m there, I have an entire list of photographs that I want to add to my files. I�ll be challenging myself to find new ways to capture the animals and landscapes in compelling and interesting compositions. One of my specific goals is to capture an image with a line of wildebeest at sunset, silhouetted beneath a lone acacia tree. I have two weeks to get the shot and I�m going to work hard to accomplish it. I�ve also encouraged my workshop participants to write down their own personal shot lists as well. I want everyone who goes on the trip to strive for something more than a standard image of a giraffe or a tree. Each day our group will be working on composition, creativity and capturing the drama of Africa.
If you are thinking of going to Tanzania with us in 2011, then don�t wait too long to decide. Next year�s photo safari is already 30% full. You can find information on our future trips at this Nikonians Acacdemy Link
Think Tank Bag Giveaway for November
That�s right. We are giving away a brand new Think Tank Airport Airstream during the month of November! To enter, all you need to do is make sure that you are on our newsletter mailing list before November 30th, 2010. If you are already on our mailing list, then you are automatically entered into the contest. Tell your friends and family that they can also join our mailing list from this link:
Here�s a link to Think Tank�s website to find more information on the bag:
On November 30th, we will randomly draw one person�s email address from our mailing list using a random number generator. Once we�ve chosen the lucky winner, then we�ll send out the bag anywhere in the world.
While I�m at it, I should also let you know that we have a special discount code for people those of you who want to buy your own Think Tank gear. The secret code is: WS-015. If you enter this code when you purchase a bag from Think Tank, you�ll receive another free bag. Alternatively, you can click on this link to directly access the code: www.thinktankphoto.com/?code=WS-015
October GOAL Assignment: Shoot at Night with Ambient Light
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment for last month was to take some shots at night while only using ambient light. I didn�t want you to use accessory flash or lighting equipment to augment your scene; rather, I wanted you to limit yourself to the city lights, the starlight or moonlight.
Creating compelling photographs at night is one of the most difficult things you can do as a photographer. It seems like everything conspires against us: long shutter speeds, difficult white balance, correct exposure, dynamic range and composition. Since shooting at night is so difficult, many people just don�t do it. They�ve tried it once or twice and ended up getting photographs that look like they were taken in a dungeon. So, they decide that they will leave night photography to some other brave soul to tackle.
I�m here to tell you that you CAN take great photographs at night. As long as you understand the fundamental issues, you can easily overcome them with a little planning and preparation. So, let�s go through the major issues one by one and talk about the strategies for overcoming them.
Long Shutter Speeds
Obviously, if you are photographing at night, then the overall light level is very low. In order to get a usable picture, you�ll need to use a long-ish shutter speed. My night photographs range in shutter speeds from about 1/15 second all the way down to 30 seconds. To counter these long shutter speeds I have to support the camera with a tripod or some other method. If I don�t have a tripod with me then I brace the camera against a wall or lean against a nearby tree. For example, in the photos of Rockville Town Square, to the left, I braced my camera against a tree.
Another way to fight the longer shutter speeds is to use a higher ISO setting. If I�m left with no other option other than to handhold my camera for a photograph, then I will happily set my camera to ISO 3200 or ISO 6400. For city scenes, this means that I can often get my shutter speed up to about 1/30 second. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend that you keep your ISO as low as possible in order to avoid noise; typically ISO 200.
As a side note, I get tons of questions asking me which tripod to buy. My answer to everyone is to get the Gitzo 6X tripods (www.photoproshop.com) or the Really Right Stuff Versa Tripod (www.reallyrightstuff.com).
Many people who attempt to take photographs at night blindly trust their camera�s matrix meter. One of the �benefits� of the matrix metering system is that it is designed to prevent overexposing the highlights in a scene. As a consequence, bright lights such as street lamps or automobile headlights will cause your light meter to dramatically underexpose the scene, which is why so many people�s night photos look like they were taken in a dungeon.
The remedy for this is to automatically add exposure compensation. I find that if I�m including street lights in the photo itself, then I need to add at least one stop of light to get a usable photograph. Many times, I need to add 1.3 or even 2.0 stops to make a photo work. For example, look at the images of Rockville Town Squareagain to the left. The first image was taken with the camera�s exposure meter set to 0.0. The second image was set for an exposure compensation of +1.0. Quite an amazing difference, isn�t it? The first image is black and devoid of detail. The second image shows the bricks on the street and even the blue of the early morning sky.
When you add exposure compensation for scenes like these, don�t worry about blowing out the details in the lights themselves. Your viewers won�t care if they can�t see details in the lights, but they will care that they couldn�t see detail in the shadows if you had underexposed the photo.
Large Areas of Blackness
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your night photographs is to include large areas of blackness. When you view a dark scene with your own eyes, you can easily make out details in the shadows. That�s what makes the human eye so amazing. However, your camera doesn�t do a very good job of capturing details in the shadows, and these areas always turn completely black in the photo.
It is common for people to include big sections of blackness without thinking about it, only to later look at their photos with disappointment. So, fill that area of blackness with something interesting! Take a look at the photograph of the boat (left). You can see here that I composed the boat so it was at the upper half of the frame; I did this so that the reflection of the lights would fill the lower (i.e. black) area of the photo. Had I framed the boat so that it was at the bottom, I would have had a big area of black above it, and the photo would be � boring.
The main point here is to �fill the frame with light.� Look for elements that are well illuminated and make them very prominent in the photo. The carnival photo to the left is a good example of this approach. So is the monster truck photo. In both cases, I found things that were brightly lit and filled the frame.
Another solution to filling up the large area of blackness is to include the moon in the photograph. In fact, I think that the moon is one of the better ways to add context to the scene as long as you�ve composed the picture well. You�ll generally want to position the moon over an interesting subject like a city skyline or a freeway so that the moon adds an interesting element to the otherwise boring sky.
Two photos to the left show how I used the moon to fill the sky. The first is a photograph of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge at night. The moon is not just �in� the photo, but it is also backlighting the high cirrus clouds. The long 30 second exposure enhanced the sense of movement as the clouds moved across the sky. The other photo was taken in New Jersey a couple weeks ago outside of my hotel window. I framed the highway below and the moon above to add visually interesting elements in both parts of the frame. Unfortunately, the middle part of the frame still has regions of solid black, but that�s ok. I�ll do better next time!
The color of light at night obviously depends on the main light source. The moon is a totally different color than a street light, which is different than lights from an office building. Your white balance setting should be based on what element in the scene you want to be the main subject.
For example, if you�ve defined a building in the scene to be your main subject, then you should white balance for the light bulbs inside the building. These days, the bulbs used inside most buildings are fluorescent. So, setting the camera�s white balance to fluorescent will cause the building�s lights to turn white, while the other lights in the city will turn different colors (orange, blue, green, etc.). That�s ok. The general rule of thumb with white balance is that as long as your subject has the proper color cast, then everything else is ok.
White balance for shooting in the wilderness at night is completely different. In this case, you are either going to be using the moon or the stars as your main illumination source. Therefore, you�ll need to set your white balance to sunny. That�s right! Sunny. Since the moon reflects light directly from the sun, and that light lands on the Earth, the best WB is sunny or about 5200K. Star light is also sunny WB.
I love shooting landscapes at night because of the seemingly magical results that appear after the long exposures. What initially seems dark and lifeless suddenly comes to life in vibrant color on my camera�s LCD panel! I recommend starting your moon-lit landscape exposures at approximately f5.6, ISO200 and 20 – 30 seconds. If you�re lucky, you�ll also see stars showing up in your dark skies. As long as you keep your ISO settings nice and low, around 200, then you�ll keep your noise to a minimum.
So, now that you have some solutions to overcoming the difficulties of night photography, I want you to get back out there and improve upon last month�s GOAL assignment. Add some exposure compensation, set your white balance properly, fill the frame with light and use a high quality tripod. Then, shoot some totally awesome pics!
November GOAL Assignment: Less is More
As photographers, we often fall into the trap of wanting to show our viewers everything. We think that if we can �just. fit. one. more. thing.� into the photograph, then that will accurately present the entire experience. However, from the viewer�s point of view, a photo can tell more of the story if you include less of the scene. Our photos become more powerful if we limit the view to just the essential elements in the image. Frequently, it is true that less is more when it comes to taking photos.
Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment for December is to take photos that tell the whole story while eliminating everything but the essential elements. In next month�s newsletter, I�ll give lots of tips and techniques for how to do this. No get out there and take some pics!
Digital Tidbits: Panorama Merge to a Single Image HDR
The title of this article sure is a mouthful. I want to show you a technique for creating a panorama image and then bringing it into an HDR program to add drama. I think you�ll like it and I hope every one of you tries it this month.
In late September 2010 I was up in NW Washington State leading a group of intrepid photographers on a photo adventure to the Olympic Peninsula. On one of the days, we journeyed out to Cape Flattery (www.northolympic.com/capeflatterytrail/) which is at the northwestern-most point of mainland USA. It is a beautiful short hike out to the viewpoints and the area is ripe for dramatic photographs of the Pacific Ocean meeting the sea cliffs of Washington.
One of the viewpoints at Cape Flattery overlooks a rugged cove. I wanted to show the expanse of the scene, and realized that the best way to do this was with a panorama. I could have taken the photo with a super-wide lens, but that would have distorted the scene while including too much gray sky. So, I put on my 24-70mm lens and shot a little bit tighter with my Nikon D700 and Gitzo tripod. I rotated the camera vertically and planned to take about 11 frames for the panorama sequence.
I also knew that this scene was going to test the limits of my camera�s sensor because of the large brightness difference between the sky and the rocks. To combat this, I metered for the brightest element in the scene and set my exposure so that it was no more than about 2 stops brighter (+2.0) than medium brightness (0.0). I did this by spot metering on the clouds and making sure that my exposure didn�t extend beyond the second tick mark on my camera�s exposure meter. Each main tick mark on the exposure readout equals one stop.
Once I was happy with my exposure, I locked the value by setting the camera to Manual exposure at f/8 and 1/80 second. I also fixed my white balance at a single value so that it wouldn�t change from picture to picture throughout the scene. For this image, I used cloudy white balance, about 6000K.
The next step was to take a bunch of frames from left to right to capture the width of the scene. I set my lens� zoom to 24mm and checked to make sure that my tripod head was completely level. As I took the images, I overlapped each frame by about 30% to 50% to allow the stitching software lots of extra information to make the panorama.
Once back home to my office, I loaded the 11 photographs into Adobe Camera Raw and did a little bit of image improvement in the form of highlight and shadow protection. The highlight protection was used to push back some details in the clouds while the shadow protection was used to pull out details in the trees and rocks. In ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), I used the Synchronize button to apply my settings to all the images simultaneously. To make this function work, first click on a single photo in the left side of the ACR window and make your changes. Then, click on the Select All button. Then, click on the Synchronize button to apply your settings to all the images in your panorama.
Once the RAW settings were applied, I processed the photographs out of ACR and into Photoshop CS5 as 11 different files. This task was accomplished by clicking on the Open Images button at the bottom of the ACR window. Clicking this button opens each RAW file into Photoshop as separate images.
Now, inside Photoshop, I selected File –> Automate –> Photomerge� which activates the panorama stitching program in Photoshop and brings up a new dialog window. The first step was to click the Add Open Files button. Next, I chose the appropriate layout option. Sometimes Auto works well, other times Perspective works well. For this image, I chose Auto and it came out perfect. At the bottom of the dialog window, I made sure to put a check box in the Blend Images Together option. Once all the options were checked, I clicked the OK button.
After a couple minutes of processing, the computer completed the action and left me with a panorama file with 11 layers. I had to repair some minor mistakes in the sky by using the Spot Healing Brush. Then, I saved the 11-layer file as a PDF so I could come back to it later if I needed.
The next step was to flatten the file (Layer –> Flatten layers) so I could work on a single image rather than on the 11-layer file. Now that I had a single panorama image, it was time to add some drama so the image to match the way I remembered the scene.
One of the easiest ways to add drama to a single photograph is to process it in a HDR program. Most people think that in order to create an HDR image, you need a series of photographs taken at different exposures. In the case of this panorama, I would have had to take at least three different panoramas at different exposures. That would have meant capturing 33 pictures, merging three panoramas and then bringing them into an HDR program to do the tone mapping. However, I�ve found that if I am able to hold my exposure in the highlights, then I can get a good looking �HDR� image from a single file. That�s what I did with this image. I brought the single image into the HDR program to create the HDR effect.
Over the last few months I�ve been using Nik HDR Efex Pro (www.niksoftware.com/hdrefexpro/usa/entry.php) as my HDR took and I really like the results I�m getting. It is easy to use and produces awesome results. The program works as a plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Since I was already in Photoshop with my Cape Flattery image, I launched HDR Efex Pro by choosing Filter –> Nik Software –> HDR Efex Pro. This action fires up the plug in and immediately brings you into the HDR Efex Pro working environment.
HDR Efex Pro comes pre-programmed with more than 30 presets. I used a landscape preset and then modified it a bit using the custom sliders. About half way through my processing, I found that the image was a bit too dark overall, so I added some brightness using the exposure compensation slider. Of course, adding brightness to the overall scene helped the trees, but caused the clouds to blow out.
To solve the blow-out issue, I dropped a control point into the sky and reduced the exposure locally. This restored the contrast in the clouds and is one of the major benefits of using Nik HDR Efex Pro. It allows you to fine tune your HDR photos locally using their proven and innovative control point technology.
Once I was finished with the photograph, I saved it as a TIFF for output.
Creating this photo required quite a bit of planning as well as a good knowledge of how software can solve some photographic challenges. The end result would have been near impossible even just a few years ago. But with today�s cameras and amazing software from Adobe and Nik, we are able to quickly produce fantastic images of our travels. I encourage you to try this �Panorama Merge to Single Image HDR� technique out for yourself.
Our last workshop of the year is our Photo Safari to Tanzania during the first two weeks of November, 2010. After that, I�ll be on a break from workshops until early 2011. I�ve already posted our first workshop of 2011 for Orlando, Florida for January 20 � 23, 2011. You can find this workshop posted at the Nikonians Academy website. We�ll be posting more workshops in the latter half of November when I return from Africa. Look for news to be posted at the Out There Images blog and on Facebook/Twitter.
Every single month I run private workshops for people who want to learn in a one-on-one environment. These are great for folks who want to focus on specific topics related directly to their interests. Topics have included product photography, learning your camera, Lightroom, Capture NX2, wedding photography, Photoshop, color management, nature photography, digital workflow, macro photography, location portraiture and many others. I also regularly consult with businesses, schools, organizations and museums to assist with their photographic and digital workflow needs.
Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about private tutoring or consulting.
My hope is that you read these newsletters and apply them to your own photography. Each month we work hard to show you techniques that will improve your photography. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again next month! If you need more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out www.outthereimages.com/blog for regular updates, news, tips and commentary.
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
email mike[email protected]