– Stuff I Like This Month
– June GOAL Assignment: Odd vs. Even
– Photo Techniques: Autofocus Tracking for Animals in Tall Grass
– Digital Tidbits: Three Methods for Post-Processing Greens
– Photo Techniques: Exposing for Pinpoint Stars Over a Landscape
– Workshop and Business Updates
For those of you in the northern hemisphere, summer is now in full swing and the travel season is upon us. To celebrate summer, my hope is that you have your cameras out in force and are working to create beautiful images. To support you in your endeavor, I have written a number of articles this month aimed at helping you achieve better outdoor images. The three main articles include one on autofocus for wildlife photography, a second on processing images to achieve beautiful green colors and the third on techniques to capture pinpoint stars in your landscape images.
Our summer photo adventure trips to Iceland and Galapagos are sold out, and we are in the midst of selling positions for Fall 2014 trips to Cuba and Tanzania. We still have seats available for our Cuba trip in October and our Tanzania photo safari in November.
I’ve completed the new camera setup guides for the Nikon D4S and Nikon D800 cameras. The D800/D800E set up guide covers new firmware version 1.10. Download your own free PDF copy or purchase a laminated card from this link: Nikon D800 and D4s Setup Guides.
Also, be sure to check out the blog post: What the New Nikon D800 Firmware Update Means for Your Photography.
Be sure to check out our YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/user/MikeHagenPhoto
We’ve been posting new videos regularly and will continue to do so over the remainder of the year. Our current six-part video series is all about gear for getting your camera low to the ground using products like the Kirk Low Pod, Kirk Window Pod, mini-tripods, and the Joby Gorilla Pod.
Stuff I Like This Month
June GOAL Assignment: Odd vs. Even
Photo Techniques: Autofocus Tracking for Animals in Tall Grass
Digital Tidbits: Three Methods for Post-Processing Greens
Photo Techniques: Exposing for Pinpoint Stars Over a Landscape
Workshop and Business Updates
1. Nikon just released the new D810, which is an update to their very popular and excellent D800/D800E camera. The D810 has quite a few new features such as improved video capability, higher ISO range (64-51,200), a new EXPEED 4 image processor and a new RAW Size S image format. Check out our blog for full coverage on the D810 here: Nikon D810 – Visual Adventures Blog.
2. Everybody likes to see masterful work and Clyde Butcher is one of the greats. His large format film photography is on par with the greatest landscape photographers of all time. If you haven’t seen his work yet, the take a few minutes to visit his website at www.clydebutcher.com.
3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an online collection of 396,000 records. I recommend checking out their artists section to gain a better understand of the great portraitists. To start, check out the Rembrandt collection with over 400 of his paintings and drawings here: Rembrandt Works at MMA
4. I’m always on the search for great learning resources. Check out What Digital Camera, the world’s oldest digital camera magazine. They have reviews, videos, galleries, etc. www.whatdigitalcamera.com. Their YouTube channel is here: What Digital Camera YouTube Channel
5. Photoshop CC (2014) is the 15th version of this powerhouse software. The product was publically released on June 18, 2014. Very cool upgrades such as focus area selection, content-aware adaptation, live font previews, improved smart objects, new filters (spin blur, path blur), improved smart guides, improved layer comps. Here’s a great video from Terry White on what’s new in Photoshop CC (2014).
June’s GOAL (Get Out And Learn) photo assignment is to better understand how even or odd arrangements impact your composition. Most photographers and artists agree that including odd numbers of subjects make for better compositions, but I want you to prove it to yourself. This month’s GOAL assignment is to create photos with two, three, four and/or five main subjects.
For example, you could photograph a bouquet of three flowers then take another composition including four flowers. When finished pay attention to the overall composition and decide what looks better to your own artistic eye. I have a feeling you’ll agree that odd generally looks better than even.
One of the most difficult things to do in wildlife photography is to track a moving animal through tall grass. We run into this situation all the time on our wildlife photo adventures in places like Tanzania or the Galapagos Islands. For example, imagine a scenario where you are tracking a cheetah on the Serengeti plains. You begin focusing on the animal as it walks from left to right, then it passes behind a clump of grass. At this point, your autofocus system jumps to the grass. When the cheetah pops out from the other side of the grass, the autofocus system has to reacquire focus on the cheetah and often misses focus for a brief seconds. Invariably, this is when the cheetah turns its head right at the camera and bares its fangs! In the end, you get a blurry shot of a fanged cheetah. Not good.
This situation is so common that camera manufacturers like Nikon and Canon have advanced settings that give their cameras the ability to focus while ignoring possible obstacles in the way of the subject. Both companies have a number of menu and autofocus settings designed specifically for this scenario, so let me show you how to make this work in the real world.
For the Canon camera user, the first step is to go into your menu and choose AI Servo AF Characteristics. Next, pick the option that says Case 2: Continue to track subjects ignoring possible obstacles.
For the Nikon camera user, you’ll need to access the Custom Settings Menu titled Focus tracking with lock-on. Once in the menu, choose Long Delay, which is the best setting for shooting in scenarios with potential obstacles.
After programming these menu items set for your Canon and Nikon camera, the next step is to set your camera for continuous servo autofocus. On the Canon camera this is AI Servo and on the Nikon camera this is AF-C.
Now that you are in continuous focus mode, you’ll need to keep your focus button depressed for the duration of the animal movement. For clarity, the focus button might be your shutter release button or your camera’s AF-ON button. Either one of these will activate focus.
I have found over the years that a typical autofocus system needs about one to 1.5 seconds of time to lock on to the moving subject. Then, as long as you keep the autofocus button depressed, the camera will be able to track the subject as the blades of grass or other obstacles pass on by.
If the obstacle remains in front of the animal for 1.5 to 2 seconds, then the system will forget the animal and now stay on the obstacle/grass. Keep in mind though that 1.5 to 2 seconds is an eternity in these situations, so you’ll very rarely have a problem with maintaining focus on the animal.
The opposite of setting your camera’s autofocus this way is to turn the autofocus delay off. In this case, your camera will instantly jump focus to the object closest to the lens, which is probably a blade of grass. Of course this will result in in out-of-focus cheetah and in-focus grass – not the result you are after.
1. Set menu for focus tracking – long delay/ignore obstacles
2. Set focus for continuous servo – AF-C/AI-servo
3. Start tracking focus for at least 1.5 seconds before animal enters grass area
4. Keep pressing shutter/AF-ON button as animal moves through grass
5. Take photos at any point in process
Now you’re ready to take a wildlife photo adventure!
For most photographs of nature, the color green is essential to the overall impact and believability of the image. If the greens look good, then the rest of the photo is believable. If the greens are oversaturated or under saturated, then viewers will suspect something has been done to artificially enhance the color and will write the image off as “photoshopped.”
Back in the film days Fuji was known for incredible greens in their slide film Velvia. Nature photographers came to love this film and it became the defacto standard for the way greens should look in nature photography. Because of the way this film impacted my photography, I work to re-create that look in modern software during my post processing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
I want to show you three ways for achieving believable greens using a variety of software tools. The first method is using the Lightroom 5 brush tool, the second method is using the Lightroom 5 HSL targeted adjustment tool (TAT) tool, and the third being Nik Color Efex pro 4 Foliage Enhancer.
One of the most powerful tools in Lightroom 5 is the brush tool. To access this tool go to the Develop module and click on the brush tool icon just above the Basic pane. Another way to access the tool is by typing the letter K on your keyboard (I don’t know whey they used K either). Once you’ve opened up the brush tool dialogue, make sure that you zero out all the sliders. The best way to do this is to double-click on the word “Effect,” which automatically zeros all sliders in the panel.
Now, set your brush size so that it covers an appropriately sized area of your photograph. I like to set my feather to 100 for most of my work, but will adjust my feather downwards to 50 or zero when I need to be more accurate with the edge of my brush. A feather setting of 100 results in a soft-edged brush while a feather setting of 0 results in a hard-edged brush.
Paint over the photo in the green areas by clicking the mouse and dragging it across the specific regions you want to affect. Be sure to turn on Auto Mask by clicking in the check box next to the word Auto Mask near the bottom of the brush panel. As long as you keep the center of the brush (plus symbol) over the green sections, then Lightroom will do a pretty good job of not spilling the adjustment over into the other regions nearby.
Once you get pretty close to the end of your painting session, type the letter O on your keyboard to show the red overlay. This shows you what you have painted and what you haven’t painted. To get rid of the red overlay, type the letter O again. It is colored red to help you see what area is being impacted.
The next step is to increase the saturation slider. Starting out, I like to set the saturation relatively high so I can easily see where my adjustment is impacting the image. After I’ve completed my painted selection, then I will readjust the saturation slider until the colors look natural. Keep in mind that it is easy to go overboard with the saturation slider since this is a very aggressive tool. You’ll probably find that your final setting will most likely be in the +10 to +20 range.
If you find that the saturation slider doesn’t make your greens pop the way you want them to, then go up to the tint slider and adjust it towards the left into the green range. Any slider adjustment you make in the brush tool will impact your painted area. So, you can also increase the brightness or adjust the highlights/shadows while the brush tool is still active.
Once you’re finished with the adjustment brush, then click on the Close button at the lower right corner of the pane.
The HSL tool is one of the least-used tools in Lightroom. HSL stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminance. For this example I will use the saturation portion of the HSL to make most of my adjustments. The neat thing about this tool is that it allows you to pick a specific color range without impacting other colors in the image.
Even if people do use the HSL sliders, they very rarely understand that there is a specialized tool here that allows you to specifically pick a color with your mouse and adjust only that color range in the photograph. This tool is called the targeted adjustment tool, otherwise known as the TAT. Without using the TAT, you’re often trying to guess the exact color range to modify. For adjusting greens, many people don’t know that proper adjustment also requires a subtle dose of yellow to make them look natural. That’s where the TAT comes in; it automatically picks the color sliders you need for the adjustment.
Using the tool is very simple and straightforward. Simply click on the small circular button in the upper left corner of the HSL pane. Now the TAT is active. Bring your mouse over to the photograph and click down on the color range you want to modify (i.e. the green grass). With the mouse still clicked, move your mouse upwards to increase the saturation or downward to decreased saturation. Keep in mind that all the colors in the photograph that are similar to the colors you first click on will also be impacted. This is true even if the colors are in the lower part of the frame are the same as those that you clicked on in the upper part of the frame.
If you are feeling confident about using the TAT with the Saturation sliders, then go ahead and work with the Luminance sliders in the same way. Luminance will impact the brightness of the colors separately from the saturation of the colors. I generally stay away from the Hue sliders, but they can be helpful if you want to bias the colors towards another color. For example, perhaps your greens look too yellow or too brown, then you’ll use the Hue adjustment to bias them back towards green.
When you’re finished adjusting the TAT, click on the Done button at the bottom of the picture in your toolbar.
The third method I want to show for adjusting greens is using a software plug-in specifically designed for foliage. One of my favorite plug-ins is called Nik Color Efex Pro 4 and inside of this excellent program is a filter called “Foliage.” The filter itself is very simple with only two adjustment options. Even though it is simple, it is very effective.
The first adjustment option is to choose the Method and in this case the method asks you to choose the hue of green you want to apply to the image. The pull-down menu that has three method types with the first being somewhat yellow, the second being a bit more green and the third being very green. For most foliage, I really like the third choice since I find that greens with too much yellow in them don’t look so great.
The second adjustment option you’ll make is adjusting the “Enhance Foliage” slider. Adjusting this is very straightforward as the numerical values ranges from 0% to 100%. I suggest starting out at 50%, then moving the slider right and left until you find a color that seems natural. Keep in mind it is very easy to overdo greens, so what I often do is move the slider until I like the color saturation, then pull it just a bit to tone it down. Remember that you don’t want the photograph to look like Disneyland, rather you want it to look natural and believable.
After you’ve adjusted the Method slider and the Enhance Foliage slider, you can use also use a control point to selectively apply the adjustment to regions of the photograph. The control point technology is one of the reasons I love using Nik Software products since it allows me to very easily and quickly apply adjustments to specific areas of the photograph.
When finished adjusting the foliage in the image, click on the Save button to close the plug-in and add the image back into your Lightroom library.
So there you have it. Three ways to produce believable green colors in your outdoor photographs. Give these methods a try and see which one you like best. The most important thing is to remember to not overdo the saturation. If you keep the greens believable, then most people will believe the photograph has been represented honestly.
There is a sweet spot in time every day where magic happens between the sky and the landscape. It is at this point where a photographer can make an exposure that shows pinpoint stars in the sky as well as details in the landscape.
Trying to capture detail in both the landscape and the stars can be difficult, but from about one hour before sunrise to approximately 30 minutes before sunrise there is a sweet spot that allows you to capture enough information in both areas to produce a stunning final image. The process involves great exposure control while you are in the field, and a fairly good knowledge of post-processing techniques back at your computer. Using a camera that allows you to shoot RAW files will greatly help, since you’ll need to pull out shadow detail using software once you get back to your office.
Here are the basic steps in a checklist format. Take a copy of this into the field for you to use on your next star photography adventure. I’ll go through each of these steps in more detail below.
1. Start shooting one hour before sunrise.
2. Use a sturdy tripod.
3. Compose an interesting foreground.
4. Focus at infinity.
5. Use manual exposure.
6. Set shutter speed = 500/focal length.
7. Set aperture f/1.4 or f/2.8
8. Set ISO = 1600, 3200 or higher.
9. Check your exposure. Adjust ISO if you need more or less light.
If you are photographing in the morning, then be sure to be in position for your photographs at least one hour before sunrise. If photographing after sunset, then you’ll start shooting just after civil twilight. Photographing when it is darker will yield an inky-black landscape where you’ll only be able to see silhouettes. Photographing when it is lighter means that you won’t see the stars because the sky is too bright.
As you’ll see in the exposure discussion below, your shutter speeds will likely be 10 seconds long or more. The only way to ensure sharp images is by using a tripod. Use a sturdy tripod. I really like the Gitzo and Really Right Stuff carbon fiber tripods for their combination of strength and lightweight design.
The goal of including the landscape in your star photographs is to show the interplay between the heavens and earth. Therefore, put a good amount of effort into finding a suitable foreground element. Try to think like a traditional landscape photographer who is composing for foreground, middle ground and the background.
Most landscape photographers use a small aperture like f/16 to maximize depth of field. After setting the small aperture, they focus at the hyperfocal distance or about 1/3 of the way into the scene. In our scenario of shooting stars, however there are two issues conspiring against the traditional hyperfocal focusing method. First, you’ll be shooting at a big aperture like f/1.8 or f/2.8. Second, you need to make sure the stars are crisp. Since f/2.8 won’t allow for much depth of field, your best option is to focus on the stars and not worry so much about the foreground.
You can do this by setting your focus manually, then turning off autofocus before actually taking the shot. This will prevent the camera from re-focusing when taking subsequent shots. In short, set the lens’ focus to infinity and leave it there.
Shooting in auto or aperture priority mode won’t cut it for your star photography. Rather, you’ll want to set your camera in manual exposure mode so you have full control over all three parameters of your exposure: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.
The key to getting good pinpoints of stars is to set your shutter speed so it is long enough for the stars to register, but not so long that the stars blur in the sky from the earth’s rotation. The wider angle your lens, the longer your exposure can be while still allowing the stars to look like pin points. A good rule of thumb for you to use is something called the 500 rule. Divide the number 500 by the focal length of the lens you are using to get the appropriate shutter speed. For example, if you are using a 50 mm lens, then 500/50 = 10. Your shutter speed would be 10 seconds. For a 14mm lens, you can use a shutter speed up to 36 seconds.
This shutter speed represents the longest period of time you’ll be able to use so the stars don’t look blurry. The 500 rule of thumb works for a full-frame camera, so if you have cropped sensor camera like an APS-C or a Micro 4/3, then you’ll need to multiply your lens by the crop factor before you run the calculation. So, a 24mm on an APS-C camera like the Nikon D7100 or Canon 70D would be equivalent to a 36mm lens. Then, your calculation would be 500/36 = 14 seconds.
In general, I’ve found that shutter speeds from 10 to 20 seconds at f/2.8 or bigger work very well for these types of photographs.
Bigger apertures allow more light into the camera and are necessary for this type of photography. Just shooting at f/2.8 versus f/4 can reduce your shutter speed from 30 seconds to 15 seconds. Many lenses produce soft images when they are wide open, so stopping them down even just a little bit will dramatically improve the overall clarity of your shot. For example, if you are using a f/1.4 lens, then stopping it down to f/1.8 or f/2.0 will make a big difference in sharpness without severely impacting your shutter speed.
Don’t be afraid of high ISO values, especially with the newer cameras. Full frame cameras really excel at ISOs above 1600 and I now regularly shoot at ISO 3200, 6400 and higher. If you do find the noise from the higher noise objectionable, then keep in mind that noise reduction algorithms in programs like Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw do a fantastic job of cleaning up images. Don’t forget to turn off auto ISO. You’ll want to make sure your ISO values are fixed.
The best way to judge your exposure for these types of shots is to look at the resulting image on your camera’s screen. If the stars are registering and you are able to still see a bit of detail in the landscape, then you’ve achieved your goal. If the stars are dark, then increase ISO to brighten the image. If the sky is blown out, then decrease ISO. In your camera, the photograph is going to look a bit dark overall, but you’ll be able to pull out detail in Lightroom or Photoshop back at your computer.
Newer cameras from Nikon and Canon have a very impressive dynamic range that allow you to pull out shadow detail while simultaneously holding detail in the highlights. This is especially true if you shoot RAW since there is so much more data available in a RAW file over a JPG file.
Your goal in post processing is to these three things:
a. Reveal details in the dark landscape. Do this with the shadow slider or with a graduated filter (Lightroom).
b. Make the stars pop from the sky. Do this by adjusting your highlights or whites slider. Also, you can add some contrast to the sky to help the stars stand out.
c. Manage your colors so they look natural. Sometimes getting the proper white balance can be troublesome I generally use something between 4600K and 5400K.
So, that’s what you need to know about creating landscape photographs that include pin-point stars. Your job is to get out there and do it for yourself. I’d love to see your results, so be sure to send me a link with your own star photographs.
We keep adding new trips and workshops across the world including our newest adventures India and Iceland. Read below for more information.
Our 2014 trip to Tanzania is going to be better than ever with an optimized travel schedule aimed at allowing us even more time to photograph wildlife in the field. This year’s Tanzanian photo safari is scheduled for November 4 – 15, 2014. Join us for a wildlife photography adventure you’ll never forget.
Here’s the link for more information: Tanzania Photo Safari
Iceland Birds and Landscapes Photo Adventure – Summer 2014 (SOLD OUT)
I’ll be working again with photographer Tim Vollmer to bring together a beautiful photo tour of the Land of Fire and Ice. Last year’s adventure was epic and I can’t wait to return to the land of fire and ice.
More information here: Iceland Birds and Landscapes
Cuba Photo Adventure Trip
Join us to photograph the relics of old Cuba before it transitions to the modern western influence. Our trip will operate on the official People to People visa created by the US Department of Commerce. This allows USA citizens a legal way to enter Cuba and experience the culture. We’ll be photographing every single day in areas ranging from the city of Havana to the rural Vinales.
More information here: Cuba Cultural Photo Adventure Trip
Northern India Tea, Landscape and Wildlife Photo Adventure
Trip dates April 29 – May 11, 2015
Join Mike Hagen and Tim Vollmer on a photo excursion to Northern India that you’ll never forget. We’ve timed our adventure to coincide with the tea harvest in Sikkim where we’ll be creating compelling images in the beautiful tea country highlands of colorful locals harvesting tea, sprawling tea plantations and verdant hills. The Kanchenjunga and Himalayan mountain ranges loom large and will provide stunning backdrops for many of our scenes. We will also be going to a wildlife sanctuary known for its population of rhinoceros, elephant, leopard and bison.
More information here: India Tea, Landscape and Wildlife – 2015
Galapagos Photography Adventure (2014 Trip SOLD OUT)
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most amazing wildlife sanctuaries on planet earth. Join us as we photograph incredible animals while traveling on our own privately-chartered expedition yacht. This is a trip on just about every photographer’s bucket list.
More information here: Galapagos Wildlife Photo Adventure
Iceland in Winter – February 2015
Winter in Iceland is an incredible feast for the eyes. Stunning ice formations, glacial caves and icebergs resting on black sand beaches make for an image-maker’s dream. Our tour focuses on Iceland’s most impressive landscapes, waterfalls and natural features. It is going to be cold, but it will be worth it!
More information here: Iceland in Winter
Masters Series Workshops
We’ve added new Masters series workshops to the Nikonians Academy schedule to help photographers get the most out of their cameras, software and accessories. Our workshops run in cities all around North America and Europe. We hope to bring them to a city near you very soon. This year’s workshops cover:
• Nikon D600/D610
• Nikon D7000/D7100
• Nikon D4/D4s
• Nikon D800/D800E
• Nikon Df
• iTTL Wireless Flash
• Lightroom 5
Sign up for the workshops here: Nikonians Academy
Mike Hagen’s Books
Our how-to books continue to sell well and are designed to help photographers excel at their craft. More information here: http://visadventures.com/shop/category/photo-books/
– Thousands of Images, Now What?
– The Nikon Creative Lighting System, Using the SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, and R1C1 Flashes
– Nikon Capture NX2, After the Shoot (Sold out, but available in eBook format)
Nikon Camera Setup Guides
If you are looking for information on how to set up your Nikon camera, then check out our Nikon Camera Setup Guides here: http://visadventures.com/shop/category/camera-setup-guides/
Our Visual Adventures website www.VisAdventures.com is the new hub of our business operation. You’ll find links to everything we do including our books, workshops, products, newsletter, blog and photo galleries. For now, our previous website www.outthereimages.com will stay put in its present form, but we won’t be adding new content there.
I frequently put together private trips for groups of photographers who want specialized instruction or guidance. For example, we recently put together a private trip for a small group of people to Tanzania.
If you have a group and want to arrange a custom photo trip to a destination, contact us and we’ll put together an incredible itinerary just for you. Our custom photo adventures are for people all around the world on topics ranging from nature photography, landscape photography, urban photography, location portraits, and just about anything else you can imagine. Simply email or call and we’ll give you all the details for how to go about creating the trip of your dreams.
Every 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 5, Photoshop CC, Aperture, Capture NX2, wedding photography, 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.
If you have questions about private tutoring or business consulting, call (253) 851-9054 or visit our site here: http://visadventures.com/services/private-travel-tours/ .
Thanks for taking the time to read this month’s newsletter. Feel free to write or contact us if you have questions about our trips or articles.
If you are looking for more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out http://VisAdventures.com/blog/ for regular updates, news, tips and commentary. Also, I encourage you to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.