I make a habit of carrying a camera with me just about everywhere I go, especially when heading out on short errands. I love finding new photographic gems in my hometown of Gig Harbor, Washington.
Last week, I headed down to the Post Office to ship some books and took a quick side trip to photograph the Gig Harbor waterfront with my Nikon D750 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. A couple days prior to that, I took a one-hour break from writing to walk across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge with my D750 and 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. In both cases, I decided to create panoramas of the scenes before me.
I’ve been shooting more panoramas lately because I really enjoy the entire process from capture to print. I also love being able to capture the atmosphere of the scene in a way most people don’t normally see. On the technical side, I thoroughly enjoy the discipline it takes to create a good-looking pano. There are a lot of settings and techniques that have to be executed well in order to produce an image that works.
– Exposure control for the darkest and brightest areas of the scene
– Depth of field
– White balance
– Panning technique
– Dealing with subjects that are moving
– Overlap percentage for individual frames
– Lens choice
– Distortion control
– Developing the images in software (Lightroom CC) so all images work together in the final panorama
– Stitching the images together in Lightroom CC or Photoshop CC
– Post-processing the panorama to fix problem areas
– Final presentation and printing
Some panoramas work really well and others are just, well, boring. Sometimes, you don’t know until you’ve gone through all the work and have the final image on your computer screen. In the case of the two images I’ve shown here, I like the image of the boats from downtown Gig Harbor, but don’t really care for the Narrows Bridge image. I think the reason why the Narrows Bridge shot falls flat for me is the clouds lack texture and form. I’ll need to go back on another day when the sky is more dramatic.
Because of my love of panoramas, I have decided to teach a panorama workshop on when I travel to The Woodlands, Texas in April. My partner in crime, Rick Hulbert (http://www.rickhulbertphotography.com), and I are running a series of four different workshops from April 4th – 9th, including one on panorama photography. These workshops are open for all camera users (Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, etc.) and all skill levels.
While in The Woodlands, we are joining The Woodlands Camera Club to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. After their party, we’ll run workshops and photo walks on a variety of topics like autofocus for action, urban and street photography, studio lighting, HDR photography, and more.
You should join us! More information here:
Taking pictures on a bright sunny day presents all kinds of challenges for our photography. One of the biggest issues we find is with white areas because they tend to blowout and lose detail from the bright reflected sun. Shooting images in RAW format will allow you recover some of the lost highlights in software as long as you don’t over expose the scene too much.
I work with a lot of photographers who are afraid of shooting RAW because of the perceived extra workload required to process them in software. I understand this fear, especially for people who have never spent much time working with photographs on their computers. The prospect of learning a program like Lightroom CC from the ground up can be especially daunting.
If your photos are important to you, then I want to encourage you to spend time to learn a RAW processing program like Lightroom CC. This software package and others like it are very capable and aren’t too big to learn as long as you are willing to invest a few hours of your precious time.
One of the most useful tools in Lightroom is the highlight slider. You’ll find this slider in the Develop module and it is designed to help recover highlight detail from over-exposed areas in an image. Take a look at this example photograph of boats at a marina (below). I photographed this a couple weeks ago in my hometown of Gig Harbor Washington on a sunny morning.
The scene appealed to me because of the calm water that produced fascinating reflections of the boats. The second thing I noticed about this scene was a man eating breakfast on the back of his boat while enjoying the morning sun. Using my Nikon D800 and a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I set the camera for matrix metering and took the shot.
When I returned to my computer and downloaded my images, I saw right away that the white areas of the boats appeared to be blown out. In other words, there was limited detail on the white paint because of the brightness of the direct sun. Since I always shoot my images in RAW format, I knew that I would be able to push back some detail into those bright white areas by moving Lightroom’s highlight slider downwards.
The highlight slider is a very advanced tool and does an excellent job with recovering delicate highlight detail. In general, you should feel comfortable moving the slider down to the minimum position (-100) without causing too much visual degradation of the picture. In previous versions of Lightroom, you had to be very careful with the highlights slider because you never knew what would happen to those highlight areas. In some cases, the areas we just turn muddy and you would lose texture in the image. With the new highlight slider in Lightroom 5, 6 and CC, you should feel comfortable moving the slider to just about any position from zero to -100 on the slider scale. There are some photos where adjusting the slider to -80 or -90 doesn’t look good, but you’ll be able quickly see where the photo starts to break down and then you can re-adjust the slider appropriately. My general approach is to move the slider to where it recovers all detail, then back it off just a tiny bit to retain the realism in the image.
For this picture of the boats, I did a few things in order to push detail back into the highlights. The first thing was to move the exposure slider down by -0.30. This reduced the overall brightness of the photograph, including highlights, midtones, and shadows. My next step was to adjust the highlight slider down to the point where I was able to push detail back into the white areas of the boats. In this case it was about -70 on the scale.
My next adjustment was to increase the shadow slider to bring back information in the dark areas of the scene that I lost when moving the exposure down. Finally, I increased clarity and vibrance to add a little bit of punch to the image.
When comparing the before and after of the image, the adjustments I made were subtle, yet significant. If I was going to make a print of this image, the unedited version would have been terrible because the bright areas of the scene would have no detail and the image would end up looking flat. By recovering the highlights, I was able to salvage the shot.
Last week, my daughter participated in an adjudication for her flute quartet. After the adjudication, my wife and I took her to the Pantages Theater for a concert with the Tacoma Concert Band. As I always do, I brought a camera and found a great opportunity to take a vertical panorama of the interior before the show began. To get the shot, I found an open seat in the middle of the theater and took 10 photographs, starting with the stage, continuing towards the ceiling, and ending with the row of seating behind me.
Back at the computer, I processed the images in Lightroom for proper white balance, shadows, and highlights. Then, I exported out the shots to Photoshop CC’s panorama merge utility. The result is a very interesting looking vertical panorama of the interior of Pantages Theater.
Here are a couple of other shots from the day.
A few nights ago I took a quick trip to South Sound Speedway with my son and my father for a boy’s night out. The goal was two-fold: have a great time with the guys and create some compelling racing images.
The grandstands are set up quite a ways back from the track, so creating clean images of the race cars was actually pretty tough. Because the fence obscured the track on the near side, I knew I’d need to capture the cars as they passed the advertising banners on the far side of the track. Rather than try to crop out the banners, I decided to include them in the image for better overall color.
I wanted my shots to convey motion, so I deliberately chose a longer shutter speed of 1/30 second to 1/50 second. Since I was using my 70-200mm f/2.8 with a 1.4x teleconverter, I expected quite a few blurry shots as I panned with the cars. I set the camera for continuous frame rate and fired off a series of 5 shots each time the cars passed in front of the advertising signs. By the time the night was over, I had rattled off over 1,000 pictures, but less than half or 1/3 of them were sharp enough to use. The rest were a blurry mess because of the long shutter speed.
The most difficult part of getting shots like these is learning to pan with the motion. If your move your camera at a faster or slower angular rate than the cars, then you’ll get pronounced blur in the cars. If you move at exactly the same rate as the cars, then they will appear sharp while the background will appear blurry. As long as something on the car is sharp, then you’ve done your job well. Even if you have multiple cars in the scene, as long as one of the cars is sharp, then the photo is going to work.
Over the last week or two I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the waters of Washington State’s Puget Sound region. This area is chock full of opportunities for maritime photography and I’ve been shooting like crazy to capture the scenes.
While shooting pictures last week, I consciously planned for a number of them to show the context of the area. I wanted the shots to be more than just a pretty scene or a boat on the water. Rather, I wanted the viewer of the images to gain a better understanding of the setting and environment.
One of the best skills you can have as a travel photographer is the ability to create context for your imagery. For example, it is very easy to take a picture of a boat on the water, but it is much more difficult to illustrate how that boat relates to its surroundings. You should know that when viewers look at your images, they are always thinking about more than the image itself. They are trying to figure out answers to the five W’s – who, what, where, when, why?
Who is in the image?
What is the image about?
Where was it taken?
When was it taken?
Why are you showing this to me?
If your photograph is able to visually answer these questions for the viewer, then you’ve done a good job of creating the context for the image. Obviously, not all images need to answer all of these questions. In fact, many times images work just fine without answering any of these questions. But, if you are trying to tell a story with your images, then you must answer these questions visually by thinking through the design and composition of the photograph.
Here are three easy ways to create context:
Always be thinking about how you can position your subject with other elements in the scene. Rather than shooting an object that is isolated by itself, it needs to be positioned next to something in order for it’s context to be understood. Use things like buildings, trees, crowds of people, parking lots, and roads as background elements in the scene to help the viewer understand location.
2. Include well-known landmarks.
This is the obvious corollary to the juxtaposition tip, but asks you to go one step further by deliberately including something in the background that is well-known. In the case of the images shown here, I included landmarks such as the Olympic Mountains, the historic Port Towsend Post Office building, Mount Rainier and the Port Townsend Paper Company factory. Well-known and famous landmarks are an easy way to help the viewer immediately grasp where the image was taken.
3. Shoot medium wide angle to medium telephoto lenses.
The most difficult part of creating context is figuring out how much of the background you should include to let the viewer know where the photograph was taken. If you include too much by using a super wide angle lens, then the impact of the subject can be lost. If you include too little with a long telephoto lens, then the viewer doesn’t have enough visual information to understand the location of the photo. The solution is to make these types of shots with lenses between 35mm and 200mm focal lengths. In fact, a couple of zoom lenses like a 24-70mm and the 70-200mm make the perfect pair for creating context.
Here’s the next blog post in our Gig Harbor Photo Guide series sponsored by Gig Harbor Living Local Magazine. For this entry, I talk about one of the Russell Foundation Building, one of the most beautiful structures in downtown Gig Harbor. It is known all throughout the region as being one of the first LEED certified buildings in the Northwest. Check out the article for tips on photographing the landscaping, architecture and the great view over Gig Harbor Bay. The blog post also provides driving directions and details about the best time of day for photography.
Article Link: Russell Foundation Building Photo Guide
Last week I took a short trip to Bellingham, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia armed with with only a small point and shoot camera. The purpose of the trip was mountain biking and cycling, so I wanted to travel light but still be able to create some nice images. My camera muse for the weekend was the Canon S110 (now the S120) pocket camera that is capable of shooting RAW files. I’ve owned this camera for about two years now and am generally happy with it for simple shooting tasks like birthday parties, selfies at restaurants, or quick grab shots while on a walk.
As fun as this camera is to use however, the image quality just doesn’t compare to my larger DSLR cameras. That’s ok though, because I love the tiny size compared to my larger dSLR cameras, and mountain biking with a full-sized professional dSLR & 24-70mm f/2.8 can be difficult at best. I frequently take my big dSLR cameras on big adventures, but on trips like these you have to decide what’s more important: creating images for your portfolio or having fun doing the actual adventure. For last week’s trip, I was riding along with my son, so the priority was on having fun cycling and touring together.
Since I know the Canon S110 won’t produce images on par with my larger dSLR cameras, I tend to use the camera in different ways. For example, rather than trying to create single shots of action or street scenes, I find I get the most satisfaction by creating panoramas, black and white images or creative closeups/macros. In other words, I shy away from the single shot and plan for a bit more work after the fact in the digital dark room.
Traveling with a small camera is great fun and can be quite liberating. In this case, I used my Peak Design Capture Clip system to hold the camera on my backpack strap. It was always ready to shoot and because it was so small, it never got in the way. I encourage all of you to leave the big dSLR camera at home for a day and shoot with a tiny point and shoot.
My family and I took the day off yesterday for Martin Luther King Day and headed to Seattle for some food and street photography. The atmosphere in town was extremely festive, especially given the fact that the Seattle Seahawks just beat the San Francisco 49ers for a chance to play in this year’s Superbowl. We had one of those rare winter days in Seattle where the sun was out, so the streets were packed with people outside enjoying the atmosphere.
My photo kit for the day was a Nikon D800 with a 14-24mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8. I used my Peak Design Capture system so my camera was out and ready for whatever photos presented themselves. Whenever I walk around with my 70-200mm f/2.8, people always ask about it and want their photos taken with it. The dude shown above was hanging out with his buddies at a park bench and they called me over. “Hey! How far can you see with that thing? There’s a bald eagle way over there on the top of one of those buildings.” This guy said that I needed to take a portrait of him with the eagle in the background. We bantered around for a while, talking about random things, then he said, “Ok, take a pic of me here. It’s going to be awesome. NATIVE PRIDE MAN!” Then, he flashed some Native American hand symbols and acted up for the camera.
I shot the pic with my 14-24mm so I could keep the image close and intimate. Back at my computer, I processed the image using Adobe Lightroom 5. I decreased the saturation a bit while increasing the clarity and vibrance to create a grungy look to the scene.
I think my favorite thing about this photo is his buddy in the background, just staring at the camera with intense eyes. Love it.
Here are a couple more pics from yesterday’s shoot.
A few days ago while flying from Seattle to Salt Lake City, our airplane passed over the Cascade Mountains. I took about ten photographs of the mountain range, but knew that they weren’t going to amount to much because of the hazy sky. After returning from my trip, I decided to take a swing at creating a usable image from my original RAW file using Adobe Lightroom 5 and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.
The reason hazy photographs look drab is that they lack contrast. In other words, the image doesn’t have significant separation between the shadows and the highlights. This low contrast scenario is readily apparent if you look at the histogram. Notice how in the original picture, the histogram is bunched up in the middle of the graph. This means that the shadows are not black and the highlights aren’t white.
The solution to giving your image more contrast is to spread out the histogram so the shadows are darker and the highlights are brighter. There are a few ways to do this, but the quickest and easiest is to simply adjust the contrast slider in your editing program. The contrast tool is a fairly blunt tool and I rarely recommend using it because it doesn’t have much finesse. However, in a situation like this photograph, I recommend it. Increasing the contrast effectively spreads out the histogram so the highlights are brighter and the shadows are darker.
The next step is to add some micro-contrast so features like mountain ridges have more definition. Do this by increasing the Clarity slider or by adjusting Structure in plugins like the Nik Collection.
Finally, to really make a hazy photograph look good, my suggestion is to convert it to black and white. I’ve found that color photographs tend not to look great when they started as very hazy images. Converting the image to B&W allows you to add even more contrast without messing with the saturation or color balance of the image.
Spruce Burl Trail is located on the Olympic Peninsula near Beach 1, just south of Kalaloch, Washington. This area is one of my favorite places to photograph in Washington because of its strange burl nodules growing in the trunks of many of the Sitka spruce trees. As you walk through the forest, you can’t help but find all kinds of farcical shapes the remind you of weird childhood fairytales.
Finding a decent composition in the chaos of the forest is actually quite difficult. I worked to find a visual anchor in the foreground and finally found this group of sword ferns mixed in the ground cover. I used a Nikon D800 and Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my Gitzo GT3541L Mountaineer 6X carbon fiber tripod. I framed up the fern in the foreground and bracketed just three shots for merging in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2.