The month of January has found us busy leading workshops in the Pacific Northwest. We�ve just finished up a number of Photoshop, Digital Workflow, Nikon D70 and Flash workshops and we are looking forward to the new Nikonians North America workshops kicking off in March in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Also, we�ll be down at the big PMA (Photo Marketing Association, trade show in Orlando at the end of February. I�m really looking forward to this trip as it will take me away from the record rainfall we�ve had in Washington State over the last month.

2006 is shaping up to be better than ever. We have committed to teaching more workshops in more cities this year and have created a few exciting new workshops as well. We have some important changes to our workshop schedule that we will detail below. For example, by popular demand we have added additional Photoshop workshops in Seattle and Portland for April and May. Also, we will begin offering D200 workshops to support this fantastic camera system. It is truly an amazing camera and a lot of fun to shoot too!

Stay tuned for more exciting developments as we publish our Nikon iTTL Wireless flash book and provide new products in the near future.

Photo Techniques: Simple Portrait Lighting Tools
It seems like whenever I teach a portrait workshop or flash workshop, most of the people are very interested in the gear I use. Mostly because people know that studio equipment is very expensive and everyone is looking for ways to reduce the costs. A big part of my workshops is showing people that it is fairly easy to put together a lighting system that won�t break the bank. With almost no equipment, a person can do a phenomenal job with simply a large daylight window and a large reflector. At the other end of the equipment spectrum, a photographer can spend tens of thousands of dollars on gear. Most of us can�t afford to break the bank on lighting equipment, so I submit to you some innovative and simple ways to create a lighting system that works for you.

The single most important thing you can do for portrait lighting is find a way to diffuse your light source. If you take a picture with direct flash, then you can expect a harsh result. In some cases, a harsh light is desirable because it gives a gritty feel for the resulting photo. You should use harsh light for tough looking people or very serious portraits. However, using a non-diffused light is kind of like drinking out of a fire hose. It�s fun for a while, but quickly becomes overwhelming.

So, what are the best ways to diffuse the light? I have two favorite diffusion tools � the reflector and the umbrella. I�ve chosen them both because of their effectiveness as well as their compact portability.

Let�s talk about the first of these tools: the reflector. I have quite a few reflectors for all sorts of purposes, but my favorites are a 42� white/gold disk reflector and a 12� silver/gold disk reflector. Both of these fold up nice and small into a smaller package that fit into my travel bags and camera bags. In my opinion, a 42� reflector is the minimum size you should use for portraits. Any smaller and you just can�t adequately light up a large enough area on your subject. In photography, larger is better!

I use the small 12� reflector to illuminate smaller items such as flowers and table-top objects. This little one folds up nice and tiny and will fit into every one of my camera bags. Don�t use a 12� reflector as a diffusion panel for portrait work unless you are photographing newborn babies.

There are thousands of ways to use reflectors but I�ll list just a few of those ways here (see the lighting diagrams). The simplest way is to prop up the reflector on the shadowed side of your subject. The main light (key light) is used to provide most of the light for the scene, and the reflector bounces light onto the shadowed side of the face.

The next way to use a reflector is to use it as the main light diffusion source. I do this by pointing the flash at the reflector and then having the subject on the other side of the flash (see diagram). This provides a very nice, even light with hardly any shadows. I own and use Photoflex reflectors, but there are numerous brands that work equally as well. For portrait work, I like the gold/white reflector. I use gold when the person needs a bit more color and white when the person doesn�t need more color. Simple.

There are lots of other ways to construct reflectors using your own hands too. I often will use a large 4-foot by 4-foot white piece of card stock (matting board stock works well too). Additionally, you can buy foam core in various colors to modify the hue of light. I have also taken aluminum foil and taped it to foam core to work as an intense reflector. You can apply the foil smoothly or crinkle it up a bit to diffuse the light even more.

The key to using reflectors is to get them as close as possible to the subject. You want as large a surface area as possible to help hide and mask those laugh lines, crows� feet and wrinkles!

My next most favorite lighting tools are flash umbrellas. I like these because they are so portable. I can pack them into just about any piece of luggage and take them on location everywhere. They work very well with small speedlights like the Nikon SB-800 or Canon 550 EX. Of course, they also work well with higher end studio equipment like Broncolor, Elinchrome and Profoto strobes/monolights.

For portrait work, the larger the umbrella the better. I think that the smallest umbrella size you should own is 32� diameter. Larger 40� umbrellas are better and 60� units are great! Remember that the bigger you go, the harder it will be to fit it into your portable bags. If you never do any portraits outside of your home studio, then buy the biggest units you can afford and I guarantee you won�t be sorry. I like Westcott and Photoflex, but any brand will do. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

To make the umbrellas work, you need to have an umbrella mounting bracket � also known as light stand adapters or swivels or multiclamps. These can be purchased from just about any camera store that carries lighting supplies. The brackets can be mounted on any number of photographic stands such as tripods, light stands, Bogen superclamps, etc., and allow you to mount a flash and umbrella together to a light stand. I recommend owning at least two umbrellas for your burgeoning studio.

So now that you�ve purchased two umbrellas and a reflector, you have the beginnings of a portable lighting studio. I can do quite a bit with just these tools. The variations are unlimited. Use one umbrella/flash as the key (main light), place the second a bit lower and to the side for fill then set up the gold reflector to add some color to the scene. The point is that for a limited investment, you now have a great portable studio.

Digital Tidbits: Sharpening – When, How and Why?
I don�t think I�ve taken a digital photograph in my life that didn�t need a little bit of sharpening. Even the softest baby portrait in delicate window light needs a bit of sharpening! Let�s talk about how to sharpen and when to sharpen.

Since all digital photos need a bit of sharpening, it would seem to make most sense to sharpen in the camera so you don�t have to spend unnecessary time at the computer later, right? Wrong. Most people know that I am a strong proponent of getting just about everything perfect in the camera, and for the most part, that is the best approach. However, when dealing with sharpening an image, you have to be very careful because most sharpening software actually �damages pixels� during the process. Also, different types of photographs need different amount of sharpening. For example, a photo of a brick building can stand up to a lot of sharpening while a photograph of a person might need just a little bit of sharpening. Also, we as photographers sometimes choose to selectively sharpen portions of our photographs. For example, we might want to sharpen just the eyes in our portrait while leaving the rest of the face untouched.

For these reasons, and many more, it makes sense to do your image sharpening in the computer rather than in the camera. There are, however exceptions to this rule. For example, a photojournalist might choose to do in-camera sharpening because she doesn�t have time to Photoshop the photographs before going to press. Also, an individual who doesn�t want to worry about computer processing of images (it is more common than you think!) will also choose to sharpen in the camera so they can go direct to print. By the way, in-camera sharpening is a custom setting on most camera systems. You have to turn it on or off. Additionally, you can choose the level of sharpening for each photo.

Ok, so let�s assume you want to use your computer to sharpen your images. In that case, remember that sharpening should always be the very last step before printing. For example, if you took a photograph of some airplanes on a tarmac that was a little underexposed, then you would want to fix the exposure first using levels or curves then do the sharpening last. There are more ways to do sharpening than I could possibly cover here, so I�ll just give a few examples using Photoshop (see the example screenshots). Recognize that there are quite a few other software options available to you that can probably do a better job, but I think you�ll find Photoshop to be quite capable for most of your needs.

Here�s the process. Open up your photo in Photoshop and complete all of your improvements such as levels, brightness, color correction, spot fixes and saturation. Now, open the sharpening filter by clicking Filter –> Sharpen –> Unsharp Mask. This opens up a new dialog box with three sliders and a preview window. Most people get very confused when trying to understand what the three sliders do, so I�ll try to simplify them a bit.

The Amount slider controls the amount of sharpening. 150% is more than 100%. The Radius slider affects how many pixels from a line of contrast are impacted by the tool. For example, if you are sharpening wire-rimmed eyeglasses, then a radius of 5 pixels will impact pixels up to 5 pixels away from the edge of the glasses. Most of the time you want your radius to be somewhere between 1 pixel and 2 pixels; any more than that and it looks too unnatural. Finally, the threshold slider controls the photograph�s resistance to the sharpening effect. For example, if you have a threshold of 5, then the sharpening tool won�t affect any pixels that are more than 5 brightness levels apart. If neighboring pixels are close in brightness (i.e. less than 5 levels apart), then they will be sharpened. What�s the best value for threshold? Somewhere around 1.

If you are looking for a simple answer that will apply to most of your sharpening needs, then use Amount 70% ~ 125%, Radius = 1 ~ 1.5 px, Threshold = 1. From here on out, I�ll abbreviate the settings as 125, 1, 1 (i.e. 125%, 1px, 1 threshold).

As you can see in the airplane photos, when your sharpening is around 100, 1, 1, you can get pretty nice results. Compare the 100, 1, 1 screen shot with the first shot and you can see the difference between an unsharpened photo and a sharpened photo. The unsharpened photo looks a little soft, but the correctly sharpened one looks just right.

If you aren�t careful and try to over sharpen, for example 120, 4, 1, you get obvious sharpening halos. These appear in the transitions between dark and light areas and look like light fog. Look around the windows or propeller of the airplane or above the stand of trees on the horizon and you can see this haze effect. Not good. The moral of the story here is to keep your radius low so you avoid the halos.

Finally, everyone has different preferences when it comes to sharpening. I encourage you to practice with the tool and then print out some pictures. With digital printing being so inexpensive these days, you can complete an entire printing experiment for less than $10. Try some prints at zero sharpening, some at 75, 1, 1, some at 150, 1, 1 and some at 200, 1, 1 and compare. It won�t take you very long to find a result you like.

Workshop Updates:

The Art of Travel Workshops
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:

Please note that we have cancelled the St. Croix Art of Travel Workshop which was previously scheduled for May 31st � June 4th.

Photoshop Workshops
We have had numerous requests to increase our Photoshop workshops in the Seattle, WA area and in the Portland, OR area. So, we�ve added two additional weekends between now and June 2006. The new workshop dates are April 5, 6, 7 in Seattle and May 19, 20 in Portland. 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

Nikon D200 Workshops
We�ll be offering workshops on this camera beginning in June �06 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:

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. I guarantee you’ll enjoy this day of learning. Go here for more details:

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:

Nikonians Workshops
We have teamed up with The Nikonians again for 2006. We’ll be offering four different workshops in major cities throughout the USA. To sign up, follow this link: Our workshop offerings will be:
– Photoshop for Photographers
– Nikon Capture
– Nikon D70
– iTTL Flash system.

The dates and cities will be:
Mar 2-5 Los Angeles (at Samy�s Camera Store)
Mar 9-12 San Francisco
Apr 20-23 Houston
Apr 27-30 Dallas/Fort Worth
May 25-28 Ft. Lauderdale
Jul 20-23 Vancouver BC
Jul 27-30 Seattle
Oct 5-8 New York
Oct 12-15 Philadelphia
Oct 19-22 Washington DC
Nov 3-6 Chicago area
TBD: Phoenix

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.

As always, if you have questions or need more information, please send an email or give us a call. We’ll get back to you right away and are always happy to help. Also, I just wanted to say thank you for all of your referrals. Many people have signed up based on word-of-mouth contact from you and I want you to know how much I truly appreciate your kind words.

Best regards,

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

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