Mike Hagen – Out There Images Newsletter – May 2008
Greetings and salutations from Washington State! I hope you�ve had a full month of photography and that you�ve been out taking great photographs.
For me, April was filled with photography and workshops around the west coast of the USA. I spent time teaching with the Nikonians in Los Angeles, San Francisco and also leading an Out There Images travel photography workshop in Hood River, OR. In between workshops, I was able to take some great photographs along the Big Sur coastline in California. I�m really looking forward to heading back there someday to do more exploration. It truly is a beautiful area.
May is shaping up to be another busy month with workshops in Cincinnati and Portland. We have quite a few private (individual) workshops planned as well as a number of family portrait sessions. I�m finishing up work on a few top secret projects and starting on a couple new top secret projects in May. I�ve learned from past experience to not let the cat out of the bag until the project is actually ready to go, so you�ll just have to wait and see what�s brewing.
For those of you who want to learn about portrait photography, I have a two-day workshop this July in Seattle that just might be what you are after. We will cover studio lighting, using a hand-held meter, posing and composition. More information is posted here:
April GOAL Assignment: Minimize the Icons to Create a Sense of Place
Your Get Out And Learn (GOAL) assignment last month was to take photographs of traditional visual icons but do it in a way that emphasizes a sense of place. We�ve all seen photos of the Eiffel Tower that didn�t really exhibit any artistic elements. They sort of clubbed the viewer over the head and said �Eiffel Tower.� I wanted you to think of a way to photograph an area so that the viewer would become engrossed in the scene. In other words, include the icon in the photo, but do it in a way that allows the viewer some time to roam around in the scene.
Too often, our photographs take on a postcard feel, where the viewer sees the visual icon and then quickly moves on to the next photograph. Our best photographs should hold the viewer�s attention so they can look around and interpret the scene. The big question is, how do we do that as photographers? How do you create a photograph so that it is visually appealing while showing a sense of place? Here are my best tips for accomplishing this lofty goal:
1. In your face versus subtlety. There are times when it is good to show a subject separate from its environment, but the goal here is to give a broader sense of place. In the first example I show of Mt. Adams, centered up in the scene and doesn�t show any of the surrounding terrain, towns or environment. In the other two photographs of Mt. Adams,I tried a more subtle approach by including some surrounding countryside or some blooming fruit trees. Now the photograph has a structure and a context. Both of them tell more of a story than just the mountain.
2. Near/Far perspective. One of the greatest tools in showing a sense of place is to use a traditional landscape method in our photography. This involves having a simple, yet bold foreground element to draw the viewer into the scene. Then, we position the visual icon in the distance so the viewer knows the general location of the shot. The photo example here was taken in Morro Bay California a couple weeks ago. I used the sand ripples as my foreground element and Morro Rock as my visual icon.
3. Don�t be afraid to show the local environment. It is very easy to zoom in on an object and pick it out of its surroundings. Sometimes, this is a powerful photographic tool. However, if you are trying to show a sense of place, then you have to include other elements in the photograph that tell the whole story. Take for example this lighthouse photograph along the Pacific Coast in California. My first inclination was to take out my 400mm lens and shoot the lighthouse by itself. After spending more time with the scene, I figured that it would actually tell a better story by showing that the lighthouse is next to the elephant seal rookery of Piedras Blancas (www.elephantseal.org/Rookery/where.htm). So, I photographed it as a vertical panorama to show a seal in the same photograph as the lighthouse.
4. On the other hand, don�t include too much of the environment so that you totally lose the sense of place. In this next photograph, I included too much information. I used my 12mm zoom to include everything which ended up losing overall visual impact. The moral is to include just enough to tell the story, but no more. Many times we want to include everything possible in our photograph. The people, the tower, the grass, the lights, the bus, the ants, etc. The problem is that all of these things compete with the viewer�s attention. The best images cut out the clutter and provide just the essential elements.
5. Think wide. One of the ways to eliminate the clutter in your photographs is to shoot a panorama. This allows you capture a sliver of the scene that is most important while excluding the parts of the scene that don�t matter. In the shot of Gig Harbor shown to the left, I chose a long focal length and then took shots as I rotated my camera around the tripod. In front of the scene was a clutter of garbage, a dilapidated dock and a bunch of mud. The tight composition of the panorama let me show the harbor with the NW icon Mt. Rainier in the background.
6. Shoot from a new elevation. Everyone has shots of San Francisco from the ground, so try shooting from the air, or from a boat. For this image of San Francisco, I specifically requested a seat on the left hand side of the airplane so I could photograph the city in the morning light. I was leaving Oakland International Airport and knew that the flight would give me a perfect shot of the city. I included the Bay Bridge, San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.
May GOAL Assignment: Expand the Dynamic Range
This month, your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment is to take photographs of scenes that are far beyond the normal dynamic range of your camera. Most digital cameras can capture a range of about 5 to 6 stops of brightness for each photograph you take. I want you to capture a scene that has perhaps 8 to 12 stops of brightness with a number of bracketed exposures and then merge them together in a final image.
The sample photograph I show here was taken at Montana de Oro State Park in California (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=592) and involved shooting five exposures at different shutter speeds. I set my aperture to f22 and then took the photographs at one stop shutter speed bracket intervals. Then, I merged them together using Photoshop.
Lots of people have been asking me how to do this technique over the last few months, so now it is time for you to learn how. This is a lot of fun and will open up a whole new world of photography for you. Next month, I�ll show you the nitty gritty on how to do it!
New Book: Photoshop CS3 Restoration and Retouching Bible by Mark Fitzgerald
I want to highlight a great new book on Photoshop by author Mark Fitzgerald. Mark runs a company called the Digital Darkroom (www.ddroom.com) out of Portland, Oregon that is focused on Photoshop training. He asked me to be the technical editor on his new book called the Photoshop CS3 Restoration and Retouching Bible, by Wiley & Sons Publishing. It has just been published and is available in stores right now.
The book is fantastic and shows you just about everything you need to know for touching up your digital portraits, restoring old prints and professionally preparing digital files for output. In detail, he covers all the retouching tools in Photoshop (clone stamp, healing brush, patch tool), shows you how to use layer masks, how to do color correction, fix perspective, adjust tonality, make selections, etc.
One of the best things about the book is that it is totally interactive. He supplies downloadable practice files and then takes you through the step-by-step process of retouching and restoration. All along the way, Mark provides visual examples about what you should be seeing after you�ve completed the step.
I�m always amazed at how much I don�t know in Photoshop and this book proved it to me again. Mark is one of a few hundred (world-wide) Adobe Certified Experts and Adobe Certified Instructors. He knows Photoshop extremely well and really understands how to teach it. He has a wealth of knowledge and I recommend him highly. I�ve known him for a few years and he�s a fine gentleman who�s simply interested in helping you learn Photoshop. The book is 489 pages and in full color. Check it out at Amazon by clicking this link.
Digital Tidbits: Convert your Camera to Infrared
I�ve always been fascinated by Infrared Photography and have wanted to convert one of my cameras to IR for quite a long time. Well, last month, I finally splurged and converted my venerable Nikon D70 to be an IR only camera. Over the last few weeks, I�ve been shooting with it in the Columbia River Gorge and have really enjoyed the process. Infrared photography has opened up a whole new world for me and I�m really excited about the results I�ve been getting.
I thought I�d take a minute to describe what�s involved in the conversion and also provide some tips for digital Infrared Photography.
To convert my camera to IR, I used the excellent products manufactured by Life Pixel (www.lifepixel.com). You can send your camera to them to do the conversion for $350 or you can buy the filter and do the installation yourself for $145. I chose to do the conversion myself, so that I could save a couple hundred dollars. I purchased the filter from their website and they delivered it to my address in just a couple days.
Life Pixel has three different filters to choose from. I purchased the Nikon D70 Standard IR filter (which is probably the most popular one). There are a few other models you can buy such as the Enhanced Color IR and the Deep BW IR. Both of these filters cost $50 more than the Standard IR filter.
After getting the filter, I navigated to their DIY (Do It Yourself) Tutorials page and followed their specific instructions for installation in the D70. Depending on your technical fortitude, the process can be described as �fairly straightforward� or as �technically difficult�. They�ve done a really good job of detailing which screws you have to remove and which circuit boards to disconnect. Additionally, they have excellent photographs right on the website which show you what to do; you just have to make sure that you get everything back together exactly right, otherwise the camera will stop functioning! Also, if you do it yourself, make sure to get the sensor repositioned correctly so that you don�t have crooked horizons! The conversion took me about one hour from start to finish.
But, I wish that was the end of the story! For the last few months, my D70 has been acting up and has been giving me random error messages. After I did the IR conversion, my D70 gave me a constant error message that said �Cannot Recognize Memory Card�. Hmm. I took apart my camera and reassembled it a second time and still got the error message. Everything functioned properly such as autofocus and metering, but I couldn�t get rid of the error message.
So, I sent the camera into the Nikon Repair facility in El Segundo California (www.nikonusa.com/fileuploads/westernservice/moving.html) and had them fix it up. $230 later, I had a fixed D70 that was converted to IR. I�m not sure if it was my own hands that broke the camera or if it was already crippled and I just helped it along a bit. I work on my computers all the time and have never been afraid of circuit boards, so I was a bit surprised when I couldn�t get it working. Oh well. I guess my recommendation is that you send your camera to Life Pixel so they can do the conversion for you.
Once my camera was back in my hands, I set about to taking photographs. There are a few things to think about when shooting IR that we normally don�t need to consider when shooting visible light.
First of all, now that your camera has been converted to IR, it no longer functions for visible light. In other words, the filter that was installed blocks all visible light and only allows IR light to be captured. (by the way, you can convert your camera back to visible light by removing the IR filter and replacing it with the original filter that you purchased with your camera.)
Second, IR is a different light spectrum and therefore focuses at a different �distance� on your lens than visible light. If your lens has �IR markings� on it, then you can manually focus using these marks. If your lens doesn�t have these markings, then you�ll have to guess for the appropriate exposure. You can also compensate for this difference by shooting at a smaller aperture such as f8 rather than f2.8.
Third, your camera�s light meter is calibrated to work with visible light, so you are generally guessing with your exposures for IR. You can get pretty close to accurate exposures, but I�m finding that I need to add about +1.0 stops of light from what my meter says. In other words, if my camera says f8 at 1/125 second, then I would actually expose the scene at f8 and 1/60 second.
Fourth, white balance takes on a whole new meaning in infrared photography. Sometimes if you use Auto WB, the camera will give a strong red cast. One recommendation is to shoot all your IR photos using RAW so that you can modify WB later in your RAW converter. Another recommendation is to do a Custom (Preset) white balance off of something in your scene such as the green grass in front of you. This will then render the grass as white, rather than red.
Fifth, what you see with your eyes is not what you get in the camera. Leaves and grass, which are middle toned in visible light, is actually rendered as very bright-toned in an IR photograph. This takes some getting used to and can lead to surprising results. For example, if you photograph a building with a field of grass in front of it. The final result will be a field of bright grass � looking almost like snow!
Sixth, your IR photographs will appear to have lower contrast than the same photograph taken in visible light. In order to correct this, you will need to master curves and levels in Photoshop to bring back the contrast. So far, all of the shots I�ve taken in IR have needed quite a bit of work with curves in order to make them pop.
Seventh, you can get a very bright hot spot in the middle of your photographs from IR light reflecting between the sensor and the lens elements. Look at the example photograph shown to the left for an example of this. The solutions are to shoot more telephoto or to choose a wider aperture. Most of the lens flare problems seem to happen when shooting at very wide angle zooms or at small apertures.
Well, hopefully that gives you some insight into the world of IR photography. My converted D70 will be going with me on just about every adventure from now on and I�m excited to see the results. I�ll keep you posted with more photographs as I continue down this path.
Workshops continue to be popular, so we keep offering them! 2008 brings lots of workshops through Out There Images, Inc. and somewhere around 70 workshops scheduled at the Nikonians Academy (www.nikoniansacademy.com). Check out the information below for specific topics and dates.
The Art of Travel Photography Workshops
Join us for a photographic adventure in 2008! Learn how to turn your next vacation into an artistic event with our Art of Travel Photography Workshops. We just finished up our Columbia River Gorge waterfalls and spring bloom 4/24/08 ~ 4/27/08 trip and the next adventure will be in the North Cascades NP/Mazama 10/2/08 ~ 10/5/08. If you are thinking of signing up, contact us immediately in order to be placed on our signup list. Go here for more details:
Photoshop Level I and II
These workshops are a great way to learn Photoshop while using practical, real world examples that photographers face each day. We are offering two levels of Photoshop instruction � Photoshop I and Photoshop II. Take them one at a time or take them as a group and get a 10% discount. Our Photoshop workshop is scheduled for July 25th and July 26th, 2008 in Seattle, WA. Go here for more information: www.outthereimages.com/portrait_workshop.html
Nikonians Academy Workshops
We’ll be teaching great photographic subjects in Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Portland, Atlanta, Dallas, Washington DC, Tanzania, and more!
Our topics include:
– Two African Safaris
– Nikon D300
– Nikon D200
– Nikon D80/D70
– iTTL Flash
– Hands-on Digital Printing
Find out about all of our workshops here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.
We�ve brought back our popular Portrait Photography workshop this year. It will be scheduled for July 11-12, 2008 in Seattle, WA. If you�ve ever wanted to learn how to use a flash meter, how to set up a studio, how to arrange your lighting or how to use flash, then this is the right workshop for you. It is a two-day event with lots and lots of hands-on learning and photography. Come along, you�ll enjoy it! I promise. Go here for more details: www.outthereimages.com/portrait_workshop.html
Private instruction is a very popular and affordable way 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, exposure theory, and more. Many of our customers have requested specific topics and we have tailored our private tutoring to their needs. Call (253) 851-9054 or email ([email protected]) if you have questions about this option.
I encourage you to try out some new photo techniques this month! If you need some inspiration, go back through our newsletter archive and see what we�ve been talking about over these last few years.
Until next time�
Out There Images, Inc. – “Get Out And Learn!”
PO Box 1966
Gig Harbor, WA 98335