It is time for another installment of the Out There Images, Inc. monthly newsletter. I’ve been writing these monthly newsletters since 2005 with the hope that they challenge and inspire your photography. I also write about many of the common questions people have around photography. Questions like ‘which lens should I buy’ or ‘what kind of tripod makes sense’ are important to us all. Making a poor choice on a critical piece of gear can mean the difference between enjoying photography or becoming intensely frustrated.
Software and post processing and workflow techniques are also very popular questions, so I often write about the process I use when creating photos, products or prints. With those topics in mind, this month I present to you articles on cameras, flashes, tripod center columns and the process of creating a big 4′ x 12′ wall mural. I also have a bunch of new workshops to announce. Let’s get started!
Nikon D7000 and Nikon SB-700
As many of you know, the Nikon D7000 camera is Nikon’s newest mid-range dSLR. It’s 16MP sensor designed by Sony is a thing of beauty and the camera’s ergonomics are excellent. I’m really enjoying this little DX body and have found that it is the perfect bridge camera between the Nikon D300s and the Nikon D90. I like the small form factor and the fast frame rate of 6 fps.
I’ve been using it for a lot of indoor sports/event photography that require shooting at higher ISO values. In fact, click on the link below to see some high ISO shots from the Nikon D7000. I took these a few weeks ago at a performance of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, presented by the Missoula Children’s Theater. www.outthereimages.com/blog/?p=837
The only thing I don’t really like about the D7000 is that it only has one programmable thumb button on the back of the body. The higher-end Nikon cameras like the D300s have two programmable buttons: an AE-L/AF-L button and an AF-ON button. I’ve been the AF-ON button as my primary means of focus activation for many years now, so this method has become second nature to me. The Nikon D7000 only has a single AE-L/AF-L button. This means that the button can only be used to either lock exposure, or it can be reprogrammed to operate as an AF-ON button. The sticking point comes when you need to lock your exposure separately from activating the AF-ON button. You can’t do both simultaneously on the camera like you can with the Nikon D300s, Nikon D700 or Nikon D3s.
Not having both buttons on the back of the camera isn’t a deal breaker, but it would be nice to have them there. I still really enjoy the video capabilities of the camera, the autofocus, the high ISO performance, fast frame rate, high pixel count and great dynamic range. I highly recommend the D7000 camera for anyone who is looking for a small, agile, high performing body.
I’ve also been shooting with the Nikon SB-700 flash for a number weeks with superb results. The flash is built well, is fairly small and packs a good amount of power. It is a great flash, but at $350, I think it is too pricey for what you get. The discontinued SB-600 was a far better value if you only need a simple flash that mounted on the camera body. Now that the SB-600 is gone from Nikon’s lineup, people will need to spend money for a flash that might have more features than they really need.
The main feature that increases the price of the SB-700 is that it can be a commander unit in addition to being a remote unit or a standard dedicated flash unit. Nikon has desgined the SB-700 to be able to command up to two separate groups. This contrasts with the SB-900 flash (Nikon’s flagship model), which is able to command three separate groups of remote flashes.
One major change to the commander function on the SB-700 is that it isn’t able to command separate groups with different exposure modes. For example, all the other commander units in the Nikon line (including your camera’s pop-up flash) allow you control Group A in TTL mode while Group B might be in Manual mode. This is helpful when you want to have a light setup for the background. I generally find I get better results when the background light is set for manual exposure mode and the light for the subject (foreground) is set for TTL mode. The SB-700 prevents this from happening and requires both groups to either be TTL or Manual.
This limited capability isn’t terrible, but I have to wonder why they would hamstring the flash in this way? I like the easy operation of the SB-700 and I think that it is a good flash overall. If you are considering buying one, know that it costs more than the older SB-600 and some of the commander functions are simplified from their flagship SB-900 model.
January GOAL Assignment: Shoot in Black and White to See Shape and Form
Oh man, I had a fun time this month shooting my images in Black and White. I was also inspired by the photos that many of you posted to the Flickr Group here: www.flickr.com/groups/out_there_images/ . It is fun to be co-conspirators in the monthly GOAL Assignment (Get Out And Learn Assignment).
As you know, your GOAL Assignment for the January, 2011 was to set up your camera to shoot in black and white mode. I wanted you to spend time photographing in a way that encouraged you to look at shape and form, rather than color.
As humans, we are drawn to bright, vibrant color and often times, color alone can make or break your photo. However, what we don’t realize is that we can be ‘blinded’ to the composition of our scene by the color in the scene. This is because the colors in an image can overwhelm your perception by tapping into your emotional response. People seem to be hard wired to respond with oohs and aahs when they see a vibrant red, gleaming yellow or azure blue.
For example, the other day I was looking at some pretty flowers on my kitchen counter and decided to take a photo. They were vibrant yellow and smelled wonderful. The color of the flowers made them visually distinctive from the rest of the kitchen, so I automatically assumed that the resulting image would turn out well. However, when I looked at the image on the back of my camera’s LCD in black and white, the shot wasn’t special in any way. It had no visual pop. No wonder. No pizzazz. Nuthin’! Why? Because the composition was weak. It was just a photo of some flowers on my kitchen counter. The black and white version instantly revealed my lazy effort at composition.
What I find is that taking color out of the equation and looking at my photos in terms of shape, form and texture greatly improves my photograph eye. Shooting in black and white reduces photography to its basic building blocks.
These building blocks are:
- – Simplify by removing clutter!
- – Adequate contrast between your subject and the background
- – Incorporate basic compositional rules (leading lines, s-curves, rule of thirds)
- – Appropriate exposure/brightness
I was recently down in Florida, USA and found a beautiful old MG convertible automobile outside a movie theater. The car was red, so I was immediately drawn to it as I drove past. I hopped out of the car and took a few pictures of the scene in black and white. After reviewing my images, I quickly realized that the red automobile I was drawn to was lost in the clutter of the building. My first attempts included too much of the building and the scene was too busy, too cluttered. I changed my position to eliminate the clutter of the building and finally arrived at some compositions I liked.
The car photo example and the yellow flower example both clearly illustrate how black and white can help us keep our compositions simple. Removing clutter and focusing on shape and form will always result in better images. I’ve included a few other images to the left that I took this month to demonstrate simple design, uncluttered composition, and a focus on shape and form.
Every once in a while we need a kick in the pants to get our creative juices flowing again and that’s what this month’s GOAL Assignment was designed to do. I hope you had as much fun as I did taking photos in your camera as black and white.
February GOAL Assignment: The Defining Characteristic
If you are really dedicated to your photography, then my guess is that you are always working to create better and better photos. One of the best ways to become better is to think about what defines a subject. For example, think about your best friend. Now, think about what characteristic defines your best friend. Is it their smile, their wrinkles, their life’s work, their grass in the front yard? How about your hometown? What defines it? Is it the local diner, the main industry, the beautiful scenery (or lack of scenery)?
Once you’ve determined the defining characteristic of a subject, then you can go about photographing it. That’s your GOAL Assignment (Get Out And Learn Assignment) for this month; to photograph the defining characteristic of the subject of your choice. This shooting challenge is going to take some effort on your part to accomplish well, but I know you are up to the challenge.
By the way, I want to see some amazing work, so please, post your images to the Flickr group we’ve set up for our monthly GOAL Assignment participants here:
Photo Techniques: Do I Need a Tripod Center Column?
Most photographers understand the need for a tripod. A good tripod will hold our camera steady while preventing blurry photos on long exposures. These three-legged creatures also encourage us to spend more time creating a detailed composition because they take so long to set up.
Each month, I receive lots of questions from people asking about the best tripod to buy. My recommendation is always to buy the lightest weight carbon fiber tripod they can afford. After this question, the next most common question is whether or not they should buy a tripod with a center column. The answer to that question is not as easy. Let me explain.
Most tripod purists adamantly state that you should never take a photo with the tripod center column extended. They contend that your camera becomes unstable when the center column is extended above the top plate of the tripod. The truth is, they are correct! Study after study has shown that a camera is most stable when it is mounted flush with the top of the tripod. This configuration will almost always result in the lowest amount of vibration and the sharpest possible images.
I wholeheartedly agree with the wisdom of not raising your center column for most of your images. My personal rule is that I won’t use a tripod with a center column for any of my outdoor, nature, close-up or safari photography.
However, this ‘don’t use your center column’ wisdom doesn’t always hold true for some other types of photography such as studio portraits or indoor still life. Most studio photographers use strobes (flashes) for their main lighting. The pulse of light from a flash unit is very fast and ‘freezes’ any motion in your subject or vibration from the camera. Therefore, any small movement of your camera body during the exposure doesn’t matter much at all. It is typically long exposure with ambient light that causes blurry photos from camera shake. In the studio, camera shake is a non-event.
Since camera shake isn’t a big issue in the studio, you have my full permission to use the center column during your shoots! For example, photographing a portrait session in a studio often requires posing your subject in a variety of positions from standing, to sitting, and everything in-between. In these situations, having the ability to move the camera up and down quickly is essential to an efficient shoot.
The studio is where I really enjoy having a tripod with a very tall center column. When the subject is seated, I can lower the column down to their height and when the subject is standing, I can quickly raise the column. If I used a tripod without a center column in the studio, then I have to adjust all three legs of the tripod to raise or lower the camera. What a pain.
There are lots of tripods that have gear-driven center columns specifically designed for this purpose. If this is your main type of photography, then it might make sense to use a gear-driven center column. If you are looking to use your tripod for a variety of shooting styles (nature, sports, travel, studio, etc.), then I don’t recommend the gear drive units because of the added weight and complexity.
Now that I’ve made the case for owning a tripod with and without a center column, let me present another situation specific to outdoor photography. Nature photographers often need to be able to get their tripods down very low to the ground. They do this not only to be able to get close to flowers and bugs, but also to get an interesting perspective for wildlife. If their tripod has a center column, then the center column makes it physically impossible to open the legs of the tripod so that the camera is near the ground. Because of this impediment, my rule is to not use tripods with center columns for nature photography.
Yes, I know that there are many kinds of tripods that have center columns that pivot out of the way or can be mounted to the side. I appreciate the ingenuity of those tripod engineers, but pivoting the center column to the side still means that the camera body is farther away from the top plate of the tripod, which results in a less stable platform. Also, the pivot mechanism results in a heavier tripod overall and that means more effort to carry it around. I take my tripods hiking and climbing so reducing my load by eliminating the center column makes a big difference.
If you are going to buy a tripod that doesn’t have a center column, make sure that it is at least tall enough for you when the camera is mounted on the tripod head. Sometimes people are tempted to save money by purchasing a smaller tripod than they need. Unfortunately, they spend the rest of their lives bent over like the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
As a side note, many people use the center column as justification to buy a smaller (i.e. less expensive) tripod. They figure that they’ll be able to raise the center column a few inches so the small tripod will reach their eye level. If you only raise the center column a few inches, then most of the time it works out ok and your photo can still be sharp. However, the big problem comes when they want to fully extend the center column to get really high. This almost always results in a wobbly camera and a blurry photo.
What if you already have a tripod that has a center column and you don’t want to buy a new tripod without one? I have an easy solution. Simply remove the center column from the tripod and mount the head to the tripod with a long screw. Most tripod heads have a 1/4″ or 3/8′ thread in the base, so all you need to do is go to your local hardware store and buy the correct screw. In addition to the screw, you’ll need to buy a washer for the bottom side of your tripod so the screw has something to pull against. Look at the photos I have to the left, showing an example of this setup.
I’ve been doing this center column removal for years, ever since I learned the trick from the late Galen Rowell (www.mountainlight.com). The cost is very low and the benefit is a lighter-weight, sturdier tripod. Since I only had one tripod, I would remove the column for my nature photography and then would reinstall the center column for my indoor studio work. Now however, after years of the horrible photographer’s disease called ‘gear acquisition syndrome,’ I have a closet full of tripods. Some have center columns and some don’t. I use each for its own specific purpose.
As you can see, there isn’t one answer to the center column question. The point is to understand when the tripod center column will help and when it will hinder your photography.
Digital Tidbits: Preparing a Photo for a Wall Mural
A few weeks back, one of my friends who owns the Gig Harbor Fly Shop asked me if I had any artwork to decorate the walls of his business. He was moving his retail store to a new location with more space, more parking and better visibility from the street. For the interior of the store, he wanted to find a large panorama photo that would go up on a wall behind a display of fly-fishing rods.
Ideally, he was after an image that featured someone fly-fishing in a Northwest river. I told him that I didn’t have any fly fishing images in my stock files, but I did have some panoramas of local rivers that might fit the bill. I put together some images for him to review and he finally settled on a panorama that I photographed in Twisp, Washington during the Autumn of 2010. The image was taken along the Methow River, just off of the Old Twisp Highway; a little country road that meanders past some small farms and overlooks a large bend in the Methow River. The neat thing was that my friend guides fly fishing trips down the Methow river, so this photo really struck a chord with him.
After the fly shop owner chose the photograph and agreed to the pricing, the next step was to determine the actual size of the final print. He stated that he wanted to make the image about 4 feet tall by 12 feet long! That’s one big print. Just to make sure that the photo would fit properly in his store, I went down to the Fly Shop with my tape measure. We both measured it out and agreed to the final size. You don’t want to make a mistake on sizing when you are spending a lot of money on a big print.
During our discussions, the storeowner said that he had a printing company already picked out called Murals Your Way. He was happy with the pricing and quality of their product, so I gave Murals Your Way a call on the phone to determine what they specifically required for the final image. Most importantly, I needed to determine what file format and pixel size they might need for the print.
I was hoping that they’d be able to give me a specific dimension, but Murals Your Way answered back that I should send the file ‘as big as you can make it.’ I then explained that I had taken the image as a panorama, stitched together from four images at 12 megapixels apiece. The final image was currently about 3,000 pixels tall and 10,000 pixels wide. That resulted in an image approximately 30 megapixels in size. They said this file was big enough and that I should send it to them as a JPG file at the native resolution. They would do the resizing with their own RIP software.
My next question was to determine what color space they wanted. I asked if I should send it in sRGB, Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB, but for some reason, no one on their staff knew which color space they required. My final decision was to send it to them in Adobe RGB color space.
The mural company then asked me if we wanted the image as a single one-piece mural, or in three sections. The upside of the single print is that you won’t see any seams in the image when it is mounted on the wall. The downside is that hanging the print can be very difficult. You need a few people to hold the print on the wall while other people use adhesive to fix it to the wall. The storeowner said that he had enough people to help them hang the print, so we went with the single image.
Now that all the groundwork was out of the way, I set about preparing the photo for output. Since the image was going to be printed so big, I decided to start the digital workflow process from scratch all over again. I stitched the original four images together in Photoshop CS5 by using the File –> Automate –> Photo Merge command. This produces a layered PSD file that is uncropped and a bit rough around the edges.
Next, I retouched a few things such as removing trash in the foreground and a couple dust spots from the camera’s sensor. I also spent about ten minutes scanning the image at 100% zoom to make sure there weren’t any weird digital artifacts from the photo merge process. If there were, then I used the clone stamp tool and healing brush to repair these small sections.
Once the retouching was done, I saved the file as a layered PSD so I could come back to it in the future if I needed to do any further work on layered file. Next, I flattened the layers together by choosing Layer –> Merge Layers from the Photoshop menu. I then cropped the image to the size I needed. In this case, since the final image was going to be 4′ by 12′, I cropped it to a 1:3 aspect ratio. The final pixel dimensions ended up being approximately 3000 pixels high by 9,000 pixels wide. I saved the file as a 16-bit TIFF so that I could use this as my master file.
Since I hadn’t performed any significant enhancement on the image up to this point, I brought the 16-bit TIFF into Nik HDR Efex Pro to perform a single image HDR. My main purpose for the HDR process was to brighten the shadows while also returning detail to the clouds. Additionally, I wanted to add a bit saturation and color to the image so it would have some sparkle when mounted on the wall.
Nik HDR Efex Pro is an incredibly easy program to use, so this phase of the process was very quick. I picked a preset HDR setting and then finessed it just a bit with the adjustment sliders. I also added one or two control points to bring out details in the trees. The resulting image turned out very well with a very high quality.
My final step was to save the image as a JPG at the highest quality setting. I sent the image to Murals Your Way for processing and within a day, they had sent me an email stating that they were already beginning production on the mural. Seven days later, I received the mural on my doorstep and proceeded to open it on the floor of my office. I was stunned! The final result was absolutely beautiful. Seeing the panorama on my computer screen was one thing, but seeing it in living color, 12 feet long was something entirely different.
I immediately called the store owner to tell them the mural was beautiful and that I’d deliver it that day. The grand opening of their new shop was just a few days away, and they had to get the mural on the wall very quickly. They hung the mural on the wall and framed it with some 1′ wood molding. Then, in front of the mural, they created a fly-rod rack with the mural backing their display. As you walk into the store, one of the first things you see is the mural and the fly rods. It really looks great.
If you are interested in making your own large murals, I can highly recommend Murals Your Way. I worked with Wanda and you can reach her directly at 866-910-3687. Or, you can email her at [email protected] Their website is www.muralsyourway.com.
Workshop and Business Updates
We are more than half sold out for our November 2011 photo safari to Tanzania. Our group of intrepid adventurers will be traveling throughout the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara and Tarangire NP in our specially modified Landcruisers. It is the trip of a lifetime and a wonderful opportunity to check another item off of your bucket list! Here’s the link for more information about the Tanzania, Africa photo safari: Tanzania, Africa Photo Safari
I’ve added some classroom workshops for Los Angeles shooters who want to learn the Nikon D300/D300s, Nikon iTTL Wireless Flash system and the Nikon D700/D3/D3s/D3x cameras. I’ll be holding the workshops at Samy’s camera (www.samys.com) in North Hollywood, CA from 4/14/2011 to 4/17/2011. You can find these workshops posted at the Nikonians Academy website (www.nikoniansacademy.com). We’ll be posting more workshops for 2011 soon. Look for news to be posted at the blog and on Facebook, and on Twitter.
We just added a brand new trip to Chobe, Botswana planned for July 29th ‘ August 5th, 2011. It is a very unique and fascinating trip that will be partially operated from a river boat and partially operated on land. The outfitters we’ll be using own two boats, each mounted with an array of Nikon 500mm and 600mm lenses. Since this is our first time working in Chobe, Botswana, we are offering a one-time special price for the trip that should make it enticing to travelers looking for new experiences. You can see photos of the unique arrangement here: naturephotography.squarespace.com/photography-on-the-chobe/
You can sign up for the Chobe, Botswana trip here: www.nikoniansacademy.com.
Photoshop Workshop in Seattle, WA
That’s right, we’re bringing back Photoshop workshops to the Seattle, WA area this June 24th and June 25th. We’ll have two days of Photoshop for Photographers. You should bring your own computer loaded with Photoshop CS3, CS4, CS5 or Photoshop Elements. The skills I teach will be transferrable to any of these software versions. Here’s the link to sign up:
Portrait Photography Workshop in Seattle, WA
July 15th to 16th. We’ll be using strobes, continuous lighting, natural lighting and live human models. You’ll learn about posing, composition, controlling light, metering and exposure.
Our Galapagos trip will be posted as soon as I work out final details with the tour operators. We are now planning for September 2012 for our journey. Feel free to write me directly ([email protected]) if you have questions or want to sign up.
Custom Group Trips
If you have a group and want to arrange a custom photo safari or photo trip, contact us and we’ll put together an incredible itinerary just for you. Simply email or call and we’ll give you all the details for how to go about creating the trip of your dreams.
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.
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