Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Why Process?

           When looking over your digital files do you sometimes wonder why you took the shot in the first place? When sharing photos with others, it's not uncommon to hear the words: "You had to be there to really appreciate the scene" or "A photograph really doesn't do it justice." Have you ever said that? I know I have.
         Even though modern cameras have amazing capabilities and are improving at a rapid pace, they just can't match the abilities of the human eye/brain combination. When we go about looking at various aspects of a scene in front of us, our eyes and brain work flawlessly together and make lightning fast adjustments so that we are able to record a picture or memory that is perfectly exposed. Whatever we look at in the scene is in focus and has enough detail and color so that we can really appreciate the beauty and mood that is conveyed. Not so with a camera. Generally, the camera is trying to find a balance, a middle ground so to speak, to try and gain an even exposure. This can often result in over exposed highlights, under exposed shadows with little detail or just an overall image that lacks the drama that actually caused you to take the shot in the first place. Now there are ways to minimize these deficiencies when composing your photographs but one thing that can also help is to have a good post processing program and learn to use it well. It can save many an image as the examples below will show.
        This shot was taken with a good quality DSLR. It was at a beautiful time of day with great color and cloud formations in the sky reflecting in the river below. We were rushing to dinner and I didn't bring my tripod but I wanted the shot. Hopefully my camera would do a decent job at metering the scene and maybe I could fix the deficiencies later in my go to processing program, Lightroom. Let's see:


Actually, for a single shot, the camera did a pretty good job. The sky is not blown out and there is detail both in the highlights and in the shadows. But trust me, this is not even close to what I witnessed that evening. Mood, color, drama? There was more to this scene, wasn't there? Absolutely! Look below:


This is more like it! The mood, color, drama is all there. I took this shot in RAW format and in doing so I gave myself the best chance to capture what unfolded before my eyes and to bring it all back later in my processing program. These images really impress upon me the benefits of shooting in RAW, investing in good processing software and learning how to use it. Thanks for looking!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Making the Case for Easy

       There are many ways to improve your photography. One simple way is to take photographs of more interesting subjects. Take a picture of a deer and you have a nice photo. Take a picture of a deer crossing a creek, you have a great photo. Take a picture of a deer crossing a creek at sunrise in the early morning mist, you have an amazing photo.
      While I firmly believe this, I don't subscribe to the 'snobby' photographers idea, that if the scene is easy to get to, it is not worth photographing. I am amazed at how many 'pro' photographers out there seem to belittle the 'amateur' photographers who take pictures of well known, easy to get to, sites. Now, I am all for getting off the beaten path. Photographing locations that few people get to see is one of the reasons I carry my gear when hiking and backpacking. I have many images of scenes that you would be hard pressed to find online. But I don't think it is reasonable to assume that because a particular scene is popular with tourists, or if pictures of a certain area glut the internet, that it is somehow demeaning to the craft to photograph it.
      If a magazine asked me to photograph a famous model, I would be crazy to say " No thanks, they have been photographed thousands of times." If a large corporation asked me take a photo of a city skyline for their offices, would it make sense to refuse based on the fact that the internet has hundreds of these shots posted? If a bride and groom want a picture of themselves posed a certain way, would it be reasonable for a wedding photographer to say no, because they have seen that pose far too many times?
      All of the images below have four things in common: they are just minutes away from a parking lot, they have been photographed many times, they are all popular with tourists and they are all found in the Alberta Rockies.  Google these locations on the internet, as I have done, and you will most likely come to the same conclusion that I have: no matter the popularity, take the shot!

                               Lake Minnewanka

                               Moraine Lake


                               Lake Louise

                                           Wedge Pond

                               Two Jack Lake

                               Mistaya Canyon

Thanks for looking!
    

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cut and Polish!

      In one of my earlier posts I likened photography to mining for diamonds. A lot of time, expense and effort can be put out finding beautiful and interesting subjects to photograph not to mention trying to find great light. Just like mining, you usually have to dig through a lot of dirt to find that rare diamond in the rough.
     Finding your perfect subject is only part of the equation. Straight out of camera images rarely convey the beauty and emotion you experienced while at the location. Cameras just are not able to pick up the dynamic range that the human eye can. There is no emotional impact button on the camera. This is where post processing of images come in, the cutting and polishing of your diamond..   
      The vast majority of photographs you see in magazines and travel brochures have been edited to enhance the beauty of a scene. Some a little, some a lot. The point is, if you want to create a photograph with impact, they need to be enhanced. This is especially true if you shoot in RAW format as I usually do. In RAW format, as opposed to JPEG, the camera applies no enhancements to the file, so the photos are usually flat looking. They are bigger files, containing much more information which are to be processed to the liking of the photographer.
     I would like to share with you an example of how the 'cut and polish' portion of creative photography can be really beneficial. The photograph below was taken about six years ago when I was starting to get a little more serious about my photography. I had a small camera that was able to shoot RAW but it was not a DSLR. Unable to change lenses, limited f-stop values and a small sensor made it a challenge at times. But great results were still possible if I spent a little time with this 'diamond'.

photo #1

       What I liked: The subject- This mountain is known as the Monarch. It is in B.C. but I am standing on a rarely used trail in Alberta. Lot of effort went into this viewpoint, I had the blisters to prove it. The composition- The rocks, the forested slope and the mountain itself create triangles, which are great compositional elements. The story- I called this shot "Outcast" because the foreground tree was alone in this rock debris field far away from the densely treed slope below.
      What I didn't like: The crop- It's too tight. It looks a little bottom heavy to me and there should have been more room on the left hand side of the image. The emotion- It just doesn't seem to convey the feeling I had when I was standing on this small trail high in the Rockies. It looks a little cooler than I remember. The sky was more dramatic. I remember the light was more brilliant. Good thing I shot in RAW and am able to work on some of these deficiencies.

photo #2

     
      Using Lightroom, I made adjustments in contrast, clarity, highlights, exposure, and shadows that really started to make the image 'pop'. This formed a great base for my next phase of polishing.

photo #3

   
      This is where the image really started to take shape and become more dynamic in my opinion.  Unfortunately, I couldn't do much about the tight crop on the left. Lesson learned. Get it right in the field! In Photoshop, I used the transform tool to stretch the photo up. It looked more balanced to me. I could have cropped the sky but it would have changed the aspect, making it more square. Tougher to frame a print. I also warmed the image up, and using brushes, I brought in more 'light' from the right side because in reality, the mountain did seem lit up.

photo #4






       Now all I wanted to do was fine tune the photo. Using clarity, color saturation and sharpening I tried to add a little more impact. These adjustments were small but can be noticed when the photo is enlarged. This is definitely more like what I had in mind when I took the shot. I am happy with this result and usually would stop here. But sometimes you just get on a roll and have to push it just a bit more.

photo #5





     I added a little glow to the shot and also a texture. The image is a little softer but the colors seem richer and deeper. Maybe a little less realistic from the last one but some may find it more 'artsy'. It may be pushing the limits for some people but it's fun to try different things when you process and edit your images. After cutting and polishing diamonds, they don't all look the same. There is variety, appealing to different tastes. It's really no different in fine art photography. Thanks for looking!

Monday, January 26, 2015

One Location- 4 Stories

       We recently returned from another trip to Mexico. This time we went to San Jose del Cabo and I managed to squeeze off a few shots while there.
       As I have mentioned before on this blog, it can be a good idea to take numerous photographs in one location during one session. While the camera freezes a moment in time, the reality is, things are constantly changing all around us. If you leave a spot after just one shot, you may have missed a great opportunity to capture something.
       It is also beneficial to go to the same location at a different time. This will allow you to see things, literally, in a whole new light. Your first attempt may not have produced what you had hoped for. But what if you went there in the morning or at night?  What would it look like if there were more or less people there? You get the picture.
      So lets look at 4 images from San Jose del Cabo that illustrate these points. All of these shots were taken at the exact same location.

Image #1

   The first thing I noticed while standing on the beach in front of our resort were the waves. They were very powerful. I composed the shot so that the different elements of the scene divided the frame into fairly equal portions. The sky, the wave, the retreating surf and the sand. Using burst mode allowed me to take many shots of a fast moving wave. Then I could choose my favorite.

Image #2
  
    Turning to the left I noticed an interesting cloud formation. I liked the way the angle of the cloud and the angle of the shoreline created lines to lead your eye to the hills in the distance. Having my lens fully zoomed out, capturing a wider viewpoint, helps to show the viewer the surroundings of the wave of the first image. Now you have a better idea of where we were and the atmosphere around us.

Image #3

     If you look closer in the previous shot, there are people on the beach way off in the distance. Zooming in we see that they are fisherman. Now we have a picture that has a more specific subject and can tell a story. While still a landscape photograph, it has a bit of a journalistic feel. Its documenting a common activity in the area. I waited until a wave came crashing in before pressing the shutter button in the hopes of adding a little more drama to the scene.

Image #4

       You may have noticed in the three previous photographs that while there was atmosphere in the area, the light was very boring. I decided that I had to come back to the same spot when the light was different to get another take on the area. So, a few days later, I dragged myself out of bed early to capture the sun rise. If there were no clouds in the sky, I probably would not have got up. I went to the same location with my tripod and set up. Wanting as many elements in the scene as possible, I included sky, water and sand. Composing the scene so that the shore was angled made the foreground a little more interesting and using a long exposure here to soften the waves helped the texture of the sand to stand out more. And obviously, the sunrise creating the amazing color in the sky is the main reason this shot is so different from the rest.
        So there you have it. Hopefully these photographs help to illustrate the benefits of taking numerous photographs from one specific location. Thanks for looking!



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Missing Autumn

     We have just had our first blast of cold, snowy weather here in Alberta. Even when you know it's coming, it still takes awhile to get used to. Oh well, hopefully I will be able to get some winter images to share. I thought I would post an image from a few years back that shows the amazing colors and textures found in an Alberta autumn.
     By the way, I would like to thank all those that purchased prints from me last week at the Farmfair show in Edmonton. I hope you enjoy them.
    Thanks for looking!



Friday, October 24, 2014

Hidden Gem

        This past summer I backpacked with friends to a familiar area, Egypt Lake in the Alberta Rockies. We had been there around 3 or 4 years ago but the scenery is so beautiful we had to go again. I photographed these falls last time I was there but this is a different composition, which fortunately captured a little sunlight, a rare occurrence on this trip.
       These falls are located on the outlet creek of Scarab Lake and just a few feet to the left of where I was standing is a 300 ft waterfall descending into Egypt Lake. Never get tired of this hidden gem. Thanks for looking!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Incoming

       Can't believe how long it has been since I have made a post! I took this photo some time ago but recently revisited it and made some adjustments in processing.
      While driving down a gravel road I had my eye on an incoming storm. After driving for some time, I came upon an abandoned house. As the storm was approaching fast, I had no time to look for the owners of the property, so I had to shoot from the ditch. Although I would have liked to get some better shots of the house, the amazing cloud formations made a dramatic backdrop for the lone house and tree. Thanks for looking!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Celebrate Summer

      With fall in the air, it won't be too long and the warm weekends of campfires and barbeques will be finished. All the more reason to appreciate the opportunities of getting together with friends and enjoying a weekend of summer fun.
      We spent the past weekend camping with friends, and witnessed a beautiful fireworks display reflected in our friends fish pond. I set up my camera on a tripod, opened the shutter for 20-30 seconds and was rewarded with shots of all kinds of unique shapes of light in the sky. What really made the shots for me was the dock in the pond. While most of us sat on the hill overlooking the pond, some went down to the dock to view the show, which made for a great summer scene and added a nice element to the photo.Thanks for looking!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Lonely Sentinel

    Eastern Alberta is home to many abandoned houses and barns. Not so common are old grain elevators. Years ago these huge structures dotted the prairies and and because they were so big, pilots would use them as directional landmarks when flying airplanes. Unfortunately, these prairie giants are disappearing, many being replaced with more modern structures and even more being destroyed.
     This particular elevator is found at the small hamlet of Dorothy, near Drumheller Alberta.It is very popular with photographers and rightly so. It is rare to find one of these old sentinels still standing tall but at the same time displaying their age, having a real historical feel. Thanks for looking!




Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Nina Sola

     While preparing to leave the small village of Quimixto on the Bay of Banderas in Mexico, we watched the local children playing on the beach. Running around the beach, dodging the tourists, the small group of ninos were chasing a soccer ball. All except one. This little girl was content to be alone, drawing pictures in the sand. Fortunately, after a little while, one of the boys wandered over to where she was sitting and joined her in making sand art. Minutes later, I put down the camera and challenged the kids to a quick game of 'footie'.