Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Photowalking Utah: Temple Square

Temple Square 2
Temple Square 2
Originally uploaded by hpebley3
It's time again for our 2nd "Christmas Lights at Temple Square" walk and last event for this year. This time we're going to try something a little bit different. We're meeting at the City library on 4th South for a mini-clinic on low-light photography. Then we'll take the train up to Temple Square to put into practice what we've learned. (The train ride from the Library up to Temple Square is free.) You are welcome to come to one or both parts as time allows.

The date is this Thursday, December 18th. The clinic will run from 6:00pm to 7:00pm and be in Conference Room A, located on the lower level beneath the library foyer. It's accessible using the foyer staircase (down the stairs and to the left) or using the elevator next to the auditorium. The practical part will be from 7:30pm to 9:00pm.

Sunset is at 5:01pm that day, so if you want sunset and twilight shots, you might want to head down there early for a pre-clinic warm-up walk. You'll probably run into some others doing the same thing.

Here's the official announcement and here's the Flickr discussion. Please add a note to the discussion so we can get a head count for the room.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Astronomy Safari

Star trails
Star trails
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

The December Utah Photo Safari meet will be this Wednesday, December 17th. Starting at 6:30pm, we're going to have a short course in astro-photography. We're meeting in front of the physics building in President's Circle at the University of Utah (125 S. 1400 E. Salt Lake City, UT 84112). From there we're going to the outdoor observatory.

Since we'll be outside, be sure to dress appropriately: gloves, jacket, hats, battery powered sockets; whatever you need to stay warm. Equipment-wise suggestions include tripod, long lens and a flashlight. No flashes will be allowed.

Canon owners have a special bonus: there will be telescopes available with Canon mounts to be able to get up close on some night-time sky objects.

The official announcement and discussion are on this Flickr thread.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Photowalking Utah: Hill Air Museum

C-48 Skytrain
C-48 Skytrain
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

The next Photowalking Utah outing will convene tomorrow, Saturday, December 13th at 8:00 am at the Hill Aerospace Museum. Thirty minutes north of Salt Lake City right off I-15, this is one of the premier air museums in the United States. Cost is free, but donations are gladly accepted.

Skill level is unimportant. It doesn't matter if you shoot a digital SLR, point and shoot, film camera, camera phone, whatever. Come on out, join us and spend some time hanging out with other photographers having a good time.

The original announcement is on the Photowalking Utah website and discussion is in this thread.

Hope to see you there!

View Larger Map

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Metering: What is it? (part 1)

This is the first in a series on using the built-in meter in your camera.

What is metering?

Metering is simply the process of using a light meter to measure the brightness of a scene to determine the proper exposure. Historically it was done with separate hand-held meters that gave you a reading of the light level; the photographer would then look this up on a chart to determine the exposure settings to use and finally dial them into the camera. In time, camera manufacturers were able to shrink them down and build them into the camera's viewfinder so the photographer could more easily set the exposure while composing the image. Now, the computers in the cameras use them to automatically set the exposure for you when you're in any mode except manual.

My old Minolta had two needles on the right of the viewfinder. A thin needle moves up and down indicating the amount of light. A second, thicker needle with a circle indicates the current exposure settings. As the f/stop and shutter speed are adjusted, the second needle moves up and down. When the thin needle is centered in the larger needle's circle, you have the exposure the camera thinks is correct.

Here's the meter on the back of my digital SLR.
Metering 1

When active, there is a little pointer that runs along the bottom of the circled ruler. The center position is proper exposure and the two sides indicate under and over exposure. Adjusting the f/stop, shutter speed and ISO causes the pointer to move from one side to the other, indicating the current exposure relative to what the camera calculates as correct. There is a similar meter on the bottom of the viewfinder.

What are the various automatic modes?

Modern cameras have an array of light sensors built into them that they use to determine the light level in various parts of the image. In all the "creative" modes, the camera uses this information to get what it calculates is the best image for that mode. In these modes, the photographer has no control over how the computer interprets the information coming from the light meters.

In the semi-automatic modes of aperture and shutter priority, the meters are used by the computer to determine the part of the exposure equation that the photographer has left under its control. But, there are three options the photographer can set to give them finer control over how the computer uses the meters in these two modes. They mostly work the same way across all vendors, but they go by different names.

Manufacturer Whole frame Point mode Center-weighted
Canon Evaluative Partial Center-weighted
Nikon Matrix Spot Center-weighted
Olympus ESP Spot Center-weighted
Pentax Multi-segment Spot Center-weighted

The first mode, Whole frame in the chart above, is called something different by each manufacturer but basically works the same in all cases. It takes multiple readings across the entire image and balances the various values to get the best exposure setting. A simplistic explanation is it sets the exposure so the brightest area is not blown out while at the same time it tries to keep darker areas from being too dark. It also tries to figure out what is a neutral grey and put it in the middle between the lightest light and darkest dark.

Point mode uses just one well defined area of the sensor to take the light reading from and expose for it. This gives the photographer control over the exposure by pointing that one area at the part of the scene they want to have properly exposed and locking in the exposure. Then they can recompose the image and click the shutter. For Canon in Partial metering mode, this well defined area of the screen is always the center of the viewfinder. For the other manufacturers with their Spot metering modes, this well defined area is the focus point that is used. This keeps you from having to use exposure lock if the focus point is correct.

In Center-weighted mode, the center of the screen is primarily used to compute the exposure with areas surrounding the center given secondary importance. The outside edges are ignored. This is frequently used in portrait photography where the person in the center is most important, but the area immediately around them also needs to be taken into consideration and the area on the outside is unimportant.

The next article will show when and how you can use these different modes. To be notified when it's published, be sure to subscribe to either the RSS feed, the e-mail list or follow the Twitter feed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Utah Photo Safari: Scavenger hunt

This month's Photo Safari is a scavenger hunt! We're meeting in the Salt Lake City Public Library atrium located at 400 South and 300 East on Saturday, November 15th at 1pm. We'll form up into teams, get our assignments then split up, find pictures and collect our points.

Photo passes for the Library have been pre-arranged.

At 5pm we'll meet at Charlie Chow's across the street from the library for dinner and a review of pictures and points.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Light: Science and Magic

Light: Science and Magic
I admittedly haven't read a lot of books on photography, but I do frequently read technology books, and Light: Science and Magic is one of the best I have read. Many challenges arise for technical books: keep the reader engaged, don't write a dry treatise, maintain balance between too basic and too advanced and include all the relevant points so the reader can follow the train of thought. The authors manage do all this and impart a great deal of knowledge on how light works in making pictures.

I appreciate their approach of presenting a problematic situation and then giving principles of how to solve the problems encountered. They don't give a cookbook recipe but rather go into details about what the challenge is and explain how to overcome it with both positive and negative examples.

The situations presented tend towards product shots such as might be found in sales catalogs, but this is in no way a limitation. The authors simply use this context to present principles of lighting that are applicable to any type of subject. This gives the advantage of a tightly controlled environment, so the reader can easily reproduce the setup to get hands-on experience and cement the lessons in their mind. The training can then be applied outside the "laboratory" in real-world situations.

In addition to writing a great book, the authors created and hang out in the Light Science and Magic Flickr group. This group is specifically for people to post images inspired by the book with explanations about how they made the image. There are also low-volume, high-quality conversations in the discussion section.

Finally, they run regular challenges based on topics covered in the book. Currently (November 2008) the third such challenge has just started. The idea of this challenge is to use a single light source to illuminate an object but also provide a graduated background, giving depth to the image. The rewards for participation is learning more about lighting with one lucky submitter being awarded a free book from Focal Press.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Photowalking Utah: Antelope Island

Antelope Island
Antelope Island
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

Join Photowalking Utah this Saturday, November 1st, at Antelope Island for the annual Bison round-up. Starting at 9:30, we'll be getting up close at the Bison pens where the state park ranges give them their health checkups. When we're done there, we'll head over to Garr ranch to check out the historic sheep ranch.

Pay attention to the weather and dress accordingly. Most of this will be outside.

Meet in the parking lot west of the entrance gate in Syracuse. There is an entrance fee to the park $9/per car, we can break up into groups and share rides for those interested.

9:30 am - approx 12:00 pm

Antelope Island
State Park
4528 West 1700 South
Syracuse, UT 84075

As always, skill level is unimportant. Nor does it matter if you shoot a digital SLR, point and shoot, medium format film camera, camera phone or whatever. Come on out and join us and spend some time hanging out with other photographers and having a good time.

Please post an RSVP comment if your planning to attend. Scott Smith (the organizer this month) may be able to get discount pricing into the park if we have a large group.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Bear Lake Regional Photography Seminar

My wife and I just got back from a photography seminar put on by the local photography club up in Montpelier, Idaho. This was the first time either of us had gone to an informal seminar like this and were not quite sure what to expect. We had a great time meeting people and hearing the presenters. It was held in the Oregon Trail Center with a little over 50 attendees and 3 presenters. The organizers had been a little apprehensive since this was their first event of this type and didn't know what type of response to expect. They were very pleased with the turn out. Montpelier is in the south-eastern corner of Idaho, 25 miles from Utah and 15 miles from Montana. Given this location, most people were from the southern Idaho, north-western Montana and north-eastern Utah. My wife and I and one other attendee were from the Salt Lake City area. And there were two attendees, friends of the organizer, from California.

Sliding HannahFriday night was registration where we checked in, met the organizer Ross Walker and submitted a framed image each for the photo competition. I rarely make prints of my images and was moderately pleased with the way mine turned out. I thought Diane's was stunning. As can be seen above, it was a brightly lit yellow, orange and red flower on an almost black background. After we checked in to both the seminar and the hotel, we met up with Ann Torrence and went to the recommended spot for dinner. The food was acceptable and the company was superb.

Saturday was spent all day in three lecture sessions with a break for lunch. The first presenter was Roger Boe, a retired pediatrician who now does overseas medial missionary work. In conjunction with his charitable work, he takes the opportunity to enjoy his passion of photography in the context of other cultures. He talked about travel photography and how he believes the feel of the location is best captured when people are included in the image. He displayed and discussed a number of his own images. After that, photos submitted by the audience were displayed on the screen and we critiqued them as a group. This was an interesting exercise as there was a variety of opinion at times about what was "good" and "bad" with an image. There were times certain features some thought should be reduced and/or eliminated whereas others thought that same feature was what made the image. Just another demonstration that much of what we call beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

After lunch, the second presenter was Alan Stauffer, the owner of Alan's Photo Store in Afton, Wyoming. He presented two topics. The first was about a recent self-assigned project to get closer to his portrait subjects and presented a number of images from this work, discussing various aspects in making the photos. He mentioned there are three ways to get closer: use a long lens, physically get close with a standard or wide-angle lens or crop. On cropping, his point was with the high-megapixel count on modern SLRs, you can crop a lot and still have enough pixels to print out a reasonably sized print. (This echoed a statement made by Kenneth Linge at the September Photowalking Utah event where Kenneth showed a 42" diagonal print that was taken with a 6 megapixel camera.) He also mentioned, when shooting kids close up, if you get in obnoxiously close, to the point where they're distracted, you can then back off a bit and they'll relax and start ignoring you, giving you the opportunity to get some good candid shots. If you just get in to your desired shooting distance, they may not relax enough to get the types of shots you want.

Alan's second topic was a beginners' tutorial on Photoshop. If you knew nothing about photo editing, it probably was informative. I did hear some comments from others indicating it was new material. I consider myself at an advanced beginner or beginning intermediate level and found it very basic. In some cases, the techniques demonstrated were probably not the best way for new users; they could probably get better results easier with other methods.

The final presenter was Ann Torrence, a friend of ours writing a book on the highway US-89. She wove together details about her project with how to do a largish photo project. As she talked, she had a slide show of images from her work running behind her, punctuating the topics and providing glimpses into her passion for the highway as well as photography. One of the things I got from her presentation, which I don't think she explicitly said, was to carefully evaluate and estimate the size of your project before you start it to make sure it's not bigger than you want. Another take away, which she did mention, was to stick with it. There will be times of disappointment and feeling overwhelmed. At these junctures, take a deep breath and press on.

After a break for dinner, the photo contest was judged. It was open to all attendees and I think everyone brought something, putting close to 60 images on the wall. There was a single judge who did a fabulous job. He had a large amount of judging experience as well as a formal degree in fine arts with an emphasis on photography. For each photo, he gave a one to two minute commentary about the good in the photo as well as how it could be improved. This was as informative as any of the other presentations. It was fascinating to hear his perspective on composition, lighting, and color and how they interacted to make a strong or weak image. In the end, he choose three for awards. Mine happened to place third.

Sunday was a free form day where people could choose to do whatever they wanted. Maps were provided with interesting photo subjects in the region marked. Unfortunately, I had to catch a flight early Sunday afternoon for a professional conference starting Monday, so we had to leave early. All in all, it was a great experience and will definitely consider attending similar events in the future.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Photowalking Utah: Gardner Villiage

Radar failure
Radar failure
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

Photowalking Utah is meeting at Gardner Village this Saturday, October 18th to photograph ghosts, witches and other tricksters. This is going to be our kid-friendliest Photowalk yet. If you have them, dress them up or hand them cameras and bring them along. We'll be meeting at Archibald’s Restaurant at 3:30 pm and wandering around until 6:00pm when it's time for dinner, meeting back at Archibald's. Here is the complete discussion.

Skill level is unimportant. Nor does it matter if you shoot a digital SLR, point and shoot, medium format film camera, camera phone or whatever. Come on out and join us and spend some time hanging out with other photographers and having a good time.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Utah Photo Safari: Mt. Olivet Cemetery

Originally uploaded by hpebley3

Saturday, October 11th, meet the Utah Photo Safari group at Mt. Olivet Cemetary. We'll be starting by the main gate at 5:00 pm to get some late afternoon sun and continue through sundown and moonrise.

The cemetery is located at 1342 E. 500 South, Salt Lake City, across the street from the U's Rice-Eccles Stadium. Parking is just behind the Friendship Manor on the corner of 1300 E and 500 S (enter off of 500 S).

Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 26, 2008

How to create a photo with a pure black background

I recently posted an image on Flickr with an all black background. One of the first comments (by basswulf) asked if I shot the image with a black background or if I did it in post processing. It was actually some of both; most of it was handled in camera with a black background supplemented by a minor bit of touch up after the fact. I thought I'd share here how I typically do this type of shot.

My buddy, super photographer and all around great guy, Rich Legg, wrote an article about creating a photo with a pure white background. My technique is similar but slightly different because I use Paint Shop Pro instead of Photoshop and I'm doing a black background instead of a white one.

I start by shooting against a black background. In this case, the background simply consists of a black piece of fabric suspended by the overhead floor joists in my unfinished basement. I try to put a bit of space between my lights and the background to eliminate light spill onto the fabric. I also try to orient the lights so they are not pointing at the background. Doing this helps give a nice even black background and minimizes the amount of touch up work required.

1 Black background startHere's the starting image exposed at f/14 with a 1/160th shutter speed and ISO 100. Without flashes, this exposure setting would cause the entire image to be almost completely black, even with the overhead lights on. Exposing this way helps produce a black background and lessens post processing work. As can be seen, the background is very close to black. In spite of all this, if you look closely, you can see a bit of detail on the right side. This is where the fabric ended and some of the items in storage in my basement can be faintly seen. A combination of ambient, a little spill from the strobes and being stopped down caused them to start fairly dark but visible.

2 Black background by faceAbsolute black, in RBG color space, is when all three color components are zero. Zooming in close to the face on the left side, we can see the background has values close to black but not entirely black. In fact, it's a very, very, very dark gray.

3 Black background hand detailLooking at a zoomed in portion of dark detail on the hand, we can see the green and blue components are very similar to the black, but the red is a bit higher. This means its similar to the background but has some additional information providing subtle details for the eye.

4 Black background histogram adjustmentSince the goal is to get the background black, I want to adjust the image so the background's three components are all zero while maintaining the relative value of red component in the hand. The best tool I've found for this is the Histogram Adjustment. This tool allows a number of adjustments, but for the purposes of this image, we just want to adjust the lower bound. By sliding the black pointer on the left side up from 0 to about 10, we cut off all the very small variations on the black side of the image without significantly changing the lighter portions.

5 Black background by faceNow, when we look at the background, we can see it's gone to pure black.

6 Black background hand detailBut we still have some red component in the details, so we haven't completely lost them.

I didn't post an overall image at this point, but the faint portions of unwanted background detail on the right side of the image are greatly reduced. In fact, I couldn't see them at all. But when I ran the color picker over that area of the image, I did see RBG values other than 0, 0, 0, so I knew there was still some more work to be done.

7 Black background negative pre touchupA cool trick is to change the image into a negative. By doing this, the mostly invisible details in the black background suddenly show up as tints when the background is made white. The blue/gray details clearly visible here on the right were nearly impossible to see in the positive version.

9 Black background negative by faceAs can be seen in this close up, the previously all black section is now pure white.

8 Black background negative post touchupThe next step is to select the paintbrush and set its color to pure white. Now I just paint out the details I don't want on the right side.

10 Black background finishedOnce all the background that I want to finish as pure black is painted a pure white, I again select the negative image adjustment and everything changes back to the proper colors. At this point the background is pure black and the image is ready for any further processing I may want to do to it.

Note: Click on any image to see a larger size.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Full Photographic Finale (for the week)

This last weekend was full of photographic culture for me. Friday night I went to a career retrospective by Sam Abell, a National Geographic contract photographer for 30 years. Saturday afternoon, I joined the Photowalking Utah group to view a presentation by Kenneth Linge, a wedding and portrait photographer. Both these photographers have a long history of exceptional work and both are about as different as Bob Newhart and Robin Williams.

Sam Abell's photography is very documentary in nature. His goal is, as an observer, to record places and events as they are. His presentation followed this style with a scripted slide show and an allotted time that he finished to the minute. It was a documentary of his career. This is not to imply a dry lecture. Far from it. He held a room of over 100 people spell bound for two hours as he showed images and regaled us with stories from his personal family life as well as tales of adventure from his professional travel. Interspersed with all this were tips for improving our photos: use strong diagonals, bad weather means good photos, put peoples' heads and shoulders above the horizon line, compose and wait, take pictures from behind people to respect their privacy.

As a portrait photographer, Kenneth Linge's photography is highly personal. With the goal to capture the individual's personality at its best, he employs copious amounts of personal interaction to surface their inner beauty. Like Sam, his presentation followed his photographic style. The opening "Hi I'm Kenneth. What do you want to talk about today?" exemplified our entire time with him. It was highly interactive with participants' questions and comments driving the direction of the discussion as we covered topics ranging from the color of his studio walls to the psychology of photographing people.

Even with the great differences in picture and presentation style, I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent listening and learning from each. If you ever get a chance to see either one, I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Using Focal Length in Composition

As photographers, we frequently use the zoom feature to adjust the size of the main subject without moving the camera position. In this article, I will explore other aspects of zoom, also known as focal length, in composition.

Loosely defined, focal length is the zoom setting on the lens. It is indicated by a number, measured in millimeters, indicating the distance of the lens from the sensor. Smaller numbers, meaning the lens is closer to the sensor, produce a wider field of view. Conversely, larger numbers, meaning the lens is further from the sensor, produce more magnification with a narrower field of view.

FocalLengthCompWideAngleFocalLengthCompHighMagnificationTo get an intuitive understanding of what's happening, think about two rods that are a fixed distance apart on one end and connected by a sliding ring. As you move the ring closer to the fixed end, the free ends will move apart. As you move the ring further from the fixed ends, the free ends will move closer together. By analogy, the fixed end is the sensor in the camera, the lens is the ring and the free end represents the field of view.

Besides the obvious size of the main object, there are two other effects caused at the extremes of focal length spectrum. The first happens at short focal lengths and is called foreground expansion. The second happens at long focal lengths and is background compression.

42/52 Pointing the fingerForeground expansion magnifies items close to the lens to look proportionally larger than other items in the image. This can be used to emphasize one object over another. This image is taken at a focal length of 18mm with the finger about 2 inches from the camera lens; my body and face are at arms length. With this setup, my hand is about twice the size of my face.

Background compression happens at larger focal lengths with a narrower field of view and is where perspective causes the background to pull in closer to the subject. Here are several shots at progressively longer focal lengths: 18 mm, 55 mm, 100 mm, 205 mm and 300mm. The camera position was moved back so the main subject is the same size in all the shots. With the narrower field of view and increased magnification, even though the subject is the same size, the background is significantly changed. This can be seen best by paying particular attention to the fence and trees.
18 mm55 mm100 mm205 mm300 mm

Using zoom can make things more convenient by changing the size of the main subject from a fixed position. But next time your out shooting, remember that by moving around it can also be used to change the composition and overall feel of the image.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Utah Photo Safari: Donut Falls

Donut Falls trailhead
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

The Utah Photo Safari group's next adventure is this Saturday at Donut Falls. We'll meet at the carpool parking lot near the beginning of Big Cottonwood Canyon at 6:00 pm and then drive up to the trail head (a couple yards shy of the 11 mile marker). The plan is to be on the trail at 6:30 pm. Hopefully we should be able to get some good evening, low-light shots.

It takes roughly 30 minutes to hike the trail which is a pretty easy hike of 1.5 miles round trip with an elevation gain of only 420 feet. Plan on being at the falls for about an hour. Total trail time should be around 2 hours. The path is well-maintained and suitable for all ages.

In addition to your camera, you'll probably want to bring along:

  • Water
  • Bug spray
  • A flashlight
  • A tripod

Anyone interested is invited.

After the hike we'll be meeting at Porcupine Grill around 9:00 pm. If you're planning on coming to eat, please RSVP on this thread so reservations can be made.

Porcupine Grill menu directions
3698 Fort Union Blvd.
Salt Lake City, UT 84121

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Photowalking Utah: Ogden

To Ogden
Originally uploaded by The Episodic Author

Our next Photowalking Utah event is this Saturday, August 16th. We'll be meeting at Union Station in Ogden at 5:30 pm. We'll be shooting in and around the station and then heading down 25th Street. Here is the complete discussion.

For those interested in taking FrontRunner up, the train leaving Salt Lake's Intermodal Hub departs at 4:25, arriving in Ogden at 5:25. It's about a half mile walk down the road to Union Station. Return trips leave every 8 minutes past the hour until 11:08. (Here's the full schedule.) A one-way FrontRunner ticket costs $6.00. An all day pass costs $13.50. So unless you're making side trips (e.g. transfer to Trax or buses), two one way tickets are less expensive.

Skill level is unimportant. Nor does it matter if you shoot a digital SLR, point and shoot, medium format film camera, camera phone or whatever. Come on out and join us and spend some time hanging out with other photographers and having a good time.

Hope to see you there!
Hmm, maybe I should finish processing the photos from last month's walk...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Up, up and away

Originally uploaded by hpebley3

Time to set the coffee maker timer before going to bed so you can get up early to join us for the next Photowalking Utah event. We're going to watch the hot air balloons launch at the Provo Freedom Festival this Friday the 4th. They start early so we're meeting at 6:30am. Here's a map to the launch site; the address is Fox Field, 1100 North Freedom Boulevard, Provo, UT.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How to prepare for a photowalk

I've never been on a photowalk before. How do I prepare?

This great question was recently raised on the Photowalking Utah discussion forum. I figured I could do a quick Google search and point the questioner to a couple answers. Surprisingly, I didn't find any, so here are some of my thoughts on the subject.

First, unless you know how to take photos without a camera, you will need one. This can be anything you want to use. Bring something you're comfortable with or want to learn to use better. Photowalks are not intended to be gear competitions. I've seen everything from cell phone cameras to five figure DSLR rigs to medium format film cameras used. There is no disgrace in having a point and shoot and there's no superiority in bringing the most expensive thing on the market. The goal is to have fun and learn to use what you have better.

Most cameras these days have batteries. Make sure they're charged. A backup would be a good idea. And don't forget to top off the batteries in accessories too.

There aren't many things more frustrating than getting the blinking "CF full" message in your viewfinder. Make sure you have enough space in your memory cards. Carry extra; better more than you need than not enough. Of course if you shoot film, memory cards won't do you much good; just have enough film for the trip.

Photowalking is a compound word. You need to take photos and you need to walk. A good pair of shoes appropriate for the location allows you to focus on shooting. The wrong pair will be a distraction. Make sure you fall in the first category. Some walking/sport shoes in an urban setting are probably a good choice. On the other hand, in a rocky environment some hiking boots might be better. I really appreciated the organizers of a recent photowalk letting us know there were some marshy areas around where we were going so I could bring some footwear appropriate for that environment.

Dress appropriately for the weather and check the forecast just before you leave. If there's going to be a wide swing in temperatures, use multiple light layers to add or remove insulation as needed. If there's going to be precipitation, don't not go. Rather take protection and have fun with the reflections and moody environment. Things look completely different in the rain. You might want to have a change of clothes in the car though so you don't have to drive home soggy.

Take care of your body. Walking is exercise and staying hydrated is important. Particularly outdoors during summer, make sure you have some sort of liquid available. This may be having some cash to pop into a local market to buy it on the fly if you're in town or carrying a bottle of water or canteen if you're out in the rough. In any case, make sure you know your limits and the environment and plan accordingly.

Know where and when the photowalk starts. Everyone misses out if the group leaves without you. You lose the synergy generated by the group and the group misses your input. There are several web sites that give time and distance between two points. (Here's one and here's another.) You enter your address and the address of the photowalk's start and you get back directions with estimated average driving time; adjust for weather and local road conditions. And then leave 10 minutes early.

The items above are the most important things to consider. If you want to go light, that's about it. Now let's cover some optional items.

First, taking optional items will probably require something to carry them. Depending on your load, a backpack, camera bag or large pockets will be suffice.

A hard-drive based media viewer is a really useful tool. My work flow is to start with two empty CF cards and the viewer (also typically empty). When I fill a card, I swap CF cards in the camera. I then put the full one in the viewer and start the backup. I can then continue shooting. When the backup is finished, I clear that card and have it ready for when the second card is filled. Repeat as needed. When I'm done with the photowalk it all gets downloaded to the computer and cleared from the portable devices.

Depending on the location, sometimes a tripod is useful. I've been on some photowalks where I've used it quite a bit. I've been on others where I haven't used it at all. Others fall in between. Sometimes I've not used it and should have. It all depends on personal style and the types of shots you're taking. I tend to err on the side of over planning and typically take it.

Lastly, consider the location and plan for possible needed accessories. If you're going to someplace during the day with lots of reflections, for example a car show or a lake or a river, a circular polarizer filter will help you cut out some of those reflections. If you're going to be catching a sunrise or sunset, some people like a graduated neutral density filter. A standard neutral density filter can give you interesting effects by blurring movement in bright light. Even during daylight, I always carry a flash and radio remotes, with charged batteries. You never know when a fill light will be just what you want.

In closing, mentally plan your trip. Think about the location and environment and the types of shots you want to get. Consider a new technique you've been wanting to try but haven't and plan to use it. I know people with very extensive DSLR setups who have attended with simple point and shoot cameras to limit their equipment options and focus on composition. Other's have attended with a new piece of equipment specifically to experiment with them. Some who are comfortable in the automatic modes on their camera, use the expertise of others on the walk to get more comfortable with aperture priority or manual modes. Finally, plan enough to get out there and have fun, but not so much that you lose spontaneity.

If anyone has any other ideas, feel free to share them in the comments.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Flash isn't just for night

Put your mouse over the image to see the effect of flash.

Most people realize the flash helps pictures at night and indoors. It is sometimes missed how it can help in bright daylight. The image above, straight from the camera, was shot at 5:30 on a summer's evening with bright light. Due to the low sun, the back side of her head is brightly lit but the face is in shadow. This is an example of a non-obvious place where flash will help. (Put your mouse over the image to see the difference.)

Without making any adjustments to the exposure on the camera, I turned on my flash in manual mode and set it for full power. (The flash was on a radio remote trigger.) I set the timer on the camera and triggered the shutter. I then walked over a couple steps and held the flash so it was opposite the sun. This lit the shadow areas on her face and front of the dress, allowing the viewer to see more detail without losing the highlights from the sun.

Here's a close-up view of just her face to see the difference with a bit more clarity.

Put your mouse over the image to see the effect of flash.

Thanks to www.webdevelopersnotes.com for directions on how to do the mouse over trick.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

May Photochallenge Week 4 Recap

May Photochallenge Week 4 Recap
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

May's PhotoChallenge is in full swing and heading into the final week. After a slow start the first partial week, I've been able to keep up with the daily shots for the last three weeks. I'm a bit pleased with myself for this, since daily consistency is not something I'm terribly good at.

Last week's topic was a bit more abstract in that what we shot each day was seven items rather than the same item all week, as we have for the rest of the month. I don't know if it was not having the same item every day to work with or something else, but I found this week harder than the others and I'm not as pleased with my photos. That said, I really do like the last two.

The Flags shot I "saw" when I passed a new big-box store decorated for its grand opening. It was on the evening commute in daylight about an hour before sunset. I knew the image I wanted required darkness, so I went back the next night and took it. I ran into more difficulties than expected because when I went, even though it was after 11pm, they still had the parking lot lights on.

The Photographers shot I took on a Photowalking Utah event. We were crossing the street and as I walked, I pointed the camera over my shoulder and triggered the shutter. There was absolutely zero composition. Typically when I do this, the results are about the same as the effort I put into them: nothing. This one actually turned out pretty decent and I love the bonus with the walk sign.

Next week's topic is My thumb; this ought to be interesting.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Photowalk Utah: Memorial Park on Memorial Day Weekend

Brick chapel
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

This month's Photowalking Utah walk-about will be from City Creek park up stream to Memorial Grove and then up hill to the Capitol building here in Salt Lake City. Rain or shine, it's scheduled for this Saturday, May 24th starting at 5:00pm. We're meeting at the entrance to City Creek park on the north-east corner of State Street and North Temple.

Please leave a comment here if you plan on being there. As always, this is open to anyone with a camera regardless of skill level or equipment. We're an informal, non-competitive group looking to have fun with and learn from each other.

Monday, May 19, 2008

How to fake a miniature in Corel's Paint Shop Pro Photo XI

I first saw fake miniatures (aka tilt-shift effect) on my friend Rich Legg's blog last year. Since then I've had it in the back of my mind to try it out. At a recent Photowalking Utah event I saw the perfect shot and took it. (Apparently I wasn't alone in my assessment.)

When I finally got around to doing the post-processing, I couldn't find a good, complete tutorial for Paint Shop Pro XI, so I decided to write up what I did. None of this technique is really original to me, but I did have to do some searching and adapt what I found elsewhere in a couple places. Hopefully, having this consolidated will help someone else.

First, a brief overview. The idea is to trick the brain's perception of the image to think it's looking at something smaller than it actually is. This is done by changing the queues the brain uses to gauge size. To start, this technique works best where the perspective is from above, looking down on the main scene. Secondly, we emulate a narrow depth of field, typical of macro shots. Finally, we boost the color saturation and decrease some detail, typical of models.

And a couple house keeping notes:
  • Click on any image to see a larger view.
  • The specific adjustment values given in this tutorial work well for this image. They may need to be adjusted for differently sized or exposed images.

We'll start with this original.
1 Original
As already stated, we want something where we're looking down on a scene that's fairly well exposed. This was taken from the 12th level of a parking structure looking down on a large construction project.

The first adjustment will be to make it appear to have a limited depth of field. To do this, select the rectangular selection tool and set the feathering to a large value. For this image, I used 150 pixels.
2 Rectangle select setup

Then select the area of the image that should be in focus plus extra for the feathering. The area needs to be large enough that the feathering does not come into the area that should be sharp.
3 Initial selection

Next invert the selection by pressing Ctrl-Shift-I or selecting Invert from the Selections menu.
4 Inverted selection

Now we're going to blur the selection by selecting Gaussian Blur from the Adjust menu's Blur options. We want a number large enough to give a good blur but not enough to make all the details go away completely. For this image, I used a radius of 13.
5 Gaussian blur option 5a Gaussian blur result

We're done with the selection, so press Ctrl-D or select Select none from the Selections menu. Now select Edge preserving smooth from the Adjust menu's Add/Remove Noise options. The idea here is to get rid of some of the details inside objects without losing the edges. For this image, I used a smoothing about of 12.
6 Edge preserving smooth option 6a Edge preserving smooth result

Next we're going to boost the saturation a fair bit. Select Hue/Saturation/Lightness from the Adjust menu's Hue and Saturation options. We don't need to change the Hue or Lightness values, so they can be set to 0. The Saturation value for this image I set to 30.
7 HueSatLight options 7a Saturation result

Finally, we adjust the contrast some by selecting Curves from the Adjust menu's Brightness and Contrast options and set two control points to give a standard contrast increasing S-curve.
8 Curve options

All this results in this final image.
9 Final

Sunday, May 18, 2008

May Photochallenge Week 3 Recap

May Photochallenge Week 3 Recap
Originally uploaded by hpebley3

This is the second full week of the May PhotoChallenge organized by Trevor Carpenter at PhotoChallenge.org. May's challenge is to shoot the same object all week and this week's topic was shoes. I chose to use my hiking boots, putting them in different situations each day.

The image I think turned out the best was "Travelers", shot in the studio with controlled lighting. The second was also shot in the studio but I couldn't seem to get the lighting as dialed in as the first one. The funniest one was "p0rn"; I laughed when I conceived the idea and chuckled as I shot it. The last one had the fewest shots to get the image I wanted. The first shot was in manual mode and way over exposed, the second was in Av mode and worked acceptably well. I took it just before the film started so I didn't take time to try to do anything fancy. In looking at it during post processing, I thought an off camera flash to camera right would help lighten some of the deep shadows and make it work a bit better. Something to learn from for next time.

This next week's topic is Seven. The preference is to get seven of something, failing that the number 7 is acceptable too.