Saturday, February 28, 2015

Ominous Outlook

Dreary days bring out some of the best clouds during daylight hours.  They are very pretty to look at, but are very difficult to photograph.  Many times, I have tried and failed to take a picture and have it look the way I saw it with my own eyes.  I imagine a day in the future where the dynamic range of a digital sensor will be up to par with the range the human eye can see.  I imagine that camera will cost a pretty penny, but it would be a very awesome tool to use.  Having said that, we use the tools we have to make the best of what we see.  I have witnessed many times photos of trees stretching into the shadowy clouds giving a very ominous view of the world.  I haven't really tried anything like this in the past, but with my wife's urging, I ventured out to see what I could capture.

Once I was on location, finding the best trees was a difficult task.  Once I found some strangely fingeresque trees, I placed my camera in position and began snapping away.  I tried all types of angles and determined that vertical photos showed what I was seeing the best, but I had to have the camera very close to the ground.  So I laid down beside the camera and let the magic happen.  I shot a couple with one lens.  Then switched over to the fisheye for a little different effect.  It provided a unique perspective that I feel has been missing in the photos I have seen.  I really enjoyed photographing this scene and will definitely have to go back to see what other interesting things I can find.

Friday, February 20, 2015

LAB Color adjustments

Something I forget to examine when working with sunsets and outdoor photos in general, is whether or not LAB effects will bring out anything to make them better.  The last couple of sunsets, I decided to do a little experiment and see if there was something I could do to make them even better.  LAB adjustments can make the photo pop, but the adjustments have to be done tastefully because they can really over saturate your photo if your not careful.  Here is an example of what LAB can do for a photo.  The photos were taken 20 seconds apart with the one of the left being first.  It also is the one I treated with a light touch of LAB.

This technique is done in photoshop by converting the file to LAB color mode.  Find the image tab in the top menu, select mode, then LAB color.  It will flatten your image if you have layers open so beware.  At this point, I like to duplicate my image layer so I can adjust the opacity of it when I have completed the adjustments.  The next step is to open your curves adjustment window.  I don't use the curves adjustment layer since I have used it this way in the past.  Old habits I guess.  Anyway, the first step is to select the "a" channel and move your curves line like shown.

Next step is to move your "b" channel line as shown.  You can see how your image is saturating and changing contrast as you adjust your curves.

The last adjustment is to your "lightness" channel.  Move the adjustments as this.  The top adjustment will bring down the highlights of your photo while the bottom point will lower your contrast.  I like to play with the bottom point a little depending on my view for the photo I am working on.  

Depending on how you like the color and saturation, you can adjust your opacity to taste.  Lastly, you will want to convert your image back to RGB color to make it readable on web and other services.  To do this, go to your image menu on the top, select mode, and RGB color.  This again will flatten your image if you have made any layers.  

That's it!  You have completed your LAB color adjustment for your photo.  Here is another example of what LAB color can do for a sunset.  Click on any of the photos for a large view.

Painting the Sunset

Over the past month, I have been working to increase my portfolio of sunset shots.  They seem to be a very popular and who doesn't like to look at a sunset.  Most people take a sunset photo, possibly do a quick edit, and throw it on Facebook for the world to see.  Unlike most of the photographers, I have taken time to plan.  I plan on the location that I will shoot the sunset to give the best possible surroundings.  I also have chosen a place that I can visit on a regular basis.  This location has what every good sunset photo should contain, elements in nature.  Idealy, you should try to avoid having man made items in the photo, but it is hard to find a location without something built by man in a city.  Therefore, I use ultra wide angle lenses to minimize any man made objects that may be in the distance.  In addition to working hard to avoid having man made objects in the scene, I have tried to make sure I always have water or something else interesting in the foreground.  Since there are no mountains to be found in Nebraska, I will try to employ water in my sunsets for the foreseeable future.

One main thing that I have tried to do to differentiate my photos from everyone else's is long exposure photography.  This requires use of filters to add to the length of time your camera shutter can stay open.  Various filters provide different lengths of time which you can use to your advantage.  Most neutral density filters come in three, six, and ten stops.  A circular polarizer will provide you two additional stops, but are not great for shooting with wide angles.   I try to use a larger stop filter at the beginning of the sunset and then switch to a middle of the road stop filter as the sky gets darker.  An example of why I do this would be if your exposure was metered at having a 1/60th of a second shutter, stick a ten stop neutral density filter on the lens of your camera and you can now use a shutter speed of 16 seconds.  This get a little tricky as the sun is going down because you have to extend your exposure time every picture and guessing what your exposure would be is challenging without a light meter.  The risks you take and the time you invest are definitely worth the rewards if you nail your exposure and your subject is appealing.

Photographing sunsets is a very peaceful experience when shooting long exposures.  Regular shooting, you are snapping away always looking for the right picture.  Long exposures, you must plan ahead since you are going to be sitting there awhile.  The part I enjoy the most is after the shutter button is pushed and you get to sit and listen to nature as your minutes pass.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Snowy Days

Snowstorms, while they provide beautiful scenery, they are horrible to drive in.  Waiting almost the entire winter season for a good snowstorm, we were finally blessed with a doozy this past week.  Heavy wet snow combined with freezing temperatures over night left travel in pretty bad shape.  So much so that school was called off twice in one week.  This gave a great opportunity for family fun and some needed winter scenes.  The snow was deep and plows had trouble keeping up, but some of the side roads were cleared earlier than usual.  I decided to see what was around and get some wintery photos for fun.  Here were a couple of my favorites from the recent storm.

From the Standing Bear Lake area

 Some panoramas from the Standing Bear area.

I photograph these set of trees every snowstorm.  I think they look like silhouettes of people.  Growing like a little family every year.

Sunset Panorama

Capturing a panorama is a fairly easy task, except when the shutter speed is slow and your tripod is already in use.  The other night when the boys and I were capturing the stunning sunset, I decided to snap a couple photos of the sunset without a filter on my lens.  Another camera and lens combination that provides really good images at low ISO settings is the Canon EOS M.  The kit lens for this little camera is actually very sharp for a zoom.  It also has Image Stabilization, IS, which is especially useful when your shutter speed is going to be in the 1/10th of a second range.  I took these couple of photos handheld and really like how they turned out.