Archive for the ‘digital photography’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Video in the Field   1 comment

I’d love to know how much you all are getting out of this little series on video basics for still photographers.  Are you getting excited about shooting a video or two to go along with your stills?  Have you been pressing that red button more often lately?  Or at least thinking about it?

Last time we left off with some gear-oriented tips on panning and moving your camera while shooting video.  Let’s continue with the nuts and bolts on moving the camera through the scene.  If you’d like to view the videos I’ve posted, resist the temptation to click the play button right off; it won’t work.  Instead click the title at top left.  You’ll go to my Vimeo, where you can press the play button.

A Word about Gear

Last week I mentioned tripod heads designed (at least in part) for video.  But I don’t want to make it about buying specialty gear.  This series is for you who are just getting into video or thinking about it.  If you start getting serious and video becomes a big focus of your shoots, then it’s worth spending money on accessories.  For an intermediate level of enthusiasm, I’d limit purchases to an external shotgun microphone plus a fluid video head.

In terms of camera movement and shooting video on the fly, one of the more useful pieces of gear is one I already mentioned: a stabilizer rig.  Many times I’ve wished I had one, but it is another piece of gear to haul along.  For the following clip I had to hike up a rugged Utah canyon to get there.  So I’m not sure I would have brought a stabilizer along even if I owned one.  Despite the rock hopping, I think it turned out pretty smooth.  To see that video go to Canyon Hike

Another piece of gear (or two) to consider, if and when you get serious about video, is a rail and/or cart.  They both allow you to swing the camera through a smooth path or arc like you see in professional shoots.  The technique is used most often in portrait & event shooting, but landscape videographers sometimes use rails.  If you’re handy you can make them yourself.

Video Tips On Location

Now let’s go somewhere cool and see how to get started making moving pictures.  The advice below doesn’t include some major issues of sound.  Those are worth saving for a coming post devoted to audio.  A few tips is all you need to get started:

  • Focal length matters.  I talked about this last week but it’s worth expanding on.  The shorter your focal length and wider your angle of view, the easier it is to move the camera without shaky frame edges.  This applies whether you’re doing it by hand or on a support.  And it means that when you zoom in to long focal lengths it can be next to impossible to avoid a jittery look.  That’s what happened in the clip below.  In the excitement of being so close to Everest and its neighbours, I used a relatively long focal length and panned by hand, ending up with a jumpy video.

But before you slap that 16 mm. lens on, there is another effect when you’re shooting at very wide angles.  It depends on how close you are to scene elements (especially the foreground), and also how fast you pan the camera, but the frame edges can move in a rather distracting way.  Try it yourself and see: shoot a few panning video clips at a focal length of 16 or 17 mm.  It may be best to use a focal length near 50 mm. when panning, at least when you’re just starting out.


  • Go Manual.  Although there is nothing wrong with automatic mode when you want a quick video, I recommend getting used to shooting manually right off the bat.  Manual exposure and manual focus.  For example, in a nature scene where you want everything in focus, go about it this way:  While you’re in aperture priority mode, pick a smallish aperture (f/8 – f/11) for good depth of field.  Then point the camera at a place in the scene that represents the (approximate) average brightness of everything you’ll be panning through.  Note the settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO).  Then go to manual mode and switch to those settings.  Autofocus on something about 1/2 to 2/3 into the scene.  Then switch to manual focus and leave it there for the duration of the clip.
  • Plan your clip.  Figure out ahead of time where to start and stop your video, then do a quick dry run before you press play.  Of course if you’re shooting live subjects you may decide to continue the clip or cut it short.  Still, getting an outline of the clip in your head ahead of time is a good idea.  Adjust your position to get the smoothest and quietest (if you’re recording ambient sound) motion.  While panning I generally try to avoid moving my feet.  Even if on a tripod, how you change position through a pan will affect the final product.
  • Slow down.  The most common beginner mistake is to pan and move the camera too quickly through the scene.  As always with camera movement during video, focal length is a factor.  The longer your focal length the slower you need to pan.  When you pan too quickly the scene appears to race by.  A further influence is how far away you are from whatever you’re filming.  When fairly close to the subject, go more slowly.  But don’t go to the other extreme.  A super-slow pan will bore your viewers, leading them to not finish the clip.  The best way to know the right speed for different lenses and various kinds of scenes is to experiment and play the clips back on your LCD.
  • Review & Repeat!  When you first start out shooting video, just like when you started still photography, you’ll shoot a lot of junk.  The key is to review the shot before moving on.  You’l likely find that it requires a number of takes to get it right.  For the waterfall at bottom, I did 3 or 4 takes before I got one I liked.  As you gain more experience you’ll more often get it right the first time.  This is a worthy goal.  You want to catch the most interesting goings-on, not to mention the most interesting light.

That’s it for this week’s Foto Talk!  Please don’t hesitate to share your own experiences with video.  Or ask a question about anything at all.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

Friday Foto Talk: Photography Today – The Great (and not so great)   11 comments

Rocky Butte (Portland) and its photogenic lampposts.

Rocky Butte (Portland) and its photogenic lampposts.

I’ll be doing a series of short posts on what I like and don’t like about the current state of photography.  It won’t be every Friday; boy would that be a mistake!   But occasionally I’ll let my opinions fly, starting today with how easy it is to get started in photography.

Desert indian paintbrush in bloom, Utah.

Desert indian paintbrush in bloom, Utah.

LIKES:  Today we have digital, and that has made a big difference in the ease of getting into photography.  Although I don’t think that digital camera gear is especially cheap, I do agree the price points at which you can enter are always expanding.  Especially when the plentiful amount of used gear is considered, there is room for most anyone with some spare money to start shooting.

  • DSLR (and now mirrorless) cameras, while they may not be much easier to operate than film SLRs, are much easier to use to get good exposure & focus and to control contrast and other basics of a good image.


  • I love not worrying about how much film I have, and the experimentation that fosters.  I don’t know what I’d do if I had to limit the number of shots I take.  I like choosing to limit them from time to time, but I don’t want to be forced to.


  • The ability to control the process from capture to finish (without building a darkroom and exposing yourself to chemicals) is a great advance.  If we had to do all our own post-processing, this development might represent a “tyranny of choice”, but there are plenty of options for shipping out your images for outside post-processing.

Weather in the Columbia River Gorge.

Spirit Falls, Washington.

Spirit Falls, Washington.

DISLIKES:  This increased ease of entry has led to many many relatively new photographers.  While this isn’t at all bad by itself, it does lead to quite a few unfortunate byproducts:

  • My number one dislike is the illusion that to produce images of professional quality (whatever that means), all you need to do is follow a formula, one that begins with buying the latest and greatest gear.  Yes the increased ease of use inherent in digital photography means you can advance quite rapidly.  But I strongly believe it remains extremely difficult to become a great photographer.  That’s because it’s about much more than gear, technical knowledge, or even technique.
Two snapping turtles appear to canoodle in a Florida canal.

Two snapping turtles appear to canoodle in a Florida canal.


  • An increase in the number of ‘teachers’ of photography is probably contributing to my prime dislike above.  I was a teacher (of science) for a number of years, and while I do not think one needs to go to school to become a good teacher, I do think there are far too many teaching photography who don’t bother to learn a bit about how to teach.  Rather they are simply doing it because of demand and the fact it is one of the few ways to make money doing travel, nature and landscape photography.


  • I also cringe at some of the things these self-described experts pass along.  Just one example:  too many don’t seem to realize photography is an art form and needs to be practiced as such.  It’s not simply a way to create images that are similar to theirs, those that get a lot of likes and ‘wows’ online.


Bella the Magnificent!


  •  While I like the fact that easy entry has put a camera in the hands of those who may have never tried, and who happen to have great natural talent, it unfortunately allows many others to participate in the boom.  For instance, I don’t think all the gear heads and people more interested in slick post-processing should be calling themselves serious photographers.  Now before you think me a snob, I think there is plenty of room for the casual and the serious, the amateur and the pro.  But there does seem to be dilution going on among those who call themselves artists.


  • The strange combination among us humans of competitiveness and the desire to belong (and thus follow others), means that popular photography has become a game of follow the leader (who is getting all the ‘likes’).  If you’ve read this blog a bit, you know how I feel about copying and following what is popular on the web.  I know it is just us being us, but it squelches genuine artistic impulse.


  • For pros, the flood of new photographers has meant an erosion in the dollar value of their photography.  This is a minor dislike for me, but I certainly don’t like being asked to give away my work to those who can afford it, or having to cut prices just because a bunch of photographers (who don’t need it for income) have inexplicably allowed their images to be used for pennies on the dollar.

Okay, now it sounds like I’m ranting, so I’ll stop.  Otherwise you all might think I’m just an old curmudgeon!  Have a great weekend!

Dusk on the Columbia River.




Friday Foto Talk, Part V: Plug-ins   8 comments

First post!  Happy New Year!

First post! Happy New Year!

This post concludes a mini-series on post-processing.  Find parts I – IV here.  My intent is to summarize the approach I’ve found to be helpful for me.  It’s not to give specific instruction on how to edit your photographs on the computer.  You can find these tutorials in many different places both online and in print.  But be selective and only go with the most experienced teachers.  Much of the online instruction in particular can be a little misleading and not all that helpful.  Everybody is different and will approach specific editing tasks differently.  Only very experienced teachers factor this in to the right extent.

You should develop your own unique “workflow”, or general sequence of steps, while being flexible enough to take any given image in a different direction than the one you took the last image.  Editing is, in fact, just like capturing images.  The more you do it the more comfortable you become.  If you’re fairly new to digital photography, don’t expect to get to that post-processing comfort zone without some degree of frustration.  Don’t despair; it’s all part of the learning curve.  And so, on to plug-ins:

Last week I posted a winter Crater Lake.  This one is from late summer with smoke from distant fires turning the sky orange.

Last week I posted a winter Crater Lake. This one is from late summer with smoke from distant fires turning the sky orange.


Plug-ins are software programs that work with Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop CS and other programs to add functionality and ease of use.  They are the classic editing extra.  I’m talking only about those plug-ins which apply post-processing techniques to your images.  There are plugins that do all sorts of things – automatically publishing your pictures on websites, for example.

As the name says, these programs “plug in” to your main editor (Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture).  When you install a plug-in, you link it to your main editing program.  Editing plug-ins are designed to, in effect, take your images on a round-trip from your main program to the plug-in (where you apply edits) and back again.

In Lightroom for example, you simply right-click on a picture and click “edit in”.  Then from the drop-down menu you choose one of the plug-ins you have installed and, from the box that pops up, select how you want to save it.  After you finish with the image and click save (or apply, or whatever the plug-in says), your photo is automatically sent back to Lightroom, thus creating another version of it in a non-RAW format (Jpeg, TIFF).  Once you’ve done it a few times, it’s a pretty simple procedure.

A bare winter tree

A bare winter tree


Although you can almost always do with Photoshop what any plug-in can do, these little programs can almost always do it quicker and easier.  By and large, a plug-in, like any editing extra, will impart a certain style to your picture.  Plug-ins can lend quite magical or painterly effects to your images.  Many of them do what filters did in the film era.  But they go far beyond simple filters.

The power of these little programs means it’s very easy to overdo things, resulting in an image with the wrong kind of impact.  But, at least with the better plug-ins, it also means you can exert a fair amount of subtlety and control.  This control is best applied by combining the judicious use of sliders and opacity.

Some of the more popular plug-ins for photography include Nik, onOne, Imagenomic and Topaz.  There are others.  These companies offer bundles, which are a good deal if you plan to use two or more of their products a lot.  For instance I use Nik’s Silver Effex & Color Effex quite a bit, so I bought the bundle and for nearly no extra money got their excellent Dfine for noise reduction and HDR Effex for HDR.

The charming town of Quetzaltenango (Xela for short) lies in Guatemala's western highlands.

The charming town of Quetzaltenango (Xela for short) lies in Guatemala’s western highlands.

As mentioned, most editing plug-ins are quite powerful, and thus they’re often used with Photoshop because you can easily apply them as a layer and then dampen the effect simply by changing layer opacity.  Also, you can apply layer masks in Photoshop, limiting the effects of the plugin to local areas of the image.  But even here the creators of these programs have figured out ways to allow their use without Photoshop.  .

With many plug-ins, you can adjust opacity while still inside the plug-in software itself.  And to take it a step further, in the better plug-ins you can adjust the effect in local areas of the image.  Some plug-ins have masking as their sole function, competing directly with Photoshop.

All this allows photographers like me to largely avoid Photoshop, using the plug-ins in conjunction with Lightroom (which doesn’t have layers or layer masking).  As described in Part IV, I use Photoshop itself as a plug-in, only occasionally taking photos from Lightroom to PS for specific tasks, then saving right back to my LR catalog.  If you plan to use plug-ins in conjunction with Lightroom instead of Photoshop, I recommend those that allow a lot of adjustment to the overall effect (opacity) as well as the effects of individual sliders.  All plug-in software offers free trials.

The roof in Carlsbad Cavern's Big Room is studded with thousands of stalactites.

The roof in Carlsbad Cavern’s Big Room is studded with thousands of stalactites.


Plug-ins have an effect you’ll see all over the internet, especially on social media.  Some of these looks become quite popular, and soon enough it seems like 9 out of 10 images you see have been edited by the same plug-in, with the same effect applied.  Of course this isn’t the plug-in’s fault.  It’s just our “ape” ancestry showing through.

But don’t let this stop you from trying the plug-in.  Just be thoughtful and you’ll be okay.  Your job as a photographer stays the same throughout the post-processing minefield, rife as it is with Facebook fads and 500 px rankings.  Edit your images so they express your particular vision, taking strong account of exactly what was happening at the time you pressed the shutter, and how you felt about it.  If that means using a look that happens to be popular at the moment, then so be it.  Don’t be shy!  If it means going with a look that gets 3 likes on Facebook, that’s fine too!  In other words, to beat a dead horse, just be yourself.

While rambling southern Africa, the call of the "go away" bird might make you feel just a bit unwelcome.

While rambling southern Africa, the call of the gray “go away” bird might make you feel just a bit unwelcome.

Canyon hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas.

Canyon hiking in the Guadalupe Mountains, Texas.


If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I’m more into the capture part of photography.  I started out hating post-processing, but now I’m much more in tune with it.  In the end, it’s up to each of you to learn how you want to approach editing your images.  Just like it’s up to you to choose (and then learn how to use) the software you think will get your photography to where you want to take it.

You’ve likely noticed that I recommend basing things off Lightroom.  That’s because it does such a great job of organizing and editing both.  And boy do I need organizing!  Supplement with Photoshop (or Elements) if you’ll be doing a lot of cloning and/or composites (merging images).  Add a few plug-ins that you enjoy using and that jive with your needs and style.  If you take this approach, you’ll be doing the same thing most pro photographers do.

A long post, thanks for sticking with me!  Hope you got something out of it.  Good luck and have a fun fun fun 2015!

A recent sunset, Cimarron River.

A recent sunset on the Cimarron River.

Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing – Part IV   10 comments

The aptly-named Blue Lake in Washington's North Cascade Mtns.

Aptly-named Blue Lake in Washington’s North Cascade Mtns.

This continues my mini-series on post-processing.  Check out Parts I through III here.  The goal is to get you started, not to give blow-by-blow instruction on specific post-processing techniques.  For one thing I don’t consider myself qualified to go into detail on any computer-based skill.  For another, I don’t think I’d like the way my blog would look with screen shots of software instead of pictures.

Once you’re more or less proficient in Lightroom, and have managed not to lose too many images (remember after importing any image into LR, never ever do anything with that image outside of LR!), you may want to explore extra software programs.  You don’t have to of course.  Lightroom is great as a start to finish solution.  But it can be a nice option for select shots.

I hesitate to recommend some of what I’m about to say.  There is, I think, entirely too much following going on in popular photography.  Has it always been this way or is it just the internet?  Choice of subject is only one way we ape one another (sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands, for e.g.).  The way we edit our photos is a minefield as well.

A recent shot from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

A recent shot from Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.

I’m not saying you should avoid using a technique you picked up from a fellow photographer, one that is enjoying popularity at the moment.  But I am saying you should only use it if it helps the image reflect your own aims and style.  As with life in general, I think the easiest way to pursue your own style and not follow someone else’s is to keep things as simple as possible.

That said, for a few select images, you may want to…


Depending on the image, you can try other editing techniques (let’s call them “extras”) to get the specific look you want.  All depends on the mood you want to create.  Oftentimes you’ll need to apply one or more extras just to get an image to look like what you saw and experienced.  With many images this can be accomplished with standard editing in Lightroom or Photoshop.  But with others extra treatment may be called for.

Many people think the more you work with an image the further from reality it gets.  That’s not necessarily true.  If you’re not careful and thoughtful about your approach, you can certainly “overcook” any image.  But you can do that with very little work as well.  Also, as mentioned in Part I of this series, images often come out of the camera looking more dull and flat than the scene appeared at the time.

I'm so pretty: impala in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

I’m so pretty: impala in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia.

And so editing is needed simply to bring life back into a digital image.  This applies much more with digital than with film, which is one reason some still think film yields a more natural look than digital.  But this doesn’t have to be true.  All it takes to avoid the lifeless and flat look of digital is to use a purposeful approach.  Lightroom can get you there in many cases.  But if you find yourself, at least with some shots, spending an inordinate amount of time in Lightroom’s Develop module, trying a variety of presets, banging your head against the wall, and still not getting the results you’re after, it’s time to look at other programs.

I thought I'd throw in a photo to prove it's not all about nature with me.  I call this one, "take that tough boy"

I thought I’d throw in a photo to prove it’s not all about nature with me. I call this one, “take that tough boy”

Close in to Tumalo Falls, Oregon.

Close in to Tumalo Falls, Oregon.


I recommend taking an image into Photoshop (or Photoshop Elements to save $) if there is complex cloning to do: taking out people or power poles and lines, for example.  Also use Photoshop to merge two or more images into a composite.  A composite is when, for example, you take that great portrait you got and then move just the person into a beautiful natural scene you shot last summer.  Or when you want to add a dramatic sky to a more interesting foreground.

Photoshop can do a whole lot more than this of course.  But it takes real time to learn how to become both proficient and time-efficient with Photoshop.  By the way, if you’re wondering whether or not to go for Photoshop or PS Elements, it depends on how serious you are, especially about printing.  The full version of Photoshop CS works in 16 bit color while Elements is in 8 bit.

In other words when you go from Lightroom into Elements you are cutting the color depth of your image in half.  The fuller color depth can yield slightly smoother color transitions in some images, noticeable by discerning viewers on large, high quality prints.  But you almost certainly won’t see any differences, especially on digital displays.

A tree, by itself, that I liked.

A tree, by itself, that I liked.

There are other differences between PS CS and PS Elements, but you might be surprised at how many advanced functions are shared between the two programs.  One more factor to consider:  Elements is still available as a stand-alone program, whereas Photoshop CS is only available as a cloud-based program, where you pay monthly.

Only you can decide how deeply you want to get into Photoshop.  I will say that many (or most) pros have made the transition to Lightroom for the lion’s share of their post-processing.   A lot of people still love Photoshop, and it is certainly powerful.  But if you aren’t already proficient, and of course if you don’t want to become a graphic designer or digital artist, Photoshop is a bit like using a full complement of tractors, plows and other farming equipment to work your little backyard garden.

That’s it for now.  Next week (I promise!) we’ll go into the wonderful world of plug-ins.  Have a wonderful weekend, and keep up that holiday spirit!


Good night!

Good night!


Friday Foto Talk: Post Processing Part III   17 comments

Friday Foto Talk: Post Processing – Part II   9 comments

Portland, Oregon is nicknamed Bridge City for a reason.

Portland, Oregon is nicknamed Bridge City for a reason.

I’m a shooter first, editor second.  But the modern era has provided such great variety of different software programs to use that it’s impossible to ignore the obvious:  post-processing is important.  We have available to us a virtually limitless supply of different editing treatments, and images can be manipulated to a degree never imagined by photographers of the past.

You can add or subtract major elements to your photo, merge as many different exposures as you wish, overlay all sorts of treatments that can make it look like a painting, etching, ancient film photo, etc.  Oh, and you can even strive to faithfully replicate what was in front of you.

Before you read this post, you may want to check out Part I.  It goes into the things you need to think about before deciding how you wish to approach post-processing.  Editing software costs real money, and it will take real time to learn it.  More time will be spent editing your photos.

It’s important to be realistic about how much time & money you want to invest, and to get a handle on what sort of payoff there might be.  For example, if you decide you want to learn Photoshop, how proficient do you want to get?  Do you want to become an expert, and how much time will that take?  More important, how much of a difference will it ultimately make to the quality of the sorts of images you want to make?

I’m going to recommend an approach here that in my opinion keeps things simple, and yet allows you a lot of room to explore your creative side.  In no way am I trying to convince you this is hands-down the best way to go.  One thing that has always bugged me about education in general, and photography education in particular, is that so many teachers try to pretend they are presenting things in a totally unbiased way.

That’s nonsense.  We all have biases, and no matter how much we try to remain impartial, those biases remain the moment we open our mouths.  I think it’s best to be honest about that.  If you’re pushing one way of doing things over another, fine.  Just don’t be self-righteous or ideological about it.  If you’re pushing a product or service you really love, just admit it and move on.  Honesty is always the best policy.

Sugar snow.

Sugar snow.


What is the first thing you want to do with your photos after they are recorded onto a memory card (SD, compact flash, etc.)?  Make them look pretty?  Share them?  You may choose to shoot in Jpeg and share you photos instantly via Instagram.  Of course that’s fine.  In fact it’s very popular.  But it’s also a fairly casual approach.  If you’re more serious about your photography, I recommend doing the following before you do much (if any) shooting.

BUY LIGHTROOM (LR):  Most professionals either use Photoshop Lightroom or Photoshop CS or a combination of the two.  To start out you only need Lightroom, which is currently in version 5.  Optionally you can add Photoshop Elements (the cheaper pared down version of Photoshop).  Lightroom is the best general purpose software program made for photographers.  You can also use Aperture, which is similar but not quite as versatile.  Some Nikon shooters swear by Capture NX, which is that company’s in-house program.  

A winter moon.

A winter moon.

TO CLOUD OR NOT?  For better or worse, Adobe is trying to push us all onto “the cloud”.  In fact, the latest version of Photoshop CS is only offered on the cloud, as a pay-per-month service.  For Lightroom, you can still buy the standalone program for about $135, $79 for students & teachers.  Photoshop Elements (version 13) is also available in non-cloud form, for about $80.  How long will Adobe continue to offer these two in stand-alone form is anyone’s guess.  They’re having a lot of success getting people to switch to the cloud.

Buying the cloud version means you get free upgrades whenever the new versions come out.  You can also store files online and work on them from a different computer.  But this isn’t strictly cloud-based software.  You still download the software to your computer like normal, so you don’t need to be online to use it (a common misconception).  You do need to have web access at least once every 4 months to confirm your subscription.

Another common misconception about the cloud is that you’re automatically sharing your work with strangers online: not true.  While sharing is a breeze, you can still save any or all of your images on your own personal hard drives.  Cloud storage actually makes a handy option for backing up your edited selects, though speeds aren’t quite to the point where it’s a realistic offsite backup option for RAW image catalogs.

You can get both Lightroom and the full version of Photoshop CS  as a cloud-based package for $10/month, which isn’t such a bad deal if you’re the type who’s likely to buy the latest version anyway.  I haven’t jumped to the cloud yet, mainly because I don’t do a lot in Photoshop and don’t always upgrade when a new version of Lightroom comes out.

Classic buckboard wagon, Death Valley, California.

Classic buckboard wagon, Death Valley, California.

LEARN LR BASICS & SET UP A FILE STRUCTURE:  Learn something of how Lightroom works to organize your photos.  Learn about catalogs and the Library Module.  You can learn about the Develop Module (editing) and all the other stuff LR does as you go.  Decide on and set up a file structure on your computer.  Make it simple and make sure it fits your way of thinking.

Make sure you have enough storage space for the first year or so of image files plus their (multiple) backups.  Depending on your camera, images take up more space than you might think.  If you’re going to shoot video as well, that takes even more space.

Also decide on how you will be naming your photos.  The names your camera gives them are just meaningless numbers.  Books on Lightroom cover naming and file structure, but it really is a personal thing.

SET YOUR CAMERA TO SHOOT IN RAW:  This will enable you to edit and save various versions of the image, all the while keeping the original file untouched.  You’ll also have greater latitude when it comes to editing.  You can also shoot in RAW plus Jpeg if you want.  Always choose the highest quality and for color space choose either Adobe RGB (or ProPhoto RGB if it’s offered), not sRGB.  Later, after editing, you will convert to the narrower color range of sRGB if the image is to be displayed on a digital screen.

To get to this little cabin in southern Utah, you need to get your (or your horse's) feet wet walking through a beautiful canyon.

To get to this little cabin in southern Utah, you need to get your (or your horse’s) feet wet walking through a beautiful canyon.


This is something you should do as often as possible, preferably after every shoot.  Memory cards do fail (or get lost), and you don’t want to experience the frustration of capturing a great image only for it be lost before it can even be viewed.  Save the original RAW files to a hard drive separate from your working drive, which is the one that runs your software.  You might make this drive a fast, solid-state drive, in which case it’d probably be too small for an image catalog anyway.

Back up these files to a separate hard drive onsite, then mirror that to another drive, giving you three copies of each image file.  You can keep this drive offsite or make yet another copy (for a total of four) and store that offsite.  If your internet speed is fast enough you can consider cloud-based offsite backup.  In most places that’s impractical, so what do you do if you’re traveling?  Of course this limitation will disappear soon enough.

Next time we’ll continue with what to do once your images are uploaded to the computer.  Have a great weekend!

After stormy weather in the Grand Canyon, water pockets at Toroweap on the north rim are full to the brim.

After heavy thunderstorms in the Grand Canyon, water pockets at Toroweap on the north rim are full to the brim.

Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing, Part I   5 comments

The Grand Tetons appear  smaller than they really are in this wide view.  Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

The Grand Tetons appear smaller than they really are in this wide view. Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

Last Friday wrapped up the short series of posts on learning photography.  But I thought I’d follow up this week with one more thing you need to think about: post-processing.  This post will cover general considerations and decisions you’ll need to make.  Next time I’ll go into specific software choices.

When I first bought a digital camera, I was under the naive impression that the photos coming out of the camera were what they were.  I knew you could do fancy things with Photoshop, things like putting several pictures together to make a scene that looked like it belonged on a cover from a Yes album (a 70s era prog. rock band for all you millenials!).  Or even merging my face onto Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body (I never did that!).  But since I knew I didn’t want to get into any of that, I just didn’t see the need to buy software.

Although I was blissfully ignorant of the real situation, I was partly right.  I was shooting in Jpeg.  And when you shoot in Jpeg the camera edits pictures before it displays them on the LCD screen.  You can load those Jpegs into your computer and do a lot of extra editing of course.  But the whole idea of shooting in Jpeg is so that you can do a basic edit “in-camera” and get the pictures out without extra work.  Now we have things like Instagram, which does (often dramatic) extra work on pictures before they are shared on the internet.  And all of this without you spending any extra time.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene.  Above it's in the trees while here it's in the layered clouds.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene. Above it’s in the trees while here it’s in the layered clouds.

Through this entire series I’ve assumed you all are on the road toward excellence in photography, and that you want to optimize your time and money on that journey.  The bad news is that in order to fully control what your pictures look like you’ll need to learn to edit them using one or several computer programs.  And this takes even more time and money.  You can limit the damage for the latter by buying your software while taking a formal photography class (say, at a community college).  Student discounts on the most popular software by Adobe and others are very significant, often well over 50% off!  The time you spend learning is directly related to how quickly you pick up computer software.  My experience included a good amount of frustration, and I consider myself rather an ordinary image-editor.  You may have more success.  But however it turns out, if you embark on learning how to use photo software you will eventually become proficient.  So never mind the misplaced images and other screw-ups, the plateaus in learning.  Stick with it!

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.


One more thing before I continue with recommendations.  You’ll occasionally see folks posting pictures on the web with a caption that seems to brag “straight out of camera”, or words to that effect.  I’m not sure why people do this.  Are they saying their photos are inherently so good that they don’t need any further enhancement on the computer?  Or are they building in an excuse for unedited images because they don’t think they measure up to their usual high standards?  Or are they just feeling guilty about being too lazy to edit?

Whatever it is, they are using flawed logic.  Digital photography is similar to film in a very fundamental way.  Just as with film, in order for a digital photo to be finished it has to be developed, or edited.  Whether you shoot in RAW or Jpeg, the picture that appears on your LCD has been edited on a computer – the computer inside your camera.  Often the editing is quite minimal, but depending on how advanced your camera is you can (automatically) do quite significant things to an image simply by adjusting camera settings.

I can understand if somebody wants to share a picture but they don’t have the time or inclination to edit it.  Just don’t pretend the image hasn’t been “sullied” by computer-based editing, and is thus somehow more pure than an edited shot.  In the film days I didn’t like to look at negatives; I wanted to see the finished product.  It’s the same with digital.  The image starts as a digital file – ones and zeroes – and then gets rendered by a computer (in camera or out) into an image we can all understand and appreciate.

Two wildlife shots are pretty rare for me in one post.  This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

Two wildlife shots in one post are pretty rare for me. This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.


The issue isn’t whether you want your images to look “photoshopped” or real.  The computer only makes images look unreal or unnatural if you tell it to.  No, the real issue is this:  do you want to invest the time and effort to learn software and take full control of the editing process?  Or would you rather just use the camera to edit your photos automatically?  Do you like the idea of an intermediate option, making quick choices using Instagram?  One final option is to hire one of the many outlets that’ll edit your photos for you?

I’m not here to convince you one way or the other.  It’s your time, your pictures.  And your choice on this doesn’t mark you as either serious or casual, pro or amateur.  Believe it or not, pros shoot Jpeg, using in-camera processing.  They’re sports photographers who need to get their photos of the game out to online outlets while the game goes on and they’re still shooting.  I made the choice to learn some software and do my own editing.  But I sometimes question that decision.  Sitting at the computer is not my favorite thing to do by a long shot!

What I’m saying is to think of using a computer to edit a digital image file just as you would using chemicals to transform a film negative into a beautiful color photograph.  How much you do to the file is up to you.  You can keep it as close as memory allows to the way the scene was as you squeezed the shutter button.  Or you can take off on a flight of fancy.  Or something in between.  Your approach will, of course, help to define your style.  But however you swing it, computer-based editing is an inseparable part of the image-making process.

The sun sets early these November days.  Good night!

The sun sets early these November days. Good night!

Friday Foto Talk: Film or Digital?   11 comments

Predawn crescent moon after a long drive through the middle of nowhere, Nevada. Digital.

I’m having some trouble deciding if I want to go back to film.  It wouldn’t be forever – I don’t think – but just a stop-gap measure until I can afford to replace my DSLR.  I have a Pentax K-1000 with 50 mm. lens that works very well.  It’s great because you never have to worry about the battery.  It lasts for years and years, only running the simple light meter.  There is no energy-hungry processor or LCD.  It is manual only, so even in -60 degrees it would work.  You’d just have to guess on the exposure, which I think I could do.  But I don’t plan on going into the deep freeze anytime soon.

It’s a difficult decision.  A foray back into film might do my photography some good.  I’d have to decide on which types of photography I wanted to do, then get the type of film to match.  With digital, you don’t need to decide until the moment of capture, when you can set ISO (speed) and whether you want to view it B&W or not.  You can also change your mind later with digital, so long as you’re shooting in RAW.

Alaska Range, film.

Alaska Range, film.

Gliding gull on the Oregon Coast, digital.

Gliding gull on the Oregon Coast, digital.

I most likely would not be making a huge commitment to film anyway.  That would involve getting a medium or large-format camera and lenses, buying the larger film, and finding a very good company to do the scanning.  These days, if you want to go film, you need to make sure the scan is high quality.  You still need to scan into digital.  It is the 21st century after all.  Digital is the way everyone delivers images, pro and amateur alike.

I don’t see the point in going whole hog on large format film.  That is, unless you want to do landscapes or other imagery that needs to be printed truly huge – like billboard size.  And provided you are making money from it.  Then you’d want to buy the large-format lenses and get a digital back.

These are sort of half-digital cameras.  They take the image from large (or medium) format film lenses and convert it straight into digital.  No scanning of negatives required, no buying of film.  It’s the best of both worlds really, except for the weight and cost.  You still have that bulky large-format equipment to haul around.  And they’re quite expensive.  A 50 mp Hasselblad digital back goes for $17,500 at B&H Photo.  And you still need to buy the lenses and heavy-duty tripod.  You’re $50,000 into it before you know it!

Ferris Wheel at the Portland Rose Festival, digital.

Ferris Wheel at the Portland Rose Festival, digital.

What I’m thinking of is much less ambitious, but still a bit of a hassle.  I’d have to buy one or maybe two more film lenses.  And then I’d need to find a good processor/scanner.  But I don’t know if I’d like it.  I’m very used to the control I have with digital.  It’s significant.  You can choose ISO for one thing.  With film you have to rewind the film (after making note of the frame) and make sure you don’t wind it all the way into the cartridge (not easy).  Then you need to load a roll with a different speed.  Then you have to go back to the original roll when you encounter different shooting conditions.  With the Pentax camera these transitions are all manual, and my fingers aren’t exactly dexterous!

Bocas del Toro, Panama, digital.

Bocas del Toro, Panama, digital.

Glacier in Alaska, film.

Glacier in Alaska, film.

Digital photography will eventually take over completely.  Yet despite what you may think, it has not yet done so.  There is no real 50 megapixel DSLR camera, for example.  The resolution has just not caught up with large-format film.  But talk to a random film shooter and you’ll find out that resolution is not the main reason many of them shoot film.  And it would most certainly not be the reason I would go back.  There’s a mini-film revival going on right now.  But digital will take over eventually, no doubt about that.

Scarlet Macaw, Honduras, digital.

Scarlet Macaw, Honduras, digital.


I’m just not sure what to do at this moment.  For me it’s not really a question of what I want to shoot – I know it’s ultimately going to be digital.  It’s just that digital is a much more expensive option as it sits right now.  Oh well.  By this time tomorrow I will have decided what to do for the near future.  Until then I have posted a few examples of each format.  Hope your weekend is going swimmingly!

Sunset over the Pacific, digital.

Sunset over the Pacific, digital.



Friday Foto Talk: How to Handle Contrast the Natural Way   9 comments

Dead camel thorn trees trace a former watercourse in the Namib Desert near Sesriem.

Dead camel thorn trees trace a former watercourse in the Namib Desert near Sesriem.

Contrast is one of the main things photographers have to deal with.  Even in the studio a lot of work goes into handling contrast in the amount of light across your subject.  And in natural light there is only so much you can do to control contrast.  For the most part you just need to accept and deal with it.  In this post I’ll discuss ways to handle it without going too crazy with filters, multiple exposures and post-processing.

Before we get to tips, here are some things you should know:

      • Let’s be real.  Your eyes can pick up details in a much larger range of brightness than your camera can.  This is called “dynamic range”.  In fact, one of the biggest reasons to get a big fancy DSLR is to get a little closer to the dynamic range your eyes can see.  A point and shoot (which I’m using now) can only see a fraction of the range your eyes can see.


      • Contrast is relative.  So if you shoot dark scenes, your camera sees that as normal light and meters accordingly.  To the camera that not-too-bright sky is very bright in comparison with the mostly dark scene.  The same goes for mostly bright scenes, where dark things come out as silhouettes.
This interior courtyard in the ancient Khmer ruins of Ta Prohm, Cambodia was a contrast nightmare.

This interior courtyard in the ancient Khmer ruins of Ta Prohm, Cambodia was a contrast nightmare.


      • Clearly, contrast is a part of natural light, so you definitely want some.  When it gets bad you’ll know it by using your histogram (see below).  The trick is to pay close attention to your scene and try to reproduce the amount of contrast you have.  If there is plenty of black, that’s what you should have.  If some places are so bright you can’t see detail, that may be what you want (the sun for example).


      • You need to think about how you want to handle the contrast in your scenes.  Do you want to minimize it and go for an HDRish look, which has been very popular lately.  Or do you want to keep a fair amount of it in your finished image.  This decision will help to define your style.  Do you want to be popular or stay true to your vision?


High-contrast scenes like this one in Death Valley, California, can make for dramatic images.

High-contrast scenes like this one in Death Valley, California can make for dramatic images.

      •   Another decision you will make is where and what you shoot.  A big choice is in what direction relative to the sun (see below).  Will you shoot high-contrast scenes or will you deliberately avoid them?


      • The direction you shoot makes a huge difference.  If you shoot with the sun behind you (frontlight), you’ll have very little contrast.  If you shoot into the sun (backlight), you’ll have the maximum.  If you shoot at an angle to the light, the amount of contrast varies according to the scene and quality of light.


When you're shooting from within a cave like her in the desert of Mexico, you're guaranteed to have high contrast.

When you’re shooting from within a cave like her in the desert of Mexico, you’re guaranteed to have high contrast.

Ready to shoot?  Here are some tips:

      • First of all, you will do well to handle contrast from the beginning instead of just trying to reduce it later on computer.  That’s what this post is about, handling contrast on the front end.


      • Use your histogram.  Get set up and shoot, then look at your histogram.  Or, if your camera allows it, use LiveView and set your LCD screen to show your histogram in one corner.  Use the Evaluative or Matrix metering mode (and Exposure Simulation in LiveView).


      • If the histogram is stretched out across the width of the graph, you’ve got some serious contrast.  But it’s not necessarily bad until the histogram starts climbing up the sides.  The right side (representing over-bright areas of the scene) is much worse than the left side (over-dark areas).  You can recover more in the shadow areas than in the bright areas.  Though Lightroom has gotten very good at both, you still can’t recover highlights from completely blown-out areas.


Using reflective surfaces, like here in Botswana's Okavango Delta, can both even out contrast and double the great light.

Using reflective surfaces, like here in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, can both even out contrast and double the great light.

      • Don’t be afraid to shoot with high contrast.  This is what makes your images pop, after all.  You want to handle it not make it disappear – read on.


      • But try to minimize the amount of it in your scene.  You can make small movements with the camera, changing your composition slightly in order to exclude some or all of a relatively bright area.  For example, with a sky much brighter than a foreground, you can move the camera down to exclude most or all of it.  You can move your camera to exclude too much dark area as well.  But always remember you can successfully incorporate more dark than bright in your images.


This recent image, with my point and shoot, I probably would not have used a graduated ND filter with.  But the bright water was enough to create a lot of contrast.

This recent image, with my point and shoot, I probably would not have used a graduated ND filter with. But the bright water was enough to create a lot of contrast.  I also excluded the sky.


      • Some people make it a habit to shoot into the sun, especially with candid people shots.  Extremely bright areas near your subject can form a partial or complete silhouette.  It’s a popular look to have a fairly bright subject in partial silhouette, with the bright sunlight partly silhouetting and partly wrapping around your subject.  The precise composition makes or breaks these images.


      • Shoot away from the sun.  As long as the light is beautiful, shooting front-lit scenes is a fine way to avoid contrast.  But the light should be near direct from the sun when it’s fairly low.  That way you have some contrast, instead of ending up with flat light.  Shadows are great in this situation; they increase contrast and depth.


Normally the desert is a haven for high contrast, but low frontlight from the rising sun softens and evens out everything in this Death Valley image.

Normally the desert is a haven for high contrast, but low frontlight from the rising sun softens and evens out everything in this Death Valley image.

      • By shooting across the light, at more or less 90 degrees to the sun, the shadows will give you plenty of natural contrast.  If the sky is too bright you may need to use a graduated neutral density filter (see below).


      • If you are shooting toward a low sun (even if it’s behind clouds), your contrast will be high.  There are a couple ways to handle it.  One way is to choose scenes with reflective surfaces.  Water, snow, bright sidewalks or squares in a city, any reflective surface really, can dramatically reduce the amount of natural contrast in your scenes.  It’s part of the reason I tend to think of water when I’m choosing a place to shoot.



Sunset, Point Lobos, California coast.  Though I used a graduated ND filter here, the sky is still very bright.

Sunset, Point Lobos, California coast. Though I used a graduated ND filter here, the sky is still very bright.

      • If you decide to shoot at a place with darker surfaces and a relatively bright sky or water, you will likely have some trouble with your light meter.  If you point most of the frame at the dark foreground, for example, your camera may easily overexpose the sky.  If the frame covers a good chunk of the bright sky, your camera will underexpose the foreground.


      • This is when a graduated neutral density filter (or two) comes in handy.  These rectangular filters are especially useful when you are shooting into the setting or rising sun.  If you already know about these filters, great!  But if you don’t, next Friday’s post will cover the basics.


      • Try to limit your use of the grad. ND filter to when the histogram climbs up the sides of your histogram (particularly the right side).


      • Also be aware of how much you can easily recover from shadows and bright areas later on the computer without running into problems like halos on edges or other artifacts.  Knowing what you can and can’t do on the computer will help you to decide how much to minimize contrast when you’re shooting


      • Reflective foregrounds as mentioned above are probably the most natural way to minimize contrast.  But more than this, they allow you to shoot well-balanced compositions in very low light, when the color tones darken and become very rich.  With a dark foreground you are left with either avoiding that beautiful sky or shooting only the sky.
Low light and a reflective foreground equals the perfect amount of contrast for me: along the Willamette River near Portland.

Low light and a reflective foreground equals the perfect amount of contrast for me: along the Willamette River near Portland.

      • But if you’re committed to shooting a scene with high contrast and either have no graduated ND filters or they aren’t able to fully compensate, I recommend taking this approach for most scenes:

First, lower your ISO to the minimum your camera allows.  This will lengthen your shutter speed so hopefully you don’t have a moving subject that will look distracting if it’s blurred (water is an exception).  You will almost certainly need to be on a tripod with either a shutter-release or using shutter delay, plus mirror lockup.

Then shoot (and re-shoot) until you get the histogram as far to the right as possible without climbing up the right edge.  Of course this will yield a dark image, which you will later have to brighten and recover shadows from on the computer.  But the very low ISO will keep noise to a minimum.  You won’t totally avoid noise, since it always shows up when you brighten significantly on the computer.  The upside to this approach is that you can recover details and show that beautiful sky to its best advantage.

      • If you don’t have time for the tripod, and are grabbing a quick shot, you can often get away with allowing some things to go totally dark – a silhouette (see top image).  Then you don’t have to worry about ISO as much.  But you still need to make sure the histogram doesn’t climb up the right edge (too much).  All depends on the nature of the scene of course, and whether over-bright subjects look natural when they’re blown out.  The sun and moon are the best examples.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

The old point and shoot camera is at its limits in a recent shot of glacier lilies high above the Columbia River in Oregon.

The old point and shoot camera is at its limits in a recent shot of glacier lilies high above the Columbia River in Oregon.

Sunset over the Okavango, Botswana.  A hand-held shot from a boat, I had to go with faster shutter speed and underexpose in order to not blow out the sky.

Sunset over the Okavango, Botswana. A hand-held shot from a boat, I had to go with faster shutter speed and underexpose in order to not blow out the sky.







Friday Foto Talk: Why is Metadata Important?   7 comments

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