Evening Drama

Here’s another simple but effective way to capture a very high contrast image without resorting to HDR techniques. Not that I have anything serious against HDR, but I find it very rewarding to be able to capture a shot like this “in camera”.

Yes, I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy but hey, I earned every one of those gray hairs.

Evening Drama

Evening Drama – Johnson City, Texas
Copyright 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 19mm, f/16 for 1/6th of a second at ISO 200 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter and 2-stop graduated neutral density filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: Evening Drama – Johnson City, Texas

How to Get this Type of Shot
The key to getting this type of shot is to recognize that the dynamic range of this scene is well beyond what your camera’s metering system can handle. In fact, the dark-to-light-to-dark pattern found in this scene is sure to fool your camera’s meter most of the time.

  • For Canon shooters this type of situation call for enabling your camera’s Highlight Tone Priority setting which “shifts” the sensor’s response curve (dynamic range) so that gradations between highlight tones become smoother. It also helps recover blown-out highlights as you can see in the center of this shot. You should always have your camera’s highlight warning (blinkies) turned on as well.
  • Another key is to use a graduated neutral density filter to “even out” the exposure values between the foreground, middle ground and background. I prefer to hand-hold Singh-Ray’s “soft” graduated ND filters and move them slightly during the exposure to obtain an even softer transition. Yes, this may create some dark areas in your image that need some post-capture work since an ND-Grad filter won’t follow the broken shape of your scene’s horizon.
  • The final key is to slightly underexpose this type of shot to add drama to the clouds and add saturation to the colors in the scene. If you overexpose a shot like this the highlights will be completely blown out and all the detail will be lost forever. No amount of post-capture processing can recover blown out highlights because there is simply no data to recover. I generally underexpose a shot like this about two-thirds of a stop to prevent this from happening.

Once you learn to recognize a difficult lighting situation like this, you’re halfway there to capturing a shot you’ll be proud of. Don’t get discouraged if this takes some practice. I took over 30 shots of this scene before I got the “one” that I liked enough to print. The other 29 ended up on the cutting room floor (metaphorically speaking of course).

Filed under: Photography Tagged: Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Pedernales Falls State Park, Photography, Texas Hill Country, Texas Landscapes

Follow Your Own Path

This is one long and wordy post so dig in.

We live in interesting times my friends. It’s stated that just one generation ago most folks went to work for a company at age 20 and retired from that same company at age 62 with a generous “pension plan”. Today, we’re told, the “average” person will have worked at five to seven different companies in two to three different industries by the time he or she reaches age 62. This “new age” worker may never retire at all and if they do, they walk away with a 401K “savings” worth considerably less than they think their 40 years of hard work is worth. Not exactly the “American Dream” the previous generation lived.

Or is it?

Much is currently being said about how the rise of the Internet and the new “Social Media” are killing off the world’s newspapers, magazines and television. We’re lead to believe this new age of instant and “free” information is sucking the life blood out of the once robust news and entertainment industry and creating a generation of FaceBook, Twitter and Skype addicts that can’t get enough of their 24x7x365 fifteen minutes of fame. Not exactly your evening news with Walter Cronkite.

Or is it?

We’re told that the massive influx of cheap DSLR cameras from Japan, Korea and China is driving down the price for professional wedding, sports, travel, commercial and landscape photography so much that thousands of professional shooters have been replaced by millions of amateur shooters, effectively killing off the entire industry. It’s said that the stock agencies have been replaced by the micro-stock agencies that have themselves been supplanted by Art Directors trolling Flickr and Google sending the already rock bottom prices for photography even lower. Not exactly what Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Lachapelle or Annie Lebovitz had in mind when they got started.

Or is it?

The Shifting Paradigm
Sometimes we forget how far technology has come in such a short period of time and we underestimate the impact this change has caused in our daily lives. Prior to the twentieth century mankind’s basic situation hadn’t changed much in the past 10,000 years. Yes, civilizations had risen and fallen, wars had been won and lost and the Lord had sent his only son to redeem our souls. Still, people’s daily lives revolved around their family, their village and their region. Most knew little about the rest of the world and few had spare time for idle curiosity.

That all changed in the past 150 years with the most dramatic changes coming during the last 50 years. The industrial revolution created a new paradigm for non-farm workers and gave birth to the “9 – 5 Job”. It created thousands of jobs by inventing mass production, making durable goods cheap enough for these same “workers” to buy.

But the industrial revolution also killed many jobs by making those durable goods less expensively than they were made “by hand” before. The artisans and craftsmen of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century experienced this technological “shift” firsthand and found their life’s work too expensive to compete against the marvels of mass production. (Sound familiar?)

Fast forward to the 1930′s, 40′s & 50′s and the rise of the modern labor union. Union workers strike against company owners and win wage and benefit increases and give birth to the first pension plans. Non-union white-collar workers negotiate for the same benefits as their blue-collar brothers and create an affluent middle class with one single goal; retirement.

Never before in the history of mankind had a large percentage of people “stopped working” at age 62 and spent the rest of their (now longer) lives pursuing leisure activities. Whole new industries emerge designed to cater to this new middle class. The newspaper industry and print journalism in general flourished as people had the time and money to spend learning about the rest of the world. But this “golden age of print” didn’t last for long.

Radio and television become the media of choice in the 1960′s and 70′s with the war in Vietnam and the anti-war protests at home being covered every evening at 5:30 PM (CST). Newspaper subscriptions began their decades long decline and advertisers flocked to the TV like bees to honey. (We’ve been here before haven’t we?)

Fast forward to the 1980′s & 90′s. The integrated circuit is developed and the computer age is upon us. Main-frame computers costing millions are quietly replaced by faster and smaller mini-computers and a whole generation of assembly language programmers find themselves “made redundant” (until the Y2K scare). Only a few years go by and the venerable mini-computer falls to the “personal computer” or PC. A whole generation of COBOL programmers find themselves also “made redundant”. Apple opens their doors and Bill Gates releases Microsoft “Windows”. IBM and DEC find their market share dwindling day by day. (Getting the picture?)

Fast forward to the past decade. PCs, laptops and notebook computers are everywhere. Microsoft releases Excel, Word, PowerPoint, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, Exchange Server and Commerce Server and dominates the world software market. The smaller software companies and contract programmers find themselves broke, acquired or run out of business by the GIANT Microsoft. The governments of the US and several European nations sue Microsoft due to their dominance and domination of the global software market. Microsoft’s market share and profits continue to climb while the PC manufacturers find themselves barely able to make a profit. Mergers take place. Some hardware companies go out of business altogether and the profit margins of the remaining few continue to shrink. (Seem Familiar?)

Apple reinvents itself, retools, revamps and re-engineers its line of desktop, workstation and notebook computers and carefully controls the hardware to match their new operating system, OS-X. Apple opens their bricks & mortar stores amid speculation that they’ve lost their mind, but the crowds love the concept and devout PC users begin to switch to Mac. Microsoft releases a slow, buggy operating system called Vista which falls flat on its face. Apple begins a series of humorous ads laughing at Microsoft’s misfortune. Apple releases new iPods, MacBooks, iMacs, Mac Pros, iTunes, the iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 4G and the iPad. Microsoft watches their market share begin to slip until it’s an all out avalanche of folks switching to Apple products. (Myself included)

The Path

The Path You Follow – Fredericksburg, Texas
Copyright 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 40mm, f/8 for 1/125th of a second at ISO 200 with a Singh-Ray warming polarizer filter. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

View Location on Panoramio & Google Earth: The Path You Follow – Fredericksburg, Texas

In Closing
For every dramatic “shift” in our society, in our technology and in the world of business, there will be those that adapt, survive and even thrive. There will also be those that cannot adapt and they will rail against the heavens, gnash their teeth and loudly call out for “social justice”.

The best advice I can give anyone starting out in this business is to follow your own path and be realistic in your goals. For example, there are thousands of very talented wedding photographers around the globe looking for work. The average price that a typical wedding photographer can charge has dropped by 50% in the past two years. Perhaps this isn’t the best time to target that market segment.

Finding niche markets or industries needing economical photographic work is not simple but with Google and the help of your local Chamber of Commerce, it can certainly be done. Do some research and get a listing of all the small businesses in your immediate area. Send out a targeted email blast and follow up with a phone call. Don’t sit in your home office spending hour after hour on FaceBook or Twitter. If you want to succeed as a professional photographer then get out there and “sell” your services.

Follow your own path and enjoy the ride of a lifetime!

Jeff

Filed under: Photography Tagged: Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Photography, Texas Hill Country, Texas Landscapes

Exploring Monument Hill State Historical Site

Exploring Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site in La Grange, Texas is a treat for both the young and old. The site is considered hallowed ground and the remains of many soldiers and militia from the struggle for Texas’ independence are buried in a beautiful granite tomb on the top of the bluff overlooking the Colorado river. It is also the site of the Kreische home and brewery erected after the war by Heinrich Kreische, a german stone mason and brewer.

The Kreische Home – La Grange, Texas
Copyright 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using a Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 29mm, f/16 for 1/40th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

The brewery is open for guided tours on most weekends which are conducted by trained docents with a rich understanding of early Texas history. The hike down to the brewery and back is short but steep in several places and a walking stick is always a good idea. The temperature drops quickly as you descend down the hillside and enter the lower portions of the brewery itself. On a warm spring afternoon it’s easy to understand why the brewery became such a popular spot in the late 1870′s. The architecture, engineering and stone work in the Kreische home and brewery are truly amazing and both structures have withstood the past 150 years in excellent condition.

The park itself is somewhat small and the hiking trails are well marked and easy to follow. My favorite feature of the park is the bluff overlooking the lower Colorado river, the town of La Grange and the eastern most portion of the Texas Hill Country. There are several scenic lookouts in the park that are the favorite spots of many Texas landscape photographers, myself included. In the late fall, the trees turn a golden yellow and brown, offering some beautiful views and scenic photographic opportunities.

I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the wonderful staff at Monument Hill. Everyone that works there, from the TPWD Park Rangers to the docents are warm and friendly folks, always happy to answer questions and share a bit of Texas history. I’ve visited the park dozens of times in the past few years, and have always come away with some beautiful photographs and wonderful memories to treasure.

Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site is a short two hour drive from Houston and a great place to spend a half-day with family, friends or even by yourself. It’s a place rich in Texas history and scenic beauty and well worth the drive.

Filed under: Photography Tagged: Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Landscape Photography, Monument Hill State Historic Site, Photography, Texas Landscapes

Hiking the Haynes Ridge Trail

The incredible majesty of Caprock Canyons State Park was created over millions of years by wind and water. Wind, the Texas Plains have plenty of. Water, they do not. At least not on the surface. The park sits at a natural transition between the high plains of the Llano Estacado to the north & west and rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country to the south & east. Most of the water that created these wonderful canyons ran underground in a process called “piping”.

Streams running east from the Llano Estacado flow onto the lower plains through the Caprock Escarpment, then into the Red River, the Brazos River and the mighty Colorado River. Over tens of thousands of years, the waters of the Little Red River have exposed the different geologic layers (“red beds”) of shale, sandstone, siltstone and mudstone. Each layer exposed by this weathering contains different colors of rock including the beautiful shades of red, orange and white you can see in the photograph below.

These steep and colorful canyons are one reason I love this area so much, but it’s the sky and the clouds that really captivate the senses. Driving through the park is a real treat but to get the best landscape shots you’ll need to grab your camera and hike to some of the park’s more remote locations like the Haynes Ridge shown in the graphic below.

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park

Hiking the Haynes Ridge trail is not for the feint of heart however. The initial climb from the trailhead is over 500 feet straight up the steep and rocky face. In the dry desert climate of the canyons, water is a necessity you can’t live without. I (hiked) climbed this section of the trail with my new pack holding my camera, lenses, filters and four 24 oz containers of cold water. Little did I know just how much water I’d need for the grueling 7 mile hike. As always, I used my trusted Gitzo Traveler tripod as a walking stick.

Once you reach the first summit, the view of Caprock Canyons State Park is spectacular to say the least. The horizon seems to stretch on forever before fading into the eastern cloud cover as you can see in the image below. Yes, the climb up to this point puts you well above the interior of the canyon.

Haynes Ridge Summit

Haynes Ridge Summit in Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas
Copyright 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 26mm, f/13 for 1/60th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Having rested for 20 minutes while taking a few dozen shots from this high vantage point, I thought the rest of the hike along the ridge would be a piece of cake. Little did I realize that we still had several hundred feet to ascend before we reached the actual “summit”. Luckily, I had my oldest living friend Jack, along to act as guide, coach and pack-mule if necessary. Jack’s an experienced hiker and we both felt confident in our “pace” though the first few miles of the hike.

That confidence faded fast however when we finally reached the end of the Haynes Ridge trail and started down the trail leading to the South Prong canyon area. I should point out that at this junction, we had climbed over 750 feet from the canyon floor (2467 ft elevation) to the highest point of the ridge (3200 ft elevation). For those of you familiar with Houston, it’s the equivalent of climbing the Williams Tower from the outside.

We now had to descend those same 750 feet down the steepest and most rugged “trail” I’ve ever hiked and the sun was rapidly beginning to set. As we began the long climb down, we both had one of those “Oh Shit” moments that happens when you realize that the trail is not a trail, it’s a “climb” and you (stupid) didn’t bring a rope, harness or hardware required to safely “climb” down. At age 50 and 70, free-climbing 750 feet in the fading light is not something either of us had planned on tackling that day.

Without sounding over-dramatic, this was one of the toughest descents I’d made in over 30 years. The fading light made finding hand-holds and secure footing very difficult and in several spots we lost the trail and had to back-track until we could find a marker. Once we got down to within 200 feet of the canyon floor the climb got downright dangerous with loose rock and gravel from washouts slowing our descent considerably. We climbed the last 100 feet at dusk and reached the canyon floor under the rising moon.

As we walked the final 3 miles back to our vehicle, exhaustion took over and our legs began to cramp. We quickly drank what tonic water we had (the quinine in tonic water relieves the cramps) and our reserve water in the truck. I have no idea how we managed to get out of bed the next morning, let alone scout spots to shoot that evening, but we did.

It was only by the Grace of God that we made it down that descent with nothing but a few minor scrapes and cuts and I’ve never been so happy to have the Lord along for a hike as I was that day. All I could think about during the long climb down was Proverbs 16: 18-19

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Amen!

Filed under: Photography Tagged: Canon, Canon 5D Mark II, Caprock Canyons State Park, Landscape Photography, Nature Photography, Photography, Texas High Plains, Texas Landscapes

An Introduction to Photoshop Compositing for Beginners

by Sarah Hipwell

NewImage

What is compositing? Simply, it means to combine two or more images to make a single picture.

As a photographer, I’m constantly coming up with different concepts that I feel might make a good photo. But it is not always possible to get the perfect shot in one session. There have been numerous occasions while on a shoot where the light was not bright enough for the particular shot that I had in mind. On other occasions the background was too distracting. This is where the ability to create composite imagery in Photoshop is a huge advantage.

To produce a composite image in Photoshop, you need to isolate the subjects from the background of your various source photos. When I started out, I used the pen tool to help isolate my subjects. Now, I use the ‘quick selection’ and ‘refine edge’ tools which are superb and are a much faster way of doing extractions, especially for isolating hair!

But for this tutorial, I’m going to use the pen tool to create a path which I then save this as an alpha channel selection. I believe the pen tool should never be overlooked as an excellent way for beginners to increase their proficiency level with Photoshop. If you are new to using the pen tool, it does take a bit of getting used to but after time, you will pick up speed and accuracy. The big plus side to creating paths in this way is that they are re-editable and non-destructive.

I have highlighted three key features:

  1. Selection. Good selections are critical for compository work
  2. Composition.
  3. Uniform color balance and light.

Here’s the method:

  1. The Pen Tool – With the Pen Tool selected in the toolbar, choose a starting point on the photo, click and drag around the area to be selected. This will create a path outline to be saved in the Paths Palette.
  2. Place the images – When I want to bring other images into a composite, I prefer to Place them into the file. What this means is that the image is brought into your psd file on a separate layer as a Smart Object. The photo can be moved into position, made larger or smaller without affecting the quality.
  3. Match Color – When all the elements of the photo are edited and in place, I use Match Color tool as an effective way to balance the color between the two images.

NewImage

I took the photo above for a concept shot titled ‘Recycled toilet paper’. I wanted a bright blue sky with white fluffy clouds as the background. The above shot did not have the background that I wanted. So I waited a couple of days and I got the shot I wanted. See below:

NewImage

I made my selection using the pen tool to isolate the toilet rolls and clothesline. Zoom in up to 300 – 400% to get a good outline, as shown below.

NewImage

Holding down the Alt/Ctrl key enables you to move anchor points and direction lines and again make any edits to your lines and curves.

When you have finished plotting your anchor points, you can then save this outline in the Paths Palette. This selection can then be added as a layer mask. It should resemble the black and white image on the right below.

NewImage

I imported the new sky background by going to the File menu and select Place. The image then appeared as a Smart Object and on a separate layer. I had to reduce the size but the quality of the image was maintained.

When I was happy with the position of the new sky background, I merged all the layers onto one. I used a keyboard shortcut (Cmd/Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E) to achieve this. The reason for this is that the next adjustment isn’t non-destructive so that if I want to redo this edit, I would have to delete the layer and repeat the above step again.

The final adjustment was to go to Image menu and select Match Color to make sure the color is balanced between the two images. Using Image>Adjustments>Match Color I played with the two sliders to get the color of the image more uniform in appearance. See the link below where I uploaded the final composite image to iStockphoto.com

http://www.istockphoto.com/stock-photo-6231026-recycling-toilet-paper.php?st=faf18be

See more of Sarah Hipwell’s work at her website – SarahHipwell.com

Post originally from: Digital Photography Tips.

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An Introduction to Photoshop Compositing for Beginners