I really didn't mean to piss of so many people when I put out the as below. All I wanted to to was to make an entry into the market place for teaching photography in Okinawa. Nobody objected to me doing that. What lit the fuse was the fact that I was (and still am) offering a beginner course at no charge.
What got other photographers upset was the fact that I wasn't charing for the course and in offering it for free, I was destroying the market. Point taken, but I disagree. If I were offering anything more than a few tips over drinks and finger foods, yes, I would be devaluing the market. But I'm not. what I'm doing is trying to reach out to the people who might be interested in taking a real-deal photography course, but haven't made up their minds yet. Offering a no-commitment intro might give me the chance to meet some new people, offer them a few pointers, and hopefully sell them some real training.
Honestly, it took me a while to get up my courage before I offered this or any photo course. You see, Okinawa is home to quite a few truly amazing photographers. First, there's Pete Leong, the undisputed king of the wedding photography heap in Okinawa. Pete's work outside of weddings never fails to disappoint either. Then there's Shawn Miller, wildlife photographer extraordinaire. Sponsored by Canon to shoot for National Geographic, few can hold a candle to his mind-blowing shots of crabs, frogs, snakes and all the other natural wonders of the Okinawa. And don't forget Mark Thorpe, well rounded photographer of everything from waterfalls to starscapes to family portraits. He's got a way of making every day people look like celebrities. Next is Chris Wilson, the go-to guy on this island for distinctive portraits shot in a style all his own. I could go on, but I need to do more in this post than just list off awesome photographers.
My point is, who the hell do I think I am coming here and offering to teach photography in the shadows of these great men? My inability to answer this question stopped me from offering courses any sooner and seriously made me think twice before offering a course even now.
What made me decide to do it? First of all, there seemed to be lots of interest. People I know want me to teach them how to get the results I've been getting... and who am I to turn them down? Second, there's the fact that I've seen courses offered by "professional" photographers far less experience and I dare say less skilled than me. If they can do it, why can't I?
So, here I am, doing it.
But I'm truly at a disadvantage, since few people know me as a photography teacher. And worse than that, there are only a handful of people interested in the day-long or weekend-long courses that seem to be popular here, especially at the prices being asked. That's not to say the prices are too high. I'm just saying that people might need to be eased into the kind of courses they have to pay for. I need some way of identifying these people, meeting them, whetting their appetites and finally offering them something they might be interested in paying for at this stage of their learning..
Personally, I feel this will help everyone down the road because it has the potential to expand the market. By using the world 'free' to reach out to people who may not have even considered taking a workshop, I'm bringing people into the community. These people might take my up on my paid course offerings, They will very l likely take advantage of the offerings of other photographers who do things I don't, like trips to Iriomote Island or weekend-long off-camera flash workshops.
To the other photographers of Okinawa who feel threatened by my free offering, I say this. Send me your promotional material and I'll see that every single student who comes to my free "teaser" course gets a copy. Send me links to your courses and I'll post them right on my Facebook page. We're stronger if we cooperate and work together to make the pie bigger.
Respectful comments are more than welcome, even if they are highly critical of me. Thank you for reading.
Night shooting with long exposures involves a whole lot of photographic challenges, but when you get it right, the reward is more than worth the effort.
This picture was taken long after sunset at Cape Zanpa in Okinawa Japan. This might be one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world, so getting a truly original picture takes a bit of forethought... and ideally a full frame camera with a decent kit of lenses. Don't get me wrong. It's possible to get some very good long exposure shots with a point and shoot on manual settings, but it really helps to have a camera capable of shooting at relatively high ISO settings, a full frame sensor to collect as much light as possible and lenses like the 14mm f/2.8 prime I used to take the photo above.
This is really a simple shot. I opened the aperture to its widest setting, framed the shot, then guessed based on experience what ISO and shutter speed to use, settling on 800 and 15 seconds respectively. That worked like a charm. If it didn't, I'd just shoot again until I got it right.
I took a bunch of brackets at different ISO settings and shutter speeds to get different cloud patterns. Too short and the sky is underexposed. Too long and the cloud streaks turn into haze and the stars turn into lines. This is the shot from this series I liked best.
Post processing of this shot was a simple matter of using a brush tool in Lightroom to bring up the foreground exposure slightly, then using a gradient filter on the sky to bring up the contrast. Shooting raw, I set the while balance in post to match the color temperature of the light house so that the sky behind it would be a deep blue. I used the blue HSL slider to further increase the saturation of the sky, but only at a very conservative setting, or the stars and wispy clouds would disappear.
The next shot presented more of a post processing challenge.
This image was lit with moonlight. This is a 60 second exposure on ISO 1,000 using a 24-70mm lens at its widest setting. This (intentionally) produced an image that was overexposed by about 1.5 stops. I brought it down in Lightroom using the Exposure slider, the applied a gradient filter to the sky to increase contrast. I also used a gradient filter on the foreground to reduce exposure, since the full moon was so bright.
I also straightened this image to make the lighthouse and the monument vertical, since the distortion produced by the 24mm lens made them both lean in toward the centre. This meant that the bottom corners of the image got cut off at an angle, so to compensate, I used photoshop to fill them in using the content aware setting. The bushes and ground are the kind of patters that reproduce easily, and the corners at the bottom did not contain key information, so I don't call this "cheating."
In next image, I got to have a bit of fun.
My friend went looking for a tighter frame of the lighthouse and I decided to take a shot of him taking his shot. Luckily for me, and airplane was on approach to Naha airport to the south. On a 30 second exposure, he made it all the way out of the frame and left me with a wonderful streak across my photo. The truth is we waited for the plane to enter the frame thinking it would only make it part way across, but it was moving faster than we thought. The effect is truly dazzling!
Then my friend's wife showed up with curry for both of us and started doing yoga behind us. I suggested that she do some poses in the frame and she happily agreed. We waited for another aircraft, and this was the amazing result.
The thing every photographer needs to remember about night shooting is that the magic doesn't always happen. The clouds, the moon and the wind direction all came together to make these shots possible. Equipment is helpful, skill is important, patience is essential... and luck is indispensable!
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Sometimes something awesome happens right in front of you when you're lucky enough to have a camera in your hands. But, sadly, your luck isn't perfect. The subject of the photo is one of the most adorable kids you've ever met, who's just happened to ride his bike right up to you and flash the cutest smile you've ever seen. But the background is a drab cement street.
This exact situation happened to me and this was the best photo I could make of it with light processing in Lightroom. It's cute, but not the sort of picture on which a photographer builds a career (or even a portfolio for that matter. So, my choices were to forget about it, or find a better background and make a composite in photoshop.
Fortunately, I had just the shot, taken a few hours later on the same day. My wife's colleague took my wife and I on a tour of the cosmos fields near Nago, Okinawa and, in addition to some really nice shots of bees on the cosmos, I managed to shoot this wide angle image of the whole field.
In terms of subject matter, this was a perfect image for the background. Unfortunately, it was taken with a different lens, on a different stop, at a different angle and focused at a different distance from the lens. That means that making a believable composite out of the two photos (i.e. a composite that doesn't look like a composite) would require making some adjustments.
The first thing I did was to place the foreground in its own file and mask out the road so that all I could see was the boy. Next, I opened the background as a separate file, cropped it and added a blur filter using the gradient tool so that it got blurrier toward the top of the image. This gave the background the appearance of having a much narrower depth of field than it did. On top of the cropping, this simulated the compression effect of the telephoto lens with which which the boy was photographed (the field was taken at on a 24mm lens on a different camera).
I made a new layer and brought in the background by means of copy and paste (placing and embedded or linked file would have worked too). I felt that the crop was not enough to make it look like the flower field was taken on the same lens as the boy, so I expand it using the transform function. I then performed another gradient blur to intensify the effect, and place a gaussian blur filter over the whole layer. This worked.
All that was left to do was make the colors and contrast match. This is harder than it looks and it is very much a matter of judgement. Basically I just played with the filters until I got what I liked. What seemed to make the most different were the vibrancy and saturation filters on the boy, which brought out the color and shadows in his face. Bringing up the vibrance, lowering the saturation and fine-tuning the contrast, I found the right balance in the foreground.
One of the keys was in the boy's hat, which in real life was bright, bright orange. It was so naturally vibrant that it looked fake. So, to tone it down, I masked it off and reduced the saturation using an adjustment layer, clipped to the foreground layer.
All that was left to do was refine the mask on the photo of the boy and position the background perfectly, leaving the horizon out to preserve the sense that we are looking down at the boy. The angle is still a bit of a cheat, but nobody has ever seen this and believed it was a composite. To me, that is a sign of success. Here is the finished photo.
Thank you for reading my humble blog!
Let me just say straight up that speedlights are a wonderful thing. But not if you're shooting animals. When shooting a family portrait, it's always good to have the option of adding fill light, ideally from an off camera source, but most pets are intolerant of the bright, intermittent light. That means your time window for shooting portraits is somewhat narrower than if would be were you just shooting people. It also means that you have to be prepared to do a lot of work in post processing to bring out the correct exposures and skin tones.
Take this shot, for example. In order to be able to recover the detail in the clouds, I had to be sure not to over-expose it. However, unless I was prepared to shoot silhouettes, it was also necessary to bring out the exposure hot enough that I selectively could bring up the shadows without introducing too much noise. The trick here is to expose for the sky and shoot about one stop too hot. Since the clouds are not the main point of interest, it's okay if they're a bit blown out. The Canon 5D Mk2 I was shooting on is quite good at capturing detail in the highlights which can be brought out in Adobe lightroom. Lightroom is also quite good at selective dodging, provided you don't try to push it too hard. The shadows were brought up about 50% with a slider, then I used a brush tool to bring up the faces. This has to be used sparingly, or about 1/5 to 1/4 of a stop. More than that and it starts to look too obvious.
In addition to bring up the shadows and pulling down the clouds, I also did some selective coloring. It was really quite a bleak day and the subtle gradations in color temperature present in the clouds just didn't come through on the sensor. I didn't use specialized software for this, partly because it's expensive and partly because the art of photography, to me, is about teasing out the beauty from within a photograph, not adding it with software. I'm not above doing that if that;s what the client wants, but I think April and her family were pretty happy with this.
Of course, not all shots are so challenging. The next one was taken directly into the sun on a hazy day. I set my exposure for the bright backlight that was present when I posed the models and started snapping. Young Aiden gave me a terrific smile, but Jet just wouldn't look at the camera. At least, not until the sun went behind a cloud. With my exposure still set for the bright light, I kept snapping, knowing the shot would be underexposed. That's okay, because it meant I wouldn't be fighting to get the detail back in the background. All I had to do was bring up the shadows and use a brush tool to accentuate the highlights from the sun behind the subject. The result is quite pleasing, if I say so myself.
This shot needed more color than the sun would give me through the clouds, so I applied a brush to the the ocean and brought the color temperature down a bit. The goal was to bring back the beautiful aqua color without going overboard. I generally like to bring out the colors using the vibrance slider, but the orange shirt started looking rather intense too soon. The way I handled that was to bring down the orange saturation slider in the HSL section. This took some of the warmth out of the photo overall, but I can live with that. The look is closer to that of a shot taken much earlier in the day, say mid afternoon as opposed to what would have been golden hour had the haze not been so thick.
These are two of 15 photos that I liked. During the shoot, I snapped more than 400. I'd say I went a bit overboard on that, but I'd rather be sitting in front of my computer fretting about how much material I have rather than how I wished I'd shot more.
A big thank you to April, Aiden and Jet the golden retriever for being such awesomely photogenic subjects!
Thank you for reading.
If there's one thing I love to do as a photographer, it's to venture out and capture images of rustic life in the villages. A terrific place to do this is Ikei Island on the east coast of Okinawa, accessible by causeway from Uruma City. I was only there for a morning and had other business to attend to, but I brought my camera bag along in the hope that I'd find something worth shooting. Intuition paid off. In the brief time I had, I managed to acquire some pictures I really like.
The first thing I went looking for was a set of Shisa Lions. These aren't hard to find in Okinawa, where they guard the entrances of just about every house and apartment, but the kind of beautiful background I like to shoot has proved more elusive. Fortunately, Ikei Island offered up exactly what I was looking for on a nice bright day perfect for shooting.
Generally, shisas are found in pairs, one on each side of the gate leading to the front door of the house. Sometimes, they are found on the roof as well. I wanted to frame the shisas in such a way that both were in the frame, but only the near shisa was in sharp focus. I also wanted the background out of focus, but not so soft that the texture of the trees would be lost. Shooting fully extended with a 55-200 EF lens on my Canon 5D Mk2, I managed to get what I was after, with some nice bokeh to boot. I used ISO 400 so I could set a fast enough shutter to reduce camera shake and shot at f/5.6, which for this lens at 200mm is wide open. The image was cropped and processed gently in Adobe Lightroom.
After I nailed enough two-shots to satisfy me, I looked for a single, ideally a closeup. It's not always easy to find pleasing foreground, but Ikei Island gave me exactly what I was looking for. This subject of this shot is the far shisa in the photo above, shot from the opposite side, using a manicured tree as green foreground. It puts more depth in the frame, provides additional context and make the picture more intimate. The shisa almost looks like its hiding behind the tree.
Of course, there was a lot more to shoot than shisas. Walking through the narrow roadways, which were blissfully quiet except for the sounds of birds and other tiny critters, I happened upon a mikan tree, the ripe fruit of which was falling to the ground. I wanted a shot that would allow me to capture the timeworn stone of the walls on the opposite side of the road, but which also featured the fruit and other debris in the immediate foreground. In order to enhance the rustic feel, I went for a soft look, shooting full wide at f/4 on my 24-70 Canon zoom lens. My intention was to make one of the oranges perfectly sharp, throwing both the foreground and background out of focus. I further sharpened the center orange in post processing to accentuate the difference and slightly boosted the saturation and luminance of the fruit.
I shot a few more images, which I won't share here today. Unfortunately, time constraints put a limit on the number of exposures I could take, but I'd have to say I'm happy with what I got in the limited time I had. I'm glad I brought my camera!
Thanks for reading.
We've all read magazine articles about artists, business people, politicians and other individuals of importance. Those articles are often peppered with various photos of the subjects, some action shots, some candid behind-the-scenes style photos and some portrait style headshots. Those headshots, at least the good ones, generally have a few things in common.
First of all, the subject is looking at the camera, ideally right down the lens. Second, there is a least a hint of a smile. Third, the face is slightly off centre, the body facing the opposite side of the frame. Fourth, the light source is not straight from an on-camera flash, but rather angular in some way, ideally with a strong back light to create a rim around the subject and pull him out from the background. Finally, and importantly, the subject's closest eye has to be the point of sharpest focus and the background has to be at least a little out of focus.
These things are easy to accomplish with a bit of practice. The bad news is that to get the best results, you need to invest in the right equipment. Unlike in landscape photography in which even the most basic camera - in the right hands - can take breathtakingly awesome shots, to get good headshots, at a minimum you need the right kind of sensor and the right kind of lenses. The right kind of camera is one that has a large enough sensor to allow you to 1) get creative with your depth of field and 2) capture a reasonable dynamic range. The right lenses produce sharp images and allow you to shoot at very low f-stops like f/1.8 or f/2.
The following photo was shot with a Canon 100D, an entry level DSLR camera, with a Canon f/1.8 50mm prime lens. Lighting was provided by the sun and my assistant holding a silver reflector. Note that this photo obeys all the rules stated above. In particular, look at the sharpness of the eyes and compare this to the softness of the background. This photo worked out perfectly. It's not the sort of result you could get on a point-and-shoot or even with the standard 18-55mm kit lens that comes with the camera.
The first picture was taken with the same equipment. While an excellent photo, if I do say so myself, I think a better result could have been achieved using a full-frame camera with the same lens. This would have made the background softer because of the narrow depth of field associated with full-frame optics, which would have made the subject look sharper in comparison. Also, the 50mm prime I was using is designed to cover a full-frame sensor, meaning the point of focus would be sharper. Finally, I could achieve the narrow depth of field while shooting on a stop that would produce sharper images, instead of having to shoot wide open (f/1.8 lenses are not sharpest at f/1.8, but at a smaller aperture, generally close to f/5.6).
The combination of an entry level DSLR and a 50mm prime-lens produced results that made the client very happy. If I'd been shooting an A-List actor for Rolling Stone, I think they'd have been happy too, but personally, given the choice, I'd rather work with the tools that afford me the flexibility to get exactly the image I want.
This is why the pros gravitate toward portrait and headshot photography. The difference between a pro and an amateur is obvious enough that people who need good headshots are willing to pay the premium. This is also why pros invest in equipment that is going to give them the best results.
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Every pro photographer makes mistakes. If the job is important enough and the mistake is big enough, it could be the end of his career. Some kinds of mistakes are inexcusable for a pro, namely the kind that come from laziness or improper preparation. Others are so common they happen almost every day. One thing that separates amateurs from pros is the post-processing skill to salvage a good photo from a mistake - or a set of mistakes - that could could ruin a photo. To illustrate what I mean by "salvage," I'll explain how I processed a photo I snapped a little too hastily, realizing only afterwards that the settings on my camera were wrong.
The photo below was the first I took at a NekoMaru cat cafe in Okinawa. Having just walked in the door, I saw this adorable little guy laying on the floor. Not wanting to miss the opportunity, I took out my camera (50mm portrait lens already attached), focused and pressed the button. Then I looked at the shot in the viewer and realized my white balance was off and that it was underexposed by two stops. Damn! On the bright side, the eyes were in perfect focus and the shot was well framed, meaning that it just might be salvageable.
The white balance issue was no concern at all since I was shooting in raw mode, meaning I could set the parameter in Lightroom. I set the white balance to fluorescent because the lights above me seemed strong, but after looking at the result, I knew I'd misgauged it, so I reset it to daylight. Of greater concern was the exposure. I was shooting at f/2.2 on my 50mm portrait lens and I thought I had the camera set to Aperture Priority mode. But that was not correct. I was in manual and the shutter speed was too fast to get a good exposure. Oops!
The solution was to go into Adobe Lightroom and boost the exposure by two stops. This worked. Since I'd been shooting on a low ISO, the noise level in the image was not too bad, so it didn't appear to grainy when adjusted. The result was good enough that I decided to further process the picture, ending with what you see below.
What other processing did I do? Besides all the usual tweaks to vibrance, saturation, HSL and the like, I used a radial filter over the cat's face set to effect the area outside the circle. I pulled the exposure of the background down just a bit to bring out the cat's face. Then I took a brush tool and sharpened the eyes very slightly. Finally, I added a very subtle post-crop vignette to help further push down the background. Notably, I did not apply software lens corrections, which would have brought of the brightness of the corners of the image (the opposite of what I wanted).
That's about it. The take home point is the everyone makes mistakes. This one was small and inconsequential. When it comes to fixing mistakes, remember two things: 1) shoot raw because it allows you a lot of options in post and 2) if your focus and framing are correct, you can often salvage an under-exposed image in post-processing. The same is not true for over-exposed digital images. Two stops above would have destroyed this one.
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One of the feelings I like portray in my photos is the passage of time. This can be accomplished in many ways, but I like to do it by shooting long exposures. This photo of a Matsuri (festival in Japanese) taken in Uruma City Okinawa is a two second exposure, just long enough to turn moving people into ghosts, while people who are stationary, are more or less frozen. Photos like this are hard to get because the composition is always in flux. You can aim the camera, but people are going to stand where they stand and walk where they walk. It takes patience, but the payoff is big when it all comes together.
What I love about this kind of photo is how the juxtaposition of static and dynamic elements conveys an association among the frozen people, separating them from crowd. When you go to a festival with friends, you walk through a sea of other people, but you barely notice them. In a sense, they are only half there. That's the feeling I intended to evoke with this photograph. How did I do?
On the technical side, the key is not to overexpose your highlights. Of course, in digital photography, you're always exposing for the highlights, but the trick here is to find the exposure that prevents halos from forming around the lights, while capturing enough detail in the shadows that you can raise the levels in post without too much noise. Other than manipulating all the basic settings and taking some lens flare out of the sky, this is not a heavily processed image. The magical contrast between moving and static people did all the work for me.
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Most of my work is in the digital realm. Owing to the nature of what I do, very few of my images get printed. I'm perfectly okay with that. I want my images to be enjoyed and it doesn't matter too much to me how people view them. That said, I love looking at my work in print. There's something deeply satisfying about seeing and even feeling your work in what some people would call the "real world."
It's also nerve wracking. It was literally with trembling fingers that I opened the box from the printer the day the postcards below arrived. I'd done my homework, read all the instructions the printing company set out online, made sure my monitor was properly calibrated, processed the images in CMYK color space, etc, etc. But you're never really sure how your work will look until you open the package and look inside. When I did that, this is what I saw...
...and I was thrilled! The colors and tones turned out exactly the way I thought they would based on my soft proofs. In some cases, even they tuned out even better. In the printed version, the gazebo in the bottom right postcard came out a bit more red than the the version you see here, but I was so happy with the sky I didn't care. The final result is great.
In the future, I'm going to look for more projects that allow me to print my work. I'm planning a series of posters, based on some of the images above. Maybe I'll even try to sell some limited edition prints.
Let's hope the NPO that commissioned the postcards as a fundraiser meets it's goals. Check out Okinawa Hands-On to find out more. You can support a great cause and send your family some of the finest images ever taken of Okinawa (no, I'm not bragging).
Thanks for reading.
Strange how I feel the need to defend myself every time I go to post a highly processed image. This is because it was drilled into me very early in my photographic career that a photographer's job was to get it right in camera. Processing was for sissies, wusses and incompetents who didn't know which end of the camera to shoot out of. Yet the best photographers, including the true greats such Ansel Adams always insisted that darkroom skills were every bit as important as camera skills. I won't try to second guess what Adams meant when he said "You don't take a photograph, you make it," but I suspect he was at least in part referring to the importance of post processing in the art form.
Yes, it's great to try to get it right in camera, but sometimes that just isn't going to get you a good result. While some photographers might be inclined to give up and go home when conditions aren't perfect, I prefer to approach my photography in the field with an understanding of what colors and details can be coaxed out of a photograph with patience and the right software.
Take, for example, the image below. I took this photo while sitting on a rock with my legs spread out wide to keep out of frame. I was holding the camera right in front of me, inches from the ground, thinking about how so many Youtube photographers insist that you can't take good landscape pictures without a tripod.
I liked the placement of the rocks, the flow of the water around them, the reflection of the setting sun, the scattering of the clouds and the tonal gradient of the sky. But I hated the total lack of detail in the foreground owing to the fading light and the direction of the sun rays. I was also dealing with the relatively limited dynamic range of the camera sensor, much less forgiving on a Canon than a Nikon or a Sony, and the need to under-expose in order not to white out the sky. My only option was to expose for the sun and the clouds and try to bring up the foreground in post processing. I knew I could squeeze a few stops out of the rocks and the water in Adobe Lightroom, so I framed up as best as I could (shooting on live view it is very hard to see the orientation of the horizon) and pulled the trigger,
Not exactly an award-winning effort. But after about half an our in Lightroom, it was looking a lot better. I started by correcting for lens distortion using presets (I was using the kit lens on my Canon 100D, so it was an easy automatic fix. Next I leveled the horizon and cropped. After that, I brought up the shadows and crushed the highlights in order to compress the dynamic range. I chose an appropriate while balance for the image as a whole, applied a gradient to the sky, selectively painted spot white balance adjustments with brushes on the ocean and rocks and tweaked all the colors. The result was worth the effort.
The differences are subtle and the image doesn't look as highly processed as it is, which was my goal. That said, there's no way could have achieved this result in the camera, no matter how much I played with the settings.
The takeaway point is that processing is, without a doubt, at least 50% of the art form. Rather than walking away from a photograph that didn't quite make it in camera, I chose to see what could be done in post processing, and I'm glad I did. I'd hang this in my house. Would you?
Thanks for reading.
If you were the owner of a restaurant located in a highly competitive tourist area and you wanted to promote your establishment to potential customers at hotels and weekly condos in the vicinity, you might consider paying for advertising in one of the local things-to-do guides, or listing on some of the popular websites targeting the tourist market. Of course, if you did that, you'd want to include a pretty snazzy picture of your restaurant, ideally the kind of photo that makes hungry travelers say, "Let's eat there tonight!" Of the two photos, below, which do you think would serve that purpose better?
I really hope you picked the one on the right. Sure, the photo on the left is well framed, in focus, properly exposed and artfully framed... but it lacks the depth and color that are the hallmarks of good advertising, not to mention good photography. The photo on the right features that depth and color in spades. The difference is all about the sky behind the subject of the photo (the neon sign at the entrance to Decker's Kitchen in American Village, Okinawa). That sky was not part of the original photo. It was added later in Photoshop.
If you consider that cheating, try to see the situation from the standpoint of the proprietor, who is paying good coin for the add space, not to mention the photo. Does he care that the photo on the right is a technically a fraud? Should he? Of course not! He just wants the photo of his restaurant to be as beautiful as possible and he doesn't care how it is made. He also doesn't want to pay a photographer to sit around, possibly for days at a time hoping the clouds and the sun will give him what he wants. And that's precisely what a photographer who insists on the purity of producing all his work photos "in camera" would have to do. Unless the proprietor is willing to pay a hefty fee for the picture, the photographer might have to find other means to give him what he wants and expects - or someone else will.
Naturally, there are means of capturing awesome photos that don't involve stitching together unrelated shots in Photoshop. One such method in this case would be to wait for twilight to fall so that the sky behind the building would turn a deep lustrous blue, like in the photo below.
However, that is an imperfect solution, because, unlike the buildings in this photo, the tower, which is a key component of the photograph in question, is not illuminated and the delicate interplay between natural and artificial light would be absent. If the method is more important to you than the final result, then go ahead and be a purist. If the result matters above all else, then why would it matter if the photographer "cheats."
Lest you believe that cheating is easier, consider the time and skill that goes into making a composite that is as believable as the one above. It is not a matter of using the magic want tool to cut out the sky then slapping in another picture in it's place. For starters, it's about carefully extracting the areas of bland whiteness, searching though many potential photos of sky and clouds, choosing the best one and lining it up so that the horizon and perspective are correct. Next is adding layers upon layers of modifications involving tweaks to color, brightness, contrast, sharpness, hue, saturation and all kinds of parameters, each relating to different parts of the photo. All in all, there were about 12 layers, each making judicious use of clipping masks, blending modes, opacity settings, etc, etc. If you want to blend two pictures in a way that looks like it was done in camera, you've got to know a lot not only about Photoshop, but about the behavior of light and shadow and how we perceive color. It may not be photography in the purest sense, but it is artistry of the highest order.
But in the world of commerce, that doesn't matter either, does it. It's all about giving your customers what they want, and if that means "cheating" with Photoshop, so be it. If you don't think that delivering the best image possible to your client is at the core of what being a working photographer is all about, then maybe you'd better choose a different line of work.
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Most people who shoot digital photos are used to working in an entirely digital realm. That is, their photos are captured, processed and shared entirely on computers. This means, for the most part, that they are working in RGB colorspace as opposed to CMYK, which is used in the print world. Photographers and graphic artists who want to make prints, be they postcards or fine art images for a gallery showing, are almost certainly going to have to become familiar with the differences.
For those who don't know, RGB stands for Red Green Blue and CMYK stands for Cyan Magenta Yellow Key (key just means black). Although volumes of books have been written on the subject, it is still very poorly understood and no matter what I say on this blog, somebody out there will stand up and tell me I'm wrong. For that reason, I won't say much. I'll just show you the two images I processed from the same photo for a poster I'm working on. The first is RGB and the second CMYK.
If you can't see a difference, it's because I worked so hard in Photoshop to hide it. I'm sure you'll see that the green in the foreground is a lot more vibrant in the top image. The difference was more pronounced when I first converted the image. The green was flat, boring and ugly and I had to do a lot to it in Photoshop to bring the "pop" back into it. Mostly, I just selected a colour from the picker on the green channel and played with the hue, saturation and lightness sliders until I got the look I wanted. I had to do this on a few layers, each with it's own layer mask so that I could target various areas of the image.
I'm happy with the digital result. These are processed for printing, which means they are brighter and a bit more contrasty than they would be if they were meant to be viewed on a screen. I can't wait to see what the final image looks like when it's printed.
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I read and watch a lot on the web about how to market photography and photographic services. Some bloggers and Youtubers will try to convince you that they have the secret to selling gazillions of prints and all you need to do is take their course. These guys are mostly charlatans. Fortunately, most commentators are much more realistic about what your expectations should be when it comes to selling your work. The consistent message is: don't quit your day job.
While that's good advice for any creative professional, it's particularly important that aspiring photographers take it to heart. Why? Because there are so many photographs out there and so few buyers, most of whom have very specific tastes and are willing to spend only so much. If your business model depends on selling lots of fine art prints, get ready to starve.
That is not to say you should give up trying to sell. I haven't. The strategy I follow is to try to find specialized markets that fit the kind of photos I take, like the one below, which you've seen before if you read this blog regularly.
My point is that in order to get your work out there, it pays to think outside the box. How many copies of this poser (or a future version of it) will be sold? I have no idea. I only know that by designing posters like this, I have a way better chance of getting my work in front of people who will enjoy it than if I just tried to sell prints through conventional channels. Perhaps in a future post I'll let readers know how many sold. If all goes well, there will be a series of posters of the same design, all based on my photographs of famous Okinawan landmarks. If you are interested in buying a copy of this poster when it comes out, contact me and I'll hook you up.
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No serious photographer would consider using an entry-level DSLR as a go-to camera. This is not because showing up to a paid gig with a bottom-range camera would be "embarrassing," like some people maintain. It's because low-end cameras lack certain capabilities that make a real difference in some situations, particularly when shooting action, such as a dolphin show at Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa, Japan.
The limited functionality of one low-end camera became abundantly clear on my day trip to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium with my wife. I took my Canon 100D and a camera bag full of lenses, hoping I'd have the chance to snag some decent pics. No clients paid me to take pictures and I have no intention of selling what I shot. However, I always like to shoot pics for my website, which is what I show people in the hopes of convincing them I'm a good photographer, so it pays to bring the best gear possible on such outings. The 100D is the best camera I can afford right now, so it had to do... and it performed admirably by the standards of a $350 body. Yet, I found myself frustrated in a couple of ways. You might not sense that by looking at some of the pics, which turned out not too bad, but what you can't see are the pictures I wanted and couldn't get (at least not without extremely good luck).
The first shortcoming was burst speed. Shooting a dolphin show is a lot like shooting sports. You wait for something to happen and when it does, you have to react quickly. You press the button, hold it down and let the camera snap as many pics as it can automatically. The 100D will do 4 frames per second. Not too shabby for a $350 camera body, but the Canon 1Dx will do 12. That means, for example, that if a 1x shooter presses the shutter button just as a dolphin exits the water and he holds it down for exactly the one second the dolphin is out of the water, he'll end up with 12 shots to choose from. The 100D shooter will have four. That's eight frames the 100D shooter is missing. It's statistically likely that the "perfect" shot - the one the client selects for her international advertising campaign - is going to be one of the missing eight rather than the four you nailed. That said, the 100D got me the shot below, which is not half bad at all. Is it worth paying 20 times the price for the 1Dx? If you're an enthusiast who doesn't make his living shooting action (or a pro who shoots mostly static subjects), no way. If you're a busy, working, well paid pro shooting on contract, emphatically yes!
The second peve with my cheap camera is buffering capacity and write speed. This is partially an SD card issue, but without doubt, better buffering on camera side would have made my life easier. More than a few times, I held the shutter button, got 8 or 10 photos, then tried to capture more, only to find that nothing happened when I pressed the button again. That's right. There I was pressing the shutter button as all kinds of amazing stuff was going on and the camera screamed at me "Hold your horses, would ya!" I missed a whole lot of action I would have caught with a camera with faster write speed and better buffering capacity.. The only reason I caught the shot below is that the dolphin held the pose for a long enough time.
The third issue is noise at higher ISO speeds. The shot of the bull shark below was taken at ISO 3,200, which on a 1Dx, or even a 5D III would not have produced a lot of noise in relative terms. The 100D did very well for a $350 body, but was noticeably grainy. A camera with better low-light capabilities would have produced a cleaner image even at ISO 6,400 or even 12,800, giving me another two stops to play with and letting me take my shutter speed up to a reasonable 320 or so. As it was, in order to avoid noise, I had to deal with camera shake, a trade-off that a (much) higher-end camera would have eliminated. The pixilation you see in this shot has more to do with web compression than camera noise, but the noise didn't help any.
If all you want to do with your photos is put them on the web and share them with your friends, an inexpensive DSLR like my Canon 100D is the way to go. If you're a pro whose time and reputation are valuable enough to justify the expense, you need tools that can keep up with you.
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I find a lot of photographers shoot panoramas just for the sake of it. Personally, if I can capture a scene on a single frame, I generally will. However, there are times when you just can't fit everything into one shot, and that's when to take a panorama.
This shot, taken over Chatan Okinawa, is an amalgamation of six separate photos, all taken with the camera vertical on a tripod, one after the other. I could get most of this into a single exposure with a wide lens (something like an 18mm in full frame terms), but wide lenses create a lot of distortion in the image and they tend to push the background way back in the picture. These can create awesome photographic effects when you want them (many of my landscape shots are taken on wide lenses), but for this photo, I wanted as much compression as I could get. So, I used my 50mm f/1.8 Canon prime and lined up the individual shots that I would later stitch together in Lightroom. This was the result.
Hooray for software that makes stitching photos together so easy. The trick is to have just enough overlap that the software can easily match up the edges. It also helps to shoot on the same stop with the same focal setting and, ideally, the same ISO. These were 20 second exposures taken in quick sequence close to dusk. Given how quickly the remaining light was fading, I'm a bit surprised that they blended so well.
The next panorama I'm going to feature here is a shot of Tomari port n Naha City, I could have taken a very nice shot in one frame, but I'd have lost some of the water and some of the sky. This was taken at the highest point of a bridge, handheld, leaning over the side. There was no way I could have shot on a tripod and, even if there was, it would have done no good since the bridge was bouncing due to heavy truck and bus traffic. It is a three shot composite, encompassing the entire field of view available from that side of the bridge (180 degrees). I shot this with the camera vertical using a 14mm lens (on an APS-C sensor this is about 22 in full-frame equivalent) to make the water as prominent as possible. A longer lens would have created too much camera shake and I would have had to shoot on a much higher ISO. Here is the result.
The distortion produced by the lens is visible, far more than it would be in a non-panorama shot, but in this case, I didn't mind, because it brought the water to the foreground. To the eye, this looks like a standard photo, not the 180 degree panorama it really is, That's what panoramas are to me, composites that transport the viewer right into the frame as if they were really there.
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Pretty well anyone who views digital photos nowadays understands just how powerful a program Adobe Photoshop is. In the hands of a person who knows how to use it, the software can dramatically transform a photo. In fact, the transformation can be so dramatic that one has to wonder how much of professional photography revolves around how well one can develop photos using this or similar technology. I would go so far as to say that post-processing is close to 50% of the finished product.
I am hardly a master at Photoshop. To see a true master at work, visit the Youtube Channel of Phlearn and watch Aaron Nace transform good photos into outstanding photos. I've learned a few tricks from his tutorials and a few others. I'd be happy to share what I've learned, but you'd be far better just to get it from the horse's mouth, as it were. Instead, I intend to show you how I used Photoshop (and Lightroom) to transform a commercial photo I took from rather dreary to quite beautiful. I'll start with the before picture.
This was late in the day, shooting into a cloudy sunset. To the eye, the sky was really quite striking in a subtle way, but the gentle beauty of the sun on the clouds just didn't make its way onto the sensor. This is because the contrast was just too high. I tried to expose for the sky, but to bring out the subtleties, I would have had to grossly underexpose the subject, namely Cheers Bar&Grill, which is what the shot is all about. So, I decided to use brushes in Lightroom to paint in the sky.
That made a difference, but it was just the beginning. I did all the standard processing in Lightroom, straightening the vertical lines, bringing out all the colors, enhancing the highlights and just making everything "pop," but the photo wasn't what I'd want to show my client. Before that, I had to fix a couple of things in Photoshop. First, I used the clone stamp tool and the healing brush to remove the security camera, then painted in the clouds where it was. Note that I didn't remove the utility box on the post the camera was attached to. I could have. If this photo were about the streetlamp, I might have, but I didn't, because I thought the very tiny imperfection gave it a bit of authenticity. Finally, I painted in the frosting on the glass of the foremost lamp, and enhanced the brightness of the lights, to give the effect you see in the finished photo
The effect I wanted was that of a building pained by the sun at the tail end of Golden Hour, just as the street lights were coming on. The natural highlights in the palm leaves sell the presence of the sun and the enhanced brightness of the lamps suggest that twilight is slowly approaching.
Is this cheating? Yes. But cheating in post-processing is what photographers have done since the first camera was invented. How much of the beauty of this shot was added in post? Like I said, better than 50%. The original, even after Lightroom, is not something I'd put in a portfolio, much less submit to a client. But the finished result, after Photoshop, is something I can be proud to put my name on. Photoshop doesn't help a photographer frame an image (except via cropping), it doesn't choose what lens to use, it doesn't tell you what stop to shoot on or what ISO setting. It doesn't select which of the dozens of photos you take of a subject to work on and it doesn't know how to process them. All it gives the photographer is a digital toolbox, which, like a carpenter's toolbox doesn't finish the job all on it's own. Artistry is in the mind and the hands of the artist.
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I lied. Actually there were no stars at all that night, at least none that I could see thanks to all the light pollution from the city below. While that light pollution is what causes the glow that makes night shots of cities look so entrancing, it also drowns out the wonders of the night sky. Enter Adobe Photoshop. Painting stars into the night sky isn't terribly difficult, but I always thought of it as cheating. I still do, but that doesn't stop me from trying be a little artistic from time to time.
This is a three shot panorama of Kitanakagusuku, taken from a south facing balcony of the Costa Vista Hotel. It was a 30 second exposure on ISO 100. I merged the shots into panorama first, then processed by taking down the slightly overexposed highlights, bringing up the shadows (and boosting the black level slightly to squeeze as much detail out of the shadows), then used contrast and white balance sliders in a graduated filter on the sky to bring out the transition from from black above t0 yellow/orange near the horizon. The sky was nowhere near as blue to the eye as my white balance setting made it appear, but that is the beauty of shooting raw. You can adjust the white balance in post processing to suit the scene your tastes.
It's a decent panorama on it's own, since I already cheated by teasing the blue out of sky, I might as well go a bit further and add some stars. This was accomplished using a brush tool in Photoshop, set to a small diameter and using the "scatter" setting. The details would be a whole post in itself, but you can get the gist of it here on the Youtube channel of Phlearn, an absolutely phenomenal resource for Photoshop users.
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One of the things I love about photography is that there is always something you can learn. That's one reason I spend so much time reading blogs and watching Youtube videos. One video I watched recently was a presentation at B&H Photo by Jeff Cable, a great photographer and fantastic photography educator. In the video, he told the audience this:
"The camera sees both ways."
What does that mean? It means that the skills, attitude, enthusiasm and energy of the photographer has a massive impact on the quality of the photographs taken. Some people might argue that there's no connection between what the photographer is thinking and feeling and the end result, and I get it. If you're shooting landscapes or architecture and working alone, then skills, experience and technology are by far the bigger part of the equation. But if you're shooting people, it's another story. People feed off of the enthusiasm of the photographer. If you look and act like you'd rather be somewhere else, you'll never get he best out of your models, whether they're professionals or just guests at a wedding,
But that should be obvious, isn't it? Everybody knows that the way you interact with people affects their performance. I don't feel I need to argue that. The point I'd rather make is that as a photographer, your enthusiasm influences the way you work, how hard you work, how many setups you take, how far you're willing to walk to a difficult location, how fast you're willing to run to get there in time for the action and even how early you're willing to wake up.
If you want to capture beautiful images, whether you're a pro or just an enthusiast, you've got to go out of your way to capture the best images.. More importantly, you've got to be willing to try your best and still go home with nothing interesting. While I usually come back with something I like, some of my pictures are better than others and, indeed, there are times when I come back, review what I've shot and say "Yuck!" But if the location is promising, I'll go back. Maybe for sunrise, maybe for sunset, maybe in the middle of the night if that's the best time to get the shot I want.
So, to recap...no, the camera isn't alive and can't see what you're thinking or feeling, but the people around you can, and so can you, and that makes all the difference in your work.
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This is not a type of photo I usually take. It's not that I'm not into flowers. It's just that bouquets don't generally inspire me to pull out my camera (unless there's an insect on them). But, in the spirit of adding more flower-power to my portfolio, I figure'd I'd give it a go. What inspired me the most about this bouquet was the fact that it was given to me by my graduating students. It was a thoughtful gift that warmed my heart, so I felt the need to preserve it the way only a photograph can.
I took about 20 exposures before I decided I had one I liked. This isn't because the photographic aspect of the image were difficult to obtain. I knew I wanted a side backlight from the open window, so I positioned the bouquet accordingly. I wanted a high-key look, so I made sure to catch a pice of the window in the frame, but not so much that it whited out the little flowers that add so much texture to the arrangement. The challenge was getting the balloon to stay where I wanted it to and to face the right way. Reflections in the smooth plastic were another matter, but that's a discussion for another day. I shot on f/1.8 to narrow the depth of field (on an APS-C sensor, this delivers a slightly deeper focus than on a full frame, on which I'd likely have shot at a lower stop). Once that was figured out, all I had to do was frame it up, shoot and tweak it in Lightroom.
This is un-cropped, framed exactly as shot, using only the indirect afternoon light from the window. Long after the flowers have wilted, I'll be able to look at this picture and remember the day my wonderful students gave it to me. I love being a photographer!
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One of the wonderful things about living in Okinawa is the beautiful sunsets I get to experience almost every day. Sadly, I usually have other things to do at that time of day, but when I'm not otherwise occupied, I can hardly resist the urge to get out and shoot something. When I set out, I often have a place in mind and a frame I'd like to try to capture. Often, I don't get what I want because the sky doesn't cooperate, so I make a pledge to go back and shoot when I have the chance. Other times, I just get lucky and everything works the first time out. Last Sunday was one of those days.
I'd never gone to Maeda flats before, but having seen pictures that made me jealous, I knew it was only a matter of time. Having (almost) finished my household chores, I looked out the window around 4:30pm and saw a sky that had the makings of an outrageously beautiful sunset. Naturally, I grabbed my camera kit and headed up to Madea for the shoot. I consulted the tide tables before I went to make sure the tide would be out and I was in luck. After parking, I followed a couple of Marines down to the beach, took out my camera and started snapping.
Sunset pictures should always be shot into the sun. It's best if the sky is hot, but not so hot that detail around the sun is lost. As is standard procedure for landscape photographers, I shot lots of brackets so I knew I would have something to work with when I got back to the studio ("studio" is actually pretentious - I really just have a desk in the dining room). This was one of the first shots I snapped.
The sky is hotter than I usually shoot. I had brackets shot at a faster shutter speed, one and two stops below, but this is the one I chose, partially because I like the way the light comes blasting from the sun and partially because I like the way the people are walking, their shadows crossing the horizon. The man on the left (tiny in the frame) is fishing. The two figures to the right are a father and his young son out enjoying the incredible view. Although the photo is really about the sand in the foreground and the reflections of the sun, sky and clouds in the tidal pool, the people really give the photo a sense of happiness and peace. Cannon 100D, ISO 100, Samyany 14mm manual lens at f 16.
As the sun set lower in the sky, I positioned myself so that I could get a shot of the sun coming thought a passageway in a large rock. Stopping down the lens to f16 or lower will produce the kind of "starburst" you see below.
The trick is to expose for the sun, because if it is overexposed, you'll end up with a burned out blob instead of a glowing sunball. The number of shutter blades on the camera will influence the number of beams in the starburst. These photos were processed very differently in post. I wanted maximum detail in the sky, so I had to live with limited detail in the rock. This is okay, because any more detail and the photo would start to take on a tone-mapped HDR look, which was not what I wanted. I let he sky go orange and yellow instead of trying to bring out the blue like I did in the first pic, on the feeling that the blue would detract from the starburst, Some would criticize this photo because the sunball, the key point of interest, is in the centre of frame, To that I say that the real point of interest is the snorkelers just beside the sunball, chatting while getting ready to go out. And besides the "rule of thirds" is meant to be broken. I pity the photographer who can't free himself from the rules when they don't work for him.
Of the many shots I took at Meda flats, this next one seems to be the favourite, just because it has the fascinating texture of all the raised limestone in the middle ground, the subtle green of the algae in the foreground and the orange of the sunset combined with the blue of the sky. This is the sort of shot that would get featured on 500pix (maybe I'll upload it one day).
This is one of my favourite shots ever. I'd love to take all the credit, but the truth is, I had a lot of help. Nature gave my the beautiful sky, Canon gave (I should say sold) me the camera, Samyang made the terrific lens, Adobe produced Lightroom software and Apple manufactured the laptop I run it on. All I did was show up, point the camera and press the button.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to go looking for a new place to take pictures. Of course, there is always a new way to shoot an old location, but it's always a good for a landscape photographer to expand his bank of photo spots. This time, I chose Gala Yomitan. There are lots of great things to shoot there, but of the greatest interest to me was the rock pier, built in traditional Okinawan style. What interested me was its snake-like shape shape, which curved out into the ocean, where it ended in a platform. Since it's located on the west coast, the obvious time of day to shoot is around sunset.
However, unfortunately, as any photographer knows all too well, shooting into the setting sun presents some significant challenges, particular with respect to controlling the under-exposure of exposure shadows. The technique is to always "expose for the highlights," but the trick is to get the sky just hot enough that it the brightest parts push up against the high end of the camera's dynamic limits, without losing detail. About the only way to do this is to bracket your exposures, essentially taking the same shot many times, then choosing the best shot in post. The problem comes in when you try to capture moving elements like waves that show well up in some pictures but not others. In this case, I was trying to convey the windiness of the day by catching the wave as it broke over the pier. Very few of the exposures ended up with beautiful wave splashes and those that did were not always the best exposure. None the less, I was fortunate enough to come up with a few that I liked and of those, I picked this one.
Doesn't look like much, does it? Fortunately, I was shooting raw, as I always do, and I knew that the necessary underexposure of the foreground could be fixed in post. After importing to Lightroom, the first thing I did (after adjusting the white balance to taste) was to bring up the shadows all the way. That worked so well I almost didn't have to do anything else. The only other processing I did was to saturate the colours and use brush tools to bring out the right colour temperatures in the right parts of the sky. I also warmed up the pier in the same way to enhance the earth tones in the rocks. Here is the final result.
Some would say this is a little overdone. Others would say I need to process it more. Personally, my goal is to make photos look as beautiful as the real-life scene did to my eye (with perhaps a bit of enhancement in the colours and contrast). The only difference between the photo and what I saw is that the ocean is a bit more aqua and the sun is a bit more yellow. Otherwise, this is it.
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It's cherry blossom season in Okinawa and yesterday I had the chance to shoot some photos of the trees at Meiyo University in Nago. It was a dreary, wet, cloudy day, but sometimes the flat light helps subtle colours come out more, so why not give it a shot? My plan was to get some narrow-focus shots of blossoms with water droplets on them. This was easy under the conditions and I nailed the handful of shots I was looking for in a few minutes and I was about to call it a day and get back in the car so I could go to Churaumi Aquarium with my wife.
However, as I was putting my gear away, I noticed a bee on one of the nearby blossoms. One lens change and 367 exposures later, I'd managed to nail about 30 or so usable shots of bees and blossoms. Of those 30 shots, I'd say about 10 were pretty hot and five were just stunning.
In the first, my second favourite of the series, we see a bee in profile as it extracts the nectar. The image is close and clear enough that we can see the bee's 'corbicula,' or the pollen basket on its hind legs. Shooting on a 50-250 zoom lens, I had to step back to get the blossom in focus, because, the lens fully extended, the subject was closer than the minimum distance at which the lens could focus. Focusing this close meant that even on f/5, which was wide open for the lens at this zoom setting, the depth of field was narrower than the body of the bee! At first, I missed a lot of shots because the autofocus didn't know what I wanted to be sharp. I switched to manual and managed to nail a few (including this one) but later switched back to auto and stepped back another foot or so.
The next is my favourite of the series, because it was the only one in which I caught the bee in flight and in perfect focus. All the pictures in the series were taken at the 250mm setting, f/5 at 400 ISO.
A few technical notes in closing. This is one situation in which a copped-sensor camera is better than a full frame. A full-frame camera would have a narrower depth of field for a shot with the same angle of view (i.e. framed the same way), making it harder to nail the focus (already very hard). It would have been great if I'd had a higher-end camera with better low-light performance, faster focusing and the ability to shoot more frames per second in burst mode. I was shooting in one shot mode because I my Canon Rebel 100D won't focus fast enough on this lens to make use of its 4fps. If I were a pro who regularly went on assignment for National Geographic, it might be worth investing in a 1Dx, but since I probably won't get paid a dime for these shots, I'm thrilled with what my entry-level DSLR delivered (incidentally, the 100D's 18 megapixels is a match for the 1Dx in terms of resolution).
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In this post I'll explain how I shot and processed some digital stills I took at Naminoue shrine in Naha, Okinawa. The sun was about to set when I first arrived and the light was fading quickly. While this meant I had to work quickly, it also gave me the opportunity to shoot in that very magical time just after golden hour when the light is beautifully balanced in a way it is at no other time of day (except just before sunrise). The colour temperature of the fading daylight was quite high, well above 6,000 Kelvin, whereas the tungsten bulbs illuminating the grounds were likely around 3,000 K. This could result in some awkwardly colored images, or some truly artistic mood shots. Look at what I present below and you can decide for yourself.
This is fairly straightforward shot of a boy hanging a New Year's wish inscribed on a cedar board on a rack reserved just for that purpose (the Japanese word for these wishes is 'ema'). There is something spiritual and optimistic about Japanese shrines at this time of year and I wanted to see if I could infuse the image with some of that spirit.
Choosing to focus on the inscriptions in the foreground, and shooting wide open to gather all the light I could, I let the boy, go out of focus. This suggests that it's the rack of wishes and not the boy which is the true subject of the photo. This is partly because I wasn't in a position to get his explicit permission to use his image in a commercial photograph, and partly because the story I was telling was not about him. It's the photographic equivalent of writing in passive voice.
And here is a closeup of one of the ema. The focus here is on the centre of the placard. Placing the in-focus part of the shot at what would be the left 1/3 line creates a point of interest in that critical area and dutching the shot gives in an angular sweep from bottom left to top right. To me, this kind of in-focus vs out-of-focus combination in a single shot gives a picture the little something extra that helps put it into the "professional" zone.
My third and fouth shots are of 0mikuji, or New Year's fortunes written on paper and tied to a tree or a purpose built string. In this case, I needed to make sure the focus was tack-sharp so that the text could be read. I elected to focus on the Japanese text rather than the English, first because I'm in Japan and that's the cool thing to do, but also because the Japanese text is in red and brings life to the otherwise fairly low chroma photo. Again, notice the sweep from corner to corner and the depth produced by the line as it goes off into the distance from the bottom.
My final shot is a favourite, because of all the elements in it, which all tell different but related stories. First, the omikuji in the foreground has some interesting text, which I kept in focus. Next, the branch takes us into the frame. The out-of-focus people in the background give the infuse the shot with some energy and the dutch angle gives it an edge. The bokeh through the pine needles is a nice finishing touch.
And that was New Year's at Naminoue shrine. Actually, there's more, but I'll save those for another day.
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What is the definition of a professional photographer? One who gets paid to shoot photos. That's it. The word 'professional' carries with it a lot of weight, but the reality is that the real difference between a pro and an amateur is that the pro makes (or at least tries to make) money shooting and developing pictures and the amateur just shoots for fun.
Wanna know a secret? Actually it's not a secret, but I'm surprised how many people don't know it. There are very few full-time photographers nowadays. Why aren't there more? First, because everybody has an smartphone, which means everybody is a photographer. Second, because some people, in addition to their smart phones, also have digital cameras. For less than $1,000, you can buy a camera that will shoot digital files that will make beautiful 16X10 prints. A few hundred extra and you've got a flash and all the rest of the goodies you need to get started. So, what's the point in hiring a pro when there are so many well equipped amateurs out there?
Not much, which is why there are so few full-time photographers. Now, when somebody hires a photographer, the do so because they want something special. An in-focus image, well framed and properly exposed just doesn't cut it any more. Clients today demand the kind of artistry only a person who is not only highly skilled with equipment, but knows how to deliver magical results on a consistent basis.
That idea is the key. A professional photographer is one who can deliver amazing results under just about any conditions. So, with that in mind, I present three graphs illustrating the difference in results. Each graph plots the quality of a given photograph against the photos in any given series. The first is that of a total beginner, shooting with a DSLR or advanced mirrorless camera on auto settings.
Note that most of the photos are of lower quality, because this particular beginner doesn't have a clue how to frame, focus or expose. He's letting the camera do it all. Notwithstanding that, even he manages to nail a National Geographic quality shot from time to time. The next graph is of a more experienced photographer, but someone who is not ready to turn pro, because his results are not consistent enough.
Overall, the quality of his images are much better, but even so, he only nails that National Geographic cover photo once in a while. That said, he's no beginner and some of his shots could make it into magazines or editorial publications. The next graph represents the professional.
Note that even the pro doesn't nail every shot. The proportion of National Geographic shots is much higher in his work than either of the other two, but by no means is he King Midas. If he's really a pro, he knows that not all of his shots are going to make magic, so he takes lots and lots of them, giving each one everything he's got. When it comes time to process, he doesn't bother with the mishaps (autofocus didn't get it right, his subject had a funny expression, the framing was a tad off, etc) and he devotes his time to the shots that he can show his clients. Sometimes it's a tough call, particularly in journalism, and he's got to get the most out of a mediocre shot, but - as Kenny Rogers crooned - knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep is his core skill.
So, that's the difference between an amateur and a pro. The pro delivers consistent quality and while the magic doesn't always happen, he knows when, where and how to find it. Consistency is the product of experience, so... keep shooting!
Thanks for reading.
I've seen a lot of professional photos of Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa. Most of them are great, but to my surprise, so many of them seem to have been processed in a rather lazy way. This may be because most of the pictures are for journalistic purposes and were not taken by "serious" photographers. None the less, a bit of post processing goes a long way.
Below is the standard photo of the main tank in the aquarium, the pic you see on all the advertising, which I took on my first visit there. What's the difference between my photo and others I've seen? A few minor tweaks that have a big impact.
First, this is my selection of about 20 shots, all timed so that at least one whale shark is in the shot. Unfortunately, shooting with my relatively inexpensive camera, I can't crank the ISO too high without dealing with a lot of noise, so some of them are a bit blurry (due to the movement of the fish in the tank, not camera shake, since I was using a tripod). Of the 20, about 12 turned out well. From there, it was a matter of choosing the best. I wanted a shot that featured not only the sharks, but also the rays and other fish, so I chose one that made them look the best. My next priority was to select shot in which the people were doing something interesting, like pointing or taking a picture. The woman toward the right of the frame fit the bill. In other shots, some people were pointing, which looked great, but the fish weren't as aesthetically pleasing, so elected to favour the fish. If I'd really wanted to I could have cut and pasted people from one photo and put them in the other, but that would be overkill. This is about the fish.
So, with the best picture selected, processing was simple a matter of removing lens distortion (which had the effect of making the top of the aquarium flat. I then used the angle tool in Lightroom to level the top of the aquarium with the frame. Finally, I selected a white balance that brought out the right hue of blue without overdoing it, then applied some noise reduction and sharpening.
My point? A little bit of extra work at every stage of the process (shooting, shot selection, post processing) adds up to a huge difference in the quality of a published photo.
My simple blog about the art and science of photography.