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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My simple blog about the art and science of photography.