Exposure Blending for Landscape Photography: A Guide for Beginners

Lake Champlain-Sunset-Burlington_Vermont
The final, completed exposure blend of two images, One image shot for the foreground rocks and another image shot for the background horizon and sky.

Like learning anything in photography, Exposure blending requires a ton of patience and time to become familiar with the process. Everyday as we are out shooting our images we are confronted with the challenges of bright skies, dark foregrounds and how to best balance each into a single photograph. My own journey into exposure blending actually started with focus stacking and getting a tack sharp image from front to back. This naturally evolved into exposure blending and typically for me a mixture of the two so that I have one image that is sharp throughout with an exposure as close to what my eye was seeing as I can get.

You might first ask yourself, “Couldn’t you use filters to achieve the same effect?” The short answer is yes you could and I do use filters quite often in my work however there are times when the light is changing rapidly and I have to move from composition to composition fairly quickly and I don’t want to be messing around with filters taking up valuable time. Another thing to remember is that anything you put in front of your lens like a filter or multiple filters can at times add in a bit of softness that isn’t always desirable. You could also argue for doing HDR photography but for me personally I abandoned the HDR process a few years ago because I never really liked the look of it in Landscapes.

Now there are multiple ways that you can do this for sure but I wanted to show beginners an easy way to start learning the process. I have done blends with only two images and some with several images and no image is ever the same. The key is to set yourself up with a good set of initial captures and if you nail this part then the processing can become like second nature after a bit of practice. A word of caution in doing these blends is sometimes they just do not work because of focus “bloom.” Focus bloom happens when you have two images where you focused at two different points and if you look at the images side by side parts of them will not align.

As a beginner trying out this technique I would start with images where there is a clear break between the foreground and the horizon. This way you will have an easier time with the blend and then you can work your way into more complicated ones. As you can see in the final image above there is a clear, dominate foreground followed by a break with the water and then the horizon and sky at sunset. There isn’t anything from the foreground intruding into the horizon line which can complicate the blend.

The following should be taken as guidelines because there is a thousand ways to peel an onion so to speak within Photoshop. The process can vary from image to image and each image, each composition will present it’s own challenges. This is my process when I first start out to make a blended image but each image rarely follows the same path. Some work and some don’t but I hope that this at least starts you on the path to a better well rounded image!

1. Pick your candidate images.

Lightroom-Exposure blending-Vermont
The two selected candidate images that I used for my exposure blend side by side in Lightroom.

As you can see in the two images that I chose for the blend the image exposed for the rocks has a blown out sky and the image exposed for the sky has the rocks much too dark. A common problem especially at sunset but by combining the best parts of each we will get a natural looking image that will be exactly what my eye was seeing. In this composition I shot a series of several images covering all the focus points I could on the rocks and on the horizon.

From these images I inspected each at 100% to check for sharpness, alignment and overall quality. From this series I chose the best two that I wanted to work on. It really starts to get complicated if you have compositions where there is a middle ground you want to blend in or when there are elements in the composition that are not completely straight. In this instance we have a nice, pleasing foreground that is common along Lake Champlain and some nice color and clouds as the sun is setting on the horizon.

At this point we will not be making any corrections to the two images until they are merged together and imported back into Lightroom. I don’t want to edit twice and it’s easier to clear up any lighting inconsistencies between the two images in Lightroom. We just want to make sure the images are sharp where they are supposed to be and that the two will line up correctly when layered together.

2. Export your candidate images from Lightroom to your computer as TIFF’s at 300dpi with a bit depth of 16 bits. I generally will label the images as foreground, middle ground, back ground, etc. as the more images you have the more confusing it can become when you are blending. This is a personal choice so you should do whatever is easiest for you.

3. Import into Photoshop.

Photoshop-exposure blending-candidate images
My two selected images open in Photoshop side by side.

Here are the two images side by side and open in Photoshop CS2. (CS2 has all the tools you will need for an exposure blend and I am cheap. Adobe makes CS2 available as a download on their site for free!) Using the foreground (lighter image with the blown out sky) as the bottom layer I will click on the move tool and while holding down the shift key I click  on the darker background image and drag it into the lighter image. By holding the shift key you ensure that the dark image will snap to proper alignment directly over the lighter image.

Exposure blending-Photoshop
The two images layered on top of each other in Photoshop for exposure blending.

Now that we have the layers on top of each other we can begin the blending process. You can chose to duplicate the bottom layer but in most cases all I want is the final merged image…I have backups of the originals so most of the time I am ok with not duplicating the first, bottom layer. Occasionally a composition will be easier to blend with the lighter foreground as the top layer and in that instance I will go ahead and duplicate the bottom layer and move it on top of the darker sky layer. It’s a fluid process that is never the same.

The final thing that I want to do to prep this image for blending is to add a layer mask to the top layer. In the layers palette click on the add layer mask icon and add the layer mask to the top layer. The layer mask will allow us to use the gradient tool to blend the two images together as well as to do some brush work later on.

Photoshop-Layer mask-Exposure blending
The two images in Photoshop with a layer mask on the top image.

4. Using the Gradient tool to blend the two images together.

Select the gradient tool in the tools palette and the gradient editor will pop up at the top of the screen. Click on the rectangular bar the goes from solid color to transparent and in the window that opens you will be able to fine tune the gradient based on your images.

Gradient-Photoshop-Exposure blending
The gradient editor window where you can fine tune the fade of the gradient based on your images as well as change the style of the gradient.
Photoshop-Gradient-Exposure Blending
The gradient bar will appear at the top of the screen where you can adjust opacity and the ability to reverse the gradient if needed.
Gradient-Photoshop-Exposure Blending
Here I am setting the gradient to fade at roughly 2/3rds of the way in the image.

In the presets area at the top of the gradient editor window you want to select the foreground to transparent box. This will allow us to fade from one image to another on the layer mask on our top layer. You can move the sliders for the gradient to change the position of where the fade begins and in my images I set more of a hard edge gradient with the fade starting about two thirds of the way into the image. My composition is roughly two thirds foreground so I can use this as a starting point and tweak as necessary. My blend mode is normal but I have set my opacity at 80%. The opacity is key because here I don’t want the rock layer to show through at 100% because it will have too much light showing which would not be natural. Instead I lower the opacity and later I will brush in light from that layer in small quantities until I get the scene to match how my eye was seeing it. Remember I shot several images at different exposure values and the layer with the bright rocks gives me enough light to play with to blend the two images into a realistic whole.

When you select the gradient tool the cursor will turn into crosshairs on the screen. Here you have a choice to draw a freehand gradient or if you hold shift while clicking and holding the left mouse button you can draw a perfectly straight gradient which is what I did here. With the crosshairs starting at the very bottom of the image on the layer mask of the top most layer and holding down the left mouse button I will draw upwards on the image right about in the middle of the cloud layer and then release the key and the mouse. It is at this step that you will see the two images start to blend together.

Gradient-Photoshop_exposure blending
The image with a gradient applied to blend two exposures together before I start to brush in some light from my light rock layer.

In this image above you can see the two images in the layers palette, the layer mask on the top most layer and the gradient applied to the layer mask blending the two exposures together. Remember to set your foreground color to black…”Black conceals and white reveals.” In my case the opacity of the gradient is at 80% so some of the light rock layer is now showing through on the sky and horizon layer. Here though we are not quite perfect…The sun is to camera left and we need to brush some more light into the rocks to clean up and balance the exposure. In this image you can see that I have my brush tool already selected in preperation for painting with the brush tool. Same thing applies to the brush tool in that you need the foreground color set to black. By doing this we are concealing the dark rock layer and letting the lighter layer come through when we use the brush tool on our layer mask. There are some obvious inconsistencies which will be taken care of in lightroom on the final stage of our image edits.

5. Use the brush tool.

Brush palette-Photoshop-exposure blend-tutorial
The brushes palette in Photoshop with my chosen brush selected.

Next I want to brush in some more light from the bottom most light layer into the top layer to get a better match between the blended exposures. This will allow me to have an image that is as close to what I was seeing as possible. I have chosen a soft edge brush at 300 and using the bracket keys I will make this brush larger or smaller while I am painting. I always begin by setting the opacity of my brush anywhere from 15% to 30% as a starting point. I always try to paint in small amounts rather than large because I can layer the painting to get a more natural effect. There is no secret to this part of the process and it will take a lot of practice to master. Again with my foreground color set to black and being careful around the rock edges I slowly paint in light from my light exposure layer revealing more of the rocks and balancing the exposure. If you look in the layers palette of the image below you can see how the layer mask has changed from a solid mask and where I have painted in the light from the bottom layer. I also don’t paint in a uniform manner to better mimic how the light is falling on the rocks. There will be portions of the rocks that are darker and do contain some shadows so here is where you have to practice, have patience and use your best judgement.

There are some subtle differences between the before image and this one but again we will be importing this into lightroom for the final edits. Images like this are a bit more difficult because of the sharp edges of the rocks so great care must be taken around the many jagged edges, This is another reason why I paint in with a very low opacity, Any mistakes you make may be imperceptible to the viewer but you can always switch the foreground color to white and paint back in with the darker layer. This image is now right where I want it to be…From here I will flatten the image and export as a TIFF file to my computer for importing into lightroom.

Exposure blend-Tutorial-photoshop
My blended image after painting to revel portions of the lighter layer below the dark layer. Here I am cleaning up any exposure issues with final edits to be done in lightroom.

6. Import into Lightroom for final edits and fine tuning.

Lightroom-Exposure blending-Tutorial
The final blended image imported into Lightroom and before any edits are made.

Here I have imported the image into Lightroom and at this point I will inspect it for any flaws and corrections that need to be made. There are several that jump out at me right off the bat such as the sky is a bit too dark for my taste, A crop is needed to get rid of a small amount of the blue sky above the clouds, straightening of the horizon and a general exposure adjustment to name a few. This image required multiple uses of the graduated filter (5 to be exact) to better fine tune the exposure but some images don’t require much work at all. First off I use a landscape preset in lightroom as a starting point for my corrections. It take care of about 70% of the corrections and includes a contrast, clarity, vibrance and saturation adjustment along with a lens correction and chromatic aberration adjustment. After I apply my preset I then fine tune the corrections with the ones I listed above…Straighten any horizon issues, cropping if needed, white balance and tweaking the lighting with the graduated filter and the adjustment brush. Here I don’t want to get into every single little edit I made as each image should be evaluated on it’s own as to what corrections should be made to it.

Exposure Blending-Lightroom-tutorial
The before and after view of my blended image in Lightroom.

If I had to sum up the process in a nutshell it would be Chose your composition, Shoot several images covering the exposure range and your focus points, chose your candidate images, Use the gradient tool to blend your images together and fine tune with the brush tool and then perform your final touch up edits in Lightroom. The final image is balanced and has a much better exposure then I could get with just one image. Again I wanted to present an easy way to get into exposure blending and one that would be easy to follow and understand for beginners. Hopefully this will start you on your way into the many doors that exposure blending can open in your images and allow you to get some images that maybe you thought were never possible!

-On a side note I have done some research on exposure blending and please note that this is not the only way to achieve this result. There are numerous ways to do this and my particular way works for me. It’s also an easier way for a beginner to start learning about processing exposure blended images. There is now right or wrong way but this tutorial can be used as a jumping off point in learning more complex blending techniques.

How To Copy And Paste Develop Settings To Multiple Images In Lightroom

Digital cameras offer the photographer a wealth of features that were never possible with their film counterparts. We can look at histograms to check our exposures and change our ISO’s without giving it a second thought and we can shoot multiple images of the same subject without having to worry about the costs of film development. I am primarily a Landscape and Business Photographer and just about every shoot I do has me shooting multiple sets of the same image whether it be for a focus stacked Landscape image or a series of portraits of the same person with slightly different poses.

I always shoot in Raw and of course these images need a bit of editing to bring out the best that they have to offer. The problem especially when you are working for a paid client is speeding up the editing process and applying a series of edits from one image to several images. For my purposes here I will e dealing with a focus stack set of a Landscape image but you can use the instructions here for any set of images that will have or need the same set of edits like white balance for instance. This is a quick and easy way to speed up your process and have all of the images in your set look exactly the same!

1. In the develop module select the first image in your set of images and make your edits as normal. (I originally shot this image as part of a focus stack set however I had shot another one, same composition but where I achieved good focus throughout without having to focus stack.)

photograph in Lightroom 4
The first image in my stack. This image is straight out of camera with no edits.
Lightroom 4 flagged filmstrip images
This is the flagged set of images that we will be working with. As you can see they are all the same composition straight out of camera with no edits so far!

Below are all of the screen snips for all of the edits that I made on this first image. These are what we will be copy and pasting to the rest of the images in the set…

Basic develop edits.
Basic develop edits.
Sharpening edits.
Sharpening edits.
Lens profile correction edits.
Lens profile correction edits.
Chromatic Aberration edits.
Chromatic Aberration edits.

2. In the setting menu click on copy settings and in the settings box that comes up select all of the edits that you have made and then click copy.

The copy settings dialog box with all of my edits checked.
The copy settings dialog box with all of my edits checked.

3. In the filmstrip with the next image in your set highlighted hold down shift and click on the last image in your set. You will see that now all of your images are highlighted and active. In the screen snip below you can see the highlighted images and the symbol in the corner of the first image showing that edits have been made on the photograph…

The highlighted filmstrip images.
The highlighted filmstrip images.

4. Click on any image in your highlighted set other than the first one you have already made changes too and in the dialog box that pops up choose develop settings/ paste settings. You will see lightroom apply all of your copied settings to the rest of the images in the stack!

It really is that easy! When you have multiple images of the same subject or that need the same settings such as white balance this is a great way to make those changes quickly. We all want to be out shooting instead of sitting in front of our computers and this is one of those quick and easy Lightroom tricks that will get you out shooting that much faster!

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10 simple ways to get your creative “spark” back with your photography!

Losing all of your creative desires is something that every artist goes through at one time or another. It is only inevitable that after relentlessly pursuing your creative ideas and vision that you run out of gas, Enter the photography doldrums and can’t quite figure out how to get out! It is never a permanent situation but a frustrating one to be sure. When it comes to my own photography work my mind moves at a frenetic pace with all of the projects that I am working on or have yet to do.

It always hits me like a tone of bricks but after months of getting great images, decent blog posts and working on all of the daily tasks I have with my work, Bam!….The tank is empty and I am not as enthusiastic about my work and creating new images. It isn’t one thing or another that causes this but sometimes we have to step back, put away the camera and refresh our minds a bit. Life is never about straight lines and there has to be a way to get our passion back. How you do this is not an easy answer but here are ten simple steps that I use to get the creative juices flowing again!

1. Learn about a technique you have never done and…Try it!

I know that one direction I would like to go in is with portrait and modeling work but I am definitely a newbie when it comes to flash lighting and portrait work. I really want to explore this area and be proficient so recently I have been educating myself on doing flash work and through some trial and error I found that yes,  I can do this! Typically I shoot landscapes and nature but I don’t want to miss out on all of the other disciplines of photography that are out there.

2. Use a different lens.

I have said this before and this is one that should always be in your head. Change your lens and you change your perspective on the world. I mostly shoot with a wide-angle lens and after a while its how your start viewing the world. What I dont like is that I am missing all of the detail of a composition by going wide. I like to change things up by using my 50mm lens or my 60mm macro lens once in a while. The fixed 50mm insures that I will have to move around more to get a good composition and that I am going to get more of the details of an area rather than the entire scene in the frame.

3. Look at other people’s work for inspiration.

It can be difficult in the time compressed world of a photographer but seeing what other people are shooting and how is a great way to get the creative juices flowing again too. I can be in the worst most depressed state of mind about my own work but all it takes is one image of a remote forest that I know someone spent hours to hike to and make an image to get me out of the funk and out exploring and shooting again. Inspiration can come from many sources, Just be open to it!

4. When you don’t want to shoot you must push yourself to shoot.

Of course there are times when you know what? You just don’t want to get out there and work. I have been through this many times and the simplest way to combat it is to really push yourself to get out and work. Your really must turn those negative thoughts into positive ones. I always try to think about everything that I am missing by not getting out to work. Push yourself and you may be surprised by what you come up with.

5. Go somewhere you have never been to and explore.

While I do love going back to the same locations from time to time often what will jump-start my creativity is getting to places I have never been too and scouting and exploring for images to make. Part of the fun for me is to find a new location and try to make the most out of every opportunity that presents itself. Looking at the same scene all of the time is a lot like eating the same food everyday..It’s boring. Be a modern-day explorer and see what you have been missing.

6. try a new discipline of photography.

I can be honest and say that sometimes I get bored shooting landscapes all of the time. Change what you are shooting and you change how you think about your work as a whole. It’s exciting to shoot a portrait or to get out and do some urban exploration. Remember that variety is the spice of life and changing what you shoot can go a long way to getting the creativity flowing again. You don’t want to limit yourself or your options.

7. Explore different angles and perspectives.

This may sound a little weird but recently I have been re watching the old 1959 Twilight zone series by the master Rod Serling. I have seen them all before but this time I have been paying attention to how masterfully that these episodes were shot.

No straight lines, worms eye and birds eye views, and my particular favorite…the camera positions they used where people are really close up and large within the frame. It has really given me a new perspective on how to frame subjects and how to do it creatively for effect. I highly recommend watching an episode or two and you will see what I am taking about. As a landscape shooter I am always thinking about straight lines but I want to get out of that box.

8. Go back to your beginnings.

By this I mean ask yourself why you do what you do with photography, Why did you start shooting in the first place? Sometimes we can get lost in our day-to-day shooting activities and we can forget why we wanted to be artists in the first place. Remember where you started from and keep the goal of where you want to be firmly in your mind.

9. Pick a color/letter/word etc….and do a photography project on it.

This is one I am going to try myself soon. I have always loved red as a color and that is all I am using as my guide…The color red. I am not going to impose any rules on myself…I just want to see what images I can come up with. I think this can be a great way to unleash all of the bottled up creativity and just maybe by doing this can get you out of your current rut.

10. Ditch the social media/ internet for a while.

I know gasp! I dared to say it! I have a really hard time with this one but sometimes they can be quite a distraction. I mean what we really want to be doing is making images so shut off the computer and get out there! You are not a drone and I can wait for your next comment or Twitter update. Clear your head and the images will follow.

Social networking for the photographer- Ten do’s and dont’s!

I simply cannot claim to be an expert on the subject but I think over the past several months I have learned a few things about navigating the social networking world of the working photographer. As an old school Vermonter at the ripe old age of 37 (gasp!) I entered the photographers world of online networking with a certain amount of hesitation. I was not entirely sold on the idea of having a blog or a twitter account…who would be interested in what I have to say?

Learning the rules of this world was like being back in school all over again. I had a plan for what I wanted to accomplish, But there was no road map for me to follow, No list of things to do and not to do. Of course I have made my mistakes here in my social networking efforts but that’s how you learn. Through lots of hard work with my blog, Twitter feed and Facebook fan page I think I have picked up a few pieces of helpful information. The world wants to know what you have to say….Here is a few tips to point you in the right direction!

1. DO spell check your work – A sure-fire way to get someone to pass by your blog or article is to not spell check your work or to use bad grammar.  This one should be obvious,  Everyone makes a mistake and misses a word or phrase here and there but an effort should be made to present a well thought out piece with no errors.

2. DO become a part of the community After all this is social networking…You are here to interact with the people who are following you or reading your blog. I try to be as accessible as I can and when time allows. I want to meet new people and see what they have to say. Interact and share as much as you ca, It will go a long way towards building your fan base.

3. DON”T abuse the tweet system on Twitter by tweeting nonsense every two seconds, twenty-four hours a day!. This bothers me tremendously because if I have a list of say 100 photographers and one person tweets random junk then I can never see what everyone else is saying. Be relevent but don’t overdo it. Remember this is you talking to other people..No one wants to hang out with the annoying chatterbox at the party.

4. DON”T get pissed and give up because you have no followers or no one is reading your blog – It really does take time and constant effort to build up your fan base. Just because you have a presence on the internet does not mean your going to have instant success and people are going to hang on your every word. I started with zero readers and followers but over time and with  patience my efforts are paying off with actual people who care about what I say! Dont ever give up. analyze whats not working and change it!

5. DO respond to everyone who comments or starts a conversation with you – This is important because you start to build up actual personal relationships with people which is why we are all here in the first place. I make it a point everyday to respond to all the comments and kind words that I recieceve..Even if it is just a simple thank you. Show people respect and you will get it right back.

6. DO remember that your personality and your presence shows in your writing and how you say things-Always remember that you are presenting  YOU! Never be bitchy or confrontational because it’s another sign for someone to move on from your site. You as a photographer are in competition with thousands of others out there. Be yourself but be mindful of what you say and how.

7. DO have relevant content – I am a photographer so I stick to that and I never talk about cooking or that paper cut I  got on my finger last week! I am projecting myself and my work and trying to build interest in what I do as an artist and I am sure no one wants to hear the mundane details of my life. I stick to my chosen subject and never stray to far from this.

8. Do share what you have to say but share others information as well – It is helpful and beneficial for you to Like and retweet things that you find interesting that other photogs are saying out there. If I like something written or an image then I will re-post it somehow and let my followers know it. It is a win-win for everyone because you all have different networks of friends so more and different people will see what you are sharing….Share and Share alike!

9. Do robotweet if you must but don’t let them sound so “mechanical.”- I schedule tweets throughout the day during the week because…I have a day job and simply cannot tweet while I am working! While I am at work I can put out my content every few hours through scheduled tweets versus once in the morning and no one ever seeing it at all. I like my tweets to at least sound like I am typing them and not just like a form letter. I want to make them as personal as I can.

10. DON”T just start a blog or Twitter feed and rehash and re-post what you see around the web-Be honest and show people who you are and what you are about. I think this is what drives people to return to your sites. For me I want to be creative and create my own content and things to share…Not what someone else has already done. If I like something I will share and link to it but not copy and paste it.

10 features I would like to see in future camera generations.

I have always had an interest in time and what the future may hold. I suppose it is my inner geek when it comes to sci-fi movies but it has been interesting to see how technology has changed and evolved over the years. I remember when we got this huge, bulky contraption called a “Betamax”, You could put a huge cassette tape looking thing into it and watch movies at home!

Seriously this thing was a massive machine that even a nuclear weapon couldnt destroy. At the time this was a huge technological leap but sadly along came laser disc’s, Dragons lair and VHS tapes which doomed the poor Betamax to exile in Bizarro world.

Cameras can be the same way from year to year. The technology evolves so rapidly and the processors get much more advanced in each camera generation that last years “new” model just can’t compete. The new cameras come along and Photographers love their gear, We just have to have all of those new features. I was sitting here the other day and thinking about a camera of the future and what it may look like.

What sort of features would I be looking for in a camera five or even ten years down the road? It’s interesting to daydream a little to see what you can come  up with for a feature set in a camera. The following is my list of features that I would like to see, Some conceptual and some more practical. What features would you like to see in a future camera?

1. In-Camera HDR processing:

Currently we have to take our bracketed shots in-camera and then import them into our computers. Then we have to import the images into a HDR program for processing and then export back to Photoshop or Lightroom for final tweaking. Geez! Lets simplify the process by processing the bracketed images in camera to give you one, final HDR camera raw image to import to your editing program.

I spend more time flip-flopping between programs and it eats up a lot of time. It would also eliminate the need to keep all of the bracketed images in your computer, One image eats up less space than 3 or 9 or 12 images. There are a few cameras that do this but correct me if I am wrong but I think you only get a jpeg file.

2. Carbon fiber camera body:

Why not? I do realize that something like this would be quite expensive but I love thinking about its potential. Twice as strong as current bodies with half the weight = Awesomeness for my back when I am out hiking with all of my gear. If musical instruments can be made with carbon fiber than why not high-end dslr? The manufacture of such a body im sure would be challenging but think about an indestructible camera body that is dust and weather proof. The only weakness in such a system would be where the lens connects to the body but it would go along way in protecting the camera for everyday drops and bumps.

3. In-camera panorama stitching as a camera raw file:

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something similar to Sony’s Isweep panorama mode in a dslr? I would rather import an already stitched together raw file of the pano then 12 images that I yet again have to import into yet another program to stitch together. This type of feature would be a great time and storage saver. I am sure this is may add some expense to the camera body but I want to know at the time of capture if the pano stitch is good and that I have a huge raw file to work with rather than a jpeg.

4. Less buttons, knobs and controls:

I think it would be much nicer to have a smooth and streamlined camera body with less buttons and controls to have to deal with. Think of it this way…Remove all of the controls, Take a large screen like that of an iPhone and have that as the back lcd and then have one jog wheel similar to an ipod next to it. Add touch screen support, Get rid of the top lcd panel which I rarely use and maybe have one or two other buttons and there you have it…Easy, Right?

5. In-camera gps:

I am sure that some cameras already have this feature or you have to buy a really expensive add-on to get the gps capability. It would be nice to have a mechanism in-camera to either track and record your Photography adventures or at the very least  mark way points or get one set of gps coordinates for your current location.

6. Larger lcd back panel:

The older I get the more cramped I feel when I am looking at the tiny screen of my Canon 7d. I don’t need anything huge but just a little more room would be nice.

7. Better camera A.I.:

When you point the camera at a subject and prepare to take a shot the camera does not know if you’re trying to shoot something static or something that is moving. It would be nice to see detection for moving objects/people or if you are trying some other creative process like a long exposure and have the camera set the appropriate settings. As a rule I don’t want to let the camera choose any settings but sometimes you are shooting in situations where you dont have a lot of time to really mess around with camera controls.

8. Neutral density:

I would like to see in-camera neutral and graduated neutral density filters with the ability to adjust the strength from one to ten stops. It would also be nice to be able to have the option to move the filters into any position within the image field to your liking. I know this one is a long shot but I use these filters constantly and if I didn’t have to buy, maintain and carry all of these with me into the field my back would be thankful for that. Being able to select the strength would be icing on the cake.

9. Infrared shooting:

Going out on a limb here as I know this one may prove to be a challenge technically but it would be great to be able to switch between infrared and regular image capture. I have never shot infrared before and have always wanted to, This one may be wishful thinking here.

10. Noise reduction:

The next area for improvements should be in this area. The cameras are great at noise reduction at higher ISO’s however on my Canon 7d the noise really starts to become an issue after ISO 1000. I have shot at all of the ISO’s available on my camera and Lightroom is good at removing the noise but there is a point were it just doesn’t look good anymore.

Ten things to prepare yourself for when you decide to become a pro photographer!

Let me make one thing clear…I am not nor do I claim to be a professional photographer. It is a goal of mine to be sure and I Am working hard towards that bit at the moment I don’t consider myself a pro. On my way to this goal I have figured out a few things and learned from my mistakes which I am sharing with you…My faithful reader.

Making the decision to pursue photography full-time was an easy decision for me because of my passion for the art but it was also difficult at the same time. I have always felt that my time on this earth is very short and making a leap into the world of professional photography is a bet I am willing to take on myself. I have no guide or mentor to steer me down the correct path and I have made a great seal of frustrating stumbles along the way. There was no guidebook for me to pursue photography as a career, all I have is my determination not to fail and a positive attitude about my work and where I am headed with it. I don’t claim to be a pro…I am just a guy who loves what he does. If you want to jump into the world of pro photography get a thick skin and these ten things to think about should guide you on your path.

1. Prepare yourself for rejection…lots of it. This one is the biggie and don’t fool yourself into thinking that you wont get your ass kicked every other day with no’s and rejections. We are all in a very crowded and competitive field with a ton of images out there. This isn’t a profession where you become instantly famous overnight but through years of hard work and dedication. You have to have an exoskeleton like iron man to let the rejections bounce off of you because if you don’t they will crush your spirit and desire…remembef you want to be in this for the long haul!

2. Digital camera equipment is expensive. You are going to need a budget and you are going to need to save for the gear you want…period. Do your research and know what kind of shooting you will be doing and the gear you are going to need to get the shots you want to make. Knowledge is key here and you don’t need to buy every piece of equipment that is advertised to you. Your gear is huge investment of money so buy wisely. Along with camera equipment comes all of your compute hardware, software and digital storage you will need for your image files! The list keeps growing…Trust me on this one!

3. Photography will be a second full-time job. The photography work doesn’t end when you click the shutter. Oh no my friends, There is much more work involved!  The editing process itself from say a wedding for example with several hundred images to sort through is a Herculean task in itself. If you are a nature and landscape shooter like myself  there is lots of prep time involved looking at sunrise and sunset times, weather and scouting locations. Just trying to get eyeballs on your work and get noticed in this crowded field isn’t for the faint of heart and can make even a grown man cry. Stick to your guns and stay with it…The weak will drop out of the race while the dedicated will remain and be prosperous.

4. Pay careful attention to how you present yourself online. This is another big one as these days you need to have a fairly large presence online to help spread the word about your work. Be cautious how you present yourself in your social media efforts. I am trying to be actively engaged in the photography community online…Sharing what I know and commenting and looking at others work. I am busy like everyone else and I cant do it all but I am as engaged as I can be. My Twitter and Facebook photo pages are strictly for photography related things and networking with other photographers..No personal stuff. How your are virtually is how people are going to view you in the real world..especially potential clients.

5. Shoot as much as you can and show your work as much as you can. This one can be a tough one when you are just starting out but an image taken that is never seen is an image you probably wasted your time taking. If you are dedicated and want to grow in the business then you do what you have to do. I am moving towards being really poor and only working part-time to continue on this photography path. For me I am at the point where this step will allow me to grow my portfolio and get a lot closer to my goal. Show where ever and whenever you can! You need to get people looking at and commenting on your work.

6. Be passionate about your work and photography. All of the awesome photographers I have had the pleasure of meeting are passionate, dedicated and write/ blog and show their work often. With this passion comes self-confidence in your work…You need this along with that thick skin to get by in this business! Your passion and dedication will really show to people and this in turn will help you to grow and prosper. Love what you do everyday!

7. You are never going to get sleep again. Nature and landscape shooters look for the best light which happens to be at the fringes of the day. We are out and working while everyone else is snuggled warmly in their beds. You have to learn to work at times when no one else is and work your ass off! Do more than the next guy and you will be rewarded eventually.

8. Always stay positive. Yes doing photography can lead to painful bouts with fear and worry but don’t let this effect you! Always, always stay positive and keep your mind actively engaged on your next photography project. We are not perfect and not every image is a keeper. Don’t dwell on an image…If it’s bad delete it and move on to the next one. Keeping your spirits high in this competitive field is a difficult task but one you must master. Keep your mind engaged and always thinking about photography and being positive. Dont let any negative nancy’s get to you!

9. No job is too small. Don’t ever think that any job is too small or beneath you. I do some volunteer photography a few times a year and I have a blast doing it! It’s also a good way to meet people and make contacts. Even on a volunteer job I still work as I always do…Diligently and I deliver my images as quickly and efficiently as possible. Do what you say you will, Take the small jobs or the free ones. Remember word of mouth can kill you so act like a professional at all times.

10. Take that camera off of full auto! This is one piece of advice that I have said before and I will say it again. You are an artist…Know how to use your gear. Start with the basics and work your way up to more advanced work. Painters don’t start out painting masterpieces! My work sucked when I first started shooting but with patience and a desire to learn how cameras worked, I learned and it showed in my improving work. There are times when it is appropriate to use the auto modes and I do very rarely but learn that camera! Don’t cheat yourself and your work.

Six steps to keep your photography from getting stale and boring

 

Three image HDR processed in Photomatix Pro 4, Lightroom 3 and Focal Point 2. Canon 7d/Canon 50mm EF F1.8 lens and Induro tripod.

 

We are all guilty of this as photographers at one time or another…There are times when we are stuck shooting on the same set of settings or generally shooting the same types of imagery. I raise my hand and count myself one of these people. I am using the above image today because we don’t want to become stale and rusty with our creativity.

It happens to me occasionally and I always try to analyze the work that I am doing periodically to see where I can make changes and what I can do differently. Photography like any creative pursuit has its own set of challenges when it comes to the creative process and coming up with fresh ideas for your work. Try these six steps the next time you are out shooting and see what happens with your work!

1. Use a different lens – My main shooting lens is a Canon 17-40mm F4 wide-angle lens and over the past several weeks it has gone back to Canon twice for dust removal. While I am waiting I have been forced to work with my Canon 50mm F1.8 lens and what a joy creatively this lens has been to use. Because of the tight framing with a 50mm, The lens has made me really fine tune my compositions and really hone in on what I want to show in the image. With a zoom you can sometimes become lazy with the composition because you are not moving. With a 50mm lens you have to move around more to find the right shot. Change your lens and your perspective!

2. Think outside the box and over or underexpose your images – I know it goes against everything you have learned but over or underexposed images can be a great exercise in creativity. Everything in life is not perfect nor in photography is everything perfectly exposed. I have seen some amazing examples on the internet and in print of over and underexposed images. Use a really fast shutter speed in the middle of a sunny day or overexpose a sky and see what happens.Be bold and get out of the box!

3. Get away from the familiar and explore new areas – I am a huge fan of going back to a familiar location time and again however any photo explorer worth his salt must get an itch to explore and shoot new places now and again. Seeking out the unfamiliar gets the creative juices flowing and allows you to think fast and make new and creative imagery. Expand your horizons and your photo possibilities!

4. Go for the detail shot – It’s always easiest with a wide-angle zoom  to want to try and shoot everything in that grand vista and fill the frame with it. Always remember to look for the detail shot within that grand vista. Explore every possible shot and hone in on whats most important in your composition. Waterfalls are nice but often you can zoom in to a particular detail and get a much better, focused image than a wide-get-everything-in-the-frame shot. Don’t forget the small details and simplify your compositions!

5. Review your images, Look for patterns you set and do the opposite – Every few months I do image reviews to push myself creatively and see where I can be doing things different or better. I love shooting landscapes but for me this can become stale after a while and I will switch up to doing portraits or a paid commercial job will come along. I try with my limited shooting time to really keep things fresh. When you keep doing the same thing over and over and getting the same results it is time to try something new. Dare to be different!

6. Experiment with near to far perspective – I shoot a ton of landscapes here in Vermont but lately I have been experimenting with perspective and not having everything in the image frame totally sharp. As a rule you want your landscape and nature shots to be sharp but sometimes this can be boring for me. I am really loving a little softness in an image to draw my eye into and around a photograph. Use your focus points in your d-slr and look for near/far relationships in your compositions. It will do you a world of good and it makes for some exciting photographs!

How to draw the viewers eye to subjects of interest with less than ideal skies in a landscape image

Barge poles at sunrise with light house,breakwater and mountains. Lake Champlain. Burlington, Vermont.

Landscape photography is kind of like gambling as it is so dependent on the weather.

You take as many precautions as you can, Do all of your research to get the best image and the weather can change on you in an instant leading to little to nothing to show for your hard work.

For me I have always looked at the pursuit of great landscape image like a duel between the Yankees and the Red Sox. While the games themselves are always filled with excitement they can bring you to these incredible emotional highs or lows.

Landscape photography is no different here in Vermont where we are always subjected to quickly changing conditions and challenging lighting scenarios. The real trick is how to overcome so-so conditions and pull a beautiful image out of what would otherwise be boring.

Can boring really be beautiful?

I have been through this scenario a thousand times shooting landscapes where you roll up to your intended composition and the sky just totally craps out on you leaving you with some decisions to make. Is there really nothing to shoot at the location? Do you leave? Do you continue on as a scouting mission? In the image that I captured above there were a few elements that drew me and made me want to stay versus throwing in the towel. Who wants to do that when you can employ all of your creative powers to shoot what others may dismiss….

The color palette- While the clouds crapped out on me the haze in the background sky caused the rising sun to create a lot of pink and purple hues in the sky. The sky may not be as dramatic without some big, puffy clouds in the background there certainly was some really interesting color.

The thin layer of Spring ice- Due to the air temperature while I was shooting there was a very thin sheen of ice which was covering the lake. The ice was reflecting all of the awesome color in the sky back up into the scene surrounding everything with this wonderful, purple color.

The weathered look on the barge poles- Normally during the summer season the area here is covered with boats making this image impossible except in the Winter time. These wooden poles take a lot of weather and abuse over the years but they have this time tested quality and weathered appearance that i did not want to pass up.

The elements in the background- There is almost an s curve in this image as your eyes move from the poles to the lighthouse and then on to the snow covered mountains beyond. The wooden poles draw you in front and center but the rest of the elements tell the story…..The lighthouse and breakwater are surrounded by water well above normal levels and you can clearly tell that Spring has come as the snow is melting on the mountain tops beyond.

Cropping- By cropping tight on the poles I got rid of any distracting elements including just a hint of clouds in the sky. Much of the scene here was on the boring side but the tight crop told the story of the image with just the right balance of elements better than a wide shot of really nothing in the sky. The purple colors act as a backdrop making the foreground really pronounced.

So how do we draw the viewer in?

There are a number of ways to move the viewer through the image but when it comes to challenging conditions it becomes much harder. This is a time when all of our time spent honing our craft comes into play as well as our artistic vision. You have to ask yourself in this situation how do I make something out of nothing? What is the best way to tell my story? In the image above I used a number of techniques to bring home a decent image including….

  1. Composition and the s curve- The s curve is a classic composition technique that is very effective for leading your viewer through your image. In my case here while not a typical s curve the ridges of ice just behind the mooring poles do form an s curve leading your eye from the poles to the lighthouse and then over to the mountains.
  2. Tight cropping- The original capture is not much different from this final image with the exception of a slight crop on the top and bottom of the image. The tight framing allowed me to get just three elements into the frame that tied together to the location while avoiding anything that made the image too busy.
  3. The change in seasons- Suggested in the image is the change from Winter into Spring. Here in New England this is a welcome change and the image includes ice, snow covered mountains, thin lake ice, and higher than normal lake water due to snow melt which is visible at the lighthouse and breakwater.
  4. Color- Color is always an effective way to draw in our viewers and here the image is dominated by shades of purple. The poles, lighthouse and mountains really stand out in all of the purple giving the image a lot of contrast.
  5. Dominate foreground- Prominent foregrounds are the start of our story in the image and begin to lead your viewer through it. Here the barge poles split the frame in half but the curving lines of the ice lead you from the bottom of the image to the poles then on to the lighthouse and the mountains in the background. The foreground puts the viewer in a specific place and they are not left wondering where they are.
  6. Contrast between elements- In my image there is some really nice contrast between all of the main elements in the image. While the wooden poles are somewhat dark in the foreground the lighthouse and mountains really standout as the foreground fades from dark to light in the background. The colors are subtly different in the lighting transition which adds a bit of drama and the white elements in the frame really stand out.

Conditions always change but your artistic vision does not

Weather and lighting conditions are constantly changing and something we will always have to contend with when shooting landscapes. There will be times and I can attest to this that you will simply get skunked when it comes to landscape work. While we are always free to walk away I personally love the challenge of finding an image in challenging conditions. It sharpens your artistic vision, Frees you creatively and when the time comes to make images in stellar light  you will be ready.

 

 

No Fishing: A simulated light leak effect in Lightroom 3

This first image is the original merged HDR image from Photomatix Pro 4. Canon 7d/ Canon 50mm EF F1.8 lens Induro 8m alloy tripod with bhd-1 ballhead.

The other day I saw a really great post by Mark Stagi at Digitalphotobuzz.com on how to create a simulated light leak effect from a toy camera within Lightroom 3. It was such great post and such a very simple technique that I link to the original article here. It sounded so interesting that late last night while editing images I decided to try the technique out myself. (I cannot claim credit for this idea but Link back to Mark’s article for the credit to him.)

Above is a HDR image I took a few weeks ago on Perkins Pier here in Burlington, Vermont. This is part of the waterfront area that sits on the shores of Lake Champlain. What struck me about the image was the no fishing sign on the side of the docks…They were still locked in some ice from the winter. After I processed the image I was happy with it but it seemed a little on the boring side.

I wanted to quickly describe what I did to produce the final image…

1. I imported the final HDR image into Lightroom 3 and edited with the following:

Clarity: 70

Vibrance and Saturation: +10

Medium contrast setting

Sharpening and Noise reduction both set to 30

2. Next I imported into Nik Silver Efex Pro and applied the Holga preset and a red filter to the image.

3. I then imported the image into Focal Point 2 adding a blurring effect to draw the viewer to the sign and dock.

4. Next I re-imported back into Lightroom 3 where I added two graduated filters to the left side of the image. I tried to place them so that the light leak effect looked random and off centered a bit. I added a bit of a red/pink tone to the image as well. I then added a post crop vignette of +15 which blew out the highlights just a bit in the image adding to the effect. Instead of the corners being darkened I think it made the light leak a little more interesting by lighting them.

5. Finally I added Grain/Size and roughness all set at 50 to give the image a vintage feel! See that’s all their was to it…easy and simple but a really cool effect. I must thank Mark for his original and great piece on this technique!

Here is the finished black and white image with the light leak effect!

Ten steps to breaking out of the beginners rut and getting better Photographs

Photography has opened up a whole new world for me as a visual artist. It allows me to fulfill my creative desires and express what I see and how I see it to the world.  Like all new experiences and endeavors, No challenge could have been more difficult for me than that of becoming a self-taught nature photographer.

With no formal training or education I dove head first into nature photography with the zeal of someone completely unprepared for the long road ahead of me. I think I must have been crazy to drop everything and take up this new career path as a photographer. My path over the last five years has been filled with the incredible highs of doing my first showings of work to the lows of constant submission rejections.

I suppose that living and shooting the Vermont landscape has instilled in me a sense of adventure, A drive to succeed, And the strength to overcome the initial frustrations as a beginner to becoming a more series amateur nature shooter. How does one climb out of this initial learning period? What steps do I take to hone my skills and become more successful in this very crowded field? I, Like most beginners and amateurs in nature photography had a lot of questions about how to gain some ground in the field with no sure way to answer them.

I have struggled and made a few mistakes along the way, But with a lot of hard work I now feel that my photography work is finally turning a corner. My drive and willingness to learn has helped me to succeed and with the same focus, You can too.

1. Learn self editing skills – You must be extremely critical of your own work. The tendency with digital is to shoot lots of images and not every one will be a keeper. As artists we tend to want to keep every image that we shoot but you have to put those feelings aside and be realistic about how many you are going to use from any one shoot. If I shoot thirty images at one location I will edit these down to about ten and I may choose one or two to print or show.

2. Narrow your focus – Periodically review your work and see the patterns that develop in your shooting style. Really take a hard look and see what you like and don’t like about your work. Ask yourself which styles of photography do I like the most? Macro? Low light work? Wide angle landscapes? You will want to go out and try to shoot everything you can but limiting yourself to a few styles will give your work more focus and give you a more clear direction to go in.

Last year I had two showings of my work in the same month and was reviewing images to show. This review showed me that I needed to make some changes in my work as I was shooting at the same times of day. I wanted my work to have more emotion and be more dramatic so I switched from shooting during the middle part of the day to sunrise and sunset times.

3. Go beyond the snapshot – You must go beyond getting out of your car at a location and snapping a photo. You need to think of yourself as an explorer and get away from the main trails or paths. Have an open mind and be willing to do more than the other photographer to get a great image. Ask yourself how far are you willing to go to get a great shot?

4. Do your  research – Great images don’t just happen on their own and they require a lot of prep work. I use any and all means to find a new location or to research an existing one that I already know about. Goggle maps and Google earth are excellent tools for initially scouting a location as well as route planning. I also use a free program called The photographers Ephemeris. This is a great freeware program which shows your sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moon set positions overlayed on Google maps anywhere you want on the Earth. I also use road and topographic maps as well as plain, old-fashioned talking to people in a specific area.   As an amateur time and money is at a premium so you have to make the most of both.

5. Think “minimalism”when it comes to your gear – I like to have the least amount of gear to make the best possible images I can. Remember that more gear = more weight = you get tired faster. Since most of us are on budgets we must think long and hard about the gear that we need that will be most essential to our chosen style of Photography.

6. Get off of the auto modes – Take your camera off of the fully automatic modes and really learn how to control your camera. The camera is just a machine but knowing how to control iso, shutter speed and aperture settings yourself will give you much more creative freedom. Waterfalls are a good study in learning the relationship between the three. When I first started learning I shot a lot of waterfalls which helped me to better understand depth of field with your aperture as well as how to use shutter speed to freeze or blur motion. You are the artist, not the camera. I have an older post on shooting waterfalls part one and part two that further explain how to make long waterfall exposures.

7. Three essential filters – The filters that I always carry with me are a circular polarizer, graduated neutral density and neutral density filters. These three essential filters can really help you to elevate your photography from the normal everyday image. Currently I am using the Cokin filter system as it allows me to stack these in different combinations which you cannot do with screw in filters unless you hand hold them which is not possible with a long exposure if you have shaky hands like I do. The circular polarizer is great for saturating colors and reducing glare especially on leaves or around water. Full neutral density filters have a neutral grey color and restrict light on the whole image while graduated ones restrict the light in only part of the image. These are extremely useful for slowing shutter speeds and giving you better exposures in landscape scenes where the sky and foreground would typically be difficult to expose for.

8. Social Media – Use social media and blogs to your advantage for spreading the word about your own work as well as for connecting with fellow Photographers. Facebook and Twitter are excellent resources for up and coming Photographers as well as pros, In this internet age as a struggling amateur you must become more savvy about using these tools. I also started my blog on WordPress as a way to really develop my writing skills which were a little lacking. Most pros don’t make money just off of print sales but through a number of avenues, One of which is writing.

9. Confidence in your  work – You must have confidence in your work and be proactive about showing it to others. If you have confidence in your work and know that it is the best it can be then it will show in your work and in yourself as an artist. There will always be people who don’t like what you do and you must be able to take criticism and negative comments. The negative stuff helps to refine what you are doing and get rid of any habits or work that isn’t making the grade. I have a regular 40 hour a week job so the amount of showings I can do is limited. However I am proactive about this and always looking for places in my community that I can show my work.

10. Dont think just about making money – Get the idea about buying an expensive camera and snapping away and making huge profits on your prints out of your head as soon as you start down the Photographers path. Ask yourself if you are an artist or a salesman. My main goal is making art…period. I know that eventually if I keep working hard than money will come at some point. I love what I do and the medium of Photography first. If your thoughts are more on the money side then on the art side it will show in your work. If you truly love what you are doing you wont ever have to worry about how you are going to make a living at it.