When we capture our original camera raw files we need to look at them as simply the start of expressing our artistic vision. We are doing more than just making an image. We are gathering enough data in our raw files to be able to realize that start into a finished image.
The image editing process is different for everyone but all of the tools are the same. Like in cooking there are a thousand different ways to peel an onion but eventually we get to the same result no matter what method we use.
It is the same for our raw files in that there is no one correct way to get there but by using the power of our raw files we can come up with a final, polished and corrected image.
How can we get there? What tools do we need to achieve our photographic vision. The answer lies in The graduated filter and adjustment brush in Lightroom.
Camera Raw files are boring
The raw files come straight out of the camera with no processing so what you’re seeing on import into your computer is exactly what you shot. Keep in mind though that unlike a JPEG which is processed in camera, Raw files are flat and boring.
They need processing to bring out all of the best data in the image so a well composed and properly exposed image is essential. While JPEG’s tend to get corrupted over time as they are an already edited image, Raw files can be re edited over and over until your final image emerges. Take for example my original image file for the above image and it’s histogram in Lightroom…..
Now this is a typical example of a camera raw file as it is straight out of camera. You can see that the image is rather flat with no contrast and there are some issues that need to be addressed in the editing process.
A scene like this can be difficult to shoot as the clouds bounce around bright light at times with the sun popping in and out from behind them. Couple that with it being Winter and the snow being really reflective and you have a pretty tricky exposure situation on your hands.
My Histogram is actually looking really good as the image was exposed to the right just before the highlights would be blown out. This is good as we can pull those highlights in during the editing process without messing up the shadows or making the image to dark. The issues I need to address are easily fixed but do require some time….
The upper portion of the image with the clouds – It’s a little too bright at the top and you can’t really see a lot of the darker shadows in the clouds, Those highlights wash everything out and there isn’t much detail. The blue is washed out a bit as well even though when I shot this it was much closer to what the finished image looked like….That’s the trick really. Making our image look dynamic and just as we shot it without going overboard with out edits.
The Mount Mansfield range in the middle ground – There are nice highlights there but it’s the shadows that are somewhat washed out due to some haze and the fact that in the image it’s snowing on Mount Mansfield itself as I was shooting. It’s really not bad but it just needs some work to make the image more appealing.
The band of trees and forest below the mountain – Again this area is flat and has no contrast. The clouds were casting some interesting shadows in this area and it just isn’t dynamic enough for me. I need to add some contrast and depth to this area as the foreground draws you in and leads you through the trees and to the mountain beyond.
The foreground – This area here is ok but it just needs to be brightened up with some contrast added. All of the grass sticking out of the snow gets washed out in all of that white so I also would like to see some contrast here as well.
The graduated filter and adjustment brush tools
So we have our camera raw file and I am feeling pretty good about it but I know that this image can be so much better. The main tools that did the heavy lifting on this image were the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush tool. Both of these tools are great as you can target them to specific areas and use them multiple times within one image.
The graduated filter tool is very handy for corrections because unlike a traditional filter You can spin the tool 360 degrees making it more versatile for correcting landscapes. Manual filters and their holders are a bit more cumbersome in the field so I use them to get my images as close as I can then do more detailed corrections with the graduated density tool.
The other great thing about the tool is that you can use them multiple times in an image where this is not possible manually so it opens up some more opportunities in images that otherwise might not make the cut. I use them quite liberally because I can use one for a clarity adjustment in one area of the image but I can also use one to enhance color in the sky of a sunrise or sunset.
You can selectively use them for different edits just like you ca with the adjustment brush…..While the graduated density tool is used for more broad edits over bigger portions of the image you can use the adjustment brush for more targeted, precise adjustments in select areas to really build on your vision for the final, corrected image.
The adjustment brush work just like any other brush in Photoshop in that you can change its size and use it for specific adjustments in very localized parts of your image. You can also use it multiple times per image so say you want to make an exposure adjustment in one specific area you can just brush the area you want to change then move the appropriate sliders.
Using both tools on our image
Without getting into a very long conversation about my workflow I used three different graduated filters in the image to target the sky, the middle ground and the foreground. The image had a great deal of highlights to contend with and it also needed some contrast and haze adjustments.
Now these initial edits really improved my image however I performed four corrections with the adjustment brush to really make the image pop and take care of some of its flaws. One edit was made for some of the highlights in the clouds, another was used for the mountain to get rid of the haze and add in some contrast, Another was used on the middle ground forest and trees to add contrast and another was used on the foreground to bring out the contrast in the grasses and add some pop to them.
Essentially my workflow goes from a starting point which is a landscape preset I use on all of my images as an overall first step. I then hone this some more with some basic edits again to the overall image and then I dial in more concise edits with the graduated filter tool and the adjustment brush.
Some images require more and some less and it all depends on where I want to go with the final outcome. Editing is as subjective as wine tasting and how we best utilize the tools at out disposal. This image was quite flat to begin with and originally I made a really nice black and white out of it but I also felt the color version was quite nice as I love the blue color in Winter scenes. Lightroom has a lot of powerful tools including ones that may be overlooked and the graduated density tool and adjustment brush can really help to lift your images from boring to exciting.
Lanesboro, Vermont is a tiny speck of a town on a Vermont state map but it sits smack dab in the middle of some of the best foliage viewing the state has to offer.
Route 232 travels through the Groton State forest and on a side dirt road with a tiny sign for the town of Lanesboro you will come across this scene. It’s a blink and you’ll miss it location that’s between Groton, Marshfield and Plainfield.
During the Fall foliage season many photography spots can be overwhelmed with visitors and if you feel adventurous and want to get lost then scenes like this one can be found.
I had passed by this scene many times and on this occasion what really grabbed my eye was the wonderful color in the grasses in this open field along with the changing Autumn color in the background.
Tips for getting yourself lost on Vermont’s back roads
The road this location is near is an old railway bed that has since been converted into a dirt road and recreation path which connects to two very picturesque ponds and some of the more stunning foliage during peak color of the Autumn season.
With more dirt roads than paved ones you can be assured that there will be a photography adventure around just about any corner in the state. With over 26 years of experience traversing the state’s roads I have come up with some tips for traveling and finding unique locations in Vermont.
Bring a map – Seriously, Google Maps is good but what it won’t tell you is there are roads here that get closed or don’t allow certain types of vehicles or that its mud season. I would highly recommend having a set of paper maps as Vermont’s roads at times can be labeled differently on a map then they are on the road signs. Hell there are still places in Vermont that still use wooden road signs and those are often worn away or illegible. Have maps and know how to navigate, Don’t rely on Google Maps alone.
Don’t be afraid to stray off a main road – Often times the side roads will offer up some really stunning imagery and while not noticeable at first will connect with main roads that can get you back into familiar territory. Most side roads in Vermont can be a little convoluted and can twist you around but most will make giant loops or connect to other roads to get you back onto a main road.
Avoid mud season – This one is a no brainer but that period of time after winter ends but before spring officially starts can play havoc on vehicles. The mud gets deep and it likes to suck in cars or create ruts that are just impossible to navigate around. I have driven on many roads during this season and it just really isn’t worth it. Getting stuck in the middle of nowhere is a pretty unpleasant experience.
Have a rugged vehicle – This one goes along with number three but have a tough vehicle if your going to get off the beaten path. A truck, A car with all wheel drive or four wheel drive, Anything that will not be hampered buy road conditions. I don’t have a truck but I do have awd and it will save your bacon on a muddy or washboard, rutted road.
Not all landscapes will be sweeping vistas – Look for the smaller more intimate scenes as sometimes that grand Vermont landscape can be illusive depending on your location. The northern part of the state tends to be more mountainous with forests and trees tightly packed together and you have to climb above the treeline while the Southern sections are more like flat, rolling hill farmland landscapes. Forests will have ponds with tight forest cover and hard to access areas but you can also find abandoned rock quarries or farms. The smaller scenes will let you hone in on a specific element like my image above and the sky reflection in the small stream.
Look for multiple places to shoot in or around one central location – By having one main shooting location and several side locations you can up your chances of coming home with a keeper. It can take a lot of drive time to reach some of the more scenic places in Vermont and you don’t want to waste your time while out. Have a plan a, b, c, and d around where your main location is so you can maximize your shooting potential.
Trusting your vision
I drive right by today’s image but as you progress as a photographer you learn to trust your eyes and your brain when it says “Stop!” That’s preciously what happened to me and I am glad that I listened to my inner artist otherwise I would have missed this shot.
This small stream here is right along the side of the road and I noticed first that it made a nice leading line into the image. The color on the field grasses was quite striking as well as the changing foliage in the background trees. Grasses like this are a common site here and their color changes throughout the foliage season. The reflection in the water provides a nice focal point to draw you in and to follow through the rest of the image. Here is my original image….
My original shot was off a bit so this one would need some edits to make it really shine. Cropping to center the stream reflection, The highlights, The sky and coaxing some more detail out of the water reflection were all that was needed to really make this one shine. I used the HSL panel to make the colors really pop and add some drama to them.
Getting off the main roads and opening yourself up to the adventure really isn’t so bad is it?
Let the adventure be your guide
Vermont pretty much has it all in terms of what you can find for landscape imagery. All of it really is there if your willing to venture away from the crowds and really explore the state.
I do a great deal of planning when I shoot my landscapes but there as always room to roam the unique back roads that we have here. While we are sadly losing a lot of our rich farming traditions and the industrial production of years past, There still is a lot of vintage charm to find.
Get out there, Zig when you should zag and find your next great landscape image.
As photographers mounting and framing our own prints is the culmination of all of our hard efforts at image capture. Today we will be discussing the best, easiest way yo mount your images to mat board in a professional manner. In this way you can either package the print in a plastic sleeve for safekeeping and sale or prep the print for framing.
The image above is a salt print that I produced from a digital file and the one I will be using to mount the print to mat board. I use a special paper for alt process printing that doesn’t warp or crinkle when dried so I won’t have any issues when I go to attach the print to the mat board. By doing this process ourselves we can have more of a physical connection to our work as well ad delivering a hand made product to our customers.
A list of materials for a premium mounted print
When we mount our prints we want to make sure that we use the best mounting materials that we can find. There is no sense in shooting and editing to craft the perfect image and then mounting on cheap mat boards or using non archival materials. While more expensive the better quality materials will last longer and provide many years of viewing pleasure to your customers. You really want to reassure your buyers that your prints will stand the test of time.
The following list contains everything that I use to mount my prints. This list is not the be all, end all of what you could use it’s simply what works best for me in how I want my work to presented to clients.
A print. For the salt prints I make myself The paper I use is Bergger Cot 320 8×10 sheets. It is made for this type of alt process work and dries flat without warping and I would highly recommend that. For regular printing I get all of my prints at mpix.com. I have used them for years, Would highly recommend them and they ship prints flat and well protected.
Mat and backer board. With these I do not go cheap. I always use archival mats and backer boards. Its not worth it to go cheap and the presentation of your work will suffer. Spend the money and get archival and acid free materials. I use redimat.com for this as they have all the supplies you would want and sell convenient kits that include the mat, backer board, hinging tape and a plastic sleeve for the print. Expensive but worth it because you wont have to track down all of that individually. I highly recommend them.
Hinging tape. This is what you will use to attach the mat to the backer board and the print to the mat. My preference again is for acid free, archival tape that is self adhesive. You can also use hinging tape where you have to apply water to make it sticky which is what I used in this example but the self adhesive is much easier to work with
Plastic sleeve. Your options are limitless here so I won’t get into what you should or shouldn’t use. Again I use the redimat kits and they come with clear sleeves. Clearbags.com, dickblick.com and bagsunlimited.com are a few places that I have bought them from in the past.
Something to sign with. Again this is just personal choice but I am now using a calligraphy pen with black ink to sign both the print and mat. I personally just like the look of the ink strokes but you could use pencil or whatever you like. Ansel Adams signed all of his prints in pencil.
Scissors, small brush. It really does not matter what scissors you just something sharp. The small brush is only if you are using hinging tape that needs water to make the adhesive active. The brush makes this step much easier.
Dust blower. While not entirely necessary I use one before I seal the print in it’s sleeve to make sure there is no stray bits of dust on the print or in the sleeve.
The eight steps
Now the fun part can begin. After you utilize these eight simple steps all of your hard work will come to fruition in the final packaging of your image.
place the mat against a light source like a window and align the print behind the mat opening. In this way you will be able to see the edges of the mat opening and where to perfectly align the print with the opening. With a pencil make light guide marks at the edges of the print on the corners. You will use these guides later to align the print for attachment to the mat. In the image above you can see my pencil marks where the print will attach.
lay the mat and backer board down on a flat surface and align the two half’s together making the seam as tight as possible. There are always variations in size with these and there will be times where the sizing is slightly off. These size imperfections are nothing to worry about, Just align the two half’s as close as you can. Your really talking a variation of 1/4 of an inch or less….the backer board is only there to give the print strength in an acid free environment.
Using the hinging tape attach the mat and backer board together. You can do this in a few different ways, one giant piece, Two pieces like I did here in the example image or three pieces. I have always done three but here I just wanted to see what two would look like. Apply a thin amount of water to the tape if your using the non self adhesive kind with a brush and carefully hinge the two pieces together. You want enough water for the pieces to be tacky but not so wet that they slide around. In the picture above the tape is still slightly wet.
Sign your print. Again this will be personal preference as to what you use to do this with. I have been using a calligraphy pen lately simply because I really like the look of the ink strokes, I think it gives the print a vintage, Polished feel to it.
Place your print in the guidelines that you made in the previous steps and cut four pieces of hinging tape. You can also tear the pieces of tape but I chose cutting…i just have never noticed a difference in tearing it versus cutting it. Here in this example image I have everything ready…..water and brush, print and mat, And my four pieces of hinging tape.
Attach the print to the mat with the strips of hinging tape using a t pattern….one strip in a horizontal position, half on the print and half on the mat and another piece in the vertical position covering the half from the horizontal piece on the mat only. In the example image above you can see the t pattern made by the strips of hinging tape.
Fold the pieces of your now hinged mat together and lay the print facing up on your work space. You can now sign the mat in the lower right corner or wherever you wish.
The final step is to place the mounted print into a protective plastic sleeve. It is hard to see in this example but there is a sleeve! Now you can get sleeves with the adhesive strip on the bag flap or on the bag itself. I always go with the strip on the bag because when it’s on the flap there is the potential of harming the print or the mat.
The final product
So now we have a final piece of artwork that was packaged and presented in eight simple steps. It is daunting at first to add in the steps to mount your work but your buyers will notice the craftsmanship and materials.
As I am building out this site and trying to finish up some last details before it goes completely live I wanted to talk a little bit about how I price my prints and all of the factors that go into my pricing structure. I am very sensitive to cost issues and the main goal is to strike a balance between an affordable price, getting my work out there to be seen and enjoyed while also making a profit on all of the hard work that goes into making images. As most photographers know, making a profit on our work is what allows us to continue producing high quality images. While making money is not my highest concern it does play a factor in what I do.
To often photographers can just come up with arbitrary prices out of their heads and to me this just doesn’t take into account all of the costs that come into play with photography work nor is it a sustainable business model. I need my prices to be consistent, fair and not just taken out of thin air. While I don’t want to get too into the nuts and bolts of why I price the way I do, I would like to offer some guidelines for others trying to price their work but also give my buyers some information as to everything that goes into my cost of producing images. A lot of thought and care has gone in to my pricing and I feel it does strike a good balance with the premium product that I want buyers to receive.
How do I determine the price that I charge for my work? The formulas…
The easiest way to come up with a consistent pricing structure is to:
Markup = 100 divided by 35 (35% cost of goods…See below) = 2.85
Determine your cost for producing and shipping a print product. List out everything that is required from the print to the shipping costs. (See my list below. Also include your time calculation into your cost.)
Multiply your cost by your markup to come to a final sale price for your image
This is probably the easiest part to figure out but does require a bit of math so that our pricing stays consistent. This is key because we want to accurately quote a price to a buyer and it had to be the same from buyer to buyer. Pulling a random number out of the air just won’t work and even worse you could be under charging by using this strategy. Take some time, figure out every last cost that goes into your work and your figures will accurately reflect that with an honest price.
The first thing that I did to have a more consistent pricing structure was to use the 35% cost of goods pricing structure for everything that sell. The cost of goods is simply all of the money that I spend for the inventory that I sell. In my instance under this model 65% of the total artwork price is profit and other fixed costs while 35% covers all the costs to produce, package and ship a piece of artwork.
Using those numbers I divide 100 by 35 to get 2.85 which is now my markup. Next I simply take the total cost of an item and multiply by 2.85 to come to the final sale price of a print. It sounds complicated but it’s accurate and consistent, Not a random number. You will always be able to quote a price from buyer to buyer and it will always be the same.
The second thing I like to do is to make a list of every single cost that it takes to produce and package my work. Everything from my time to the products I use have a cost and I need to figure out a monetary value per print size and per print product what I am spending on those items. The final sale price of my work is based on the following list and a few math formulas.
And the final calculation you need to make is for your time. Your time is valuable and it must be accounted for when figuring out a final sale price of your prints. The formula for your time is to take your wage (What you would like to make per year) divided by 50 weeks (assuming two weeks off for vacation) divided by 40 hours per week divided by 60 minutes which will equal your per minute wage. Once you know how much time has been invested into an image (for me I factor about 1/2 an hour to an hour per image excluding drive time and shooting time. I really am only accounting for my processing and prep time to ship the image to the customer.) To me it’s a trade off…I concede some of my time and do not include all of it in the final price so that I can offer a competitive price for my work and get it out there. Again this is a subjective formula as everyone is different but it’s a very good starting point to accurately calculate your sale price.
What costs go into every print product I sell?
Of course everyone’s list will vary from mine to some degree but generally this is everything that goes into the cost of my prints:
The paper or metal print itself
Archival quality mats, backing boards, plastic sleeves and hinging tape
Protective box for shipping
Shipping both to me and to the customer
A printed certificate of authenticity
My time editing and prepping the print
Salt Printing Chemicals and supplies including specialized paper for the prints and transparency sheets for the digital negatives
On top of this are the hidden costs that come out of any profit that I make. Here I am not even including driving time, wear and tear on my car and gas but along with this are the costs that must be factored into profit for “keeping the lights on” which are:
Yearly domain name registration
yearly payment for this sites theme
Monthly payment for website hosting
Monthly payment for Adobe Creative Cloud subscription
Computer maintenance/ upgrades – custom-built windows based computer for image work costs roughly $1500 to $2000 and will last ten years. Current computer build is ten years old and due for replacement.
Camera gear maintenance/ Upgrades
Stock on hand for print sales including all packaging material
Pricing is subjective but should be consistent
Here I am only offering a guide as to how to get started with your pricing. In building this site I wanted to present to buyers how I structure my prices and what is actually going into the piece of artwork that they are buying. Customers are putting a lot of faith in me as to the high quality of the work and materials and I want them to be assured that they are getting the most value for their money. To be fair, Pricing is different for every photographer or artist but in my mind it must be consistent from customer to customer. Picking a price off the top of your head just is not going to account for all of the variables that you may encounter in producing your work. Remember…. Be fair, Be consistent, Offer high quality and value through a superior product and service. Above all make a personal connection with your customers!
Most people will tell you not to go out shooting star trails during the super moon or full moon due to the extremely bright light but I like to go against the grain. My schedule only allows me to shoot at certain times so if the conditions are good then I go no matter what. I had been thinking of this image for quite some time and finally the conditions presented themselves to make the shot only the super moon was out causing some really bright light in the night sky. You can however still do night photography during the super moon phases you just have to be a bit creative about what you shoot!
Circular star trails are achieved by pointing in a northerly direction at the North Star which you can see here at the center of the circles. The more North you point the more circular the pattern. As you move away from North the patterns will be less circular and more linear. I personally really like the circular pattern so when I am looking for compositions I try to point in a northerly direction. Generally as a rule of thumb for myself I always try to find static objects that don’t move simply because trees and other moving natural objects tend to sway and move even i the lightest of breezes. It’s simply a personal preference for me as I do not like the blur the wind causes but I never let that stop me from shooting a particular composition.
The full moon and the super moon causes some problems with the extreme bright light they produce in the sky. My simple trick to avoid this is to shoot in a northerly direction for two reasons…1. If you look North the sky will still be dark enough to shoot star trails regardless of the brightness of the moon when it is full 2. The full Moon will illuminate your foreground which allows for lower iso’s and eliminates the need for any light painting of the subject. The Moon lit up the ski tower which allowed me to shoot at iso 400 versus 800 or above so the image file is much cleaner. Instead of not shooting at all and staying home I used what I was given to my advantage and got an image I had been thinking about for over a year!
The processing of these shots is really quite simple with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop cc. There are a few other ways to do this but for me this is the simplest and easiest. I don’t do anything in Lightroom until after I have merged the files together…It’s easier to process one file than 150!
1. The first thing that I do is import the raw files into lightroom and then export the entire series into a separate folder on my computer as TIFF files. You can work with JPEG’s to speed up the process but I like to work on TIFF’s so I can edit the combined file later. TIFF files will take much longer to process but I have never had a problem doing 140 to 150 files in under ten minutes.
3. Open Photoshop CC and in the menu bar chose File-Browse in bridge- Then choose the folder you placed the series of images into. Select all by right clicking on the first image which should be your base image and the start of your star trail series.
4. Once all of your images are highlighted in Bridge choose Tools-Photoshop-Load files into Photoshop layers. Photoshop will place all of the images onto one canvas in their own separate layers. Here you will have to wait a few minutes depending on how many images/layers you have. If you do not have bridge then you would have to do this one image at a time. There are a few stacking programs out there to do this but since I am already paying for my Photoshop subscription I process this way.
5. Once all of the images are layered in Photoshop highlight and select all of the layers and then set the blending mode in the layers panel to lighten. Before your eyes the magic happens and the star trail will appear! The lighten mode will only blend in the lightest pixels which will be the stars. In a few convenient commands you can see the fruits of your labors in just a few minutes!
A few years ago I wrote my original blog post 25 ideas to improve your landscape photography and I felt with my improving skills that I should update that post! I have learned a lot along the way through much trial and error and I wanted to pass along some of the knowledge that I have learned along the way. Often times the best teacher is experience and I try to shoot as much as I can as often as I can. In any given month I can shoot anywhere from 100 to 500 images and I feel fortunate if I get five or six really strong images that are worth sharing, submitting to magazines, etc.
While the road to becoming a full-time professional Landscape photographer (My original goal/ Not quite there yet but you have to keep moving forward!) has been a long one it’s nice to have a platform on this blog to be able to share what I know and help others along the way! Some of these ideas may not be new but they will always be worth repeating.
1. Go on scouting missions: If your time is limited always have a plan. Use maps, do research on the internet and during your photography down times go and scout your chosen locations. See how the light interacts with your composition at different times of day and weather conditions. It may seem like you are losing valuable shooting time but in the long run one stunning shot is better than 10 mediocre ones.
2. Bad weather is a photographers best friend: Do you want to be the person that sits at home all the time when the weather is terrible or the one who gets a killer shot? Motivate yourself to go out when it’s cold, at night or when storms are brewing. You will be rewarded with some great light especially at the beginning and ending of storms and unique images that no one else has.
3. Put your tripod where other people won’t: Never be afraid to move and shoot where other people are not shooting. if you are bold and plant your tripod in another spot where no on else is or has shot you will surprise yourself with all of the new compositions you can find. Move around, Don’t get stuck shooting the same compositions and subjects that other people do. Set yourself apart from the pack and your images will get better!
4. Always look behind you during sunrise and sunset: While the light can certainly be amazing when pointing your camera towards the sun at sunrise and sunset always look behind you. The color and intensity of the light will be much different in the opposite direction and can be just as amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I have been out shooting and done this and been more attracted to what’s behind me than what’s in front of me!
5. Always strive to make your next shot better than your last: Never get too comfortable with your work. When you go to make an image ask yourself how can I make this one better than the last one I shot? What can I change to make an average shot an exceptional one? Always analyze what you are doing and how you can improve upon what you have already done.
6. Don’t snap. Take time to study your subject: Weather your shooting a landscape or a portrait always evaluate what you are shooting. Be patient and take your time with your chosen subject. While a snapshot does have its place you may miss a much better composition if you take some time to study what you are shooting.
7. Always think foreground to background: Ask yourself what is going to draw the viewer into this image? A good foreground starts the story in your shot and the mid and background serve to enhance it. Compelling foregrounds tell what your image is about and lead the viewer into your image. Everything else in the shot helps the viewer to know “where” they are in the shot. Look through your viewfinder and take the time to make sure all the elements…Fore, mid and background are compelling.
8. Don’t forget about the corners: Along with number 7 above make sure to check the corners of your composition. We can often forget about the corners but here is where we can eliminate anything unnecessary in the frame. It’s an extra step but a critical one to coming home with a keeper. Many times I have shot something only to get home and wished I had checked the corners!
9. Study the work of landscape masters: Buy some books or research online for any of the masters of landscape photography. Study their work and learn why people gravitate to those images. Find out what makes their work so compelling and learn about all of the hard work that goes into a great landscape shot. Stunning works don’t just happen and if you are in a rut take a look at all of the masters that came before you and learn the history of landscape photography.
10. Shoot at the beginning or ending of storms: Watch the weather and try to anticipate when storms will pop up. I personally feel that the light at the beginning and ending of storm systems is just phenomenal and not to be missed. The build up of a storm system and its last gasps as it passes by and dies out can yield some great shots so never miss out on those storms! I have shot some of my own favorite images this way…The atmosphere of storms adds some great mood to a landscape shot.
11. Learn to shoot at night: With the birth of my daughter last year came the challenge of finding time to fit in my photography work. I had never made night images before but shooting at night was a perfect fit for me. While my wife and daughter are sleeping I can get in some shutter time and keep making images. It takes a great deal of practice to produce some decent night work but the hard work will pay off.
12. Perform an ISO sensor test with your camera body: Set your camera up outside, Point it up at a clear, blue sky or something without a ton of distractions and take a series of shots starting at the lowest ISO and moving to the highest on your camera body. Review these images without any edits at 100% to see where your threshold is for the grain becoming objectionable. On my camera it’s at ISO 1000 which at times I will push higher but only if I am shooting the night sky. Doing this will allow you to know in what situations you can and cannot shoot in. Know your gear and it’s limitations.
13. Practice using graduated and neutral density filters: One thing that will improve your landscape work tremendously is to start learning how to use graduated and neutral density filters. While not a cure-all they can help you to balance exposures between the land and the sky which are often very far apart in exposure values. Using them either hand-held or in a filter holder you will not be disappointed as the amount of keeper shots goes up. I was against using them when I first started shooting but quickly learned their usefulness and my filter sets are always in my camera bag.
14. Don’t be afraid to shoot during the middle of the day: This is not something I like to do but sometimes it is the only time I have so I have to make use of it for photography work. If I know I am going to be shooting during the mid day hours I make sure that the skies will be overcast or partially cloudy. Sometimes the mood strikes me and I shoot on clear blue sky days but for the most part I personally need some interest in the sky. Don’t let the mid day hours be a barrier to getting in some shutter time!
15. Talk to people: I can illustrate this one by explaining the barn image at the top of this post. For years I have looked at this property but I always thought that it was on private property. It turns out that I was wrong as I had a very nice conversation with the people who live in the farmhouse on this piece of land. A handshake, an introduction and a conversation got me access to a really stunning view of Lake Champlain and the valley’s around it. I always ask permission when it comes to shooting on private land and you may just meet some interesting people in the process!
16. Learn everything there is to know about your camera gear: Take some time and learn everything there is to know about your gear. The last thing you want is to be fumbling around with your setup out in the middle of nowhere missing some great light or on a paid shoot for a client. Read the manuals, shoot a ton but know your gear inside and out including its limitations.
17. Add motion into your images: I really like those shots that have a combination of static and moving elements in them. Cloud and water movement are two of the most obvious choices for this but you can use you imagination and shoot whatever you like! Panning techniques is another great way to add in some motion and make some interesting images. I love these types of shots because they are a challenge to pull off but adding in motion to a still frame just adds a whole new dynamic to the composition!
18. Self edit and be critical of your work: Both are important skills to learn as not every shot is good nor should they all be shared. Learning these skills will train your eye and allow you to become better at picking out the best compositions. You have to take a step back from your work at times and ask yourself tough questions about its quality. It’s a tough task for sure especially with magazine submissions as oftentimes you can only send in a certain amount of images. There is an emotional attachment to everything we shoot but step away and look at your images from the viewers or buyers perspective. Yes you shoot because you love it but you should also have a critical eye on your own work.
19. Get out of your car and of the beaten path: While you can get perfectly acceptable images this way I think more compelling images can be had away from the car and out in the middle of nowhere. Taking the time to get away from man’s modern conveniences can really add some real emotion to your images as you now have some time to quiet yourself and reflect on what you’re doing photographically. Walk away from what you know and into the unknown!
20. Hike and shoot with a partner: Shooting with a photography friend leads to some interesting images as you both can feed off of each others creativity. Usually we practice our craft alone which for me is about 90% of the time but there are times that I do enjoy hiking and shooting with other photography enthusiasts because you can’t shoot alone all of the time. The other person sees the world differently than you will and often may see a composition you never even noticed!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6. Import into Lightroom for final edits and fine tuning.
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.
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.
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.)
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…
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.