Tuesday, July 3, 2018

I Love Innovation



I have mentioned many times before that "it is a wonderful time to be a photographer”.  Usually I’m referencing the evolution and innovation of software, but today I’m talking about filters.  Many people probably think that with the advent of digital photography you can apply filters in software.   In some cases this is correct,  but every serious photographer I know believes in getting it right in camera, regardless of how much work they plan to do later in the digital darkroom.



The innovation I’m talking about is so simple, I wonder why it took so long.   Perhaps a decade ago the Variable Neutral Density Filter was invented and then copied by several others and often advertised as offering between 2 and 8 stops of light reduction.   The dirty little secret is none of these gives you 8 stops of light reduction before what I call the butterfly effect happens.  After turning between half and three quarters of the indicated range printed on the side of the filter, you end up with an uneven darkness that roughly resembles the shape of butterfly wings. Obviously, this effect is not photogenic.   I have never taken the time to actually calculate how many useful stops of light reduction I get when using one of these old style variable ND filters, but I stopped carrying one in my bag and instead started carrying a 5 and 10 stop ND filter instead.  After we switched most of our filter use to Breakthrough, I started carrying a 3, 6, and 10 stop filter in addition to a circular polarizer. 



So let’s get back to what impressed me about the Benro Variable ND Filter.   It has physical limits on the start and stop position of the filter. You just can't move it beyond its designed range of use.  The Benro is advertised as a 2 to 7 stop filter, instead of the more commonly listed 2-8 stops by other filter manufacturers.  The physical limits may seem like a small thing, but up until now no other variable filter has this feature.


This past weekend I took the filter with me while hiking White Oak Canyon in Shenandoah National Park.  The filter is fairly thin and caused no visible vignette on the edges of the picture frame.  I set up my base exposure at one second using aperture priority.  This is so any reductions in light intensity will result in longer shutter speeds.  The blog image above was a 30 second exposure.  My camera does not meter for longer than 30 seconds, but at maximum density the meter was showing 30 seconds and underexposed by one to two stops. So I backed off a little from the maximum setting so I could get a 30 second exposure.   I also took a variety of shots at different density settings and could not see any color casts or any other issues that made me question the quality of the filter.




The old Vari-ND filter is sitting in a box at home marked eBay.   The new Benro Filter is occupying a nice space in my camera bag! 



If you would like to try the Benro Vari-ND for yourself or any other Benro filter,  Click here and use the discount code Roadrunner15



Note: A stop is a measure of exposure relating to the doubling or halving of the amount of light.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Spring Snow in the Smokies





I just returned from our Spring Smokies Tour.   We always hope for certain conditions for our clients, but this year we received a special surprise.  It snowed at the higher elevations!   In anticipation of this adverse weather the Park Service closed the road that crosses the park and leads to the higher elevations.   However,  the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail remained open and got us up to the elevation necessary to experience and photograph the snow.


Prior to the start of our tour it rained and as such we had several days of strong running streams.  These streams are always a joy to photograph and I never tire of hearing the beautiful sound of running water in a mountain stream.   We usually venture out into the water, but this year I stayed close to shore because the higher water levels also bring swift moving water and I don’t want my camera gear to go for a swim. 


We finished off the week with a nice hike to Spruce Flat Falls in the Treemont area.   Just about the time everyone was wrapping up their shooting, the sun starting peaking over the top of the mountain and illuminating the waterfall with less desirable light.  One of the many benefits of traveling with an experienced guide who gets you to the right place at the right time.   

If you would like to see some additional images from this trip head over to the Road Runner Blog!

Monday, April 9, 2018

What's in your Toolbox?




We live in a wonderful time to be a photographer.  The options and creative techniques seem more than I can count.  I tend to think of these techniques like tools, and by learning new techniques you add a new tool to your toolbox. 

Several years ago I saw a lot of people online and at my camera club were shooting mirror images.  I took the time to learn the technique and tucked it away in my toolbox.  A mirror is where you take an image and flip the image so you have two halves that mirror each other.

Last year I shot this abstract image and it occurred to me that I should try creating a mirror.  I think it worked and I'm glad this technique is in my toolbox.


If you want to try this for yourself, load an image in Photoshop and duplicate the image on a second layer.  Choose the second layer and go to the Image Menu and choose Image Rotation, then choose Flip Canvas Horizontal (or vertical) and use the move tool to align the image.  From there you may need to adjust the layer opacity or masking to obtain the final result.

Monday, February 12, 2018

It Needed Something




Recently I was searching my Lightroom Catalog for some images from Palouse.   While the image featured in this blog was not the one I was looking for, it is the one that I decided to work on.

When I'm in the field sometimes I will take  an image that I know exactly how I want to process, but not always.  Sometimes it's just about the composition.  That was the case with this image.

I think the composition is fine for the most part.  Although I wish there was a little more detail inside the barn on the right side,  I don't think this is a deal breaker either.  At the bottom of this post is the original unprocessed image for reference. 

Here is my layers palette from the finished image.  I use layers in photoshop so I'm always working in a non destructive workflow.  What this mean is I can always step back or start over without adversely affecting the original image.  Since I'm starting from Lightroom you could argue that I always have the original raw file so no harm would come from working in a more destructive manner.  While this is true, it would also mean that I need to go all the way back to the beginning.  Another option is to use the history palette in photoshop for stepping backward.  Then there is also smart objects, but I'm getting off topic.  The wonderful thing about powerful programs like Photoshop is there are often multiple ways to reach the same destination.

Back to the original image (See bottom of page).  I found the ladder and the tiny triangle of sky to be distracting.  I first tried to remove the ladder with content aware fill in Photoshop.  I was not happy with the result so I then tried Snap Heal from MacPhun and it did a perfect job of removing the ladder.  The triangle was easily removed at the same time.  Some might think the tree overhanging the roof on the left side of the frame is a problem.  I don't in this case because the tree leaves are contained within the roof so the roof line is unbroken, also the direction of the truck moves your eye to the left and toward the car in the background.

Next up I used Nik Color Effects Pro Contrast Filter and the Foliage filter to enhance the green grass behind the truck.  The top of the image was brighter due to the reflective nature of the roof so I used a graduated neutral density filter to tone down the roof so your eye would not be drawn up away from the truck.

At this point I still found the image to be a little uninteresting  so I decided to try a painterly effect using Topaz Impression.  Upon opening in Impression, I liked the initial look and hit ok and moved the image back to PS.  I applied a black mask and at first intended to paint in the background at 100% opacity and the truck at 50% or something less.  After doing this and not liking the result I finished painting the truck and the result was 100% painterly effect from Topaz Impression.

I'm not a big fan of applying a Vignette to my images.  The reason is most of the work I see online, this technique is heavy handed and obvious.  I want to direct your eye without being obvious.  I used Viveza to apply control points to darken the foreground and background without being obvious about my intentions.

If you want to try adding a painterly look to your images I recommend either Topaz Impression or Alien Skin Snap Art.  Links and discount codes are available on our website.


Original Image

Monday, December 11, 2017

Why We Fly





As artists and photographers we tend to be an opinionated lot.   Some folks are pro this brand of camera and have what appears to be contempt for other brands.  I think this is typical of human nature,  I have noticed this type of rivalry around favorite sports teams.  I think when we become passionate about something, we can not help but be opinionated as well.  I'm not seeking to change any of that with a short blog post, but perhaps some perspective on why we fly drones and the occasional push back we hear from photographers and others that find flying drones somehow offensive. 

First why we fly.  I must admit I enjoy flying and at this point I'm over 100 flights and it's been a long time since I had an accident.  There was the time where I crashed into a tree.  I was suffering from a bit of overconfidence in my flying abilities and that was a good lesson.  As such I fly a bit more carefully these days.  Also I recommend that people get a cheap quadcopter to learn on before spending the big bucks on a real drone.   Yes I crashed a couple of times while learning. 

DJI is the market leader in the drone market and their products are very easy to fly.   The crafts are GPS stabilized and this makes flying much easier.  The craft goes just where you send it and you don't have to worry about the craft drifting or being pushed from moderate winds.  Without the GPS, flying under these conditions would be challenging without experience.  So yes there is a learning curve and like anything else the more you do the better you get as a pilot. 

Back to the reason we fly (both Denise and I fly).  Flying a drone gives us a vantage point that would not be available otherwise.  For instance, the roof of the Waterside Woolen Mill feature above.  When we were in Palouse this past summer Denise took a shot of the Miller House that is otherwise not available.  The reason it is not available is because the family that farms the field the house sits on is adamant that photographers shoot from the road and not step on to the field.  Her shot of the Miller house was one of the best taken during that trip in my opinion. 




When I started flying I liked to shoot down on the subject, what is commonly called top down from altitudes of a 100 feet or so.  Denise has a different approach,  she prefers to shoot at heights that are much closer to earth, perhaps 10 of 20 feet off the ground, This can give much different perspective than you would get just shooting from a standing height.  I find today that I do a combination of top down and much closer to earth.  But please don't tell her that she was a positive influence on my shooting style... 

 Back to people who do not share our love of drone photography.   Most of the time when I'm flying, assuming there is anyone around, people are curious and generally positive.  However, I also hear negative comments from time to time.  I think the best way is for people who fly to do so responsibly.  There are a number of rules and regulations regarding the flying of recreational drones and it makes sense to be aware of these rules and fly responsibly. 

If you would like to start flying, DJI is currently having a sale on their products. 


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Return to the Familiar



A few weeks ago we hosted a meetup at a place we call the Truck Farm.   It's a wonderful collection of a couple hundred old trucks.  Since I have made several trips to this location it would be easy to say I have all the shots I need and then move on to photographing something else, but I like returning to old favorite locations for a number of reasons.  I think first and foremost the thing I like most is sharing really cool places with fellow photographers.  Also I usually find some new angles and compositions to shoot. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Crash Test






When you are a photographer you like to take pictures.  There are different ways to say this, I prefer to make images rather than take images.  To me this implies I try to put effort into my craft and not just stand there and click a button.   I mean no criticism of others when I say this, it is just how I view the process.  

Several months ago I had an opportunity to watch a crash test at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.   It was not my first crash test, over the last 20 years I have seen several.  But this time I decided to take my camera after first making sure it was okay to do so.   I was told pictures are fine, just don’t post online before the Institute releases the crash data for this particular vehicle.

Having witnessed crash tests before I knew the layout of the crash hall and how the hall will be lit and more importantly the vantage point that is available to spectators.   The car is accelerated toward an offset barrier using a catapult.  Just a few feet short of the barrier the vehicle is released so it impacts the barrier under its own inertia.  The engineers make the vehicle hit the barrier at precisely 40 mph.   With the car located down an enclosed ramp from the crash hall, it makes the several hundred feet or so trip to impact.  It is worth noting the crash hall and ramps are climate controlled and the crash test dummies are put in the cars only moments prior to the test.  The dummies have specific requirements for temperature.   This is just a small part the highly scientific work these researchers and engineers conduct.    Crash testing is a lot more than just running a car into a barrier.

Getting back to the crash test and how I planned to shoot it.   Remember I’m trying to craft an image and not take myself too seriously when I say this.  The car starts accelerating toward the barrier and you only have a few seconds before impact.   From my vantage point I figured I would shoot high speed multiple shots and blend them in Photoshop.   I could have used the 10 shop multiple exposure setting in my camera, but since I only had one shot at this, I decided I would just let the camera run at 9 frames per second and I would blend them later.  My other option would be to use a slower shutter speed and hope for some motion blur,  perhaps next time.   Hopefully there will be a next time…

In case you are wondering  the photographers at the IIHS use a medium format camera with a digital back that is triggered by a switch placed on the floor just in front of the barrier.   They only get one shot, but it is at the decisive moment.  The bright lights overhead also allow for incredibly high speed video cameras that  shoot the crash from multiple angles.