Flower Fireworks – Happy New Year!

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Most people can look back over the years and identify a time and place at which their lives changed significantly. Whether by accident or design, these are the moments when, because of a readiness within us and collaboration with events occurring around us, we are forced to seriously reappraise ourselves and the conditions under which we live and to make certain choices that will affect the rest of our lives.   – Frederick F. Flack

Thank you all who have visited my blog this past year. Especially, I wish to thank those people who are following this blog and who have provided comments on my posts. I wish for you all, health and happiness. Happy New Year! I have found inspiration in the posts of many of you. 

I cannot remember the last year that I made resolutions. This year, for whatever reason, I have decided that resolutions are appropriate.

Here are my (daily) resolutions:

Learn five things that are totally new to me:

  • a fact or piece of information (ie the pygmy right whale belongs to a species that was thought to have been extinct for millions of years. Not very practical info, but I enjoy being amazed. Science has not even figured out all the data about the animals that are here.)
  • a picture of something that I have never before seen, or at least that I have never seen depicted in that style (Yesterday’s find was Guy Tal’s marvelous landscapes that he has processed as paintings (http://guytal.com/gtp/gallery/index.jsp).
  • listen to a song that I have not heard before (thank you Pandora)
  • do something that extends an ability that I already have (like learning a new technique of photo processing)
  • do something in a way that is not my usual way (such as… I don’t know. This category is going to take some effort)

Give an unexpected gift to someone

Show, through my actions, that I love someone.

Become conscious of at least 20 things for which I am thankful.

Recommit, through actions, to my values and priorities.

Post more often on my blog, not worrying about proper grammar or punctuation.

The photo at the top of this page is a large chrysanthemum, each bloom of which is at least 4-6 inches in diameter. Usually close up photographs have a shallow depth of focus, that is, only a portion of the subject is in focus. This photo is almost entirely in sharp focus, because of using a technique called focus stacking. Multiple images are captured that are exactly the same except for the area in sharp focus. In this case, 41 separate photos were taken, beginning at the closest point of the flowers to the lens and working toward the back of the flowers with the focal plane of each photo being 2 mm deeper than the last. Then all the images were processed with Helicon Focus software (from http://www.heliconsoft.com/heliconfocus.html), which does an unbelievable job. (I highly recommend it both for close up/macro work, and for landscapes.) If you are interested in more information on focus stacking, please check out my first two posts of this blog.

Again, I wish you all a Happy New Year!

I welcome comments and criticisms (mostly comments).

My website for photo enhancing, processing and saving seemingly useless images is NaturePhotoRehab.com

J. Michael Harroun©2013

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Awards – Part 1

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”  – Rachel Naomi Remen

I have been nominated for three blog awards by Daniela of lanternpost2012.wordpress.com. I will address two of them here. They are “A thought provoking Blog” and “Seven things about me”.

I am surprised, pleased and honored that Daniela finds my blog worthy of recognition. I highly recommend her blog (lanternpost2012.wordpress.com). She has a fresh, succinct writing style. Daniela’s wit and wisdom reflect her broad perspective and tenacious resolve. Her blog is filled with thoughtful discussions about emotions, human nature and current events.

The” rules” for these two awards are similar: The first “rule” is to thank the person who nominated me and to link to that website. Second is to mention seven things about myself. And third is to nominate seven additional blogs for these awards.

Here are seven things about me:

  • Regardless of how complex something is, I can further complicate it.
  • No matter how quickly something can be completed, I can make it take the better part of three days.
  • When unforeseen circumstances require me to do something in a novel way, about 20% of the time I find this new approach more beneficial than was my usual way.
  • My greatest challenge is the maintenance of a balance among my separate priorities. The single thing that most astounds me is memory.
  • The most complex thing that I know of is either the universe or love. I cannot decide between them. (Scientists believe that the universe is expanding. So what is it expanding into?)
  • Through my website, naturephotorehab.com, I help, via processing and enhancements, to transform people’s nature photos into works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

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There are many blogs that I enjoy and recommend. However, there is no way to mention them all here. My nominations for the “A Thought Provoking Blog” and “Seven Things About Myself” are:

Lifeismysterious at dranilj1.wordpress.com

Queenlioness1962.wordpress.com

Kirsten Dinesen at ddfreeinkirkland.wordpress.com

50yearproject.wordpress.com

Learntowonder.wordpress.com

Light Touch at uthamz.wordpress.com

Figments of a Dutchess at drieskewrites.wordpress.com

Congratulations all!

I welcome comments and criticisms. I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com to help people transform their nature images into impressive works of art that they will be proud to either hang on their wall or give to a friend.

J. Michael Harroun©2012 NaturePhotoRehab.com

Digital Photography: Processing Is Not Cheating

“The important thing is this: to be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become.”   – Charles Dickens

Level of difficulty: beginners

Is image processing cheating? No.

  • Digital images are the result of processing the data generated from millions of red, blue and green pixels in the light sensor. Processing is actually a necessity in order for a digital photo to look realistic. Of course, processing can also be use to create an emotional response in the viewer such as ephemeral, moody, dramatic or old fashioned.
  • Over-processing produces a garish and unnatural appearance causing the viewer to ask “Is that what it really looked like?
  • Correct processing causes the viewer to say “Wow”.
  • Over 99% of all professional’s digital images are processed.

What is image processing?

  • the adjustment/manipulation of the data generated by the digital sensor when it is exposed to light. Some frequently adjusted properites of an image are contrast, color hue, saturation, brightness of highlights, darkness of shadows, white balance, sharpness, etc).
  • Processing is done in-camera immediately after the photo is taken to create jpg images.
  • If you do not direct the adjustments, you will have to accept a lot of guess work by your camera and its image editing software.

There are three main categories of image processing: in camera, raw converter and “post processing”. I will primarily address in-camera and raw converter processing today. Post-processing with full editing software, such as Photoshop will be covered in a future post.

In camera processing:  Within all digital cameras, there is a tiny computer processor. Unless a camera is set to record a “camera raw” file format, this processor modifies/adjusts the data generated by the digital sensor immediately after a photo is taken. If you are recording images in the jpg file format (image file name ends in .jpg), then you are using processed images. Your images are being processed within your camera. This processing is required to create a jpg file format image. If you do not adjust the camera’s default settings for creating a jpg image, then your camera has to make a lot of guesses about the lighting conditions present and about how you want your image to look. If you like the appearance of all your jpg photos already, then there is no reason to make any change. However, if some of your images look dull, flat or washed-out, then you will benefit from learning how to control at least some of your camera’s processing. It’s not as difficult as it sounds.  In fact the first stage is very easy.

How do I begin processing without being overwhelmed? Do just a little at a time. If possible, take at least 20 minutes every day or two to learn something new about the editing programs that you have (an editing program comes with every digital camera). Then take at least 10 minutes to experiment with one of your images with the information that you learned.

How to begin controlling the in-camera processing?

1) For in-camera processing of jpg images, begin using you camera’s program modes for landscape, portrait, night scenes, etc (Different manufacturers give these different names, but common names are picture styles or creative program modes). They are usually accessed either via a button on the back of the camera or with a wheel that has tiny pictures on it). These will allow you to use presets that your camera came with, so that you do not need to make all the changes by yourself initially.

  • “Standard” (auto) programs are for general use. They usually increase contrast mildly and color vividness (saturation) and sharpness moderately.
  • The landscape setting (usually with a picture of a mountain) will make blues (sky) and greens (grass and tree leaves) more vivid (more saturated), strongly increase sharpness for greater detail and use a small aperture width for maximal depth of focus.
  • Portrait mode will adjust color for better skin tones, add  little or no sharpness (for smooth skin) and use a medium width aperture so that the background is blurred (helping to keep one’s attention on the person).
  • Close up mode (usually with a picture of a flower) increases color saturation, increases sharpness and uses a wide aperture for fast shutter speed and blurring of foreground and background.
  • Other specific program modes or picture styles, such as night scenes or action/sports, make their own distinctive adjustments. Letting your camera know what type of picture you are taking, will help it to produce a more pleasing image.

2)  The reason to take greater control over the in-camera processing is to decrease the amount of guess work that your camera has to do about the style, composition and lighting of the image that you took. Also your camera will not have to guess about your personal preferences for your images (For instance, I like more contrast, saturation and sharpness than average). The goal is to create more realistic or evocative images, although it will allow you to have unusual or weird effects if you choose. Generally we want images that appear realistic to the viewer.

  • White balance: First, I recommend that you learn to set the white balance. I covered this in detail in my last post entitled “Photography: White Balance Essentials”. If you are not familiar with white balance, please check it out.
  • Contrast, saturation and sharpness: Find your camera’s settings for these image characteristics.  Usually they will be in the recording menu or the menu for “functions” or custom picture styles. (Often there is a button on the back of the camera that gets you quickly to these settings.  (Check your camera’s instruction manual).There, you can individually adjust contrast, color saturation, sharpness, color tone and perhaps some additional properties (depending upon your particular camera).  Begin by adjusting just one of these characteristics at a time. (The changes that you will make now will not affect your camera’s settings for the preset picture styles and creative program modes (landscape, portrait, close up, etc that I mentioned with in-camera processing-part 1, above).
  • Setting contrast: Low contrast gives a smooth, delicate, dreamy or flat appearance. High contrast increases depth of field, detail and texture. It also can give a more dramatic appearance to images. Take pictures of the same thing with different settings for contrast. Start with the lowest amount of contrast offered and work up to the maximal setting. Compare the images to see which you like best.  Make a note of it. (The very highest and lowest settings are likely to make it look weird, but sometimes you may want to make your images weird). You probably will like a different amount of contrast for landscapes than for portraits, than for night scenes, etc. You can add that information later. It’s a very good idea to keep a record or journal of the settings that you like. (In the past, whenever I have not written it down immediately, I have forgotten the result and have to do it all again.)
  • Saturation (vividness of colors):  Low saturation tends to give calm, delicate of dreamy feel to the images. Moderate saturation gives vivid colors and a dramatic feeling. High saturation tends to look garish and definitely unnatural. Take a photo of something at each of the settings offered by your camera from the lowest to highest option. Again compare the pictures to see which settings you like best for this particular type of photo and write it down. You can do this with other types of photos later to see whether you like different t settings for them.
  • Sharpening: Generally, low sharpening gives a smooth look to skin in portraits, less apparent texture and depth of field and helps with a calm or delicate feel. High amounts of sharpening bring out texture and depth of field. It is often used for landscapes or images with lots of detail (like leaves of a tree). But high levels of sharpening will ruin most images, so be judicious. High levels of sharpening create lots of artifacts (tiny circles called halos at the edges of things). Halo artifacts give a very unnatural appearance and cannot be removed once a jpg image is recorded. A very common error is to apply too much sharpening.

Images recorded in a jpg file format loose data each time they are opened. However images with a tiff file format are stable and do not loose information. It’s best to convert your jpg images to tiff images as soon as they are into your computer. (If you click on the “File” menu  and click “Save as”, you can change the file format to end with the letters .tiff. )

Raw converter processing is primarily for images recorded with a “camera raw” file format (CR2 for Canon, NEF for Nikon and other manufacturers have their own initials for this type of file). “Raw files” contain only the unprocessed data collected from the sensor when it was exposed to light (It is no more complicated than that). The advantage of using raw files are that they are durable. They do not loose information with repeated opening. Any editing changes applied to a raw file can be erased or replaced at any time. The adjustments do not alter the original image file. In this way, raw files are analogous to negatives in the film days of old.

  • All cameras that offer the option of a raw file format come with the software to edit those images (technically called a raw converter). Other programs, such as Photoshop and Photoshop Elements also contain raw converters.
  • Keeping with my recommendation that processing be learned a little at a time, start with adjusting two image characteristics: white balance and sharpness.
  • White balance: Even if you set the white balance prior to taking your photo, the color may not look just right to you when it is opened in the raw converter software. (It’s easiest to fix color if something in your photo is , or at least is supposed to be,  pure white. Find the drop down menu for white balance (usually toward the top of the screen or toolbar) and click on each option successively (sunny, shade, cloudy, etc) to see which gives the correct color. If none of these options gives a good resut, look for the eyedropper (white balance) tool and click on something that is supposed to be white. You may need to click on a couple of different places on the white object to get the best result. If nothing in your image is white, most programs allow you to click on something that is supposed to be neutral gray to determine white balance (It does not have to actually be neutral gray, just something that is supoosed to look newtral gray.
  • Sharpening: All raw images, require some sharpening to look good. This type of sharpening is safe for your image. For good results, try just a small amount of sharpening. If your program offers you a sharpening scale from neg 4 to +4, try +1 or +2. Check your image on the screen at 100% magnification to see if you like the result. If using Photoshop Elements raw converter, get to sharpening by clicking on the little tab with the triangle on it (just above white balance adjustmejnt). Then try amount 25 to 40, radius 1 and detail 25 (for images with lots of detail, like landscapes, movethe  detail slider up to 50). You do not need to do all the sharpening now. More sharpening is usually added later, after further  editing with a full feature program such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Lightroom.  That type of sharpening is destructive and needs to be done as the very last step of processing.
  • Gradually add additional settings after becoming comfortable with these two settings. Adding a little at a time, but frequently is the a great way to learn processing.

Post-processing with full edit software will be covered in a future post.

Comments, suggestions (and criticisms) are welcome.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com where I help people transform their nature images into impressive works of art that they are proud to give as a gift or to hang on their own wall for inspiration. I offer photo retouching, complex processing and enhancements, enlargements, prints (up to 12in x 18in) and framing.

2012©J. Michael Harroun  NaturePhotoRehab.com

 

Digital Photography: White Balance Essentials

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world — that is the myth of the atomic age — as in being able to remake ourselves.” – Gandhi

Today I am writing about “white balance”, an essential camera setting if you want accurate colors. White balance is a topic that intimidates many people just because they do not know what it means. It sounds as though it must be complicated. It is really not difficult.

Why is white balance so important? Your camera uses the white balance setting to determine the correct colors in your photo. If the white balance setting is not accurate, the colors in your image will not be accurate.  (Although the white balance can be corrected later with editing software, it is easier to get it correct at the time of capture.)

What is white balance? Few light sources provide pure white light. Blue sky gives a blue color cast to everything, particularly in shady areas. Most fluorescent lights give a greenish color cast. Tungsten bulbs give an orange cast. Flash lighting has its own color bias. Usually we are not aware of this because our brain filters out this extra information. We perceive something to be white that we expect should be white. Setting a white balance allows your camera to do a similar thing. The white balance setting allows your camera to counteract the color bias of the light source.

Can’t I just use auto white balance? Auto white balance allows your camera to guess what the light source is. It will often guess wrong. Then the colors in your image will also be wrong, unless you correct them with editing software.

White balance is easy to set. (I am referring here to “white balance setting”, not “white balance correction” which is something different). The white balance is so important that camera manufacturers make it easy to set. First, press the button or bar marked WB (for white balance) on the back of your camera. From the white balance ions, choose:

  • the sun for a subject in direct sunlight on with blue sky
  • the house with shade for a subject in shade with blue sky
  • the cloud for cloudy conditions
  • the light bulb for incandescent lighting
  • the light tube 1 for typical fluorescent lighting
  • the light tube 2 for “daylight” fluorescent lighting
  • the flash attachment or zigzag arrow is for flash lighting That’s all there is to it.
  • (The ramps under a plus sign are for custom white balance settings which most people do not use, but which are explained in the next paragraph.)
  • For most of the common image uses, that’s all there is to it.

After setting white balance on about 8 different occasions, most people find it so easy that they wonder why they did not do it sooner. One word of warning though. If you are not sure whether you will reset white balance at the beginning of your next shoot, set it back to auto white balance when you are done with this shoot. That way you will not accidentally have it set wrong next time.

If you use editing software regularly: The camera raw file format makes white balance adjustments easiest.  It is done in Camera Raw processing. If you do not like the results, you can always change it later (Camera raw changes do not change the original image data. Your processing changes can always be removed or replaced). If you shoot in the jpg file format, you can use editing software to remove the color cast, although it takes some guess-work on your part and the changes are permanent (So save the processed image with a different name so that your original will still be available to you).

For the perfectionist, custom white balance: Setting the white balance as described above provides  good enough color for most image uses, particularly if you plan to fine tune the white balance with editing software. However, lighting conditions are often complex.  For example, the blue color cast of a sunny sky varies with the time of day and angle of the sun. To accommodate this, you can use white balance bracketing (often hidden in the shooting menu) and choose the image that looks best. Many lighting conditions are more complex. Let’s say you are shooting a flower under a blue sky in the shade of a brown wall, next to a tree with green leaves. The color casts upon your flower are blue, brown and green. Accurately registering this with your camera requires setting a custom white balance. To do this, choose the “+” sign. Then (camera specifics vary a little here) take a photo of something that you want to be pure white. That’s all (with most cameras) that’s needed. (It’s a good idea to put a bright white card or paper in your camera bag for these situations.)

I hope this will be helpful to someone. I welcome comments, criticism and suggestions about this post and in reference to future blog topics.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com to assist clients in transforming common nature photos into uncommon works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

©2012 J. Michael Harroun  NaturePhotoRehab.com

Digital Photography: Optimum Exposure

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”  – Michael Jordan

For many years, Michael Jordan was, by far, the world’s best basketball player. He was capable of phenomenal physical maneuvers and accuracy previously thought to be impossible. That is why I find this quote so impressive, both for its humility and for its wisdom.

My last post was about thoughts and feelings. This post focuses on technique. Specifically, it explains how to get the best detail in the low light and shadow areas, and another adjustment for maximizing color detail in the highlights of your photos.

Digital sensor limitation: In a digital camera, the actual picture is taken by a sensor which is made of millions of pixels. It is these pixels that actually “see” the light. When bright light is falling on a pixel, much more information about the light is recorded than when it is being exposed to low light. As a result, hundreds of times more gradations of light are recorded from the bright areas of a digital photo than from the low light areas. As a result, shadows show relatively little detail.

Correcting for limited detail in darker areas:  There are two stages to the correction. First, slightly overexpose your initial image. Second, use your editing software to decrease the exposure an equal amount (if it appears too bright). You end up with an image correctly exposed, but with more detail in the low light areas and shadows.

A drawback to this overexposure technique is that gradations of color will be lost in the highlights, resulting in a blotchy appearance of very bright areas of color. If your primary interest is fine detail in color, please skip down to “Optimum exposure for color”.

Correction Stage 1: Controlled overexposure is the key. But how much overexposure is appropriate? (If there is too much overexposure, detail in the highlights will be lost or “blown out”). The precise amount of overexposure is determined by using the histogram (The dreaded histogram… but wait, don’t go. This is not terribly difficult).

A histogram is simply a graphic representation of the light that the sensor is “seeing”.  The histogram looks like a mountain range. The right side of the mountain range represents the brightest areas of your photo. The higher the peaks, the greater the number of pixels sensing bright light. (“The right is the bright”). Conversely, the left side represents the dark areas and shadows in the photo. The higher the peaks on this left side, the greater the numbers of pixels exposed to low light. (Since this histogram is representing light intensity, it is called a luminance histogram.)

How to display the histogram: All DSLR’s (of which I am aware) provide a histogram. Many, but not all, other types of digital cameras offer this feature (Check your camera’s operation’s manual). Most cameras display the histogram only in the playback mode. To have the histogram display, first go to the playback menu. Find histogram. Set it to on (If you have a choice between luminance and color histogram, choose luminance).  Now, playback any image so that it shows on the screen. If the histogram does not show on your screen, use the display options button (located on the camera back, usually near the screen and labeled “disp”) to cycle through the display options until the histogram shows . (If you have an option for a histogram display in your pre-shot viewfinder or “live view” screen, it can usually be turned on in the recording menu. You can make your adjustments directly without using the playback mode).

Determining correct overexposure: (For most lighting conditions, exposure compensaton is going to be +1/3 to +2/3 stops). We will be moving the mountain peaks of your histogram toward the right, approaching the far right end of the baseline, without going so far that any of them abruptly disappear.

  • Turn on automatic playback so that your image shows on the screen immediately after your shot is taken.
  • With exposure compensation set to zero, take a photo in your usual manner.
  • In playback mode, check the histogram for your image.
  • If the peaks on the right end of your histogram do not extend almost completely to the far right side of the baseline, then set exposure compensation up by +1/3 to +1/2 stop.
  • Repeat the same shot. Again check the histogram.
  • The peaks will extend somewhat more to the right (If they extend almost to the far right end of the baseline, then you are done with this stage). If there is still a lot of black space between your peaks and the far right baseline, set exposure compensation up another +1/3 to +1/2 stop.
  • Repeat the shot and check histogram again.  (Probably you are done now, but repeat if needed).
  • For most lighting conditions, in my experience, an exposure compensation adjustment of +2/3 stop is correct.
  • Here are two tips for remembering  this technique.  First, “The bright is on the right”. Second, “Moving (the histogram) to the right” is abbreviated Mttr, pronounced “Meter” as in light meter)
  • The above technique gives you correct exposure for that specific subject and lighting condition. Whenever lighting conditions change, check your histogram and, again, adjust exposure compensation with this technique.
  • A word of warning: Do not set it and forget it. Re-evaluate exposure for every new lighting condition.

Correction Stage 2: This is done with your editing software. Any editing program will work for this. It does not need to be elaborate (The program that came with your camera will work fine). Open the image that you just overexposed (If you like the way it looks, you can skip this stage).  If you image appears too bright, slide the exposure slider to the left to decrease exposure by the same amount that you increased it when taking your photo. (While you have your editing program open, you may wish to adjust white balance, contrast or any other parameter that improves the appearance your image)

Results: Now you have an image with correct exposure, but with more detail in the darker areas and shadows than it would have had.

Optimum exposure for color: A drawback of the above (luminance) overexposure technique is that fine gradations of color will be lost in the highlights, resulting in a blotchy appearance of the color in these areas.  For best detail in color highlights, an image usually needs to be underexposed a small amount. To determine the appropriate amount underexposure, use the color histogram, not the luminance histogram.  (If your camera does not offer a color histogram, I recommend “guesstimating” with exposure compensation of -1/3 in subdued lighting and of -2/3 in brightly lit conditions). Color histogram display during playback is usually set in the same way that the luminance histogram was set above (Set it in the playback menu and also with the display options button on the back of the camera).

  • Take a shot with exposure compensation zero. Check the color histogram.
  • Probably at least one color will extend all the way to the far right end of the baseline and abruptly cut off (No black area between the tips or all the colors and the far right baseline).  If that is what you see, decrease exposure compensation by 1/3 to 1/2 stop. (If the color channels approach, but do not abruptly disappear off the far right side of the baseline, then your exposure (for color) is correct already.
  • Repeat your same shot and again check the histogram.
  • If any color channel still abruptly cuts off at the far right, decease exposure compensation another 1/3 to 1/2 stop.
  • Probably you have good results by now, but repeat this procedure once more if needed.
  • Generally the correct amount of underexposure will be -1/2 to -2/3 stop.
  • Your color highlights will now be the best that your camera can offer.
  • However, whenever lighting conditions change, re-evaluate the histogram and adjust exposure compensation if needed.
  • A word of warning: Do not set it and forget it. Re-evaluate exposure for every new lighting condition.

I welcome comments, corrections and suggestions for future blog topics.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com to assist clients with transforming their images into impressive works of art that they will be proud to either hang on their own wall or to give as a gift.

J. Michael Harroun(c)2012  NaturePhotoRehab.com

Photography: Wonderful Confusion

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”  – Niels Bohr

I love  learning new facts about Nature. Obviously it is far to complex to be fully known or understood. In spite of this, I tend to drift into an illusion that all the important scientific facts are already known. Then, something new is discovered.  Recently five  new animal species were  found in  the rainforest of New Guinea. What? All these years of scientists and explorers poking around and researching, and they have not yet found all of the animal species here on earth.? Wow! That’s cool!

Several years ago two new species of  microorganisms were found near the top of a volcano in South America. Their respiration utilizes sulfur. That is unique. The respiration of all other plants and animals involves oxygen, carbon dioxide and water. No one knew that sulfur could be a basic component of respiration. Men have walked on the moon. Lots of facts are known  about black holes and  quarks. Yet we had not known all the types of respiration of earth organisms.  That’s cool!.

My personal  “find” yesterday was something new to me (No, not a new species).  It was a beautiful flower of which  I had never heard (Celosia).  I looked at it admiringly. Is this whole thing a flower? Or is much of it tiny modified leaves? A bracken? Hairs? Modified spines?  Or is it some type of fern?  Oh, wait! Those are the flowers, tiny and few. I still don’t understand what these brilliant spires are. But at least I know where its flowers are. How cool!

Some may ask what this has to do with photography. For me, photography is about becoming more aware. It is a matter of developing an “in the moment” awareness of, not only the things that I know and expect; but, even more importantly, an openness to the unknown and unexpected. What is even better, I get to touch it with my hand or study it with my eyes and photograph it with my heart. This is great! What a wonderful confusion!

I used to believe that I should know all the answers. Now I am content just to be alert and aware; just to know some of the questions.

I welcome comments and suggestions.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com assisting clients to transform their photos into works of art that they are either proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

Photography – Becoming a Professional

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn! Look to this Day! For it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all the Verities and Realities of your Existence.  – Kalidasa

A frequent question in photography groups is “What does it take to become a professional photographer?” That is best answered with a question in return. “Do you realize that a professional shoots what is interesting to another person or company, when that person wants it done”? Gone are the days of shooting what interests you, and when you are in the mood.

However, a condensed list of requirements follows:

1) strong marketing skills (and lots of time and energy to utilize them).

2)  Professional equipment (expensive!) and willingness to forgo all of the other things that could have been purchased.

3) Excellent technique (and the time and money necessary to achieve it)

4) Five years, more or less.  However, I do know of an account executive in New York who abruptly quit his job and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to support himself as a photographer. He does not recommend this approach for most people, although he did succeed.

5) Shoot what you love. Learn to effectively convey your feelings to other people through your images. The owner of a stock photography agency told me that he thinks these are primary keys to success.

Becoming a professional photographer has always been a long and rigorous journey because of the amount of competition.  With the advent of quality, affordable digital camera and lenses, it has become 1,000 times more difficult than it was 20 years ago.

However the principle determinants of financial success remain the same.

1) Frequent attendance of workshops put on by successful professional photographers who are also effective teachers

3) Ongoing mentoring by a successful, established photographer

4) Practice honing one’s skills by shooting and processing . In one survey, the average number of photographs taken and edited per day by the better professionals was 40.

5) Study for development of new skills for both photography its self and for processing.

6) Find a niche. I know of one lady in Taos, New Mexico who has supported herself and her family for years by shooting only cooked food dishes for restaurants, magazines, etc. She has only one camera and only one lens. Her “studio” is her kitchen. A more complex, and probably more practical, niche could be some combination of tilt-shift lenses, focus stacking, high dynamic range (HDR), panoramas, mosaics and composites of photographs and illustrations.

Although 5 years of dedicated work is a rough rule of thumb, the time can be greatly shortened by attending a school such as Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California. At Brooks, a typical single week’s schedule is likely to include 3-5 projects. Each project includes, planning, arranging for props, models, lighting and specialty equipment, shooting, processing, printing and presentation.  It’s rigorous, but upon graduation, many are offered (low-level) jobs.

When starting out, a professional photographer’s jobs are likely to be mundane and income meager. One might be shooting for a seed catalog or for K-mart junk mail or an oil refinery. For many years Ansell Adams supported himself by shooting dams and bridges for a railroad company. Induced Chaos Photography (inducedchaos.com) points out, correctly, that professionals must consistently produce high quality results day in and day out, regardless of how they are feeling or whether they are interested in the subject of the shoot.

Having effective marketing skills is essential for developing an income stream. Many people take classes in marketing. Early in one’s career, it is common to spend more time on marketing than on the photography itself.

Peter Lik is a dramatic example of the importance of marketing. Peter is a self-taught landscape photographer.   He used a panoramic film camera and perfect technique with which he generated wonderful nature photographs. His work was distinctive because film panorama landscapes were rare. Peter was an adventurer and individualist with no interest in marketing. As a result, his income was so low that he lived out of his car for 35 years. Several years ago he teamed up with a high-powered marketing firm. Currently he has over 14 galleries, each selling (huge) framed enlargements for $ 8,000 to $15,000. (His most expensive photograph is a multi-paneled mural the size of a large wall. It sells for $ 50,000. Last year he began a successful reality TV series (The Weather Channel-TWC) entitled From the Edge with Peter Lik. Wow! That demonstrates the power of marketing when your product is high quality.

In conclusion, the best advice for the budding professional photographer is “Follow your heart, but don’t give up your day job”.

I hope this will be helpful to someone. I welcome comments, criticism and suggestions for future blog topics.

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com assisting clients in transforming their nature photos into works of art that they are proud to give as gifts or to hang on their own wall for inspiration.

©2012 J. Michael Harroun  NaturePhotoRehab.com