Wonderful photographers: Mabry Campbell recommends Wyman Meinzer

Mabry Campbell is an exceptionally talented photographer. He blogged that he goes for inspiration to this video of Wyman Meinzer’s wonderful nature photography. So I checked it out. It is tremendous. I particularly like the second half of the video for its drama and energy. I highly recommend this video, as do I Mabry Campbell and his impressive photography which can be seen at mabrycampbell.com.

Mabry Campbell Photo Blog

This is my GO TO video when I need a little inspiration. Wyman Meinzer is the official photographer of The State of Texas (pretty cool title!). I know you will find his photography awe-inspiring. Enjoy his West Texas is a hundred or so photographs in 4 minutes!!

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Christmas Sunset Surprise

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Grace means more than gifts. In grace something is transcended, once and for all overcome. Grace happens in spite of something; it happens in spite of separateness and alienation. Grace means that life is once again united with life, self is reconciled with self. Grace means accepting the abandoned one. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful vocation. It transforms guilt to trust and courage. The word grace has something triumphant in it.  – Yrjo Kallinen

(This is my first post using my new writing style. I call it “grammar and punctuation don’t matter”. It is part of my plan to post more frequently by spending less time on each individual post. As I write this, it does not sound like a good idea to sacrifice quality for volume. However, not to be inconvenienced by logic, I am going to try it.)

On Christmas day, the sky was heavily overcast. There had been rain the night before.  I expected that there would be no visible sunset. However I also knew that some of the most spectacular sunsets occur as the sky is clearing after bad weather. An hour before sunset, the sky was clearing a little on the other side of the mountain range, about 10 miles away toward the west. Not expecting to find anything worth photographing, I went to a spot with a panoramic view of the sky and mountain range. The sun then set uneventfully (no color), hidden behind clouds.  However, five minutes after the actual setting of the sun, the overcast condition quickly broke up, and the sky became bright gold in front of me plus overhead, to the sides and behind me. Then the sky turned pink briefly and faded away. Wow! I could not capture the entire amount of sky involved. To include as much sky as possible, I took several series of images for panoramic composites.

My willingness to take the camera to what I expected to be a “no show” sunset, led to experiencing one of the top ten sunsets of my life. This caused me to think about other aspects of successful sunset photography.

  • Go often: The majority of sunsets will not be impressive.  However, if you are not there, you cannot get images of the great sunsets when they do occur. (I am still unable to predict whether a sunset will be exceptional).
  • Arrive early: Sun rays coming through clouds (traditionally called “God rays” by photographers) can be most prominent up to an hour before the sun actually sets. Plus, arriving early will allow you to scout out good locations and foreground subjects.
  • Stay late: The best color (pink and red) often occur 20 to 25 minutes after the sun sets.
  • Bring a tripod: Exposures of the last pink or red can be several seconds in duration.
  • The most dramatic sunsets occur when the weather is changing, particularly when bad weather is moving out.
  • Unless a sunset is spectacular, include a foreground object. The easiest way to do this is with the foreground object is as a silhouette. If a silhouette is not used, correct exposure for both this object and the sky simultaneously requires either a neutral density filter or bracketed exposures used for high dynamic range (HDR) processing. (HDR processing is the technique that I personally like. It is surprisingly easy. First bracket your exposure for 3 frames in increments of 1 to 2 stops. Then process them with software such as Photomatix from http://www.hdrsoft.com which offers a free trial of their software. This is a good starting point for shooting HDR, although this technique, to be mastered, is very complex.)

Image processing:

  • I processed the original RAW  format images in Photoshop Elements raw converter.
  • Brightness, vibrance and clarity were added.
  • Noise, both luminance and color, were reduced.
  • A tiny bit of sharpening was added.

Here is the result on a single frame.

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Although improved via raw converter processing, the images (like the single frame above), the color is a little dull and the lighting a little flat. Therefore, after generating a panorama using Photoshop Elements panorama tool, I used Nik ColorEfx Pro4 (once again, to the rescue). I used a little Pro Constrast and a little Color Range Contrast with good results.

Finally, I sharpened via Nik Sharpener Pro 3.0 (which I love). The final composite is the image at the top of this post. It is made from 7 images taken from side to side with the camera in a vertical orientation and a one third overlap between frames.

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

 

I am available at my photo enhancement website (NaturePhotoRehab.com) to assist clients with transforming their 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.

J. Michael Harroun ©2013  NaturePhotoRehab.com

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

La Jolla Sunset and a Lesson Learned (Again!!) `

“One has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”  Bessie Stanley

Recently I have been photographing primarily skies, particularly sunsets. They wake me up and give me inspiration. I have some wonderful images, but have been not posted any because I was too busy to write my usual “article” for a post. Therefore I have posted nothing recently. During this time I have been increasingly reminded that it is better to “something” well rather than to do “nothing” perfectly. In other words, the Best can be the enemy of the Good. After all, it is only I who knows what my initial intentions were, and that I did not complete them. This is a lesson that I am continually “learning” again and again. Now I will remember to put it into practice (for a while).

The sunset above is in La Jolla, California earlier this month. It is a panoramic composite of 5 vertical images (done in Photoshop Elements) and processed in Nik Photo Efex4. I love both programs and recommend them. (For the person just starting out with photo enhancement processing, I recommend buying a older version of Photoshop Elements, such as version 8 (the newest is version 11). It has impressive capabilities, but a low purchase price on eBay. No good manual comes with the program. I strongly recommend also getting “The Photoshop Elements 8 Book for Digital Photographers”.

So at this point I click “Publish”. Ahhh…  I feel much better.

I welcome your comments.

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

Photography: Auto Exposure

“It doesn’t matter how long we may have been stuck in a sense of our limitations. If we go into a darkened room and turn on the light, it doesn’t matter if the room has been dark for a day, a week, or ten thousand years — we turn on the light and it is illuminated. Once we control our capacity for love and happiness, the light has been turned on.”  – Sharon Salzberg

Recommended blog site: Accepting the risk that no one will come back to read the remainder of this post, I highly recommend basilbloginc.wordpress.com. Basil is on safari and has dramatic photos and captivating narratives (zebras, giraffes, and migrating wildebeests).

My last post concerned two exposure adjustments (increasing illumination detail in the shadows and color detail in the highlights) which require processing in editing software. This post is for the many photographers who do not process their images with a computer.

Modern auto exposure (AE) systems are amazingly accurate throughout a wide range of lighting conditions. However, there are situations that are beyond their ability. Here, I will describe how to adjust for lighting conditions with which auto exposure systems have problems.

Correct exposure is crucially important because most digital sensors are capable of capturing only 5-6 stops of illumination in any one frame. The majority of cameras have only the 5 stop range which is a difference of 32 times as much light in the shadows as in the highlights. Therefore, if the highlights are more than 32 times brighter than the darkest shadows, then either the highlights will be blown out (completely white) or the shadows will be completely black. For comparison, with both midday sunlight and dark shadows within a scene, the highlights are thousands of times brighter than the darkest shadows.

Auto exposure limitations: Most photographs are made up of predominantly middle tones with some highlights and some shadows. To accommodate this, auto exposure (AE) systems attempt to get as much of the scene as possible to be mid-tone (specifically 18% gray).  Usually this works out fine. However, predominantly bright or predominantly dark scenes are not properly exposed. If your scene is mostly bright, auto exposure will exposure your scene to be middle gray. Thus a landscape of direct sun on fresh snow will have gray snow. If the scene is overall dark, auto exposure will produce an image lightened to middle gray. A black bear in a thick forest at dusk will be gray. (These examples assume that the camera’s auto exposure is set to assess all of its different auto exposure areas within the frame, called evaluative auto exposure).

Assisting the auto exposure system: To get correct exposure of these predominantly bright or dark scenes, you can tell your camera (before taking the shot) that you want the image of the snowy scene to be brighter than usual. This is done by adjusting the exposure compensation. (Most cameras have a button on the back or top that allows easy access to the exposure compensation function, usually marked “+/-“).

To get proper exposure of a bright scene, set exposure compensation to a positive (+) number. For a somewhat bright scene, such as direct sunlight on a light color dog in front of beige fence, start with exposure compensation +1/3 to +2/3 and adjust from there if needed.  For direct sunlight on sand, start with exposure compensation set at +1, and then adjusts if needed. For direct sun on fresh snow, set exposure compensation to +1  and 1/2 to +2.

Conversely, for dark scenes, indicate to your camera that you want a darker than average image, by setting exposure compensation to a negative (-) number. For a black dog in front of a dark green fence in shadow, start with exposure compensation of -1/3 to -2/3. For the deep red of the sky 15 minutes after sunset, try exposure compensation of -1.  For a black bear in shadow in a thick forest start with exposure compensation of -1 and 1/2.

Trouble shooting auto exposure – Basics. If you are following the above procedure and still get incorrect exposure, first check the basics.

  • Is auto exposure turned on?
  • Is it set to assess the area of the frame that you are interested in? (It may not have been reset after a recent adjustment)
  • Is exposure compensation telling your camera to vary from its usual exposure calculation? (Again, it may not have been reset after you last adjusted it.
  • Is auto exposure lock enabled, blocking the camera from assessing exposure independently for each frame?
  • Is some option turned on that overrides exposure compensation, flash compensation or manual exposure settings? For example, the Canon Rebel T2i has a feature that automatically corrects brightness and contrast for jpg images (Auto Lighting Optimizer). Its default setting is “On” (“Standard”). This option may partially override your exposure compensation and manual exposure settings when they are set to produce a darker image. This could produce a brighter image than you are expecting. (It affects only jpg, not raw, images.) This is a helpful feature for people who never adjust exposure downward themselves. However, I recommend disabling this feature if you do. However, for people who adjust exposure compensation themselves, I recommend disabling this feature for standard shooting. Enable it just when appropriate.  5) Do you have viewfinder light leak? This applies only to DSLR’s.  This type of camera has a mirror which, in its normal position, prevents light that comes into the camera through the viewfinder from reaching the sensor. However, just before the shutter opens, the mirror pops up and away from the sensor. With the mirror up, any light entering your viewfinder will provide the sensor with more light than was predicted based on “through the lens” illumination. . This can be a problem whenever bright light falls upon the viewfinder, but particularly when direct sunlight is on the viewfinder.  The greatest change/error is exposure occurs when initial exposure was determined while the eye was blocking much of the light from reaching the sensor, but when the photographer moves back just prior to the shot, allowing direct sunlight to fall upon the viewfinder. Before dismissing this as arcane and insignificant, consider that Canon DSLR’s come with a viewfinder cover attached to the shoulder strap (It’s easy to overlook this small black rectangular cover).

When only the main subject needs to be properly exposed: The examples discussed above assume that you have the auto exposure system set to assess all of its possible auto exposure areas within the frame (full evaluative metering).  However, there are occasions when the lighting varies so much that not all of the frame can be properly exposed. Thus we choose our main area/subject of interest to be well exposed and let the remainder of the frame go over/under exposed (such as when you take a photo of a groom in a blue tux that is standing in front of a bright white canopy).

When only a portion of the frame can be properly exposed, there are three common options offered by most cameras: partial, center-weighted and spot metering. Partial metering determines exposure based solely only the central area of the frame. Use this when you want correct exposure for  a fairly large subject (without caring whether the background turns out very bright or  dark (For example,  you may want your light brown dog to be properly exposed, regardless of whether the background is very bright or dark) . If your subject is not in the center of the frame, point the center of the frame at your subject and press the shutter button half way down. This establishes exposure appropriate for your subject. While still holding the button half way down, recompose the image, then shoot. Many cameras have, in addition, a button that will keep the auto exposure unchanged while you recompose. This (auto exposure {AE} lock button) is usually located on the camera back (may be marked with an asterisk).  When this is pressed, the current exposure settings are locked in until the shutter button is pressed. Thus, the shutter release button does not need to continuously held half way down to keep the exposure compensation from changing settings.  This is particularly useful for tripod work. In some cameras, AE lock applies only to this one frame. In other cameras, its effect carries over to subsequent frames until it is turned off (With this “carryover type”, don’t forget to turn it off when finished).

Center weighted auto exposure metering: A second way to limit the amount of the frame that auto exposure assesses, is called center weighted metering. In this case, exposure is calculated by giving the central area of the frame priority. However, instead of ignoring the remainder of the frame as with partial metering, the remainder of the frame is changed by a smaller amount than is the center. This would be useful when you are primarily interested in properly exposing a central subject, but do not want the background to be way too bright or dark. An example would be a flower photo with a main subject and additional flowers within a bright background. You do not want the background flowers to be blown out (grossly overexposed). Center weighted exposure is a good choice here.

Spot metering: This determines exposure based exclusively on a smaller central portion of the frame than is utilized by either partial or center weighted metering. This is great for a main subject that occupies only a small portion of the frame. For example, let’s say you are at the zoo, ready to photograph a leopard that is 20 feet away from you. If you spot meter with the very center of the frame on the leopard, it will be properly exposed regardless of whether the background is bright or dark.

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

I am available at NaturePhotoRehab.com to assist clients in transforming their nature photos into impressive 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

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.

Expanded depth of focus: Philosophy

dahl red c stamens cropped shp copyrt“Keep close to Nature’s heart. Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. ” John Muir

One limitation of film photography is that only a portion of the subject or scene is precisely in focus. One of the marvels of digital photography is its ability to allow portions of multiple images to composite into a final image that is more fully in focus and more life-like. Expanded depth of focus is such a technique. After taking multiple similar images with the depth of focus being the only variable, only the precisely focused portions of each photo are combined into a final image in which everything, or at least as much as is wanted, is crisply in focus.

My blog post from July 16 is an introduction to this technique. Here, I describe the some of the attitudes and states of mind that I have found highly effective for happiness and success with this type of photography. I welcome others comments, suggestions and additional thoughts.

Appreciating the moment is, for me, the key to happiness with all of my photography. I usually hurry around oblivious to the details of the miraculous nature around me. Photography not only allows, but requires, me to slow down and pay attention to the details of my surroundings. The more aware I am of the sun, breeze, colors, textures, shapes, sounds and smells around me, the more I feel  alive and connected  to  the magic that is nature.  Having achieved that feeling of fulfillment, getting usable results from my shoot is just like the sprinkles on the frosting of the cake. I’m serious about this. One day I spent 2 ½ hours shooting multiple series of freshly cut hibiscus. I realized that I may not have waited long enough for the pistils and stamens to have fully regained their original shape. I knew that any further change of shape during the shooting of each series would produce enough change of position on the sensor to render it unusable for a composite. However, I was feeling alive and connected to my surroundings. I ended up throwing out 150 frames, having only the last series usable. But I truly felt only happiness and satisfaction regarding my morning’s shooting experience.

 The two goals: When I begin each shoot, I have only two goals in mind. The first is not to damage any of my equipment. The second is to be alert and aware of the incredible intricacy that is nature. 

 Mountain climber’s deliberateness:  When moving around the camera, tripod, focusing rail and lens, it is easy to bump one of these. This is particularly likely when unlocking, adjusting and relocking the focusing rail or when leaning forward-looking for small movement of the subject due to wind. It is easy to bump some part of the equipment. A light bump may move the tripod imperceptibly, but enough to change the position of your subject on the sensor, making the remainder of the series unusable. Also, when manipulating the focusing rail, I often simultaneously support the camera with my other hand, particularly when the focusing rail is extended or when the camera is in a vertical position. If I touch the lens’s focusing ring/collar even lightly, the focus of the remainder of the series is likely to be way off. To avoid trouble, movements must be thoughtful and deliberate. I have a picture in my mind of a mountain or rock climber, half way up a steep granite cliff. On a single outing, the climber makes thousands of decisions regarding hand or foot placement or weight shifts.  It takes only one mistake out of the thousands of decisions to produce a slip, a slide or even a serious fall. The climber must be continually alert, thoughtful and deliberate in order to succeed. Similarly, it takes only one large mistake out of hundreds of decisions to render a set of images unusable for a successful composite. (Luckily, however, few people have sustained serious injury as a result of a mistake while shooting images for expanded depth of focus.)  I call this mountain climbers deliberateness. It has decreased my errors greatly.

 Patience is crucial, particularly for outdoor shooting. It’s possible for the smallest movement of air to move some part of a. This can also occur indoors due to air circulation and ventilation ducts. If I’m impatient and accept frames that might have movement, I usually end up without enough good frames for a good composite. I must be willing to wait until I’m certain that there is no movement of the subject or anything touching any portion of the support of the subject. Here I am referring to movement of a nearby flower, leaf or stem which is in contact with my flower, its leaf or stem. This can mean, at times, taking 35 min to shoot 45 frames. If I take of shot that I think might have had movement, I delete that frame and . It’s not worth the risk of sacrificing the whole series.   

Hurrying usually wastes my time. Although I get quicker results, often these results are unusable for successful composites.  

 Start small and gradually enlarge your subject.  I started with and recommend using smallish subjects initially. For instance, a pansy, rose bud or small geranium is going to be less complicated and, initially, more likely to succeed than a large iris or rhododendron.

 Start too close and end to deep. In order not to accidentally miss the point of closest focus, I recommend starting with an initial frame which has its focus 1-3 focal increments closer to you than the subject.Although not as important to the success of the composite, I also recommend going deeper than the deepest area of focus that you want. It’s always better to take some unnecessary shots, than to come away with 90% of a great series. Since you are there and all set up, this takes only a little time. I consider it cheap insurance.   

  My website for nature image retouching, processing, enlargements and framing is NaturePhotoRehab.com. I specialize in transforming people’s dull and listless images into dramatic works of art that a person is proud to hang on their wall or give as a gift.

 I hope that some of this has been useful to someone. I welcome individual comments and questions.