Sunday, January 25, 2009

A great companion book for every digital photographer

If you are looking for a good companion book for digital photography and Photoshop, Scott Kelby's The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers (Voices That Matter)definitely fits the bill. It is my only Photoshop reference book and has been instrumental in helping me master a couple of the Photoshop tools I use frequently. An excellent "How To" book, it is written for both Mac and PC users.

This book covers in detail many new and exciting Adobe Photoshop CS2 techniques for digital photographers:

• The sharpening techniques the pros really use (there's an entire chapter on, just this!)

• The pros tricks for fixing the most common digital photo problems fast!

• The step-by-step set-up for getting what comes out of your printer to match exactly what you saw on screen

• The retouching secrets of how the pros retouch portraits

• How to process raw digital camera images (plus how to take advantage of all the new Camera Raw features of CS2!)

• How to color correct any photo without breaking a sweat (you'll be amazed at how easy it is–once you know the secret) and more.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Indoor Event Photography-Always a Challenge

Just wanted to get this link posted first as I have gotten a lot of questions on it:
If you have a limited budget and want to take better photoggraphy, where do you start?

Ok, now on Event Photography. Someone from LinkedIn who had trouble getting good shots at event photography asked me if I would recommend a few camera lens that would be more suitable and what I would do differently-a tip or two. She was using her 50mm and her 70-200mm lens handheld, and her shots had all come out "trail-marked" as she puts it.

Event photography is always challenging for photographers because one has to deal with insufficient light, distance if one can't get close to podium, any motion on stage of the subject and if there is light, the type of lighting and if so making sure the white balance is set correctly. In most cases, flash is not allowed once the event has commenced.

If one could get close to the podium, within a 6-10ft, and assuming the podium/stage is sufficiently lit then a 50mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.4 or a 100mm f/2 (depending on what you are shooting) on a monopod or tripod should do the job. Another thing I would do is set the camera to take at least 3 frames in succession so you don't miss any shot.

If you can't get close to the podium, and the podium is sufficiently lit, then the most suitable lens in my opinion is the Canon 100mm f/2. It is lighter than the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS (it is heavy and you would stil need a tripod collar for the white lens which would add further to the weight). Definitely still use a tripod otherwise there is no chance of getting a decent shot in an indoor event. I know of music event photographers who are extremely happy with their 100mm f/2. It is fast lens, it is not heavy, it is inconspicious as compared to the signature white lens

"Trailmarked" or "light streaks" are a result of slow shutter speed (not enough light, or camera shake, or a combination of the two). The shutter speed is not fast enough to freeze any slight motion of the subject. As a rule of thumb, you want to be shooting at shutter speed no less than the focal length of your camera lens if you don't have a tripod: so no less than 1/60 with a 50mm f/1.8 and no less than 1/125 on a 100mm f/2 lens.

If the above still doesn't give you a decent shot, then the only solution is to get upfront, where you have light and ask the subject to pose for a shot beforehand :) or ask for permission to use flash.

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Get it at Bhphotovideo or at or Amazon

The 100mm f/2 lens is also available for Nikon SLR. I have always preferred prime lens over my zoom lens whenever possible for the simple reason that what you give up in flexibility you get back plenty back in image quality not mentioning that prime lens are so much less expensive than comparable zoom. Using prime lens forces me to think more, compose with my feet and do photography in the ways of the Grand Masters when all they had were the old pancake lens and a 35mm or 50mm in the case of Pentax and look at those wonderful timeless photos from the Great Depression!!.

Monday, January 19, 2009

HDR Photography

High contrast scenes present great challenges to photographers and cameras sensors (and film media). The meter in our digital camera can only meter what it sees which is the "average" tone in terms of light/tone and colors. Without a good understanding of exposure and a clever use of filters (ND filters specifically), the resulting image will often be over or underexposed and flat leaving the average photographer exasperated.

Aspiring photographers have all been teased by the vibrant imagery we see on Calendars and Photography Books, we yearn to be able to also create these beautiful images. That day has finally arrived (well, sort of) with the advent of HDR High Dynamic Range photography - the new kid on the block, the latest obcession if you will. A new genre in digital photography is indeed here. In simple terms, HDR technique combines tonal properties at each end of the spectrum to produce a very rich and vibrant imagery. For a start, one has to take three identical images of the same scene/object: one at the set exposure, one overexposed and one underexposed. The easiest way to accomplish this is to set the camera on AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing) so the camera would take three shots: one at 0 on your meter scale, and the second shot at -2.0 and the third at +2.0. Because you need the three images to be taken from the same spot, a sturdy tripod and a wireless remote are essential to reduce camera shake.

Once you have the three bracketed images, you will need the help of a HDR software to put that tonal details together seamlessly. One such software is Photomatix. A trial version can be downloaded here at Photomatix. There is a PC and Mac version. It is a standalone software but a plug in is available for Photoshop. The trial version does not expire so long as you can put up with the watermark across your finished image. The price for the license is $99 and in my opinion it is well worth the investment if you plan to do a lot of landscape and high contrast scenes. Good way to test the software and see the end result and decide if this is your kind of art.

My first go at HDR tone-mapping - Evening at a city park shrouded in thick fog, shot at ISO 400

The software is extremely easy to use and accepts RAW files from my Canon 10D. Just drag the three image files and if you select the default settings, the software will do the rest. I would have preferred to shoot at ISO 100 but the thick fog meant I had to keep my shutter open for over 20 sec which would be really pushing it. Nevertheless, I was happy with the result. HDR works best with bright imagery but that is not a hard and fast rule, it is always good to experiment and find your own style.

I found a collection of beautiful HDR images at 17 beautiful HDR images

Did a search on Amazon for books on HDR Photography and found a handful of books written about HDR photography. One with high marks is:

Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Digital Photography
by Ferrell McCollough (Author)

"It’s the latest and hottest technique, made possible only through digital. High Dynamic Range photography is the process of taking several pictures of a scene at various exposures, then merging them into one file. So the entire photo can look crisp and detailed, from highlights to midtones to shadows—and photographers needn’t sacrifice any part of their image. And the best way to master this exciting technology is with this thorough, easy-to-follow, and visually spectacular guide. No other title does justice to these cutting-edge techniques, which actually take the viewer into worlds far beyond normal photography—sometimes even beyond normal human perception. Ferrell McCollough, a widely respected photographer, pushes the boundaries and inspires others to pursue their artistic vision, too. The amazing results simply can’t be achieved any other way."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Setting up my shot

Photography is a great avocation. I am happiest when I have my camera around my neck. Learn to see the light in ways others can't and it will make a lot of difference in how that image is going to turn out in the end.

It is all about exploring and experimenting. Look for interesting subject, unusual light and shoot from a different angle even if that means going down on my knees for a different perspective. I am reminded of what I learned in one of my photography class - that when one first arrives at a location, to not snap way but rather spend time surveying the place for unique angle, interesting light - sizing and soaking up the image in your head....before you click that shutter.

Wrote an article a little while back on how to get started in photography if one has a limited budget. The article is here and at Helium if you wish to read more.

Enjoy and happy shooting.

A few interesting read on photography:
Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition)
John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide
John Shaw's Landscape Photography

A Slow Day

Today is one of those days when my mind is blank, figuratively speaking. I jumped out of bed this morning wanting to make today a productive one but it has been slow. This always happens when my schedule is turned upside down due to something I can't control - "external circumstances". - the rain and lots of it this past week in western Washington. There was so much rain for 3 days and I mean steady rain for 72 hours, ponds appeared all around the apartment. It was as if we had a monsoon rain that refused to go away. We had planned to drive south to the Bay Area yesterday evening but a 20 mile stretch of I-5 between Olympia and Portland was shut down late Wednesday due to heavy flooding. It had only just re-opened Thursday evening. Needless to say it is congested as traffic had backed up while people waited out the storm. Our schedule would only permit that we drive during the weekend so we decided that instead of turning the 12 hour journey into a 16 hour one, we shall make the trip next weekend instead.

I am so ready for sunshine, can't wait to go out to the coast in California to do some photography. I also have a Programming class at Stanford that is starting Tuesday which I will have to skip and I hate skipping class. The cold in the Pacific Northwest does not bother me as much as the rain and overcast sky. The gloomy weather does take much getting used to.

Now some happy thoughts:
Photo downloads at the start of the year has picked up, hopefully that is a sign of what 2009 will bring. I could be overly optimistic here given the depressed economic climate. I was able to pen down a rather long list of topics for my articles while sitting in a Starbucks last week. The story of the children's book I plan to write is taking shape- finally. I can't wait to learn some studio lighting techniques, that will be the best investment I ever make.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Create A Photo Blog

If you are an aspiring photographer, and you are researching for a good way to showcase your work. A photo blog is a good way to start. As for tips on how to get started on your photo blog, take a look at the book by Catherine Jamieson. It was my very first book on blogging and definitely has some good ideas on how to approach your blog project. The book also has some great photography as well. It is a book I refer to a lot and it is well worth the read.

Create Your Own Photo Blog
by Catherine Jamieson

"Whether you seek to showcase a professional portfolio or just want your family across the continent to see the pictures from the reunion, you can do it with a photo blog. Catherine Jamieson, whose award-winning blog, Utata, has a legion of fans, gives you all the tools you need in this richly illustrated, full-color guide. She translates Web lingo, walks you through setting up your blog, and provides professional tips on composing, shooting, and editing your photos. Jamieson even helps jumpstart your creativity with 100 photo ideas to get you shooting."

To learn how to create a sticky blog, check out my article at AC: the link can be found Here

Friday, January 2, 2009

Still Life and Special Effects Photography

On the subject of light and lighting techniques. If you are curious how the pro's set up their lighting for still life and special effect photography, you will find the book by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz fascinating to read. Never would I have thought that that is what pros did to achieve a certain result. Whether it is experimenting with single light source, black bounce, deliberate camera movement to create blur or the use of unique background materials, it is like the sky is the limit. Dare to experiment is the secret and with digital camera, the learning just got a whole lot easier.

Still Life and Special Effects Photography: A Guide to Professional Lighting Techniques, Second Edition

Still Life and Special Effects Photography
by Roger Hicks and Frances Schultz

"Every picture featured in "Still Life and Special Effects Photography" is accompanied by a description of how the lighting was achieved, while clear illustrations showing each lighting set-up help readers achieve the same effect. The first section is dedicated to shooting conventional still-life subjects (such as food, product shots and natural flora), and the second to the more challenging field of special-effect photography (montage, multiexposure, mirrors and props, constructing simple room sets, etc). Now available new in paperback, this should be an indispensable book for anyone who would like to discover the secrets behind other photographer's successful images."

Other photography books by Roger Hicks and Roger Hicks on Lighting the Nude

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Light is all around

Thoughts on New Year's day

Photography is about seeing the light, the way the Grand Masters see it and it is what separates the great legends from the rest of us. Light or the lack there of is what stops us dead in our track and makes us take two steps back and take a lingering look at a photograph hanging on a wall. To me, colors are just a facade - the "extras". Peel away the colors, if a photograph is truly special, the light that grabs our attention initially should still be there.

I am convinced if the modern day photographer can master the subject of light and use light to convey her message just the way she intends it to, she truly has a special gift. It is that gift I so wish for, it is my only goal in the quest to be a better photographer. So very often, we snap away without spending time to compose the image, to think of the message and why we are there in the first place. We hope by snapping a few dozen shots of the same scene, one will turn out good enough and our effort will not be in vain. That is where we are all mistaken. The most valuable lesson I learned from my photography teacher was a sentence she uttered one day in class: "Timeless photos are composed, and they are often a result of a great deal of planning and thinking, in setting up the shot and the placement of light." Ask any accomplished photographer and they will tell you this cannot be more true.

The more I do photography, the more I realize I need to go back and re-learn the basics. I told myself that until I can wrap my head completely around the subject of light, I have barely just begun. That is the story of photography - It is simply a story of light and light is all around. Can you see it?

Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs

Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs
by Ansel Adams

Each of Adams 40 photographs presented here is accompanied by an engaging narrative that explores the technical and aesthetic problems presented by the subject and includes reminiscences of the places and people involved."

Ansel Adam (1902-1984) made over 40,000 photographs. His mastery on the subject and his medium are well chronicled in three much sought after books: "The Camera", and "The Negative" and "The Print"