Thursday, April 19, 2007

Basic post-processing

A camera’s exposure system is designed to calculate all of the light levels coming into the camera and set an exposure that averages all the light to match a neutral gray tone. The result of all that averaging is usually a photo that looks, well – average. And we all know the people and pets in your life are anything but average.

The photo above, on the left, is what a Kodak Easyshare C633 presented of my adopted stray cat, Poly. (You can find out how she came upon her name with one “L” here). The photo is kind of gray and murky. Average.

A little work in a photo editing program (in this case, PhotoShop) brings the photo back to life and gets closer to what my eyes saw as I pressed the shutter button. I started by increasing the overall contrast. In PhotoShop this is accomplished in the Adjust/Levels dialog box by sliding the left and right sliders toward the center, then sliding the midtones to the left, brightening the photo. A similar effect can be achieved by increasing the contrast and brightness settings if your photo editing program is a simple one.

I then increased the color saturation, then selected everything except the cat’s face (in PhotoShop, I used the elliptical selector, lasso’d the face, then inverted the selection). I feathered the edges of the selection, decreased the levels of the background, then applied a blur. The resulting effect (photo on the right) really brought out the cat’s eyes, which I wanted to be the focal point of the picture. In fact, when taking photos of people or animals, focus on the eyes.

I then used the clone tool to make some adjustments to the catch lights in her eyes (raised and moved out of the irises), and I was finished.

Using a photo editing program after you’ve created a picture is not cheating. It’s unlocking the information that’s inherent in your photo, but has just been rendered as “average.”

Photos © 2007 James Jordan.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Look for contrasts: Patterns

Into the woods
Originally uploaded by James Jordan.
Contrasting elements tend to make for interesting photos. I was driving along looking for photo subjects late on an overcast day when I passed a wooded lot with lush green grass and a meandering creek. The contrast between the curving creek bed and the ramrod-straight tree trunks immediately caught my eye.

I took a u-turn and set up for several shots. This was taken just off the roadbed and approximates what I saw from the car as I passed it. I used a slight telephoto setting (70mm on a 35-70 zoom lens) to help compress the space between the curves of the creek.

I wanted the curved lines of the creek to dominate the shot, so I composed it to make the creek fill up the photo frame making the trees a secondary element.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Shoot the moon

Earth’s companion in the night sky has inspired dreamers and poets since time immemorial. It also makes for great photos. Here are a few tips for shooting the moon.

The correct exposure for the moon high in the sky follows the “Sunny 16” rule – Shoot at f16 and use a shutter speed closest to the inverse of the ISO of your film or camera setting. If using 100 ISO, then your shutter speed should be as close as possible to 1/100 of a second – in most cases, 1/125. Follow the same scenario for 200 ISO, 400 ISO, etc.

When the moon is visible during daylight hours, Sunny 16 works like a charm. Both the moon and earthly foreground objects will be in harmony as far as exposure is concerned. It gets trickier when shooting in twilight or darkness and you wish to also capture some foreground detail. Properly exposing the foreground will blow out the moon. Conversely, properly exposing the moon will make your foreground too dark.

Some options:

A. Pick a foreground object that offers an interesting silhouette and forget about capturing details (top image). Use the Sunny 16 rule to determine your exposure, then bracket one stop up and down for safety. Try to shoot within a half hour or forty five minutes after sunset when the sky is a deep indigo color.

B. Concentrate on the foreground and forget about details in the moon (second image). This exposure was 180 seconds at f5.6. It blew out the moon, but given the interest in the rest of the photo, is not that a big deal.

C. Shoot the full moon as soon as it comes up as possible. It will not yet have reached full light power and you can get away with a longer exposure. You have about 10 to 15 minutes after the moon appears above the horizon before it becomes too bright to capture this way. Use a graduated neutral density filter to darken the moon and sky while keeping the foreground light enough to register (third image). A two-stop grad ND filter kept the detail in the moon while allowing for a long enough exposure (about 20 seconds) to catch the motion of waves among the rotted pilings. Keep in mind that the moon is a moving object. Too long of an exposure (more than 30 seconds) will render it as an elongated object, not round.

D. Make a blended image using two or more exposures and combine them in Photoshop. The lighthouse photo (fourth image) was comprised of three exposures – one for the moon (using Sunny 16), one for the lighthouse tower (20 seconds) and one for the light in the lantern room (5 seconds). Sometimes there is just no other way to capture an image.

Of course, you need a sturdy tripod, camera with a bulb exposure setting and a locking cable release.

Take the Nike approach to shooting moon photos – just do it. Note the results, then make adjustments and learn as you go. Have fun!

Click on photos to enlarge. Photographs © 2007 James Jordan.

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