Tag Archives: Fine Art Photography

Photoshop Processing Techniques for Improving Your Prints Part 1: Chromatic Aberration

4 Feb

Chromatic aberration is one of those naturally occurring, technical imperfections of your camera lens that can take your favorite photograph and moderately reduce its overall quality if not handled properly. What is chromatic aberration? Well, you may or may not be familiar with the term although if you’ve looked at enough photographs I guarantee that you’ve seen it before, even if you didn’t notice it. Wikipedia defines it this way…

“Chromatic aberration manifests itself as “fringes” of color along boundaries that separate dark and bright parts of the image, because each color in the optical spectrum cannot be focused at a single common point. Since the focal length f of a lens is dependent on the refractive index n, different wavelengths of light will be focused on different positions.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatic_aberration)

OK that’s pretty technical. Without getting too convoluted, I define chromatic aberration as color fringing that usually occurs around objects as magenta, blue, red or green outlines or highlights. Chromatic aberration basically occurs from a combination of light, subject matter, aperture selection, and lens quality. It is mostly noticeable in the background of images along horizons and is especially noticeable in mountain scenes captured during the daytime where minor patches of snow are evident.  In some photographs, a small amount of chromatic aberration is acceptable and is usually an easy fix in Adobe Camera Raw or in Photoshop with just the click of a button or the movement of a slider.

Where fixing this problem gets tricky is if there is quite a bit of chromatic aberration that appears in different colors or if you are a perfectionist like I am. Before we get ahead of ourselves let’s quickly discuss how Photoshop or ACR fixes this problem. From how I understand it, what the software actually does is it picks up your image and moves it slightly so that it covers the areas of fringing. However, this isn’t a local selection – it is actually a ubiquitously occurring process in that it moves the entire picture so all areas of your image are affected. The problem with this is that it affects the overall image quality because there is a minor loss of resolution every time this movement is performed. Secondly, the image shift depends on the color so fixing a magenta color fringe won’t necessarily rectify a red one and vice versa. In that particular case, using the software results in a compromise where the color fringing effects can be offset and reduced, but not completely fixed.

Let’s look at an example at how I circumvented both of these issues.  Do you notice the bluish-green fringing around the flowers in the before image below?

Before

Before

After

After

What you are looking at is a small portion of an image that was commissioned by a local bank in Colorado to use for the front of their 2013 calendar. Because the image was being used at approximately 8.5 x 11 for mass distribution I wanted to make it look as good as possible. This was a small fix and it can be a little time consuming. However, if delivering the highest quality product to your clients is must for you (like it is for me) then it is worth the time.  I find the easiest way to fix this problem is with the color replacement tool in Photoshop. In this case, I simply use the color of the flower petals or a neutral grey and trace away the noticeable effects of the chromatic aberration with the color replacement tool. The most important aspect of this method unlike other quick fixes is that it does not sacrifice image quality or resolution. Conversely, it actually makes your image higher quality! I hope you found this post helpful I’d love to read your comments or questions regarding it! My goal is to follow up this post with another blog about Photoshop techniques in the near future.

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Top Ten Photos of 2012

1 Jan

Today marks the beginning of a new year and the end of what was probably the most personally challenging year of my life. Dealing with the advanced stage cancer diagnosis of my best friend has been tough and rewarding, but it definitely slowed down my photography over the summer to say the least. However, I was still fortunate enough to get out several times and I am extremely pleased with the overall body of my work.

Without further adieu, enclosed are my top photos of the year, in my opinion, and account for the preferences of a few close friends and family members. These are presented in chronological order…

Image

Dreaming of Altitude, Colorado, July, 2011

This ten second exposure of Sloan Lake is the only image not captured in 2012. Until recently, it sat dormant on my hard drive, but the positive feedback I received after posting it to my website plus the originality of the shot has propelled it into my Top Ten.

Lost in Forever

Lost in Forever, Wyoming, January

Probably my favorite image of the year, it was captured on a breathtaking and frigid 30 below morning in Yellowstone. I was with a group and didn’t have any say whatsoever as to the location choice, but I certainly made the most out of it.

Thermal Winter

Thermal Winter, Wyoming, January

Another image from Yellowstone, on a lonely night during a clearing storm in the Upper Geyser Basin Area. I was walking around using the ski tracks as a footpath and came upon this scene close to sundown. I wanted to take a lower perspective, but could not as my tripod legs were frozen. I liked these two images so much – I still haven’t yet posted any other images from the entire trip.

Kaleidoscopic Canyon

Kaleidoscopic Canyon, Utah, April

Skull District, Utah, April

A two week trip to Utah in April ended up being my longest adventure of the year. The trip was a fruitful one, although in retrospect, I can’t say any of the images I captured were amongst the most significant of my career. “Kaleidoscopic Canyon” is from a relatively unknown little slot canyon in Central Utah, which required a shuttle hike and some borderline technical skills to access.

While “Skull District” was a particularly memorable capture, it is somewhat bittersweet. I was treated to an incredible light display my last night on that trip, but it abruptly ended when high winds blew over my fully extended tripod destroying my favorite lens and polarizer. This was the last image I captured before that accident . This trip marked the end of all photography excursions until the end of October when I took wonderful trip to the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona.

Arms of the Century, Arizona, October

Arms of the Century, Arizona, October

This image is more a personal favorite than anything else. In 2012, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to take more macro type images focusing on repetition and pattern and this is one of the best examples of the year. This was a monster sized century plant, the biggest I have ever seen and I had a wonderful time shooting it from all sides until the light faded completely. This was the last shot that I captured during that session and it was a 30 second exposure with extraordinary luminance. The  colors are perfectly natural and I am not sure if it was a result of that particular plant or also had to do with it changing colors for autumn. The whole plant wasn’t red and this was the most particularly colorful section.

The Balancing Act, Arizona, October

The Balancing Act, Arizona, October

This image was captured in the same area the following morning on Halloween.  It was about 20 minutes before sunrise and these peaks were radiating ambient colors of dawn while the full moon set behind it – hence the name “The Balancing Act.”  I purposely left the contrast low to reflect the conditions that I saw at the time.

Forest of Seclusion, October, Arizona

Forest of Seclusion, October, Arizona

One last image from my Chiricahua trip. This one I literally walked into as a very difficult, high altitude hiking trail went directly through a forest of peak foliage with incredible patterns. I was actually contemplating not bringing my tripod on this hike and I am sure glad I did. While I am not sure if this is one of my ten favorite images of the year, I definitely think it showcases the diversity of my photography and that is why I am including it.

Alien Stronghold, New Mexico, November

Alien Stronghold, New Mexico, November

Silent Mystery, New Mexico, November

Silent Mystery, New Mexico, November

The last two images of the year are both from my most recent trip, a five day excursion to New Mexico in the middle of November. Again, it was particularly difficult to limit the selections to a pair, as there are a trio I would have loved to include. In fact, the one that I am not including – found here is one of my three favorite shots of the year!

That being said, “Alien Stronghold” was my first image captured in this very remote and secluded wilderness area in Central New Mexico. The light featured in this image lasted probably less than 75 seconds and it was difficult to achieve the proper depth of field blending necessary to pull off this shot. What I love are the rock formations and drama; those pillars of stone are more than ten feet high.

The last selection of the year is from the same area captured during a long exposure well after sunset during the blue hour. The light, colors, and formation are all beautiful, but this image also is unique in at least two other ways. First, it has foreground elements where movement is not purposely captured – in this case, the reeds are blowing. Normally, this is a big no-no for me, but under circumstances and given the overall image – it doesn’t bother me at all in this particular case.

Secondly, I included the sister image of the same formation taken immediately before on my website. This is unique because normally I just pick the best image of a location and display only that one, but in this case, I think both images stand well on their own. There was some controversy as to which image to include and you can decide which one you like for yourself as the other one is found here.

Well, that concludes my list. Thanks for hanging in there and reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope to share more images and be more active blogging in 2013. I wish you and yours a happy and blessed new year. I would love to hear your feedback as well. Thanks for looking!

Leaving for Frozen Yellowstone This Week

16 Jan

I am preparing for my first photography trip of 2012 to  Yellowstone National Park. Later this week, I’ll arrive in Bozeman, MT  where I’ll spend nearly a week exploring the frozen tundra of Yellowstone in search of interesting landscapes and wild animals. While I have spent some time in Yellowstone during a snowstorm, it was during the fall and not the frozen heart of winter.

My experience in dealing with sub-freezing temperatures is limited and I am not exactly sure what to expect. Considering that I have lived in Arizona for the past 16 years , I am not used to hardcore winter photography where temperatures can drop below zero.

Just minutes before a huge snowstorm hit Yellowstone Lake

Just minutes before a huge snowstorm hit Yellowstone Lake, captured in early October

Because I’ll be assisting another photographer in leading a large group – I don’t exactly have the autonomy I normally do on a photography excursion by myself.  However, I am still hoping to come away with some quality images. Currently, the weather forecast looks like snow, snow and more snow so I am not sure how that is going to translate into landscape images, which I favor over wildlife scenes.  My goal is to push the bounds of my creativity and hopefully come up with something unique, especially if the light is less than spectacular.

Any suggestions or tips for dealing with the cold weather are greatly appreciated. I have hand and feet warmers, but I am still not sure how equipped or prepared I am in dealing with the frigid temperatures.

What Does Landscape Photography Mean to You?

31 Dec

I thought  I’d wrap up the year by posting some of my favorite images taken in 2011.  I’ve decided to feature these images in a series called “Landscape Photography Is….” I hope you all enjoy and happy New Year!

Landscape Photography Is…

Finding Your Own Vision

sunrise at Joshua Tree National Park, California, March

Executing an Idea

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, April

 Seeing in black and white

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, April

Noticing the little things

Parry Agave, May

Visiting new places

North Falls, Oregon, May

All about timing, planning, and persistence

American Basin, Colorado, August

Hiking and backpacking

Ice Lake Basin, Colorado, August

Appreciating the subtle beauty of nature

Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado, October

Using light to create drama

San Juan National Forest, Colorado, October

Taking chances

Frozen waterfall, Colorado, October

God’s gift to us!!

Tonto National Forest, Arizona, November

I’d love to hear what landscape photography means personally to you. Also, which of the above images are your favorite. Have a wonderful New Year!

The technical art of capturing alpine wildflowers

26 Aug

Wildflowers are a joy to photograph. The colors, shapes, and sizes can add so much personal expression and emotion to an image. There is a multitude of creative approaches to employ while developing a vision for the subject.  Today, we explore some of the most effective techniques used to capture wildflowers. It is part one of my new series and I hope that you find it useful.

Composition

Fields of wildflowers offer the opportunity for show stopping photographs of epic proportions.  However, the margin for error is even smaller than normal and proper attention to detail must be precise in order to execute a stunning picture.

My first method of approach is to determine a point of view. How low or high do I want to get with my camera? Obviously the lower the perspective, the more prominent your foreground. This technique increases drama and brings your viewer into the picture. However, there are potential hindrances as well.

For instance, what about the flowers directly behind your foreground? Are they colorful and do they add or detract from your image? Would an overview of the area work better than getting low to the ground? Remember, a moving your camera just a few inches up or down or to either side can truly affect your composition,  so be aware of everything you are photographing. Take your time, look around, and experiment.

A stunning floral display accentuated by a glimpse of rare alpine light. The angle of the field of flowers and the varying lengths of growth worked wonderfully for this photograph.

The heighth, width, and overall size of the wildflowers plays a huge part in composition as well. Smaller and stocky wildflowers are generally  easier to capture than taller, lanky ones because they don’t catch as much wind and they don’t obscure other flowers.  On the flip side, the large ones take up more space in your composition and the differences in height can add texture and variety to your pictures as well.

In addition to size, the spacing of flowers is critical. Are the flowers evenly spaced  or do they occur in clumps? Is the color evenly distributed across your image or is it unbalanced?  Finally, are you looking to photograph an entire field or  prominently capture one clump?

My approach:  Find the biggest and best fields of flowers and work around that. I prefer as many flowers in my images as possible.

Best advice:  Experiment with both vertical and horizontal compositions of the same scene. More often than not, I find my first hunch for presentation is wrong when photographing scenes with wildflowers.

Techniques

Wind is the biggest natural obstacle in successfully executing wildflowers shots. It doesn’t take much, just a little breeze to really mess things up. Fortunately, in today’s digital age we can overcome many natural limitations by exercising a little bit of patience and creativity.  Let’s go over some techniques that can help.

Wind played a major factor in the capture of this shot. Multiple blends were necessary to keep the flowers from moving and to blend for depth of field. The differences in color from the previous image are mostly a result of a much warmer white balance or higher color temperature used as the basis for editing this picture.

1) Take off the polarizer – In one of my all time favorite photography books I learned that a polarizer should not be used within an hour of either sunrise or sunset. While this filter can be very useful in reducing glare while photographing wildflowers – if wind is an issue and it is a sunrise or sunset – take it off and spare yourself the extra exposure time.

2) Utilize your ISO speed – Depending on the quality of your camera and the size of your print, ISO speed can be raised considerably without any noticeable decrease in quality.  That is,  if exposure and focus are correct coupled with the right aperture settings.  For example, I recently compared a 16 x 24 print shot at ISO 400 with another shot with the same camera and lens at ISO 100 and I literally could not tell any difference in quality.

Getting back to the flowers – unless it is deathly still – try to keep your exposure times to less than one half of a second to prevent any kind of motion blur in your flowers.

My approach: Take lots of pictures of the same composition and blend out the blurry flowers if necessary.

Best advice:  Be patient – wait for the wind to die down. Even if the light changes – you still have a chance of pulling off a successful blend.

We’ll stop here for today and pick up this topic next week with more tips and techniques for capturing wildflowers. If you like post or have any tips of your own – I’d love to hear from you!

Find Your Creative Vision Part 4 – Abstract Images

10 Jun

This week’s blog is on how to to craft successful abstract images in landscape photography. We will talk about what to look for, how to express yourself, and also discuss technical tips in the field. I also want to give you a brief professional update as a lot is going on. We recently returned from a wonderful eight day trip to Oregon. More on that in a later blog. Next week we are preparing for our first trip to San Diego to participate in the renowned La Jolla Festival of Fine Arts.

Today our focus is on abstracts. Abstracts offer a lot of opportunity for a number of reasons and make a fine addition to any landscape photographer’s portfolio. To begin, abstract images are less contingent upon spectacular light. In many cases soft, diffused light works best. This is usually true for abstracts involving plants and trees. Depending on the size of your subject and the photographer, wily shooters can use their bodies, jackets, reflectors or anything else capable of casting a shadow on their subject matter. So sometimes you don’t even have to wait for the light!

In other instances, photographers use the reflected glow of the sun to help add drama and color to their images. This works best while shooting in slot canyons or while shooting intimate scenes of water that capture the varied colors of reflected light. Below is a demonstration of how different kinds of direct light can affect the color quality of abstract images.

Taken in the morning

Taken in the afternoon

Taken in the afternoon

Abstract photos normally normally rely on repetition or pattern. This can be expressed in colors, lines, shapes and accentuated by depth. This type of image best allows the photographer a means to express him or herself creatively in ways that will set them apart from others in the field.

I used a high contrast interpretation of this mescal agave plant to accentuate its dominant features and colors.

Another critical consideration is the photographer’s technical execution in the field. This can be the make or break difference in determining the dramatic impact of the image. Considerations such as what aperture to use to showcase depth of field, what kind of exposure works best to capture the subject matter and it colors, will using a filter, like a polarizer, help improve the scene? These are all personal choices left up to each photographer. The best advice I can give is just to experiment with local subject matter. My best abstracts have all been local. There is something about familiarity when it comes to abstracts that has really helped me find my style. It difficult to put into words, I guess it is more of an instinct than it is a tangible quality.

For instance, I live in the desert. So when I am out and about I am looking at desert landscaping and watching the plants for patterns or shapes that interest me. I might find one that I like and maybe the scene doesn’t work or I don’t have my camera gear, but it gives me an idea of something that interests me that I continue to look for in the future. That’s my suggestion to you. When you are around mundane subject matter, pay attention to the little things – even if you don’t get shots it can inspire you for the future.

Saguaro Bulbs

Speaking of which, I hope you find this article inspiring. Please let me know if you do!

Finding Your Creative Vision Part 3 – The Black and White

5 May

“Both the grand and the intimate aspects of nature can be revealed in the expressive photograph. Both can stir enduring affirmations and discoveries, and can surely help the spectator in his search for identification with the vast world of natural beauty and wonder surrounding him.”
— Ansel Adams

Contemporary landscape photography is dominated by digital images of saturated and vibrant color. The popularity of this style is obvious and it oftentimes overshadows the traditional and subtle effectiveness of just using black and white. However, by no means is black and white photography passe. Today, we’ll discuss some of the most important processes involved in capturing and presenting your images in black and white.

Having a Vision

One of the most critical steps for the photographer to think in terms of black and white. What I mean is at the time of capture you should be envisioning a black and white finished product for your photograph. While this doesn’t always have to be the case, it certainly does help. You may be wondering, how does one go about developing this type of mindset?

One key is for the photographer to focus on finding black and white compositions when they are in the field. A prime way of accomplishing this is through the careful examination of subject matter and light. Black and white photography is most effective when there is a full spectrum of tone between white and black with many different shades of grey. Two common means of illustration are the primary colors of the subject and/or the light during the time of capture.

This is an image of Yellowstone Lake taken at the beginning of October as the area’s lovely fall weather was deteriorating into the freezing grip of winter. The water level here was low thus exposing many of the rocks in the lake. During capture, it was very cold and windy and a huge snow storm was moving in. The colors were fairly mute and because it was in the late afternoon and extremely overcast I knew this would lend well to black and white.

Once again, the key with black and white is to offer the viewer the full spectrum of tones so the eye can easily differentiate between the shades. Form is also accentuated in black and white. The effective use of contrast to emphasize form is often a key to the aesthetic success of your image. Here I like the forms of the rocks in the water. I also like the powerful U-shape formed by the exposed bank in the lake.

Styles

Stylistically, several types of prominent landscapes translate well into black and white photography. Here is a short list to keep in mind next time your are in the field: aspen trees, dead trees, raging creeks, sand dunes, barns, and snow capped peaks.

Processing

While this blog post was not designed to get into the specific technical aspects behind black and white processing, I will briefly discuss a couple important factors. How and when you convert your image to black and white is a subjective call. I’ve experimented with it several ways and I don’t particularly have a preference. It can be done at the beginning or end of your work flow and by a number of different ways in the same programs. (There are also third party plug ins that effectively facilitate the conversion too). If you are looking to have a finished product in both color and black and white I suggest just convert and tweak at the end of your work flow, unless you want to completely edit the picture twice.

Finally, the white balance you choose will also affect your image’s final appearance. What color tone do you want? A neutral grey? Blue? Or maybe slightly yellow? Those are subjective calls and a lot depends on personal preference and what you are trying to communicate…
For example, look closely at the image below and then compare to the one above. Notice the difference in the tone? The Yellowstone Lake shot is bluer, while the image beneath is more of a neutral grey.

Hopefully this post provided you with a little creative inspiration and approach to capturing and presenting your images in black and white, until next time have a great weekend!

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