Tag Archives: Photography Tips

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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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 Edge in Landscape Photography Pt.1 – The Grand Scenic

27 Apr

What is the difference between a good landscape photographer and a great one? What separates the top photographers in this genre from the many others trying to emulate them? Is it luck, time in the field, or maybe they have more technical and even physical skills? It couldn’t possibly be their camera equipment could it? Well, what is it?

Today we are starting a new series that I hope will answer these questions and more. My goal is to provide you with a more fundamental understanding of landscape photography and to inspire you to think outside the box to find your own creative advantages.

After several years of regularly studying landscape photographs from an artist’s perspective, I’ve begun to see more clearly the creative nuances many of the top pros use to hone their craft. Before we dive into the creative aspects of the genre, it is important to have a fundamental grasp of the different types of images that are common in this field. I call these sub-genres and we’ll briefly discuss each as it relates to overall understanding of landscape photography. We’ll start with just about everyone’s favorite type of the image – the grand scenic.

If you follow my work at all then you’ve probably seen this image before. Entitled Celestial Alignment, this is probably my favorite grand scenic in my current gallery of images. What exactly is a grand scenic?

Well, I’ll take the definition out of one of my all time favorite photography books entitled “Photographing the Landscape, the Art of Seeing” by John Fielder. This is how Fielder describes this type of image…. "Grand scenics often contain all....(the) photographic toppings, and they employ their use in ways that heighten their impact. Colors are usually complementary, forms are unique and pleasing, the moment clearly transitory, the perspective implies great depth, and the view takes in what is only necessary to make a great composition."

To paraphrase, he is saying a grand scenic normally means a scene with a wide and deep view. This usually includes some type of dramatic sky or at least soft, warm light that compliments and/or accentuates the subject matter. The composition also needs to be precise and well balanced, with strong continuity from side to side and front to back.

Let’s take a look at the image above and examine the foreground elements. There is a definite near to far perspective, with the strongest hoodoos placed in a position that looks out and diagonally across the scene to the sun rising over the horizon. This creates a fluid perspective leading the viewer through the scene, starting in the foreground.

In my opinion, this is also an example of a balanced scene. If you cover up half (any way) of the photograph you’ll see what I mean. No one half is any stronger than the other. If you look at the placement of the sun within the picture, it is classically approximately 1/3rd of the way in from the right and 1/3rd of the way down from the top. In the mid ground, the forest of trees in the canyon breaks up the monotony of the shades of deep oranges and reds produced by the brilliant light reflecting off the natural color of the rocks. Additionally, look at the sides of the image. All the elements are clean, thoughtfully arranged, and cohesive.

Finally, the sky is brilliant and clearly transitory. Anyone who has spent time in the field during the magic hours can surely see this is not a “normal” sunrise. It was highly unusual with the moment lasting approximately three to four minutes.

Capturing a grand scenic is one of the most rewarding experiences in landscape photography because of the rarity of the event. In another sense, the images require a less than average amount of artistic creativity to get them right.

Certainly, in most cases, they require a high level of technical competence having to deal with the high dynamic range of light while executing in the field and in the digital dark room. However, outside of that aspect and the ability to see a strong composition, most of the creative work gets overshadowed by the spectacle of natural phenomena captured.

Well, I’ll wrap this up today and by Thursday we’ll discuss another type of image.

Shooting Tips for Slot Canyons

13 Apr

I recently returned from a three day photography trip to northern Arizona, where the most productive photography was in Lower Antelope Canyon outside of Page. It was there that I met fellow landscape photographer and friend Justin Reznick and we spent several days together exploring the area and shooting this slot canyon.

In case you haven’t visited or are unfamiliar with this place,  Antelope Canyon may be the most photographed slice of real estate in this country or anywhere for that matter, and for good reason, It is a lot of fun and the scenery is stunning. Today I’ll share a couple of  my recent pictures along with a pair of my favorite approaches to photographing this incredible area.

1) Use a small, lightweight tripod instead of your big, bulky one. Slot canyons are tight and Lower Antelope in particular can have as many as 150 people passing through every hour.  Therefore, space is seriously at a premium.  It is to a photographer’s advantage to set up and shoot as quickly as possible. Many shots are taken near the ground from a lower perspective. A small tripod makes perfect sense.  The larger the tripod, the harder it is to travel through the slot canyon. Set up time is longer, and there is a good chance of damaging a larger tripod by accidentally banging on the narrow canyon walls when you move.

Versatility is a key component in your shooting success in slot canyons. Using a small, lightweight tripod allows me to scramble to achieve shots like this.

2) For compositions, look for scenes with a variety of depth and color. I look for compositions that give me angles to capture elements of the canyon that present it at its greatest depth. One element that helps provide depth is color. The color you see in slot canyons is simply a product of the intensity and temperature of the reflected light.

It is also important to pay attention to what is going on outside the canyon walls. If the sun is cutting in and out because of fast-moving clouds, the light is going to change often and this is critical information to understand to achieve your desired results in the slot canyon.

Once I get honed onto a scene,  I will work that scene using several varieties of the same general composition while continuing to pay close attention to the light. I’ll use the vertical lines and shapes of the sandstone to block any direct light and accentuate glare and form while creating abstract images.

Even though the color can be amazing, photographers can still create high quality images using a black and white conversion. This image uses the vertical and horizontal bands and erosion patterns of the sandstone to form a complex picture of shapes all accentuated by the reflected light.

In closing,  slot canyons allow the landscape photographer a high degree of photographic creativity in the field as well as in the digital darkroom.  If the light is right, you’ll have the opportunity to capture multiple stunning images in a relatively short period of time.  When you go to Lower Antelope Canyon, be mentally prepared to deal with crowds, travel light, and pay close attention to the light and its source.  You’ll have a wonderful experience!

Online Data Backup Software

25 Mar

This a long overdue post about my experiences shopping for online data software.  There are plethora of companies out there that provide this type of service. Before I talk about my experiences, let’s quickly review the reasons for using an online backup provider.

1) Hard drive crashes can happen at anytime, without warning,  even if you backup regularly. It is very easy to have important documents or photos slip through the cracks because you forgot to back up on any certain day.

2) If there is a fire, natural disaster, etc. your computer equipment could be destroyed. This includes your data backed up on  an external hard drive that is sitting in your home or office.

3) Your external data storage device could fail or become corrupted.

4) Professional data retrieval from a mechanically failed hard drive is a slow, very costly, and unpredictable process.

I am sure there are other reasons too. The most important thing to consider is the cost versus benefit factor. The costs are relatively small if your work and time are important. For less than $75 a year, isn’t the extra protection worth it?

I really didn’t know much at all about online data backup providers, but learned there are quite a few of them available. Two of the largest appear to be Mozy and Carbonite.  Both competitors offered unlimited data backup storage for about $54.95 per year. The biggest difference between the two is that users could not back up from an external hard drive using Carbonite’s services. Additionally, Carbonite doesn’t seem to have as favorable online reviews as Mozy. Mozy seemed like the logical selection for me until I realized they raised their prices considerably about a month ago.  Mozy now limits its storage capacity for personal users to 50 GB for a cost of about $60.00 per year.

That was enough of a catalyst for me to start shopping for alternative providers.  There are quite a few websites that provide comprehensive reviews on online data backup providers and information is not that hard to come by. What is a little more difficult and time consuming is differentiating between the competition on attributes other than price. After all, isn’t reliability just as big of issue? If your online data backup provider can’t secure your data…well, Houston we have a problem.

Some of the factors I took into consideration were how long has the company been in business and how big is it? Are there any negative reviews on the company? Also, functionality of the software can be an issue as well. How difficult is their program to use? I don’t think anyone interested buying these services wants to “test drive” the software of each provider to determine which is the most user friendly. One other issue that people seemed to have strong opinions on is the upload speed of the software. Backing up large amounts of data can take a long time and some services are faster than others.

One final consideration that I explored was the level of technical support offered. I called three different companies to ask questions about their products. One company was clearly better than the others in terms of the amount time I had to spend on the phone to get a live rep. Ultimately, I narrowed my decision down to three companies’ Backblaze, Crashplan, and Idrive.  Backblaze and Crashplan offer unlimited storage for around $50 per  year. Idrive offers 150GB for about the same price. That is a considerably more space than what Mozy currently offers.

All three companies are well reviewed and offer slightly different services. The most notable difference is with Crashplan, who offers a kind of “social networking” of backup services where the user can back up data to and from other computers as well. I eliminated Backblaze because they were the most recent and smallest of the companies to hit the market. I personally wanted a company that had more of a market presence, reputation, and employees. Meanwhile, Crashplan had some extremely favorable reviews online and certainly seems to be on the up and up. However, after doing some research, there seems to be some issues with their software corrupting the files of their customers; at least according to one very angry and persistent customer who blogs about it online. This company’s website offers a free forum and I read about some issues people were having with the software on it.

So, by process of elimination, I chose Idrive.  Their customer service is first-rate and their upload speeds are excellent. It took me approximately eight hours to upload 11 GB of data. The bottom line is this: it is important to back up your data online and it is a personal decision as to what company you want to use to do so.  Don’t settle on one company without first shopping around, Pricing aside, there are many other benefits and features to be learned about by comparison shopping. In the long run, it’s worth it.

By the way, if you decide to use Idrive in the future please let them know I referred you as they provide referral bonuses to their customers. Hopefully you found this blog useful. If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Learning about Hard Drives the Hard Way

8 Mar

Last week I spent several hours investigating the pros and cons of the myriad of online backup solutions on the Internet. In case you didn’t know, I recently experienced another hard drive crash.  Although I try to double back-up all my data on external hard drives, sometimes life gets in the way and an important document falls through the cracks.

This is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago when I lost some valuable information including my business plan and brainstorming notes, as well as the master file for my trifold brochure. With that being said, I’ve decided to move forward with an investment in an online solution that automatically backs up certain folders.  This plan is in addition to double backing up data on my external hard drives.

Before moving further, let’s discuss what I recently learned about hard drives and why it is critical to use an online provider in addition to doing it yourself.

#1) Hard drive failure is commonplace nowadays. Please don’t think it that it can’t happen to you. Data recovery expert Tom Buhnerkempe, proprietor of Chandler Data Professionals, is seeing a lot more drives fail nowadays. He says companies are not making hard drives the way they used to make them. One of the biggest culprits is the size of the hard drive. The larger hard drives with more space have higher rates of failure.

Apparently, the larger hard drives are essentially the same size as the smaller hard driver, but they are being used to store much more information on them. In turn, this puts extra stress on the machine and also degrades the overall quality of the product. Another reason for the high rate failures is the quality of workmanship. Hard drives are simply not being built as well. The lower prices are driving down the overall quality of the products and the parts within those machines are failing more often.

#2) There are two types of hard drive failure:  mechanical failure and software failure. Mechanical failure is the much more serious of the two because it involves having to replace specific parts of the machine to try to get the drive to function properly again in order to access the data. This process isn’t nearly as simple as getting a new car battery where different brands and types will universally work.  The drive has to be the same, and hard drive manufacturers do not make spare parts. 

Once the problem is determined, a similar version of the drive must be purchased and certified, and then taken apart one piece at a time. If these parts are internal, this usually results in a very costly procedure. It requires specific skills sets and as well as highly specialized machines. Tom likened it to the rebuilding of a car engine. Further, repairs are very time consuming. Costs can easily exceed $1000 and take several months. There are only a number of companies in the United States that can successfully complete these repairs For the unfortunate owner in this situation, you are either out a considerable amount of  money or lots of data, whichever is worth more to you.

If your hard  drive fails due to software corruption, meaning there is enough corrupted information saved in system causing it to malfunction, the remedy is a bit  simpler. Repairs typically can be done locally, if you live in a metropolitan area, although it still can be costly. The key is the drive stills mechanically operates correctly.

One more thing that is worth mentioning is some people like to link or daisy chain up their hard drives to one another so you are saving information on more than one drive.  That way if one drive fails, you still have one or two others that are working. The problem is if the hard drive is damaged because of the mechanical failure of another mechanism within the computer, like the power supply or motherboard, it could conceivably damage all the hard drives at once, ruining everything.

This is where the online system of  backing up your data comes in handy.  I’ll share with you some time saving links, the company I chose, and what factors were in important in making my decision. I hope you enjoyed this post and found it informational. If so, drop me a line with your comments.

A Print Makers Thoughts….

16 Dec

Today we are going to talk about printing and how to harvest the full power of your photograph. I chose this particular topic now as I just went through a period of prolific print making for our winter art festival season. 

There are few thoughts I’d like to share that I think will really help you in making your own photographs stand out. The print is really the culminating piece in any photographers arsenal.  How your print looks really defines your work. (Currently, I outsource all my printing to a local company in Scottsdale. so these tips may not be completely applicable for someone who does their own fine art printing).

1) Consider your lighting – How is your print going to be displayed? You may not know this, but keep it in mind. Here are some other relevant questions to think about. Will the print have direct lighting or natural lighting? These are important considerations in determining how bright you want your print. Keep in mind, if it is placed in a dark room, the shadows will look almost completely black, and darkness will dilute and dull the colors of your print. If you are concerned it is not going to show up well because of the lighting, you should enhance your colors a little bit to compensate.

2) Test prints – Don’t learn the hard way like I did, paying good money for prints only to discover weeks later that you really don’t like the finished product. I’ve learned to run each image through a rigorous set of test printing. I am not concerned about the cost, my prints are a reflection of my work and they must look right.

3) Paper – Are your printing on glossy or matte? Perhaps you print on canvas. Each individual printing surface has a slightly different color and each also showcases the colors differently. The sharpness of an image is affected by the kind of paper you are using. Some papers have a yellow tinge that must be accounted for in your editing. Other papers can enhance or slightly dull your colors. Your sharpening levels will be different depending on the size and kind of paper you use to print on as well.

4) Brightness – This is an extension of number one. Make sure you closely monitor the blacks in your shadows. Some printers block up shadows, rendering a darker black with less shadow detail. This is a subtlety that an artist can initially overlook caught up in the moment of enjoying his or her print. Make sure you compare the shadow detail of your physical print to that on your finished electronic file.

5) Clipping – Clipping is the loss of information due to overexposure resulting in a concentrated area of pure white in your photograph.  However, clipping can occur during the editing process as well, which is what I describe here. If your print comes out slighty dark and you lighten it, you must be aware very small sections of that image that could potentially clip during this time. This is a process where you must physically scroll over every inch of your photograph to ensure its quality. Be aware that lighter colors tend to clip quicker than darker ones, so if you have an image with snow, water or even light grey rocks, these are parts of the image that can be readily affected.

Well, I am wrapping up for now. Hopefully you’ve got something from this and if there is more information that comes to mind I’ll make another post on this subject. For now, I leave you with my best selling prints from this month’s art festivals.

Window of Opportunity

Celestial Alignment

The Magic Place

The Magic Place

Vision of Excellence

Vision of Excellence

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