Techniques

Swans into the air

I was excited to find tundra swans on a small pond west of Mossleigh last weekend.  The bird migrations north are underway and these are among the most elegant of the travelers.  As sunset approached, small bevies of swans took flight so I had several opportunities to photograph their takeoffs where they run along the water as they gather speed before lifting into the air.  On one of these launches, I dropped the shutter speed to 1/20th of a second and panned with a pair in order to blur the background and their wings.  I find swans in motion to be beautiful and I always think of ballet choreography when I watch them.

 


Light painting: Experimenting with sparklers, steel wool and a glowing ball

My friend Jeff and I spent some time experimenting with different light sources last night.  Generally referred to as light painting, this is an area of photography that is drawing a lot of people’s creative energy right now.   We confirmed how much fun this can be both to photograph and to play with the light.  We wanted to play around with some of the common tools and see how they worked in practice.  We took turns being the subject (and consequently light-wielder) – Jeff presented great symmetry in his movements which created interesting imagery. By the end, we had learned some things, definitely had fun and now we’re scheming about the images we really want to create.

Note: If you want to see this images larger you can visit this web gallery on my website.

A chaotic globe traced out by a sparkler

This suggested one of the dark creatures from the fantasy genre.  For those who may have played Dungeons & Dragons, this seemed like a Nightshade to me.

Gloves with green, red and blue lights on the fingertips allowed Jeff to trace out arcs that reminded me a little bit of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing .

The photographs are presented in reverse chronological order (because the fiery ones look so cool so I wanted to put them up first).  However, we approached this session with a measure of sanity and worked up from this glowing ball (one of the many balls in my children’s collective inventory) to the more exciting (read: burning) props.  The image above is one of the first in the shoot where I was looking at ambient light in the area, the brightness of the ball and what flash added to (or detracted from) the scene.

The ball illuminates with red and blue LEDs that alternate creating purple tones in a long exposure.  When Jeff was looking at the ball here it was hard not to be reminded of Gollum and “My Precious” from The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings.

Definitely my favourite photograph of the evening was with the sparks carving out lines of light.  I converted it to black and white below and that changes the image in a different but, to me, equally interesting manner.


Motion Pictures: Trains, Horses, Buses and Blurs

I love to show movement in my photographs.  One of my favourite techniques to achieve this is to pan with my subject as it moves in front of me.  I like the effect of the blurred elements stretching and wrapping around a train, horse or any number of other things in motion.  The actual shooting is great fun too and I enjoy interacting with the scene to create the image I have in mind.

Standing on a street corner, a forest’s edge or along the fence at a rodeo, I will slow my shutter speed down either by using a smaller aperture or lowering my camera’s ISO setting.  With the camera ready, I then focus on the subject in motion and shoot it as goes.  When the panning of the camera matches the speed of the train, animal or athlete, the subject will remain sharp while the static elements and those moving in another direction or at a different speed will blur.

It is this blurring that frames the subject and creates the sense of speed. I like to play with the shutter speed to adjust how much blur there is and to affect how sharp the subject is.  An abstract quality can be found in some images where the details are soft allowing patterns and colors to step ahead of the subject in importance.

There are numerous techniques to improve the success rate of sharp subject’s in a motion blur image including keeping the camera parallel to the subject’s path, starting to shoot as the vehicle approaches and following through as it passes, locking arms, shoulders, knees and feet and pivoting at the hips and many more.  I try to practice these and incorporate as many as possible when I am panning.

The results can be really interesting and create compelling images.  The web is your friend for specific details on these and many other ways to pan effectively.  It is worth mentioning that while the slower the longer the shutter speed, the harder it is to keep the subject sharp, the payoff can be more interesting blur and consequently a more dynamic image.  I often set my shutter speed as low as 1/10 of a second, which can result in more misses (blurry, unusable pictures) but when everything comes together there is a chance for something magical.

If you have an interest, give it a try and see if you like the photographs you create.  It can be a great way to see a common scene in a new way or to pass a few minutes waiting for the bus.  I would love to see any results you would like to share.


Summer Storm Breaking Up

I was in a great location to watch the storm that had rolled in Friday night and dropped many, many buckets of rain through Saturday afternoon start to break up.

The drama in the clouds west of Calgary was beautiful to watch build and fall away for a few minutes.

Certainly a different feel in black and white.  In the version above I wanted to bring the weathered barn to greater prominence.  I ended up shedding the color and adding a little grain to create a more historical, antique feel.


Silhouettes: Elk on a Ridge


 The Sibbald Herd is a large group of elk that forage west into the front range of the Kananaskis mountains and east to Springbank near Calgary.  They move within a relatively thin band along the eastern part of their land and are often in the scrub brush that edges the farmland along Highway 22 between Highway 8 and the Trans Canada Highway.  They often graze behind this ridge in a shallow valley but on this morning I found them lined up among the trees and the rocks.  They were quite interested in my for a couple of minutes and then resumed grazing and wandered back behind the hill. 

 I photographed these animals about an hour after sunrise with the sun still below the crest of this ridge.  The strong backlighting made for wider range from dark to light than my camera can capture so I chose to work with the structural elements within the scene.  Reduced to black and white, there is an interesting relationship between the land and the elk highlighted in these pictures.

  Playing around on this last one.  I like how the white bushes look like splatter paint.


Downtown Train: Centre Street Station

The city was still fairly dark when I was downtown early on Wednesday.  I dragged the shutter, using long exposures mixed with some panning to capture the motion of the commuter trains coming into and heading out of the core.  Many of the trains were sparsely populated with passengers with the rush of people yet to start building.  This afforded the opportunity pick out individual riders and follow them through the exposure to give the illusion of freezing the person while surrounding them with movement.

The station matched the trains at that hour – both were pretty quiet.

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In this image


Art Wolfe: April seminar in Calgary

I’m very excited to share the news that Art Wolfe is leading a photography seminar here in Calgary on April 16, 2011.  Art has earned great respect from photographers, artists, conservationists and humanitarians around the world.  I am constantly amazed by Art’s work and have loved learning from him and his images for a long time.

The seminar is part of a series that Art is presenting across North America.  It is titled, “The Art of Composition” and the emphasis is on building the photographer’s eye.  Art builds the artistic and technical skills to help the photographer create compelling imagery.

The link to Art’s webpage is www.artwolfe.com.  Information about the Art of the Composition seminar in Calgary is available on his site here.

I have traveled with Art in Myanmar and there is no exaggeration when I say he is a fantastic teacher.  He has an ability to engage people and present subjects like composition, color, inspiration and light in ways that are relevant to photographers.  He not only shares his approach to photography but teaches people how to incorporate these skills into their own work.

Art usually presents this seminar in a large venue but for the Calgary seminar, we have booked a great location with a more intimate setting.  The seminar will be held at the Naturbahn Teahouse in Bowness in the Canada Olympic Park. It is a beautiful location for a world-class event!

My wife and I helped out Art’s team with some of the logistics as eyes on the ground here in Calgary so it is very exciting to be only a month away from the seminar.  I hope to see you there!


The view from my chair


I was in Birmingham Alabama a couple of years ago for a ceramics technology seminar and got out for an evening of street shooting.  I had supper at this diner and the view from my table was interesting and raised a few questions that stuck with me.

I processed this image in Adobe’s Lightroom and Topaz Adjust to create a vignette around the edges of the frame.  The color treatment was to work with the garish fluorescent lighting in the restaurant and create the mood that I felt in the scene.


Banff Landscapes: Lines into Patterns

In several spots along the Vermilion Lakes in the Banff National Park there are sections of open water despite the sustained cold that has frozen over all three lakes this winter.  These breaks in the ice are due to runoff from underground hot springs that ring the lakes.  The warmer water attracts birds and the occasional mammal in the winter.  On the weekend, I saw an American Dipper and followed it flitting amid the reeds and diving for bits in the water.  Following that, I turned my attention to working with patterns created by the sticks and reeds and their reflections in the water along the shoreline.

Here are two that I liked in particular.  One presenting dominant vertical lines and the other creating horizontal movement across the frame.  I enjoy working on these type of compositions while waiting for the dramatic landscapes to fill with clouds, light or anything else of interest.  Sometimes those come, other times they don’t.  Having a list of different types of images I want to create helps avoid a strikeout when things aren’t cooperating.


The C Train in Motion

Here, I panned with the one of Calgary’s C Train cars as it moved out of downtown towards the southern reaches of the line.  I used a longer exposure, 1/4 of a second, to really stretch the lines of light and dark in background.  Usually I pan the trains at between 1/10 and 1/20 of a second as that allows for decent blur streaks in the background and achieving a sharp subject (the train or sometimes its occupants).  Longer exposures can end up a blurry mess quite easily.  In this image, my panning matched the train’s movement pretty well so outline at the front of the vehicle is clearly that of a train.  Not sharp but I think there is a good balance between the background blur and the lines and edges of the train.  I think there is a lot of movement in this photo which was my intent.


Bel Air Wreck on the Prairie

This beaten down shell is on a salt pan in the middle of a barren stretch of prairie near Gull Lake, Saskatchewan.  The country roads that connect all parts of the Canadian prairie hold many long forgotten photographic treasures like this car, farmsteads and weathered buildings.  I love finding these great locations and try to re-visit them whenever I can.  I have visited this car and a neighboring broken down farm several times over the past five years.

With a little down time so far this holiday, I have been working with some different software to test them out.  Here, I’m using Topaz Adjust 4 to process the photos for a saturated, over the top look.  The software integrates seamlessly into Adobe’s Lightroom (my main developing and cataloging software) and is reasonably priced at $50.  I am usually less garish in my post processing but it is nice to try some different looks.

 

In these images I have started with the Topaz Spicify preset as a starting point, then adjusted some of the levels to my taste within each picture and then re-imported into Lightroom to adjust some of the color channels and the edge smoothness.


The Crazy Lunar Eclipse

Before Earth’s shadow started to march across the face of the moon last night, I photographed the full moon as it climbed above the trees in Redwood Meadows.  You can see the mist around the moon and I was a little concerned that clouds and haze may obscure the visible signs of the direct alignment of the sun, Earth and moon.  I didn’t know then that the clouds would largely stay clear or that I was in for a very interesting performance.

The solstice lunar eclipse started normally last night and I was out in the freezing cold photographing the progression towards totality.

Then, things started to get very strange… as the moon started racing around like an excited puppy.

I went to bed as the moon settled back down, slipping behind the Earth and into deep shadow.

I saw it looming large on the horizon this morning so it seems to have emerged from shadow and appears to be behaving predictably once more.

I enjoyed the lead up to the eclipse and the morning after was spectacular as well.  The odd bit during the actual eclipse was very fun too although I’m still looking for a reasonable explanation.

Please note: the moon trails were created by moving the camera around slightly during longer exposures up to two seconds long.  I wrote the story for a bit of fun not to be mistaken for an actual phenomenon observed.


The Calgary Zoolights – 2010

It was chilly at the zoo wandering the pathways last night amid a cold breeze off of the Bow river.  It was worthwhile though as Bobbi and I were surrounded by over 1,500,000 Christmas lights!

(click on any of the photographs for larger images)

This annual event runs from November 26 to January 2 this year.  Most of the zoo is wrapped in lights taking the shape of animals, dinosaurs, sleighs, jungle scenes and a lot more.  We went last year and it was -30°C plus the windchill which made it a bit too cold for more than a few photographs as I was attending a party and was not bundled up.  This year I had longjohns, two sets of gloves and some good layers on so I was able to enjoy the walk more.  We were both bundled up but Bobbi’s boots let her down a bit – nothing serious.  We had no trouble having a great time.

I had to hunt this creature down…

… but I finally got clear of the forest of lights for a clean shot.

 

This year I brought my tripod as well because I wanted to make long exposures and play with some zooming techniques during these slower shutter speeds.

 

Here is a straight long exposure of the jungle scene.

And here is the same composition with the addition of the twist of the zoom lens.  You can do this handheld as well but using a tripod you get straight zoom lines and I find I have better control over the speed of the zoom and how the effect looks.

Here are a few other images from last night.

Thank you to the Zoo for putting on such a visually delightful event, my wife for humouring me as I doddled along in the cold and my parents for spending the evening with the kids.

Two weeks until the big day but in case I don’t see you between now and then, Merry Christmas!


Saturday Morning Monks

Up early with the kids this morning and I had a little time to revisit some photographs I made of some monks inside a weathered temple in Bagan.

I like how the monotone changes neutralize the dominance of the colourful robes and put different emphasis on part of the image.

(as always, click on the photograph to see a larger version)

 

I remember it was about 38° C outside but with the thick stone walls of the building, inside it was much cooler aided by a soft breeze (which you can “see” if you look at the blur in the robes of the rightmost monk).

These files were converted into a duotone of silver and dark grey using Adobe Lightroom’s split toning feature.

 


Calgary’s C-Train Commute

Working with a slow shutter speed, I wanted to see what kind of detail I could of the commuters riding into the downtown core on one of Calgary’s light rail transit trains.  For this image I panned with the train as it sped past, trying to pivot quick enough to briefly match the rail car’s velocity.  The goal being to capture the detail inside the train while blurring the scenery outside.  This technique has been applied to all types of motion by many photographers and creates an interesting effect.

 

 

Click on the image for a larger version

 

Exposure details: 1/13 second, f/4.0 at ISO 400 using a Canon 1D Mark III with 70-200 lens at 200mm.


Joe McNally’s Lighting Seminar in Calgary

Joe McNally, one of the photographers who casts a long shadow and makes imagery that is unique, compelling and tells stories in a way that very few can, was in Calgary this weekend leading a lighting seminar.

This was one of the last set ups that Joe completed during the weekend.  In this single exposure he started the dancer on the left in a pose in front of one of the two flashes.  After the flash, Mel, danced across the stage and came to a stop in front of the second flash.  She posed, Joe fired the second flash and an incredible image was made.  This is my capture from the crowd with my camera hand held which certainly impedes the quality but then it isn’t my photo.  Just wanted to show a glimpse of the creativity that the good fellow of Irish descent commands and which he enjoys sharing.

Joe was hosted by CAPIC, The Camera Store and Mount Royal University and they put on a very smooth event.  Great models, a good set and a small enough venue (250 person theatre) that it remained personable and engaging.  I learned a ton and am so excited to start applying it into my people photography.

If you ever have the chance to join Joe for a workshop, hear him speak at a conference or read one of his books – DO IT!  There is much to learn from this giant in the industry who is eager to share his knowledge.

Thanks Joe and Drew – I can’t wait to meet up with you guys again.


An abstracted sunrise

I have a side project running where I am building a collection of images that have a painterly quality to them.  I like to soften the picture by manually de-focusing the image in camera.  When it works, the effect can look more like a painting than a photograph.

I’m still crazy about sharp images but this paint approach is a nice break from the vigilance demanded on the technical front and allows me to study the gradation of colours and the relationships between the forms in a composition.  And, it’s always fun to just play around.

Here a couple of others in the developing series.

 

 

 

 


Cruising in style

A neighbor has this lovely old hot rod that he’s brought up to show condition.  He takes it out for a cruise now and then.  Here is one of the photos I’ve made as he rolls past.

The blur is created by using a slow shutter speed on the camera and then panning with the car as it drives by.  Here, the shutter is set to 1/8 seconds using a 300mm lens on my Canon 1D Mark III.

 

In this second image, I have softened edges in the image to play up the painterly quality of this motion blur.  In Adobe Lightroom, I reduced the clarity to -84, set sharpening to 0, and adjusted noise reduction (luminance 100, detail 0 and contrast 0).  A different look, I’m going to print both to see which I like more.


Metallic Moose?

It could be a Canadian rock band but here I am talking about a duotone process for creating black and white images of a moose I photographed yesterday.

Lately I have been experimenting with using the split toning controls to replace my black and white conversion workflow.  The slightly metallic look appeals to me and I like the dimensionality that I can create using this technique.  I have applied this technique to people and landscapes and wanted to try it on a wildlife subject.  This moose looked great among the warm fall colors so it was fun to take that starting point and try to create a different feel to the images.

The specific process I follow starts in Adobe Lightroom’s Develop module but is applicable to Photoshop or any other editing program where you can set the colors.  First I zero out the import settings so that I am starting with the unaltered RAW file and then I build the image following these are the steps to create this look.
Split Tone Color:
I like to set my highlight color to a shade between gold and silver (in LR I adjust the hue and saturation to get the tone I like).  For the shadows, I set the color to some shade between blue and grey.
Tone Curve:
I apply an S curve and then tweak it to find the balance of shadow and highlight that works for me on that image.
Basic Adjustments:
Next, I adjust the Blacks, Fill, Clarity and Exposure to find the final look that I am looking for.
Detail Adjustments:
To finish I, like many, apply any noise reduction and sharpening that I feel adds to the image.  I don’t use either very much but here with the fine detail in the moose’s coat, I found raising the sharpening amount and detail added to my enjoyment of the images.

Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I want the image to look like with this technique but a change to the tone colors or the mix of settings can make a surprising change to the feel of the image.


Pow Wow Dancers

I previously posted about the Tsuu T’ina Nation’s Annual Pow Wow and Rodeo event that I attended in July.  Now that we are almost into September, I took some time to work through the stack of images that I made while I was at the Pow Wow.  There were great characters, incredibly ornate outfits and a wonderful cacophony of color – it really was a lot of fun for everyone.  For photographers, there was a lot to work with and the opportunity to make some interesting, beautiful photographs.

I choose two main types of images that I wanted to make.  For one, I wanted to get sharp images of the regalia and the people.  Beyond documenting the event, I wanted to show some of the emotion and purpose that the people put into their dancing.  With the second type of images I wanted to convey the motion of the event.  All of the dancers moved in a clockwise direction around the central supports of the Beaver Dome.  There were upwards of a couple of hundred children and adults moving around the circle and within this path, performing their particular dance.  The swirls of color grabbed attention as the dancers and their dancing outfits traced out their stories in response to the drum circles and chanting.  I started out at floor level using a wide angle lens (Canon 17-40 F/4) to be in the middle of the scene and then went up to the sound booth, had a good chat with Jim a sound technician from Hobbema, and spent much of the afternoon using a longer lens (Canon 70-200 and 300 IS) from up there.  I wanted to get higher so that I could shoot downwards and keep the bright daylight outside from spilling into my shots.  The Beaver Dome is an open sided building so during a sunny day, the outer edges show up as very bright, very wide horizontal patches of white in the background of your images if you are at ground level and facing outwards.  Going higher, allowed me to have other dancers, the carpet and the crowd in the background instead.  Adjusting the aperture, I was able to choose whether to have these background elements in focus or blurred into abstract.

The two types of images required two different techniques.  For the sharp images of the people, I used short exposures with a high ISO to freeze the action and minimize any blurring.  With the relatively dark lighting inside this often worked out to 1/40 second and 1/80 second at F/4 with an ISO 800.  I put up the shutter speed to 1/160 and 1/200 a few times just to make sure I had sharp images in the bank but, back at the computer, I have been happy with a number of the relatively slower shots that allowed more light in so the colors could really pop as they did when I was there.

Conversely, longer exposures To capture the motion, ended up being between 1/4 and 1/15 seconds using an ISO range of 100-400.  I kept my aperture mostly locked at F/4 as it was working to separate individuals from the surrounding crowd and distracting background elements while keeping most or all of the person and their regalia in focus.



Split Toning Images in Adobe Lightroom

With this photograph, I used the split toning controls within Adobe Lightroom’s Develop Panel to make a different looking image.  I converted the image to black and white then used the split toning section to set the colours that I wanted to use to tone the image (a grey-blue for the shadows and a grey-gold for the highlights).  Using the sliders to tweak the hue and saturation of these tones, I was able to bring a subtle, metallic sheen to this monk’s skin.  I had this look in mind recently which has a very different feel from the original, colour image which has warm earthy tones.

Here is a more typical look that I like in my black and white work

In the original, the dust in air has warmed the light and given a glow to everything.

I like how you can use great light to create different versions of the same image.  I’m still not sure which one I prefer.  Colour is pretty consistently a main theme in my images but I like the glow and the slightly metallic look in the split toned edition.


A Vivid Adjustment Technique with Adobe’s Lightroom

I tend to only display photographs that are relatively close to the way that I saw them when I was in the moment, making the image.  I enjoy images of all kinds, be it HDR, Orton Effects, duotones, composites, etc.  It just seems that of the work I do, I prefer the “realistic” look for the images I display.  Behind closed doors, I spend all kinds of time processing some of my images with the previously mentioned techniques and others.  A lot never see the light of day but now and then I like the results of this play.

In the photograph above, I manipulated the final look in Adobe’s Lightroom program. Working in the Develop module, I pulled the recovery, fill light, vibrance, contrast and clarity sliders all the way to the right (100) and black to 40. This resulted in a really garish look and the trick was to use saturation to reduce the color to suit your taste. I then tweaked all of the above sliders and the white balance to match what was in my head.

Give it a try if you are looking for another way to look at one of your images, it might work for you.  This treatment works well on buildings and machinery, particularly when they are weathered.  The effect on people is a bit of a wild card so it definitely doesn’t work for everything (or anything depending on what you like!)

For reference, above is the original photo with only an increase to contrast from the original RAW file out of the camera.  I like this image and it has the look that I usually display.  I’m actually pretty evenly split between these two versions of the photograph.  The vivid one brings the temple more prominently into the scene and makes the story about the people and the temple.  The “normal” version has the father and son as the primary subjects and the story is about the two of them together in the canoe.  The temple serves as a great backdrop but does not demand attention.  I would love to hear your thoughts on which works for you.

Just to highlight the impact of this treatment on buildings, here is another normal and vivid comparison.  The photograph is also from Inle Lake.

Above is the normal version and below is its vivid counterpart.