Photography On Location

Selective sharpening

May 5th, 2015

Fort Collins, CO.. portrait
On workshops one question that pops up frequently is how to develop images in post production. And one step, sharpening the image, always gets people’s attention. In Lightroom there are presets and slider controls for manual sharpening, and in Photoshop you have even more sharpening algorithms to use. But whatever method you choose, I highly recommend selective sharpening. This technique offers better results and is what professional retouchers are doing.

Selective sharpening is just like it sounds. Instead of sharpening the entire image, you sharpen selected areas differently. I work in Photoshop, so my workflow goes like this. First, I might actually sharpen the entire image slightly to bump up the overall sharpness. Since I photograph in RAW format, my images need a little sharpening (but not much with the D810!). Next, I look at what I want the viewer to more focus on in my shot. If it is an animal or person, I may sharpen these just a little bit more. If my shot is a tight portrait, then I may do additional eye sharpening.

Pay attention to your depth of field and focus point on the image. If you are using a shallow depth of field, then you don’t want to sharpen elements that you are trying to keep out of focus. Take the image at top as an example. I was working with a gorgeous young model, Esther, and we wanted a summertime feel to one of her portraits. I chose F2.8 to keep the background out of focus and add to the dreamy quality of the shot. Since I didn’t want to sharpen the background, I only sharpened Esther’s face and eyes even more so.

How do you add sharpening to selected parts of an image? In Photoshop I duplicate the layer, add a layer mask filled with black, and then brush in (using white) what areas I want sharpened. If you are working in the RAW converter (Photoshop and Lightroom), you could use the adjustment brush to do the same thing. Not all images need selective sharpening, but this is a valuable technique for many photos.

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Nikon D810

April 27th, 2015

Moab, UT.
When I saw the D810 announced about a year ago, I wasn’t in line to buy one. I was so happy with my D800 and the files it produced, I just didn’t see the need to upgrade when the files were basically the same. Sure, the D810 didn’t have the anti-aliasing filter so I could expect sharper images out of the camera. But a host of other features got me thinking;

-group area autofocus
-base ISO of 64 and ability to go to 32.
-expeed 4 image processor, ie faster autofocus.
-up to 7 FPS frames per second with option grip MB-D12.
-numerous video improvements including ability to record at 60p
-more time-lapse frames available, and ‘exposure smoothing’
-sharper LCD
-better battery life
-new shutter, quieter

After shooting this camera awhile, I have to say one thing; this was not just a bump in features, the D810 is better thought of as a new camera entirely. I could go on and on about what I love about this camera, it is amazing. First, for those action shooters, group-area autofocus is simply amazing. Faster acquisition of moving subjects (can’t wait to photograph birds!) with less blurry frames. And here is the real kicker. The buffer has been more than doubled, so you don’t have to worry about waiting to shoot your next series of images. And with frame rates of 6 and 7fps (with grip) and using smaller crop (1.5x) sizes, you get great performance for action sequences and still large files (1.5x gives you approx. 15MP files…about the same as the D4). ISO 32 allows me to darken midday skies for portraits without using a filter, or shoot slower shutter speeds during video and time-lapse. And yes, the files are noticeably sharper right out of the camera. If you ask me about whether to ‘upgrade’ to this camera or not, I would unequivocally say got for it. You will be blown away by the improved performance and new features of the D810.

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Ohio here I come!

April 23rd, 2015


I teach photo workshops all over the country and globe, but noticeably absent are excursions to the Midwest. I grew up in the Midwest, and despite not having a Grand Canyon or an ocean, there are a lot of lesser known, but very beautiful, areas to photograph. When the Mentor Series asked me if I would interested in teaching a workshop there, of course I said yes. So for all those past workshop participants who have asked why there are no workshops in the Midwest, come join me in Ohio. We will be photographing cowboys, horses, waterfalls, rolling hills, kayakers…all packed into a 3 day trip. Check out all the details here.

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Combining white balances

April 21st, 2015

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
One of the most powerful design elements photographers can use is color. Color evokes a strong emotional response from the viewer, and can help the photographer achieve their vision and concept. Often the first step in creating the color is choosing your white balance. Your white balance might match the scene, such as Daylight for a midday sunny photograph. Or you might choose a white balance to add color such as using ‘Cloudy’ on a sunny day to add a warm tone to your shot. I take it a step further and combine white balances, especially on twilight shots.

The image above was taken at sunset in San Miguel De Allende. These tango dancers were incredible, and we found the perfect narrow street for the shot. Tango is about passion, love, drama…and amazing dancing. To achieve this mood, we photographed the dancers at twilight in a street with tungsten lights overhead. The street lights would add a nice warm glow to the shot (with a daylight white balance), and the distant clouds would add some drama. Warm colors advance off cool colors, so the dancers in red and warm street light glow would be very dramatic. But with the final image, the street glow looked perfect, the dancers looked perfect, but the clouds looked gray. To solve this issue, I combined white balances.

There are numerous ways to add selective white balance. In Lightroom you could choose the adjustment brush and brush over the sky, then adjust the color temperature slider to warm up this area. With the shot above I double processed the original raw file. I saved one that kept the warm street light glow, and saved another with the white balance set to tungsten. I put the tungsten balanced image over the original shot, added a layer mask filled with black, and then brushed (using white as the foreground color) the tungsten (blue) sky to create ‘the right white balance’.

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Creative trees

April 13th, 2015

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
On my recent travels in Mexico I kept encountering beautiful purple Jacaranda trees. The challenge with photographing the trees was their location; busy streets, private yards and cluttered courtyards. But one morning we found a beautiful tree near a church, and this Jacaranda was perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky. How to photograph this tree?

I started with a sharp image and bracketed compositions changing the position of the tree trunks. The black trunks provided the visual handrail the viewer’s eye would travel along through the image. I liked the trunks in the lower left corner the most.

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
Next, I aimed my camera straight up, set a slow shutter speed (1/-2 to 1/15 second) and twisted my camera as I pressed the shutter. The trick with this image was trying to keep my center point steady so the motion would rotate around this one point. ‘Twisties’ are a great way to photograph trees from below when you are working on abstract shots.

San Miguel De Allende, Mexico
Finally, I had to shoot the tried and true ‘shakie’. Using the same slow shutter speed this time I shook my camera up and down to create an abstract effect. And in the end, this was my favorite shot. Always experiment with your camera technique, especially methods that produce abstract results. Sometimes these images are my favorites from a trip.

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Street shooting; make your own luck.

April 1st, 2015

I just returned from a wonderful trip organized by Strabo Tours to San Miguel De Allende. If you like beautiful orange and red buildings, narrow cobble streets, and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, go to San Miguel. This town has a vibrant art scene with numerous galleries, and terrific shooting all over town. The best way to photograph San Miguel is go explore the colorful streets and parks.

I use three approaches to street travel photography. Number one…wait for it. Nothing is more relaxing than sitting on a bench watching a city come to life. You may find great images just sitting in a park or slowly walking the street. The shot above happened while I was slowly wandering the streets one morning heading to the central square. Being early in the morning resulted in very few cars in the street and helped this shot.

Number two…don’t wait for it. If I see a really interesting person walking, I may try to get ahead of them to photograph them as they walk past a scenic spot. Or I may just go up to them and ask to take their photograph. We visited a school one day, and the kids loved having their photographs taken. This boy happily stood still for a few shots. I used my 85mm 1.4 wide open to blur the background.

Number three..make it happen. Sometimes, no matter how long you wait, you just don’t get the image you envisioned. And to make it work, you might have to hire someone. I have hired models and non-models all over the globe, and it has resulted in some of my best travel images. I’m okay with supporting the locals this way if it is established already. On the other hand, sometimes donations of school supplies or other items works great as a trade for some images. In the image above, we hired a mariachi to pose with his guitar in front of this old building.

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Free time equals great images.

March 23rd, 2015

Every photographer wants to create better images and figure out their style. What separates their work from the rest of the pack? What style of images do you like to shoot? As photographers we all have free time, and man is it easy to find other activities to fill the day instead of going out and taking a few images. But I have learned one thing about my own photography; I didn’t find my style, my style found me. And I developed my style when I had free time to experiment and shoot subjects I wanted to shoot, not ones on an assignment. I think it is very important to always have a personal project, and flex you creative genes and hone camera/lighting technique during those ‘slow’ periods. I’ve learned through the years that the process is as important as the end result. I might not create images I like all the time, but mistakes contribute to style as much as successes. Days are getting longer and summer is fast approaching. Will you be shooting on your free time, or thinking about shooting on your free time? Grab a camera and head out the door and see what happens. You might be surprised.

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Elinchrom ELB 400

March 13th, 2015

Loveland, CO. portraits
Elinchrom recently introduced a new flash, the ELB 400. Similar to the earlier Quadra, this pack is very lightweight (about 6 pounds with the head) and portable. I have used the Quadra around the globe; it is the perfect solution for portraits in remote areas and travel. Nothing is more exciting than lighting a Mongolian throat singer in the Gobi desert with this light! But the Quadra just got a lot better with the introduction of the ELB 400.

Here are some of the improvements:

-new OLED menu
-20% faster recycling
-25% more full power flashes (up from 280-350)
-new creative modes including Strobo, Delayed and Sequence
-minimum power setting is 0.3 f-stop lower
-new generation Skyport built-in

Let me just sum it up at the beginning. The ELB 400 shoots like a powerhouse. I have been shooting the light for weeks now, and right out of the box I loved the new OLED menu. This menu system is very intuitive and easy to navigate, even if you have never used an Elinchrom light before. And the increased power and faster recycling time is HUGE on shoots. I hate missing an expression from a model while I wait for a flash to recycle, and ELB does a terrific job speeding up recycle times. Also important to me is extended battery life, especially if I am miles into the backcountry shooting rock climbers or mountain bikers. 350 full power shots is a lot, and since I rarely shoot at full power, the lithium battery almost eliminates the need to bring in a second a battery on a shoot. I can get hundreds of flashes at full power, and over a thousand at less than full power…my climbers and bikers will wear out before the battery does.

The ELB also has a cool strobic mode to shoot multiple flashes over a long exposure for sequence shots. I have used this a few times and it works perfectly. Now I just need my ballerina dancer to become available to try this out even more…stay tuned, a future post will look at the strobic mode in depth.

If you are looking for a portable light that packs a punch, take a look at the new Elinchrom ELB 400. I’ve shot rock climbers to body builders with this light, and it hasn’t missed a beat.

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Shooting the West

March 9th, 2015

I just returned from Shooting the West, a unique photography workshop/symposium held every year in Winnemucca, NV. This was my 5th year attending, and it is always a highlight of my year. Why? Because of the great people who attend, and the amazing workshops. This year Ben Wilmore was the keynote speaker…you might know him through his extensive Photoshop training and numerous books. Ben and his wife Karen were terrific presenters and educators, looking forward to seeing them at future events. I had a chance to teach workshops on portraits and lighting, and the images participants created were stunning. This year the amazing Brenda Heintz arranged veterans and cowboys for our portrait class, and it was all I could do not to pick up a camera and shoot images myself. The image above was taken by Richard Westin, a friend and workshop participant. I just had to show this image of rim lighting…Richard nailed it! Always feels good when you see folks succeed with their photography and images.

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A Defining Moment

March 2nd, 2015

I was just in Costa Rica on a fantastic workshop with ANPW. The shooting was incredible, including watching this amazing sunset over the Cerro De La Muerte. I sometimes get asked how my career began in photography, was there a turning point in my career, and what inspires my work. My friend Randy at Fusebox Studio was up for producing a video about these questions, so here is the final video. Enjoy!

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