Photography in The Winter

Snowy Forest Scene

Photography in The Winter

As the Mama’s and The Papa’s once sang, “All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey”. But that shouldn’t stop you from taking a walk on a Winter’s day. And while you’re at it, don’t think that photography season has passed. I can think of at least six reason why Winter is a great time for photography.

The first reason that comes to mind concerns the weather. The common thought about photography in the weather would be that it’s a terrible time to go due to the grey skies, rain or snow. It is commonly believed, especially among non-photographers, that the Summertime is the best time for photos. Although the Summer weather is a great time to be in the outdoors it may not be the best time to make beautiful photos - Especially photos of dramatic light and skies. A clear blue sky is beautiful in a photo, but there can be a lot of negative space to try to fill, whereas a grey, dramatic cloudy sky can add texture and drama to the scene.

Rain can help a scene as well, especially a forested creek or a waterfall. The rain wets the foliage that may still be in the forest, including moss and evergreen trees. When the foliage is wet I like to apply a circular polarizer to my lens and turn it until the shine and glare that’s on the leaves and rocks, which is a reflection of the sky and ambient light, disappear, which will in turn bring out the color of the forest. Don’t hesitate to go out and photograph in the snow. The snow can make some great photos, especially fresh snow. A bluebird day and fresh snow will bring clear views of the horizon and any geographic features such as a mountain into view.

Wintertime is the best time for beautiful sunrises. Winter skies and rainstorms can, at times, clear or partially clear at night and during daybreak only to succumb to a completely overcast or stormy sky soon after sunrise. I always try to go to bed early, set my alarm and head out to a view to try to witness a sunrise.

Winter forest scenes can be dramatic as well as artistic. The lack of foliage leaves the forest with a clear view through tree trucks and bushes. Many times a view of a scene such as a creek, waterfall or view into the distance is exposed in the Winter when it’s obscured by foliage in the Summer. Also, with the tree trunks exposed, creative abstract landscape scenes can be found.

Summertime weather, sun and no rain, leaves the streams and waterfalls dry or with a limited flow but the rains of Winter fill these streams with water. With rain comes renewed growth of the moss around these streams and waterfalls as well.Winter can be a great time to photograph them. And don’t hesitate to arrive after a fresh snow to photograph them in the Winter white forest. I enjoy photographing streams and waterfalls in the Winter.

Winter weather will also filter out a lot of fair weather photographers too. Not all will dare to go out to get those unique Winter photos. This leaves you with more room to work at a location. Less people in a photograph will allow you to concentrate your subject better, no matter if you’re photographing a landscape or a portrait shoot in a park.

Then there are the holidays. The Winter season brings holidays that will traditionally bring families together for family events and get togethers. Don’t let these times with family pass without documenting them with a photograph. A lot of times, in this busy day and age, we are so distracted by our personal day to day routine that these holidays are the only times throughout the year when family can be gathered together in one place. Take advantage of that time to gather images for posterity.

As you can see the Winter season is no time to set your camera aside. There are plenty of reasons to look at Winter as another time of the year to get beautiful photos.

Night Sky Photography

Mt Hood Milky Way

Night Sky Photography  - Summer is here. For a landscape photographer this time of the year means good weather, green forests, flowers, warmer nights and starry night skies. I enjoy heading out for a sunset and staying until the stars come out, and in many cases, staying out until sunrise. Sunsets and sunrises are always a wonderful time to get dramatic landscape photos, while landscape photos with an amazing Milky Way in the sky above can be unique and dramatic.

Night sky photography is a form of photography that seems mystical and magical. To many people night photography appears to be complicated and left only for those with the most acute photography skill, when in fact once you understand just the basics of the exposure triangle - Shutter speed, aperture and Iso - you will realize that all that’s being done to get these dark night sky photos, in most cases, is to get as much light into your camera as possible.

Set your camera on Manual, set up your tripod and let’s get started.

As most photographers know when you use a long exposure you will need a tripod. Your tripod will keep your camera still during the exposure. You will want to insure that no movement takes place at all during the exposure. Another device that helps with this is a shutter release. The shutter release will keep you from moving the camera when you press the button. If you have no shutter release you can usually set your camera timer to take the photo a few seconds after you click the shutter button.

Your exposure setting will need to be extended, in most cases, up to 20 or sometimes 30 seconds. This will depend on how dark the sky is. Remember that the darker the sky, the brighter the stars, therefore a night without a moon will give the best starry sky. The only negative consequence will be less light on your subject or foreground. Many times just a slight sliver of a moon will allow a more defined foreground while still allowing the stars to shine.

Concerning shutter speed, the only consideration that you must have is that the longer the shutter is open the more movement you will detect in the scene. Even in the stars as at some longer focal lengths the stars will streak slightly when you extend the exposure to 30 seconds. These star streaks turn into star trails if allowed to streak long enough, sometimes up to 30 minutes. This method will create amazing surreal images of steaks and circles of light above your subject. To do this requires another method, not explained here, to pull off.

The next thing that one must consider is how the aperture will block or allow light to pass through the lens and into the camera. When light is dim or it’s dark outside you will want to allow as much light through as possible, and to do this you must use a wider more open aperture - A smaller number. Without getting into the math involved just remember that when you open your aperture you will be allowed a quicker shutter and a lower Iso. Both are desirable, which I’ll explain later. A good quality lens will allow an f/2.8 aperture setting.

Next is your Iso setting. What is Iso? You know that the longer that you keep your shutter open the more light will pass through the lens and into the camera. We also know that an aperture that’s open wider allows more light in. In digital photography we have no film but we do have electronic film in the form of the image sensor. The image sensor’s sensitivity to light can be adjusted. The higher the Iso number the more sensitive to light your camera becomes. Iso 1000 will be more sensitive to light than Iso 100, for instance. Therefor you will need to raise your Iso to get your starry night photos. It’s easy to think that all one needs to do is raise their Iso, but there are negative effects in the form of noise in the image. In film it’s called grain. To get a cleaner image you want to keep your Iso as low as possible. Extending your shutter speed and opening your Iso allows you to do this.

One thing that one must remember when setting up is that in the dark it’s more difficult, or in many cases impossible to use your light meter to determine your settings. Therefore one must take a couple test shots before they get the exposure right.

Another important and in many cases the most difficult part of getting setup for the shot is focus. Unfortunately on a zoom lens when you set the focus to infinity the stars will not be in focus. And at night when it’s dark it’s difficult to manual focus. I recommend taking your camera out in the daylight and setting the focus to an object far away and then marking the lens. I have used tape where when I line up the edges of the tape it’s in focus. There are other methods, but this is the simplest until you gain more experience.

And so once we understand this we can let more light into the camera using these three settings, we can start taking photos in low light. Tripod, long exposure, open aperture and a higher Iso. The next thing to do is to go out and practice. Once you do this a few times your photos will get better and your understanding of what settings to start with will become more second nature.

For more in depth instruction I'm alway available for private one-on-one in field workshops or post processing in person or via Skype.

Crystal Crane Hot Springs Milky Way
Crystal Crane Hot Springs Milky Way

Making Money With Photography

Wedding Photography

If making money with your photography is your goal, what's holding you back?

It's taken me a long time to realize that making money with your camera can be pretty simple, but one must be happy making a little in the beginning and realize that the dream of good money comes in time. Like all journeys the sooner that you start the sooner that you arrive where you want to be.

Beyond practicing to perfect your photography skills, the hard part is making the effort to find the jobs. If anyone has followed me close enough through the last 15 years they can attest that I've had some rough times. It has taken me longer than it should have to realize a few simple facts of life concerning business, motivation and purpose concerning my photography business. If I can save anyone any time, I’m glad to share what I’ve learned.

It doesn't matter if you have “real” job or not beyond your photography. You probably have some spare time that can be invested in creating or improving your photography business, be it your skill, your marketing plan or simply finding jobs. You must understand that you will be doing a lot of work for yourself that is an investment in the future of your business. A website, for example, will take a lot of time to keep current and relevant. Social Media and other forms of marketing take time as well.

First consider what you enjoy photographing the most or what you feel that you’re good at. I'm not talking about the remote and breathtaking landscape photography created as your art necessarily, although print sales can be added to the aggregate of income, practical photography jobs are more consistent work and pay. Jobs such as portraiture, events (weddings, engagements, etc) or real estate. These are jobs that fill a need of a client. This is work that you can get any day of the week. In my case I enjoy real estate photography jobs more than I enjoy weddings so I look for real estate agents that I can help. There were 255,284 homes sold in Oregon last year. There are 16,000 real estate agents in Oregon. There were 26,787 weddings in Oregon in 2016. All you need are a small handful of loyal clients. The work is out there.

Furthermore, there are a wide array of budgets for these jobs. There’s someone who has a budget that suits your rates no matter how low or high it might be. Start with lower paying jobs with less expectation and work your way up as you gain experience and reputation. You’re not a Richard Avedon or a Dorothea Lange, but they were beginners once too.

Let's say that you want to do real estate photography. Start by photographing your own home or, perhaps, a friend who has a home that would photograph well. If you want to do portraiture photograph your family and friends. Gain confidence by practicing. The same goes for approaching potential clients. Most people fear the word “no”. Put the thought in your mind that they aren’t rejecting you, they just don’t have a need for what you are offering. A no saves you a lot of time to go find that yes.

Don’t hesitate to turn down a job if you feel that it’s beyond your ability. It’s better to admit that than to get yourself in over your head and becoming discouraged, but overcoming challenges working as a photographer will be the best way to improve your understanding of photography. I have learned many lessons in my real estate work that I have been able to apply to the other forms of photography that I enjoy, for instance. In other words, these types of photography jobs will make you a better all around photographer. Play it safe, don't be afraid to fail. A lesson is learned and life goes on.

Next is that when you have your own business you have no boss to tell you what to do and when to do it. It's up to you to motivate yourself to do what needs to be done. A job must be done completely and done well first, and in a timely manner second. Your client would rather have beautiful photos in due time, than crummy photos quickly, but be prompt in returning your work to your client. It’s also up to you to motivate yourself to do what you know needs to be done including the parts of the job that don’t require taking photos, which are typically seen as chores by most photographers and artists trying to make a living with their skill. Bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, sales calls, follow ups, invoices. It all adds up, and many burgeoning photography entrepreneurs don’t consider all of that. It can be daunting, but it can be simple in today's computer age. Keeping good records will help you to take advantage of the tax laws made to encourage small businesses such as yours. Make your spare bedroom your office.

Create your brand and build a website with the best examples of your work. Make your brand identifiable to you. Make it your business identity. Print business cards and hand them out to everyone everywhere. I even hand mine out while hiking. The simple act of handing someone a card is empowering in itself. Represent yourself as a professional. Visit businesses that you feel may need what you offer. Make a contact there and get their card. Leave several cards before you leave and mention your website, then follow up with a call a few days later. You may feel bashful or even foolish at first, but don’t stop shaking hands. You will feel more comfortable in time. We’re all dealing with the same insecurities, including your potential client. We’re all human. You may be surprised how many people that you will find who will relate to you.

An important part of creating this new world of pro photography, which has nothing to do with photography, is to pare down your cash flow expectations and requirements. Relegate your photography income to your business if possible, or pay off the things that are keeping you from investing that money in yourself. If you are in a situation where your financial obligations are making your life top heavy, rethink your situation and remove obligation if at all possible. You can do one of two things to affect your money situation. You can either make more money or you can get rid of financial liability. Debt kills dreams faster than anything. I may not have the nicest car or the nicest house, but both are mine and those simple, basic things give me what I require for shelter and transportation plus the freedom to not have to have such a large amount of bills to pay each month. I'm not on this earth to impress anyone so new cars or a home with excess mean little to me. This also applies to your tools. I have never bought a new camera. I always buy gently used, but one day I'll have the best camera in the world.

Last you must believe in yourself and your abilities. Confidence comes with pride in your work and affirmation from happy clients and followers. It comes from seeing an improvement in your own work. It comes from actually being paid for a job well done. Being confident in your abilities give you confidence in approaching potential clients. All this comes from practicing and getting better at your photography. You must start somewhere, sometime and not stop. You must expect delayed gratification. You must have faith that it will happen. You must resolve yourself to never quit.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m realizing the benefits of the work that I have done over the past fifteen years. Sure there are others who have been more successful or have reached equivalent goals as mine quicker, but that’s their world. That’s what you have to tell yourself. This is your world and nobody else's. Relax, set your sights on your goals and live each day doing your best to reach them.

Now with all of this being said, this is my world, but I am a full time professional photographer. Am I hugely successful or even slightly qualified to give advice? Maybe not, but there’s always someone out there that needs to hear what you or I have to say. These are my thoughts. These are the things that I tell myself. I hope that this helps someone out there realize their dreams and goals.

If I can do this, you can too.

He’s too close for missiles Goose!

Full Manual Meme

I see this meme come and go here on Facebook. I figured that it would be worth it for me to comment on how I feel about this statement.

I encourage everyone to shoot on Manual Mode, but I'm talking from the perspective of a landscape photographer. In landscape photography we are typically in no hurry and it's important to control your camera settings to make sure that you have, what I call, the three essentials captured properly - focus, dof, and exposure. You don't want to have the camera choose one or two or even all three of the settings that allow you to affect the three essentials. In most every case you will want to control all three by having absolute control over the critical settings, shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Now with that being said, as photographer who practices more genres than landscape there are absolutely times when switching to an Automatic Mode on your DSLR helps greatly to increase your chances at getting great photos. Most all DSLR cameras come with Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Priority Modes. There are practical reasons for each mode.

Let’s say that you’re photographing a wedding and you’re doing candid photos of the attendees. Do you really want to have to meter your light, adjust your camera, focus and take a shot? The moment passes in a blink of an eye sometimes. In any situation where the subject changes quickly or there’s a lot of action the Auto Modes will come in handy. Aperture or Shutter Modes would help greatly.

In Shutter Priority Mode you can set the Shutter Speed to your desired speed - The slowest shutter speed that you will need to create a clear image with no motion blur - Then set the ISO to Auto and set the Maximum and the Minimum ISO that you want and then let the camera set the aperture.

In Aperture Priority you can set the aperture to your desired setting f/stop - Many times a shallow DOF which helps your shutter speed and softens the background - Then set the ISO to Auto and set the Maximum and the Minimum ISO that you want and then let the camera set the shutter speed.

When I shoot in an Auto Mode these are the two that I typically choose - Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority - with Aperture Priority used the most.

The third is called Program Mode. Program Mode is Automatic, allowing the camera to control all of the settings, but if you decide to change the shutter or aperture, is goes into “Flexible Program Mode” once you turn either dial. When you make the change the camera will compensate with the other setting that you didn’t affect. In other words if you are shooting in Program Mode and you turn the shutter dial the camera will change the aperture to keep the exposure proper.

Here’s how I look at it. Learn to shoot in Manual Mode. Learn your camera until it becomes instinctual. Learn how to nail the exposure and the DOF and how to deal with ISO. Learn Manual Mode because it will allow you to know when it’s going to pay to switch to an Auto Mode. If you understand Manual Mode you will understand just what it is that your camera is doing when you ask it to take over some of the work for you. There are many times when you will never consider an Auto Mode, but they’re there if you need them.

It reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Top Gun when Maverick is chasing the instructor and says, “He's too close for missiles Goose, I'm switching to guns!”.

 

Danny at The Owyhee
Danny at The Owyhee shooting medium format view camera.

My Photography Lens Filters

Little Creek Swirly

One of the most asked questions of me is one concerning lens filters. So let’s talk about filters for a minute.

Filters are round glass elements that screw onto the end of your lens, or in some cases glass or resin panels that are placed on front of the lens using a fixture. The purpose of these filters is to affect several different things when you’re taking a photo.

During the era of film photography many colored filters were used, mostly used with black and white film. These colored filters would block or cancel certain colors of light causing corresponding areas of color to respond in different ways. An orange or red filter will darken blue tones and lighten reds, while a blue one will darken reds and lighten blues. In digital photography these colored filters are not needed as the sensor has the ability to filter Red, Green and Blue light.

During that time we also used UV filters to cut the effect that ultraviolet light had on film. Today the digital sensors have built in UV filtration so they are no longer necessary. Today they're used to protect the lens element from scratches. The only caution that you need to consider is that you should remove them at night. Even though they're clear, they can cause light to reflect between the filter glass and the lens glass. This can cause a double image of any light in the scene.

In digital photography the most commonly used filters are a circular polarizer and neutral density filters.

A circular polarizer, or a CP filter, will do a couple of things to your photo according to how it’s used. The primary purpose is to reduce glare and reflections on things such as the surface of water or even wet leaves. It will also turn the sky a deeper blue. It is made with two elements, one which you can turn to adjust the amount or place of polarization. The filter glass will be somewhat dark so it will stop light, the amount of which varies depending on the darkness of the particular filter but a typical CP filter will stop about 2 f/stops.

The next filter that is most commonly used in digital photography is a neutral density filter. A neutral density filter modifies the intensity of all wavelengths of color. In short its purpose is to block or stop bright light. The purpose typically is to extend or lengthen one’s shutter speed during bright light such as a sunny day. When a photographer mentions neutral density filters, they typically call them ND’s or ND filters. ND filters come in a variety of “darknesses” stopping different levels of light. They can vary in optical density from almost clear to nearly solid dark. The most common ND’s are ND2, ND4 and ND8 with a corresponding 1, 2, and 3 f/stop reduction. Another common ND used for extreme stops of light some choose an 8 or 10 stop ND filter.

Neutral density filters also come in what is called a graduated neutral density filter. This filter is just as it describes. It has a graduation from top to bottom making half of the filter dark and the other half clear. This is used in neutralizing the exposure when you have an extremely bright sky and a dark foreground, It stops the light of the sky making the exposure more even.

As mentioned previously I use my circular polarizer to affect the blueness of the sky, to remove glare and reflections from water surfaces and wet foliage which will allow the color and texture to show. I love using it for creeks and waterfalls, especially on a rainy day or a day where it’s recently rained as the water will typically reflect the bright light from the sky. So too will the leaves and plants reflect this light from the sky. Once you polarize them the shine goes away and color and textures start to show through. An important thing to remember is that a CP filter works best when the light is coming from 90 degrees from the direction that you’re shooting. As the angle changes so does the amount of affect that the filter has on the photo. Also, the filter will allow me to extend my shutter speed to smooth the water a little more to give it a feeling of movement or flow.

My primary purpose for ND filters is to allow me to extend my shutter even more than I could without them under extremely bright light. They come in handy if you show up to a creek or a waterfall during mid day sun.

As for graduated ND filters, I use them as little as possible as they tend to darken areas that don’t necessarily don't need to be. A good example is if you want to darken the sky but there are trees or buildings that extend into this area. The most ideal case for the use of one would be at the coast in a photo of the ocean with an even horizon line.

Whew. This can all sound a bit complicated, but once you use them it will become easy to understand. If you use your camera on the Manual setting it’s also easier to understand as you probably have encountered some of these problems while trying to get that shot at less than an ideal time. I do my best to show up at a scene in good light. If I want to extend my shutter at a creek or a waterfall I find it best to show up when the light is right. Good light from a creek or a waterfall is subdued light with little or no glare or reflection on the surfaces in your photo. I find it best early in the morning or later in the afternoon, but I love it best when it’s drizzling or an even overcast cloudy sky. Bright light is not your friend in these cases. Surprisingly, the CP works under cloudy skies too.

In the photo included in this blog post you can notice a swirly in the water. This little eddy was caused by a current in the water that held bubbles that were caused by the little pour off in the scene. It took awhile for the bubbles to make a circle so I wanted to extend my shutter as long as I could so I had to block light in any way possible to me. I lowered my ISO, stopped down (narrowed) my aperture and applied my CP for two more stops of light. By doing this I was able to get some decent shots at up to 6 seconds exposure time.

I hope that this helps clear up this subject a little. If you’re serious about your photography put a CP and some ND’s in your bag.

Camera Basics Refresher

Family Fishing Photo

Camera Basics Refresher

Well, it’s a new year and Christmas has come and gone. With the popularity of photography lately I’m sure that there will be some readers who have received the gift that they wanted, a new digital camera. Because of this I have decided to brush up on how to use it to more of its potential. So let’s talk about manual camera operation.

You have a new camera that, unlike your phone’s camera, was designed exclusively for making photos. I am going to assume that the reason that you wanted your new camera was to make photos that are even better than you could with your cell phone. To do this you will need to move away from the point and shoot mindset and decide to be the computer that controls the camera instead. Switch to Manual Mode.

Let’s start with the “Big 3”. Exposure time - Aperture Setting - ISO/Film Speed. When you’re taking a photo you will want to understand what all three are, how to control them and how they affect each other.

Shutter Speed - Your shutter is a gate that opens and closes to allow light from the outside to come inside of the camera and fall on the film/image sensor. The longer your shutter speed is the more light that’s allowed in and, conversely, how much can be stopped or blocked from coming inside. Consequences of both being a twofold. The first is the exposure of the image, or how bright or dark that it is. The second being the allowance or elimination of movement in your photo. The primary concern typically is to get a photo that’s bright enough without movement being blurred, but there are times when you will want to show movement or blur in your photo such as a waterfall. A fast shutter speed freezes movement while a slower one will blur movement.

Aperture setting - The aperture is a mechanism in the lens that you can adjust to vary the size of the hole that the light goes through as it passes through the lens and into the camera. The larger the hole the more light that can come through in a set amount of time (shutter speed). You can have the same shutter speed but control the amount of light with the aperture. The second consideration when adjusting your aperture is how it affects the depth of field, or how deep the focus is in the photo. When you choose a larger hole, which is represented by a smaller f/stop number, it will give you a smaller or shallow depth of focus, whereas a smaller hole with a larger f/stop number, will give you a larger or deeper depth of focus. One will realize that with a smaller hole for the light to come through a longer shutter speed will be needed to get the same light inside. With a longer shutter speed you will have a chance to blur, as mentioned previously, which will require you to use the third setting in our big three adjustments to further affect the exposure.

The third and last adjustment that we will add to the formula is what was once called “film speed” in film photography, which is indicated by the ASA rating of the film, whereas in digital photography, where there is no film, we adjust the ISO. The film speed indicated how sensitive to light the film is. A lower rating such as 400 ASA will be less sensitive to light than a film rated at 1000 ASA. When the film is more sensitive to light it takes less light to expose the film so you can use the film in darker light or it will allow you to use a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture opening. With this understanding we can translate the application of this information to digital cameras easily. In digital cameras the film is the image sensor and the film speed is translated to the ISO setting of the camera. The ISO setting varies the sensitivity to light of the image sensor. The beauty of shooting with a digital single lens reflex camera is that you can vary the light sensitivity of the camera using a dial, whereas in film you had to change the whole roll of film. The one consideration when setting the ISO is that the higher the ISO the more grain/noise that you will have in your image.

Let’s summarize what has been covered. You have three settings, shutter speed, aperture opening, and ISO or light sensitivity. All three will affect the each other so you will usually need to adjust another, or both, when one is changed. We can now use this knowledge to set our exposure considering movement, depth of focus and acceptable image noise.

Next, to know how close your exposure is to proper your digital SLR camera comes with a built in light meter. As you set your camera you can keep an eye on the light meter and balance it in the center. Once you have your shutter speed, aperture and your ISO set according to your light meter take your shot.

Once you take your photo you will have a display on the back that will show you a preview of the image. You can check your focus and your composition with this preview of the photo, but you can’t get a real indication of the exposure therefore, the next and last step is to check the exposure with the histogram. The histogram is a graphical representation of the range of light that was captured in your photo. If the histogram doesn’t show automatically with the preview you can find a setting that will allow it. The histogram will look like a rectangular box with a bar chart inside. The left side will be the dark part of your photo such as shadows while the right side will represent the highlights. What you will want to attempt is to balance the highlights and the darks with your “Big 3” adjustments using your histogram as your way of verifying your success. If the settings were a little off, make an adjustment and take another photo. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital.

All of this may sound a bit confusing at first but the confusion leaves with practice. Like I mentioned previously film is cheap when you’re shooting with a digital camera so go out and take a lot of photos. Therein lies the secret to improving your photography. Practice and experimentation.

It’s my hope for you that your new camera, or your old one for that matter, will provide you with as much fun and life enriching experiences that mine has for me.

Happy New Year.

Fort Rock Night Photography

The Milky Way at Fort Rock Oregon
Fort Rock Before and After
Fort Rock Night Photography Before and After

Fort Rock Night Photography - After a drive from my home here on the south side of Mount Hood to Central Oregon for some Fort Rock Night Photography. I and my friend Rob arrived at the Fort Rock Museum, what's left of the history of this little town, and the geologic feature it's named for. It was a little after midnight when we arrived. The old buildings at the museum were our goal for the evening, although it was our third stop on the two day trip, and we were excited at our chances at photographing the Milky Way in the sky above.

As a photographer I understand that, no matter how much I try to prepare it seems that there's always some sort of unforeseen situation that pops up. In this case the complication came in the form of a huge invasive orange street light illuminating the scene. This actually created two complications. The street light created a huge range of light from the buildings to the dark sky which wouldn't allow a longer exposure which is required to allow the sky to be exposed properly. When the sky was exposed properly the buildings were overexposed and vice versa. The second complication being the hot orange white balance of the light. Sodium lights produce a very narrow spectrum of light, meaning that it's basically a monochrome image, kind of like a black and white but orange. No other color is represented and so it's near impossible to correct for this type of light. To say the least I was a bit disappointed. Never one to just give up I decided to shoot the area nonetheless.

After we were done at Fort Rock we wrapped up the trip with a sunrise at the Christmas Valley Sand Dunes. It was a long trip with no sleep but an excellent adventure. We returned with photos from Smith Rock, Sparks Lake, Fort Rock and Christmas Valley all in a matter of about 24 hours.

Once home and after downloading my photos the realization that all of my photos from Fort Rock were affected by the aforementioned sodium street light started to sink in.

Sodium Light in France
Sodium Light in France

I've had to photograph under sodium lighting in the past but I just rolled with it, either that or I converted  them to black and white. Many of the photos that I made in France were under this same orange light. In this case I didn't want to roll with it. I wanted to take some time and process the photos into the images that I drove so far to create. I had to decide what approach that I would take.

While I was at the location I decided to take two photos for each final photo that I would make. One would be exposed for the sky while another was exposed for the buildings. After some thought I decided on a workflow that included the following:

  • Import into Lightroom for basic adjustments and then import both photos into Photoshop as layers
  • Convert the building layer that was bathed in the orange glow to black and white and do finished contrast adjustments
  • Adjust the sky layer with the Milky way
  • Create a mask to bring the sky into the black and white building layer
  • Create a 50% grey layer with Soft Light blend mode and select a brown color and paint the buildings and adjust opacity until it looks right
  • Create a 50% grey layer with Soft Light blend mode and select a drab green color and paint the sagebrush and adjust opacity until it looks right
  • Make final separate adjustments of separate layers
  • Merge layers and create final adjustments
  • Size and sharpen

It's always my goal to get my photos in a single exposure and I try my best to make my processing as simple as possible to get the best effect but there are times when one must push the envelope and salvage a long drive to the middle of nowhere. In this case my creativity and knowledge of Photoshop was tested. Although it wasn't exactly what I went for I think that the final images were salvaged, at the very least.

What Lens Should I Use?

Mt Hood at 20mm lens

What Lens Should I Use? - The most asked question of me is typically advice in what camera that one should get. I have addressed this in a previous blog post. The second most asked question may be what lens to choose.

In SLR (single lens reflex) photography there are basically two types of lenses that one can choose. Fixed focal length (prime lenses) and zoom lenses. It was common back in the old days when I first started for photographers to have a whole set of fixed focal length lenses. A full set typically consisted is a 20mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro. Beyond those focal lengths one bought large telephoto lenses such as a 200mm or a 300mm. We had zooms back then but they were of poor quality. After the 1970’s zoom lenses became much better and eventually became the choice of most photographers, especially hobbyists. Today the quality of a zoom lens is fantastic.

Mt Hood at 20mm
Mt Hood at 20mm lens

A zoom lens allows you to magnify the scene that you’re photographing, enlarging an area to give a closer view. It will also help in aiding your composition. You can start wide and zoom in until you have removed all that you don’t want in the shot creating a much more solid and stronger composition. A zoom lens is very handy as it allows you to have one lens instead of a set. Zooms are available that will allow a range from 28mm-300mm in one lens.

The most valuable tool in my bag is the right lens for the right purpose. In landscape photography the most common lens used is a wide angle lens. A focal length range from 24-70mm on a 35mm camera or a full frame digital camera, or 18-55mm on a cropped sensor camera, is the most effective and most used range for landscape work. Although it’s the most commonly used range it’s certainly not the only one that a landscape photographer can use. I love to use my 70-200mm zoom to get some details of the scene of more abstract interpretations of the

Mt Hood at 50mm
Mt Hood at 50mm lens

scene as well as my 14mm and 20mm ultra wide angle lenses, both being “fast” prime lenses.

The next consideration in choosing a lens is how fast the lens is. Fast meaning how wide that you’re able to open your aperture. The most common maximum aperture setting is f/3.5, but better lenses typically will allow f/2.8 to f/1.8. This means that you can use a faster shutter with more light coming through the lens at the maximum aperture setting. The wider the opening the more light that’s able to make it inside the camera. Another consequence of the wider maximum aperture opening is a narrowing or decrease in the depth of field which will allow one to separate the subject from the background by keeping the subject sharp while blurring the background. The better lenses will usually have a wider maximum aperture but with the quality and extra feature comes an increase in cost.

I have been talking a lot about landscape photography but the same principles apply in all forms including portraiture, for instance. A typical prime focal length for portraiture is 85-105mm. When you own a zoom lens, you have that range. A note concerning portraiture use a wider aperture to narrow the DOF to separate your subject from the background by blurring the background as described above.

Mt Hood at 85mm
Mt Hood at 85mm lens

For those who don’t own a camera with removable lenses, all of this applies to your camera as well. A typical prosumer camera will have a built in zoom as well as the ability to switch to manual and set your aperture. Learn to manually adjust your camera and use the aperture to control the DOF to allow you to enhance the look and quality of your photos.

It’s easy to complicate photography in one’s mind with the perception of mathematical complication. I leave the math to the engineers and learn simple practical application. Experiment, practice, make mistakes, experiment more and in time it will all come together into an instinctual understanding. In this day and age of digital photography film is cheap. Take a lot of pictures.

Photographing Lightning

Lightning at Simnasho Oregon

Photographing Lightning - With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most. 

A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.

Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand

Of course when we're trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.

When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.

Equipment

You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.

Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.

Daytime or Nighttime

When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.

It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.

Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.

High Tech Toys

Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.

A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.

Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.

Have Fun - Be Safe

The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.

I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.

Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon

 

Mount Hood Oregon
Mount Hood Oregon
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