Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Photography Techniques’ Category
Abraham Lake is an artificial lake found in the Canadian Rockies. It can be reached by taking the David Thompson Highway off the Icefields Parkway and driving North for around 20 minutes. On the right, you will see a pullout parking lot called Preachers Point. This pullout is a great place to access the lake. From here, you can easily walk down to the lake. Once on the lake, there are many opportunities to photograph within a short distance of your car.
Over the past few years, I have had the chance to visit Abraham Lake in different seasons. By far my favorite season is winter because of the unique conditions that occur due to the colder temperatures. It can reach as low as -30 in the Abraham Lake area. These frigid temperatures create conditions to develop on the lake that is one of the most unusual natural phenomena of the world. The decomposing plants on the lake bed release methane gas which freezes as it gets closer to the much colder surface causing “Frozen Bubbles.” As the temperature drops the bubbles start to stack below each other forming a pretty incredible and unique sight.
Photographers from all over the world come to Abraham Lake to capture this unique occurrence. I’ve written this article to list some of my most essential tips for successful images when photographing Abraham Lake.
- Abraham Lake is often very windy and cold. Due to its geographic location, the wind channels through the valley. Winter temperatures can be extremely frigid with the windchill. Prepare to bring more clothes than normal to stay warm. Bring a balaclava or facemask to keep your face warm. Bring fingerless gloves so you can operate your camera while keeping your gloves on. I combined fingerless gloves with a second layer of gloves that are known as touchscreen gloves. I have included a link below for what I believe to be the best on the market.
- Give yourself lots of time to find compositions that will interest your viewer. The first comment that most people say to me on a workshop is how overwhelming it can be when you first see the lake. Due to its size and vastness, there can be many choices to photograph, which may seem at first very daunting. I arrive several hours early to explore several different compositions. I research ahead of time some of the images that appeal to me. I then work up a theory and pre-visualize the story I would like to translate through my image.
- Bring several camera batteries with you as the colder temperatures shorten how long a battery will work. It is not unusual to go through two or three batteries in one hour when photographing during the winter on Abraham Lake. It is helpful when trying to conserve battery life to keep a couple of spare batteries in a jacket. Finding a way to storing the extra batteries continually in a warm place will go a long way to extending the battery life while photographing.
- Related to the previous tip, bring hand warmers and feet warmers. I can’t stress the importance of using some accessory to keep warm. It can make the difference between a pleasurable time and a challenging one. With the combination of a good warm winter boot and gloves, you are ready for any conditions on the lake.
- Bring a good heavy duty tripod. Having a good sturdy tripod will help immensely in keeping your tripod from slipping on the ice. Place the tripod low to the ground to avoid vibrations from the windy conditions. As mentioned before, winds can get very active on the lake. It does not take much to make your tripod shake. The wind and camera shake will cause your image to go soft and blurry.
- In windy conditions, raise the ISO of the camera to 800 or even 1600. The faster shutter speed will help prevent camera shake and blurry images.
- Don’t be afraid to try several different types of compositions as you continue to look for ways to piece together elements within a scene. I will often try to keep the camera low to the ground at roughly a 45° angle. As I continue to try different compositions throughout my scouting, I develop a story of how I want to approach the final image.
- Bring a very wide-angle lens with you to capture the bubbles and enhance the size of the textures that are nearest to the camera. When using a wide-angle lens on the lake and photographing very close to the bubbles within the ice, the wide angle lens will accentuate elements that are near the lens and make objects in the distance appear smaller. The placement of the lens and camera near to the ground gives the image the appearance of three-dimensional depth throughout the scene.
- Have a microfiber lens cloth close at hand to keep the lens as clean as possible. Watch for any condensation that might build up on the front of the lens in colder conditions. Also, avoid changing lenses on the lake when winter conditions are present.
- It’s a good idea to bring a medium telephoto to photograph some of the distant mountain peaks in closer detail. The look of the longer lens will offer a different look than the wide-angle images that are often seen at Abraham Lake. I like to try different lenses at Abraham Lake to give the viewer several different looks. Also, don’t be afraid to bring a macro lens to photograph the unique textures of the bubbles found just underneath the ice.
- When exposing for the scene, I will often exposure bracket my images depending on the tonal range. In extreme conditions, I have bracketed my images all the way from three images to nine images for one scene. The highlights of the ice can be very bright as well as the snowcapped peaks. It is essential to capture several exposures of negative value to avoid blowing out the highlights. I will then use post processing methods to combine these images into one image with all tonal values combined.
- It is critical in winter to bring an apparatus that can be placed on the bottom of the boot. It can be any accessory such as spikes, crampons, or any other device that provides traction on the ice. Abraham Lake is very slippery and can cause serious damage if you try to maneuver without some sort of traction on your boot. I like to use spikes that I wrap around the bottom of my snow boot which allows me to walk comfortably and safely on the ice.
- Dress in layers, as you will find yourself quickly heating up while actively walking around looking for compositions but losing heat quickly once stationary in one spot. I use several layers of winter clothing that can easily be taken on or off depending on my activity at the time. For example, while actively searching for compositions I will expend energy and thus create sweat while walking around on the ice. Once I find something regarding composition I’m happy with, I might be stationary for time periods of several minutes or more. Having access to changing or removing clothing is critical to keeping at a comfortable temperature while photographing on the lake.
- Don’t be afraid to lie on the ice and try creative framing and pairing of elements. I often will find myself trying to explore new possibilities when composing images on Abraham Lake. Don’t hesitate to try new things, and photograph the lake in new creative ways. For example, I tried placing my camera on remote focusing at infinity and putting it on a timer or a remote to capture an image from inside the ice shelves to create the look of ice caves.
- Make sure to photograph during the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset to expand the variety of images you capture. Shooting during the twilight hours will give many different moods to the overall look of the lake.
- Make sure on your LCD monitor to frequently check the detail of each image. I will often go in at 100% on the back of the camera to check that all elements are sharp and focused. Because of the wind, movement of the tripod can occur in small increments but enough to cause the image to move. Without going in all the way on the back of your camera LCD, it is hard to see whether it is sharp all the way through the image
- Use caution when exploring on the lake. The lake can be several layers thick with ice, use common sense if areas that appear to look less safe. For example, during warmer periods, melting and instability can occur.
- Bring snacks and meals with you in your bag. There is nothing very close to the lake regarding food. You will find your body, needs the extra carbs from the colder conditions. Having a snack in your bag that is easy to grab will help keep your body energized and prevent you from wasting time going back to your vehicle.
- Give yourself several days including sunrises and sunsets to maximize your opportunity of capturing several different images. Capture the lake in as many different settings as possible. One option is to rent a camper or RV so that you can be situated next to the lake. The other alternative is to look into accommodation near the lake.
- Try to remember to have fun and take the time to enjoy the experience.
Landscape photographers are increasingly turning toward more interpretive modes of presentation in order to express their own ideas about the scenes that they encounter. New techniques in field work and related digital processing have fueled this development, often enabling photographers to produce images that were nearly impossible to achieve in the film era. These techniques address a plethora of age-old problems in landscape photography, from displaying a vast depth-of-field to escaping the constraints of shutter speeds and fixed angles of view. Whether the goal is to overcome limitations of current photographic equipment or to infuse a photograph with creative subjectivity, digital solutions have opened up a new world of options and have generated a world of terminology to go with them. In response to frequent requests for explanations of certain terms, I offer the following lexicon.
These terms are those that pertain to recent developments, advancements in field work and related post-processing made possible by the digital era. I have intentionally omitted common terms that have direct counterparts in darkroom development, such as dodging, burning, and cropping. This list is hardly exhaustive and is intended to highlight those techniques that have been most significant in landscape photography of the last decade. In addition, I have included terms that describe some newer techniques that I am increasingly asked to explain.
Blends combine separate image files or else different treatments of a single file into a final image. Blending requires the use of layers and masking in editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. A ‘blend’ is generally distinct from a ‘composite’ in its use of source files created during a single photography outing at a particular location.
Possibly the most essential of all blending techniques for landscape photographers is the Exposure Blend, which allows for selective control over tones in an image. A typical use of an exposure blend would be to present sky and land areas of a scene such that they appear to be in balance tonally, as the human eye might see them. Unlike the use of graduated filters, exposure blends allow for targeted tonal changes in any location of the image and at any level of opacity. These blends might combine different exposures produced as separate files or else differently processed iterations of a single raw file. Exposure Blends are typically achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking.
Focal Length Blend:
This type of blend combines frames of a single scene that were shot at different focal lengths. The typical use of this kind of blend is to overcome the effects of “pancaking” or diminution of background features caused by the use of a wide-angle lens. By combining a longer focal length for a background with a wider one of a foreground, photographers can restore the prominence and presence of background features that might otherwise appear less impressive than they would in person. Focal Length Blends require manual blending using hard-edged masks.
One of the most versatile types of blending, the Perspective Blend allows the combination of frames shot using different nodal points. The most common type of Perspective Blend is the so-called “Vertorama”, which is essentially a vertically oriented panorama. Perspective Blends can also combine slightly different camera heights or angles that allow more descriptive or expressive views of certain foreground features without compromising the desired view of the background. Perspective Blends can be achieved with automated stitching software or with manual blending.
A Time Blend collapses together different moments of a natural event, allowing for a more extensive narrative or a more descriptive presentation, similar to what a video might accomplish. While an Exposure Blend might combine different moments that are only seconds apart (or less), a Time Blend could include instances that span across minutes or even an hour or more. A typical example would be a scene with fast-moving atmosphere and quickly changing light that showcases the most significant moments of the event. Another common variation on the technique is combining different shutter speeds in a single image, such as having a longer shutter speed to blur moving water and a shorter one to freeze foliage movement. Time Blends typically require freehand masking.
This technique was developed to overcome problems of extreme dynamic range during twilight or night. The basic approach is to photograph land portions of a scene with ample ambient light separately from the night sky, keeping the camera in position on a tripod as long as it takes to create good exposures of both the land and the sky (typically about an hour). Twilight Blends can be achieved with freehand masking or with luminosity masking and usually require a substantial shift in white balance for the land portions of the image.
These effects accentuate or augment a scene in ways that emphasize a mood and contribute to the style of a photo’s final presentation.
When light shines through atmosphere that diffuses it substantially, any shadow areas behind the light lose contrast. The effect is often a pleasing, “glowy” one that emphasizes the light source. This natural phenomenon can be accentuated dramatically or even imitated outright by overlaying pixels that add brightness and diffusion. These pixels might be layers of bright color or selected areas of a blurred and brightened copy of the image file. The opacity of the effect is generally highest closer to the light source, typically requiring freehand application for naturalistic results. Photographer Ryan Dyar is widely regarded as the greatest pioneer of this technique, and his portfolio contains many images that exemplify it.
Light Painting in processing is akin to dodging and burning in that it selectively brightens or darkens areas of an image, often with a change in hue involved as well. A typical application might add brightness and warmth to selected highlight areas and add cooler hues to darker ones in order to emphasize visual hierarchy, to direct eye movement, or to emphasize depth. Light Painting is usually best controlled with a combination of luminosity masks and freehand application, and it may involve the use of numerous layers that build up to a result like glazing techniques in oil painting. (Note that this is a processing technique that should not be confused with in-field “Light Painting”, which involves using artificial light sources and long exposures in low light situations.)
This effect does have a direct counterpart in darkroom development, but I decided to include it in this lexicon because it has been widely adopted and adapted in the digital era. Photographer Michael Orton originated the technique using slide film in the mid-1980’s as a means of emulating the “Pen and Ink and Watercolor” technique of painting that produced a dreamy effect through its combination of media with different qualities. To create a similar effect with photography, Orton sandwiched together two slides that he took of a single scene, one slide with high detail and little color, along with a second slide that was out of focus and very colorful. Digital applications of this idea are numerous, ranging from subtle treatments that simply offset the effects of web sharpening, to more emphatic treatments that lend a painterly, glowing quality to an image. Numerous software filters, plug-ins, and scripts exist for automated applications of the effect, and of course manual applications are possible using layers in Photoshop.
The following techniques are among those that have been foundational in the more progressive strands of landscape photography in the digital era. They have opened up new options for composition, subject matter, conditions, locations, and timing to the extent that they lie at the heart of a distinct zeitgeist that has become evident in the last decade.
Focus stacking combines files shot with different focus points in order achieve a greater depth of field than would be possible in a single file. With this technique it is possible to have sharp focus on features at the very closest focusing distance of a lens while also having the same level of sharpness for everything else in a scene, all the way out to infinity focus. There are numerous standalone software programs that can automate the process of focus stacking, and Photoshop has stock features for focus stacking as well. Focus stacking can also be achieved manually via blending with layers and masks, although a manual blend is easiest to achieve with images that do not require the combination of many focus points.
The acronym for “High Dynamic Range”, this term describes any process that combines different exposures for the purpose of increasing the range of tones in an image beyond what is achievable in a single exposure. Many photographers reserve this term to distinguish automated processes that effect image tonality globally in a photograph, as distinct from manual blending techniques that allow highly selective control over tones in an image (see Exposure Blending above).
A luminosity mask is a blending tool that allows precise targeting of tones in an image. The most common uses of a luminosity mask are exposure blending, dodging, and burning, but these masks are useful for a huge variety of editing tasks, including color work, light painting, adding light bleed, and creating custom Orton effects, among others. A luminosity mask is a type of “found mask”, which is any mask created from one of the eleven standard channels available in different image modes within Photoshop. The channel that all luminosity masks derive from is the Gray channel, which contains only the luminance values for a given image. Channels that contain color values, such as the Red or Blue channels, can also be very useful and work in the same way that luminosity masks do. Because found masks use gradations of tones or colors that exist as pixels in a photograph, they are much more precise for blending tasks than freehand masking is, and they are less likely to produce unwanted ‘halos’ and artifacts, as can happen easily with simple applications of hard-edged masks (that is, those created with selection tools such as the Lasso Tool). There are numerous Photoshop action sets available to create luminosity masks quickly and easily, the most popular being those available from Tony Kuyper.
Stitching refers to the process of seamlessly combining frames shot by panning a camera horizontally, vertically, or both. There are numerous standalone software programs for creating stitched images, and some are very sophisticated, allowing photographers to stitch together frames from very wide focal lengths and from different nodal points. Photoshop also has features that enable automated stitching, and of course manual solutions exist as well.
Warping is a selective distortion of an image that has countless uses. Common examples include altering the relative proportions of certain parts of a scene, pulling unwanted edge details out of the frame, shifting regions of an image within the frame, correcting leaning features, and adding curvature to straight elements. Warping can be accomplished with the very edge of an ultra-wide-angle lens or with software tools, but blending with another layer of image data that contains normal proportions for the rest of the scene is usually necessary in either case. Although numerous software programs have warping features, Photoshop includes the most variety of them and offers the greatest amount of control, especially given the option to use masking for more targeted effects.
WHEN, WHY, AND HOW MUCH?
My own preference is to use processing solutions creatively but conservatively, always striving for a high level of naturalism and subtlety and without creating images that have no basis in my own experiences. Nonetheless, those limitations are merely my preferences for my own output, and I enjoy seeing compelling photographs that push beyond the limits that I might set for myself. Perhaps the most important consideration for any type of processing is the rationale for choosing a particular technique. Like any decisions in art, those that work in the service of a creative goal are more likely to produce satisfying results. Anything done with intention tends to register with more viewers, allowing them to discover points where craft and ideas come together in powerful, meaningful displays of creative choice.
**Special thanks to the artists whose images are linked in this article and who collaborated with me on the selection of them!
Can you guess which of these techniques went into the photographs displayed in this article? Do you have any questions about any of these terms? Would you like to suggest terms for inclusion in future versions of this lexicon? If so, please feel free to chime in below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
As you might have gathered from my website or prior blog posts one of my favorite wilderness areas is venturing off into Three Sisters Wilderness of Central Oregon. Even though I have been many times there are still new places in this wilderness to visit. One of these I have tried a couple times before but been unsuccessful is Tam McArthur Rim. All prior trips didn’t work out because I was too early (too much snow) or too late (no snow).
View from trail of Three Creek Lake and Tam McArthur Rim (iPhone 6s panorama)
I mention the too early or too late for a couple reasons. If you are early you can likely still make it up with a completely snow covered trail yet know the first .75 to 1 mile is pretty wooded so have a map and GPS. If you go too late when the snow has vanished for the season there is no water. Your only water is on your back and that won’t do well for me to backpack. Plus too late in summer and the peaks have less snow which is not as photogenic, little shade from the heat, and there will likely be more people. Well this year my friend and I timed it right minus the total blue bird skies which means don’t expect colorful sunrises and sunsets in this post. We pretty much had the place to ourselves.
Me standing on lower portion of McArthur Rim looking over Three Creek Lake (iPhone 6s taken by my friend)
All images were with my Sony a6000 except for a handful of snapshots taken with my iPhone. I will fully admit it was one of those trips where I was going the semi-lazy route and probably used my iPhone more than I normally would. You know the saying. The camera that is closest and easiest to get it is the one you will use most.
As the sign articulates trail may or may not be clearly visible. Be prepared to navigate without trail as needed. (iPhone 6s)
The trailhead is located just before the campground at Three Creek Lake. Rather than spell it all out here, I would recommend this link to get more details. If you are familiar with Sisters, Oregon the trailhead is only a matter of about 25 to 30 minute drive from here. It does require a Northwest Forest parking pass.
The harsh light and dark shadows along with dull gray and canyon red made for an interesting abstract of contrasts (iPhone 6s).
As far as hikes this is not a long or steep one overall. Depending on where you finish up the hike or backpack trip it’s about 5 to 5.5 miles RT and 1,200 to 1,400 feet elevation gain. If the snow is melted you have a trail the first half. After that the trail fades in and out yet as long as the weather is decent navigation isn’t tricky. We hiked the full distance to the edge of the rim near broken top to camp for the night.
You can hike up further closer to Broken Top than you see in my photos yet we did not do that this trip.
I have not taken the hike up here late summer but I am sure it’s a big dust bowl, hot and waterless as I have hiked other areas of Three Sisters Wilderness during the summer months. As mentioned if you go when the snow is melting you can usually find a small run off area. That said it’s not as easy as you might think. It’s a really gradual slope in most places thus the water absorbs into the sandy volcanic soil before it pools up. We found one really good spot about a 1/4 mile walk from camp.
You certainly can pack in all the water you need which is fine for the day but staying overnight for a night or two you need to have drinking and cooking water. I am not eager to pack that much H2O!
Not much better place to have breakfast than sitting with a view like this! (Sony a6000)
More interesting rocks. Basalt looking more like Swiss cheese from the trapped gases that bubbled out thousands of years ago. (iPhone 6s)
When to Go
We went the last week of June and based on past experiences in this area late June to early July is likely the best time. Obviously it varies every year depending on snow pack. I look for updated trail reports on Deschutes National Forest website; they are pretty good about providing updates on many roads and trails. I have been here before around the same time of year where I had to park the car before Three Creek Lake because snow was still blocking the road. The trailhead starts at 6,550 feet meaning it can take a while for full access on road and trailhead free from snow. Keep in mind when the snow first melts this also is prime mosquito breeding time. Bbzzzz! They were pretty bothersome at the car but shortly up the trail they diminished with none at camp.
My buddy Josh hiking up one of the steeper slopes on the rim. (iPhone 6s)
What to Photograph
The peaks to be seen seem like they are endless on a clear day yet up close you have Mount Bachelor, Broken Top and all Three Sisters as far as larger peaks go. Then there are many other smaller mountains and buttes. Not a bad vantage point. Besides that you can peer down to Three Creek Lake and Little Three Creek Lake. Very cool wind bent and sculpted trees. No shortage of interesting rocks which I am always intrigued by.
It’s important to note that you have some nice views looking north to vast open landscape. If you are wondering why you can’t see Broken Top or Three Sister mountains you have to hike to the end of the rim to get that view.
The ghosts of Tam McArthur Rim live on! Old tree near camp. (Sony a6000)
Overall this is a 5 star hike or backpack trip for the sheer number of mountains and views you get without needing to trek very far. Oh and how can I forget about the best part? Completing any hike on a warm dusty trail day is not truly complete until you cool off swimming in a cold lake. Three Creek Lake fits the bill perfectly! Have a good time hiking, photographing, and of course swimming.
Sunset light warms up landscape features along the rim looking towards Mount Bachelor and Tumalo Mountain. (Sony a6000)
Sunrise alpenglow lights up Broken Top and Three Sisters. Click image to view pano large. (Sony a6000)
I saw this opportunity and couldn’t pass it up. My buddy Josh standing on the edge of the cliff starring off towards Mount Jefferson and Mt Hood with Little Three Creek Lake below. (Sony a6000)
The video tutorial below shows how to save image files that exceed the TIFF file size limit as PSB files and also how to access them in Lightroom and Bridge. This is a challenge that is becoming more common as digital camera resolution increases and as stitching multiple images to make super high resolution photos becomes more popular. I hope you find it helpful. If you have any questions or tips for working with large image files that you have found helpful make sure to share them in the comments section below.
As digital camera resolution continues to increase, with 30 to 50 MP cameras becoming the norm, and as photographers employ more advanced PS techniques with lots of layers, smart objects and luminosity masks, it is common to bump up against image file size limitations. PSD files have a maximum file size limit of 2GB. TIFF files have a 4GB size limit. Unfortunately Photoshop doesn’t do a good job of predicting final saved file size when there are a lot of layers, masks and smart objects involved. So even when the file size indicator shows a file size of less than 4GB you will often get an error message when trying to save. I find that many of my images indicate a file size of less than 3GB but actually exceed the 4GB size limit.
I frequently get questions from photographers wondering what to do when their images exceed the size limit. When an image exceeds the 4GB tiff limit the solution is to save it as a PSB file, where “B” stands for big. PSB files have a size limit of 4 exabytes! I had never heard of an exabyte before, but apparently it is a million terabytes, so the PSB format should do the trick for just about any image considering that my computer only has a measly 8 terabytes of hard drive space anyway.
PSB files are a the solution, but they don’t come without their own issues. You can see them in Bridge, but they don’t generate a thumbnail, so you can’t tell what the image is just by looking at it.
If you are a Lightroom user then you currently can’t even import PSB files into your Lightroom catalog at all. This is a problem for me because I do use LR extensively for cataloging and locating my images. If I don’t see an image in LR I quickly forget it even exists. It also means that I can’t include the image in Lightroom slide shows, collections or print it from Lightroom. Even if I do remember that I have a particular PSB image it is a hassle trying to hunt down where it is so I can open it in PS. It would really be nice if Adobe would add PSB support to Lightroom, but I’m not the first person to say this and so far they haven’t.
Until then, here is a solution that will enable you to see PSB images in Lightroom and Bridge. It’s less than perfect, but better than nothing. I’ll also mention that I didn’t figure this out. As with most of what I know about photography, I learned it through the kindness of others who are smarter than I am and I’m just paying the knowledge forward. Check out the video to see how to save PSB files and how to access them in Lightroom.
Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
by Zack Schnepf
I think the histogram is one of the most important and useful tools in all of photography. It’s a tool I rely on throughout my entire workflow, but I notice it’s a concept that many students have a hard time fully understanding. It can be confusing at first, but once you understand your histogram, you can master your exposures. In this article I’ll share how I use the histogram and why I find it so usefulI. I’ll discuss how I use it the field and in post production.
What is a histogram, how do you read it, and what information does it gives you? Basically, a histogram is a graphical representation of the tonality of an image. It shows what tones and colors exist in an image and the concentration of these tones. Here is the basic anatomy of a histogram. This histogram is from the image below of First Snow on Gothic Peak. The left edge of the graph represents pure black, any tones beyond the left edge have no detail in them. Conversely, the right edge represents pure white, any tones beyond the right edge have no highlight detail, they are just pure white. The middle of the graph represents the mid tones of the image. So, left to right is the luminosity scale, or how bright or dark the tones are. In this histogram you can see overlapping graphs of the three color channels RGB(red, green, blue) The height of the graphs indicates the concentration of tones of color and luminosity tones. For instance, in the histogram you can see I have a spike in the blue channel toward the left side, that tells me I have a lot of dark blue tones in this image. There is also a spike in the red channel right in the middle which tells me I have a large concentration of red midtones which you can see in the red foliage of the image. The Height of the peaks is not important for judging exposure, so don’t worry how high the peaks are. One of the most important things I look for in the field and in post processing is information that might be getting lost in either the shadows, or highlights. In this histogram you can see that all of the information is being contained. I can tell, because none of the color channel graphs are bumping into either edge. I’ll elaborate on this further in the sections below.
In the field, I rely on my histogram as a guide to give me an accurate assessment of each exposure I capture. One of the biggest mistakes I see when teaching photo workshops is a student judging an exposure using the LCD on their camera. I’ve been burned by this too many times to count. I’ll be shooting in a low ambient light situation, take a quick look at the image on the LCD and think it looks great, but when I get home and view it on my computer I realize it’s way underexposed. The low ambient light makes the image on the LCD seem really bright. The only way to truly judge an exposure in the field is to check the histogram. Below are 2 bracketed exposures of the same scene. One exposed to capture the tones in the bright sky and the other exposed to capture the tones in the foreground area. In the field, the darker exposure looked good on the LCD, you could even see detail in the foreground grasses, but one look at the histogram told me those foreground tones were way too dark. You can see on the histogram for the darker exposure, the highlight detail is being captured well, there is no information being lost in the highlight, but there is a large spike next to the left edge of the histogram. This indicates a high concentration of dark tones that contain very little detail. I wanted to take another exposure to capture detail in the shadows.
This lighter exposure has plenty of detail in the shadows. You can see in the histogram, the detail that was being lost in the shadows is being captured well. There is now plenty of detail in the foreground grasses and stream. On the other hand, the highlight tones are blowing out. You can see there is a huge spike on the right edge of the histogram and it goes right up to the edge and beyond. Anything beyond the edge has no detail in it. This is what is known as a high dynamic range scene. You could try to compromise and get an exposure in between and use Lightroom and Photoshop to recover the tones that are being lost, or you can bracket exposures and try to combine multiple exposures that contain a lot more information. Either way, the histogram is the tool that will tell you if you have captured the information you need, or not.
In post production the histogram helps me determine which tonality adjustments to make. Below is an image captured while teaching a workshop in the Palouse this spring. You can see on the histogram, most of the color and luminance tones are concentrated in the middle and left side of the image. This indicates that it is a low contrast, dark exposure. This is important information to determine what post processing this image needs. I would like to add contrast, but also brighten the image.
This is after one contrast adjustment. I was able to increase contrast, brighten the image, and control some highlights that were getting too bright. You can see the tones in the histogram are more spread out, but the highlights and shadows have plenty of detail information in them. From here I can decide if want to add more contrast. I can also lighten, or darken the overall exposure. Either way, the histogram will help guide me to the finished image.
You can learn more about Zack and his instructional videos on his website
I have to say that getting regular Photoshop updates and new features through my Creative Cloud subscription has been great. In the most recent update to CC Adobe gave the Refine Selection/Refine Mask features a big overhaul and combined them into a single new task space called Select and Mask. This new task space makes it even easier to create selections and refine them so your masks can be even more precise and will target adjustments just how you intend. It seems that the edge detection ability in this new feature has also been improved over the old Refine tool, making even better selections of very fine details, such as grass, hair and tree branches.
In this video tutorial I demonstrate how to use the new Select and Mask feature and also show how it can be used in conjunction with the TKActions V4 panel, even though this feature didn’t exist when the panel came out.
Sean is a full time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
Knowing how to use post-processing software is important for any creative photographer, but it is equally important to know what to do with that knowledge. No matter how proficient we are with our development tools, we still need to decide which direction to take an image for its final presentation. What follows is a guide for getting the most out of your image development by having clear strategies to guide the process. These strategies fall into two basic categories: directing attention and conveying character.
1) DIRECTING ATTENTION: Work with the composition, not against it.
Effective post-processing will emphasize the composition of a photograph by helping it to direct eye movement and to highlight points of visual interest. The first step to determining how to proceed with processing is to have a clear idea of how the eye should travel through the frame and which parts of the image are most important. Where is the main path that the eye should follow? Is there a primary point of interest? Are other points of interest playing a supporting role or are they competing for attention? Is anything drawing the eye out of the frame? With these questions answered, we can concentrate on a few approaches to addressing any concerns that they raise.
• Finesse the Light
The eye follows light, so it will be attracted to the most luminous parts of an image. Increasing or decreasing the luminance of an area selectively can help to bring it ‘forward’ or to push it ‘back’ in the hierarchy of visual interest. Likewise, a gradation of light can be very effective in transitioning the eye between zones.
Some caveats: While digital processing gives us remarkable and very selective control over luminance in an image, there are limits to what we can accomplish in affecting the quality of light in a scene. Very strong, directional light is the most difficult to finesse because its effects tend to be quite emphatic, while soft light is quite malleable, allowing for a high degree of discretion in post-processing. The suggestions above for adjusting luminance can only go so far—if the light in a photograph is working strongly against its composition, then that photo is probably a candidate for reshooting in different conditions.
• Adjust Colors
Colors can attract attention much like luminance does. Warmer colors ‘advance’ and draw the eye more than cool ones, which tend to recede in an image. Nonetheless, cool colors can demand a lot of attention if they are anomalies in an otherwise warm color palette. Selectively adjusting the hue or saturation of a feature can have a great effect on its presence in the frame, allowing you to control how much attention it demands.
• Take Charge of Textures and Forms
Features with greater dimensionality attract more attention, while flatter ones are less noticeable. Sometimes increasing the contrast of a feature will help to make it stand out better. Conversely, making an area “flatter” (that is, less dimensional) can help to take attention away from it. If a scene has an area of busy detail that detracts from the more interesting parts of the photograph, then reducing the contrast there could be beneficial to the overall image.
Forms that are very different from everything around them are also likely to attract attention. For example, a footprint in an area of smooth sand or a jet contrail in the sky may amount to an unfortunate distraction, in which case it may be a good idea to remove those features by cloning them out.
2) CONVEYING CHARACTER: Bring out the essence of the image.
Any compelling photograph has the potential to suggest certain qualities of character or mood over others. A scene may be cheerful, ominous, dreamy, surreal, whimsical, or any number of other possibilities. Identifying the essence of an image in these terms will provide a framework for processing decisions of a more creative nature. Once you have a good idea of the character or mood that you would like to express, there are a few categories of adjustments to consider that can be very useful in creating the final look of an image accordingly.
• Tailor the Overall Tonality
Most photographers agree that camera settings should target an exposure that will provide the most flexibility when it comes time to process the image. Working this way in the field may result in an initial tonality that differs from what will best express the mood that you have envisioned for the final photo, however. A cheerful feeling may require a brighter treatment, while darker tones tend to suggest a more “moody” character. Even the range of tones may need to be narrowed or expanded to hit the right note, as it were. For example, when giving an image an airy, high-key treatment, you may want to restrict the range of tones so that there are no absolute blacks in it.
• Constrain the Color Palette
Colors can do a lot to express a certain character. A palette of earthy tones tends to provide a more mature, relaxing appearance, while more vibrant palettes can suggest high levels of energy or exuberance. Shifting certain hues within an image can get them to adhere better to the dominant color scheme, making the character of a final photograph more pronounced. Harmonious color palettes are not only more expressive but are more settling to the eye, so it is worthwhile to explore the possibilities for getting colors to harmonize and to set the right mood for the scene.
• Emphasize Ambience
Some processing treatments do more to establish a sense of ambience than anything else. Deliberately softening an image or making it more hazy can cause it to appear more dreamy, whereas increasing sharpness and clarity can lend a more gritty tone to the whole. Making light sources appear to glow by diffusing them versus hardening their edges can have a great effect on the tenor of a scene. Such treatments can be very subtle and yet still go a long way towards emphasizing the qualities of an image that make it particularly expressive.
Considering how we might direct attention and what character we want to convey will give clear direction to our development process. Although there are endless options for editing images these days, they are all best employed in the service of a goal. Sometimes a round of experimentation is necessary to help define those goals, but once the direction is clear, all else will follow with more effective results. Do you ever struggle with the direction to take a photograph during its development? What strategies do you find most helpful in pointing the way forward?
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.
If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.
As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.
When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.
Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.
It was a few summers ago I was photographing sunrise at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast. A place where you can easily sit mesmerized by the flow of the waves crashing into the earth toned cliffs. On the short “hike” to the end of cape I pass the usual gigantic sign warning of dangerous cliffs ahead that can result in possible injury or death. I have passed the sign and gone through the fence that is nothing more than a visual obstacle, many times before. I take the warning seriously each time while ensuring I am constantly aware of my surroundings.
It’s on this trip I start to think that I am fortunate to be able to go here and I hope this always remains the case. I am glad to be able to make this decision rather than be limited because I am told what is too dangerous for me with complete restriction from the area.
Fast forward to present day and things look a little different. In less than a year there have been over a half dozen deaths as you can see in this article from people falling off the cliffs. Likely everyday people just out to have fun and not necessarily there specifically for photography. My heart goes out those that lost loved ones from these tragedies. Sudden loss sucks, nothing more to say.
“Washing Machine” sitting lower down the near the water with a few visitors looking from the more secure viewpoint above.
Due to recent tragedies the local city is looking to install more fencing that is likely meant to to keep people out along with additional enforcement in the area. I get the concern, it’s real. Yet most of me feels like we should be careful limiting places like this solely because of danger. If the city does restrict the location I will be thankful I had my time there to enjoy it’s beauty along with a few photos in my portfolio. That said I don’t like my public locations being limited solely because of potential danger. I get doing it for it ecological, wildlife or similar concerns but not danger. Give me fair warning of the risks along stating potential lack of rescue should things go awry and I will make my own decision. I will say the decision for me usually results in the low to medium risk route anyway.
“Dory Boat Sunrise” a view of a lone dory boat heading out to sea with Cape Kiwanda sea stack towering above.
I am not out to live life dangling on the edge, literally and figuratively, yet life is not meant to be safe guarded and bubble wrapped around every corner either. There are people that climb mountains, scale cliffs, skydive or myriad of other outdoor activities with some level of risk that will live a long life while others won’t. That’s reality whether we like it not.
Besides Cape Kiwanda this came to mind when I was last in Kauai, Hawaii a couple months ago. Spouting Horn is a popular spot and it used to be open to wander down along the shore with adequate warning signs for those that proceed beyond the view point. I had not been in a few years and I went last trip. Now it clearly states a fine will be issued if you go beyond this point with a longer fence and railing in place. Another location with access reduced for my safety and thus limiting my photography as long as I want to follow the rules. I realize they are doing it for the average person that is not exercising any caution whatsoever or those aspiring to be a candidate for the Darwin Awards. I still don’t necessarily agree with it.
“Far Out!” interesting colors and lines on wet sandstone out near the furthest point before there is nowhere left to go.
I am sure you can think of some places that you like to go that have had similar restrictions put in place. What do you think, should we have safety restrictions or closures in place at these beautiful locations or be able to decide for ourselves? Do you not care and simply go past them to the photo you are after no matter how big the deterrent?