11 Tips for Tide Pool Photography

 

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I love tide pools. When I was a kid on the west coast, nothing was more interesting and entertaining than seeing all of the critters in the pools. Today I live on the east coast where tide pools are few and far between and just not the same as out west. But whenever I get out to the West Coast, you’re sure to find me looking for a tide pool. I’d like to share some tips for tide pool photography.

1. Research! Use the internet to find cool tide pools. The west coast is littered with them, but they are not along every shoreline. So find out where they are.

2. More research! Know when the low tide is and even better look for the negative tides, often found around the full moon phase. This means the tide goes out further and you can get out further to more pools. Also know when the tide is coming in. You don’t want to get trapped out in the water or get hit by an incoming wave!

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3. Wear the right clothes. Tide pools are located in slippery, rocky, uneven terrain. Have good shoes that grip well and support your ankles. Bring an extra pair of socks. Waterproof pants are not a bad idea. Wear your sunscreen. A rain coat is also not a bad idea. It can be quite cold or hot out there, so check the weather.

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4. Not only do you need a low tide, but you need a fairly calm day. So check the weather, a lot of wind causes ripples on the water, which will not allow for clear images through the water. I prefer cloudy days to bright sunny ones – less glare. Stormy days are also not a great idea, go figure.

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5. A circular polarizer is your friend. There is a lot of glare on the water and even on the critters not in the water. A circular polarizer helps cut through the glare and get beautiful colors instead of a washed out foggy image.

Without Polarizer
Without Polarizer
With Polarizer
With Polarizer

6. A diffuser, umbrella or dark coat to cut even more glare. Even with a calm cloudy day and your polarizer you may get glare and reflections on the water you are shooting through. I have used a black wrap to great effect by blocking overhead light. A diffuser or neutral color umbrella can help on a sunny day.

I held up my dark wrap to block overhead light which eliminated glare and reflections.
I held up my dark wrap to block overhead light which eliminated glare and reflections.

7. Some critters look better under water. Anemones look like squishy dull blobs out of the water, but are graceful, vibrant creatures under the water, provided you don’t poke them!

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8. Tripod! Focusing through water, precarious positions, high depth of field, sharp images, use of a polarizer all do better when you use a tripod. This will slow you down and give you better quality images. So use your tripod or you’ll come home with a bunch of ‘almost’ images.

9.Lenses – I have generally used my macro lenses for tide pool images, but do not discount wide angle lenses to get nice shots of the environment. To tell a complete story, multiple focal lengths are best.

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Wide angle 17-40mm
180mm Macro
180mm Macro

 

10. Cleaning Kit. This is salt water and the legs of your tripod are bound to get wet. You may also get spray on the camera or lenses. Use a moist washcloth to wipe everything down when you are done for the day, including the bottom of your shoes.

11. Take your time. The terrain does not allow for quick movement; don’t hurt yourself. Also take the time to see what’s in the pools. There is an awful lot to see out there, both above and below the water.

Enjoy the experience and have fun!

I have 2 workshops with my friend Rod Barbee this summer that visit tide pools. The images above are from trips like these. For more information visit:

Olympic National Park, July 11-16, 2015

and

Newport on the Oregon Coast July 22-26, 2015

 

 

Techniques for Photographing Landscape – Layers

You’re out enjoying the vast beauty of nature all around you. It’s spectacular, you set up your camera and snap a few shots. You look down at the view screen and you’re… disappointed. That’s not what it looks and feels like, what happened? The experience of a place live is much different than the experience a viewer of your image will have. They don’t have the benefit of sounds, smells, the feel of sun, wind, cold, nor do they have the same emotions you have while immersed in all of this.  All they have is a 2 dimensional representation of what you saw and experienced. So it’s up to you to bring that landscape to life. To entice others that they wish they were there. That they can almost feel those other sensations.

One technique for landscape photography is layering. Imagine building a sandwich, you have a bread layer, a condiment layer, a layer of veggies and/or meat and then another layer of bread. Layering a landscape works much the same way, except you usually have a foreground layer, middle layer(s) and a background layer – usually sky. This technique keeps the image dynamic and interesting.

For this to work, all of the layers must have something of interest, such as color, texture or a strong subject element such as a barn, tree, mountain and so forth. If you include the sky it must be interesting. Look for color and/or dynamic clouds. A plain blue sky is often just as boring as a washed out sky. But it can be used as a layer in your image, just don’t include too much of it.

Now that you have some layers it’s time to proportion them. Is the foreground or background stronger? Are they equal in strength? You might emphasize a foreground and minimize the background or you might have equal amounts of each layer. See below for some variations. Mentally divide the layers into proportions.

The first image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element immersed in them. Then there are two thin layers of rolling fields and a small strip of blue sky. The sky is minimized as it is not that interesting. The truck element is the strongest part of the image and is emphasized proportionally.

Red Truck

This image has a foreground layer of grasses with a strong element, the barn immersed. Then there’s another layer of rolling hills and finally a sky. This image is more 50:50 with the sky as there are dynamic clouds and color.

Palouse Barns

Here the sunset lit house is minimized against a very menacing sky. There are only 2 layers, the foreground field with house and the sky. The effect and feel is quite different from the previous 2 images.

Palouse Farmhouse

The foreground of this image has color, texture and a leading line of tire tracks that leads the viewer into the vast landscape. The middle layer is a fallow field and the remainder 50% of the image is filled with an interesting sky of blue and clouds.

Palouse field

Here the image has a diagonal foreground triangle with the sign. A diagonal road line divides the foreground from the middle ground of fields and then another dynamic sky of color and texture.

Dead End Sign

 

Next time you’re out shooting landscapes, look for layers to include in the image. Then decide what is more interesting or powerful. If you’re uncertain, take several images emphasizing the foreground and then the background. One will more than likely stand out from the others. Good Luck and Happy Shooting!

All images above are from the Palouse region in Eastern Washington state. It’s a beautiful area for landscape photography. My friend Rod Barbee and I teach a workshop out there every summer. For more information and see more images from this area visit my website.

Photographing Lovejoy

This past weekend I tried my hand at shooting the comet Lovejoy. I had lovely clear skies Friday evening and caught my first glimpse of the comet. It’s a cool fuzzy green blob below the Pleiades. I trained my long 300-800mm lens on it, but it was hard to get much with the lens. It’s slow at f5.6, not ideal for astrophotography. Combining that with the long length meant I couldn’t use shutter speeds much fast than 2-3 seconds before the stars lost their pin point brilliance. My Canon 5D MarkII has good ISO quality up to 3200. 6400 was ok, but the HI and H2 were too noisy to use. I also forgot to pre focus the lens to infinity during daylight hours, so the first batch of shots weren’t great.

I pulled out my 70-200 f 2.8 lens and had much better luck. The infinity mark on this lens was spot on and the 2.8 aperture combined with less focal length allowed me to get longer shutter speeds and some decent images. So I’ve got a cool fuzzy green blob on a field of stars. I’ll take it!

Key points to remember prior to shooting objects at night with basic camera photo gear:

  • Prefocus all lenses to infinity and tape the focus ring down
  • Turn off autofocus
  • Have a red light headlamp
  • Shoot in manual
  • Use the widest aperture you have – a 2.8 or wider lens is best
  • Start with ISO 3200 and go from there
  • Take the lens focal length and divide into 500 for the longest shutter speed you can use without significant star streaks, ie 200mm into 500 is 2.5 seconds, 20mm into 500 is 25 seconds, 100mm into 500 is 5 seconds, etc…
  • Don’t even try this without a tripod
  • Use your cable release or remote control
  • Consider long exposure noise reduction, but this does double the time to take each image
  • Mirror lock up not really necessary as the shutter speeds are too long. Mirror lock up is best for speeds between 1/15 and 1 second long
  • Figure out ahead of time where your object is located in the night sky and have a star chart or app available to help you find it.
  • Find a dark sky location away from light pollution

One day I’d love to have a telescope to shoot through and the ability to track the earth’s rotation. Something to look forward to. In the meantime I’ll drool over the spectacular shots other astrophotographers got. See this link for some examples:

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/spot-comet-lovejoy-tonight-122920141/

Here’s my shot:

comet Lovejoy
Comet Lovejoy

 

Aurora Printing

Witnessing the Northern Lights is a once in a lifetime experience. Photographing them does not do them justice,but it’s an incredible reminder of my journey. I of course shot  hundreds of images, but after careful editing, I have about a dozen that I really like. They are brilliantly displayed on my monitor, but I want to make Christmas Cards for this year. So off to Red River Paper I go! They have a wonderful selection of paper options for cards, both glossy and matte finishes. While I have traditionally printed on matte papers for my fine art prints, I feel these images will look best on a glossy paper. Glossy papers along with photo black inks do a better job rendering black than a matte paper ink combo. Since these images have a lot of black in them, I’m going gloss.

Since I’m not sure which paper will work best I got Red Rivers Card sampler pack. I would also like to offer these images for sale as prints, so I decided to give the Polar Pearl Metallic a try. Metallic papers give an interesting 3D shimmer to the image on top of the glossy finish. The Aurora Borealis seems like a perfect subject for this!

I quickly got my papers. I had to change out my matte black ink for the photo black on my Epson 7800. Relatively easy process. Newer printers often have both ink sets installed, so you don’t have to go through it; saving you ink and time. However, I discovered my Epson 7800 doesn’t handle the small 7″ x 10″ size of paper for cards, so I tried using my Epson 3520 workhorse, the office printer. The workhorse Epson did a fantastic job of handling the card paper and rendering true colors just using the printers built in color management. Hooray, my goal of printing cards is still alive. I tested all of the glossy card options from Red River and decided on their most popular glossy card paper: Pecos River Gloss. It has a nice weight and great gloss with deep crisp blacks.

Now onto the metallic paper. I’ve wanted to try this paper for a while, but haven’t had a subject worthy of it, so here we go! I downloaded Red Rivers color profile for the paper and installed it. They have great directions to do this. It’s easy to do, you just need to make sure the profile goes in the right folder so Lightroom or Photoshop know where to get it. I’m using Lightroom to print everything by the way. The profile worked great. The prints had deep crisp blacks with accurate colors and brightness. I was quite pleased. I also enjoy the shimmery metallic sheen for the aurora. It brings them to life.

Choosing the right printer, paper and ink set can be daunting. It’s taken me lots of research and years to get to where I am. I started with Epson’s 1280 so many years ago.  So get a good photo printer if you want to do a lot of printing/selling and don’t be afraid to try some of the all in one models for simple jobs like making cards!

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12 tips for Practicing Your Bird Flight Photography

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Bird portraits are rewarding to photograph, but once you have good portraits it’s time to move onto action. Flight photography is dynamic and exciting, but technically a bit more of challenge. So where do you start?

  1. PRACTICE – In order to get good at anything you need to practice, practice, practice. In order to practice flight photography you need a pool of several birds that will fly. Song birds are not a great choice, they are small and really fast. I highly recommend a trip to the beach to practice on seagulls. There are a lot of them usually, they fly often, are a good size and don’t move terribly fast.
  2. EQUIPMENT –  I assume you have a SLR camera with a long lens, something in the order of 400mm or longer. Fixed lenses with 1.4x or 2x extender can get you a good start. A sturdy tripod with fully maneuverable head that is taller than you supports the weight of the lens and allows free movement to pan with a flying bird.
  3. CONDITIONS – You want to shoot for a blue sky day with lots of light. Morning and evening light are prettier but you need a good amount of light to get fast shutter speeds. I also don’t want to shoot against a bland white sky. Avoid windy days as the vibration in the lens and tripod can lead to lack of sharpness.
  4. SHUTTER SPEED – I prefer a shutter speed of at least 1/1000th of a second. You can never have too fast of a shutter speed to stop action.
  5. ISO – adjust as needed to get faster shutter speeds, but try to keep as low as possible for quality.
  6. APERTURE –  You do not need a high aperture for flying birds, I usually shoot around F4 – F5.6. If you have multiple birds and a lot of light up to F8 sometimes.
  7. EXPOSURE – What to do about exposure? Go to manual, set the exposure for the sky and you should be good to go. Typically plus 1 should do it. Make sure you don’t blow out the highlights on a white bird. Try to shoot the bird in even light or slight side light, avoid shooting into the sun for now. As long as the lighting conditions don’t change, clouds moving across the sun for example, the exposure shouldn’t change regardless if you have a dark bird in a blue sky or a white bird in a blue sky.
  8. FOCUSING – I tend to center focus my flying birds, as I find the center focus point to be faster and more accurate than the side points. Several cameras allow you to cluster a set of focus points, this allows for more accuracy over a wider area.
  9. AUTO FOCUS MODE – Continuous shooting combined with AI Servo or AF-C enable the camera to track a moving subject better.
  10. IS/VR – many long lenses have 2 or more IS or VR modes. Read the instructions that came with your lens to see which mode fits your shooting situation.
  11. WHITE BALANCE – set for existing lighting conditions.
  12. REVIEW – review images as you shoot and make any adjustments to settings.

So head to the beach and enjoy shooting those gulls, they can still make for some great shots!

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Directional Light for portraits

Light is paramount to your images. Understanding light will improve your craft. Today we’ll talk a little about the direction of the light. Straight on frontal light often results in an evenly lit boring subject. You are taking a 3 dimensional subject and rendering it 2 dimensional in a picture. The last thing you want to do is make the subject more 2 dimensional by erasing any shadows that give depth and modeling to the subject.

On camera flash is one source of frontal light. This straight on light washes the subject out and erases any depth or dimension to the subject. Also using the old technique of placing the sun behind you and having your subjects stare into the sun. Not only is there no depth to the subject, but they are cranky and squinting.

Frontal flash
Frontal flash

So work on finding ways to change the direction of the light. When outdoors find an overhang and face the subject so the light comes in at an angle, usually around 30-60 degrees to give depth to the face.

Under bridge to create side light
Under bridge to create side light

Get a flash for your camera with a rotating head. This way you can bounce the light off of a wall or ceiling. Use window light and adjust the subject so it is lighting the side of their face.

Side window light
Side window light
Side window light only
Side window light only

Observe how the light strikes your subject. Look at portraits made by professionals and see how the light is striking the subject. All of this will teach you to see better and subsequently make better images.

Tips for Shooting Panoramas

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Creating panoramas is fun and easy with digital technology, but you do need to follow a few simple rules to get the best results. Some digital point and shoot cameras have a panorama shooting mode. This is great as it shows you how the images overlap. However SLR camera users have to ‘eyeball’ the overlap.

  1. To start use a tripod. This keeps the camera steady, level, improves technique and will give you better quality.
  2. Use a fixed focal length the entire time. Don’t zoom in and out, keep it fixed. A fixed lens is best but not everyone has one, so be careful with zoom and keep it fixed.
  3. Overlap your images about 50%.
  4. Shoot vertically, not horizontally. I know this sounds odd, but you need to give yourself a lot of space around the top and bottom of the main subject. When you merge the images into a panorama using software such as Photoshop, the merged image will curve some. So you need to give plenty of space on the top and bottom so the final image will include the entire subject.

    panorama raw
    Merged image before cropping
  5. Camera settings need to be consistent between shots.
  • So set a white balance, don’t use auto white balance as it might change between images.
  • Shoot in manual mode to prevent the exposure settings from changing. Even if you shoot in aperture priority the exposure might change as you move across your scene.
  • You can make white balance and exposure adjustments in the computer after the fact, but it’s much easier and saves you time to get it right in the camera.

Next time I’ll show how to composite the panorama in Photoshop CS 6 and PSE 12.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Catching Up

 

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Sunset Albemarle – December 2007

I continuously preach to my students to keep up with their catalogs. Do a shoot, download, backup, organize, keyword and edit the good ones. Get it done! Keep up or you’ll end up with thousands of images sitting listlessly on your computer with no way to find them. Well we’re all lazy to some degree! I’m no exception, I have images going back years that I haven’t cataloged yet. Usually shoots that were not very exciting or the shoot was so big – 1000’s of images that I identified some of the good ones but haven’t had the fortitude to go through them all. So they sit.

So how do you keep up with your images? HAVE A GOAL

  1. Social Media – I do much better if I have a goal for the images in mind. Sharing on Social media is a great goal. It’s fun to share your images and you feel good from all of the responses and ‘Likes’ you get! You might even have someone ask to buy a print.
  2. Make a Gift – If that doesn’t stimulate you then how about a gift for someone? Christmas is coming. Make a photo book for someone or cards or a calendar of your favorites. Images are a personal gift and can brighten someones day.
  3. Join a Group – Having images for critique is very stimulating. Joining a local camera club such as Charlottesville Camera Club or the Charlottesville Photography Intiative. Sharing images with others and talking about it in person is a great way to improve your photography and get them organized!
  4. Contests – There are a lot of local contests, both in the camera clubs mentioned above, through PEC – Piedmont Environmental Council and Virginia Wildlife. Local groups often sponsor contests with prizes and in return they might use your image and you get to see it printed or up in ‘lights’.
  5. Donations – Many nonprofits are looking for donations to raise money or decorate their spaces. Another feel good and tax deductible goal for your images.

Don’t get overwhelmed by the backlog! Today I found a small folder of images from a sunset back before Christmas in 2007. Yes I did say some were pretty old! Here are a few of them, not bad for 6 years ago!

Slowly start chipping away at the backlog, but foremost don’t let the new shoots languish. Try to catalog them as soon as possible and share, share, share! It’ll brighten your day as well as someone else.

PS – If you don’t have a cataloging program I highly recommend Lightroom, inexpensive and relatively easy to use. I have a class starting on October 15th at PVCC that covers it from the beginning.

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Spring Time Photography in Charlottesville, VA

Spring is at hand, despite this late winter storm. The spring ephemerals are on their way. These flowers bloom before the trees leaf out and obscure the light. They are fleeting, small and beautiful to behold. Take a walk in the woods around the area to catch a glimpse. Places to go are the Monticello trail, Ivy Creek Natural Area, The Rivanna Trail System and Chris Greene Lake to name a few.

  Walk slowly and look down to find them emerging from the leaf litter. Go early in the morning for soft light or a cloudy day for diffuse light. A close-up lens will help you get close to these tiny beauties. If you don’t have a close-up/macro lens you can get an extension tube to use with an existing lens and help you focus closer. Extension tubes go between the camera and lens. Or a very inexpensive option is go get close up filters you attach to the end of the lens to magnify a subject.

In order to get good depth of field a tripod is highly recommended. This slows you down and gives you a better quality image. It’s hard to hand hold in low light and get a sharp image of your flowers. Also avoid windy days, unless you want to try blur techniques.

Regardless, it’s not too early to get out and start looking! Join me for my Spring Shooting Series. We’ll meet weekly to visit a new location and photograph what spring has to offer us. Visit http://victoriasimages.com/photo_instruction/local_index/nature/  for more information on this and other Spring Classes.

 

Pan Blur

Pan Blur 1/15th second

Pan Blur gives a static image a sense of motion. This technique works well if you follow a few basic tips. First you need a subject that is moving in a linear line, runner, bike rider, horse, roller derby, etc… Then you need a simple background that will create a streaky blur. So avoid skies or changing backgrounds. A line of trees, field of grass or race track, for example work well. I highly recommend using a tripod so you can pan the camera in a smooth motion.

My technique consists of using shutter priority and setting a shutter speed that is slow enough to allow enough time for me to pan the camera with the subject. The key is to focus on the subject and then move with them as they move. The longer shutter speed creates a blurred background, giving a sense of motion. The subject will rarely be sharply in focus unless you are using a computer controlled unit, like they do in advertising, use Photoshop techniques or get very lucky!

Pan Blur 1/20th second

I start with a shutter speed of 1/15th and go slower from there. There is a lot of trial and error and you need to take a lot of shots to get a few good ones. So keep trying! Next up is zoom blur.

Pan Blur 1/15th second