Close your eyes and try to imagine:
You and your family take a vacation to a place you’ve never been, and will likely not return any time soon. In anticipation of the new scenery, you tote along all your camera gear, dreaming of the dramatic photos you will take on the journey. In preparation for a day of sightseeing, you try to pack efficiently. After all, you’re carrying not just your 80lb DSLR, but the water bottles, snacks, a first aid kit, sunscreen and the kids’ sweatshirts, just in case.
You are, in essence, the family pack mule.
As is often the case on such family adventures, it will be the extra camera gear that (sadly) stays home. So you pick the best lens, format two 8- gig memory cards and fully charge not one, but TWO batteries. After all, how could you possibly need more than two fresh batteries?
Finally, after a day of touring, snack breaks, trinket shops and potty stops, you find yourself in an exquisite location. The sun is angled just so, and the light is positively glowing. You excitedly set up your dream shot and fire away… until your battery unexpectedly dies. Of course you have no idea HOW it died because you charged it the night before, but, no problem. You brought a backup, right?
After a little digging through your messy bag (What? Yours isn’t messy?) you grab, with relief the fully charged second battery, smugly giving yourself accolades for bringing a spare. Then, to your horror, after only a few shots, this battery poops out, too. WHAT?!??!??? How could this be?!?
Panic ensues. You dig frantically through your bag, hoping against hope you accidentally dropped a third battery inside, knowing full well you did not. No battery equals no photo. No photo equals crushed hopes and dreams.
Despair sets in. And desperation.
So you reach for your husband’s iPhone, weird color filters and all.
Desperate times call for desperate measures…
Well, I know what you’re thinking.
That will never happen to me. Real photographers always are prepared for a camera crisis. We’re talkin’ backup memory cards, multiple batteries AND a spare body just in case…
And then there’s the rest of us.
SO my question to you is this: When was the last time you checked the DATE on your batteries? In other words, how old are they? In a perfect world, rechargeable batteries last forever. In reality, each time you charge them, they lose just a TEENSY bit of their staying power. By the time you’ve charged and recharged them (over the years) they eventually poop out. The rub is how they do it. You pop in a freshly charged battery, and the image on your LCD reads full power. Terrific! But it’s a half truth.The battery may be at full charge, but it’s the AMOUNT of charge that is in question. You see, both my batteries were fully charged, but neither one held more than 25% of their original capacity.
Here are a few ways to help yourself out, since DSLR batteries are expensive!
1. Always deplete your battery ALL THE WAY. How many times have you recharged a 50% battery in anticipation of a shoot? After all, there’s nothing worse than missing the perfect shot in order to change batteries. However, your batteries will live longer if you follow this simple rule and allow them to drain completely. On a shoot, try keeping your backup battery in your pocket so you can presto-change-o in a few seconds flat. Or save your half empty batteries for non-essential shoots such as kids birthday parties or still-life images.
2. Mark the DATE on each new battery. I always use a Sharpie and write the YEAR on my batteries when I purchase them. If you have several batteries purchased in the same year, give them an additional identifying feature- A, B, C or something like that. More often than not, you will discover that Battery 2011-A is performing better than 2011-B. Come up with a system to rotate them. As my batteries get older, they become secondary, and then tertiary backups, etc
3. Don’t wait until you need ‘em to buy new batteries! At $40-$60 each, they are an investment. So set a schedule. Buy a new battery each year, or every six months, etc, depending on frequency of use
4. Keep your batteries out of the cold! When shooting in cold weather, you will notice your battery life is half of what is normally is. Keep your spare batteries in your coat, or up against your body somehow (as opposed to in your bag) as their power depletes rapidly in the cold. Of course we were in the desert, so cold was NOT an issue!
On a positive note, I DID get a shot that I’m proud of- before my battery died.
This was a time when it sure paid to know my camera settings!
My main goal was to capture the sun flare coming through the Joshua Tree. Smaller apertures coupled with long exposures allow a camera to capture the light beams as they travel. Since I didn’t bring my tripod, I had to hand hold the shot. So I knew I didn’t want to go below 1/50 shutter speed. Otherwise I would risk camera shake & blur. For this shot I maneuvered myself so the sun rays would burst forth from behind the tree. I got two decent shots before the battery died.
Today is a day of mourning for me.
If all goes according to plan, a piece of me will die this afternoon and everyone around me will be celebrating. It’s a long story.
For me it’s much worse than the sale of a house. It’s not even my house. But it was my home. My home away from home.
We wander the earth like gypsies, but until now, there was always a place to return to. A place of peace and refuge. A place of dreams and wonder. A place to play in the trees, climb through the hayloft, breathe the fresh county air and feel truly ALIVE. The smell of fresh cut hay, the sound of a distant tractor, the feel of the low-lying fog on your face. The warmth of the wood burning stove. The brilliance of a sky full of stars. The horses grazing out the front window. The cat curled on the end of a quilt-covered bed. Vintage photographs hanging on the walls. An old piano missing an ivory key. Antique typewriters. Homemade apple pies. The hammock under the walnut tree. The ticking of the grandfather clock. Dust swirling lazily in the afternoon sunlight. The iridescent spray of farm irrigation at sunset. The last vestiges of childhood- both mine and my children’s. Gone.
I suppose we all have to let go at some point. That feeling of “home” is something we have to make ourselves. Home is not something we can return to. Life marches on
No, I wasn’t born in a barn, but this is my tribute to the last place on earth that felt like home.
Today we are going to start off with a little counseling session. Bear with me- the dog was not sitting on the couch (for once) so I thought I’d lay down for some self-help therapy…
Normally I want to be outdoors as much as possible. I love open spaces, big shade trees, winding rivers, majestic mountains, skies full of clouds… none of which exist in southern California. And since I don’t “do” cities, crowds, or traffic, I prefer to stay home. Especially on weekends!
Now for the good news. I’ve discovered there is a way for scenic photographers to live peacefully, even happily, in uninspiring locations so long as they spend time working on beautiful, inspirational images.
If you are like me, you probably have a huge backlog of photos to edit. You probably have photography projects that have been sitting on the shelf for years. So what are you waiting for? If the weather is bad, (or in my case, the weather is TOO sunny!) If suburbia has you bored to tears, or the city has walled you in… just start editing. You’ll be surprised how liberating it can be.
Editing is my way of coping with the guilt of spending an entire weekend shut indoors. And after several hours of gazing at sweeping vistas and gorgeous sunsets, I feel almost as if I have been there in person… far away from the crowds, the congested freeways, the bustling shopping centers… Even better, I have satisfied the creative urge that all artists feel. The only thing better than TAKING a great photo is making that great photo truly sing!
On that note, here are a few edits from my most recent Photoshop Therapy session
The following is an original picture taken at sunset at Moonstone Beach.
I LOVE the northwest coast for its huge rocks, but as you can see, they are challenging to photograph. How do you choose an exposure? If you expose for the background scenery, the rocks become dark and contrasty (pictured). If you expose for the rocks, everything else washes out.
In many high- contrast cases I use my sunflare trick, which you can read about in my last post.
Another good alternative for high contrast situation is to convert your image to black and white.
While I LOVE love love black and white images, I am still a sucker for color. So I decided to try my hand at High Dynamic Range, or HDR, which blends multiple exposures of the same image together. Essentially HDR increases the exposure of the darkest regions, while simultaneously decreasing the exposure of the lightest. Real HDR requires a tripod and multiple exposures of the same image. And real HDR post processing requires some definite skills which I do not currently possess.
So, I’m chose to go with “fake” HDR. Ha! Fortunately for me, Adobe added an HDR adjustment panel to it’s latest version of Photoshop Creative Cloud. While I still have a lot to learn, here’s how the image turned out with a little Adobe Alchemy!
Encouraged by the results, I immediately turned another shadowy image into photographic gold…
And another… this time using sun flare and a small amount of HDR.
You may also detect a slight color tweak in the following images. If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know how much I LOVE purple. I always like to add blues, pinks, or purple tones to my images. These were no exception. I have a favorite action from MCP called Jenna’s Sweet Shop. It adds deep blue tones to the shadows and pink to the highlights. In these images I turned the effect waaaaaay down, and then added a warming filter to counter all the cool blue. I also made some major adjustments to the action’s One Click color component.
One thing I love about MCP actions is their architecture. Each action in the Fusion set has a color component which is separate from the basic image adjustment folder. So it is easy (and obvious) how to fine tune any action to fit your image.
There you have it! And there’s nothing like a FREE therapy session – if you are stuck in a creative rut, bust out some Adobe Alchemy. A little gold can brighten up even the darkest days!!!
We just returned from a breathtaking trip to my absolute favorite place in all of creation- the Redwood Forests of Northern California. If you have never been there… you simply MUST GO!!! Never will you set foot in a more mystical and wondrous part of the world. I have visited this region as often as possible over the last ten years, trying to capture its beauty on film… a daunting task for any photographer, let alone one with the entire family in tow!
(and now for the semi-philosophical rant)
As much as I dream of being the next Ansel Adams, I have learned to be content working within the confines of my daily life. Otherwise photography would still be a distant dream!
I realize that most die-hard nature photographers hike to remote locations, stake out their scenic vistas, time the lighting and pack all the proper gear. And then there’s the rest of us… walking the well-trodden pathways through the park, kids racing ahead, dog wrapping its leash around the bushes, and the husband, a hundred paces behind, diligently studying his smart phone, (presumably mapping our way through the wilderness, oblivious to the myriad of signs that read “Stay on the Trail.”) And in the midst of this chaos we wander, eyes focused through the lens, dreaming of all the amazing images we will take home.
Even worse, have you ever gotten home and found that 90% of your shots were bunk? Too light, too dark, too much contrast- and always a blurry kid, or a dogs tail somewhere in the corner of the image? Face it. It’s hard to shoot when people are running circles around you. It’s hard to shoot while walking. Or when distracted. Or when you step in dog poo because you were focused on “the amazing light” overhead.
Hopefully this post will offer a ray of hope to photographers like myself, who have to make the most of shooting within their “real” life.
Afterall, few of us can quit our day jobs and chase sunset vistas. But you CAN do amazing things in these crazy situations, if you follow a few basic rules.
NEVER (I repeat…NEVER) go exploring at mid-day. The light is harsh, the contrasts are fierce, and worse- the entire family will be HUNGRY as soon as you get to your destination!!! If you can, wait for late afternoon light, especially if you are shooting in the trees. Shadows will be longer and softer, and you will have more room to “play” with the available light.
Rule # 2.
Slow down. Breathe. So what if everyone else has made it back to the parking lot already? Give them the keys and a good snack- you can catch up with them later. It’s hard to switch between vacation snapshot mode and serious artistic work. So get your kid pics out of the way and then focus on really “seeing” through the lens. Even if you only come home with a few good shots, it’s better than a hundred mediocre ones.
Make somebody else walk the dog. And make ‘em pick up the poo, too. ‘Nuff said.
Now a word about sun flare.
Sometimes sun flare can be your worst enemy. Other times it can be your best friend!!! If you are shooting in a high contrast area such as dark trees against a bright sky, use the flare to your advantage. When the light source is hidden behind the subject, the obvious result is a silhouette- or extreme contrast. If you boost your exposure on the tree, you blow out the sky. On the other hand, if you allow too much bright sun to fill the frame, the resulting image is rather dull, lacking drama. And the giant Redwoods are nothing, if not dramatic! In this shot, I kept making micro adjustments to my position until the sun magically illuminated the space IN FRONT of the tree, even though it was peeking out from behind. You can see the subtle difference in the images below.
In both images, the camera settings were the exact same- the only difference was a slight readjustment of my position and VOILA! The sunflare magically illuminated the forest. Of course these images are slightly underexposed. That’s because I wanted the aperture small enough to capture the light rays. Too much light would ruin this effect. So I erred on the darker, more dramatic side, expecting to do a few touch ups in Photoshop.
So here’s the final image! Gotta LOVE those glorious sun rays!
So I have a quick entry for you today.
The way I figure it, if I shoot, edit and blog at least once every six months, that should make me an expert in about…never. Ha! What can I say? Life’s been busy!
But I’m grateful we’ve traveled at least ONE place in the past year that truly inspired me to dust off my camera.
***Disclaimer** It’s not that I don’t take photos regularly. Belive me- I have ZILLIONS of photos! But the purpose of this blog is not to inundate you with images of my kids on the playground, or riding bumper cars, or performing science experiments (yes, we do that occasionally)… The purpose of this blog is to inspire creative photography… which requires, well… creative photography. And photography (at least by my definition,) is not typically somethingthat happens when I’m snapping shots of the kiddos as they twirl past me on the teacups.
Of course, we all have our own definitions of art :)
Here’s just a glimpse of the Northern California Coast at sunset. It was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I could have stayed there forever. SoCal can keep its crowded beaches, its rivers of highways and its endless sea of strip malls. THIS is the part of California where one can truly BREATHE!!!!
This image was edited 100 different ways as my Photoshop skills are rusty (at best.) I used a few actions from Oh So Posh Bohemian Symphony- at a very low opacity. Lots of trial and error. I created layers and layers of masks under which I adjusted curves, vibrance, contrast, etc. Somehow I enhanced the natural sun flare on the left side- but it was between steps 378 and 497 so I don’t remember the details. Last of all I overlaid two textures from Isabelle LaFrance, called Strong Canvas, and Brushed Canvas. I wanted to add a painterly effect- hence the “brushed” and the “canvas”. Haha! These textures were added several times, each time in a different blend mode.
Tip: You will find when applying textures to large open sky, you may need to use one blend mode for the sky and another blend mode for the foreground. To do this, a basic working knowledge of masks is required. In this image, I used multiply mode to texturize the sky (with Brushed Canvas), and simply masked off (or “erased”) the region where the texture looked bad (in the dark grasses.) Then I added the same texture a second time, using soft light blend mode, being careful to “erase” the texture off the sky. Last, I added a color pop with Strong Canvas, which is a very magenta and purple color wash. You know me and purple :) They say in color theory that lavender is the friend of green. I couldn’t agree more! This time I blended the bold texture with Soft Light, at low opacity, brushing it off here and there, letting the image determine the color flow.
And now that I have been staring at this gorgeous piece of coastline for the past hour, I am MORE than ready to start planning our next trip up north!!! Maybe we can leave tomorrow…
Hi there- I’m excited about a little project I’ve been working on. So I have to spill it here. Not to mention that if I “put it out there” into cyberspace, you know- in writing-I actually have to follow through, right? Certainly SOMEBODY out there will hold me accountable. Right? Ha.
There’s a little something I’ve dreamed of doing that I’ve never tried before- OK there are a lot of things I want to do, but life is short and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be a concert pianist or a world famous architect. That’s OK, so long as I can still listen to Chopin and occasionally wander through some cool buildings (preferably with my camera). Life is simply too short to live ALL our dreams!
This dream is small and simple- but you must understand. I don’t FOLLOW dreams- I just dream them up- by the thousands. It’s a little hobby of mine.
I’ve always wanted to create art. More than that, I’ve always wanted to SELL my art. But frankly I never found my “medium,” because, for some reason, pencil drawings don’t fly off the shelf.
It all began several years ago when I had the most amazing opportunity to live in Japan. I ran all over the countryside with my camera- capturing every single little detail, trying to savor every idiosyncrasy, every element of beauty, at every turn in the road- just like any other tourist would do. Of course, most of the images are pics of my children standing in front of this temple or that… but occasionally I landed a really good shot, in between chasing my kids. I learned quickly that it’s nearly impossible to be both a photographer and a tourist at the same time. True photography is very intentional- one must slow down, seek out the shot, and learn to WAIT for the moment. On the flip side, tourist photos are merely reactionary- you round the corner, see something new or different and “snap,” now you have a picture of it. That’s not photography, no matter how much we kid ourselves. At least I didn’t think so. Meanwhile, there were several other self-proclaimed photographers armed with automatic DSLRs, all of whom were hocking their wares, selling their images and getting glory for photos that were no different than mine. Being a purist, I stayed out of the fray. And did a lot of thinking.
What IS photography? Is it just about the perfect shot? Or is it simply about being being bold enough to put your work out there? Is it about editing? Is it about telling a story? Capturing a moment? What separates a real IMAGE from a snapshot? What makes photography ART?
Well, I’m not going to get philosophical here (feel free to exhale now). Let’s just say, I’m on this journey to discover who I am as an artist. What I’ve discovered is, art is different for every person. (Profound, I know. But there’s a difference between knowing it in your mind and knowing it in your heart.) This was a truth that I had to internalize- and I’m still working on it. What speaks to me may not appeal to you. AND THAT’S OK! I love lines, and buildings and glass reflections and rusty textures. I savor color the way some people taste a fine wine. I’m obsessed with light- I don’t care if it’s dancing on dewdrops or filtering through the vertical blinds. Both have a tantalizing effect on me. (in case you’re wondering- yes, I have lots of photos of my blinds!) Whatever it is I create, what matters most is that it moves ME. And if it does, chances are, it will move somebody else. And if not- oh well, I’ve enjoyed the process.
So what does all this have to do with Japan you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. For me, it’s a second chance. Rarely in life do people get to return to the scene of a missed opportunity. On our first tour overseas, I was too afraid to “put myself out there,” too offended by the ruthless competition, too undefined in my own style. As I worried, fretted, and withered away in my insecurities, the time slid past, and pretty soon I found myself relocated back to North Carolina, where nobody is even half interested in buying my photo of the Kinkakuji Pavillion. Most North Carolinians have never been, and will never go, to Japan… much less purchase my Japanese photos. Everything here is about ocean waves and fishing boats and dolphins silhouetted by the sunset. It’s absolutely beautiful, but it’s just not my thing.
Now, we are going back to Japan, and I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. Americans in Japan actually WANT photos of Japan. And that’s exactly what I’m going to give them! I have time to work on this collection, and I’m learning a TON. I can’t wait to share some of my Photoshop discoveries.
But for now, since I’ve spent so much time babbling about ME, I’ll just get to the good stuff- which is why you’re here… photos.
First a word about ASPECT ratio! Most DSLR sensors capture an image in the ratio 0f 2:3. I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say, the PRINT sizes in the U.S. are NOT 2:3!!! I’ve learned the hard way that you need to know what size you plan to print your image before you shoot it. If you want to make a series of 8x10s, be sure to leave plenty of room around the edge of your image for cropping. In this case- I goofed- or rather, I didn’t know any better- as most people don’t. I filled the 2:3 frame with my composition and never thought twice about getting it printed. Now that I want to create art prints, I need to seriously rethink my framing! You’ll notice on the second image, it is more square. I cropped and resized it to 11×14, which is a standard print size. Fortunately for me, this image was an easy save. All I had to do was cut off the bottom. But WAIT! I had carefully composed this image to include the grass and rocks at the bottom as a framing device. Photoshop to the rescue. I cut out the bottom two inches and repasted them higher in the image. Then using a mask, I blended the two layers together smoothly. Taa-Daa! The only way to tell it wasn’t shot in these proportions is when you see the long, skinny original.
And that annoying black dot (above?) Dust on my sensor- I just spot healed it out… and then gave my camera a good cleaning!
OK, so this is step one. After I cropped the image, (you can see the bottom grass and rocks are much closer to the building’s reflect now.) I added a texture from Joel Olives. He has a fabulous texture club- his textures are beautiful! And sometimes he gives free textures away (like this one- called July freebie)- so it’s worth following him on Facebook at the very least! I added this texture in multiply mode and brushed some of it off over the pavilion itself. Of course, the texture is great, but the colors in this image are rather dull. So, it’s time to do some painting…
Ahhhh, much better. I’m sure I’m not following Photoshop protocol, but in this case I just added paint directly to my texture layer. There are probably other, more non-destructive ways to do this, but for the sake of time, I just started dabbling. You can see I added some purples to the sky, some yellows to the trees and some red here and there. The paints were all applied at very low opacity with a soft brush, to just give a little color pop without smoothing out the grungy texture.
Next up I fiddled with layers, adding color here and there, lightening certain areas and darkening others- generally trying to establish a painterly effect and mood.You can see the biggest difference in the reflection. The lights are lighter and the shadows darker to create more contrast.
Last, once I was satisfied with the color- I ran the image through a couple of Photoshop filters. One effect I think is fantastic is Plastic Wrap! It is so much fun and creates such a unique look- you will probably see me using that a lot in the future. Then I created an oil paint layer and experimented with the masks on both of those layers. Some areas of the image have more of one effect than the other. It is subtle and hard to see on the screen- but printed at 11×14 it will be really visible.
It may not be a dolphin swimming off into the sunset- but I am happy with it!