It’s been a while!
I finally had an opportunity to dust off my camera during a long and arduous journey. I may very well be the first person to ever travel from San Diego to Japan by way of the Redwood Forest. But I simply couldn’t leave California without saying goodbye to the most beautiful place on earth! Sadly, most of my days were filed with paperwork, phone calls and errands, but I did manage to sneak a few shots of the trees now and again.
Seeing how I was traveling yet again, (this time with two kids, a dog and fifteen pieces of luggage… with the added bonus of selling my car en route,) I wasn’t able to carry the arsenal of lenses required to truly capture the incredible beauty of Northern California. No macro images of exquisitely spiraled ferns as they unfold. No fabulous family portraits within the giant cathedral of trees. Since I could only choose one lens (sigh), I opted for the wide angle… an obvious choice for capturing the wild and rugged scenery of the NorCal coast.
I’ll start with the mid day shot of the staircase we descended to the beach. I’m obsessed with staircases. I have literally hundreds of pictures of them. Seriously, I can’t get enough. Of course, I was working against the sun on this one, but managed to get a little sun flare which is always fun.
I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, descending the steep cliffs to the beach or climbing back up into the majestic forest. Either direction, this was truly a stairway to heaven!
As for the deep forest, I FINALLY captured an image I have shot dozens of times before, but the light was never right. This time, as I stood there pondering, the heavens smiled upon me and this little sliver of golden afternoon light shined across the trail. It was glorious!!!
While the first image deals with sun flare and haze, the second image needed to be treated with bold, rich color. If you’ve ever walked through the redwoods, you know that the entire forest positively buzzes with life and everything is dripping with endless hues of green. This time, I was fortunate enough to be visiting in early spring, when the new growth was bursting forth in delightful shades of lime and yellow! Oh the warmth, the deep,rich smell of the earth, the rejuvenating freshness of new life, the magic of winding trails beckoning us to explore…
This image was edited with an action called Simply Charming, in the Bohemian Symphony collection by Oh So Posh Photography. Her actions are amazing is you are really looking for richness of COLOR. Most of the time I have to use pretty low opacity with these actions, but they can take a lifeless image from blah to wow if you use them right. This action adds a lot of gold, and really packed the color punch that I wanted, without overdoing the green. The forest reeeeeeeally does look this vibrant in person!
Just for fun, I handed my sons my iPhone camera, just to see what they would capture. It is always interesting to see the images they come up with, to discover what captures their attention. And I am always amazed at how different their vision is from mine. Children are so utterly unfettered by rules, traditions, or norms and they feel absolutely zero pressure to be “creative.” What I wouldn’t give to feel that kind of unbridled artistic freedom!
So I came around the bend and found my son, down on his hands and knees, shooting UP from underneath a clump of wild mushrooms. Here’s the image. He was so proud!
Pretty cool, huh?
Having a firm grasp that the best ideas are often somebody else’s, I immediately (and unapologetically) grabbed my big ol’ DSLR and attempted to produce something similar.
What I learned was:
1. A DSLR is not an iPhone.
2. To get this shot, I either had to lay, face down on the forest floor, or fire my camera without looking through the eyepiece. I chose option B… because have you SEEN the critters on the forest floor???!!??
In order to get some much needed light underneath, I popped up my on- camera flash and turned my DSLR up-side-down. That way, the flash was as close to the forest floor as possible (and facing upwards.) Although I couldn’t get underneath the undergrowth, I sure did have fun trying, and I loved fiddling with this new perspective!!!
The lesson? Take inspiration from wherever you find it, even if it’s from the mind of a 10 year old child!
You just may find that unconventional is exactly the breath of fresh air you needed.
We can all benefit from a change of perspective from time to time!
So I’ve been saving this image for a rainy day… but seeing as it never rains here, I’ll just go ahead and post it. We happened to stop at an unnamed beach along the Oregon coast. OK, I’m sure the beach has a name, but I have no idea what it is. And it happened to be a super moon low tide, which means the tide was way out. Waaaaaaaaay out. I’ve never seen anything like it!!! The experience was positively magical.
If you’ve seen any of my previous posts, you probably know two things about me. 1. I LOVE to shoot the light. Any light. I’m quite obsessed with it. and 2. Every image needs an infusion of purple. I can’t help it. I’m quite obsessed with purple, too. But enough about purple, let’s talk about the light first.
Here is the original image (SOOC), shot just before sunset. This is an interesting time of day because it is not quite the golden hour, but the sun is not directly overhead, either. A custom white balance would be ideal, but I didn’t bring an Expo Disc and in my excitement, didn’t bother to manually balance the color. After a few test shots, the daylight setting looked the closest to reality, so I went with it, knowing full well I would add some warm hues in post processing.
The purpose of this shot was not so much to capture the rock- although it IS amazing (and did I mention I am also obsessed with rock formations?) My main intent was to capture the LIGHT.
Now a word about light. If your subject is backlit, don’t be afraid to shoot it! Light is glorious! It is the source of life. It is energy. It is our friend.
In case you were wondering (which I’m sure you were), the word Photography has its roots in the Greek language. Photo means light. And Graphia means writing or drawing. So as Photo Graphers, we are literally “light writers.”Capturing light is our job, so let’s embrace it!
Besides, backlighting can make ordinary images extraordinary!
To capture this image, I employed that little light trick I’ve been telling you about. Position yourself so that the sun is JUST peeking out behind your subject. You will probably need to maneuver around a bit to get it just so. I usually set up the shot by hiding the sun completely behind my subject, and then slowly allowing more and more light to peek out. Suddenly, BAM! Sun beams will shoot out all over the place when you’ve got it just right.
As for camera settings, the smaller the aperture (higher f-stop number) and the slower the shutter speed, the more light beams you will see. This was shot at 1/30, f/14, ISO 320. Take note: 1/30 is below the recommended shutter speed for hand holding, but if you exhale deeply and stiffen your arms against your chest, you can get the shot. Just make sure it’s not the ONLY shot you take in case you blur it.
Although sun flare does cause you to lose contrast and definition on your subject, never fear. Sunflare does NOT plunge your subject into a dark, featureless silhouette. (In fact, silhouettes shots are quite intentional; they don’t happen by accident.) As you may have read in previous posts, the explosion of sun from behind your subject does something magical. It illuminates the front of your subject!
As for the edit, all I did was tweak the colors with a few of my favorite actions. If you shoot it right in camera, the editing is easy! First, I ran an MCP Fusion action called Ellie’s Field of Dreams, The color portion of the action increases the cyan, blue and magenta tones, particularly in the shadows. The One Click portion allows users to customize richness (brown gradient map), brightness, color intensity, etc. So I played around with each setting. Next, I ran a few actions from Oh So Posh’s Bohemian Symphony Collection. First up was Live Happy, which adds red tones and (surprise) purple. These I turned down very low, but you can see them in the shadow on the sand. Next I ran Petite Treat which basically adds a warming tone. Again, LOW OPACITY.
For the finishing touch, a little selective color pop on the sunbeams, and some sharpening.
Voila! Another fabulous experience in Light Writing!
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!!!