Melancholy Momiji

There is simply no place on Earth more magical in autumn than Japan. No one will ever convince me otherwise. In fact, there are few places that rival Japan’s beauty at any time of year. Japan is, quite simply, one of the most amazing places in the world.

I can’t say it enough.

momiji haze 2


Today’s image is (rather obviously) a Japanese maple, called Momiji. Sadly, this fall (2015) was unseasonably warm, followed by a sharp cold snap, which was immediately followed by an incredible heat wave. The usually radiant maples were utterly confused! Many of them started to turn color in the cool air, then dropped their leaves in heat shock. Thousands of withered, brown momiji leaves were swept away with the wind.Their exquisite, flaming red was conspicuously absent from the hillsides. Instead of burning colors, the trees that managed to cling to their leaves, were muted and gray. I blame Mother Nature for this travesty. She certainly played a cruel joke this year.

Nevertheless, in true Japanese fashion, there were Momiji festivals, parades and celebrations. There were Momiji viewings and photographers filing out of tour on buses in droves. And they would all inevitably gather around the one lone tree which, apparently, didn’t get the notice that fall had been cancelled.

Nevertheless, I took my camera out in search of the elusive crimson flame. Like a withered  beauty queen, the remaining Momiji seemed forlorn, dreaming of the days when their radiant beauty shined like heaven. The forests were..melancholy. That’s the best word for it. They seemed to sigh with acceptance that they would have to wait another year to decorate the fall.

SO I took this image of the brightest tree I could find. It didn’t help that it was a gray and rainy day.

Momiji SOOC

I already knew how I would edit it. Because this tree felt sad to me, I wouldn’t insult her by faking her sanguine glory.

I would show her she is beautiful just the way she is.

In FORM, if  not in color.

Step 1. To show off the exquisite momiji form, I needed to isolate the subject. Although this image was shot at f/4.5, I wanted to massively reduce the amount of contrast and distractions from the background. So I applied an Iris Blur. This is an oval- shaped blur found in your Photoshop filters menu.  Already, the focal point pops off the page.

momiji snapshot 1 blur

Next up, it needed some a haze and some color twists. Haze works wonders for isolating a subject. You simply apply a white mask to the haze layer, and mask OFF  (use a black brush) the portion you want to remain sharp. A hazy background reduces the contrast surrounding the focal point. Contrast distracts your eyes from the subject, so by adding a haze, you are effectively lightening the shadows and muting the colors which compete for your attention.

As for color twists, my desire was to create a fantasy version of this beautiful leaf. If Nature was her cruel stepmother, then I would be her fairy godmother. After all, I wasn’t looking for natural color, but to show off the Momiji’s delicate form. If she couldn’t have radiant red, then any color would do. Why not add an artistic flair?

To achieve the desired effect, I simply ran a favorite action from the MCP fusion set. If you’ve read anything on this blog, you know how much I love MCP actions. They are so easy to use and so well organized! This particular action is an ingenious collection of color filters, called Mix & Match. You can turn on and off the different color variations (by clicking the visibility of a layer on or off,) and increase/ reduce their opacities to find the blend that looks exactly right for you. It’s much easier the see instantaneous color changes than to run each individual action.

momiji snapshot 2 fantasy

Step 2: Color adjust = Fantasy. It adds a cool tone and twists some of the brown shadows to purple  But that’s just the beginning of the fun. I turned the opacity down  pretty low because otherwise the image was too pink and purple overall. My goal was to emphasize warm creams and blue. I felt that’s what Momiji would have wanted. 🙂

Now for the fun part. I just play and play. Turning layers on and off, trying different layer combinations, changing their opacities. You never know what magic you might conjure up!

Step 3: Color adjust = Vanilla Cream. This added a creamy haze but kept the blue/ purple shadows. I actually applied a mask on the action layer, and removed the color from the sharpest maple leaves. I didn’t want her to lose her red entirely!

momiji snapshot 3 vanillacream


Step 4: Color adjust = Lemonade Stand. THIS was the blend I was looking for!I love the pink, but didn’t want to lose the yellow bokeh. The shadows are purple with a blue cast. The haze is creamy and yellow, but the background leaves are faded pink.I love it.

momiji snapshot 4 lemonadestand

Last of all, I selectively sharpened the focused leaves and gave it a slight crop, just to tighten the image up a bit. Normally cropping would be a first step, but it was a last minute decision this time! So sue me

And there we have it. My melancholy Momiji. I think she would be proud.

momiji haze 2




Too Busy?

Today I have something new… for me.

Although Photography is still a passion of mine, it’s not (right now) a priority, so I’ve had to give myself little projects in order to stay current.

If you follow this blog at all you know I’m a color girl. I love color. Every color. Especially purple!!!!!

…And green. Forest green, olive green, lime green, spring green…

…And blue. In pretty much every shade under the sun

Crimson, Marigold, French gray, Lilac… I literally drool over colors. (Not kidding.)

That being said, I’ve decided to try my hand at Black and White (gasp! choke!) and here’s why:

1. To break out of my comfort zone and try something new with editing

2. B&W forces you to shoot differently- instead of capturing the COLOR you try to see the contrast. Not every image makes a great B&W. Not every B&W looks as striking in color. They are two different art forms

3. Black and White images are classic and timeless. Not to mention, you can group innumerable B&W images on your wall and they go together beautifully. Not so much with color. Color images don’t always lend themselves neatly to collage. Often they prefer to stand alone. And my end goal is to great a black and white gallery. You know, mix n’ match.

4. I dunno. Just to see how it goes!

SO I thought I’d start with the series of Iris photos I’d already edited in color. I chose this first one because of the beautiful bokeh and the fact that the area surrounding the flower was not too busy/ too contrasty. Nothing ruins your black and white more than areas of competing contrast.

I love the asymmetry of this composition, the white wall and the dark water compliment the white and dark flowers. Although the evening was beautiful, I don’t feel like the image loses anything by losing it’s color. If anything, it seems to gain a timeless quality, which it why people love Black and White! The trick is to train your eye to see LIGHT and DARK rather than shades of color. It’s a whole new way of seeing the world!

Iris water stone wall BW

Next up was a much more difficult image to edit. While the first picture lent itself unquestioningly to this style, the following image was quite the opposite.

Part of my pet B&W project is to capture images that tell a story. I simply LOVE this story! The sweet elderly couple, peacefully strolling through the iris gardens. As I secretly snapped this shot, I wondered how many years she has patiently waited for him to take his beloved pictures? She truly seems to be reveling in his enjoyment of the beauty around them. She supports his hobby completely. I absolutely love this image for the story it tells! But as a photo, it’s quite imperfect.

Iris photographer

To start, the flowers are blown out. Light metering was based off the subjects, who are quite shadowed. And of course, it was the harsh, mid day sun shining down… not an optimal time for photography! So the shutter speed had to be fast and the aperture couldn’t be tooooo wide… sometimes you do have to compromise 🙂

Then, I moved ever so slightly (while trying not to be noticed…) And got this shot with the foreground flower in it. So naturally, I wanted this flower in my first shot! And there were some distracting buildings in the background  that needed to go. All I can say is, hooray for Photoshop. I’m not afraid to admit that I use Photoshop to enhance my images. After all, this IS an editing blog!!!!

Iris photogs 2

So here’s the B&W edit with the two images merged and the buildings deleted.

As for the black and white conversion, I’m not gonna lie- it was a bit tricky.

Oh, converting the image to black and white was easy- it was dealing with the contrast and competing shadows that made editing difficult.

Iris photographerMainly, it was the background bushes that created the challenge. When the bushes were green, the subjects easily popped out from the background. Their clothes were bright (his shirt is red) and they stood out in the image. After the B&W conversion, the bushes behind them massively competed for attention- they were so busy, so contrasty. The subjects simply drowned in a sea of black and white noise. I tried to darken the bushes. It was awful. There were still so many speckles of light peeping through! Then I lightened them, which was worse. Finally I settled on a haze, and that only after I toned down the highlights and lightened the shadows. My goal was to even out the extreme patches of contrast without making things look weird.  As a final touch, the haze allowed the busy, busy bushes to blend into the background.

Then there was the issues of the flowers. Although they are thrown out of focus, they also had extreme highlights and shadows that competed with my subjects!!! AAAAAGH!!! So I lightened the shadows as much as I could (without making it look other-worldly.) And I kept the haze over most of the flowers as well. In short, it was quite difficult to make my subjects POP given the business and contrast of everything surrounding them!!!

This was an excellent lesson in “learning to see.” And in the importance of avoiding “busy-ness” in a black and white image. Bushes are busy. Flower fields are busy. This busy-ness can often be handled through focal length, aperture and exposure… all which make B&W camera settings quite different from a conventional color shot. In this case, a wider aperture might have been more appropriate. And, of course, it is never easy to shoot in the harsh, noonday sun. Especially when you have no control over your subjects!

For my next B&W attempt, I was far more intentional. And, of course, the background made it easier. Sea and sky don’t exactly make for a busy composition. So here are a few more black and white “story” images, which do a far better job of isolating the subjects.

The Spectator

I simply ADORE this image!!!! This Japanese man, in his pale suit, simply soaking in the scenery on his lunch break. Lost in thought. It’s sooo fabulously, wonderfully, essentially Japanese!

Miyajima biker

And then there’s this guy, taking an otherwise unnoticeable breather. He’s young and obviously more active than the gentleman in the previous photo. His eyes are down, checking his phone. Seemingly oblivious to the beauty around him, it speaks volumes about the younger generation. But I digress. This image still captures a moment in time, a pause, a glimpse of respite. Even with technology in hand, it all comes down to the importance of enjoying simple pleasures in life. Everyone needs to pause from the busy-ness. I love it.

Miyajima Torii B&W

Last of all, the world famous, Itsukushima Shrine, otherwise known as the Miyajima Floating Torii. This image practically screams to be black and white, despite the torii’s bright, tomato- red color. The B&W version simply adds a level of classic, timeless wonder that color simply can not attain. It draws your eye and keeps it focused. It exudes peacefulness and soothes your soul. Too Busy? I think not.


Here’s a fun step-by-step post for you.

There’s a AMAZING, fabulous, incredible, BEAUTIFUL Japanese park in my little town that positively astounds me every time I go there. I am so blessed to live in this random rural town which boasts one of the most exquisitely elaborate Japanese gardens I’ve ever seen in Japan (Kyoto aside, that is…)

Photo opportunities are positively endless- as demonstrated by this picture I snapped yesterday…

Iris photographers

Note all the Nikon users! The Japanese know a good thing when they see it 🙂 Haha

And if you think they were taking photos of the flowers, every one of those cameras was pointed directly at US!

I thought it was only fair to return the favor 🙂 Ahhhhhh, how I love Japan!

But I digress…as the day faded into night, we found ourselves walking along the river under a string of  illuminated Japanese lanterns. Now I have hundreds of pictures of these lanterns. But if you are an photography addict (as I am) you know that hundreds isn’t enough.

Besides, a photographer’s  favorite picture is never  be the LAST one they took, but the NEXT one…

so keep shooting!

Anyhoo, seeing as I didn’t have my tripod (I never have my tripod- a habit that I’m hoping to change, along with preparing more crock pot dinners…) I thought I’d give my on-camera flash a try. Otherwise, the entire tree branch would be in complete silhouette.

In fact, even if I’d had my tripod, the breeze through the trees was just strong enough that a long exposure would turn out blurry. The lanterns and the leaves would sway in the wind. So I popped up my flash, lowered the brightness level in- camera and dialed down the exposure.

Iwakuni lantern SOOC

Not bad, right?  If you are a westerner like me, you probably find Kanji (Japanese writing) totally enchanting. Each symbol is, by itself, a piece of art. I also happen to know (by  a very reliable rumor mill) that the writing on these lanterns is mostly advertising for various Japanese stores and products. And supposedly a few even give directions to the toilets! Ha.

But this shot was perfect because, in my (very) limited knowledge of the Japanese language, I DO know that the three symbols framed by the leaves reads “Iwakuni City.” (Yes, that was intentional.) Anyone purchasing this print can rest assured that it doesn’t say Mr. Donut or advertise for a Pachinko Parlor on the side.

Most of the time, when I shoot an image, I have an editing idea already in mind. In this case I wanted to make an art print- possibly in black and white, definitely with blues and pinks… maybe a little haze, or dust scratches… So I ran it through a couple of processes in Snap Art. You can also achieve a paint effect using the filters in Photoshop, but Snap Art gives far more options and precise control over adjustments.

Iwakuni lantern snap art edit

 I love the painterly quality, but I wanted to draw attention to the Iwakuni symbols.

So I layered the original photo over the painted on in Photoshop and created a black mask.) Black conceals, White reveals. Anything behind the black mask remains hidden until you paint over it with a white (reveal) brush. With the brush set to Normal, about 22% opacity, I gently “defuzzed” those three Kanji symbols, being careful not to over-do it. I wanted to create a sharp focus area without losing the painterly quality or making it look disjointed.

Iwakuni lantern sharp text

It’s subtle, but it makes a difference.

Next, I converted the entire image into black and white. For those of you who know me, black and white is not my style preference. Besides carrying my tripod and making more crock pot dinners, I also have the goal of generating a series in black and white. For this conversion, I used “Shades of Gray” from the MCP Fusion set.

Now for the soap box. You will hear me say this over and over again. I simply adore MCP actions because of their architecture!!! They are soooooo organized, and every action is set up the exact same way. It gives you complete control over the image because every action has the same set of layers. Brilliant.

Iwakuni lantern BW logo

Okay. I confess. I LOVE this! I could stop here, but I still have the vision of adding back some muted colors, with blue and pink overtones. SO heeeeere’s where it gets a bit tricky.

Again, I leaned on the MCP Fusion set to accomplish my end-state. Namely because each action comes in such a neat and tidy package. I know EXACTLY what layers I will need to adjust and how much. SO I ran my all-time favorite action, “Jenna’s Sweet Shop.” It tones the shadows blue and the highlights pink. I love love LOVE it!

The tricky part is tweaking all the layers. I spent about thirty minutes going back and forth between the Jenna’s Sweet Shop layers and the Shades of Gray layers. I even rearranged the layer orders in my palette to see how they affect each other differently. In the end, I dimmed the black and white and allowed the colors to peak through. But the colors are muted by the gray tones, which is exactly what I wanted. And the gray tones are scratchy from the Snap Art conversion. Everything works together to give the final image a “processed painterly look,” which I adore!

Last up, I added some selective color pop. I wanted to pop the red and the green in the leaves, without over saturating the yellow, incandescent lantern light.

Iwakuni lantern final LOGO

I LOVE IT!!!! What a fabulous Iwakuni Souvenir!

Finding Your Balance

Before I begin my rant, let me apologize up front for this post. This is a bit of an experiment for me, and I hope we can all learn a lesson from it. OK. Deep breath. Here goes…

Have you ever read those photography blogs from so-called (self-appointed) experts who go on and on (and on…) about white balance? I mean, some of them literally PREACH about the dire necessity of getting your white balance absolutely perfect before shooting (and, of course you must never shoot JPEG (gasp!) lest your imperfect color cast be unalterable in Photoshop. And while I agree that yes, it’s important to get your image right in-camera, I have to disagree about the definition of “perfect white balance.”

And who, exactly, is the person who will weigh and measure what that perfect balance is, anyways?

The answer is simple. It’s YOU. The artist. The photographer. Never forget it’s YOUR image, your capture, your vision. And if you want everything shot indoors to have that vintage red incandescent hue then, hey, that’s your choice.  As an artist, I have to say, I’m a little tired of those soapbox photographers who feel the need to constantly teach others how to “do it right,” when the truth is, THERE IS NO RIGHT. And that’s  precisely why photography is an art.

Art is personal.

And not everybody likes the same style.

So shoot WHAT you love in the WAY that you love.

And stop worrying about what the “experts” say.

To prove my point, I would like to present to you my own personal white balance dilemma. These images were shot at dusk, on a rather overcast day. I kept toggling back and forth between different white balance settings because I simply couldn’t decide what I wanted. Sometimes I love rich, warm images. Other times I love crisp, cool ones. In this particular instance I was gripped with indecision, so I shot both ways.

And even now, as I sit here in post-processing, I can’t decide.

So I tried a little experiment.

I wanted to see the results of editing two different white balance images the exact same way.

water lily warm SOOC

The photos are nearly identical- same setting, same focal length, same subject. the only thing that changes was the white balance. At first glance, I prefer the warm one, because it’s so soft, gentle and light. But after I look at the cool one for a while, I prefer the crisp colors of the flowers. The vibrant colors really pop against the gray stone. The cooler image also offers more color variation in the water… the greens and blues. I was also intrigued by how the cooler image seems underexposed, while the warmer image seems properly exposed, even though the exposure is exactly the same.

Iris water cool SOOC

Then, in Photoshop I used a color action from OhSoPosh Bohemian Symphony Collection, called  Petite Treat. This action does a few things- it adds a center light, creates a vignette, creates rich contrast and pops the color while playing up the warm tones. It’s basically a nice, general color action with no overt color twists, hazes, or processing style.

First off is the before and after of the Warm image. It does cool the background stones a bit

and adds some drama and balance to the otherwise soft and ethereal original.

Iris warm Diptych 2

Here’s the cool edit, using the exact same action and processing steps,

although not all the layers were adjusted to the same opacity.

(Actually, I was surprised how much variation there was in the layer adjustments

in order to make the two images read comparably.

Iris cool Diptych 2

I’ve intentionally created lots of space in this post between images to allow your eyes time to adjust separately to the color cast.  Stare at the warm one for a while and it will be your favorite. The cool one will look harsh. The stare at the cool one for a while and the warm one begins to seem muddy. Back and forth I go. Back and forth 🙂

So here they are, the final edits, side by side.

Iris diptych warm cool

Which one do you prefer? I still can’t decide. I guess that’s just part of the photography journey… part of  the LIFE journey, really- finding your balance.

Could Have Been, Should Have Been…


We had a fabulous weekend touring Japan. For Mothers Day, I was teated to a walk through the wisteria gardens on the island of Kyuushu.  Funny thing about the gardens in Japan- people seem to innately know the exact perfect time to visit the various parks when things are in full bloom. And then there’s the rest of us- the tourists. We drove three hours with four children in the car, only to discover the blooms were past their prime and, although still very impressive, not quite the photographer’s dream we had hoped for!

Never fear- Photoshop to the rescue. While I’m not a fan of faking an image, I believe there are certain circumstances where editing can be used to appropriately enhance an image. In this case, my intention was to use post-processing as a way to RESTORE the beauty of the wisteria in full bloom, even though we visited the park about 5 days too late!

Exhibit one:

Wisteria path SOOC

Believe it or not, this was truly breathtaking when we were standing there, draped with fragrant blossoms, soaking in the sweeping vista. The lilac color simply vibrated with filtered light and served as a perfect compliment to the rolling green hills beyond. And of course, there’s nothing I love more than a pathway…

However, this image clearly does NOT capture the colors, the beauty, or the delicate elegance of the environment. And there was very little I could do to make my picture prettier. The fact of the matter was, as I was standing there, I was experiencing the wisteria in a way that no two dimensional image could possibly capture. Therefore, my intent upon editing was to try and recreate the “mood” of this scene- the delightful sound of springtime birds chirping, the heavenly scent of flowers blooming all around, the feel of the gentle breeze as it blew the misfit strands of wisteria across my face… even the colors had to be slightly imagined. Because, after all, the bloom was past it’s prime. I would have to wait another year (and drive another three hours!) to see it at its peak.

So my new self- challenge became to edit these photos in such a way as to show how these gardens would have looked in their prime.

Here’s my first attempt:

Wisteria pathway

Much better, eh?

I also learned throughout the day, that the secret of shooting under these unique conditions is to SHOOT LIGHT. The lighter your image, the less contrast, and the less visible the gaps and the distressed blooms. Clearly the first image was shot too dark in order to compensate for the bright distant hills. So with this edit, I brightened the blooms quite a bit and added a layer of lavender tint, which I masked off in various places. As a final touch,  I added a slight haze to the top of the frame to soften any remaining contrast.

Ready for another original?

Wisteria tree 2 SOOC

This one was shot MUCH lighter because I wanted to play up the GLOW of the flowered ceiling overhead. But in lightening the image, I lost the brilliant lavender color.  Also, it felt like the blooms were a bit too sparse, so I used the clone tool to fill in a few gaps. And while I was busy cloning, I deleted a few straggling tourists as well. Sometimes, simply taking the time to “tidy up “an image makes all the difference between an amateur shot and a professional looking one.

Again, I added a layer of lavender tone to this image, because it truly WAS glowing purple in there! The trick to adding tone is being careful to remove it from all the detail areas such as the random branches and stems of the vine. If these parts are purple, then the whole image looks processed. Again, the goal was to create a natural looking image of these blooms in their prime- not to create a processed, stylistic image (although that would have been much easier!!!)

Wisteria tree picnic

I just love all those Japanese families picnicking under the blossoms!!!

It gives the image a wonderful sense of scale.

Last of all is another large tree. Or perhaps it s a vine. I was just enamored with the way it twisted all around itself.

Wisteria tree SOOCPerhaps you are asking what those black corners are- it was my camera strap. Can we say amateur? Haha.  I’m not sure how it jumped into the picture, but this was my favorite shot, so I worked a little photoshop magic with the clone stamp. Actually, I worked a lot of magic with the clone stamp. That little stamp is quite possibly my favorite tool in the workshop! I use it all the time. In this case, filling in the patchy grass and blossoms was easy. It’s reconstructing doors and windows that takes some serious time , effort and know-how.

Again, although image fairly is properly exposed by most standards, I felt it needed a lot more illumination to recreate that ethereal lavender glow. Again, I used a a handy tint layer. This time, I really wanted to play up the greens, which are few, but are the complimentary color to purple. So I used a little selective color pop on the bamboo, the grass and the leaves in the foreground. After all, if purple is the friend of green, it stands to reason that green is the friend of purple, right?

wisteria twist

And just for fun, I have a closeup of a fuzzy little bumblebee that kept following me around… although I think he liked the flowers, too. Ha 🙂 For this shot, I had mounted my 60mm macro, so it was rather difficult to capture him! First of all, I had to physically get close to him, which he did not enjoy! Second, the light coming in from overhead was extremely bright, so I had to shoot carefully in order to avoid creating a silhouette. Third, I had to use a FAST shutter speed because this little guy was QUICK!!! In this instance, I opted NOT to spot meter because I didn’t want to blow out the flowers. So I did some selective lightening in Photoshop instead.

Wisteria bee SOOC-2

Wisteria Bee

And that’s it! I hope this offers you some encouragement. Not all of us can hike a mountain and camp out for three days waiting on that perfect sunset (or in this case, rent a van, drive three hours across a foreign country in search  in order to catch the peak blooms.) But we can use our mind’s eye to “see” how it might have been, and we can use our editing tools to recreate a slightly more beautiful image. Perhaps this is not the purist’s attitude, but if you view photography as an art, as I do, then just as any art form, the subject is open to interpretation by the artist.  Never be afraid to use the tools you have to create something different than what you originally captured!

Remember, if your image doesn’t perfectly capture the mood you were hoping for, you can simply create how it could have been… how it should have been!!!!

A New Perspective

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.

Stairway to Heaven

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…

Sunlit Path

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 Elfin Village

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!

Fairy View of the Forest

A Lesson in Greek

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 super moon tide was incredible. The water level was so low, we could find anemones and starfish on the rock above eye level!

The super moon tide was incredible. The water level was so low, we could find anemones and starfish on the rock above eye level!

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!

Oregon coast flare

Reviving History

Wow! Three blog posts in one week! I LOVE SCHOOL VACATION!!!

So often I hear photographers say they are stuck in a rut, restless for the next photo opportunity. Believe me, as a nature photographer stuck in a city, nobody feels that way more than me! Too often photography is, “On the the next shoot!” After all, most of the thrill in this game is capturing the next image.

Someone once asked Henri Cartier Bresson which of his photos was his favorite, and he answered, “The next one.”

Too True.

I liken it to finding a really sweet deal on designer jeans at the mall. Ladies- you know what I mean. It’s that fantasy of the perfect fit, the “makes-me-look-two-sizes smaller” pair of $300 denim for only $40 bucks that keeps you pushing on, always hunting for a great bargain. Photography is no different. In fact, the neurological  “search” mechanism that gets activated in our brains, when hunting for the perfect photo (or the perfect Italian leather boots,) is the exact same neural pathway activated by crack/ cocaine. Not kidding. I read a book on it. We literally get “high” from searching. Much like shopping, it is totally possible to get addicted to photography.

…So NO WONDER we get so depressed when we haven’t used our cameras in a while! It’s withdrawl!!!

As for me, since very few days are filled with scenic vistas, and my camera sits gathering dust, I’ve had to find new ways to satisfy that creative urge and soothe the withdrawal effects.

Part of my photo therapy often involves delving into past photos and breathing new life into them via Photoshop. It takes a bit of determination as photographers often dislike culling through old photos. So I grit my teeth and wade through all my mediocre images until I find something that, with the right amount of love, might truly shine. I try to let that image speak for itself. How does it want to be edited? And as long as it wants a touch of purple, I let it have its way. Ha

Here’s a photo from Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City, CA. It’s certainly not an imposing lighthouse, which is why I love it. It’s humble. Understated. And charming in every way. It has a fabulous history and it’s hard to capture a good  image. But a good edit, that’s a different story!

Battery Point-2

Battery Point Lighthouse, SOOC. It was dark, gray day, typical of Crescent City

It was a beautifully dreary day when we visited this little windswept island. You could hear the sound of the distant foghorns over the waves which crashed against the cliffs below. There is really no vantage point from which to view the lighthouse, so my goal was to shoot the path leading up to its door. Two paths, really.

I kept thinking of Robert Frosts poem. Except the paths were not diverging. And we weren’t in the woods. But I digress..

First off, this sky needed some drama. So I found a sky texture from my collection and masked it in place.


I believe this image was made by Ginny Haupert, though I’ve since made quite a collection of my own cloud images. The trick to adding a sky is making sure the depth fits your image. I only used the bottom third of this image as I wanted my clouds to fill the distant background, over the ocean.

Next I needed texture. I wanted a heavy, chunky texture, to give a faded, dreamy feeling. Joel Olives has a fabulous texture club that you can join for $10/month. But he often has freebies on his website. His textures are BEAUTIFUL and they are enormous! So you never have to worry about stretching or enlarging them to fit your image.

Joel Olives Rustic Woodlands texture

Joel Olives Rustic Woodlands texture

I picked this red texture because I knew it would compliment the green grass well, and add lovely purple tones to the sky once the two images blended. The best blend mode I tried was Hard Light. Soft light was too… SOFT. Overlay mode mage the colors pop but didn’t show much texture. I wanted heavy texture, so Hard Light was perfect.

Just a word about textures. If you’ve ever used them, you probably have areas of the image you want to remain UNTEXTURED. But if you merely erase the texture from those areas, or mask them off, you will lose the texture’s color

Never erase texture off your image!!!

Never erase texture off your image!!!

Here you can see how I’ve erased texture in certain areas. The pink tones on the pathway disappear, and the original green/gray color shows through. In the grass, you can see where the texture has been masked off, revealing a much cooler shade of green.

The trick with texture is to PAINT over the places where you want the texture to be smooth. YES, PAINT. Use the eyedropper tool (I) to select a mid-tone color from your texture. You may need to turn the texture opacity to Normal blend mode at 100% to see it clearly. Next, go back to your original blend mode and opacity. Then, paint that eyedropper color directly on the texture layer. Your texture will magically disappear, but the color tones will be preserved.

Battery Point

Here I’ve painted the texture over the lighthouse and the path. Next I ran my all-time favorite MCP action, Jenna’s Sweet Shop, though I turned it down to 10% opacity and customized all the settings under One Click Color.

Next, it needed a frame.

Here’s the rub. I can not find this template for you online. It’s in a file called itty bitty. So I assume it was made long ago by ittybittyactions. I can no longer find frames on their website. This psd file is AMAZING! It’s a completely customizable frame with over twenty different layers. Each layer can be turned on and off, so there are literally hundreds of style options! If you find a psd frame by ittybitty called Vintage… snatch it up! It’s really fabulous.

Last, I intentionally overcooked the clarity and sharpness of the path and the lighthouse. I really wanted them to “pop” in a magical way, out of the image.

Battery Point Lighthouse

Battery Point Lighthouse

So now I’m happy with this simple little image. It has charm, a little mystique. It’s faded yet not inaccessible. And dreamy. Like an old fairy tale. A magical heirloom leftover from a different era. In reality it’s a rather sad, lonely little place, but this image brings it back to life. This is the way, I think, it used to be. The way it wants to be.

And the best part is, through this edit, I’ve traveled to a foggy, rugged coastline where I stood alone, looking over the precipice, out at the vast ocean’s majesty. And I’ve made a new (old) friend in this lighthouse, who silently harbors untold stories and secrets of ages past.  I’ve stepped through time and place. Without ever leaving home.

Winterize It

Everyone talks about having the winter blues. The biting cold. The endless shoveling of snow and ice. The bleak landscape whose gray skies and barren trees cause depression. People miss the colors of spring, the lengthening of days and the warmth of the sun.

And then there’s southern California.

Every day is sunny with blue skies. Never a cloud in sight. Never a drop of rain. The eternal sunshine beating down mercilessly, the endless dry and dusty land. The ever-in-bloom foliage. Spindly trees whose leaves never fall.

Every single day is practically, perfectly THE SAME.

Which leads to a different form of winter blues. That is, the utter LACK of winter! No crisp autumn nights. No fall colors followed by leaves to rake. No naked trees. No scarves, no sweaters, no mittens or hats. No low- hanging clouds or snow blanketing the ground. No anticipation of the season to come.

For a four-season gal who thrives on change, this is a challenge for me, so I escape through my photography.

This year, Jessica Drossin, has released an incredible action set that allows photographers to mimic winter in their editing, (which makes her a hero in my book, as she has provided me “winter” at the time I need it most!)

This is my first experiment with transforming a summer image into a winter landscape. While it may not be the most striking photography, I though the image would work well for practice. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed!

Here’s the original SOOC. Taken in Colorado last summer.

Photo taken mid July in Grand Lake Colorado.

Photo taken mid July in Grand Lake Colorado.

I thought this image  might work well because of the texture in the foreground. The abundant white highlights help the snow overlays to “blend in.”  Of course, the evergreen mountains in the background are quite fitting for a snowy scene!

Call me crazy, but a SoCal landscape with snowy beaches and palm trees might have looked a little bit odd!

Not to mention the 10,000 sunbathers in their swim suits. Haha!

Here’s the transformation. I just played around with the entire action set, and absolutely every setting looked beautiful!!! The hardest part was deciding when to quit 🙂 Not a bad problem to have.

CO cattails winter

Edited with Jessica Drossin’s Endless Winter action set

I could look at this picture all day (in fact, I pretty much have been) and it soothes my craving for seasons. A HUGE thank you to Jessica Drossin for the much-needed winter photo therapy!

Super Charged

_Desert flowers-Edit

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…

Fabullous cross- processed iPhone picture (not!) Check out the pack- mule. Little room for the camera, but it had to be stowed  safely for climbing!

Fabulous cross- processed iPhone picture (not!) Check out the pack- mule. Little room for the camera, but it had to be stowed safely for climbing!

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.

Picture of me BEFORE the great battery crisis (which is why I'm still smiling)

Picture of me BEFORE the great battery crisis (which is why I’m still smiling)

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!

ISO 250, f/8, 16mm, 1/50

ISO 250, f/8, 16mm, 1/50

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.