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Playing with my mental blocks

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.” Ansel Adams

This blog is a bit late in arriving for a few reasons: 1) I was up in Northern Canada for a few days photographing the Northern Lights, 2) I was in Arizona on a landscape photography workshop, and 3) I was having a mental block on what to write about. Then, it struck me – why not write about having mental blocks in your photography, just like I was having them with my writing and VOILA, this blog session was born.

Aurora - NWT - March 2015

Aurora – NWT – March 2015

Sunrise over the Mittens Navajoland - May 4, 2015

Sunrise over the Mittens
Navajoland – May 4, 2015

Have you ever just sat and stared at your camera and thought to yourself – What do I photograph now? – or some variation on those words. A lot of you may have heard of “writer’s block”, well, I am sure a lot of us go through a lot of the same kind of situation when it comes to our photography. OR, do you feel like you are stuck in a rut – a photographic rut, where you feel like all your images look alike and the old “spark” seems to be gone. Rest assured, you are not alone.
So what do you do about it? Well, you can sit back, relax and hope that this whole “mental block” thing goes away and that you will be struck by a bolt of inspiration. This is probably not going to happen. When you get into this frame of mind, you have to actively do something to get those old creative juices running again. This is sort of a personal “brute force” exercise. No you don’t have to go out and beat up somebody, or get somebody to beat you up. You have to actively get up off your derriere, grab the camera and get out there. Regardless of what you do when you get “out there”, it is always nice to have some sort of a plan as to what you are going to photograph – the ”plan” gives you some order to what you are going to do, rather than wandering aimlessly around still wondering what you should photograph. Here are some suggestions for those of you looking to clear the old mental block hurdle.

Practice your technical skills – get to know your camera intimately. Grab the manual, sit down and find learn three or four of the buttons that you hardly ever use and learn what they do. Set up a subject in a darkened room – doesn’t matter what it is, use the built in flash, or if you don’t have one, put a flash on your camera and practice taking pictures in the dark. This should help you get to know where all the important buttons are so that you are not constantly looking for them when you are out in the field photographing fast moving subjects. Practice shooting the same subject with different focal lengths or different lenses.

Look at photos by other photographers. If landscapes are your thing, then go and look at images by Ansel Adams, any of the Caponigros or the Muenches, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, Alain Briot, Darwin Wiggett, to name a few. If flowers are one of your favourite subjects, then check out the work of Denis Ippolito, Harold Davis or Kathleen Clemons among others. I could go on, but you get the idea. Reviewing the work of others often provides ideas on what we like or not and why.

You can read tutorials on the web. There are a lot of them out there. Pick a subject, Google it and you will probably find hundreds if not thousands of sites that have something to do with the subject in one way or another. You could start by reading something about the elements of composition – http://photoinf.com/ – is one place to start. There are many others and we can all use a refresher on composition in our photography.

Try a new subject area. If your main area of interest is landscapes, then try photographing flowers, even if you have to go to the local store and buy an assorted bouquet. Got to a wrecking yard and photograph old cars or car parts, but be sure to get permission from the owners. Take a drive in the country (anywhere away from the city) and photograph domestic animals in the fields. Got to the zoo and photograph the animals. Be sure to check out their “rules and regulations” before doing so, just to ensure that you don’t get asked to stop or worse, leave the premises.

Go for a walk. Take your camera with a single lens – fixed or zoom, it doesn’t really matter and go for a walk in a park, or just simply around the block, assuming you have a block to walk around. Stop every ten feet and take five pictures. It doesn’t have to be five, I just picked that out as a nice round number. It could be two – one to the right and one to the left – your choice. The objective here is take pictures.

Now you have five suggestions as to what to do if you are suffering from photographer’s block. The real key is to do something – anything – to get you out of the rut you find yourself in. In the words of that famous Nike slogan – “Just do it”.

Light, glorious light – the MOST Important thing?

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.
George Eastman

The word photography is derived from two Greek words and basically means drawing with light. Sir John Herschel is generally credited with coining the word and introducing it to the public in a lecture on the subject to the Royal Society in London in 1839. Details of the history of photography and its development can be found in a number of books. An online search using Google will render a multitude of references of the early days of photography.
For those of you old enough to remember, film was probably the first medium of image capture that you used. While some photographers still use it today, the vast majority of image capture is through some form of digital photography. Regardless of how you capture images, light is still the most important aspect of that process.
In a recent issue of Photo World, Wayne Lynch notes the importance of four aspects of light. After reading it, I decide that the word DISC is an easy acronym to remember these four aspects of light.

D – direction. Where is the light coming from?
I – intensity. How bright is the light?
S – source What is the source of the light
C – colour. What colour is the light?

Direction
This is relatively simple to decide, either the light is coming from a particular direction, or it is not. The source often does not matter. Light can come from your right or left, over your shoulder, i.e., from behind you, or from your front. Each direction will cast different shadows. Perhaps, the one exception is daylight on overcast days. The light seems to come from everywhere, although subdued when compared with bright, sunny days. The light from overcast days is like being inside one giant soft box.
Light coming towards you is usually required to make silhouettes. If the sun is behind you, then your subject will be fairly evenly lit. If the light comes from the side, then this may make the lighting in your image more interesting and often more dramatic. Depending on the direction, shadows will be to the right or left of your subject. When the sun is overhead, then there are very few shadows and image taken during these times can look very flat.

Death Valley - shadows created in dunes by early morning sunrise from the right.  Without the shadows, the structure of the dunes would probably not be so obvious.

Death Valley – shadows created in dunes by early morning sunrise from the right. Without the shadows, the dunes would probably not be so obvious.

Death Valley.  Ripples on dunes show well only in the early morning sunrise.  Without the shadows, they would not have obvious depth.

Death Valley. Ripples on dunes show well only in the early morning sunrise. Without the shadows, they would not have obvious depth.

The sun was behind the lizard in this image.  In any other position, his dewlap would not show as well as it does here.

The sun was behind the lizard in this image. In any other position, his dewlap would not show as well as it does here.

Intensity
Intensity is a measure of how strong the light is. In the case of sunlight, for example, are you dealing with the warm light of sunrise and sunset that provides long, soft shadows, or are you shooting in the middle part of the day when the sun is overhead and the shadows are very strong and harsh. In the case of flash photography, shadows can also be soft or harsh depending on the intensity of the flash and whether or not accessories such as diffusers or reflectors are used. Such accessories can also be used to modify the effects of sunlight.
Often, if you are shooting indoors, you may have to deal with artificial sources such as fluorescent or incandescent light. The factors of intensity are also valid here. One other source that is becoming more popular are LED lights. These are usually found in a set of LEDs that are available in camera stores and industrial supply warehouses. Some of these are simply ON/OFF with the colour of the light being constant and others allow the colour of the light to be adjusted over a variable range.

In this image, the sky is overcast, so the intensity of the sunlight is relatively low.  There are few shadows to reveal the detail in the rocks on the mountains.

In this image, the sky is overcast, so the intensity of the sunlight is relatively low. There are few shadows to reveal the detail in the rocks on the mountains.

In this image, the mountain face was lit by sunlight behind me.  The shadow is from a single cloud in the sky.  With this direct sunlight , some of the details in the mountain face can be seen .

In this image, the mountain face was lit by sunlight behind me. The shadow is from a single cloud in the sky. With this direct sunlight , some of the details in the mountain face can be seen .

Source
The source is pretty well self-explanatory. Are you working in sunlight, cloudy overcast sunlight, moonlight, flash, artificial or some combination? Generally, single sources are the easiest to deal with in terms of the exposure variables that are required. Mixed light sources may require some additional thought on the exposure variables to be used and on any White Balance considerations in post-processing.
One of the most common scenarios with mixed light is when flash is used as a fill light in portrait photography. I also use this combination on occasion when shooting macros of flowers outdoors. Over the next few months, I will also be experimenting with the use of LED panels as fill light for outdoor flower photography.

This is a high key flower image taken with flash.  Two flashes were used, one was shot through a large diffuser from the left and the other was bounced off the image from the top.

This is a high key flower image taken with flash. Two flashes were used, one was shot through a large diffuser from the left and the other was bounced off the image from the top.

This image was shot in sunlight.  The sun was on the left.  This position provided for the well lit left side and the subtle shadow on the right.

This image was shot in sunlight. The sun was on the left. This position provided for the well lit left side and the subtle shadow on the right.

Colour
Light has colour. We may not always think of it as having colour, but it does. Perhaps the most obvious reference that most of us will have are the reds, oranges and pinks of sunrises and sunsets. For the technical readers, colour has a temperature, not one that you can measure with a thermometer, but a temperature nevertheless.
The colour temperature of a light source has to do with the physics of what are called black-body radiators, but it has nothing to do with the human body. It, colour temperature, is a characteristic of visible light and is stated in the unit of absolute temperature, the Kelvin and has the symbol K.
Colour temperatures over 5,000°K are called cool colours while temperatures below about 2,700° to 3,000°K are called warm colours. The following table gives the approximate colour temperatures in degrees Kelvin for a variety of different light sources. These temperatures are generally characteristic of the medium, but some variation may be present.

Source Temperature °K
Candle Flame 1,850 – 1,900
Incandescent Lamps 2,700 – 3,300
Studio lamps 3,200 – 3,400
Moonlight 4,100 – 4,150
Sunrise/Sunset 2,500
Tubular Fluorescence lamps 5,000
Vertical Daylight, Electronic Flash 5,500 – 6,000
Daylight, overcast 6,000 – 6,500
Shade in daylight 6,500
Shade in partly cloudy sky 7,000

Knowing the colour of the light for your image is necessary to ensure a proper while balance setting. Even if you use Automatic White Balance, you may wish to make slight corrections to white balance in post-processing. To assist in any post-processing corrections, most photographers will make use of a grey card or an accessory such as the Colour Checker Passport®.

Badlands of South Dakota.  This shot was taken just after a very red sunrise. The sunrise gave the reddish colour to the normally very drab, beige rocks.

Badlands of South Dakota. This shot was taken just after a very red sunrise. The sunrise gave the reddish colour to the normally very drab, beige rocks.

This image was taken in the Viera wetlands in Florida.  It show s the orange-red colours of the sunset of the wetlands and the silhouettes produced by the snags in the water.

This image was taken in the Viera wetlands in Florida. It shows the orange-red colours of the sunset of the wetlands and the silhouettes produced by the snags in the water.

The next time you set out to do some photography, make a conscious effort to assess the lighting conditions in your image. Use the acronym DISC to evaluate the light and adjust your exposure accordingly. As well, the determinations you make from your DISC evaluation may prompt you to change the time of day that you will take your photo. Maybe you should have gotten up at 4:00 am to take that photo!

Clouds and Image Composition

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a crowd, a host of golden daffodils. William Wordsworth

One subject that interests me is Clouds. Clouds are everywhere, or not. Good clouds can make a landscape image go from not bad to WOW and yet you can never photograph the same clouds twice. They are always moving, changing form, metamorphosing so to speak into new forms and varieties. The sky and the clouds that are in it are often the key elements in a landscape image, thus they often set the mood of the image itself. For me, there is nothing more boring in a landscape photo than to have sky with no clouds. No clouds equals no character and it is this character that contributes to the overall special nature of an image.

For example, consider the following three images, the first one is the original, taken on a bright, sunny, prairie summer day. As is often the case, there were absolutely no clouds in the sky. The following pictures have been augmented using onOne Software’s Perfect Layers and Perfect Mask software. They are not the epitome of sky replacements, but they do provide an idea of the difference that clouds can make in an image.
My Standard Metadata

My Standard Metadata

My Standard Metadata

The other aspect of cloud photography is the capture of storm clouds and maybe even the storm itself. The following images show two aspects of storm clouds. The first image taken in the afternoon shows almost the complete storm spread out across the prairies, in fact, in my opinion, the image is really about the storm and the rain falling from below the clouds. Without this element in the photograph, it would be just another prairie landscape.

My Standard Metadata

This next image shows a prairie storm developing above a field of canola (I don’t have any daffodils!). The yellow and green of the canola field provides an interesting contrast for the developing clouds against the blue sky. The image was also processed to reveal as much of the structure in the sky as possible without turning the image into a cartoon.

My Standard Metadata

Perhaps the prime condition for the use of clouds lies in the colours they can assume during sunrise and sunset. The following image was taken during a somewhat cloudy sunrise over the Masai Mara in Kenya. The colours speak for themselves. Compare this one with the following two images, the first of a sunset over the South Dakota Badlands and the second of a sunset over the Gulf of Mexico taken in Naples, Florida.
20120912AA4Q1817-2 Sunrise over the Masai Mara.
20140613-_A4Q8690_HDR-2 Sunset in the South Dakota Badlands.

My Standard Metadata Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico from the beach in Naples, Florida.

Each one is different, yet they share some similarity. If the clouds were not present, then the resulting sunset image would probably be very boring and ordinary, and probably not even worthy of any photographic effort. The colours that show up in the clouds provide the character for the landscape image.
One other aspect of cloud photography is not concerned so much with the colours, but with the structure and details that one can find in them. You have everything from wispy cirrus to puffy cumulus clouds, each of which has their own particular appearance and structure. For those of you who are into the outdoors, knowing something about clouds in general and each type in particular will also give you some clues as to the type of weather to expect. Clear skies tell of high pressure and fair weather, whereas towering cumulus often foretell of stormy weather to come.

My Standard Metadata
High cirrus and lower fair weather cumulus that often form across the foothills and prairies during the day. They are both fair weather clouds, although the cirrus often are followed by rainy weather over the next few days.

20140810-_A4Q3727
This image is from the Alberta prairies and foothills. They are cirrus clouds in the near sky with what appears to be cirrostratus in the distance.

20131006-_A4Q8304
This image was captured over the Napo River in Ecuador. They are towering cumulus building towards cumulonimbus. We often saw these form during the day and the day often ended with a 1 to 2 hour thunderstorm and rain in the later part of the afternoon or early evening.

20140610-_A4Q8390-2
These are Mammatus clouds, the drooping underside of a cumulonimbus cloud that often form under the anvil of a severe thunderstorm. They can accompany non-severe storms as well. This image was taken in the Badlands of South Dakota. Within an hour, we experienced a fairly severe thunderstorm.

These are just a few of the various types of clouds that you can encounter in various landscape situations. They provide interesting images in themselves and, in my opinion, are always good to complement a landscape image. They provide another element of composition for the image and I would urge you to take advantage of what is above you in every landscape scenario.

Things to remember:
• Clouds with character can be the major focus in a landscape image. If this is the case, then place the horizon along the lower thirds line in the image. Make sure that there is nothing obscuring the sky or that there are things like trees sticking up into it.

• Clouds add character to sunrise and sunset images. This may require the use of a graduated neutral density (ND Grad) filter. If you are unsure how to use these, then check out this site – http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/graduated-neutral-density-filters.htm

• If you do not have ND Grads, then HDR imagery may be a way to capture the sunrise or sunset and provide you with detail in the foreground as well as the clouds.

• Try underexposing a bit as the sky is often very bright during the day.

• Try different things – for example, long exposures with a Neutral Density (ND) filter to give you blurs.

• You can always save cloud pictures for use as backgrounds in other images, either by inserting them during processing, or printing cloud images on large sheets of photo paper and using them as physical backgrounds in close-up images of flowers.

• Use a polarizer to darken the sky, but be careful if you are shooting with a wide angle lens as the polarizer will not produce uniform results across the entire sky.

• Take lots of images. Clouds are constantly changing and memory is cheap.

The next time you are photographing landscapes, remember to look up and see what is in the sky above you. More often than not, there will be clouds of one type or another that will add to the landscape. Their use is only limited by your imagination.

Landscape Photography and Badlands – Alberta and South Dakota

The landscape is like being there with a powerful personality and I’m searching for just the right angles to make that portrait come across as meaningfully as possible. Galen Rowell

I thought I would use this issue to share with you a recent trip I had to photograph the Badlands of southwestern South Dakota. For someone (me) who is interested in landscape photography, this area is a magnet that has drawn me to it twice now. I first went there in 2013 to attend a photo tour put on by Jason O’Dell (http://www.luminescentphoto.com) and Deborah Sandidge (http://www.deborahsandidge.com/). The tour lasted 3 days and I took an extra day to drive over to Wyoming to photograph the Devil’s Watch Tower. It is an understatement to say that I was literally blown away by the size and magnitude of the place. Coming from Western Canada, I was very familiar with the Badlands of Alberta that occur along the Red Deer River valley They pale by comparison to those of South Dakota. This year, 2014, I returned to South Dakota to attend the same tour, which was extended by a day and I took an extra day to investigate the southern portion of the Badlands for comparison. In my opinion, they are just as spectacular as the ones in the northern part of the park.
Badlands are loosely defined as a type of arid terrain where layers of the softer sedimentary rocks, sandstones, soft shales and often volcanic ash deposits, etc., have been intensely eroded by wind and water. The areas usually have steep slopes, very little vegetation and little if any soils covering them. They owe their appearance to the fact that the rocks are often poorly consolidated; this is a geological term that describes how well cemented, or fused together, the grains in the rock are and thus how hard the rock is. This poor consolidation makes the rocks easily eroded by wind and the torrential rains that often accompany summer storms.
While some of the best known Badlands can be found in Canada and the United States, areas of similar landforms are known from New Zealand, the Putangirua Pinnacles; Italy, Spain, Argentina and Taiwan. I would encourage anyone who is interested to search the web for descriptions of these places. For now, I will limit my discussion to the two areas that I know best – Alberta and South Dakota.
The Alberta Badlands http://albertatravel.org/Badlands_Alberta.htm occur at two major places along the Red Deer River. The first is in and around the City of Drumheller, named after one of the early settlers in the area. They also occur further down river north of the town of Brooks in an area that has been set aside by the Provincial Government as Dinosaur Provincial Park http://www.albertaparks.ca/dinosaur.aspx. Other areas of similar erosion can be found at places along the Red Deer River, however, they have not been granted Park status and are thus mostly on private land. Drumheller is about a 1.5 hour drive east of Calgary and Dinosaur Provincial Park, an established UNESCO World Heritage Site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinosaur_Provincial_Park, is about another hour or so beyond that. In total, they are comprised of a number of different areas along the river totaling somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 acres, roughly 8,000 to 10,000 hectares.
The rocks in the Alberta Badlands are Cretaceous in age having been deposited in an interior sea between 60 and 80 million years ago.. They consist of sandstones, shales, siltstones and coal beds. In fact, coal was the major reason that this area was settled. The mines provided coal to heat homes in the area and to provide fuel for the steam trains of that time. These rocks have also been a great source of dinosaur fossils over the past few decades.

Alberta Badlands - Dinosaur Provincial Park - view from overlook at the entrance.

Alberta Badlands – Dinosaur Provincial Park – view from overlook at the entrance.

Alberta Badlands at Horseshoe Canyon, south of Drumheller. Dark layers are coal and black shale, lighter layers are sandstones, siltstones and grey shale.

Alberta Badlands at Horseshoe Canyon, south of Drumheller. Dark layers are coal and black shale, lighter layers are sandstones, siltstones and grey shale.

A feature of some badlands are these "tower-like" formations called hoodoos.  They form with a cap rock or resistant sandstone and an underlying layer of softer shale or siltstone.  The ones in this picture are about 3 to 5 metres high.

A feature of some badlands are these “tower-like” formations called hoodoos. They form with a cap rock or resistant sandstone and an underlying layer of softer shale or siltstone. The ones in this picture are about 3 to 5 metres high.

Hoodoos in the making.  This image is from Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Hoodoos in the making. This image is from Dinosaur Provincial Park.

The Badlands of South Dakota http://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm are made up of three units totaling over 240,000 acres (about 100,000 hectares). The North Unit, probably the best known, is that part seen by most tourists. It covers about 64,000 acres (about 26,000 ha) and contains the visitor centre, a seasonal lodge with cabin accommodation and a campground. The Stronghold and the Palmer Creek units are contained within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and are managed cooperatively between the Oglala Lakota and the US National Park Service. There is a series of roads that skirt the Stronghold Unit and give access to a lookout at Sheep Mountain Table and Red Shirt Table.
The rocks, or sediments of the Badlands are underlain by the Pierre Shale of Cretaceous age, roughly 70 million years old. The sediments that comprise most of the landforms in the Badlands are made up of sandstones, siltstones and shales deposited in a variety of environments from shallow tropical seas to open woodlands with meandering rivers. This deposition took place in the Eocene 34 to 37 million years ago and the Oligocene (26 to 34 million years ago. Details of the geology can be found on a number of web sites, for example, http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/paleontology/pub/fossil_conference_6/benton.htm .

Badlands o f South Dakota

Badlands o f South Dakota

South Dakota Badlands

South Dakota Badlands

Sunrise in the Badlands of South Dakota - Door and Windows view  point

Sunrise in the Badlands of South Dakota – Door and Windows view point

The Blue Hour at Sunset in the Badlands of South Dakota - Big Badlands Overlook

The Blue Hour at Sunset in the Badlands of South Dakota – Big Badlands Overlook

South Dakota Badlands - Rise of the full moon at the Doors and Windows View point.  The red in the rocks are from the setting sun behind me.

South Dakota Badlands – Rise of the full moon at the Doors and Windows View point. The red in the rocks are from the setting sun behind me.

This is a view looking southwest across the Stronghold Unit from Sheep Mountain Table.

This is a view looking southwest across the Stronghold Unit from Sheep Mountain Table.

If you ever have a chance to visit either landscapes, the rewards are plentiful. My only suggestion would be to slow down and enjoy the view. Take at least two or three days to explore each location and plan on getting up to see the sunrise. Oh, and don’t forget the sunset as well. Your best pictures will be at the ends of the day.

Flowers Galore – Inside and Outside – Part 4, Some Creative Ideas

 

 

 

A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.

Ansel Adams

When you have been photographing flowers for a while, you will often find yourself looking for some alternative ways to express your creativity. You can take a look at the works of Kathleen Clemons (http://kathleenclemonsphotography.com/#/special/splash/), Harold Davis (http://www.digitalfieldguide.com/galleries), Denise Ippolito (http://deniseippolito.com/fineart/) and a host of other sites that provide excellent examples of the kinds of photographic variations that you can try in your own photography.

Bits and Pieces

Instead of being content with simply shooting an image of the whole flower or flowers, why not just shoot parts of it. For example, images of the interior bits, the stamen and pistils, individual petals, or the part where the calyx joins the petals.

This is a shot of the inside of a tulip using a macro lens.

This is a shot of the inside of a tulip using a macro lens.

Details of the stamen and pistil of an hibiscus.

Details of the stamen and pistil of an hibiscus.

 

 

Soft images

An alternative to the usual sharp images that one sees of flowers, are the softer, smoother, dreamier images made using techniques like the Orton Effect (http://www.michaelortonphotography.com/ortoneffect.html). A technique that produces softer images. It was originally developed by Michael Orton using slide film, but can now be duplicated using software (http://peterh111.wordpress.com/2010/12/11/the-easy-guide-to-creating-the-orton-effect/)

There are a number of alternatives to this approach that use simple soft-focus approaches. One of the simplest is the use of Lensbaby® lenses and accessories (http://lensbaby.com/products) that are deliberately designed to produce this effect. These can also be duplicated using software such as Photoshop (http://www.photoshopessentials.com/photo-effects/soft-focus-lens/) or Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4. These types of images are often referred to as soft images or glow effect images and are applied to a wide variety of digital imagery other than flowers.

Denise Ippolito has described a variety of approaches to this aspect of flower photography in her e-book The Softer side of Macro. As well, various aspects of different approaches to focus and sharpness are covered in Harold Davis’ book Photographing Flowers.

This image was softened using a Lensbaby accessory.

This image was softened using a Lensbaby accessory.

 

 

High and Low Key Imagery

High Key and Low key imagery are two techniques that are intended to produce very opposite effects. High key imagery is light and bright and aims at having no shadows. Low key imagery, on the other hand is full of darkness and shadows.

High Key image.

High Key image.

High key imagery is characterized by soft, pale colour tones. These images are bright, have very low contrast and few mid-tones or dark areas. The images should generally not be over-exposed and the details should not be blown out. These images are often shot in a studio using a white backdrop and a lot of light.

Low key imagery is a style of photography that uses dark tones in an attempt to produce a dramatic image. Low key imagery tries to intensify the contrast in a picture by reducing the lighting on the subject. The intense shadows created are considered an integral part of the image. They effectively define the mood of the image. These images are shot in a studio using black backgrounds and very selective lighting.

Low Key image of a tulip converted to black and white using Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2.

Low Key image of a tulip converted to black and white using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

 

Both types of images can be created or enhanced in software using products such as Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4.

Infrared Imagery

Although I have written a complete blog on the subject of infrared photography, it is useful to mention it again, because infrared imagery of flowers can produce some very interesting and artistic results.

Tiger Lily shot in normal colour.

Tiger Lily shot in normal colour.

Tiger Lily in IR with 590 nm filter - uncorrected.

Tiger Lily in IR with 590 nm filter – uncorrected.

Tiger Lily image converted to black and white from the 590 nm image.

Tiger Lily image converted to black and white from the 590 nm image.

 

Black and White Images

Long before colour photography became the vogue, black and white imagery was the only form of presentation. Because this topic was the subject of two of my early blog writings, I will not go into a lot of detail here.

All digital cameras today take pictures in colour. Some have the ability to render black and white images in the camera, but this is usually by converting the colour image to black and white internally. I would not recommend this approach to taking black and white images, as this limits you, to some extent, to the conversion made by the camera – a process determined by some camera designer’s idea of what a black and white image should look like. Rather, I recommend retaining the original colour image and then converting it in post-processing using one of the software packages available, such as Photoshop, Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 or onOne’s Perfect B&W. I regularly use Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 as the software of my choice. This does not mean it is any better than the others, it is just my choice a is have used Nik’s plugins for a while now and find that they do the job that I want done.

Converting to black and white is a personal choice. How you do it, the software you choose to use and the effects that you like in your final result are all yours to determine. One thing to remember though: not all colour images are necessarily suitable for a black and white conversion. If colour is an important part of the image and its story, then black and white is probably not the best way to demonstrate this. Black and white imagery is more about contrast, texture, tones, form and shape. If this is the message that you want your image to convey, then maybe a black and white conversion is appropriate.

Red rose converted to black and white using Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2.

Red rose converted to black and white using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

Purple dahlia converted to black and white using Nik's Silver Efex Pro 2.

Purple dahlia converted to black and white using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

 

In the End…

In the end, photographing flowers is all about you, the photographer and the message that you are trying to convey with your images. How you choose to shoot them; how you choose to process them and how you choose to share them is all up to you. It is your image and you are ultimately responsible for what is in the frame. If you are happy with the final result, then that is all that matters.

Flowers Galore – Inside and Outside – Part 3, Inside

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.

Ansel Adams

Shooting flowers inside is probably a lot easier than shooting them outside because you almost always have complete control over the entire situation. For example, you can choose:

 

  • the environment – you choose the setting for the photography. You can use a simple indoor studio as I have, use an outside window as a background, or any other setting within your home. As well, indoor setting such as greenhouses, botanical gardens or other similar facilities can be used should you have access to them.
  • the lighting – you can decide to use indirect window light, room light, flash[1], or some combination of these.
  • the subject – you can choose the flower or flowers that you wish to photograph.
  • the background – you can determine what is in the image behind your flowers.

 

The Environment

With some exceptions, shooting indoors can give you complete control over your shooting environment. I will uses the term home studio to refer to any setup you may create inside.

Greenhouses, botanical gardens and similar settings.

These are not that different in some respects than shooting outdoors. The first thing you have to do is determine if you need any permission from the owners or curators, because, I would strongly advise you against just arriving at the door expecting to be able to set up your equipment and take pictures. Some facilities may have very strict rules on what photographers can and cannot do in terms of setting up their equipment for flower photography. For example, tripods may not be permitted and the operators of the facility may also have rules about commercial photography versus non-commercial. So, check it out first.

If you can setup your equipment within such a facility, then by all means, do so and fire away. If not, then you will be limited to what you can do hand-held with, or without, any additional lighting. Make the best of it and simply remember to make sure that your aperture and shutter speed are sufficient to protect you against camera shake. Being similar to outdoor shooting, you may want to carry some small pieces of coloured construction paper to use as temporary backgrounds for your subjects. If you are going to use flash, then I suggest that you consider the following:

  • using an off-camera flash cord, allowing you to direct the light, will help prevent the usual harsh shadows that are produced by on-camera flash. Alternatively, you can handhold the flash and use remote triggers to activate it.
  • using a soft-box that fits on your flash will also help to soften the light from the flash.
  • setting the flash on Manual and reducing its strength will help subdue any shadows.

 

If you are unable to use flash, then remember to compensate for whatever types of lighting are present in the facility. Also, you may not have a choice in what you can shoot, but take advantage of what subjects you can shoot and let your creative juices flow.

Flowers at Home

Photographing flowers in your home studio is probably the best of all worlds when it comes to shooting flowers, particularly because you do not need any permission from anyone. The first thing you have to do is get a subject. Some types of subjects are available year round, e.g. roses, while others are only available on a seasonal basis, e.g. daffodils. For my subject of the week, I like to go to a local grocery store – yup, they also sell flowers – and review what’s available. I prefer to buy an assorted bouquet, that way I am not stuck with the same type of flower for a whole week. I say a whole week, because often the flowers come into the store every Monday morning and are kept in a refrigerator when not on display. Stores such as Costco, Safeway, Walmart, etc. all sell pre-packaged bouquets of assorted flowers. I am a bit fussy about the bouquets that I buy. I usually try and stay under $20 and I also try to buy one that has an assortment of flowers where I know I will use more than one or two of them in my photography. For me, there is very little value in buying an expensive bunch of flowers if I only end up using one or two of them for imagery. I will, however, buy small bouquets of a single type of flower, e.g. tulips or daffodils, when they are in season. Having only a few of one type of flower forces me to think outside the box when it comes to making images of these flowers.

Daffodil in home Studio

Daffodil in home Studio

Tulip in Home Studio

Tulip in Home Studio

 

You can, of course, use cut flowers from your own garden, should you choose not to photograph them outdoors.

My home studio is setup next to a large patio door so that I have indirect sunlight during the day. I augment light with flash in most situations. That way I can control both the light and the shadows. When using more than one flash, I use remote triggers to activate them. With only one flash, then I will use either an off-camera cable or a remote trigger, depending on how many hands I have free to hold flash units. When I am using remote triggers, I position the flashes on a second, smaller, lighter tripod that I have.

When I shoot flowers in my home studio, I determine the background that I want to use. It can be white, black, green, beige, or some other colour. I will often use patterned cloth that I pick up as cheap remnants at a local sewing store. I encourage you to use your own imagination as far as backgrounds are concerned – the sky is the limit as the saying goes.

The other approach that you can use in your home studio, is to shoot flowers against a backlight such as a light box, or tape a piece of translucent paper against an outside window, tape a flower on the paper and use this as a setup for shooting. I find that parchment paper works very well as a translucent background against an outside window.

Window setup with camera and subject.  In this situation, I have used parchment paper as the background and inverted the flower for easier handling.  I rotate the image after it is imported into Lightroom.

Window setup with camera and subject. In this situation, I have used parchment paper as the background and inverted the flower for easier handling. I rotate the image after it is imported into Lightroom.

Close up of outside window set up.

Close up of outside window set up.

 

Lighting

In a home studio, you have a wide range of choices, from the ambient light of an outside window to the artificial light produced by your home lighting to flash, or some combination of these. You can couple these sources with any combination of diffusers and reflectors. Diffusers do just what the name implies, they diffuse any light source and thus provide your subject with softer lighting than the bare source itself. You can use large hand-held diffusers for any of your light sources. If you are using flash as a light source, then you can use one of the variety of small softboxes that fit over the flash head. Reflectors can be used to direct light onto a subject or the background. They are often available in white, silver and gold. The gold reflector is often used to warm up an otherwise cold subject. Cold here means the colour temperature of the subject and not the temperature of the actual physical environment. The subject of lighting could fill an entire blog, or a book as it has done in some cases, but, I think you get the general idea from this brief explanation. The reality is that in your home studio, how you light you subject is entirely your choice.

The Subject

The subject is obvious – flowers. Something you want to think about are the props that you might want to use – yes, props! Do you want to use a special vase as part of the subject matter? Do you want the flowers lying down on something. For example, I bought a jar of black pebbles, all the same size at my local Michael’s store and have experimented with using these as a background for my subject. Don’t forget, your background is just as much a part of your final image as your main subject is. One thing I have done is to use patterned cloth as a back ground. I will buy remnants from a local sewing store and use these. The other type of background that you may wish to think about is one that you can insert using a suitable software program. Photoshop and the Perfect Photo Suite of plugins give you this capability.

This image of three carnations had the background inserted during post-processing using the Layers plug-in in Perfect Photo Suite 8.

This image of three carnations had the background inserted during post-processing using the Layers plug-in in Perfect Photo Suite 8.

The Background

I have already jumped the gun, so to speak, as I mentioned various types of backgrounds under the Subject heading. Nevertheless, there are other types of background you can use. For a simple, benign background, you can do as I have done, create a backdrop from simple foam core board. I use mostly white and black, but I have tried green and light brown as well. I prefer the white and black ones, but the choice is yours to make.

Home Studio setup.  In this situation, I have inserted black foam core board as the background.  Note, however, that I am still using a home-made diffuser panel on the left.  It is between the subject and the window light to help soften this light source.

Home Studio setup. In this situation, I have inserted black foam core board as the background. Note, however, that I am still using a home-made diffuser panel on the left. It is between the subject and the window light to help soften this light source.

Regardless of how you choose to photograph your flowers, the results are all your responsibility. I would encourage you to experiment, let your imagination and your creativity run wild. One bit of advice: I have learned from bitter experience, not to delete anything in camera. Rather, I wait until I get the images onto the computer before making that final decision. The images that you see on the camera display are simple jpeg images, whereas, when you get the raw images onto the computer, there is no limit to what you can do to recover what you may have originally thought was a bad image.

In the next blog, I will cover some of the more creative things that you can do in your flower photography – at least, I think they are creative.

 

[1] A lot of “flash lighting” is now being replaced by continuous source LED panels.

Flowers Galore – Inside and Outside – Part 2, Outside

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.

Caver’s motto

This posting is a little late because I was, for most of the month of February, on safari in Africa, but I digress.  Shooting flower outside, or outdoors should be a fairly easy situation.  All you have to do is find them.  There are only about two different places to find them – in the wild or not.

Flowers in the Wild

Depending on where you live, you may have, as I do, a vast expanse of available out door locations during the growing season.  In my case I have the prairies to the east and the foothills and mountains of the Rockies to the west.  Most of the prairies are farmed and thus there are not too many places to find growing wildflowers.  Your best bet is often a camp site or other park area that vary from those that are completely private to those run by one or more levels of government.  In my case, while not always in the wild, I have access to local city parks, and both provincial and federally run parks.

Indian Paintbrush in the wild.  The viewer should note that this image would be much better without the out of focus element going diagonally behind the flower.

Indian Paintbrush in the wild. The viewer should note that this image would be much better without the out of focus element going diagonally behind the flower.

Flowers not in the Wild

The other main outdoor location is a garden.  It can be your garden or that of friend.  Personally, I don’t recommend photographing in gardens of strangers unless you get permission.  This may be easy to do, particularly if you offer to give them printed copies of some of your better images.  You also have to make very sure that you do not trample any of the vegetation in or around the garden.  This also holds true for virtually any situation where you are photographing flowers.  The old adage as noted in the introduction, take only pictures, leave only footprints…, is very true in any situation where you are photographing outdoors.

20130817-_A4Q3998-Edit R May  1-220130817-_A4Q4069-Edit-2

Flowers in parks or other public areas may or may not be truly wild flowers, but may be cultivated varieties as an addition to the indigenous wildflowers.  Most of the public gardens that I have access to contain only cultivated flowers.  This means that the beds are maintained, mulched, water, etc. by employees of the garden facilities or by local volunteers.  One of the local gardens that I can use is maintained by volunteers and has specialty gardens where they grow different varieties of roses and one where they grow only sunflowers.

Getting the Pictures

Regardless of where you find flowers outdoors, the approach to photographing them is very much the same.  You will need a camera, of course, a tripod and a lens of some sort, unless you are using a point and shoot where the lens is already determined for you.  Nevertheless, you may be able to do some close-ups shots or some creative zooming with your point and shoot.

If you have a DSLR with the ability to change lenses, then I suggest you experiment as different situations may call for different lenses.  I use my 100mm macro for close-ups and couple it with extension tubes for extreme close-ups.  I also use my 24-105mm and my 70-200mm for different situations where the ability to zoom in provides some creative advantage.  What you use in your photography is up to you and the choices you have available to you.

One of the main considerations in photographing flowers in the wild is the background.  As a photographer, you are responsible for everything in the frame.  There is nothing more frustrating, in my experience, than to take what you think is a great image, only to get it on the computer and find that there is some major distracting element in the background.  If you are lucky, you may be able to crop it out without destroying the overall composition, but if you can’t do that, then the image may be destined for the reject pile.

An example of a slightly distracting background.  The out of focus shoots of grass and the blue flowers provide a bit of a distraction for the viewer.

An example of a slightly distracting background. The out of focus shoots of grass and the blue flowers provide a bit of a distraction for the viewer.

By moving in a bit closer and changing to a smaller aperture, I was able to eliminate the distractions.

By moving in a bit closer and changing to a smaller aperture, I was able to eliminate the distractions.

Other equipment that may come in handy are reflectors and diffusers, and a remote shutter release.  Reflectors can be used to reflect sunlight onto the flower to add light to the image.  Diffusers may be used to block some light or at least diffuse harsh sunlight on a flower.  A remote shutter release is necessary if you are going to be taking images that require more than an acceptable exposure time.  You can figure out whether you need to use a remote release from the following guideline for handheld images:  the minimum shutter speed for handheld photography is 1/focal length of the lens.  You should adjust the focal length of the lens for the sensor size.  For example, if you are shooting with a 100mm lens on a full frame camera, then the minimum shutter speed for hand holding the camera is 1/100 of a second. If you are shooting with a camera that has an APS-C size sensor, then the minimum shutter speed for hand held imagery is 1/(100 x 1.6) or 1/160 of a second.  The number 1.6 is the multiplier you need for a C-size sensor.  I would also suggest that you use mirror lockup and a tripod when using a remote release.  If you are using a point and shoot camera, then you may have to experiment to find the slowest shutter speed you can use for hand-holding your camera.

My recommendation is to always use a tripod, a remote shutter release and mirror lockup when shooting flowers.  Using a tripod forces you to examine the image you are trying to capture and thus you can check for any background , foreground or image edge clutter and eliminate it before you take the image.  You can also ensure that your image is in focus when you are using a tripod, something you may not check adequately when hand-holding your camera.  If you have Liveview on you camera, then you can use it to assess the image’s focus before you take the shot.  The only thing to watch, is that Liveview can consume battery life, so be sure to have an extra battery with you should you use this feature on your camera a lot.

Sometimes, you need to get very close to the ground to shoot a flower.  In this situation, you can do one of a number of things:

  1. Use a beanbag.  These are simple cloth bags that you can fill with beans, unpopped popcorn kernels ( my favourite) or rice.  It should be big enough to support your camera and the lens you are using.  Simply place the beanbag on the ground, place the camera on it and fire away.
  2. Use your tripod.  Some tripods come with a centre column that can be inverted, allowing you to take pictures with your camera upside down.  Alternatively, you may be able to spread the legs of your tripod at a wide angle allowing you to get closer to the ground.
  3. Lie down on the ground.  If you can shoot the image with your camera hand-held, then simply lying on the ground should be sufficient.  You may want to have a piece of plastic or some type of ground sheet if you are going to do this, particularly if the ground is wet or muddy.

Photographing flowers outdoors can be rewarding as the opportunities are only limited by your imagination.  Besides, being outside in the sun and fresh air is always a bonus.

Flowers Galore – Inside and Outside – Part 1, Basic Stuff, Before you start.

“Don’t be afraid. Just go ahead — photograph, photograph, photograph. That’s the only way you’ll learn.”

Alfred Stieglitz

Back in September of 2013, I attended a workshop put on by Denise Ippolito and Art Morris.  It was five days of immersion in flower photography and was headquartered in the small town of Canby, Oregon.  Why Canby Oregon you ask?  Well it happens to be the home of Swan Island Dahlias – http://www.dahlias.com/ – a farm that grows nothing but dahlias with over forty acres under cultivation and they encourage photographers to come and take as many pictures as they want.  We also spent an afternoon at the Portland Japanese Gardens and a morning at Gramma’s Farm Store shooting sunflowers.  It was probably one of the best photography courses I have been on.  Since that time I have been on a real personal photography trip shooting flowers and I have decided that they will become my favourite things to shoot. (No, I am not forgetting birds and landscapes, oh, and macro work as well.)

There are a number of things about flowers that make them a great subject and an incredible source of creativity for your photographic skills:

  1. You can shoot them all year round.  In the winter, if you have snow and cold as I do, then you can visit your local supermarket and buy a mixed bouquet of flowers that, properly watered, will last about a week or so and in the other times of the year there are lots of opportunities in the outdoors, either in your garden, someone else’s garden (get permission first), or in public gardens in your local city parks.
  2. There are so many different varieties, that just like birds, you will probably never run out of different subjects to photograph.
  3. There are a wide variety of techniques that you can experiment with when photographing flowers, that they will appeal to those who have a desire to express their creativity (which, I am assuming, most of us want to do).
  4. You can cover a full complement of lenses from macro to mini-telephoto to specialty lenses like tilt-shift and Lensbaby.  You don’t need all these as a simple 50mm lens will suffice, as will a point and shoot camera, so don’t get all worked up if you don’t have a lot of fancy gear, but you do need a tripod for best results, regardless of the camera you are using.

Indoor Photography

The first thing that you need is a place to shoot indoors.  It should be easily accessible – don’t laugh, not every part of your home is easily accessible – and preferably by a source of external light.  In my case, I use my kitchen and place my studio on the kitchen table.  To construct my studio, I went to Michaels and bough a number of pieces of foam core board.  They are all the same size, 30” x 20” (76.2 x 50.8 cm)  I bought a few different colours – white, black, green, and beige (light brown).  I used three white sheets as the main part of the studio.  They are placed on the kitchen table which is next to a large glass patio door so that I have some indirect lighting from outside.  I also modified one piece of the white foam board as a large diffuser.  I cut a 16” x 26” piece out of the centre of the board and covered it with white rip-stop nylon fabric.  The camera is mounted on a tripod and I have two flash guns that I fire remotely, or connected, as required.  I often dial the flash power down to ¼ or 1/64 to try and make it look more like natural light and I use diffusers on the flash to try and eliminate harsh shadows.  I place the flower, or flowers, of interest in a vase and use that as my setup for photography.  I can shoot single flowers, groups of flowers (remember the rule of three – more later), or parts of flowers using a macro lens.

This is my basic Indoor studio setup.  It is beside a patio door to give me nice indirect lighting.  Notice the home-made diffuser on the left side.  This setup is for shots with a white background.

This is my basic Indoor studio setup. It is beside a patio door to give me nice indirect lighting. Notice the home-made diffuser on the left side. This setup is for shots with a white background.

This shows the setup for images where I want a black background.  I use small, lightweight clamps to hold the two vertical sheets of foam board in place.

This shows the setup for images where I want a black background. I use small, lightweight clamps to hold the two vertical sheets of foam board in place.

Outdoor Photography

Photographing flowers outdoors can happen where ever you find them.  As I said, your garden other people’s gardens, city parks or along the roadside in the country.  I have the nice situation in being less than an hour’s drive from some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world and the meadows of wildflowers that grow there.

Techniques that you used indoors work just as well outdoors.  You probably don’t need a lot of flash equipment, but light diffusers of some sort are probably more important outdoors than indoors.  They help to diffuse sunlight and thus help to cut down on harsh shadows.

Field of Dahlias at Swan Island.  Notice the variety of colours and shapes in just this small area alone.

Field of Dahlias at Swan Island. Notice the variety of colours and shapes in just this small area alone.

Basic Equipment

To shoot flowers and get decent images, you will need some basic equipment.

Camera.  You don’t need the “latest and greatest”, but you do need something with which to capture the images.  I have seen folks use everything from simple Point and Shoot models to top of the line professional ones.  Use whatever you have, but obviously a DSLR will help you make a different array of images as you can interchange the lenses on the camera.  For the sake of this blog, I am going to assume that folks have some sort of DSLR.

Tripod and head.  Again, you don’t need a “top of the line”, professional model, but you do need something that will hold your camera, lens and any additional gear that you may add to the mix.  Whatever you do, I would warn you not to get one of those rather flimsy “special deals” that you often see in the weekly sales papers, but get one that is sturdy and will not fall over at the first sign of a breeze.  If you do a search on the web using the phrase “tripod buying guide”, you will find many sites that offer advice on how to choose a tripod.  One of the ones I would suggest you start with because it will give the kinds of things to think about is http://www.adorama.com/alc/0008169/article/BUYING-GUIDE-Tripods-for-Photographers.  There are many others as you will find in your search.

There are a couple of basic heads that you should also consider – ball heads and tilt-pan heads.  I use a ball head as I find it a lot easier to make small adjustments in the position of the camera than with a tilt-pan head.  What you use should meet whatever shooting needs you have for a tripod head.  You can search for “tripod head buying guide” and will find a lot of information similar to what is found here – http://www.shutterbug.com/content/tripod-heads-buyer%E2%80%99s-guide-match-your-shooting-needs.

Remote shutter release.  A lot of the shots that you will take, whether they are indoors or outdoors will often require slower shutter speeds.  A remote release will mean that you don’t have to touch the camera’s shutter button, as touching this button can often cause the camera to shake a bit making the picture a bit fuzzy.  You will also be free to move around and even hold a diffuser or another piece of equipment, like an off camera flash, without worrying about your shutter button.

Controlling the light.  There are a variety of ways to do this.  You may need things that will block diffuse or reflect the light.  You can buy the equipment or you can make your own.  I have a mixture of both.  For example, directions on making a home-made diffuser can be found here – http://www.instructables.com/id/10-Minute-Light-Diffuser/.  You can also use a piece of foam core board, or even a piece of dark cloth stretched across a coat hanger frame to block the light from the flower of interest.  A hat will also help as well.  A reflector, for those situations where you need to direct some sunlight or flash onto your subject, can be made from aluminum foil and taped over a coat hanger frame.  There are all kinds of variations on these approaches for the “do-it-yourselfer” who wants to save on some of the expense of professional equipment.

Lenses.  There are a variety of lenses that can be used for flower photography.  The simple kit lens that came with the camera, assuming one did, is often sufficient to start with.  Beyond this you can use telephoto lenses, macro lenses and wide angle lenses for variety of different images.  Telephoto lenses allow you to get a shot of the flower and to place the subject against a blurred background.  Macro lenses are necessary for extreme closeup photography and wide angle lenses are great for that outdoor shot where you have a landscape of flowers to photograph.

Another consideration, although not exactly a lens, is a polarizing filter.  When used properly, it helps to darken the sky, reduce reflection from leaves and petals when they are wet and may increase the intensity of the colours in the flowers.  A detailed treatment of the use of these filters is beyond the scope of this posting.  I will cover this topic in another blog post later in the year.

Extension Tubes.  These are hollow tubes that attach between your camera and the lens and allow closer focusing than you would ordinarily be able to do with the lens itself.  They come in a variety of configurations and sizes.  From a configuration perspective, there are two types:  those that allow the lens to communicate with the camera as it does under normal situations (autofocus and auto exposure) and those that do not.  As far as sizes go, some extension tubes come in sets of three and some come simply as individual tubes.  Extension tubes are probably the cheapest way to get into doing macro photography of flowers as they are inexpensive when compared to the purchase of a macro lens and they can be used with some of the lenses that you probably already have in your bag.  If you decide to acquire a set of these tubes, then I would recommend that you purchase a set, they often come in sets of three tubes, and that they be capable of allowing the lens to communicate with the camera.  I have a set by Kenko that has three tubes – 12mm, 20mm and 36mm – http://www.kenkotokinausa.com/products/kenko/slrc-04.html – although the video shows only a Nikon camera, Kenko makes tubes for most brands of DSLR cameras.  You can use these separately, or combine them for different degrees of “closeness”.

Weather Gear.  If you are going to spend a lot of time in the outdoors shooting flowers, then sooner or later you will need protection from the elements, usually rain.  It is best to carry something to cover your gear, as you may be forced to shoot in light showers (you get good images of rain-covered flowers that way), or you will run into a summer thunder storm.  Regardless, always have protection for you and your gear and carry a small towel to wipe the moisture form your camera and lenses should you encounter rain.

The next post will cover outdoor shooting including setup and choices of subjects.

Digital Infrared Photography – A Brave New World For Me

“We are not interested in the unusual, but in the usual seen unusually”
— Beaumont Newhall

It has been a while since a posted, but I have been extremely busy.  I have now decided to publish one issue of my blog each month as this will fit better with my hectic schedule, which will be even more hectic in 2014 as I am currently planning about five different photography trips.  I also plan to write a blog issue about each one, so that I can share my experiences with you.  I thank you all for your patience and I promise to be more attentive to this publication in the coming months.

A number of years ago, when film was king, I took a side-trip into shooting infrared black and white film.  For me, it was an experiment.  I shot a couple of rolls of infrared film and then went back to shooting colour slides – my favourite medium at the time.  I mean, who wanted to shoot only black and white and strange looking black and white at that.  Little did I know what was to come.

Last June while I was in South Dakota, attending a workshop in the Badlands, I was re-introduced to infrared photography through the medium of the digital camera.  One of the leaders of the workshop was Deb Sandidge, a practitioner of the art of IR photography and an author on the subject as well.  She had brought along, to the workshop, a couple of cameras that had been converted to capture light in the IR part of the spectrum (more about this aspect later) and she was kind enough to lend me one for half a day to “try it out”.  I eagerly downloaded the images that night and I was hooked.  Thus began my journey into the dark side – I mean you can’t see infrared light, but I am getting ahead of myself.

Let us start at the beginning.  Digital cameras today are fit with a filter in front of the sensor, often called a hot filter, that excludes most, if not all infrared light.  So, there are two ways to capture infrared light and the associated imagery – place an IR filter over the lens and hope that your camera will allow enough IR light through to the sensor, or, replace the hot filter with one that only lets selected IR light through.  I chose the latter.  It just so happened that I also had an extra digital camera in my closet, my old Canon Digital Rebel Xt.  It had been accumulating dust for about 5 years and I decide that I would convert it to shoot infrared imagery.  Wasn’t the best choice, as the recommendation is that you should convert a camera that has Live view as this makes it easier to focus in the IR spectrum, but the camera didn’t cost me anything at this time as it had been paid for years ago.  The only expense was the conversion.

To give you some background and insight as to exactly what infrared photography is, a short over view is perhaps appropriate.  Those looking for more can investigate the material on the web, starting with sites such as http://www.lifepixel.com/introduction and http://www.spencerscamera.com/.  There a multitude of others and some forums as well – http://irphotocom.proboards.com/.

The infrared light that I am talking about here involves light in the wavelengths from 700 to 1200 nm.  Nm, is the abbreviation for nanometer(s), a unit of measure in the Metric system equal to one billionth of a metre.  Don’t worry too much about that, just remember that it is a very, very, very, very small amount.  To put it in perspective, visible light ranges from about 400 to 700 nm.

There are four basic wavelengths that you can either buy filters for your camera and place on the lens, or have the camera converted to capture the IR light of one of these filters.  There are other types of conversions that you can buy, such as ultraviolet and full spectrum, but I will not go into these here.  If you are interested, then Google is your friend.

  1. At the shortest infrared wavelength is the 590nm filter.  It produces what could be called a colour IR image, as it allows a certain amount of the visible light spectrum to be captured, along with the entire IR spectrum.
  2. The next longest IR wavelength available is the 665nm filter.  It allows all of the IR spectrum to be captured, along with a small  amount of the colour spectrum.
  3. Known as the Standard IR Filter, the 720nm filter allows the capture of all of the IR spectrum and a very small amount of the visible light spectrum
  4. The other available filter is the 830nm filter.  This is a true IR filter, as it allows only infrared light to pass to the sensor.

If you are contemplating some IR photography, then I would recommend that you look at the detail analysis of each filter given by Life Pixel on their web page – http://www.lifepixel.com/infrared-filters-choices, or the discussion on the Spencer’s Camera page referenced previously. In my case, I chose the 590nm filter as I felt it gave me the most choices for post-processing.

As far as processing the IR images that come from the camera, there are a number of choices depending on the filter that is used.  My choice of the 590nm filter opened up a number of possibilities:  leave it as it came out of the camera, or convert it to black and white using one of the many ways of doing this conversion, including Lightroom or Photoshop, or one of the many plugins available for these software packages.  I have done some using Lightroom alone and Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2.  There is, however, one type of processing that can be done only in Photoshop and that is the swapping of the red and blue colour channels.  This is done using the Channel Mixer to create what is often referred to as the “blue-sky” effect.  Life Pixel’s site shows the effect of this mixing process on the final image for the four filters described previously.  This effect is most pronounced for the 590nm filter and a little less for the 659nm filter.  This is because these filters retain a certain amount of the red end of the visible colour spectrum.  This give the photographer a bit more freedom in exercising their creative side in arriving at the final image.

If you are interested in pursuing infrared photography, then I strongly urge you to do your homework.  Try to find someone in your part of the world who may have made the move into IR imagery and talk to them about their experiences.  Review as much of the material on the web as you can find – there is a lot of it.  Get ahold of a good book.  Deb’s is the most recent publication in this field.  If you do not have an old digital camera to convert, then consider buying a filter for your current camera.  They are available in all four wavelengths  Take a number of images of various subjects, particularly the types of subject that you like to shoot and compare them to a digital image of the same subject.  If you do decide to invest in a camera solely for the purpose of IR imagery, then you may want to purchase a slightly used DSLR that has Live View. (This will be my next purchase should I decide to pursue this form of imagery in a big way.)

To give you some ideas as to what can happen, I have chosen two images from my initial venture in IR photography during the South Dakota Badlands journey.  The first image is one of the badlands topography and the second is one of a wagon wheel that was resting beside the road in a small deserted town that we found during our travels.  In each case, I show the original image in full digital colour and in the infrared spectrum using the 665nm filter on the camera that Deb Sandidge loaned me.  I then show the results of a black and white conversion using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 plugin for Lightroom.  These images are just examples to show what sort of things to expect.  I would note, however, that the potential for processing the infrared image is only limited by your imagination and creativity.   I would urge you to review a number of images on the web on the Spencer’s Camera and Life Pixel sites and to review those images posted on the infrared forums referred to previously, to gain a full appreciation for the types of results that can be obtained.

Original colour image, Badlands topography at sunset.

Original colour image, Badlands topography at sunset.

Colour image converted to black and white.

Colour image converted to black and white.

Original infrared image, Badlands topography.

Original infrared image, Badlands topography.

Infrared image converted to black and white.

Infrared image converted to black and white.

Original wagon wheel colour image.

Original wagon wheel colour image.

Original colour converted to black and white

Original colour converted to black and white

Original wagon wheel infrared image

Original wagon wheel infrared image

Infrared converted to black and white

Infrared converted to black and white

So, if you are looking for something new to expand your photographic world and get those creative juices flowing, then to quote an old advertising phrase, “Try it, you’ll like it.”, just remember to do your homework.

Every Season Has a Story – Part 2 – Summer

Photography, as a powerful medium…offers an infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution.

Ansel Adams

Well, it has been a while since I posted an issue of my blog.  I have been busy and admittedly, doing a lot of thinking about whether or not I want to continue this undertaking.  I have decided that I will try to put one issue out each month and since I started a seasonal theme a few months ago, I thought it would be a propos to continue it with Summer, even though it is just over one month into that season as I write this.

Summer is the warmest season where I live – the Northern Hemisphere, so those who live south of the Equator will have to excuse my ignorance of their situation.  I write what I know about and that is summer in the Foothills of the Rockies.

Trees, Flowers etc.

There are innumerable opportunities presented for photographing trees, flowers, even weeds at this time of year.  Summer is not the best season for shooting trees, unless you find one that is quite remarkable for its form, or perhaps sits isolated on a hillside covered in summer flowers.  Flowers, both domestic and wild, will often be in full bloom at various times in the summer – some early and some later – the secret is to know when and where.  Even weeds, such as the dreaded dandelion present a number of opportunities to make interesting images during the summer.  The flowers have gone to seed and the fuzzy tops make very interesting subjects for macro photography. My Standard Metadata

Activities that occur on farms, as the summer progresses, can also provide subjects of interest.  Farmers are often harvesting the first crop of hay in the early to mid-summer.  Canola, that crop that blooms a beautiful yellow can also provide subjects for close-up or colourful landscapes.  Flax, with its small, blue flower, is abundant in some parts of the Western Prairies.

Water

Water in all its forms is an endless source of subjects to photograph.  Mountain streams have handled all the run off and are now flowing at slightly less volumes than in the late Spring.  This means that you may actually be able to wade into some of the smaller streams to take pictures from a different perspective than you could when the waters were higher in the runoff period.  This may give you a different position for images of waterfalls.  Just make sure that you have a decent pair of wading boots, as the water can still be extremely cold, even in summer.

Birds and other Wildlife

Summer is the season of growth.  A lot of the eggs that were laid in the nests built in the Spring are now hatching, or have hatched, and there is a lot of activity around the nests as the young hatchlings are fed and raised.  As the summer wears on, the young birds start to test their wings and eventually fledge from the nest.  Early summer will also see the return of latecomers – those birds that did not arrive until very late Spring or very early Summer.  They will be participating in activities that the early-arrival birds have already performed.  Keep your eyes and ears open – you will be surprised at what you can see and hear.

Animals like deer and elk will now be starting to regrow their antlers in preparation for the fall mating season.  These will be covered in the velvet of new growth, providing a slightly different picture than you might see later on in the year.  Animals like raccoons and foxes will have a new batch of little ones ready to follow mother around and learn the survival skills they will need when they leave home.

Insects are another form of wildlife that are quite prevalent in the summer.  Flying varieties like bees, butterflies, damsel flies and dragon flies are present everywhere in the fields of the mountains and prairies.   Ants and spiders can also be very obvious in and around your home and gardens, as well as various places in the fields and woods away from home.  All insects make for excellent subjects for close-up and macro work.20120721AA4Q0016-Edit

Landscapes

Yes, even landscapes take on a new appearance in the Summer.  Alpine meadows are covered in the blooms of new growth and, as noted,  the insects that pollinate them are also abundant.

Summer skies present another opportunity that is not available in the other three seasons – storm clouds.  Depending on where you live, the large, cumulonimbus clouds generated by afternoon atmospheric instabilities can present incredible backdrops for landscapes, particularly on the prairies.  These clouds often grow to altitudes of 15,000 metres of more and present formidable subjects when photographed against a background of yellow canola fields.  Even the clouds themselves can be objects of significant photographic compositions.My Standard Metadata

Summer Activities

As the weather warms up, people flock to recreational areas for a variety of activities.  Everything from swimming and waterskiing to beach volleyball can be found on the many lakes across the countryside.  Picnics and barbeques flourish.  As well, a lot of towns and cities have an annual summer fair supporting everything from rodeos to amusement parks and the associated rides that can be found there.  All of these activities present innumerable possibilities for photography.  Often these Summer events have  displays of fireworks,  something for both the amateur and professional alike to spend time photographing.My Standard Metadata

Regardless of where your photographic interests lie, there are innumerable opportunities available as Spring grows into Summer and Summer fades into Fall.  One of the keys to good Summer photography is knowing where to go to get the bests shots of whatever subject interests you.  I carry a map book around with me in my travels and make copious notes in it regarding the things I see at various locations.  If clouds are of interest, then knowing where the high ground is will give you good positioning for images of these objects.

As I have said before: “Start planning now and maybe you will have that opportunity to capture an image that you never thought possible.  You never know where your photographic journey will take you.”