Great Blue Herons 2013 (a new Gallery)

Blue Heron -1To view the gallery of these photographs please click on: Blue Herons

The first hopeful sign of spring this year was seeing a Great Blue Heron. It was standing in water by the side of the road. It was not bothered by the growing number of bystanders; it just stood its ground in one of the few areas of open water. The photo above was taken last year near the end of the season when getting close to these birds was easiest.

Like a number of photographers I find the Heron family, and especially the majestic Great Blue, an irresistible subject. Close up they have character and in action, grace. Hope you like this gallery of last year’s captures.

Starting this week I will be posting more galleries to close out 2013, interspersed with the series of posts like that I began yesterday filled with many hints.

The Frustration Files (in 12 parts)

FrustratedTo view more of my photography please click on

Part 1

There is no question in my mind that photography has become more complex and more daunting than it ever was. My first DSLR had no auto-focus, no light meter and film was expensive. The myth is that digital is much cheaper, but the cameras wear out faster and the learning curve is steeper. This winter I met a number of people frustrated by the learning curve for complex cameras and software. As they asked questions I could see the source of that frustration, and this series of posts looks at what is what and why all told can be a frustrating and steep learning curve requiring us to remember a lot of parameters and different techniques.

I have seen some stunning photography taken with point-and-shoot cameras of the lowest order. For me the important thing is the output. If I find point-and-shoot cameras lacking in features, that is my problem. This series of posts addresses the frustrations and wonders of the AP-C (cropped sensor) DSLR. The photographs that illustrate these posts are from my archives; you may have seen one or two before.

Let’s begin…

In the film days your choice of film decided your ISO. We bought Kodak Ecktachrome rated at 160 ISO and pushed it to 200, saturating the colors. That took one leg out of the exposure triangle. Your lens dictated the minimum shutter speed (the reciprocal of its length – e.g 100mm equals 1/100th second) and you played with the fstop as a variable. We never really worried about white balance. We had indoor and outdoor film and filters to adjust the color if we had to use outdoor film indoors or vice versa. Today all four are variables that need to be addressed separately (shutter speed because of vibration reduction and the size of the sensor). In addition the modern DSLR camera has menus that stretch into the hundreds of options and combinations. We used to send the film to the lab and waited patiently, now we can review things in-camera and download when convenient. Computers have become elaborate labs, if not studios, with whole new learning curves and on-going costs. So it is no wonder some are discouraged/frustrated by photography and DSLRs.

The question is how to simplify this and simplify the learning curve. In my view a start has to be made with the vocabulary. How many ways can we use the word and derivatives of words like sharp and contrast, etc.. My next post in this series will address “SHARP” and its many derivatives. We will see where it goes from there.

{The photo above has been posted before but is one of my favorites}

Lake Landscape (and a note on HDR methodology)

Landscape-7To view more of my photography please click on

This photograph is simply one I like and wanted to share. I like the way the felled tree in this picture divides the photograph. The HDR examples are below.

I’ve had a few comments on High Dynamic Range processing (HDR), so I thought I would respond. HDR can verge on the artificial or artsy. I have not been a big fan of HDR but remain hopeful that I can find my own subtle HDR treatment to bring out details that otherwise could not be seen. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the trick with HDR is to pull out the range of light your camera cannot. If you overdo the tonality in HDR the photograph becomes surreal. So in the explanation below the idea is to keep things natural.

There are three or more ways you can try to achieve the goal of getting the full range of light and better approximate what your eye sees, especially in landscapes where the sky overwhelms some of the scenery. I chose a photo with a nice sky, nice water reflections and detailed shoreline and looked at the various ways it could be processed.

Normal ProcessFirst, (photograph above), you can take one picture and use shadow and highlight tools to bring out more detail, essentially you are using all of the available range of light. This methodology only works if your exposure in camera was well balanced. In this case, I used Lightroom’s basic controls to get an exposure, contrast and balanced histogram I liked, sharpened it in Photoshop and used Dfine 2 to remove noise and Nik Detail extractor to get the result you see.

Second, you can copy the photograph two or more times and adjust the exposure of the copies to get a mix of under-exposed and over-exposed images. Then you could overlap the images and use masking to get the best of the three images. This works but is time consuming, so I did not do that for this post.

Photomatix Fusion Natural

Third, as in the photograph above you can use HDR software e,g, the module in Photoshop, or cheaper solutions like Nik’s HDR Efex Pro and Photomatix . You take a series of photos, preferably on a tripod of the same scene at various exposures, (using bracketing) and the software combines the photos and lets you edit the results. Light touches with these pieces of software will work miracles but you do have to be very light handed to rein in the realistic range. The photograph above was processed in Photomatix Pro’s Fusion/Natural mode and then my normal process was followed sharpening, noise reduction and Nik detail extractor. It is important to note that any of these latter changes would be lost were you to reverse the order and process and use the HDR software first.

I processed the photograph fully in Photoshop’s HDR pro but was unhappy with the results that tended more to the hard side of HDR than I liked (e.g. halos).

Fourth, and this is becoming popular, is to prepare your image in a third party software like those above at a basic level before you get into the tonal tools. This means that software combines your images, but you bring the resulting 32-bit image into your normal processor that can handle 32 bits (the latest versions of Photoshop and Light room can do this) and you can then edit the results like any other photo. You avoid having to learn new processing software. Photoshop HDR Pro is perfect for this and Photomatix has a plug-in you can buy just to to do this. Of the methods mentioned this one was new to me. But is by far the easiest and the results are below.

CC 32Bit

Overall, Photomatix natural/fusion and the one photograph processed using my normal process seem the most pleasing combinations especially in the clouds. I can promise you that the results would differ depending on the photograph, but I do think Photomatix has improved with its latest version. I would not use any HDR software unless I was sure I could not achieve the same results working my normal process. When I am doing landscapes, taking five bracketed shots is a good idea as insurance in case I have to use HDR software. My conclusion is to spend more time with Photomatix and see what I can achieve with it that goes beyond my normal processing.

A Matter of Weight

A matter of WeightTo view more of my photography please click on

When you need to illustrate the size of something, the book says to include an object or person against which it can be seen. Think of a massive redwood with someone at its base, or a dam with someone standing on it. What struck me in this photograph was how the insect did not even bow the leaf it was standing on. I have seen flies and beetles climb flower structures but usually they were more substantial. This damselfly is on a leaf that can be bent by a breeze yet the leaf does not bend.

Street Photography (a new Gallery)

Street for WPTo view the gallery of these photographs please click on: Street 2013

I used to love street photography. The works of Bresson, Lartigue and many others have street photography as their bedrock. The other day I was out with my wife on a pedestrian mall as she was testing her new lens. A woman came up and asked us to delete any photos of her. Legally she hadn’t a leg to stand on and yet my sense of ethics said to delete them, had we taken a photo. We had not. Last year the outdoor music festivals banned cameras with exchangeable lenses. The list of ways in which the camera has become an issue grows daily.

The world has changed and there is nothing much that can be done about it. The camera clubs still descend on the tourist sites to do street photography in areas where they are less likely to be challenged. But in almost every other area one must be wary, not just because of the traditional issues arising from taking candid photographs but because of the new found love for privacy, and increasing distaste for the surveillance society we live in. Not to mention new laws and procedures that makes some photography suspicious in the eyes of the state. From what I have read and seen the issue exists in many countries. While it may slow some of us down, it certainly will not stop this genre of photography. What it might do is to remove from history some of the record of what life was like, and intimidate, if not discourage some talented artists and further complicate the ethics of photography.

As you can tell from the gallery I define street photography quite broadly!

Wood Duck Eye (and a word about size)

Wood Duck EyeTo view more of my photography please click on

Wood Ducks are among the most colorful and exotic ducks around where I live. In full plumage the males brighten up the fall. This photograph illustrates a problem I sometimes face, if the picture is too large and the subject too small it can easily be a dud on the web, but sometimes like here there are interesting contextual things one wants to include like the sticks and waves. It’s a fine line as to whether the bird and its eye will be too small on the web (although you can always click on it for a larger version; that is something I try to avoid forcing people to do.)


Making an Appearance

Making an AppearanceTo view more of my photography please click on

This is a rather pompous title for a photograph of a very tiny Hopper going about its business. But it speaks to two things: yes, the animal is very small and unless we get close we would never see the wonderful color; on the other hand getting close enough could take the creature out of context and we might as well be shooting on the kitchen table. I want to make sure there are visual clues as to the size of my subject, in addition to getting the details.

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