Happy New Year! Better Photography Needs a Better You!

  Posted in Learning on

  by Chris

Happy New Year!!! I love a new year; the clean slate is a priceless gift, one not to be squandered. As photography is the focus of this blog, let us reflect on some matters photographic:

What were your best 10-20 images last year? This is a great time to dig through last year’s images, and figure out what worked best, and why it worked so well. Could you have done better? What should you have done differently? Have you added these images to your portfolio yet, of whatever sort that portfolio might be? (I am deficient on this aspect!!!  Something for me to work on.) Figure  out what you like most about them, and use that knowledge to guide what you look to shoot this next year, and how you are going to shoot it.

What were some of your biggest failures? Learn from these also, that you might grow as a photographer, and as a person. Both successes and failures of 2014 are past (though their consequences might not be!). Let them pass. Look forward to the future. Learn, but forget.

Now, on to the heart of this post: Becoming a better photographer means you need to become a better person. As I consider my photogrpahic failures in 2014, a pattern emerges… Mt problems as a photographer stem from my problems as a person. A brief list of these: impatience, laziness, gluttony, and lack of focus on what is important. Allow me to detail:

Imaptience: Rushing to get somewhere? Has caused me to forget lenses at some, memory cards at home, drop stuff… Impatience means not waiting long enough the picture to come together. Impatience means leaving sunset before completely dark. Impatience means rusing and spooking a bird when sneaking up on it. Impatience means irritability and unnecessary conflict with those I love and those I work with.

Laziness: Not going to bed soon enough (and instead wasting time doing nothing on the internet or playing video games), not getting up early enough (see wasting time), fiddling around when I should be getting things ready to go, not cleaning or servicing gear when done for the day, not uploading and editing images after the day (soooo important for learing is this review period!), not putting stuff away, being disorganized with things, not working on things when I need to so I end up in a rush and do things last minute (see impatience).

Gluttony: I am about 60 pounds overweight. This utterly affects my performance in all areas, photography included. Obesity makes me tire more easily, which makes me lazier, which feeds impatience! How did I get this large? What happened? I was 220 about two years ago. Too much eating out, too much comfort eating, not enough exercise, and certainly not taking the problem of obesity seriously. Obesity means diabetes at my almost 260 pounds, especially with my family history  of diabetes. Add in my family history of heart disease. What am I thinking as I eat? Am I mad??? How can I be so blind to this impending disaster?

Lack of Focus: I lost focus in 2014. Not enough exercise, too much wasted time, too much food, so much undone which ought to have been done, a lot done which did not need to be done, and I really did not enjoy doing. Do I really need to spend a half an hour, even an hour, surfing around for nothing? News is not all that important. Photography news is not that important. I don’t usually surf for helpful knowledge; usually, it is because I seek brainless amusement, and am putting off something I need to be doing. Lack of focus means worse images because I tire easily, do not learn from mistakes, have disorganized images, my arms wobble when using my big lens… On my problems go…

Lack of focus on what is important is a root cause for my problems. I create images to the glory of God. I also create images to bless and delight my family, friends, and all who may view them. Lack of focus comes, in part, from liking the wrong things. I liked junk food in 2014: I must not like it anymore in 2015. I liked mindless waste of time in 2014 (mental junk food): I must despise this waste in 2015. I need to build relationships with the people God has given me, not with a machine I sit around. I need to do things, not passively drift through things. Time for to walk in the Spirit instead of the flesh. Time for me to set my affection on things above, not on things on this Earth. I want to live to see my great-grandchildren, that I might bless them and teach them to live for Christ, the fourth generation who will come. My poor choices in 2014 are done. But, I do not need to be the person I was in 2014. I am saved from sin, and free to walk in newness of life. I must be this happy, positive, energetic person my family and friends need. I am a husband. I am a father. I am the Assistant Pastor at my church. But, for this blog, I am a photographer. A major part of being a better photographer is being a better person. I saw all this not to be negative. When we identify the mistakes we make, we can fix them. Admitting them is a great start. Being negative will not fix anything. Finding our value in what we can acomplish will not help anything. But, being the person we were made to be will help us to be the photographer we want to be.

Being open and honest about mistakes is freeing and relieving. I can throw away the exhausting facade of trying to look perfect. I can be me, and fix me, and even get help fixing me. This post has been rather revealing, but rather cathartic. I feel like Tony Stark (Iron Man) at the very end of Iron Man 3, which makes you Bruce Banner (The Hulk!), listening to me, hopefully not sleeping like he was!

Spend some time in introspection. Figure out: what are your personal flaws? How do these affect your photography? Where are you out of focus in your life, and what do you need to do to get back in to focus?

My link to Truth discusses the ultimate need each person has: eternal life. If you seek truth, click on it; it quotes what God says about how to know Him All life on Earth is in the end in vain if we lack eternal life. Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die”. “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentence”. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John wrote about Jesus: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; he that believeth not he Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Eternal life is more valuable than any treasure. Consider your life: Do you have eternal life?

 

More on being a better photographer to come. (A New Year’s Resolution I made: to update this blog at least twice a week. Keep me accountable!)

Natasha’s Kitchen – A Post to Win Sweepstakes

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

Hi! A blog I have been reading for a while is Natasha’s Kitchen. It makes me hungry at work, and causes unwary co-workers to drool. Sadly, I have prior to this failed to share it due to being too busy or maybe lazy, is the more honest description.

Natashaskitchen.com is the best food website OF ALL TIME! Mabe this is because of my Russian origins, but I love reading about the foods. My wife and I will be cooking some of them, at some point. We already used her Borsch recipe (with some minor modifications).

I indeed am receiving a sweepstakes entry for this blog post, but, this blog deserves to be shared no matter what. I promise you, if you follow this blog, you will never lack ideas of what to cook! (Note: Natasha being a fellow Christian and fellow nurse and her her husband Vadim being a photographer makes the blog even more interesting to me because I feel common ground!).

natashaskitchen.com

Bird Photography: A More Dramatic Way of Lighting

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

An article I read yesterday concisely stated how I had been feeling, and said why:

http://www.naturescapes.net/articles/opinions/getting-out-of-your-bird-photography-rut/

This article by Greg Basco discusses how the modern concept of a good bird image, in most peoples’ minds, is quite stale. The point-your-shadow-at-the-bird advice has merit for a very beginner, and can greatly help a person understand the basics of lighting and exposure. A front lit image will have nice color, and if all is done well, will look nice – but, is a very basic image from a lighting standpoint. The goal usually with modern bird images is to have the background totally utterly out of focus, to the point where it looks like a green screen.  Usually, the bird is either perched  on a stick or is wading through featureless water.

The problem with these images is that they tell no story, they have little to no drama, and and they usually have very inadequate composition (a lump of one color surrounded by another gets boring…) . I began to sense a problem a while ago, when I, who was often taking pictures like this, found myself hating them, yet now knowing why. I realized I usually hated looking at other peoples’ birds pictures. I had begun thinking along the lines of this article, but it really congealed my thoughts: modern bird photography is grade school level lighting, at best!

Consider portrait lighting: drama is created by lighting, and careful posing of the subject, but mostly by lighting. A full frontal lit portrait of a human is very boring. It is useful for knowing who the human is, but falls short  after that. Whether soft of hard, one light or multi light, portrait lighting’s goal in human photography is to create drama and interest through the use of light.

For Example:

Graduate, Soft Light

Graduate, Soft Light

Though not a overly dramatic example of lighting, this two light image displays depth and drama, in a subtle way. The shadows softly outline the face and contour the features.

See what people look like when you take a picture of them like they are a bird (you can even use a better beamer, if you want!):

Graduate, Hard Light

Graduate, Hard Light

This image is front lit. The subject is just as attractive as the last, yet the image is far less interesting. Why? Boring lighting. Yes, you may see all her color and field markings, but this is rather mundane.

Even if the pose is interesting, front lit does not really get beyond the forensic level:

Action Pose, Hard Light

Action Pose, Hard Light

These images demonstrate the boringness of most bird pictures. Sadly, I could get none of them to perch on a powerline, but is always next time!!!

Here is a dramatic bird image, light at a 90 degree angle from the bird:

Avocet, Side Light

Avocet, Side Light

I intentionally violated a slew of the generally accepted bird photography principles, all in the name of drama. I fell that I succeeded! The side lighting (practically rim lighting) clearly emphasizes his form, with the added bonus of shining through the translucent wing feathers! Shape and form are the foundation of drama, especially in action pictures. Putting the bird on the wrong side of the frame further emphasizes the drama of him breaking forth onto the scene! So do the water splashes at his feet and droplets shed from his wings! This image would still be workable front lit, but would seem far less active, hence face less dramatic, hence far less emotive.

If you want good art, make art which elicits emotion from the viewer! If you shoot mostly only birds, I would strongly advise you to study portrait lighting.

 

A Different View…

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

St. Mark's Lighthouse Sunset

 

The key to getting different images is to see differently. The key to seeing differently is to think uniquely. Different images stand out; they catch eyes, and hold viewers.

The making of this image required significant pre-thought. I studied the lighthouse of St. Marks, and looked at the area on maps.google.com for a while, trying to find the best angles to shoot the lighthouse. When I arrived at the refuge before sunrise, I scouted around for where I wanted my sunrise image (I planned to capture both sunrise and sunset images). Sunrise images were all well and fine, but I needed something unique. My sunrise images looked like most of the other images I had seen on the internet. In the afternoon, my wife (a trained artist, yet in another discipline) picked the place where we would shoot sunset. She said it would be unique. When sunset was approaching, as I was trying to get images of ducks in the pond near the lighthous, a large group of people congregated at the base of the lighthouse, all ready as a band to capture the same image. To be sure, compositions would be different, somewhat, yet nothing would stand out; the lighting would be the same, the angles would be the same. I am sure they got good images, and that they liked them too, yet I am sure that none of them captured particulary unique images, as the place they shot from is the place where nearly everyone shoots (do an image search; you will see!).

The image above is much different than all others. It was made overlooking a small pond off the main road on a pull-over with a small bench. We were completely alone. The smokes from controlled burns at the Wakulla unit provided the clouds.  This image was made with a 7D, a 70-200 2.8 IS, handheld (I never use tripods…).

Leave the pack! Get alone, and get unique images!

A slightly new method…

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

Snowy Egret Flight

Snowy Egret Flight

I am trying a new processing method: rather flat, low contrast, with smooth tones. Let me know how you like it! Image taken in Everglades National Park at Mrazek Pond, with soft lighting from a mostly overcast sky. Mrazek Pond is nearly useless in full sunlight in the morning, due to the only angle one can get on the birds.

Florida State Parks Annual Family Pass: OVERPRICED!!!

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

An America the Beautiful Pass is only 80 USD!!! This pass gives a person access to all federal recreational lands with no further fee (unless they try to bring in a canoe, which gets them for extra!). This vast freedom includes all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments, and other related lands and facilites. This pass gets a person and all the folks with him in his car into the park with no additional charge!!!

The Florida Annual Park Pass? 60 USD. And, it admits ONLY ONE PERSON! ONLY ONE PERSON??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? A National Pass can get me and my entourage into the Grand Canyon, Denali, Everglades National Park, Glacier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Redwoods, Olympus, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and so many more of the most iconic places in the entire world!!! These are the places National Geographic shows us, which calendars display, and Ansel Adams photographed. If I wish to bring my entourage into a Florida State Park with a Florida Pass, it costs 2 bucks extra per person. How much for a family pass? 120 USD!!!

The charge 1.5 times MORE for a family pass than the America the Beautiful pass, and mostly all I can see with it are places not worth remembering! To be sure, there are some good parks, and that be the rub… Riverbend, Jonathan Dickinson…

I think I need to write a letter to Congress to get them to adversely acquire all state parks around the Jupiter region, and call them “Atlantic Ridge National Wildlife Refuge”. They would be better run, have more amenities, and possibly even attract a volcano to erect some new epic national monument!

PS Bill Baggs State Park has no friends! But Biscayne Bay National Park has hoards of friends.

PPS To increase usage, get a reasonable pricing for the stupidly priced family pass…

Color Harmony: Cool Dominant Color Harmony

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

Reddish Egret

Reddish Egret

This is a cool dominant color harmony image. The neck and bill of the reddish egret provides the warm accent, with the remainder of the image, both subject and setting, are cool. The overall effect of using green and blue together is very soothing; the warmth adds a mellow balance.

Image of the Week: Backgrounds

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

Great White Heron

Great White Heron

 

How to get a smooth background on a bird image? In brief,

1. Get low. Getting low puts the angle of the focus plane completely off the focal plane. In this image, I was level with the background, and could go no lower, based on the terrain (a boardwalk).

2. Shoot long. The longer the focal length, the easier it will be to blur the world. However, in this image, the I was using my longest focal length.

3. Shoot wide open. With my lens and TC combo I was using (300 2.8 + 2x TC), I like to stop down a full stop to give me better sharpness. Also, the large birds can end up rather out of focus in the wrong parts with too broad an aperture.

4. Position the background as far as possible from the subject. The subject was flying to and from an area where he was gathering sticks, and flying his pattern rather regularly. There was no perceivable way to get him farther.

5. Get as close as possible to the subject. Remember the boardwalk? This was as close as I could get.

6. Post processing. Once the image has been captured, it is possible, and often quite desirable, to render the background more out of focus in the post processing stage. This was not done on this image, however…

Because I actually like the background! The vegetation and water provide an excellent frame for the bird with the curve they make as they meet. The out of focus vegetation is still recognizable as vegetation. The bird’s natural environment is shown here. However, I do not like environmental context for all images all the time. This is art; there is no crime in processing or not processing. The decision is the artists’! The paint is photons and a sensor, as well as some digits in binary. In making the decision of how to process, the goal is not to simply copy what is vogue, but to deliberately select exactly to create in the final image, to express the message desired.

Out of Focus Subject Recovery

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

OOF Osprey copy

This image was slightly out of focus when taken; I believe that the bird had flown through the focus area. I really liked the bird’s pose, so I tried some Richardson-Lucy Deconvolution on the image. I managed to recover the image, to some degree. There’s not a whole lot of fine detail, but, it is better than it was. I will try this on some more images, and experiment with images where the eye is out of focus.

Image of the Week: Great Blue Heron

  Posted in Uncategorized on

  by Chris

Great Blue Heron's Scowl

Great Blue Heron’s Scowl

This guy was seen at Shark Valley; I tried a new sharpening method learned from Arthur Morris’ pdf, Digital Basics, https://store.birdsasart.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=252 (Home Site http://www.birdsasart-blog.com) I used what he teaches in the sharpening section. In this instance, I sharpened at 450, Radius .8, 0 Threshhold, with the image at full size. I had not tried this before, but was impressed at the level of detail it revealed. I also had first run noiseware on it though, www.imagenomic.com/nw.aspx. The lesson we can learn from this image, if nothing else, is to keep on learning and growing. The path of improvement is through change, and change comes when we listen. Sometimes, we are too smart for our own good and miss out on valuable learning opportunities because we would not humble ourselves to listen. Go out and learn something new this year! Stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone! Embrace change!