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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I like to think of myself as a fairly dedicated photographer. I shoot a lot, I try to make sure I’m pushing myself every time I pick up a camera (as opposed to settling for what I’m most comfortable with), and I take what I do very seriously. So yeah, I’m a dedicated photographer. Or so I thought. London’s Daily Mail recently wrote about a photographer who takes dedication to a whole other—maybe even dangerous—level. Wildlife photographer Greg du Toit was unsatisfied with his results in the African plains, and so he took to the water. He sat, half submerged, for 270 hours (three hours a day, seven days a week) in a watering hole. He let the animals come to him. And it worked. He created amazing images of a variety of subjects, including big cats mere yards away. Greg’s dedication came at a cost, though, and it was more than just mere discomfort. He was diagnosed with bhilharzia, multiple parasites, and malaria (twice). I suppose if that’s not dedication, nothing is. To read more about his adventure and see some of his images, check out the Daily Mail’s web site. For more about Greg and his work, including your own opportunity to have him guide you on an African photo safari, visit his web site at www.gregdutoit.com.


Amazing Eagles, Amazing Photographer

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When I received the April issue of OP in the mail just a few days ago, a single page reminded me of a few things: how much I like a particular subject, how much I like a particular photographer, and how much I like reading our magazine in print. The page in question is the very last page, The Last Frame, dedicated to an outstanding image every month. The subject in question is the American bald eagle; in this case, not just one but a whole flock of eagles. And the outstanding photographer whose work I’m particularly fond of is Kennan Ward. I recommend not only that you pick up the April issue as soon as possible to see the image, but that you head over to Kennan’s web site to see much more of his wildlife photography—including a number of amazing eagle images.


Discovery Channel Life show

Monday, March 22, 2010

I love watching the Discovery Channel, although the programming doesn’t often dovetail so perfectly with my Outdoor Photographer passions. This weekend, though, that changed. Last night the Discovery Channel, in conjunction with the BBC and several other broadcast partners, premiered the first episode of an 11-part special called “Life.” As you can see from the promotions, the series promises to feature amazing and beautiful images of wildlife, from the microscopic to the massive, from all corners of the globe. I can only assume because it is in 11 parts that this will be a massive and in-depth undertaking sure to satisfy the wildlife aficionado in all of us, with powerful imagery designed to wow the general public too. To see more, including promos, behind the scenes videos, photos and episode guides, visit The Discovery Channel’s Life web site.


Batch Processing In Photoshop

Friday, March 19, 2010

Before programs like Lightroom and Aperture were available, creating actions in Photoshop and then batch processing groups of images with those actions was the best way to make changes to multiple images without having to do the work one image at a time. Lightroom has certainly reduced the frequency with which I use Photoshop for batch processing, but there are still certain actions I use that can't be done in Lightroom. In this post, I'll explain how batch processing in Photoshop works by detailing how I create and execute an action that adds a border and watermark to an image. In reality, I now use a Lightroom plug-in to do this (more about this at the end of the post,) but not everyone likes to bother (or pay for) plug-ins.

In this example, I am going to create an action that does the following: resize an image to 500 pixels wide, add a black border, and add a copy of my logo over the image. If you are going to follow along, you'll first need to create a file with your logo that is also 500 pixels wide and has a transparent background. If you don't have a graphical logo, you can just create a document with your name in type. Create a new document (File---New), and in the pop-up window, make it 500 pixels wide and make sure you choose transparent for the background. Click OK. To type your name, just use the type tool (hit the letter T on your keyboard to activate it) and choose a font you like. I like to use a white watermark, but you can use any color you want. Save the document.

Now you're ready to create your action. First, open an image file. On the actions palette, click on the new action icon at the bottom of the palette (it looks like a page with the bottom left corner turned up.) If you don't see your action palette, click on Window--Actions (alt-F9). Give your action a meaningful name in the pop-up window and click record. Now you will see a red circle at the bottom of the actions palette that means Photoshop is recording everything you are doing. (This is just like recording a macro in Excel or Word.)

First, resize your image, using Image--Image Size. Be sure Resample Image and Constrain Proportions are checked on, and change the pixel width to 500. Click OK. Next Click on Select--All (Ctrl-A, Command-A), then Edit--Stroke. This brings up a pop-up that lets you choose the stroke (a.k.a border) size and color. Choose your stroke and click OK. Next open your watermark image file. Copy this image (Select--All, Edit--Copy), then close the file. Once back on your main image, paste the watermark, then choose the Move Tool, by typing the V key, and reposition the watermark image to where you want it (I usually put mine in the bottom of the frame.) Flatten your image (Layer--Flatten Image). Now you're done, but you first need to stop recording, by clicking on the stop button at the bottom of the action palette (it's the black square.)

You can now, apply this action to any open image or to a folder full of images. To try it out, open another image, highlight your new action in the action palette by clicking on the action name and then click on the play button at the bottom of the action palette. Photoshop will process your image using everything you recorded. Simple.

Here's the result of the action I created.

To run the action on a folder of images, choose File--Automate--Batch... This will bring up the batch processing window, where you choose your action and the location of the source files you want to process. You also need to choose a destination for your processed images. Choosing None, will leave your images open in Photoshop. Choosing Save and Close will save the images in their current location, overwriting the original files. I usually choose Folder, which lets me specify a location where Photoshop will deposit the processed images, leaving the originals intact.

The beauty of actions in Photoshop is that you can record just about any group of tasks, with the major exception being print commands (you can record these, but they usually don't work right.)

If you use Lightroom, you can achieve the above action by using a plug-in called Mogrify, which is donation ware, published by the folks at The Photographer's Toolbox: photographers-toolbox.com

Nat Geo’s Top 10 of 2009

Friday, March 19, 2010

National Geographic’s team of freelance photographers made more than a million exposures in 2009. Of those only 1,000 images were selected for publication in the magazine. Of that select group, only the top one percent—10 individual frames—were selected as National Geographic’s Top 10 Photos of 2009. The selection includes a creative vertical panorama of an ancient redwood, a strobe-lit spelunker photographed in total darkness and an underwater view of a brown bear fishing for salmon. The images illustrate both the power of simplicity and straight ahead story telling, as well as how a dose of imagination can render a previously well-covered subject in an entirely new light. All the images are amazing in their own way, and well worth a look.


D-Town TV for all things D-SLR

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Scott Kelby has a lot more energy than I do. He must—otherwise I can’t imagine how he has time for all of the things he does. Blogging and shooting and writing and filming what appears to be 25 hours a day, Mr. Kelby has turned himself into a digital photography guru. One of his outlets for sharing his knowledge is D-Town TV, which takes a “fresh approach to teaching camera tips and photographic techniques.” D-Town used to be Nikon-centric, but Mr. Kelby recently pointed out on his blog that this season the web show will be less about “which button does what” and more about working with digital SLRs of all varieties—including Nikon and Canon. So if you’re a Canon shooter who previously avoided D-Town because it didn’t seem pertinent, or if you’re a Nikon guy who didn’t know about the show, now’s your chance to check it out for yourself. Knowing the great advice that Mr. Kelby often shares, it’s bound to be a very worthwhile watch.


All About Fringe

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I’ve heard lots of great photographers talk about color fringing in their digital image files, but alas I’ve never noticed it myself. Until now. I was recently wandering through the city park one winter day when a woman pointed me to a tall tree just a few hundred yards away, in the top of which were perched two beautiful bald eagles. I was armed only with a APS-C sensor and a 200mm-equivalent zoom—not ideal for wildlife, especially bald eagles  that would have preferred a 600mm image stabilized extreme telephoto. When I got the pictures into the computer, I quickly zoomed in and cropped to create a composition in which the eagles practically filled the frame. Horror of horrors what did I see? Bright purple fringes at the high contrast edges of the objects in the frame. I did a bit of research and found out there’s some misinformation out there along with the real facts about fringe, and it can be difficult to discern the difference. So here I’ll try to briefly set the record straight.

There are two primary causes of color fringe. There’s chromatic aberration, which comes from lower-quality lenses or extreme zooms used at their extremes. Different colors of light are focused at slightly different distances, and if a lens isn’t optically optimized to compensate, fringe can appear.

The other cause is bichrominance. It’s the “purple fringe” that people still debate the exact cause of, but conventional wisdom seems to be it happens more on small sensors with densely packed pixels. It would appear that microlenses don’t focus all light evenly, and sometimes stray magenta (i.e. purple) light can be misallocated into adjacent pixels. The problem is most evident in edges of extreme contrast—say a dark tree branch backlit by bright sky. That is, in fact, where I saw it. (In fairness, the fringe I found was fairly minimal. In some cases it’s extreme and hugely distracting.)

To prevent color fringe, you can use lenses coated to minimize aberrations. You can also limit yourself to prime lenses or smaller zoom ranges, as they’re less prone to chromatic aberration since they’re not so “extreme” in their capabilities. Of course, that’s a sacrifice too.
Another helpful prevention is to avoid shooting wide open (like f/2) or stopped down (like f/32). Somewhere in the middle is bound to be the sharpest aperture anyway, and you’re going to lessen the possibility of color fringe there too. Some photographers even suggest using a UV filter on the lens to minimize ultraviolet (magenta/purple) light—thereby minimizing the opportunity to have excess purple light to create fringe.

When color fringe occurs—and it will—you’ve got a lot of options to repair it. Perhaps the easiest approach is to adjust noise reduction sliders in the RAW conversion. Lightroom, Aperture and Camera RAW all offer intuitive tools to minimize fringe. But even if you don’t shoot RAW, you can always process images in third-party programs like Noise Ninja which has a lens correction tool designed for precisely this purpose.

Photoshop also has a Lens Correction filter which works in much the same way. Or you can use simple hue/saturation sliders to reduce the appropriate channel’s saturation and lightness—in the case of purple fringe, work on the magenta channel. If other portions of the image contain purple tones you’d like to retain, though, you’ll have to selectively adjust the fringe alone by selecting a large area, the sky for instance, expanding that selection to include the fringe, and then removing the original selection to retain only the edges.
The takeaway from all of this is that fringe is bound to happen. When it does it may be barely noticeable or it could ruin the shot. But now you know what causes it, how you can work to prevent it and some simple approaches for eliminating it in post production.

Tilt/shift time-lapse stop-motion video

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I’m a sucker for time-lapse videos. I’m also pretty susceptible to oohs and ahhs induced by creative use of tilt/shift perspective control lenses. Photographers have lately begun to combine tilt/shift creativity with their cameras’ video capabilities or time-lapses edited into video. That’s exactly the greatness John Nack recently linked to via his Adobe blog. It’s a cool urban landscape “video panorama” that incorporates moving through the scene to expand our conception of a panorama. It incorporates tilt/shift perspective control to create a strange—but very interesting—morphing effect as well. Each individual frame is on its own nothing special. But thanks to London photographer/videographer Theo Tagholm’s abundant creativity, the end result is awesome and inspiring. I’d love to see a traditional landscape photographer incorporate this sort of thing into an expedition through some iconic American wilderness. Get to it!


Mini Meter

Monday, March 15, 2010

I don’t use my light meter nearly enough these days. The problem is, using the LCD screen on the camera for image previews and histogram data does much of the work of a meter—especially when shooting with ambient light or in situations that don’t seem terribly tricky. The one situation in which I still do crave a light meter, however, is when I want to be able to spot test particular areas of a scene to determine lighting ratios and luminance values in zones from shadows to highlights. That’s how Ansel Adams worked, after all; if it was good enough for him it’s surely fine for me. But who wants to carry a big bulky spot meter for only occasional use? Well now you don’t have to.

The PocketSpot Meter from Metered Light is a brand new product from the boutique two-person company (really, it’s a couple of photo enthusiast engineers who identified a niche and created what seems to be an ideal solution) that has long produced timers and darkroom accessories. They claim this little guy to be the smallest spot meter in the world. That size is a benefit, especially compared to old-school spot meters which more closely resembled huge handguns than compact photographic accessories.

The PocketSpot is a small 1-degree spot meter that actually fits easily in your pocket—perfect for photographers who may not use a spot reading for every exposure but who would at least like to have the option. And now they don’t have to sacrifice precious kit space to be able to do it.

At $400 the PocketSpot is far from inexpensive, but it’ well made too. So well made that lots of folks want them; that high demand means you may have to have some patience before you get your own. But good things are sure to come to those who wait. meteredlight.blogspot.com

A Guide to the Guides

Friday, March 12, 2010

Theroxor design blog has published a guide to Photoshop guides. It’s a list of online Photoshop tutorials for beginners—or so it claims. I think it’s a great place to learn all sorts of great Photoshop techniques, but maybe not on your first day with the software. If you have minimal editing experience, you might want to practice a little bit before diving into these tutorials head first. This guide is really a great place to learn how to do more than the most basic processes, making the most of the powerful program tool by tool and technique by technique. Topics include everything from layer masking to selection tools to color palettes, so it’s kind of like a one-stop resource you can go back to again and again.


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