Try Some Experiments

By Roger (28 August 2014)

Last week, I talked about my trip to make a few train photographs, but it was just a part of a much bigger theme I think is important to improving your photography – you need to experiment. I brushed across it when I said I needed to make some photos of a subject other than people; however, I thought it needed a little bit more discussion.

It really doesn't matter where you are on the continuum of photography experience, you should take the time, every now and then, to stretch yourself to try new things. If you want to improve your photography and keep it from becoming boring task, you need the variety.

A beginning photographer, can use experiments to better understand the workings of his camera and post-processing techniques he wants to master. Experiments can help you learn what happens when you move your camera out of Program mode to Aperture or Manual. Or how different lenses affect the way your camera records the same subject. Here are some example photos I used to show the difference in fields of view in different focal lengths.

Wide field of view with a 35mm focal length.

Wide field of view with a 35mm focal length.

Similar framing and subject size, but different field of view from 200mm focal length.

Similar framing and subject size, but different field of view from 200mm focal length.

I think beginners should concentrate their experiments on camera and lighting techniques, until they feel they are comfortable with the capabilities and limitations of their equipment. If you can learn the basics of photography – understand how your camera interprets what you point it at – you'll be further along than most people who just pick up the camera and aim it at something. You can learn this through experiments.

Pick and choose your time for experiments. Your child's wedding probably isn't the best time to try some radical experiment. You don't want to try something new and unfamiliar when your subject matter is something important, in case your experiment fails.

And some of your experiments will be a disappointment to you. Things won't work the way you envisioned them. When this happens – and it will – your job is to figure out why it didn't work or what you need to do differently to get what you are looking for. As we've said before there are often several different ways to accomplish the same thing.

As you gain experience, I encourage you to continue to experiment. Your experiments will be in areas you decide to work on to advance your skills. Just because you can work the camera doesn't mean you should stop learning. It may be more complex subjects; post-processing techniques; or things you need to practice with. This is what I was doing when I shot the trains.

I'm a people photographer, so my experiments usually take the form of other subjects. And, besides the trains, I was trying to find interesting light in scenes I found while I was walking near the depot. And, although you may be experienced, if you're pushing into new territory, you'll still find some disappointments.

That's what experiments are for. You don't have to show people those disappointments. They're for your benefit, a way for you to learn.

Here are a couple of my results from last week's “interesting light” experiments.

Abstract or disappointment?

Abstract or disappointment?

This is an abstract of light in nature, filtered through the green vines and nourishing the plants, juxtaposed against the dirty, man-made structure (window) that has been neglected. Beauty in ruin, as it were. ;-) Ok, yeah, I laughed typing that. It might just be an experiment in interesting light that didn't work. At least, I thought it was interesting when I saw it, in person.

So, how would I fix it? I'm not really sure it is worth the effort. But, if I was to do it again, I would probably try focus stacking to get more plant in focus. Maybe, do some HDR for the exposure problems. I'd probably look for a cleaner window with similar vines, so I didn't have the spider webs and bug bodies distracting me.

I did make another photo of interesting light that I do like. The subject isn't as interesting as the light, but it isn't as hideous as the window was. As I was walking through the woods, I saw this beam of light coming through the trees and spot-lighting another tree trunk. Since it was a warm, early morning light, it was a pleasing site. The light fall-off created a natural vignette. (It would have made a nice background for a portrait.) This photo won't find its way into any portfolio, but I found what I was looking for – interesting light.

I like the light on this tree

I like the light on this tree

Set up your own experiments, and learn to see better to improve your photography. I promise you'll advance your skills and have a fun time learning.


Don't forget to sign up for the 11 October Worldwide Photowalk here. You can join Mark and I, in Harpers Ferry, WV, at 0930, beginning at the Amtrak station. You can sign up for our walk here. We hope to see you there.


By Mark

Two weeks ago we talked about selection techniques.  Isolating specific elements from an image is one of those capabilities which Lightroom just cannot do.  It requires a pixel level editing program like Photoshop or even elements.  The ability to place things and then work on different layers is also one of those capabilities where Photoshop rules.   Building composite images takes full advantage of these three elements. 

In my mind there are three basic categories of composited images. We are going to cover the first two types in this blog.  The first are the simple replacements—ooh, I don’t like that sky and so I will put in a new one.

Taos Cemetery

Taos Cemetery

.   Starting with this nice happy image from the Taos cemetery, I just used the “color range” selection for the sky to create this mask. I inverted the selection to keep only the ground.   

I then took another big sky image I shot from that same trip and opened it up as a smart object.   Why as a smart object?  Well I wanted to be able to resize it without damaging the original file. 

With the sky as a new layer beneath, it’s a much more dramatic image.

The other two types are more artistic in scope.  The creative composite, where images and effects are layered and blended together and you intend for the viewer to be able to see this as part of your message.   Using that same cemetery base shot and the same mask I created a completely different look.   I shot this at Epcot Center during a fireworks display.  I keep it tagged in my effects and colors.  

When you make this into the sky, you need to add an orange cast to the markers themselves.  I just picked out a color from the new sky and then created a new fill layer on top.  I then reduced the opacity way down, just to give it a little glow. 

The last one, which we are saving for later, is where you take various elements from multiple images and create a seamless effect that could be a photograph from a completely different world.   

Take The Slow Train

By Roger (21 August 2014)

Last Saturday must have been “Gee I wish I was a kid” day. While Mark was out shooting balloons, I was out shooting trains. I needed to get out and make some photos that were different than the people shots I normally make. It was a good day for it.

My first shot of the day

My first shot of the day

I got to the little train station before the sun came over the mountains to get a good spot before it got crowded. After scoping out a few locations, I fired a couple of test shots. I wanted the first shot to be decent right out of the camera. It was a matter of pride, since everyone knows I like to play around in Lightroom and Photoshop. I still always strive to get the photo right when I push the shutter. This was the first train of the morning, and, as you can see by the readings below, the exposure and white balance are unchanged. (I did put a slight vignette around it, though.) It's always fun to get the shot, the way you imagined it.

About a dozen trains rumbled through the station while I was there, so I got a variety of shots from each end of the depot. When you find a place you want to make a photo, don't forget to look around and see if there is another shot in the area. We all tend to shoot and move on. Slow down; this is not a race. I have been guilty of moving too quickly, myself, so, this time, I stayed in one area for two hours.

Make sure you cover all areas at your shooting location.

Make sure you cover all areas at your shooting location.

The other end of the station, as you can see above, had a completely different background. This was taken later in the morning, after the sun was moving higher into the sky, so the all the light gives it a completely different look, too.

I then moved across the tracks, so I could include some of the train station. And some people. You didn't think I'd go all day without a people shot somewhere, did 'ya? I thought the sign was slightly humorous, since it looked like it described the outside benches, rather than showing where the door was to the inside of the depot.

The Waiting Room

The Waiting Room

While I was over there, another CSX train came through the scene. All, but one of them, were freight trains, carrying cars, building supplies, and coal, so I concentrated my effort on the engine. And, obviously, the people and depot were about to disappear behind the train. I'm not sure this shot was as interesting as the first, but I pushed the shutter. I think I still need some practice and may need to make a few more trips.

Please, remember to stay safe if you go to a train station. You wouldn't want to ruin a day with an injury or worse. As you've heard us say before, get out there and use your camera. I had a nice, relaxed morning and shot some things I don't usually shoot. All in all, a fun morning.

Up, Up and Away

By Mark

We live fairly close to the Bealeton Flying Circus, and I often see their biplanes flying over my house.  In the 13 years I’ve been here, I’d never made it down there.  This weekend they had a hot air balloon regatta, so Sarah and I headed down to see the show.  One of the items on my photographic bucket list is to visit the annual Albuquerque balloon festival in New Mexico.  That festival has hundreds of balloons and tens of thousands of spectators.  The one in Bealeton was a bit more modest. 

The aeronauts were scheduled to take off starting at 5 PM, so we got down there about 4:30.  The airshow folks were still giving biplane rides, including aerobatic ones for the brave of heart. 

There is still something magical about watching these canvas, wood and wire open cockpit machines take to the sky.   

.   I plan to go back and take one of the rides here soon. 

When the wind finally died down a little bit, the vans and trucks with the baskets and the balloons started to unfold across the property.  

In the nice light of the late afternoon each balloon showed off their unique and colorful patterns.  The giant bass pro balloon had quite a bit of 3D detail.  Seeing the biplane buzz it was pretty interesting.  Frank Luke-anyone?

The kiddie train made a nice contrast as the balloons were inflating.

Each balloon represents a significant investment in time and money.  Seeing the crew working inside the envelope reminds you of just how big they really are. 

Filling them up with hot air is like throwing money in a hole. It takes quite a few people to hold the balloon down on the ground—they really want to go flying.  Of course people got to pay for a ride.  We were quite content watching from the ground.

My favorite was the really brightly colored striped pattern.  It was a good photographic subject.   

At the end of the day we watched them float off into the sunset.   I am glad Sarah saw the little blurb in the paper for this local treasure.