TWIP Family Podcast - A Shameless Plug

By Roger (14 February 2016)

Just a short one today because my computer is acting up. Time for a refresh.... I'm already talking to my computer guy to see how long this is going to take. Please, bear with me.

One of the podcasts I've mentioned in a past post is TWIP (This Week in Photo). I've been a fan for years. It's a weekly commentary about what is happening in the world of photography, hosted by Frederick Van Johnson and a rotating stable of other photographers. You can find the main podcast here. The hosts have roundtable discussions; they answer a listener question or two; and each give a recommendation for some photography equipment, event, or resource.

A couple of years ago, TWIP began expanding its offerings, with shows that address more specific photography interests. All the shows are captured on my podcast catcher, but you can listen on the website, if you prefer. My favorite of the new podcasts is TWIP Family, with Jenny Stein hosting (link). I have listened to all the episodes, and joined their Flickr group. (I gave you that link, last week. Did you join them, yet?)

Jenny's role is to teach easy techniques and give ideas for family photography. She is a mother of four, so she has lots of experience with the topic. Her podcasts are relaxed, fun, and very beginner-friendly. You don't come to this podcast looking for specifications of the latest gear. She will usually have a guest or two, especially for her Q and A shows. This week, one of those guests was me.

You can find me on Episode 39. Jenny liked a tip I sent in for simple lighting in a room, for family gatherings. I blogged about this, at Christmas time, a couple of years ago (link). It was a fun experience, and I hope to do it, again, somewhere down the line. We'll see.

Here are a couple of photos of the two youngest grandchildren, made using this technique, from this year's Christmas. We had lots of fun.

No flash; easy set up

The present is almost as big as she is

Making the Background on the Christmas CD

By Mark

We left our CD creation process where I had managed to create a nicely separated image of Amy Godeaux from the background. We had discussed her goal of a nice “Christmasy” background for the front cover.  I quickly filtered out my Lightroom collection for the right keywords and built a quick collection of pictures I thought would work.  

She said “how about some simple Xmas lights?”  Well, I had a couple variations of those and she responded-“Perfect, now I just want them to be on a light background. 

I realized that I would just have to create the background from scratch.  No problem.  I started by going back to my LR search and finding two images that I thought would work—a close up of the tree lights, and a picture of the really neat snow and crystal display that Sarah puts on a side table.  It is messy, but very pretty.   

Tree Lights

Tree Lights

Crystals

Crystals

I wanted to build a composite image of the lights shining through those crystals.  Combining images is one of those tasks where you have to move from LR to Photoshop.

One of the most useful, but under used features in Photoshop is the blend-if tool.  Hidden in the layer styles palette, this gives you the ability to erase the black or white pixels for either the top or bottom image.  The sliders are dragged in from either end, but can leave a very harsh looking effect.  PS has built in the ability to soften those transitions.  Simply hold down the alt-key and grab the triangle.  It will split and both ends can then be adjusted to make a more natural looking effect.  

Once I had achieved the shine through effect I was looking for, I first created a group combining both images and then doubled it to soften the effect even further.  Then I added a slight blur to both groups.  I still thought it was still a bit dark, so I just added a levels adjustment layer and brightened the whole image up.  

Once I had saved that image, I simply placed the whole image into the picture with Amy.  I scaled the lights using Free Transform (Ctrl-T) to make it fit and we were both happy.


Project 2016

By Roger (7 February 2016)

We've talked, in the past, about how defining a project can help you grow as a photographer. I spent a couple of years traveling to Civil War re-enactments to mark the sesquicentennial. I made thousands of photographs, in a wide variety of conditions; I met many new people; and I learned quite a bit about my camera and post-processing. It was worth every minute I spent on it. In February 2015, Mark started his project on vineyards. (You can find his post here.) In short, we like to have active projects we're working.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talked into doing a 52 week challenge. You must take and post a photo every week. The moderator was pushing for a 365 day challenge, in which you post a photo every day for a year. (It's actually a 366 in 2016.) I didn't want to commit to that, but you can find many photos from the pool, on Flickr, here. There are, currently, 144 participants, and most have said they intend to do the 365.

You can still join the group, and it's free. You will need a Flickr account (also free). You can use any kind of camera, and your photo can be as simple as part of your life that day or week. There is no expectation of a weekly masterpiece. If you already have an account, just join the group, you'll be welcomed.

I know what many of you are thinking – “I don't want that kind of pressure.” Yeah, that was my first excuse to Jenny Stein, the organizer, too. My next excuse was that it was already near the end of January, and I didn't want to start late. She pushed that one aside, as well. There is no calendar requirement, either. (Sigh.) I could have kept coming up with excuses, but it was really pointless. Even without any kind of project, there is rarely a week that goes by where I don't make a photo. Why would posting it be so bad? Again, there is no expectation, beyond sharing with others in the group.

I have no particular theme for my weekly photos. My intent is to try new (for me) subject matter and experiment more. There will be be some travel and people, of course, but I'll try to overlap there, too. For example, my post for this week was from my granddaughter's birthday party. This is certainly no masterpiece, but it involved family photography with trying something different than my normal approach..

Party motion blur

The kids were running around, as they do. The party room was too dark for no flash, but a flash completely killed the mood and the wild lighting effects. Luckily, my family is accustomed to my strange requests. I had the birthday girl stand and twirl her light wand. I used rear curtain sync (the flash goes off at the end of exposure) and a very slow shutter speed. The sensor records the background, allowing the blur of the wand to record to the sensor. The flash (set on very low power) releases its light at the end of the exposure, which records Grace and keeps her from blurring. Just a little fun for the kids, who liked the blurred shots much more than my pictures of the actual party and the candids I made.

You can follow my 52 week challenge (here), and comments are always welcomed. But that won't help you move your photography forward, so consider joining the group or starting your own. You'll have more fun with that than thinking up your own excuses on why you can't do it.

Snowfall

By Roger (31 January 2016)

We got a bit of snow, last weekend. About 30 inches. For some of us, this is a great time to get outside and make some photos.

I've spent large chunks of my life in snowy regions, so, unlike most northern Virginians, I'm not driven into a panic attack when the flakes begin to fall. In fact, I like to get out early – before the plows start blocking streets and people put lots of footprints onto the sidewalks and into the drifts. If that's at night, I'm even happier, since most people will be off the roads and out of my photos.

We had a past blog that covers some of the precautions to take with your camera out in these conditions and some adjustments you may want to take on your exposure settings (link), so I'll skip those in this blog.

As the storm was coming in, Friday night, I went out with a couple of other photographers, Robyn and Pete, on a quick trip into Old Town Manassas. We had the entire area to ourselves. Great conditions.

It is always nice to have other people with you when you're out. It just makes the cold and snow more enjoyable. And, you have other eyes to make sure you don't get so into your camera that you miss some random vehicle headed your way when you're in the middle of the road. ;-)

We parked at the Amtrak Station and set out on foot, toting tripods and camera bags, looking for some quick inspiration. We only had a short amount of time, but, hey, you need to get out there when the time is right.

Pete is a fan of long exposures, so his first shot is a six second exposure of the park, near the train station. This is where a tripod is a must. Unless blurred photos are your artistic statement, you're going to need a sturdy place to put your camera for such a long exposure.

Long exposure, from Peter Guyan

One of the joys of shooting with other people is comparing how differently you shoot the same subject. Pete and I were standing next to each other, under a small gazebo, when we heard a train's warning blast. Both of us spun our cameras around. We were only going to get one shot. We didn't coordinate who was going to shoot what, just both made quick decisions on what we wanted.

Pete went for the long exposure, with a five second shutter speed. As the engine moved through the station, the lights on the cars became a blur. The rest of the scene is sharp and the exposure was correct for the lamp post. It would be very easy to blow out the highlights in this kind of shot.

Train station long exposure. Photo by Peter Guyan

I was concentrating on the station, trying to get the engine as it pulled into view. My exposure was a quarter of a second. I got the motion blur of the engine and snow. If I had a second chance, I might have used an eighth of a second, to slightly reduce the motion blur of the engine, but I like how the engine's headlights illuminate the falling snow. The snow was really coming down by this time.

Train arrives in Manassas Station

At our next location, just a couple of blocks away, Robyn lined up on the steps of a local restaurant, Malones. It is in an old church, so it has nice sweeping stairs and interesting windows. She went to monochrome in post-processing for a moody photo, about tones and shapes.

Monochrome staircase. Photo by Robyn Wiencko

I put my camera in almost the exact same spot, although I swung my camera into the building a little more. I liked the warmth of the lights on the steps, contrasting with the cooler lights from the windows. Since the colors are what attracted me, I left mine in color.

Snowy steps, at Malones

When you're out with other photographers, it is always fun to compare how differently you each shoot the exact same scene. We didn't talk about what we were seeing or how we wanted to capture the scenes, we just each have a different view. That's why photowalks work.

The snow will give you opportunities that a spring day doesn't. You can experiment with exposure settings and lighting beyond the more common sunrise. Now, I'm a big lover of sunrises, but you can't always shoot the same thing. All of the effort can pay off as you advance your photography skill set.

Robyn and Pete stopped by the battlefield, on their way to our meetup, to make a couple of photos there. For those who worry about having fancy equipment, Robyn is shooting a lower end Nikon, with just the kit lens. It hasn't stopped her from making some fine photographs. The snow shimmering in fading light caught Robyn's eye on these old weeds. I think she made one of her best photos to date.

Winter weeds. Photo by Robyn Wiencko

My plea to you: get out there. Yes, it is cold. Yes, you may need to take a few precautions with your gear. It is worth it. And, we always have fun.

If you want to see more of Robyn's photos, you can find her on 500PX (here) and Flickr (here). Pete's photos are, also, on 500PX (here) and Flickr (here). My thanks to both for letting me post their photos.