Try A Tripod

By Roger (4 April 2016)

One of the more under-appreciated pieces of photography gear is the tripod, and that's a shame. They have many important uses in photography, and, in the old days, they were part of every photographer's kit. A good tripod can last forever if it's treated properly. It never needs a software upgrade or new batteries. Yet, so many photographers either don't own one or let them gather dust in the closet.

 A good tripod is vital for extra sharpness

A good tripod is vital for extra sharpness

Let's cover just a few of their more negative traits, first, and end on the high side. They can be a pain to carry around if you need maximum mobility and don't want the added weight. A high-end tripod and ballhead can be a very expensive addition to your toolbox. With today's high ISO capabilities and built-in image stabilization, too many photographers think they don't need a tripod.

All of these complaints are valid; however, although tripods aren't practical for every occasion, they are still extremely useful in certain environments. I always keep one in my vehicle and, usually, bring one when I’m going by plane. During my recent four-city road trip, I needed my tripod at each location, so I was really glad I dragged it along.

A vase from the Pompeii exhibit

The most basic use of your tripod is as a solid foundation to remove any worries about camera movement. New cameras are almost all equipped with some sort of image stabilization, but that can only help so much. To achieve maximum sharpness, you often need a platform to keep your camera absolutely still, especially as the focal length and/or exposure times increase. Nature photographers, with their long, heavy lenses, and landscape photographers, who require edge-to-edge sharpness, will “always” use a tripod.

Don’t be lulled into complacency because new cameras are capable of higher ISOs than were imaginable in the recent past. There are trade-offs there, too. High ISO photographs are more prone to noise in the shadows. I have a camera that works very well in low light, but who wants to worry about noise when you can use a tripod and keep your ISO and noise low?

Basilica Notre Dame, Montreal, Canada

This is a six second exposure at ISO 200. There is no noise, even when you zoom into 600%. (Yes, I’ve checked to be certain.) I couldn’t have made this photo without a tripod; you can't hand-hold the camera that still. Even with a high ISO setting, I would not have the clarity this photo required.

There are so many other similar reasons for relying on the stable platform of a tripod. If you need to greatly increase your depth of field, the resulting small aperture greatly reduces the light to the sensor and necessitates slower shutter speeds. Use a tripod. If you need several varying exposure photographs for a high dynamic range photograph, a tripod will keep your camera stable for perfect alignment. If you want to create the best panorama alignment, use a tripod. Night photography, with or without star trails, self-portraits, light painting photos, macro photography – the list of obvious uses is long.

4 photo pano, Denali, Alaska

There are even more uses that might not be so obvious to you.

So many photographers whip from photo to photo, never slowing down to contemplate the best way to record what is in front of them. Since a tripod will reduce your mobility, you can slow down and more carefully examine the composition inside your camera. This is a good thing and can improve the quality of your photos. You get no extra points for making more photos than someone else, especially if those photos are mediocre. Take your time and concentrate on better quality photos.

You can use tripods to hold continuous lighting, flash guns, or reflectors. There are lots of accessories specifically designed for tripods. When Mark did his Halloween photobooth (link), he had a table, from Tether Tools (link), set up on a tripod, holding his laptop. Since his camera was plugged into his computer, the photos would come up on the screen for immediate viewing by the guests.

If you want to shoot video, a tripod can get rid of those jerky movements you see in so many videos. I would recommend a fluid head to get the smooth movements you see in professional videos. You may not shoot much video, but it is a rapidly growing area of photography. You can never start learning too early.

There are so many varieties and price ranges for quality tripods today. I think we'll just save that topic for another blog. So the next time you go out to make some new photography, think about your dusty tripod, and take it with you. You'll never use it if you leave it at home.

Weed macro

Experiment with Photography

By Roger (27 September 2015)

Experimentation is a great way to enhance your photographic knowledge. If you find yourself in a rut, experiments can help pull you out and lead you to try something completely out of the norm. There are many different aspects of the photography experience you can explore to help you move forward: subject matter; equipment; techniques; or post-processing.

Subject matter is, probably, the easiest area to experiment. I prefer to photograph people, so I usuallyswitch to some other subject for experiments. You may think you photograph everything, but do a search of your best photos, and you'll see that the majority of your best are of one or two subjects. Don't cheat yourself on this. Find something that is a truly difficult subject for you. You can gain the most from working on your weakest area.

I'm still attempting abstracts

As we've preached over and over, tons of equipment is not necessary to making good photographs. But playing with a new piece of kit can be a blast. You always seem more inspired and motivated when you have a new toy to play with. Keep in mind, though, you do not need to own it – maybe you can rent or borrow it.

Renting gear is my preferred way to determine whether I really want to buy that piece of equipment. For a few dollars (much less than buying), you can rent the newest lens or try out that smaller, lighter mirrorless camera you've been hearing about. My favorite rental place is lensrentals.com (link). I've used them several times, and it has always been a good experience. I've also heard good things about Borrowlenses.com (link).

One of our easiest answers to the “What camera should I buy?” question is to find out what your friends use. If you have the same brand of camera, you can learn from them AND borrow a lens or two.

For example, I don't own a very wide angle lens. The best ones cost a pretty penny, and I have already have a reasonably wide lens. However, Mark has the fancy one. I had something I wanted to try, this weekend, and conned him into loaning it to me. His lens produces a much wider field of view than I am accustomed. I enjoyed using it, but, since I rarely need that kind of lens, I don't plan to buy it. We have loaned each other lighting equipment, and I once “borrowed” his light tent for about six months.

That's one wide field of view

These days, our digital cameras allow us to experiment, without the expense and delay of processing film, and try all kinds of different techniques. You can try something new and see the results on the back of your camera, instantly. (Although, one experiment you may want to try is going back to film for a couple of rolls.)

You can put your camera through its paces and teach yourself the effects of small changes you want to try. What are the effects of changing your aperture, ISO, or shutter speed?

Slow shutter speed/high shutter speed

If you were given the challenge of making a photo of the groom, with no flash or reflectors, where would you position him for a pre-ceremony portrait?

From the PSW model shoot

Where would you focus the camera to get the reflection of yourself, through a window, to make it appear that you were standing at the ticket booth of a train station? These and many other truly important questions are waiting for you to get out there and try some experiments, so you can answer that challenge. ;-)

No selfie stick!

We've written hundreds of blogs over the last seven years about experimenting with post-processing. This is an area so open you can never run out of things to try.

Using the software tools of the digital lightroom can be daunting. Experiments will help you learn how they can affect your final image. You can learn while keeping your original photo safe from harm. You can learn in the comfort of your home. You can begin to appreciate that snapping the shutter may be only the beginning of making the photograph.

How much manipulation is too much? That is up to you, but your experimental manipulations will help you define where you draw that line. And answer much more.

How can you remove that sign post from behind your model's head – you know, the one you should have seen before you pressed the shutter? What are the effects of cropping a 4x6 photo to the 8x10 ratio your grandmother wants? How do I show that I've changed the color of the background, without changing the other colors in the sign, so I can have contrasting colors?

Blue and yellow looks better

You can be sure that some of your experiments will be less than successful. Let me go Zen on you, and say, “The journey can be more fulfilling than the destination.”

I had this great idea to show motion blur with two trains traveling in opposite directions. The tracks would be sharp, but the competing directional blurs of the trains would make an eye-catching photograph. And it would all be caught in the camera, with no post-processing tricks.

It looked good on paper, but would it work in practice? Not so much, but how would I know if I hadn't tried? Have fun out there.

Experiments don't always work out

Don't forget to sign up for the Culpeper Worldwide Photowalk. Mark and I will be looking for you. We'll meet at 9 a.m., this Saturday, 3 October, at the Amtrak Station. We'll end at a nice pub, The Beer Hound Brewery. You can join us by signing up HERE.

Learning Photography: Free Stuff

By Roger (24 August 2015)

I'm back from Photoshop World, in Las Vegas, and a week, with the family, in Newport. Let's finish off this series of blogs.

The Jamestown Bridge, Newport, Rhode Island

In today's world, learning photography doesn't have to cost you lots of money. There are so many free, or almost free, resources available for your benefit. You can find them all, while you're vegging out on your computer or tablet.

Of course, you know I think blogs can be very useful or we wouldn't have been doing this for more than six years. We have answered every request for information that has come our way. Just leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

I check my favorite blogs every day. It takes just a few minutes and keeps me up to date on things in the photography world. I go to Joe McNally's blog (link); he's funny and tells good stories about his photo adventures. Oh, and some of us think he's an amazing photographer. Zack Arias' blog (link) is full of honest, no-holds-barred advice. Julieanne Kost has non-stop information about Lightroom and Photoshop in her blog (link). She gets into small details that can make your post-processing much easier. And I have many more that are on my favorites' list. Your opinion on who to read may be quite different than mine, so, for a large and varied list of blogs, you can go to Alltop Photography (link). There are dozens of blogs listed there for you to peruse.

When I want to look for inspiration, I look at the work of other photographers, both present and past. You would never want to copy their work, but their approach to a subject may help you see something you are missing. For current photographers, one of my favorite places is 500PX (link). You will find some really good stuff there. For the photographers of the past, I'll look them up on Google. There is also a new site I've learned about, The Red List (link), that has examples of the work of many artists, including photographers. Again, there are many other sites you can find.

Another source for learning about the world of photography may seem counter-intuitive to some: podcasts. I have a daily commute and move between a couple of company offices, now and then. While I'm in the car, I'm listening to my long list of podcasts. There is something here for everyone. I follow about 40 podcasts, and more than half of them are about photography. Since the police frown on watching video while driving, I only listen to the audio podcasts. And though photography is a visual art, you can still learn from just an audio podcast. My favorites range from artsy-fartsy photo talk to just fun stuff. These podcasts keep me abreast of the latest technologies; photographers in the news; equipment due dates and rumors; and just keep me thinking about photography. You can get these podcasts downloaded to your phone, Ipod, tablet, or just navigate to them on your computer.

Suggestions? Sure, here are a few:

This Week in Photo (link) has nine podcasts. I listen to all of them, but I am partial to the parent podcast, TWIP, and The Candid Frame. For a decidedly opinionated take on photography subjects, I like On Taking Pictures (link). I'm a fan of The Digital Story (link) and its host Derrick Story. I got to spend about 30 minutes talking to him, at Photoshop World. Thanks for the time, Derrick. And, speaking of PSW, the folks behind the PhotoFocus podcast and website (link) invited many of us – including Mark and me – to breakfast to discuss their site and ask for suggestions. They even picked up the tab.

So, if you don't want to go to conferences and workshops or your library is overflowing, like mine, let the internet help you learn photography, at no cost. Then, go out and practice what you learned.

To help you practice while learning, let me suggest one final opportunity, also free: you can join Mark and I on this year's Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. We are leading a walk, at 9 a.m., Saturday, 3 October, in Culpeper, Va. The walk is free, but you must register here. This is our fifth year leading one of the walks. It is a nice, easy course, with a train station, farmer's market, and lots of history. It's been six years since we did our last Culpeper photowalk, so we thought it was time to return. We hope you'll join us.

Culpeper, Virginia

Colorize Your Old Black and White Photos

By Roger (14 July 2015)

Both of us enjoy photo restoration projects now and then. We've done several blogs on this topic, in the past: restore your memories; repair the scan; and restoring in detail. Please, check them out for a quick reminder of how much fun this can be.

However, over the last couple of weeks, I've gotten comments and questions about how to colorize old monochrome photos. There have been several recent articles showing the results of others' work along these lines. I knew the basics of how to go about this, but I'd never tried it. I've turned lots of color photos to monochrome, but never really thought of going the other way around.

So, I looked into some specifics and several different methods. I found the easiest one to be the simple use of multiple color layers in Photoshop. It was a fun, little project and taught me a few new tricks. Although it is quick and easy, I don't think this is something I'm going to dedicate massive amounts of time to. Here is my first attempt.

 Original scan of a fading photo

Original scan of a fading photo

I started with an easy photo that was in pretty good shape. You can see the photo is changing color with age, but there are only a few spots and scratches to repair. I took the photo into Photoshop; returned it to black and white; and fixed the flaws, using the basic techniques we wrote about in the blogs I linked to, above.

 Restored photo

Restored photo

Once you are happy with the restoration in black and white, you should save the photo back to Lightroom. You can make some further adjustments in Lightroom if you need them. I might add some clarity or contrast and, maybe, tweak the blacks and whites. You now have the original and repaired photos in your database. I don't delete the old, scratched image because you never know when you will learn new techniques to improve your original repair.

Select the final, repaired image; right-click on it; and select “Edit in Photoshop.” When the dialog box opens, you should choose “Edit a copy with the Lightroom adjustments”, so Photoshop will create another copy of the photo.

Go to the Layer menu and select New Fill Layer ->Solid Color and pick a color for the first object you want colorize. Then add a black mask (Alt-click on the layer mask tool), and use a soft, white brush on the layer mask to reveal the color on the object. If you look at some of my layer masks, below, you'll see one labeled “white.” I created this layer using this method. I would recommend using this for small areas only, but you could continue this way until you've got a new color layer for each individual portion of the photo.

 Lots of individual layers

Lots of individual layers

An easier method uses the the Quick Selection tool to select the portion of the photo you want to colorize. When you have the selection, right-click inside the selection and choose Refine Edge. Make sure you have a selection you want, and Output to: Selection when you're satisfied.

Now, just add a new color layer by selecting the Add a New Layer tool at the bottom, right of your Photoshop menu, and pick your color.

 Click here for a new color layer

Click here for a new color layer

 Refine Edge dialog box

Refine Edge dialog box

Photoshop creates the new layer, complete with a mask for the unselected portion of the photo. Easy. Just repeat these steps for all the items in the photo. As you can see in the screen capture of the layers, above, this is my preferred method.

For refining the effect, I used tried several different blending modes until I got the effect I liked best. By far, the most used blending modes, for me, were Overlay, Soft Light, or Color. If you want to adjust the color you chose, previously, just double click on the Color Layer icon, and pick a new color. I label each layer and keep them all separate, so I can go back to make further adjustments.

As you might imagine, the skin is the most difficult part. I used four separate color layers, with a couple of different blending modes, to get this tone. I, also, varied the opacity on the layers to fine-tune it. I'm not sure I got it perfectly correct, but I'm pretty satisfied with this first effort. There are free sample palettes of skin tones available on the internet.

My final image looks like this:

 Colorized Black and White

Colorized Black and White

The baby's daughter was quite happy with the rendition, so I guess it was ok. I may try this another time. As I said, it was quite an interesting project. It took about 45 minutes, but I'm sure I could get that down to five minutes with some practice. It is a pretty easy task and lots of fun.

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