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Always ready

I always have a camera with me. At least, a good point and shoot is in my daybag. But most of the time, I have a DSLR in the car with me. Here’s a good example of why I do it.

A late spring storm brought wet snow to our area, and beautiful coating of the white stuff on the branches of the trees. The look is completely different than that of mid winter, where the snow would not stick to the branches and just pile up below.

I was headed to a meeting, but stopped, grabbed this image, and continued on my way. It’s always good to be ready.



Here’s a fun example of how to use texture to create an interesting image.

I was walking along a trail in the redrock country of Utah, surrounded on all sides by big, undulating stone shapes. By themselves, of course, they can be wonderful subjects. But when I saw this dead tree coming up from a group of rocks, the contrast in texture was stark, especially against the clouds that added yet a third texture.

Another treat was that there were three distinct values of light and dark (white in the clouds, midtones in the rocks, and near black in the tree) so there was great contrast as well. You’ll also note that I am using the rule of thirds, both horizontally in how I place the tree off to the right, and vertically by having the tree top two-thirds up the image.

The result is a nice convergence of simple elements where texture can be the hero of the image.


Photoshop’s Recovery and Fill Tool

Photoshop CS3 has added two wonderful new features in Adobe Raw Converter. They are Recovery, for salvaging highlights, and Fill, for bringing out detail in the shadows.

Look at this example. The highlights are blown out, and the shadows plugged up. But by using the Fill slider, I was able to pull back information that seemed lost. And the Fill allowed me to pull a bunch of detail from the shadows.

Yes, some of this could have been handled a couple of other ways. I could have used Curves once the image was in Photoshop to help the shadows. Or, I could have done two conversions, one for highlight contro, one for shadow control, and then blended them as two layers in one file.

But with these new features, I can get a lot closer to where I want to be a lot faster, which means my workflow is improved.

Just take a look at the difference between the image above, which have the adjustments shown in this screenshot, and the image below that which is the straight conversion.

Here is the dialog box for the converter, with the settings I used.


Travels with Charlie

Taking a great picture of your pet can be challenging. Here’s one tip I think is important when your friend has both dark and light features.

Getting a good exposure can be difficult if you shoot with direct sunlight (either front or side lit) on your pet. That’s because with the extreme contrast in that kind of lighting situation, either the shadows will be too dark, or the highlights will be blown out. The image below is exposed for highlight detail, and look how the shadows plug up.

The better solution is to have your subject backlit. That reduces the contrast so the film or digital sensor can handle the range of exposure from shadow to highlight. Also, it will create some nice highlights in the hair or fur at the back edges, separating your pet from the background and adding a sense of depth. The top photograph shows that approach.

Just look at the difference in this portrait of Charlie. And just think how much happier he was without having to squint!


Assembling an image to get the picture you pre-visualized

Sometimes we just can't get the image we have pre-visualized in our mind. It could be that the elements we want are not in the same location at the same time. Or it could be that the elements are there, but circumstances are such that you cannot capture the correct lighting for each of the elements at the same point in time. Here's an example of that kind of situation, and how I still got the image I wanted.

I saw this wonderful contrast between old and new Las Vegas one afternoon, and wanted to capture it in as dramatic a way as possible. I decided that the most interesting way would be to shoot it at dawn, when the neon lights of the old Greek Isles would still be lit, but the advancing sunrise would start to illuminate the glass of the new Wynn Tower with warm light, since it faced northeast. Unfortunately, when I went there the following morning, I discovered an interesting problem. The timers on the neon lights were set to shut the lights off at 6:40 AM, but the sun did not put really great color into the glass until 7:27AM. That meant that the image could not be created in one exposure because if I exposed for the neon,the building would be nearly black, and if I shot when the sunlight was right on the building, the neon would be off, creating a flat, lifeless image.

The way I solved the problem was to make sure I got the perfect exposure for the neon in one exposure, and then continue shooting to capture the perfect reflection on the glass. Once I had those, I could merge them in two separate layers in Photoshop, and end up with the image I had in my mind when I first saw the opportunity. In the end, though, I found an exposure of the sky shot somewhere between these two key elements that I thought added more depth, and used that as the sky for the final photograph.

So ultimately, I used three separate exposures to make the image. Here's what the layers looked like in the assembled file, showing the various files, and levels and curves adjustments to make the image pop. One suggestion I would make is to label your layers so that if you have to come back, you know what each one is and what it does. Here, I've labeled the image numbers that I am using with their file number, and the fact that the levels and curves are overall adjustments.

Here is what the layer for the building looked like with a mask so that the sunlit building will come through in the final.

Here is what the layer for the sky looked like with a mask so that the sky comes through in the final.

Here's the assembled image, but without the final levels and curves tweak seen in the image at the top of the article (and repeated below for easy comparison). You can see how adding these two layer adjustments makes the image come alive.