Monday, May 30, 2011

Lightroom in the House this Week

 After three minutes in Lightroom

Raw capture straight from the camera

Our Lightroom 3 course is in full swing at Light.   People are often surprised we offer a five day LR course and remark "What could you possibly talk about for five days?" 

Lightroom is such a powerful program it will make your workflow as effective and efficient as possible, but only if you use all of the tools, tips, tricks, and techniques.  To get a full understanding of the digital workflow and how each LR module, feature, and function applies takes some time.  We have found five days is the perfect amount to go from total beginner to complete master.  Interestingly, the same often applies to folks who have been using LR for years. 

I have always thought much of Lightroom's power is in the Library Module.  Most of the photographers we meet have some inefficiency when it comes to the first three stages of the digital workflow, Import, Edit, and Organize.  This is where a strong understanding of digital asset management and Library functions come together to save the day.  I find it this aspect so important I normally spend two full days with the Library Module ensuring everyone has a supreme grasp of its power.  Only after the required legwork can we get to the fun and sexy stuff in the Develop Module. 

Man cannot live in the lab alone so we will be out shooting tomorrow morning and for the rest of the week to build some source material and hone our workflow.

We did get to experience a fun little bug in Lightroom today though. Always interesting when the big demos do not go as advertised.  Not sure whether this is new in 3.4.1 or was in 3.4 but will do a bit more troubleshooting tomorrow.  Fortunately, the bug is a very limited scope issue.  I do a demo Import of several files and rename the files in the process.  The files I use have a combination of upper and lower case file extensions.  If you happen to have "Leave as Is" selected in file extension on the import dialog-File Renaming tab, LR will not rename files with an upper case extension.  This only seems to occur when the import source contains files with both upper and lower case extensions.  So probably only applies to me in a few demos. 
Fiat Lux!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Good times at the Epic Light Gallery Reception

Love at Last Light by Victoria Schmitt
Barren Beauty by Kevin Cole
Last night was our 3rd monthly artist reception at the Epic Light Gallery. A big thanks to our featured artists, Kevin Cole and Amanda Valena, for putting on a beautiful display of fine local photography! We had a great group of people come out to support our artist and saw some new faces too.

We also had some new work added to our display from house artists Bob Canepa, Victoria Schmitt, and Becky Sloat.

Fine cheese and tasty local wine was provided by Light. As always we were pouring the 2005 Volatus; a 60/40 syrah malbec blend created by Hal Schmitt.

If you couldn’t make it last night don’t despair, this display will be up until June 17th. Our next artist reception will be June 24th with the return of Kevin Cole and a new guest artist.

Get all the news and updates about the our gallery by liking our
The Muse by Amanda Valena

Fiat Lux!

Years End 2009 by Kevin Cole

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Topaz Detail Webinar Replay

Here is the replay of the webinar I did with Topaz Detail a few weeks ago. 

The mask process I quickly describe is available here.

Please send me any of your questions or comments to

You can find other Topaz webinars here.

Fiat Lux!

Fisheye Pano and A Little Video

Hobart Bay Pano with Northern Song bookends
An early morning fisheye pano I shot recently.  I liked the effect I was getting with the boat framing the vertical edge of the image but the only way to bookend was with a pano.  With the 15mm FE on my 5D Mk II, I was able to get the effect with only two shots.  I knew from previous efforts though I would have a problem trying to stitch just two fisheye images together with Photoshop.  In order to make the stitching process go a little simpler (or go at all) I shot an additional frame for a total of three.

I stacked all three shots, expanded my canvas, and moved each into position manually.  If you ever need to do this the trick is to switch the Layer Blend Mode of the layer you are moving to Difference.  This will give you a weird ghosted effect but you can easily see where to position.  After everything was in place I selected all layers and clicked Edit-Auto Blend.  With the Auto layout selected Photoshop did the rest. 

In the end the image was just under 10K pixels wide so I almost reached a 2:1 ratio for the pano.  More importantly, I got the effect I wanted.  I think the main lesson is pixels are free.  If you have an idea shoot away and see what can be accomplished in post.  If it works, great.  If not, find another way. 

The video below is the final from our last trip ashore.  I posted the other two already so I figured I might as well finish it.  As you can see my lens is still wet and I was not microphoned up.  Hopefully, it captures some of the flavor.

The "sushi" bar comment in the video is when the fish rush ashore and the eagles stand in or near the water.  They reach down with their beaks and snatch the fish up; just like a sushi-go-round restaurant. 

A single eagle at the "sushi bar" with one on deck.
Notice the fish jumping out of the water in the foreground.

The final shot below is the yacht I reference in the video.  I will admit it was kind of small in the frame so here is a closer view.

Fiat Lux!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Mask" with Blend Modes for Easy Composites

The two images above do not really work for me separately.  I thought they might look better combined so I played around with them a bit.  I am not a big fan of spending a large amount of time selecting or masking unless I absolutely must.  When I do mask I use either Photoshop alone or Topaz Remask.  For this composite, I wanted to try a blend mode switch and see if I could avoid any selections or masks.  The process I used is below.

The first step was to create a stack by layering the two images in Photoshop.  I used the trees as a background and added a few Curves Adjustment Layers to fix tonal range, color cast, and add contrast (you could also do that in Lightroom first.)  At the top of the layer stack is my eagle fight shot.  I moved the eagles into a possible position and am now ready to try a blend mode switch.

With the eagle layer active I changed the blend mode to Darken.  The Darken blend mode works by displaying only the parts of the active layer that are darker than underlying pixels (in lower layers.)  I thought the eagles are darker than the sky so maybe it would work.  Unfortunately, the sky in the eagle layer is darker than the background sky.

To fix this little issue, I added a Curve Adjustment Layer and set it to affect only the eagle layer.  To do this click on the the click to clip to layer icon that looks like a dark circle on top of a light circle at the bottom of the Adjustments panel or hold down the Alt/Opt key and click on the line separating the eagle layer from the Curve layer (you will know you are in the right place when your cursor changes to the dark/light circle icon.)  When we set up a clipped layer the adjustment will only effect the layer it is clipped to.  In this case, the curve only modifies the eagle.  As I drag the curve up notice less of the sky around the eagles is visible.

I continued to move the curve up until the sky on the eagle layer was lighter than the sky of the background.  Now only the eagles themselves show up with the Darken blend mode.

Final step for me was a Black and White adjustment layer.  Not sure I will ever use the image but I like the result better than where I started and the technique is a great tool to have in your kit.  This also works in reverse using the Lighten blend mode.

The final composite

Fiat Lux!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Couple of HDRs and Component Pre-Processing Tips

Bridge shot from Lightroom, Photomatix Pro, Photoshop, and Topaz
Lens is a 400mm f/2.8L AKA "killer glass"

I showed a Nik HDR Efex Pro processed ice cave the other day and wanted to balance that with a couple of Photomatix Pro HDRs.

Both images started in Lightroom where I processed the components.  My workflow includes removing any of the default settings in the Develop Module that effect tonality.  From top to bottom I do the following: Blacks-0, Brightness-0, Contrast-0, Tone Curve's Point Curve-Linear, Detail's Sharpening Amount-0, and Lens Correction to remove vignetting and chromatic aberration.  I will warn you here, after you make those adjustments the components will not look good.

You can easily make a Preset and the process goes much quicker.

Once the image returns from Photomatix I will go through my normal optimization workflow.  This often returns the above sliders and options to near their default. 

In the case of these two images, I processed them twice in Photomatix, adjusted in Lightroom, and then combined the two in Photoshop.  For the interior shot I also used Topaz Detail to add some shape and form.

Fiat Lux!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ice Cave

Video shot as I was getting ready to make some HDR source images.  Always be extremely careful when dealing with ice caves.  Many are not safe at all so perform a good survey of the scene and judge integrity, traction, and overall security.  It is also a great idea to not do this alone.  With at least one other person assistance/rescue gets much easier.

The textures, color, and tonal range inside the cave were amazing.  Shooting here was a challenge.  The biggest issue was the melt water.  Keeping the camera and lens relatively dry required full protection.  I do not use any fancy type of rain gear.  I prefer fish fillet bags and rubber bands or gaffer's tape.  They make a simple, effective, and economical solution.  Light levels overall were low so I used a tripod.  Tripod setup was a little challenging with very slippery, uneven terrain (ice) as the cave floor.  The ability to rapidly adjust my tripod leg length and angle was very helpful. 

I shot a single image to assess the tones and decided I needed to shoot multiples to cover the entire range.  For the HDRs on this blog, I shot only three source files at -2, 0, and +2 E.V with a Canon 5D Mk II.  This gave me about 9ish stops of usable data which worked perfectly.  Had I needed more shots I had my Promote Control with me. 

 HDR processed with HDR Efex Pro from Nik

I used Nik's HDR Efex Pro for this scene.  As many of you know I am not all that faithful to one HDR software.  I primarily find myself using Photomatix Pro but I will almost always try other options and pick the best result.  Sometimes my final result is a blend of output from different programs.  For this shot I wanted the result to show texture more than anything else.  Click on the attached images for a larger version since only when big will the real texture come out. 

On this version I pulled some saturation and pushed texture a bit more.

Now I need to go back in July with my Fisheye.  Of course, this cave will be gone but I should be able to find another.  Come out and join me.

Fiat Lux!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Eagle Tips

Dial it up (as we used to say at TOPGUN)

As many of you know I am a big fan of photographing eagles (might be that fighter pilot thing again.)  There are a huge number of tips and tricks when shooting eagles but I will give two of the simplest.  These two might seem a little bit flippant and MOTO (master of the obvious) but they are true.

My best tip is go where there are a large number of eagles.  The rock above has 19 eagles on it.  What is not shown are the other 30 rock outcroppings just like this one covered with birds or the trees full of birds.  When you surround yourelf with 500-1000 eagles you will have a much higher probability of getting the shots you want.  Photographing eagles in flight is not the easiest task so the more you shoot the better.  Tough to do as you wait for the lone bird to fly by again.

Tip number two often goes hand in hand with number one, go where this is a non-stop supply of eagle food.  I have no problem with feeding eagles to get images but there is a finite amount of frozen herring.  Food equals eagle action.  The birds will feed almost non stop.  I have seen eagles feed until there are fins sticking out their beaks.  With plenty of birds and food you increase your opportunity in a major way.  In the image above the fish are literally jumping out of the water into the waiting talons of the approaching eagle.  There is also something a little more raw and natural about a freshly ripped apart herring; half in the beak and half in the talons.  In the gory image above note there is another whole herring in the talons as well.

As I mentioned, feeding to attract eagles is not really any different than planting flowers to attract butterflies or using sugar water to bring in hummingbirds to an elaborate flash setup.  I do believe in full disclosure though and will discuss if an eagle was baited or not.  Most often it is pretty easy to tell if there is a fish in the frame (in the water or in the talons/beak.)  Recently caught live fish bleed and still look alive.  Frozen herring are slightly discolored, the tail contracts, and the eye is very dead.  For example, check out the gull below picking up a frozen herring.

A few more shots for giggles.

 Yep, the sky was that blue.

Love the dirty birds (juveniles)!
Notice the bright spot in the talons.  Normally a piece of it is here.

Fiat Lux!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Composite Images for Easy Expanded DOF

I shot the two images above for this demo while onboard our yacht tour a couple weeks ago.  We weren't in perfect position for the composition I really wanted but pixels are free so I shot anyway.  The eagles are separated from the mountain and glacier background by about 10 miles.  I had a Canon 400mm f/2.8L on my 7D at the time and could not get both foreground and background in focus with the given focal distance.  I decided to quickly shoot with eagle focus and again with glacier focus; the only thing that changed between shots was focal point.  Although I was on a tripod the boat was moving so there was a slight shift in the images. 

Once back in Lightroom I performed some basic optimization, selected both images, synchronized, right clicked, and chose the option shown below.  If you are working Bridge, the same optimization and synchronization may be done via ACR.  Select both images and then choose Tools-Photoshop-Load files into Photoshop Layers.

With a stack (a multi layer image in which each layer comes from an individual image) in Photoshop I needed to do some masking in order to selectively reveal and conceal each layer.  I wanted the foreground from one image (with the eagles in focus) and the background from the other (mountain and glacier.)  As always with Adobe I had at least three options: 1) I could add a mask to my top layer and then use a brush to paint. or 2) I could select the eagles and rock in the foreground and then add a mask (turning my selection into a mask.) or 3) I could let Photoshop do the work and Auto-Blend.  The Auto-Blend option (Edit-Auto-Blend Layers)when set up as below uses contrast as a discriminant to build a mask.

There are two main "gotchas" with Auto-Blend.  The first is if there is a shift in the images you might need to Auto-Align first.  Interestingly, in this case Auto-Align did not work as the images were fairly different without enough common pixels to scene map.  Second, to activate Auto-Blend as an option multiple layers must be selected.  Use click + shift click functionality to select multiple layers.  

After the blend, Photoshop gave me the layer masks you see above.  Not perfect but pretty good and extremely fast.  I made a few more changes to the images in order to correct color and boost contrast in the background.  I used a Curve adjustment layer for color correction and then stamped visible and set the resultant pixel layer to the Multiply blend mode with a reduced Opacity.  I copied a layer mask from above in order to reveal the effect on only the background.  To copy layer masks from one layer to another hold Alt (Win) / Opt (Mac) and click, hold, and drag a layer mask.  

I also wondered what the image might look like with only one eagle so I removed the bird on the left.  To do this I first selected the left most eagle with the Quick Select Tool and then Filled using Content Aware Fill.  This did most of the job but left a few places to touch up with the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp.  Finally, I cropped a bit differently. 

In the end, the eagle is too centered for my taste.  Normally the center is deadly (As Rick Sammon likes to say.)  Potentially, an argument could be made that the extended depth of field allows the viewer to leave the centered eagle and explore the in focus, interesting background.  Regardless, I think this image will only serve as a demo.

Fiat Lux!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Out and about on the Moraine

                                             Glacial Moraine from Hal Schmitt on Vimeo.

A quick video shot from the highpoint of a glacial moraine in AK.  This is the far end of the moraine I discussed in yesterday's post.

We had intermittent showers throughout our trip ashore as you can see on the lens and hear.  Regardless of the weather, the landscape and scenery were pretty cool.  I found the most interesting part of this area to be that the landscape was completely fractal.  Regardless of scale, there were similar features.  For example, the glacier and its moraine were very similar in appearance to the small water flows and deposits of glacial silt. 

I will put up a few more videos from this location and other spots around the area. 

Video was shot with a Canon 5D Mk II and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L.  I processed very minimally in Adobe Premiere Pro.

I make a plug in the video for the best photography pants I have found.  They are made by a company called Crye Precision.  Crye makes combat and field gear without equal.  The best thing about the pants is they have ten pockets distributed along your entire leg.  One of the things I most miss about wearing a Navy flight suit everyday is the lack of useful pockets in normal clothing.  The lower leg pockets on the Crye field pants are perfect.  Crye is not bashful about charging a good amount for their gear but you get what you pay for.

Check them out at Crye Precision.

Fiat Lux!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Humpback Bubble Net Feeding Lunge

The Flash sequence above shows the end game of the humpback whale bubble net feeding lunge.  These huge animals have developed a technique to corral their prey into a tight ball to make eating a bit easier; not a bad plan when you have to eat so much.

Either singly or in groups the whales dive and coordinate releasing air to create a curtain of bubbles around, in this case, tens of thousands of herring.  The whales slowly come together in a decreasing spiral to concentrate the bubble curtain and the fish.  The survival instinct of the fish kicks in and they form tighter and tighter balls driven towards the surface by the bubbles and the whales themselves.

Mouth open @90 degrees!

Nearing the surface the whales propel themselves aggessively upward and lunge out of the water with gaping jaws open almost 90 degrees.  As is seen in the detail shot herring are leaping out of the water to get away. 

Click on the detail shot above to see flying herring.
Interestingly, bubble net feeding is not seen in all humpback populations around the world.  We were fortunate to observe bubble net feeding although we typically saw only two or three whales at a time.  This was not because of lack of food, there were billions of herring in the water for the annual spawn.  Rather it was a lack of whales.  In late April and early May, the Alaskan humpback numbers are fairly small as most whales are still making the swim from their winter grounds around the Hawaiian islands. 

When we go back in July, we expect to witness bubble net feeding with groups of 15+ whales.  Almost makes me embarrassed to show a sequence with only two.  I will re-engage in July with more whales!

The trick to photographing the lunge is twofold.  First, expect there will be a large splash and significant whitewater.  These will be your highlights and will drive the exposure.  Metering off dark water without any concern for the splash/bubbles will yield blown highlights.  I prefer to shoot in Manual mode with an exposure to properly expose white.  Second, watch the whales and learn.  You will see patterns in the water immediately before the whales surface.  When the patterns show up, point your camera with exposure set for the highlights, focus, and shoot!

Fiat Lux!

Do No Harm and Leave No Trace

© Rick Sammon

We as photographers are extremely fortunate to experience, tour, and capture many unique and interesting places around the world.  There are myriad benefits to both photographer and the local area/environment associated with our travels and shoots.  On the flip side, we must be cognizant of any damage we could do to the location.  In and of itself, photography is not a destructive process; we are normally not going to harm anyone or anything with the depression of our shutter release.  With that said, we know there is more to the process of making a great image.  We must consider how to structure our visits and use techniques and habit patterns that do no harm and leave little to no trace of our presence.

 © Lawrence Coleman

 As with all photography, it pays to research our subject. This is not just the subject itself, but also the environment in which the subject is found, the habits, patterns, rituals, etc. With full knowledge we are able to capture more effectively and make a compelling image while at the same time minimizing impact. If we consider the possible consequences of our visit we will be forced to look at things such as destruction or damage to native species, unkowing introduction of non-native species, pack it in/pack it out principles, waste management, how to appreciate, capture, and preserve vice removal and disturbance, and respect/standoff from wildlife.  This is just a quick list of things we should consider when entering any environment but especially those that might be sensitive. 

The largest impact we often have as photographers is based on our overland travel habits and what equipment we set up on location.  The simple act of walking to a desired shooting spot with gear and then setting down our bags, setting up our tripods, and remaining in one spot could cause problems.

© Diana Lewis Coleman

Of course, any impact is magnified when a group is involved.  Precautions must be taken to minimize the impact of more than one person.  For example, if there is a trail, all should stay on trail.  If there is not a trail, is it better to each take a different path to minimize repeated impact to the same area or does it make sense to limit our impact and follow in each others footprints.  There will probably never be one right answer but if we are educated and plan each trip properly we will, hopefully, choose the correct course of action.  Of course, sometimes the right answer is a place that is perfect for you might not be the best place to take your 50 person strong MeetUp or tour group.

We were fortunate to visit an amazing and sensitive area in south east Alaska a few weeks ago.  After a quick RHIB (rigid hull inflatable boat) ride we landed on a rolling ground moraine from a retreating glacier.  At first glance, it seemed to be just rocks.  Fortunately, our local guide prepared us with additional knowledge.  We understood the area was nesting habitat for migratory birds (made even more complicated as the nests looked like groups of rocks and the eggs look just like small rocks) and was also an emergent area (a place where local species were just taking hold.  Think of the initial reforesting process after a fire or after the deposit of volcanic ash.)  With this knowledge we soon saw that we needed to apply leave no trace principles in everything we did while ashore.

For those curious, Canon 1D Mk III, EF 800mm f/5.6L, and RRS PG-02

The Arctic Tern nests on the ground in some very sensitive locations.

The images in this post were captured by our group as they toured this amazing location.  It was an incredible experience to photograph this environment and I feel confident we did the best we could to minimize our impact. 

For more images of this awesome place check out Rick Sammon's blog at Chasing the Light with Light.

Fiat Lux!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tons of Falling Ice...A Cool Calving

A quick story to accompany the sequence above.  We were shooting the glacier face and watching fairly small calving events.  As it neared time to go, the Captain decided we could pull a "Jericho" and blew the yacht's horns to expedite a large icefall.  As we were about 1/2 mile from the glacier, it took the sound about 3 seconds to hit the face.  By the time the echo returned to us the first small pieces of ice were already falling.

I am not exactly sure how much ice calved in this sequence but it was a lot.  For reference, the face is about 500-600 feet high.  The ice created a 100+ foot splash and a 25 foot wave that fortunately dissipated to about 15 feet when it reached the yacht.  I have to imagine it was easily hundreds of tons of ice crashing.

A still to show the size of the central spire that came down.

I am still  not completely convinced the sound energy brought down the ice but it is not outside the realm of possibility and it was one hell of a coincidence. 

For the image sequence, I shot handheld with a Canon 5D Mk II and EF 70-200mm at just under four frames a second.  I processed the images in Lightroom and then stacked them in Photoshop to align (making up for slight differences in my positioning.)  I ultimately created a series of 19 JPEGS and took them to Adobe Fireworks  to create the Shockwave Flash file.  Playback is at four frames per second so the sequence is pretty close to how the 5D Mk II captured it.

Fiat Lux!

Quick Sunset Tip

Near sunset, photographers tend to fixate on the setting sun itself and often lose situational awareness to everything in their periphery and at six o'clock.  Every now and again turn around and see what is behind you.  These images demonstrate the difference 180 degrees can make.

8 shot stitched panorama
There are 50 eagles easily identified in this shot, by the way

Not sure if I will ever use or finish optimizing these images but I thought they showed an incredible variation that we sometimes miss.  Interestingly, on this photo tour we had a total of eight photographers; six stayed with the setting sun and two looked east.  The important thing is everyone was aware of what was happening with the light and made an informed choice where to shoot.

Fiat Lux!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Food, Glorious Food

White king salmon

A quick post celebrating one of life's true pleasures, amazing food!  As many of you know I have been fortunate to do some incredibly exciting and adventurous things.  On occasion I have used the following expression trying to describe my former line of work flying high-end fighters for the Navy.  People would ask what it was like to rage around the sky pulling Gs at high speed and low altitude and I would say "Simply put, it is the most fun you can have with your clothes on," and it was.  Unfortunately, I can say now that I was mistaken. 

Black cod or Sablefish 

Onboard the Northern Song, I was lucky enough to sample two of the most incredibly savory and tasty (a technical term) dishes known to my red-blooded, American male palate, white (also known as ivory) king salmon and sake marinated black cod .  I will admit that I had neither heard of nor tried either of these before our recent cruise but will never forget them. 

Prepared under the talented hands of Chef Ocean and Captain Dennis these two fish were transformed into the most delectable and mind blowing meals.  I can now state diving into perfectly portioned, seasoned, and cooked wild Alaskan white salmon and sablefish could be the most fun you will ever have...with your clothes on, that is.

To make it even better both of these fish are remarkably good for you, a veritable bonanza of Omega-3s.  Do yourself a favor and try them out.  Two sources are Coastal Cold Storage in Petersburg, AK and Vital Choice.  Coastal Cold Storage may be contacted in Petersburg or via their website.  Take a look at Vital Choice's website here.

It was awesome to watch the tour participants eagerly await each meal and then attack when the food was served.  Cannot wait to taste what our July trips will offer!

On a photography note, all images were shot with a Canon 5D Mk II and either an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L or an EF 100mm f/2.8 macro.  I used a 580 EX II flash bounced off the ceiling and filled with a bounce card. 

Fiat Lux!