The Digital Photo Guy

Death Valley National Park

by on Mar.09, 2015, under Articles, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photos

Photo Ops in Death Valley

Just got back from Death Valley National Park (DVNP) where, as always, I saw some amazing sights. DVNP is the largest NP in the lower 48 states and 91% of it is classified as wilderness. Over the years, I’ve driven through DVNP on several occasions but never gotten off the beaten path. This time, we got a “round tuit” and checked out some of the places I’d heard of and some I hadn’t.

The Amargosa Hotel & Opera House is a “must see” for anyone visiting DVNP. I won’t regurgitate all the info about Marta Beckett because you can Google it but it’s a fascinating story of dedication, determination and downright single-track-mindedness. Even non-ballet fans (most of us) will be enchanted by Marta’s story and the performances by Jenna McClintock, who took over for Marta late last year.

AmargosaOperaHouse-101    AmargosaOperaHouse-104    AmargosaOperaHouse-102    AmargosaOperaHouse-103

The first two images show some of the murals Marta painted on the walls of the opera house so she would always have an audience. The last two are of Jenna McClintock, a young woman who, as a 6 year old child, was inspired to become a ballerina after seeing Marta perform. I hope to return in the future to photograph the entire theater and, perhaps, talk Jenna McClintock into recreating some of Marta Becket’s photos. All the above photos were made with a Canon EOS-M with a standard 22mm f/2.0 lens. ISO was cranked up to 12,800 and WB set to Fluorescent. All postprocessing was done in LR4.

subject_demo-8582    subject_demo-8587    subject_demo-8514

The next three are of the area around the opera house. I didn’t spend a lot of time outside but it looked like there were some opportunities to be further explored. These were made with a Canon 5D MkII and 24-105/4L IS.

Lik-101   AmargosaOperaHouse-201

These last two photos are HDR of a Peter Lik gallery that has been installed at DVJ. I waited until after dark and lucked out with the reflection of the front facing photo in the window glass. It reminded me of a ghostly dancer apropos for the Amergosa Opera House. The first was made with a Canon 5D MkII and 24-105. HDR processing was in Photomatix Essentials. The second was with my Samsung Galaxy Note II using its built-in HDR capability.

The Samsung’s tiny sensor and lack of controls in the HDR app shows when comparing the images side-by-side but, then again, the 5D MkII can’t make phone calls.

I have more photos that still need to be processed that I’ll post next time. In the meantime, feel free to leave a comment or questions.



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Rockabilly Reunion and Fireworks

by on Feb.22, 2015, under Articles, gear, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photos

Just a Bunch of Photos

Nothing fancy today, just a bunch of photos from my trip to Lake Havasu City Rockabilly Reunion and serendipitous WPA Winter Blast 2015.

I made use of HSS (high-speed sync) on my Canon 580EX II with 5D MkII and 24-105/4L IS at the Rockabilly Reunion. The music was pretty good, the cars were interesting if that’s your thing and the pin-up models were happy to pose!

Danielle from Chicago   Danielle's sister who was too shy to give me her name   Gorgeous young lady from Riverside, CA   I think they're Mom & Daughter   I think she was Miss Over the Top   More ink than Epson's annual production   Vickki Fahrenheit (L) and local LHC pin-up model   Very nice contestant in the Pin-Up Pageant   Her last name was Leopard   Nice tats on Miss Leopard

It was a lot of fun and, next year, I’ll have a better plan for photographing the pin-up models.

Western Pyrotechnic Association Winter Blast 2015

This is an annual event on President’s Day at Sara Park in Lake Havasu City. It’s like a Battle of the Bands except with fireworks. Each group tries to out do the other with louder blasts, more colorful displays, greater altitude and bigger “WOW” factor. It’s fun but fireworks every night for 4 nights is a bit much. Most fireworks displays are about an hour or less but these guys had what they called “Open Shooting” for 4 to 6 hours every night. Our poor cat was stressed. We moved after the 2nd night.

When photographing fireworks, it’s important to have either a foreground or background object that adds interest and dimension. Otherwise, every burst looks pretty much like every other burst. The clouds on the 2nd night added some extra “pop” (no pun intended) to the photos.

WPA-101   WPA-102   WPA-103   WPA-104   WPA-105   WPA-106

The standard camera settings for fireworks are Manual mode, Aperture ~f/11-f/22, Shutter Speed ~6 – 30 seconds, focus about 1/3 of the way down the frame and release the shutter when you hear the mortar. It goes without saying, use a tripod and set your release to a 2 second delay so you don’t induce shake as you press the button.

All photos were processed in LR4. Basic edits including crop, adjust levels/white balance, sharpen and resize/compress.


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Too Cute for Words

by on Feb.19, 2015, under Articles, gear, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing

Alpacas and an Austrian Chicken

A member of the Photography Group invited us to her ranch to photograph baby alpacas and other critters. There were alpacas, a llama, Austrian chickens, horses, a mustang and a donkey, a veritable menagerie. The alpacas were the cutest critters I’ve seen.

alpacas-104-2   alpacas-101-2   alpacas-102-2   alpacas-103-2   alpacas-105-2   alpacas-106-2   alpacas-107-2

I used a Canon 5D MkII with a 24-105/4L IS, my go-to combo. I also added the Canon 580EX II in HSS mode for some fill light. The alpaca fur sucked in light and wouldn’t reflect anything back so I had to crank up the intensity to get the desired levels. I love the catchlights in their eyes. They’re curious but not overly friendly (unless you have treats) so it’s difficult to photograph them in a good pose. All photos have been cropped, adjusted levels & white balance, sharpened and resized/compressed in LR4.

Tip – For animal photos, I found I can reduce Lightroom clarity by -15 to -25 and increase sharpening to 65-75 and radius to 1.2 to compensate. Reducing clarity further blurs the background and I make up for it by increasing sharpening/radius. I finish by edge masking all except the eyes.

The first photo, a 3 month old baby girl is my favorite although the others are cute in their own ways. The chicken’s feathers were beautiful in the light. The flash added some extra sheen. A fun shoot.

Dragging the Shutter & 2nd Curtain Sync

As promised, here’s a primer on event photography in dimly lit venues with people are milling about or, worst case, dancing and cavorting. Let’s break down the situations to those where you just want more light on the background and those where motion is directional, e.g. conga line.

Since there are, at least, a gazillion articles online about dragging the shutter or 2nd curtain sync, I’m not going to regurgitate info that’s so readily available. Instead, I’ll give a short, concise overview and an explanation of when and why one would use these techniques.

Dragging the shutter, also called Slow Shutter Sync, is when a shutter speed is selected that allows more of the background ambient light to be captured. In a typical flash image, the camera measures the amount of light being reflected back from the subject and cuts off the light when enough light has been recorded. This results in a well exposed subject emerging out of a “black hole” of a background. By slowing down the shutter, the sensor has time to record more of the background. Here’s an example.

drag_the_shutter-102   drag_the_shutter-101

On the left, Tina is reasonably well exposed but the background resembles a dark cave. In the right photo more of the background is exposed by dragging the shutter (keeping it open longer) while the flash exposes Tina. Exposing the background adds context to the photo.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is not a true photo where I dragged the shutter. The effect was simulated in Lightroom but the end results are the same.

Second curtain sync delays the flash until just before the shutter closes. Normally, the flash fires as soon as the shutter opens. If my shutter speed is 1/60 to 1/200 second like many flash exposures, there’s no problem because the model doesn’t have time to react. However, when dragging the shutter at 1/2 sec or longer, the model might move as soon as the flash is seen. That can result in a blurred image. By using 2nd curtain sync, the model doesn’t see the flash until the shutter is ready to close.

Second curtain has an other useful applications. When capturing light trails such as the headlights of a car at night or a conga line at a party, it’s important to show the correct direction of movement.

First curtain   Second curtain

These aren’t particularly good photos but they get the idea across. The first photo uses 1st curtain sync otherwise known as “normal” flash sync. The flash fires as soon as the shutter is released. Note how the headlights make the car appear to be moving backwards. The second is with 2nd curtain sync. This photo shows shows the car moving forward. Also, note how the cars are relatively sharp when the flash fires. Flash tends to “freeze” movement. This isn’t a difficult experiment so go outside and try it. It works best when both the camera and flash are in Manual Mode.

I know this article isn’t as clear and concise as it should be so, as always, use the Comments box to post any questions and I’ll try to make it more understandable.

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Portraits and Photo Competitions

by on Feb.17, 2015, under Articles, gear, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photos

High Speed Sync for Portraits

Over the past year, I’ve been doing more people photography. This past week, I had the opportunity to use high speed sync for outdoor portraits and it was an fun learning experience. In the past, when making portraits outside, I chose an uncluttered background, put the subject in the shade and used an external flash to add a little fill. That works well for most cases but there’s always the chance there won’t be a suitable background.

Since this was a test shoot, I decided to experiment using a Canon 5D Mk II and Canon 580EX II set to High Speed Sync (HSS.) The intent was to use as wide an aperture as possible to produce a nice background blur. To do that, I needed a faster shutter speed than the 5DII’s 1/200 max sync speed. At f/4 in AV mode, the camera wanted a shutter speed around 1/1500, way too fast to use the flash. No problem, I set the 580EX II to HSS and the 5D Mk II to Manual Mode. Then, I dialed in 1/1500 shutter speed with the aperture at f/4. Using that as a starting point, I took a few test shots, watching the histogram to keep everything in balance.

HSS works by spreading the light over a longer time period so there’s light across the entire shutter open time. To do this, light output is reduced by about 1/3 which means HSS useable distance is greatly reduced. A full and complete explanation of HSS can be found in the “Bible” of Canon flash photography, Mastering Canon EOS Flash Photography by NK Guy.

Sharon-101   Sharon-103   Sharon-106

The first photo of Sharon & Pallas combines a nicely blurred background due to a wide open aperture and unobtrusive fill that also added a catchlight to their eyes. The only negative is that the catchlight is dead center in their eyes because the flash is mounted directly above the lens. I like the sunlight on Sharon’s hair and the reflection on Pallas’ hair. A nice environmental portrait if I say so myself.

On the second photo of Sharon alone, I gave her a bit of a “glamour” treatment with Portrait Pro 10. I was trying to see if I could make her look younger and I think it works. In the third photo, I couldn’t believe the change in Sharon’s persona when I asked her to let down her hair. The sunlight off her hair combined with Portrait Pro enhancements and the soft, dark background could definitely pass for a 25 year old grad student. I’m not going to give her real age but let’s just say PortraitPro can shave decades off a portrait.

Photography as a Journey

These next photos are from my friend Jill who was in one of my classes in San Diego about 12 years ago. Like many students, she asked my advice on digital SLRs. As a Canon shooter, I pointed her to the then recently introduced Canon Digital Rebel, the first sub-$1000 dSLR.

Over the years, Jill & Jerry have stayed in touch, sharing many photos made at their home in SoCal and a summer home in Montana. She caught the competition bug some years back and, sometimes, bored me to tears with questions about photo contests. In the beginning, she used to be so proud and happy just to have a photo accepted. Today, she’s distressed if she doesn’t get 1st or 2nd place for all her entries. The point is that photography, like many endeavors in life, is a journey, not a destination. The journey is the reward. Keep at it, enjoy yourself and, one day, it suddenly becomes clear. During the process of mastering some skill or process, you’ll discover new skills and processes to be learned. To paraphrase Greg Lemond, “It never gets easier, you just get better.”

Beautiful Sunset   Provo Temple   Beautiful Rose   Zoee-BucketFNL

These were all 1st or 2nd place winners in her local camera club competition out of 53 entries. For Jill, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s stomping the competition into the ground. Who woulda thunk a Great-Grandma would be such a fierce, “go for the jugular” competitor? Congratulations Jill, for not only your photo skills but also your stick-to-it-ivness. Your journey has certainly been worth it thus far.

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Event Photography, Prosaic but Fun

by on Jan.27, 2015, under Articles, Composition, gear, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips

Parties, Dinners, Dances, Oh My!

I hadn’t done event photography in over 10 years so it was with trepidation I agreed to photograph the Desert Caballeros Western Museum Annual Charity Dinner & Fundraiser. The venue was one of the worst I’d seen for photography, high ceilings, walls lined with glass cases and lots of mixed lights. The main lights were some sort of halogen lamps way up high. The museum display cases had some type of incandescent bulbs. Fortunately, both seemed to be daylight balanced which was more than I could say about the mixed LED/tungsten icicle decorative lights and the warm hanging lanterns. In the end, the lights turned to be about 4850 Kelvin, just a tad warmer than sunlight.

With 120+ attendees, there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver so I had to be in position for the “money shots.” I’m proud to say, I only missed 1 money shot, the most important one, of course. All in all, it was fun and I met a lot of interesting people.

DCWM_web-101    DCWM_web-112    DCWM_web-115    DCWM_web-116   DCWM_web-125    DCWM_web-126    DCWM_web-134

The first is a test shot of Sharon, my VALS (voice activated light stand,) the Museum Marketing Mgr. She got stuck holding my light-on-a-stick (more on that in a moment) and pointing out various VIPs to be photographed. You’ll notice that 4 of the 5 men in the photos are wearing cowboy hats. I knew some would be wearing hats but didn’t think it would be 80%. Most of the women were wearing big, shiny, reflective silver and turquoise jewelery. Oh joy!

The first order of the day was to improvise a way to raise and lower the flash. Depending on whether the subject was wearing a hat and position of said hat (low over eyes, tilted back, square, etc,) I had to adjust the flash to throw light under the brim. What I really needed was a two flash Stroboframe but I don’t own one and had never heard of one. My solution was to draft the Marketing Manager.

To simplify the light positioning, I mounted my 580EX II on an old collapsible monopod, about 18″ long and wrapped with gaffer’s tape for handholds (light-on-a-stick.) It was triggered by a “dumb” CyberSync RF trigger. That’s all I needed since I was shooting strictly in Manual Mode. I set the 580 to Manual and power at 1/4 as I figured my average shooting distance would be ~5 feet. Tweaking was done by having Sharon move the light closer or further.

Not knowing what to expect, I carried 3 cameras. The Canon 5D MkII with Canon 50/1.4 turned out to be the best choice. I also had my Canon EOS-M Mirrorless with a 22/2.0 (35mm FOV) which came in handy for wider shots. A 3rd rig that I didn’t use was the 7D with an 85/1.8 (136mm FOV.)

Notice I didn’t use any zooms nor any fancy, expensive L or IS lenses such as a 24-70/2.8L IS or 70-200/2.8L IS. First of all, I didn’t want to lug around the weight of an L zoom. Secondly, for better focus accuracy, I prefer much faster primes. Third, I didn’t need the extra reach. Last, dragging the shutter is a better way to capture sharp low-light images.

The 50/1.4 is a very fast, sharp lens that weighs just 10 oz vs 2 lbs for a 28-70. It also costs just $400 compared to $1550 for the 50/1.2 and it’s a much better quality than the standard “plastic fantastic” 50/1.8 for $125. For low light photography indoors, the 50/1.4 can’t be beat.

Had I needed the 135mm range, the 85/1.8 would have served well because it’s a sharp, fast prime for just $420 compared to the 85/1.2L for $2100. It also weighs just 1 lbs vs 2.25 lbs for the L version.

In the next post, I’ll talk about setting exposure, “dragging the shutter” and “2nd curtain sync.” Until then, I hope you’ll be thinking of events you might photograph in the near future.

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