Back in the day, on a job long since gone I was told to lie to customers. Not a one time thing to get out of a jam but as a matter of policy. A matter of policy when some extra effort on behalf of other workers would have eliminated the temptation to lie in the first place. That was a defining moment for me, they way the order so easily left the senders mouth, no hesitation, no level of discomfort or angst. I knew that I no longer wanted to be associated with that business or the person running it. For better or worse it is the moment that put me on the path to where I am today.
Another defining moment, one for bird photographers, is the day one puts down the money to own a top-notch lens. Back in the day that was pretty clearly defined, a top-notch lens was simply considered to be the longest lens the camera manufacturer makes with only a few exceptions, but today that is different. With skyrocketing prices and a flood of third party lenses that suspiciously all get rave reviews that step forward gets cloudy. Stay thirsty my friends, in the end the moment is clear-cut and a well defined moment, all be it a very expensive one.
I have a friend that I met a Bosque del apache a few years ago. He recently made the decision to plunk down the funds for a new Nikon 500mm lens and then put the effort into learning the lens and his photos have never looked better. Today I present for the first time a photograph from another photographer, the hard to find Green Jay from Chris Gardner. Thank You Chris!
Just when you think you are at the top of your game when it comes to Photoshop, this guy gets completely blown out of the water.
OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration but I did feel high and dry, let me explain. One of my favorite shows on the internet is Photoshop User TV on Kelby One. The show rotates through the staff as hosts for the show and every episode has at least two Photoshop or Lightroom tutorials. The other day I was catching up on some shows when what comes along is the “Puppet Warp” tool and birds and I am blown away because I could have used it about a million times the last couple of years.
First, let me point out a very cool tip in making a selection around a bird. If you follow this blog regular you will know that digitally separating the subject from the background is an important part of my workflow and making a selection around a bird can be a time-consuming process in Photoshop. Rather than making a fine grain selection you can also make a very loose selection around the bird with the Lasso tool and then grab the Magic Wand (aka Tragic Wand) tool, hold down the option/alt key and the selection will snap to a tight fit around your bird, then go to Selection>Modify to expand, contract, or feather your selection. Given enough contrast it works really well but the real magic is in the Puppet Warp tool. Once you have made your selection put it on its own layer in most cases, and then go to Edit>Puppet Warp. There you will create a fine grain mesh containing the bird where you will create anchor points to manipulate body parts without harming other pixels. This is the perfect solution for moving a wing ever so slightly or changing beak position to that perfect point.
I highly recommend watching Photoshop User. You can catch the episode here.
Also, if you are not taking advantage of it now Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are available as a package for $9.99Mo.
This is one of my favorite photos, not for any reason in particular, in fact it is somewhat unremarkable, I just happen to like it a lot. The first thing you will notice is that the subject, a Sandhill Crane is in the center of the frame. Yeah, we all know that is a no-no. But what if that bird was not the subject of the picture. What if you treated the background as the subject? And why not, the sky is what brought me to the location in the first place. Treating the background as the main subject makes the bird in the middle ok. The problem is that the bird is also a compelling subject, nice and sharp with the feathers blown out and great form with the feet and legs hinged at a great angle. Truth is that what I was really trying to do was capture the bird between the clouds, that I accomplished. Too bad it is in the middle of the frame. Lets take a look at exactly how that bird wound up dead center.
The focus points of most cameras have differing levels of quality and very often the focus point in the center of the frame is one of few “cross” style sensors in the array of focus points. So here is a great flow to try out if you are in a low light situation or using a narrow aperture lens when focus tends to become difficult. Set you focus point dead center but also set the focus lock duration longer than you normally would. With those two elements in place you can acquire focus and have some time to lead the bird a bit before it starts to hunt for a new focus point. Using the burst of three rule you should pick up the number of in focus images but you will also get a larger number of them with the subject in the center of the frame. When you are there, you can always crop if need be.
Next week we will take a walk-through on processing this image, how I got it to where it is and what we can do to turn it into the ideal image with a fantastic background and the subject exactly where you want it.
Until then, have a good one guys.
I think it is safe to say that I have more experience editing photos than the average person and well, I have logged more hours on the iPad than almost everyone I am quite sure, so when I say I think it is not a good photo editor, it is with a heavy heart. The iPad is a remarkable device and Apple hit a grand slam when it was introduced, creating a whole new class of computing. For me, the Retina display gives the absolute best experience for looking at photographs, the iOS interface can be shaped into the most elegant wrappers anywhere, but when it comes to processing photos to their best, it falls short. It is not from a lack of trying though, as the iPad is actually a very stable and powerful platform for manipulating images and video.
Just to lend more credibility to my arguments, I am going to open the kimono a tad and tell everyone that I have spent most of the year exploring iOS5 and 6, specifically the Core Image Framework located in it. I have designed my own editor for iOS so I am up to speed on what the iPad can and can’t do. Introduced in iOS5 and continued through 6 Apple has made available a remarkable array of filters and functions to use, bringing over many if not most of the things available on the Mac Operating System. Processing power is also very stout with the A5 (and presumably better on A6) processor handling distortion, pixel bending transformations on larger full resolution images without any real lag. With the tools provided natively you can build a very credible Photoshop style editor with gradients, perspective, distortions, color correction, layers, and blending modes a lot like the big Kahuna Photoshop. That all begs the question, why is the iPad not a good photo editor?
There are actually several answers. I would say money is one of the big ones. Everyone knows a $100 plus app is not going to fly for the big market and the bottom line is that it takes a lot of time, effort,and cash to develop software, it is kind of a risk because it might not sell and if you are seriously limited in the price you can charge you will be seriously limited in the features you can provide. Say it ain’t so, but that is a harsh reality of business. We all have to put food on the table. Lets take the Adobe Photoshop App as an example. It is reasonably priced and packed with a lot of features I admit, but one serious limitation is you can’t import or export the native file format PSD. Well yeah you can if you subscribe to another service and pay for it. That is a serious limitation for me. So serious to me that I have never been able to use the application to my satisfaction and I have not opened it in months.
There is also that thing known as the human condition. About a generation and a half, by my math, have only known a keyboard and mouse. Graphics tablets are kind of anomaly as far as I am concerned and are not anything like a touch interface. The touch interface has only been widely distributed for about two years. It is going to take some time for people to get used to it and for developers to design touch styles that deliver the precision photo editing needs. Once again using the Photoshop example, the App has a lot of stuff but most of it is hard to find and clumsy to use which leads many users to the Instagram like preset selection and “dumbs” down the software to sophisticated users. The much maligned skeuomorphic design helps bridge the gap between touch and mouse and within the context a good touch interface has to be “in your face” but also out of the way. That translates to simplicity.
I think the only real solution for the two above problems is specialization The very definition of failure to some, the only way to be successful is to make a niche, create features that are cheap and simple and apply very well to a select group of discriminating users.
One other thing holding back the iPad for editing is a lack of histogram. Creating a histogram is not yet available natively in iOS and it needs to be. It is essential in my opinion. You need it to know that an image is balanced for all media, all computer screens, not just an iPad display. It will come soon enough, I believe.
So what does all this have to do with bird photography? Well, the world is moving towards tablets and sooner or later you will need to edit media on one of them. You are going to need to have an editor that works for what you need. You need find apps that sharpen eyes and blur backgrounds, bring out feather detail, produce snow-white whites and color corrects. In short you need to find the app that works, not the one that is the best or most comprehensive.
Thanks for stopping by and a big thanks to everyone who came by last Friday, it was the busiest day ever for the blog.
One thing about making landscape photos, it’s location, location, location. I love a good landscape and from time to time try my hand at it. It’s certainly not as easy as it looks but I am getting better. That brings me to the sticking point, location. I hate taking the time to make a nice landscape technically but is really boring but when you have thousands of bird photos available it becomes a lot easier to spice things up. Not just a composite but rather a composite made to art. So today lets give it a shot. Here is an exapmle of one I came up with in about a half hour. There are so many paths you can take in making such a piece of art so I will not get too specific about how to construct such a piece, after all it is a creative thing. You are really going to need a program like Photoshop, certainly something that can create and edit layers and has blending modes.
Here is the basic recipe for the image above:
Process the landscape image as normal.
Insert a layer on top and fill it with a canvas like cream color and select Filters>Texture>Texturizer. You need to be in 8bit mode to do this. The default texture is canvas and that is what you want. You will need to adjust the Scaling and Relief depending on the size of the image. Tip: Be sure to zoom out to view the entire layer when doing this.
Click “OK” and you are done with that.Now set that layer blending mode to Hard Light and lower the opacity. This will probably look washed out but we will fix that later. You really want to see a canvas texture at this point.
Now go find some bird in flight images. You are going to need ones that are pretty high contrast with the subject a little under exposed and not real sharp. Wow! I have a ton of those.
Mask out the birds with the Quick Selection or Magic Wand tools.
Copy and paste into your canvas on a new layer.
Duplicate that layer and set the lower layer blending mode to Overlay and lower the opacity of the top a bit till it looks good.
Add as many birds as you like using the same technique.
Now here is the finishing touch.
Turn off the texture layer and hit Shift+Option+Command+E keys (Mac) to create a new layer with one merged image on top and lower the opacity way down and set to Overlay or a different blend mode for that extra punch of contrast and saturation.
Turn the texture layer back on.
Use levels adjustment on individual layers to fine tune the image and you are done.
It doesn’t matter how you get there. If it looks like art its art!
Thanks for reading everyone and have a great day.
They say it’s the smog that makes Southern California sunsets so spectacular. Kind of makes sense, we all think of smog as a toxic mix of various deadly chemicals. It is easy to think of these chemicals being a myriad of colors and luminescent gasses reacting with each other spewing a gambit of colors. Maybe those molecules are represented by the colors of the periodic table give that impression, it’s easy to imagine. We all know that light illuminates color in objects especially transparent ones. Take a thick layer of smog, put the sun behind it and holy cow, you should get yourself one heck of a colorful sunrise or set. It all makes perfect sense.
As I learn more about light and how it behaves I started to think maybe there is just a little more to it than that. As it turns out, the whole line of thought is false. First, lets take a look at what it is that makes sunrises and sets more colorful in the first place. During these times (the golden hours) the sun’s light rays travel throughout the longest distances of the earth’s atmosphere. Light is made of different size wave lengths presenting different colors of the spectrum. The blue or cool side being the shorter, weaker waves. As these rays of light encounter obstacles, for example an oxygen molecule, the shorter waves of the blue spectrum get stripped away and scatter off into the atmosphere. This is also why the sky is blue. When it happens the intensity of the light ray decreases and visually light becomes orange/red and more saturated. Those orange and red charged light rays are what causes the vivid colors. Contrary to the myth, large particles of dust and pollution block too much of the light and colors tend to become muted and very low in intensity. In a spectacular sunrise or set the unadulterated light generally does not illuminate other colored objects but rather reflects off of objects like water and clouds.
How that light gets to these object is also important. Higher clouds like cirrus tend to show the most vivid colors. This is because the portion of the atmosphere closest to the earth’s surface known as the boundary layer contains most of the dust, haze and pollutants. Its density tends to dull the colors and lower the intensity to the point that lower clouds are not as vivid. In fact the very best light is those rays that pass just above the boundary layer and reflect off the higher clouds. This occurs just before or after the sun is in view. That gives credence to the saying “start early and leave late”.
Saying “its the smog that makes the sunsets so great” is just fine for the movies but in real life it is just not true. Lets give the myth its last rites and bury it for good.
Thanks to everyone who stops by. Until next week Happy Shooting.
I always say that given the choice you should almost always shoot RAW. RAW is a format, usually proprietary to the manufacturer, that holds much more data than the optional Jpeg format. RAW images however are minimally processed. What does that mean? Well it means that your new image is not tuned, it will almost never look the same as it does on the back of the camera, and sometimes it means that you will pass on processing the photo because it does not look very good. RAW images contain more data though and in the end will process to better quality than Jpeg images. Processing RAW data is a pretty straight forward procedure all you need is some sort of converter. Manufactures often bundle a basic converter with the camera and sell stand alone editing software for additional cost, and there are the big third party processors, Adobe and Apple Aperture. I use two Adobe products Lightroom and Photoshop, they both have Raw image converters built in with software known as Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). I use them both in concert and often use ACR features of both on one image. Allow me to explain.
I always import images into Lightroom, that is an organizational thing, I want my images stored, tagged, and key-worded right off the bat. Light- room has presets upon import and if you want to see your image just like it appeared on the back of your camera you can set it to display that way on import. I don’t often do that because most of the time I plan on processing to a bit more creative level and I am better off starting from the same baseline every time. You can also adjust one image and quickly apply the same adjustments to some or all of the other imported images with the click of a button. I do that sometimes but not really too often. What I do very often is pass the raw image off to Photoshop and start processing in the ACR module. I do this for one big reason, most of the time my bird photos get a dusting of NIK Color Effects Tonal Contrast and that is in Photoshop. Yeah, I know there are other ways to access NIK filters that may seem easier but this is what works best for me. So in ACR I do all the basic stuff, exposure, color temp, blacks, contrast, saturation, I also manually adjust highlights and shadows with adjustment brushes and will often enhance the blues and browns with luminescence adjustment. If the image has a lot of water in it I will usually set the white balance on the cool side at this point, then I save the adjustments and move back to Photoshop. There I will mask and paint in a warming filter on my subject and any highlights that are to be kissed by the sun. Those color balance changes are very subtle and a little bit goes a long way but it can really make a good photo great. Then it is off the the Tonal Contrast, starting at about one third of default settings and then only applied to the subject in most cases. Tonal contrast applied to water backgrounds looks really bad so be sure to use the selection tool to keep those parts original. Then it is back to Lightroom for a few last checks. This is where I will look at vibrance, sharpening, noise reduction, and any minor adjustments to make the histogram just right, then export as needed. This all may sound like a long convoluted way to process an image but I like it because at the end it is loaded in both Lightroom and Photoshop and it is in Photoshop’s recent items list and that means I can do any additional editing from minor adjustments t big Photoshop projects in a snap, I can also save many of my clean up and color balance adjustments on separate layers that can be changed later. This whole process can be done in just a few minutes once you get it down.
I often hear others say things like “I only allow myself five minutes to process a photo” implicating it is not worthy of processing if it takes longer than that. That is a big load of crap, any one who limits their edit time, for what ever reason, is a fool. It takes as long as it takes and if you consider your work as art you need to work on it as long as it takes till it is finished.
Thanks for reading everyone, I am really glad you were able stop by. Live well.
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This week I have been putting together a photo book using the latest version of iPhoto on the Mac. It is the first one I have done and I will reserve any final comments until I get the prints back but this is one slick way to do a photo book. The UI is absolutely gorgeous and the layout options are numerous. As far as I can tell this service is going to be phenomenal and I will report back in the next few weeks.
One of the problems I encountered doing the book was an issue of white balance in a series of photographs taken at the same time being placed on the same page in the book. In short the white balance was different in a couple of images. fortunately, I had the RAW images of all my photos so it was not a big deal to go back and reprocess those images. First lesson is to always save those RAW files because you never know when you will need them again.
From Wikipedia, here is an explanation of white balance:
Sometimes the adjustment to keep neutrals neutral is called white balance, and the phrase color balance refers to the adjustment that in addition makes other colors in a displayed image appear to have the same general appearance as the colors in an original scene. It is particularly important that neutral (gray, achromatic, white) colors in a scene appear neutral in the reproduction. Hence, the special case of balancing the neutral colors (sometimesgray balance, neutral balance, or white balance) is a particularly important – perhaps dominant – element of color balancing.
Another tip is to use a consistent white balance setting in your camera. Avoid using auto white balance. If you can, set the white balance manually. For me personally, I don’t usually do that because I am typically in different lighting conditions and I just don’t have the attention span to set a proper white balance every time. What I do is set one white balance, usually sunny daylight, and shoot all my photos on that setting. That way when the white balance is off all the images will be the same so it is easy to set the balance on just one image and batch process the rest.
Look for a place that is white in a scene and make a note of it. Often birds will have a patch somewhere that you know should be white, use that spot as a reference to set the balance using the tool in most software editing software. I usually use Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW and both of those applications have easy to use eyedropper style tools to set a white point.
You can also use the white balance as a creative tool. Just run through the various presets like “Sunny, Shade, Flash, tungsten” and you will see some interesting color effects. One creative technique I use (and this is the one that got me into trouble in the book) for golden hour shots is to set the overall white balance on the cool or blue side and then come back with a warming filter layer mask and paint in the spots that you want to highlight being kissed by the sunlight. This works in both Photoshop and Lightroom. I am sure there are other ways of doing the same thing but that is something I like to do. It will give your images that extra little boost but like most things a little goes a long way.
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