Mar 30 2010

April desktop wallpaper

Aaaahhhh, spring is in the air after what seemed like an awfully long winter.

Here’s a desktop wallpaper for you to remind you of the new life that begins in spring. These blossoms don’t usually show up until mid-to-late April, but I know they’re on the way!

April desktop wallpaper

April desktop wallpaper

April desktop wallpaper – large (2560 x 1600) April desktop wallpaper – small (1280 x 800)

UPDATE: I’ve added an iPhone version and an iPad version, too!

April 2010 iPad/iPhone wallpaper

April 2010 iPad/iPhone wallpaper

April desktop wallpaper – iPad (768 x 1024) April desktop wallpaper – iPhone (320 x 480)

Mar 28 2010

John Shaw

I’ve been a big fan of John Shaw’s work for over 25 years, ever since I bought his book, The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide, which is now unfortunately out of print. (I’m also kicking myself for not remembering to bring it for him to sign. Augh!) I’ve bought nearly every book he’s published, along with a couple of eBooks. John is one of a few photographers that’s on my life list to shoot with.

At any rate, I’ve always wanted to take a workshop with John but either the timing or the money wasn’t right. I’m sure you know how that goes. And his two-day seminars aren’t often in this neck of the woods, either. So when I found out that he was scheduling one in Cincinnati this year and it was just $225 for both days, I jumped on it. Cincinnati is only about 2 hours from me, so it was certainly close enough to make the trip.

John Shaw

John Shaw

The seminar was divided into two segments, corresponding with each day. The first day was about nature photography; John’s techniques in the field and using his camera to capture the images. The second was about John’s digital workflow after image capture, using Lightroom and Photoshop. Now I’m not going to go into the whole thing, but I thought I’d tell you a few of the things I learned that I didn’t know before. Some of these may be new to you; some may not. Some may apply you your style of photography; some may not.

Composition “Mind the gaps.” No, we’re not talking about the British railway system. There can be places in your images where objects may intersect which detract from the composition. The obvious example is the tree growing out of Aunt Betty’s head in the family photo. In other photographs, it might be where an object is just barely touching another— no space between them and no obvious intentional overlap. So pay attention to the intersections and make sure there are gaps between objects where appropriate.

Using filters for digital John uses only two types of filters with digital: neutral density filters (+7 and +9 stops) and a circular polarizer. (In fact, he carries two identical polarizers, due to an unfortunate incident at the Grand Canyon. Let’s just say I know where you can find a free 77mm circular polarizer.) No neutral density grads (“I can do that in Photoshop/Lightroom.”) or warming/cooling/etc. filters, but reducing glare on wet tree leaves or eliminating reflections in the water is something that you can’t (yet) do in LR/PS. Only a polarizer can do that. What’s his advice for determining how far to turn a polarizing filter? “Turn it until you say ‘Ooooh!”

John’s philosophy on photo manipulation “Photography is not reality.” No camera is capable of recording reality. By definition, a camera takes a three dimensional scene and creates it in two dimensions. That’s a manipulation of reality. Personally, he does not make composite images (other than panoramas and HDRs), but doesn’t feel that it’s wrong to do so. However, you should certainly be transparent about what you’ve done to an image if asked—and, especially, don’t misrepresent it as non-manipulated— but there’s no reason to explain every image.

Color spaces Think of color spaces like boxes of crayons. If sRGB is like the 8 color set, then Adobe RGB is the 64 color set, and Pro Photo RGB is the 256 color set. Always start with the largest color space you can and reduce it only when necessary. (It’s also critical to calibrate your monitor to maintain color fidelity throughout the process.) You can usually use Adobe RGB for general work, unless you plan to stay in high-bit images throughout the workflow, then use Pro Photo RGB. When you send files to clients, use Adobe RGB. John uses sRGB only for the web. Also, if you’re shooting RAW, those files do not have a color space. Even though you set one on the camera, it’s meaningless for RAW files.

Make sure you’ve set LR and PS to the same color space, if you’re using them both. Otherwise, they will ask you to convert to that color space, which you don’t necessarily want.

Expose to the right for digital (RAW) As I’m sure you probably know, you should expose digital images so that as much information is on the right side of the histogram. This will usually make the image on camera’s LCD (and the initially imported image) look rather overexposed, depending on the subject. Once the file is in LR or PS, you can map the histogram data back to the place where the image looks correct. If you underexpose, then attempt to pull the data from the left side of the histogram, it will create a lot of noise in the image.

Very few reasons to shoot RAW + JPEG “If you shoot both at the same time, one of them will be exposed incorrectly.” This is a corollary to the “expose to the right” for RAW files. If you do this to properly expose the RAW file, the JPEG will be overexposed. If you expose for the JPEG—which is the preview image on the back of the camera—the RAW image will be underexposed. To John, the only people shooting both are photojournalists who are transferring JPEG files immediately to a wire service (perhaps even via WiFi from the camera) and who will want RAW images to manipulate later.

The Lightroom loupe Finally, here’s a little anecdote about Adobe Lightroom that I didn’t know. The maximum zoom/loupe setting in LR is 11:1. Why not 10:1?  Everyone else’s loupe went to 10, so the Adobe engineers decided to go one better. It is, of course, a tribute to the 1984 movie This is Spinal Tap, where the band’s amp “goes to 11.”

As you can see, John has some strong opinions on what works and what doesn’t, but his most-repeated piece of advice is “Do what works for you. Don’t duplicate what I do because that might not be the right thing for you.” You have to put in the time, however, to understand your craft well enough to know what that is.

For me, this seminar was perfect timing and had exactly the right content. It certainly wasn’t a beginner’s seminar and it wasn’t a complete information overload. I felt I learned a lot without being overwhelmed and came away with quite a few new tips and techniques to improve my photographic game.

Now, on to Italy!

A footnote: Last Friday, I was a guest writer on Sabrina Henry’s blog and I mentioned that my inspiration for one of my images was from a similar shot by John Shaw. I also said that I was going to show him my image to get his reaction. What happened? He laughed and commented about how funny inspiration can be. Later in the presentation, he showed us a different shot of his that was almost exactly like mine. I’m gonna take that as a sign that great minds think alike… or something like that.

Mar 27 2010

Not the end

Well, here we are. My 30 day experiment with using only my Panasonic GF1 and its 20mm f/1.7 lens is done. And what have we learned, class?


Let’s start with the original goals:

Limiting my gear will force me to find pictures I normally overlook… Hmmm… maybe. Many of these images were not incredibly difficult to find, and part of that had to do with the time I had each day to make them. Early in the experiment, I was certainly motivated to work on this goal, but I discovered that motivating myself to shoot every single day was challenging. I found myself struggling a bit, even after only a week. But there were some where I really did have to work to find them. “Stained Sunset” is a good example, I think, of where I pushed past my usual inclination for a sunset shot and tried something different; something I may have overlooked had I not given myself that extra motivation.

I want to feel more confident about my photographic chops, so I can relax and pay attention to what I want to say photographically about my [upcoming] experience [in Italy] The encouragement and criticism I’ve received during this experiment has been terrific.  Everyone who has commented on the experiment as a whole and on the individual images has been very thoughtful and supportive. Several folks liked a picture or two, some gave helpful comments and criticism, and a couple even said they thought they were inspired to give it a shot themselves. That was music to my ears and has been a real confidence booster.

Also, by making sure I was focused and my time with a subject was “quality time,” I also gained some confidence in my ability to find an image that I might not have been able to before. However, I didn’t really get a big boost in my confidence in my photographic craft. Yeah, I broke through the “photograph a complete stranger” barrier, (see above) but I don’t think my craft has improved as much as I had hoped.

Undercut the high expectations I may set for the Italy trip… I dunno. I still plan to shoot like Steve McCurry and create that iconic image for the next cover of National Geographic, and I fully expect David and Jeffrey to pull my game up to that level. (Got that, guys?)

Okay, not really. I do still have a fairly high set of expectations that I’m not sure I could have toned down with this experiment, but I did get something out of it that I think will help. Having limited time to get an image on some days made me really take advantage of the time I had. I think that focus will carry over to the Italy workshop, and I’ll be a little more confident that I’ll eventually find the image I’m looking for and recognize it when it appears.

So, I think I’ve managed to learn a little about each of the original goals I set for the experiment. But here’s the biggest thing I learned:

Shoot every day I mentioned this after the first week, but I have a lot of respect for anyone who does this well day in and day out. For me, usually the biggest issue was motivation. I’d had a long day at work, or I had other obligations that took time away from shooting and I was sorely tempted some days to blow it off. Shooting as a hobby removes that pressure. You shoot when you want to and not when you don’t.

But when you’re forced to do it every day, even if it’s only for a month, you pick up some focus and self discipline that you didn’t have before. It’s a kind of focused practice that I think leads to mastery. Sure, a month isn’t nearly enough time to master anything, but this is only the second day since I finished the experiment and I find myself looking for images a lot more than I used to. It’s become a habit and I love that.

Some of you are probably thinking, “Well, duh. You have to practice at things to get better. That’s obvious.” But what’s not obvious—or at least wasn’t to me—is how that habit feels and how much I miss not doing it already. After this past month, I will certainly be shooting more often and with more purpose. Maybe every day, maybe not. But I really want to and for me, that’s the best thing to come of this experiment.

Maybe you should give it a try. What are you doing to make photography a habit in your life?