Monday, December 29, 2014

A cold winters morning

Winter can be a tough time as a photographer.  Everything is usually frozen and grey.  But with the sunshine this morning I decided to head back out to Dundee Falls outside of Strasburg, OH to roam around with the camera.  I really do love that place out there, but be warned.  There are no "good" trails to get around.  Take your time and make sure of your footing, especially when hiking down into the gully were the southern parking lot is.  While I love this area, I am also bothered by it.  Seems like the area has a long history of "activity".  When I say activity, I mean, people using it as their party spot.  Since it's not an official park or even in a town, the area is patrolled by the county sheriff and it's pretty obvious that they don't patrol out there much. Trash of all assortments as well as spray paint litter the area.  It's pretty sad.  But that won't stop me from going out there.  Was nice to get away from it all for a while today.  (I know a couple of the shots are double. One in black and white and one in color.  Couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to do with it, so I did both!)
When I was done at Dundee, I headed off to Strasburg to locate a bridge I pass all the time on the freeway.  All in all, it was a good day out with the camera.  Need to have more adventures this week.  Vacation goes by way too fast.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Workflow

I've been using Lightroom for the past several years now and I love it.  I know each photographer has their own method for working on images, but for me Lightroom is where it's at!  I've been asked a couple of times recently about "how" I use it.  Lightroom gives photographers a lot of different ways to work but I've found this method works the best for me.  To start off, I try to shoot in nothing else but RAW format.  RAW is a great format to work in, especially with a tool like Lightroom because of ALL the different tools that become available to touch up images without loosing quality.  But the downside with shooting in all RAW is that it does take up a lot of disk space.  Each RAW image is usually 25MB in size so you can see how that can get out of hand quickly.  But let's get down to what I do when working on images.

  1. Create a "base" folder.  I use a Mac with external drives attached.  So on the root of the big drive I have a folder call images.
  2. With the images folder, I create sub-directories for each year.  2012, 2013, 2014.
  3. Then within those year folders, I create an individual folder for each "thing" I shot.  I always use the date format of YYYY-MM-DD description.  That makes finding things SO much easier.
  4. I then dump all of the images off my SD card to the folder for that event.
  5. Once all the images are copied over, I open up Lightroom and create a new Catalog.  I usually call it the same as the folder I've created. Ex:20141223ChristmasTree.  Something descriptive that if I had to search my drives later for something I've shot, I can find it.
  6. Once Lightroom re-launches and is ready to go, I simply go up to File-Import Photos and Video.  Then, I drill down to the images folder, the year, the date appropriate for the new catalog and then select it.  All of the images will appear in the window selected.  Select import.
  7. All of the images will then appear in the Library view.  Now you're ready to develop!
  1. Working on images in Lightroom is where the fun is at.  In Develop mode, let your creativity fly!  There are really no steps or tips I can dive into here.  Just enjoy and create!
  2. If you have used Lightroom presets, they are great place to start off your editing with.  Lightroom comes with some base ones, but there are plenty available out there on the web that you can download and use.  Your options are endless!
  1. Now that you've created your masterpieces, it's time to save them out.  
  2. From the filmstrip area, select all of the images you've edited.
  3. Once all selected, go up to File-Export.  In this pop-up, you can select options for quality, watermarking, etc.  Choose which options you wish.
  4. The biggest option in this window is where to save the edited images to.  For me, I always find it easiest to save them out to an export folder off of the folder within that same folder structure that we created to create the images in.
  5. Once you have your options set, click Export.  A folder called export will be created parent folder where all of the pictures were copied to.  Keeps everything nice and organized for my purposes.  

Now that you've edited your images and saved them off, I'm sure the first thing on your mind is to share them with others.  Well, hold up there, amigo!  The next thing you should be concerned with is a backup strategy.  My "day job" is working in the IT department of a local fortune 500. One of the biggest and most important tasks aside from keeping our systems up and running is making sure things get backed up nightly.  Disaster recovery planning isn't just something that a large organization needs to worry about, it's also something that you should be concerned about too!  I use an online backup from CrashPlan.  It's affordable and works great.  I rest much easier knowing that if anything were ever to happen to my files in the basement on my computer, they are out there for me to get back.  Seriously, keep that in mind.

So there you have it! A front to back flow to my process.  This works for me, it may not for you.  However, it may give you an idea of a process to follow.  The most important take away though is to remember to back things up!  It could really save your bacon sometime!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Looking back on 2014

Over half way through December and I still can't believe that 2014 is almost over.  This year have been huge for myself and the business.  It's been a year of fantastic growth and learning.  When I started this a couple of years ago, I knew it was going to take time and patience.  This past 12 months have shown me that patience pays off.  The highlights for this year really center around the growth in customers in the studio.  It's something I hope to capitalize on more in 2015 and I now know ways to make that happen.  I've also seen a large growth in print sales this year, which is what I love to see.  Having something I created hang on someones wall means something to me.  Any artist I'm sure feels that way. Plus, I am happy to continue my partnership with the folks at the Tuscarawas Convention and Visitors Bureau into 2015. I love the fact knowing that my images, hopefully in some small part, help share the beauty of the county I am glad to call home.  I really do love living here.
So here's to a happy, healthy and adventurous 2015!  May your new year be filled with many good things!  For me, I think I'm going to try and take some time over the next couple of weeks that I'm off on vacation from "the day job" to get some new images.  Then again, there is a large Netflix queue calling me ;-)
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Here are some of my favorite images from the past year.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Following the stars

Canon 70D, Sigma 10-20mm lens, shot at 10mm, ISO 1000, 30 second exposure

Since May, I have been on a quest.  If you follow me on Facebook or on the blog here, I've made several posts about making star trails.  Star trails is a photographic technique where you take multiple shots of the night sky over a period of time, merge them together and have the final output produce an image where the stars are shown moving through the sky while the objects in front remain still.  Doing this takes a lot of time and patience.  For the most part, at least 60-120 minutes of the camera securely mounted on a tripod taking multiple 30 second exposures.   It's a really cool effect and is actually a lot of fun, (at least for me), to produce.  After a lot of trial and error, I've finally figured out the right combination to create this effect and generate some good results.  And being that I have blogged many times in the past for my "day job" to share information, I figured I would do the same here to share my steps and hopefully inspire others to take a dip into this!
Like many other things in photography, there are different ways to achieve an outcome.  But for me these are the tools I use to generate this effect. Tripod, camera, shutter-release, Adobe Bridge, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom.
  1. Tripod - I cannot say enough about having a good, sturdy, well built tripod to help achieve a proper outcome.  Make sure everything is locked down tight.  One night when I was doing this, I discovered when I got home that one of my tripod legs was not tight and I needed to repair it. So make sure before hand that everything is good and tight!
  2. Camera - A good DSLR can really make the difference.  I've recently upgraded from a Canon T3i to a Canon 70D.  Really a nice camera.  I also shoot RAW when I do this. I started out shooting in JPEG mode but I found that I loose a lot of detail and also the final outcome looked very fuzzy.  So like for anything else I shoot, I recommend RAW.  Use it for this too!  Also, make sure your camera is in multiple exposure mode.  Meaning that as long as the shutter button is held down, the camera will continue to take exposures.  
  3. Shutter-release: Many tutorials I've read online suggest using a piece of tape to lock down the shutter button.  Don't waste your time.  Spend several dollars on Amazon or eBay and pick up one for your camera.  More importantly, one that you can lock down so it tells the camera to keep taking pictures!
  4. The Adobe trifecta - Bridge, Photoshop and Lightroom.  More on this in a bit.  You can get away with just Bridge and Photoshop if you prefer to edit in there, but, I like Lightroom better for final edits.
So with those tools in place, here's the steps to create one for yourself.  Now be prepared to fail.  I did and it took many hours of trial and error to get this right.  So let's go!

Taking the shots
  1. Find a place that's dark.  If you have a lot of light pollution, it can effect your outcome.  Also, I found it best to shoot on a night without the moon unless it's REALLY clear, meaning no haze. If the moon is lighting up the sky and if there is a thing layer of hazy clouds, the moon will light up that haze and block out the light from the stars.
  2. Once you find a good spot, set up your tripod and like I've said previously, lock everything down tight!
  3. Get you camera mounted on the tripod, hook in your shutter release and line up your shot.  It's best to try and use the autofocus at first to make sure your in focus, but then switch to manual focus.  
  4. Set your ISO anywhere between 800-1600.  
  5. Set your shutter speed to 30 seconds.
  6. Set your aperture to somewhere around f/6.7-f/8.  Remember, the smaller the number the wider the opening and more light hitting your sensor.  But also, the smaller the number, the less sharp it can be.  I've found f/8 at 1000 iso has been working for me.
  7. Take test shots.  Lots of them.  Zoom in on the back display and look at the detail to make sure things are in focus.
  8. Once you have things set up, look at your watch and note the time.  Then start shooting.  Like I said, I usually go for anywhere between 60-120 minutes.  
  9. Sit back, and look at the stars.  There's not a lot else you can do at this point.  
  10. When your done, carefully unlock the shutter release and get that last exposure.
  11. Now, but the lens cap back on the lens, set the shutter speed to something like 1/30 of a second and take two shots so that you have two blanks shots.  This will be used later.
  12. Now that you have all your shots, pack up your gear and head home.  You've got some computer work to do! 
  1. Now that you're back home, connect your camera to your computer and copy over all the shots you've taken to your work folder.  Include the two blank shots.
  2. Once the copying is complete, open Adobe Bridge.
  3. Navigate in Bridge to your work folder and you should see all your shots displayed on the screen.  In Bridge, you could edit the first picture and then apply the edits to all your other shots.  I HIGHLY recommend not doing that.  In my trials I found that editing shots in Bridge first causes a lot of odd things to happen.  
  4. Now select all the pictures in your work folder, including the two blank shots.
  5. Once they are all selected, go up to the Tools menu, Click on Photoshop and select "Load Files into Photoshop Layers"
  6. This will launch Photoshop and start the process of taking each individual shot you've taken and create a layer in Photoshop with that image.  This can take a while and is dependent upon your computer processor and memory.
  7. Once all the merging is complete, select all the layers, including the blank images.  Once selected, click the drop down in the Layer menu where it says Normal and click Lighten.  This will then merge all the layers into a single image.
  8. Once that's complete, DO NOT EDIT yet.  Save the file.  If you want to save it as an Adobe file, you will need to select Large Document Format.  That will generate a HUGE, multi-gigabyte file.  I recommend saving it out as a PNG file. You can choose whatever compression you want, but I select Smallest/Slow and None for interlace.  That generates about a 120 or so MB file.
  9. Once the PNG is done, that is the file you will edit.  You can either open it in Photoshop or edit in Lightroom.  In Lightroom I correct for the lens, edit color, contrast, etc and save it to a JPEG from there.
  10. Like I said before, don't edit before you get to this point.  I had tried editing in Bridge first in the past, correcting for color, lens, etc and had some really odd mosaic effects coming out in the image.  Resist the urge to do it in Bridge.  Wait until you get a single merged image, then edit.
  11. Once your editing is complete, save out the file and share it with others!  Also, look closely at it and decide what you could do better next time.  
So that's my basic cookbook.  Oh, in case your wondering why I kept saying copy over those two blank shots.  I read a blog that suggested it to help combat noise on the final merged images.  I saw a huge improvement with that simple step.  So, get out there and try it for yourself!  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Off to the fair!

Had time this afternoon to stop down to the Tuscarawas County Fair in Dover.  Always love going to the fair.  It's a mix of hard work, animals and smells.  Both the good kind, (food stands) and the interesting kind, (the barns).  The fair this year highlights musician Kix Brooks.  I didn't stick around for that, but at least got to listen to some of the sound check.  The banjo really sounded good echoing through the arena.  The fair runs through Sunday, September 21st.

My morning with the new camera

Investing in your business can always be a tricky thing to do.  You have to measure the money going out of your pocket in hopes of putting that money back with a bit of return.  So when I decided it was time to invest in some new equipment, a lot of study went into it.  I finally decided to take a step up from my Canon T3i and purchase a Canon 70D.  Being that this is a new camera, I needed to get out and take some shots with it.  So that's exactly what I did today.  Taking some personal time from the day job, I ventured out to the Zoar Wetlands trails near the Tuscarawas River and explore the area around the old sawmill and dam.  The lighting was perfect.  Not very harsh and with some use of filters, I was able to generate some images of water in motion.  Getting use to the settings on the camera was pretty easy and in no time I was shooting away.  I hadn't been back to this area in a while, so in a lot of ways if was seeing it all new again.  I'm really happy with the outcome of the adventure.