Friday, November 5, 2010

Florida white tailed deer

White tailed deer are quite common in Florida, though seldom seen in the cities. I have lived in Clearwater for nearly ten years now and have yet to see a deer within 5 miles of my home. I spend a lot of early morning and evening hours out and about with my camera at parks in the area, prime times and places, and still have never seen one. I include the neighboring communities of Seminole, Largo, Pinellas Park and the beach towns of the barrier islands in this lack of deer sightings.

Driving a little farther north to rural Pinellas County, east and north of Tarpon Lake, and I see deer on nearly every trip. This morning I made the 25 minute trip to John Chestnut Senior Park on East Lake Road on the southeast corner of Tarpon Lake. I arrived just after sunrise on a cloudy, cool and blustery day. I saw more than 30 deer during my 1 ½ hour stay, most visible from paved park roads and unafraid of passing vehicles.
This visit also gave me a look at the largest buck I have in Florida to date. He was quite an impressive specimen. He was so busy with his harem that he barely paid any attention to me. The girls were all much more interested in breakfast than one more person with a camera.
Brooker Creek Preserve on Keystone Road, a little farther north and east, is another place I consistently see white tailed deer. Early morning and evening, dawn and dusk, are by far the best times to be out if you want to see these great animals. Florida’s population is so dense, particularly in my home county of Pinellas, that the animals are generally quite used to vehicles and people on foot. As long as movements are kept slow and deliberate and not overtly aggressive, the deer will normally allow quite a close approach. This makes photography much easier and more intimate.
The photos illustrating this post were taken this morning. Digital ISO was set to 800 and lens aperture to f/5.6 for the low light level(cloudy dawn). Shutter speeds were still in the one second range for these photos. A tripod was used and image stabilization was turned off. In this type of situation I like to shoot in bursts of 2-3 shots. Approximately one shot out of ten was useable because of subject movement during the long shutter speed. Fine detail suffers at this high ISO with my Digital Rebel XSi but many newer cameras do a much better job at even higher ISO speeds.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All Droid, all day

I spent an entire day with my Motorola Droid as my only camera. Minimizing equipment choices is a good creativity spur for me. Occasionally I will spend a full day with only one lens or with just one compact camera, etc… Trying to keep things fresh.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Photography close to home

Many of the best photos are produced within a small area where the photographer lives. For me this is Clearwater, Florida and the surrounding areas of Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties. It is easier to make great photos of subjects and places that you know well and see often. Factors such as when the lighting will be at its best, when wildlife is most likely to be present, where certain flowers are blooming, whether there will be many or few people at a place and having a backlog of new ideas about a subject are all more likely with familiar places.

I am certainly this way, making roughly 90% of my photos within ten miles of my home. There is plenty of variety to avoid creative ruts and boredom. There is also intimate knowledge from repeatedly visiting the same places to know when it is best to go again. This morning presents a good example.

I needed more honey. Rather than going to the super-market, I decided to visit the downtown farmers’ market instead. I knew there would be at least two venders selling local honey not available in the bigger grocery stores. It would also be a good opportunity for me to update my stock of fresh produce photos.

Every Wednesday morning from mid-October through May Clearwater dedicates two downtown blocks for a farmers’ market. The street is blocked to vehicle traffic. There are stalls for fresh produce, fresh baked pastries and cupcakes, burritos and tacos, honey, nuts, potted herb plants and much more. There are many photos for the taking and a chance to interact with the vendors and customers.

Today I concentrated on produce. I came away with good photos of several varieties of tomatoes and onions, red and green bell peppers, chile peppers, garlic, eggplant, turnips and more. There was an interesting conversation with one of the honey venders about the number of writers living in Clearwater, how the stock market was doing and election results. Another vendor selling various pickled vegetables asked if I would bring her a photo of her display stand next week. This was a very productive hour and I got my honey too.

All of the parks within a few miles of my house are in this same “well known” category. If I want to shoot wading birds and it is early November, I know the best park to visit in the morning. If alligators are the subject of the day, another park in the afternoon is more likely to produce results. Peacock photos means a morning or evening visit to a small local cemetery.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Florida's egrets and basic wildlife photography tips

 Great egret fishing

Florida has two common native egrets: the great egret(similar in size to the great blue heron but solid white) and the snowy egret(similar in size to little blue and tri-color herons but solid white). Egret will be found the same areas as herons and share similar habits. The best opportunities for egret photography also coincide with that of herons.
Snowy egret on beach

This post will focus on some of the fundamentals of wildlife photography, applicable to all animal subjects. Keeping these basic guidelines in mind while taking wildlife photos will make for more “ooh’s and “ahh’s” from people looking at your shots. These rules apply just as well to general photography.
Great egret with a large fish for breakfast

Control the background as much as possible. Think about the background before releasing the shutter. Are you trying to show the egret in its natural environment with everything sharp and recognizable or do you want an isolated portrait against a plain background? Quite often both types of shot can be achieved by simply changing the lens aperture to control depth of field. Shadowed areas and bright sky also make effective dark or light backgrounds. The background is a choice by the photographer and moving the camera even a few inches or changing the aperture can have a huge impact on the final image.
Snowy egret against a dark backgound of shadowed, out-of-focus foliage

Use a tripod, or at least a monopod, whenever possible. Carrying a tripod everywhere can seem inconvenient but the improvement you see in your final images will convince you. A tripod allows(forces?) more careful framing of the subject(try to avoid objects jutting into the frame and distracting bright spots near the edges). Tripods permit more careful evaluation of depth-of-field for exactly the effect you are trying to achieve. Slow shutter speeds are not a problem when small apertures are needed for maximum depth-of-field. Just as important as anything else, maximum image sharpness is only possible when the camera is mounted on a tripod. Image stabilization, whether in the lens or in the camera body is a big help when hand-holding but cannot replace a solid tripod.
Snowy egret with back-lighting and out-of-focus water in the background

Pay attention to the exposure histogram. Make sure not to overexpose the highlight areas, especially when shooting white subjects like Florida’s egrets. If needed, and if a tripod is used, two or three frames can be exposed at different exposures and then combined during post-processing to keep all shadow and highlight details. At least be aware if your camera cannot capture the full contrast range of the image and make a conscious decision about where it is better to lose detail.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Photographing Florida's Herons

Tri-color heron

Birds are one of the things I love most about Florida photography, and my favorite birds are the herons. I commonly see six varieties of herons in the Tampa Bay area: great blue heron are the largest, little blue herons, tri-color herons, yellow crowned and black crowned night herons and green backed herons, the smallest variety. All of these birds are commonly seen throughout much of Florida and many varieties are spread throughout North America. Florida, though, is the only place I have been where I can usually get within twenty feet of these great birds.
Immature(top) and mature(bottom) green backed herons

The best places to get great photos of the herons are where two things occur together: water and a steady stream of people. Water is important because these birds live mostly on fish and people are important so the birds are acclimated and allow a close approach. I seldom want more than a 200mm lens on an APS-sensor DSLR(300mm full-frame equivalent). For the best photos it is best to be out when most of the other people are not-the birds are used to people but are more relaxed when there is just one or two instead of a crowd.

  The great blue heron has many color variations

I like to get to know an area very well by going back repeatedly, at different times of the day and different seasons. This adds variety to the photos(differing plumage and stages of development, different foliage and backgrounds) and greater depth of knowledge about the habits of the herons. Going back again and again also makes luck for the photographer, greatly increasing the chances of getting that certain shot.
Immature(top) and mature(bottom) black crowned night herons

I strive for as much variety in my photos of each species as possible. For instance, I will make an effort over the course of several years to get great blue heron photos wading in a pond, on a beach, perched in a tree, flying, in adult mating plumage, in immature plumage, with a fish in beak, etc… For those with only a few days for photography while visiting Florida, such in-depth coverage will not be possible. But it can still be achieved during the course of two or three trips, with careful planning, at different times of the year. But even setting aside a half day for heron photography will pretty much guarantee at least a few good shots in most areas of the state.
Immature(top) and mature(bottom) yellow crowned night herons

My favorite time for bird photography of all kinds is early morning, starting about a half hour before sunrise. The early dawn light is quite flat and even(very low contrast) and is great for color saturation and showing fine detail. A tripod is essential for the longer exposure times required, even if a fast lens is used. Except for flight shots, subject motion is not usually a problem with herons-they are used to standing quite motionless for long periods of time waiting for fish to come to them.
Little blue heron

The night herons tend to be the most shy. Patience by the photographer taking a slow approach will be rewarded with better photos. Sometimes the night herons make a habit of using the same perches at certain times of the day and this knowledge can also be used to advantage.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Retro Cam app for Android camera/phones

I have been having a great deal of fun lately as well as recharging my creative thinking by shooting with a few photography apps available for free for my Motorola “Droid” camera/phone. I wrote about the FX Camera app in a previous post. This post discusses the Retro Cam app.

Retro Cam simulates several styles of old film cameras. The choices include Barbl(cheap German rangefinder), Little Orange Box(mass produced “toy” camera), Polaroid(with several choices of “look”), Pinhole and Fudge(another “toy” camera look). All camera choices include the ability to select black&white or color output and rectangular or square framing. All also include some degree of “vintage” film effects such as scratches, frame edges, fading, enhanced or reduced saturation, etc… All image files produced are quite small(580x580 pixels for my favorite square framing option) but are quite adequate for on-line sharing and web page illustration purposes.

Except for the very small file sizes produced, I think this is a great app and I am using it more that others I have been exploring. I harbor a deep fondness for vintage cameras and still occasionally use a twin-lens American-made medium-format Cirro Flex from the late 1940’s and a Russian-made medium-format Kiev60 from the 1970’s. Both cameras use square framing. I also love shooting with my Lensbaby Composer on my DSLR, which reminds me of shots from antique large-format view cameras. With the new Android camera/phone apps, I can pick and choose from the various styles at will or just shoot them all in sequence and sort out my favorites later on the computer.

In conclusion, Retro Cam is a fun and easy to use app for mobile Android camera/phones. This app adds variety and interest to photos, effectively camouflages some of the short-comings of the naked built-in camera and produces files that are easily e-mailed or uploaded to an on-line photo album.  Last but not least, it won’t cost you anything to try it out.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Book review: "Contemporary Landscape Photography"

Contemporary Landscape Photography is a new book by Carl E. Heilman II. It is published by Amphoto Books which has a large stable of photography book titles. Suggested retail prices for the 176-page volume is $24.99 and it is available new through for $16.99.

This is a well written and fully illustrated book covering all aspects of landscape photography. All photographers from beginners to experienced professionals will gain something to add to their photographic arsenal. Starting with a review of equipment choices and features and progressing through development of a personal vision, it then moves on to the possibilities of location and lighting and ends with post-processing techniques. Topic coverage is thorough, in-depth and inspiring.

Heilman includes his personal thought processes and reasoning at many appropriate spots throughout the book, making this much more than just another how-to manual. The illustrating photos are well executed and appropriate for topic. The printing is crisp and clear on heavy coated matte paper stock.

Contemporary Landscape Photography would be a welcome addition to any landscape, nature or wildlife photographer’s bookshelf. We all need a little review of the basics, reminder of more advanced techniques and injection of inspiration now and then. This book is just the ticket.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Florida beach photography

“Florida” and “beach” go together in most people’s minds, whether residents of the sunshine state or visitors on vacation. Even most vacationers to inland destination areas of the state such as Disney in Orlando plan to fit in at least one day on the coast. This post has some tips to help you get the best beach photographs possible.

The bright sand and sun of a Florida beach can cause the same exposure problems as snow. Many camera meters will try to under-expose, leaving the sand looking drab and the water too dark. Use the exposure histogram when available and know how to use exposure compensation and/or manual exposure to get the proper brightness. A polarizing filter can help make swimsuit, umbrella and sky colors pop. Use flash for people pictures to lighten facial shadows.

Remember composition basics. The rule of thirds works for subject placement within the frame. Diagonal, converging and s-shaped lines all work to draw the eye into an image and add a sense of depth. Having a strong foreground subject is another great way to imply depth in a photo. Be careful with lines and objects breaking the frame edges, which can be very distracting.

Try to add some subtle excitement to the shot. Wait until a wave in the background is just starting to break to trip the shutter. Wait for a sea gull or pelican to fly into the frame. Try a slower shutter speed(if possible) to catch the ripple of the wind in a swimsuit, towel or umbrella.

Add interest to shots by using an unusual viewpoint-place the camera at sand/water level(but watch out for waves). Use bright colors as focal points and take advantage of local architecture and vegetation for subjects and backgrounds. Detail shots imply a sense of place and involvement. Don’t be weather shy-stormy beaches can be very dramatic.

Finally, try to protect your camera. There is almost always at least a light breeze at the beach an anything exposed will become coated with salt. Keep the lens cap on the lens whenever the camera is not being used. Try to keep the camera itself out of the wind as much as possible. Be aware of waves when near the water line. Carry a dry cloth and/or blower brush in a pocket or case for cleaning/drying lenses and removing sand.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Android cat composite

I took a real day off today(at least most of it), did a little recreational reading and spent a few hours playing around with a couple of free photo apps for my Android phone/camera. Since the old black cat was being cooperative, I was able to cycle through almost all of the various options available and get direct, side-by-side comparison shots. This type of experimentation gives me a basis for deciding when and for what subjects I would use any of these variations in "real world" photography. At any rate, the cat and I both had fun and I will now be keeping a sharper eye out for more of these apps.

FX Camera app for Android phone/cameras

FX Camera is a free app available for android mobile phone/cameras. FX makes a variety of different and interesting photo effects available while also down-sizing the file size for easier and faster on-line sharing. I think of it as a third-party upgrade equivalent to the “picture modes” available on most compact digital cameras and DSLR’s.

+Toy Cam mode gives options for color-biased cross-processed simulations, high contrast, vivid single color renditions, warm tone and monochrome. Framing can be set for rectangular or square. Severity of vignettes and pinhole(round) can also be set.

+Polandroid is a Polaroid simulator. The main choices are vintage, faded, aged or monochrome. Rectangular of square framing can be chosen as well.

+Fisheye has only two settings to choose from-round or full-frame.

+Symmetricam splits the frame either vertically or horizontally and creates a mirror-image double.

+Warhol makes four single-color posterizations of the image.

+Normal gives choices of monochrome, sepia, negative or solarize.

I found the Fisheye mode most interesting and quite convincing. Both the circular and full-frame images emphasize and enlarge the central portion of the frame while proportionally distorting the edges. The middle of the image seems to bulge forward while the edges retreat into the background. As with any “real” fisheye lens, much more effective for some subjects than for others and easily overdone.

The Toy Cam is also a mode I will use for some subjects to add interest. I am a fan of vintage cameras and particularly liked the effect produced by the monochrome-medium vignette-square frame settings in combination. The ”look” is similar of some old medium-format film TLR’s I have used.

This app adds a lot of choices for phone/camera images where there were none previously. I would have no problem leaving a Holga or Dianna or CirroFlex TLR at home, saving the film and processing money and carrying just my phone with this app. The image files produced are quite small for prints but adequate for on-line use. And it is really difficult to argue with free.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Try black and white for emotional and visual impact

When inspiration and creativity seem to be hiding in the bushes it can be difficult to break out of a photographic rut. As the days go by and the images get duller, enthusiasm starts to wane. These are the times when we need to dig deep and do something different to break the patterns of habit. Going so far as to make breaking the pattern a habit can reduce those lackluster photographic spells to a bare minimum.

One of my personal “pattern breakers” is to shoot a day or two of black and white(yes, with digital). The best way to do this with a DSLR is to set the camera to record both RAW and .jpg files set to “black and white” mode. Some older DSLR’s and most compact digital cameras won’t have this feature and it will be necessary to shoot only black and white .jpg files. While not as good for ultimate image quality, .jpg’s serve the habit-breaking purpose of this exercise just fine.

Actually shooting in black and white mode, rather shooting in color and converting after the fact, serves more than one purpose. Obviously the most immediate reason is to get an immediate, on-the-camera-back preview in black and white. The effect of traditional black and white colored filters is visible right away.

A second reason for shooting in black and white mode is to really make the break mentally away from color and into a different thought/vision space. This is very important for creativity and thought stimulation. You will find yourself making images in black and white that just would not work in color. This is one of the points of the exercise.

My favorite tool for making the final image is Adobe Camera Raw when starting from a RAW file. It does a great job and makes it possible to fine tune every color density range. If Camera RAW is not an option, my next choice is color channels. Channels is similar to Camera Raw but with fewer color range adjustments. As with color editing, everyone will eventually develop their own personal favorite “look”.

There are many reasons that black and white photography has never gone completely out of style. When all of the color is taken away, what is left can have much more emotional and visual impact. Color can be used for impact but can also be a great distraction from what the photographer is really trying to communicate. Think of becoming proficient at black and white photography as adding another language to your visual communication portfolio.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How low can you go?

Photography, like most art, benefits from brutal and ruthless editing. How much can be cut out in order to focus attention on the main subject? Removing as many possible distraction and detractions as possible from the frame results in a photograph with much more impact.

So, how low can you go? How simple can a photograph be while communicating the photographer’s intent to the viewer? The answer is: much simpler than many photographers think.

There are many routes to simplicity and maximum visual impact. Controlling depth-of-field with lens aperture to eliminate background distractions is common. Bright spots in the background, even if very de-focused, also draw attention and need to be controlled. Colors can be distracting(hence the emotional and graphic impact of black-and-white photography) and can often be controlled by careful choice of viewpoint(remember that monochrome images can be blue-and-white or red-and-white as well as black-and-white). Lines and shapes that break through the edges of the frame can draw attention away from the main subject and lessen impact. Clutter(aka “too much stuff”) within the frame makes it difficult for a viewer to figure out what the main subject of the photograph is supposed to be.

Great photographers use the same editing process for every frame as writers use for every article. Avoid giving too much information at once(keep each frame and each article focused on one subject). Remove all clutter not contributing to the intended idea or emotion (i.e. visual “clutter”, “fluff” adjectives, more than one point of focus, etc…). Always know before tripping the shutter what the main subject of that frame is.

Tripods are a great editing tool for photographers. Using a tripod slows down the process of making a photo. More attention can be paid to the edges of the frame, to the background and to the content of the frame. Depth-of-field can be checked. Point of view can be minutely adjusted for the most impact and fewest distractions.

Make a habit of using these techniques and more “ooh’s” and “ah’s” will come your way. Photos containing just enough information to get the intended across to the viewer have much greater visual and emotional impact than photos containing too much information(remember the old Police song?). These ideas are what is really behind the old maxim “if you want better photographs, get closer”.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Imgur for Android makes photo hosting easy

The following article is a guest post by smart-phone expert Craig Walkup.

An aspect that I have always felt has been lacking in the mobile world is the ability to upload photos to photo hosting sites easily and seamlessly. Now one of the best options I have seen for this comes to the Android Market in the form of Imgur for Android.

First things first, if you have never heard of Imgur, you need to know that it is one of the best and simplest photo hosting sites on the internet. Where most hosting sites have all kinds of limitations, from forcing you to create an account, to limiting what you can do with photos after you upload them, Imgur has none of that. You can literally go to their site, hit upload, pick your file, and watch as your photo is quickly uploaded, then presented to you with links for HTML codes, message board codes, and even direct image links. You also have the option of creating an account if you want to, which will simply hold on to all your uploaded photos in a simple page so you can go there and find them easily by thumbnail. I had been using Imgur for a while, and was elated to find out that someone had made a real app for the Android operating system.

This app is as easy as the website to use. Upon opening the app, you will be taken directly to the pictures you have already uploaded in your account, along with buttons at the top to refresh the album, a camera button to open the camera, and an upload button to upload a picture from your phone. If you don't have an Imgur account, the screen won't have any pictures on it. I suggest opening an account, as it keeps track of everything you've uploaded, and you can completely manage the files from the app or from the website.
When you click to upload a photo, it will being you to your gallery screen, where you choose what photo to upload, then it will ask you if you want to upload it under your account or anonymously. Another neat thing about the app is that it integrates itself in to the operating system, so when you take a picture and click the share button, imgur comes up as an option along with text, email, facebook, twitter, etc. This is an excellent app for any Android user wishing to use photos between their mobile device and the internet.

Imgur for Android is available in the Android Market as a free app. Make sure if you search for it, you download the one called "Imgur for Android"
developed by Colin Edwards. The other ones that come up are poor applications. There is a download version for this app if you feel like supporting the developer, it is $1.99 but doesn't seem to include any added functionality, except preference in future feature requests.


Imgur for Android:

Craig is a contributor for iPhone repair techs at iFixyouri.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday gear round-up 10/17/2010

*Look for much higher resolution images from cell phone cameras soon. Sony is now making 16.4-mega-pixel and 8.1 mega-pixel “Exmor R” back-illuminated CMOS sensor chips. Sony has also designed the world’s smallest and lightest high performance auto-focus lens modules to match the new sensors. The pixels on the 16MP chips are only 1.12 microns across. Sony claims high sensitivity and low noise by using a unique formation of photo diodes.

*Timbuk2 now has a “stealth” camera bag that looks like an ordinary messenger bag. It is designed for smaller SLR/DSLR cameras and accessories. The bag also has a slot for a small laptop computer. It will be offered in two sizes and three colors starting at around $130. Timbuk2 calls the new bag the “Snoop”.

*Fujifilm will begin selling a totally new “professional” quality compact digital camera early next year. The new camera will be called the “Finepix X-100” and is aimed at pros wanting a small and light back-up to a DSLR or a high quality travel camera. It will have a 12 mega-pixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor exclusive to this model. The fixed lens will be 23mm(35mm equivalent) with a maximum aperture of f/2. The lens uses aspherical elements, a nine blade diaphragm and can focus down to 10 centimeters. The camera will also have HD video capability. The closest competition will be Sigma’s “DP” models. This is the type of camera I like to take along on casual walks or errands in town when the SLR is too much but top quality is still required.

*Lensbaby has two new products on the market. The “Scout” is the company’s first lens without any tilt movements and comes standard with the 12mm fish-eye optic installed. It is also fully compatible with all of the other optic modules(double glass, single glass, etc…). The lens lists for $250.

Maybe even more interesting is Lensbaby’s new “Tilt Transformer” adapter. Currently available only for Micro-four-thirds and Sony alpha-NEX mounts, the Tilt Transformer gives any Nikon-mount lens tilt capability. I would really like to see this adapter is a Canon APS mount to accept Canon full-frame lenses.

*The social/art network Deviant Art is teaming up with the Fotolia stock-sales site. Deviant Art members will be able to sell their work through Fotolia and license Fotolia works for their own use. The partnership is being compared to the Getty Images/Yahoo partnership.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Lensbaby

The Lensbaby company makes a very interesting line of lenses. The latest and greatest incarnations have interchangeable optics and a variety of accessories available. Three current models are all variations of the very first: a tilting lens for SLR/DSLR cameras with basic, old fashioned optics. The images produced by a Lensbaby are sharp in the center with progressively more softness, optical distortion and color aberrations towards the frame edges.

The size of the central “sweet spot” is controlled by the aperture. Lensbaby apertures are physical disks inserted into the front of the lens using a supplied tool. No disk in place corresponds to approximately f/2 and full-stop disks are supplied up to f/22. At f/22 nearly the entire frame looks reasonably sharp.

The placement of the “sweet spot” is controlled by the tilt of the lens. When the lens is straight the sharp area is centered in the frame. When the lens is tilted to the right, the sharp area moves to the right.

The “Composer” model I currently own has a ball-and-socket arrangement to control the tilt and is very easy and intuitive in use. There is a locking ring to hold the lens in position for repeatability. I have also used the older “IIIG” model, very similar to the latest “Control Freak”. The IIIG/Control Freak is like a view-camera bellows-and-lens on an SLR. It is more complicated to use than the Composer but also slightly more versatile.

There are as many reasons to use a Lensbaby as there are photographers. One I know uses his “Muse”, the base-model Lensbaby, as a substitute for a toy camera like a Diana or Holga for street shooting. I have seen excellent portrait and wedding work with Lensbabies from nationally known professional photographers. I love my Lensbabies because they are fun and they produce images that can’t be made using modern lenses or editing software.

When I mount a Lensbaby on my DSLR, I am suddenly using a 100-year-old folding-bed view camera with a hand-ground, uncoated doublet lens. I almost always shoot a Lensbaby at f/4 or f/5.6 to get a distinctive and distorted softness around the edges. Contrast is quite low and highlights are smeared into the shadow areas. I usually shoot in aperture-priority automatic exposure mode and often dial in -1/2 to -1 stops of exposure compensation to tame the highlights.

Occasionally I will want only the tilt function for focusing reasons. Using the f/16 or f/22 apertures nearly eliminates the edge softness and distortion. While certainly not the quality equivalent of a Canon or Nikon tilt/shift lens, a stopped-down Lensbaby can produce surprisingly sharp images. I also use my models on extension tubes for macro work and with a tele-converter for more reach, both with good results.

Available accessories include tele, wide and ultra wide adapter lenses that screw into the front filter threads. Internal optics choices consist of double-glass(sharpest), single-glass, plastic, soft-focus and fish-eye. These accessories provide a lot of versatility and choices of “look” for the final image. This is why Lensbabies have become so popular and lasted so long in a tough photography market.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transmitted light photography

One of the best ways to achieve great color saturation, show internal structure and get a distinctive look in a photograph is to take advantage of transmitted light. This is light that passes through a translucent subject rather than light reflected from the object. This is accomplished by using back-lighting: the light source is behind the subject. Framing tightly to exclude edges eliminates the flare, diffraction and over-exposed background seen in most back-lit photos. Think of shooting stained glass on a sunny day from inside a dark building as opposed to the same stained glass shot at night using flash. The colors have a rich glow and depth not seen in a reflected-light image of the same subject.

An added bonus, especially for nature photographers, is the visibility of the internal structure of the subject. All of the veins of a leaf and the varying thickness of flower petals become apparent when the image is made with light passing through the subject. The result can be very interesting photographs indeed. Even quite ordinary subjects such as the pages of a book can become more interesting by using this technique.

Green leaves, brightly colored autumn leaves, glass panes and bottles, paper and clothing can all be photographed with transmitted light to bring out internal structure and rich colors. Any subject that is at least slightly translucent and large enough to fill the frame is fair game. The less translucent the subject, the brighter the back-lighting must be(or the dimmer the ambient light) to overpower the light reflected from the side facing the camera. This technique should be part of every creative photographer’s arsenal.

Finding subjects is easy. Look towards the light source. During mid-day, this might mean getting low to the ground and looking up. At dawn or dusk the solution is to look towards the rising or setting sun. Indoors, try placing the subject between the camera and the light source or placing the flash behind the subject facing toward the camera.

Exposure is a straight forward affair. If the subject fills the frame any automatic setting should give a correct exposure. If the subject occupies a smaller are of the frame, exposure compensation might be needed to correctly expose the subject while allowing the background to be over-exposed(as in more traditional back-lighting). Experiment with exposure whenever possible to get the most pleasing results.