Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Book Review – Ducks of North America – The Photographers Guide


Photo books are a dime a dozen, and most rehash all the same stuff over and over again – but E.J. Peiker’s book is different, it’s targeted specifically at one subject – ducks.  The book does cover all the standard fare topics (equipment, exposure, light, technique . . . and so on) but every subject is directed back to the book’s main focus – how it relates to ducks!  The section on field techniques is very detailed and was found to be a strong benefit to enhancing my outdoor acumen – espeically the section on Outdoor Flash Photography.

Field Techniques Section:

  • Approaching Wild Ducks
  • Exposure
  • Composition
  • Natural Light Photography
  • Outdoor Flash Photography
  • Lens Technique
  • Ducks in Flight

It’s an easy, enjoyable and informative read!  This is also one book that you’ll keep handy as it makes a great “field guide” of ducks, both native and visitors to north america, as it is wonderfully illustrated with E.J’s great images.  I use it regularly as a reference to confirm identification.

Now this is an eBook, but I consider that an advantage as it’s always with me (in my iPad or iPhone) and available for that quick identification.

You haven’t tried an eBook yet?  Well, this is a great one to start with then!

Purchase it Here

I have no affiliation to the vendor in the link provided other than being a satisfied customer.


What You Think’s a Great Image May Not Be – And Vise Versa!

Great Blue Heron

We all have certain images that we love, in our eyes they’re the best of our best.  (so far at least!) We love them, and we expect others to love them just as much as we do – but it doesn’t always work that way.  The opposite can equally be true, images that are “so-so” for us can be a fan favorite.  So why does this happen?

When you look at an image you’ve made – you actually experienced the capture, the environment, the look, feel and smell of the place.  It invokes a very specific perspective for you (good or bad) that is colored by the experience you’ve had.  When someone sees an image for the first time, they lack that same perspective.

The image itself (and maybe a short caption) is all they have to go on.  They decide how much they like or dislike the picture based solely on what the image “tells them”.  What story does it communicate and does it trigger any emotions in the viewer?  Does it have “personality” or “interestingness”?  Is there a unique element to it that makes it “stick”?  When someone views your image, your personal opinion doesn’t matter – case in point is the image at the beginning of this post.

I made this image on an overcast afternoon with rather harsh light.  I wasn’t planning on stopping at the river so I didn’t have my longest lens, hence the Heron was pretty far away.  When I got home and processed the image, I had to crop in way too far – and due to the harsh light I had to really work over the exposure and level adjustments, there was some noise – and it wasn’t as sharp as what I would have liked . . .  and so on.  My experience with this image wasn’t the best – when I looked at it, I saw all the “flaws” – that was my vision and my perspective, I didn’t really like it because I saw all of the things that should have been done better.  Now just as is the case with an image I really like (due to my experience with it) the viewer of this image is not colored by my perceptions, all they see is color, action and whatever the image communicates to them.

I posted this image on a few sites I frequent just to document my efforts for the day, not thinking much of it.  The next morning, there was some great feedback on the shot – people loved it!  Go figure, so I decided to enter the image into an online weekly contest and it scored a second place (within a hair’s width of first) with awesome feedback!  What people saw in that image (without the baggage I was carrying) was a great story, interestingness and emotion!

Keep that in mind the next time someone yawns at an image you’ve made, without your perspective and experiences as the photographer – does the image carry the load all on it’s own, from  a standalone perspective?  I think that’s the indicator of a really great image, can it invoke the emotion, color and story – all by itself!



Overexposed?? – No Problem (Part 3)

We left off with last time in this series having completed exposure and recovery adjustments.  The next step is to selectively adjust only the highlights.  The easiest (90% of the time) way to do this is the Highlights and Shadows Adjustment sliders (as Aperture calls them).

In this case, we obviously want to reduce the highlights, so that’s the one we’ll work with.  Pull the slider to the right and watch the preview.  It’s takes a little bit of a feel to know how much is too much, but the general rule of thumb is to watch the mid-tones.

Move the slider while watching your preview, as soon as you see the mid-tones of the image being impacted by the Highlights slider – stop.  Now back off the adjustment just a bit.

Highlight Adjustment

The results can be significant, as the histogram below demonstrates.  Notice the better balanced readings, with nothing on the right edge.

Ending Histogram

Compare that to the original histogram before we started with any adjustments.  Major improvement here overall – including a successful recovery of the blown out areas (Only RAW would allow you to accomplish this!

Beginning Histogram

And here is the final exposure result.  The only other adjustment made here was a slight tweak to the Black Point slider.  A usable and pleasing image has emerged from a shot that was destined for the trash can!

5  Black Point Adjustment

Stay tuned . . . more tips to come in the week and months ahead, including one technique where we will actually straddle that right exposure limit – on purpose!

(Part 2)

(Part 1)

Overexposed?? – No Problem! (Part 2)

The first step in this quick process starts with the Recovery Slider (Note, this is what Aperture calls it – other programs have similar functions with different names).  The key feature of this slider is that it’s a “selective adjustment”.

~A selective adjustment only impacts certain areas of the image, based on different criteria.  The Recovery slider selectively reduces exposure and allows recovery of only the most “blown out” areas of the image~

The impact of this slider is significant as it pulls back the most overexposed elements of the image, beginning the process of recovering detail.  We then adjust our second slider, exposure.  Notice that we tweak this just about a third of a stop negative, to assist in our recovery.  Go easy on this slider, and only use it after you’ve gotten everything you can out of the Recovery Slider.  Exposure is a global adjustment, and will impact all areas of the image.

At this point in the image, you can start to see the blown out areas begin to tone down – but it looks like we still have a long way to go (as you can see in the image blow, sampled after these two adjustments were made).

Now, don’t get discouraged yet!  Even though the image still shows a long way to go, look at how much improvement we’ve really made – as indicated by the histogram.

So demonstrated progress has been made – and sets the foundation for everything else to come.  With the highlights themselves now properly recovered, we’re ready to move on to the most visible corrective adjustment.  In Part 3 of this series we will focus on selectively recovering detail in the highlights – this is where the image really starts to “pop”.

Part One

Part Three


Overexposed?? – No Problem!

Overexposed?? No Problemo!

. . . . as long as you’re shooting in RAW, that is!

“Raw” is the generic name for a camera manufacturer’s native file format, and it includes a wealth of information – everything your camera saw at the time of image capture.  (learn more abut RAW format here)

Unlike a JPEG, a RAW image doesn’t have any picture formatting or style settings baked in and is capable of being edited without a reduction of quality every-time you edit and save.  Shoot JPEG’s and you loose the flexibility to turn the overexposed image above into a usable image like the one below.

Now that looks better!

A RAW file format contains enough exposure information to easily correct for up to a stop of overexposure.

Now the picture above isn’t perfect, but it was certainly saved from the trash can!  Notice the highlights and detail that have been recovered in the Swans – this is what RAW – and understanding exposure adjustments in your image editing software – allow you to accomplish.

Well heck, so why wouldn’t someone shoot RAW?

As usual, there are a few downsides:

  • RAW files are BIG!  In megabytes that is.
  • If shooting in continuos (rapid fire) mode, you can’t shoot as many back to back RAW images as you can with JPEG’s without the camera stopping to empty it’s buffer.
  • RAW files, straight out the camera are . . . well . . . RAW!   They can tend to be flat as no processing was done, so you will have to either directly edit or apply camera styles before use.
Once a saw the flexibility of RAW, I never turned back to camera generated JPEG’s!  Look at that great image of those swans, it would have been ruined without RAW – what a difference!  Speaking of these “before and after images” – the next series of posts will take you step-by-step and show you how to get these basic results, in under two minutes!  So check back over the next few weeks.
Part 2

Part 3