Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Qwik-Tip: Starburst Effects

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This week’s Qwik-Tip focuses on specularity (or the starburst effect) in photographs.  This tip can work with just about any light source (direct or reflected) to get that wonderful effect you see in the opening image.

Qwik Tip List:

  • Shoot on Aperture Priority – or manual mode
    • Select a very small aperture (20 or greater)
  • Use a tripod.
    • With such a small aperture, you’ll be using a relatively slow shutter speed.
  • When shooting sunlight, try and “pinch” the sun between two items
    • Use branches, in between leaves – anything that constricts the light flow will help clean-up the effect on an object as bright as the sun.

Some Lenses will work better than others.  The number of blades in the shutter will have an impact as well – the more the better.  It’s not really something you can always choose – just something to consider!

Stay in Focus!



White on White

Excerpt from “The Shooter’s Blueprint” Series

MCT Vanity Owl

I’ve received a lot of questions lately due to a guest post I did on Photographer Rick Sammon’s Blog regarding capturing a white subject on a white background.  Especially with winter around the corner for some of us, I hope the tips below help.

Shooter’s Blueprint

White Subject on White Background

The settings will vary depending on what the exact scenario is, so let’s use the parameters below.


The trick to this shot is to expose as far to the right as you possibly can, without blowing any highlights out.  With a white subject, you want your data to be almost entirely in the right third of the histogram.  Anything less than that and your whites will start to look muddy, and correcting them will result in less than stellar results.

Blueprinter’s disclaimer – there is always more than one way to accomplish something, this just happens to be the way that works for me.  All adjustment references are related to Apple Aperture software – other packages have similar adjustments.

Camera Setup:

  • Exposure Program: Shutter Priority
    • Aperture is not an issue with this shot – there is only one subject and it is fairly far away.  (Depth of Field on this shot was around 1.5 feet)
  • Shutter Speed: For a moving subject, 1/1,000th is minimum – I chose 1/2,500th for these owl shots
  • ISO: 400
  • Exposure Compensation: 1.67ev
    • It’s takes time to get a feel for this, just remember what you’re trying to accomplish (exposing for the whites, as far to the right as you safely can and no blown highlights) takes practice.  It was a bright day and a lot of white in front of me – I started at 2.0ev and came down slightly after consulting my histogram. (oh yea, take test shots before the feathers start flying!)
  • Focus: AI Servo (Canon speak for continuous)
    • I used a cluster of focus points in the right of my frame as this owl was making his runs into the wind (right to left).  Using the right points allows me to leave room in front of the owl.
    • When focusing on a white subject, find some contrast to lock onto (that’s how most focus systems work)  The Owl’s upper chest with the dark bands was perfect and roughly on the same plane as his head and eyes.

Original RAW Shot

MCT Raw owl

Original Histogram

Raw histo

Post Processing:

  • White balance: Tweaked slghtly
  • Black point: Adjustment cranked up about halfway
    • Just shy of blocking the dark claws
  • Definition Slider:Moderate adjustments (up to half way)
    • Be careful not to blow any highlights out in the process
  • Shadows Adjustment: Moderate to high adjustments here returning depth and detail
  • Levels Adjustment:Basic adjustments as needed for accurate balance.
    • Be careful of a blueish color cast bleeding over into the subject
  • Sharpening: To personal taste and output goals

The adjustments above yielded the results below.

Final Image

MCT Final owl

Final Histogram

Final Histo 1

Your digital sensor captures more detail in the right third of the histogram, so the goal here is to get as much of this “white” data in that area – without blowing any highlights – I know, it’s a thin line to walk, but you can get ever closer to it with practice.  Post processing (Black Point, Definition and Shadows adjustments) then allows use of this maximum data to adjust as needed and end up with a great shot!

One Final Tip . . .

This technique is accomplished shooting raw – so don’t go by the image on your camera’s back screen as reference in the field (it will look washed out).  Rather make sure you didn’t blow any highlights (no “blinkies” in your histogram) and create your final image in post.

Have fun and stay in focus!


Nothing to Shoot Here!


How many times have you thought the same thing – “nothing to shoot here” Really?  Are you sure?  Because there is beauty to be found everywhere and in everything – if you know HOW to look at it.

For the past few weeks, “attractive” subjects have been a little harder to come by (it’s just that time of the year, right before some of the more interesting migrations begin) and the only plentiful targets have been Ring Billed Gulls and Canada Geese.  So, what else was there to do but focus on gull and geese!

Why bother, you may wonder – a question thats been asked by  more than one passer by recently, “they’re just trash birds and poopers” a older gentleman recently asked me.  Well, if you don’t know how to look at them – maybe that’s all they are.

The “right” way to look at these creatures is with an open mind.  Study a gull for a period of time, they’re quite accomplished fishermen!  The search patterns they run, identifying a target, followed by sometimes very aggressive dives straight into the water are amazing!  More than not, they’ll come up with the fish in tow.  Also the interaction and behavior of these gulls, interesting and amusing at the same time, as they fight for freshly caught fish and landing spots.

Gull 2

The same thing goes for geese in my book, fascinating behavior and social interactions.  Watch a male put his head to the ground and “growl” and he waddles to an interloper is a blast to watch.  And if you catch them in the right light, they’re actually very nice looking birds, just like the gulls in the photos above.


These types of subjects are also very challenging targets, depending on the light.  You can really learn a lot by nailing down the exposure of these two – a white bird in an overcast sky is a different shooter’s blueprint from a white bird with a dark background.  And give it your best shot on a Canada Goose in bright morning light – try not to blow out the white patch between the black neck and head, it’s tough!

So find the beauty (and the challenge) in everything, it’s out there – if you know how to look for it!  Plentiful subjects that can be attractive and offer a nice photographic challenge – sounds good to me!

Stay Focused!