Archive for the ‘Tips’ Tag

Make Notes – Tip 1

2012 11 03|09 06 27|DR7T8240  1

When you go back and look at your awesome image, make sure you can remember what you did!

One of the things that really dives me nuts is when I go back and look at an older image of mine and just can’t remember all the tweaks and pokes I did to make it pop.  Now this doesn’t really apply to the standard raw editing elements (exposure, highlights, shadows, contrast, etc) but it certainly applies to creative edits, especially filters and plug-ins.  Now, when I run across the above image two years from now, I can look in the notes field and see that I added a couple special items – first was a recipe I built in Nik Color Efex Pro followed by a Topaz colored sepia filter.

Screenshot 11 4 12 11 01 AM

I created a custom field in my image editing program (Aperture) but you can use standard fields if you’d prefer.  “Caption” is probably the easiest, and you can over write your notes when you do a digital export to an online photo gallery.  Here are a couple other things to keep in mind:

  • Label your special effects/filters in the order they are applied, separated by the “+” sign
  • Don’t wait to do it “later”, make the note as you apply each unique item
  • Use a similar schema in PhotoShop layers, title the layer with a descriptive of what you did

Have fun and stay in focus,



Duck Bill Do’s and Don’ts

2012 09 12 08 20 08 B65E0907

The Little Things Make a Difference

The opening image isn’t perfect from a composition standpoint (I don’t like the dark line running right across this Wood Duck’s head or the contrast change running through his head) but the angle and position is pretty good.  Good eye and head position compliment the upright pose of the bill, turned slightly towards the camera and the gap between the beak and the body looks natural.

Discussed below are a few of the things to avoid.

Aperture 2

This first image is a non-starter, the top of the log cuts right through the head and bill.

Aperture 3

The second image has the bottom line of the bill “merged” with the top line of the body – doesn’t appear natural and is a little disruptive.

Aperture 4

The third image is better, there is separation between the bill and the body – but just a sliver.  Again, this is a little distracting to the eye.  The composition (in the opening photo) has more separation and a more upright head angle, producing the best overall image.

As your photography improves, you should begin looking for these types of details in the field – and understanding when to pull the trigger.  It comes with practice and will naturally get better with the more images you take.  You’ll notice things like eye contact and head angle – when the background is not working for you and when various elements are pleasingly separated.

Stay in Focus,


Don’t Let the Mid-Day Sun Ruin Your Photo Outing

2012 2012 08 31 31 | 12 30 56 | B83H5981 HDR  Version 2

Yes, for outdoors shooting it’s hard to beat the “magic hours” of sunrise and sunset – and the two to three hours after sunrise and before sunset aren’t too bad either.  But what do you do with that “11-3” slot?  Here’s two scenarios to try.

Get in Close

The harsh mid-day light will have less impact on your shots if you get in close to the subject and eliminate any background elements.  You purposefully minimize the high contrast range in your shot.  The engine shot above was at high noon.  By getting in close I eliminated the bright sky and white concrete – not to mention the reflections off the leading wing edges.

2012 2012 09 08 08 | 10 19 37 | E01C0139 HDR  Version 2

Shoot HDR

You don’t like HDR you say?  Really?  Maybe it’s the “grungy” HDR that doesn’t suit your style?

Remember, that “grungy” and exaggerated look is only one style of HDR.  High Dynamic Range photography can look anywhere from very natural all the way to over the top.  Shooting HDR at high noon (the way the second image above was shot) makes the lighting conditions virtually irrelevant.  Take 3 to 5 shots over a range of exposures, use your favorite HDR or stacking program and make a great natural looking shot.

Many More Ways

There are many other scenarios to use during “bad” lighting times, not just these.  Plenty of interesting things can be found in the shade and a small diffuser can give you a bit of your own shade for smaller objects.  Flowers, insects, old fences, abandoned equipment.  Take the time to look and you’ll find your mid-day shots!

Stay in Focus,


Aircraft Panning Basics

B65E7358Panning Shots – The Practice is Worth it!

It takes practice and patience to develop a good panning technique, but the shots captured will make you proud.  Chances are you already have some of the basics down and just don’t realize it.  Panning relies on good form and a steady motion – similar to a golf swing, skeet shooting and other activities.  Here are some quick tips to get you started:
  • Stance
    • Spread your feet about should width apart – provides a stable platform and good balance
    • Don’t move your feet or your shoulders – pivot at your waist
    • Consider the arc of your pan, and face closer to your ending position – twist back to get to your starting point
      • This places what should be your best balanced position towards the end of your pan, allowing for better control
  • Holding technique
    • There are many ways to do this and not necessarily “one” right way – this is how I do it:
      • Press the camera against your face to increase stability.  A larger, cushioned eye-cup can make this more comfortable and effective
      • Tuck your elbows into your side, increasing stability
      • Lean slightly into your shot – this will create a more stable “triangle” between your face, front hand and tucked in elbows
  • Settings
    • Shutter speed will be limited by your panning technique, with propeller driven aircraft requiring the most skill.  Begin your practicing with no lower than 1/750th of a second shutter speed and move down as you become comfortable
    • Checkout the article on Air Show Shutter Speed to learn more about proper settings and the different scenarios you will encounter

P 51 Mustang<br /><br />
1 160th Shutter    and 200 MPH

  • Select your target
    • While you can use multiple focus points, I’ve found it best to use the single point selection option – and lock it on target
    • Pick a spot on the aircraft, place your focus point of choice on it and keep it there (yes, easier said than done)
      • This doesn’t have to be the center point.  As illustrated below, your target won’t necessarily have a viable center spot

Aperture 1

  • Aim and move
    • Once you’ve locked your focus point in place, practice your panning
      • Depending on your target and the arc it’s traveling, the speed will not be constant – you’ll have to adjust with your target
    • The bike shot below (shutter speed of 1/ 180th) was extra difficult as the bike and plane were not traveling at the same rate of speed for most of the run.  20 images yielded only one that was sharp enough.
Aperture 2
  • Follow through
    • You want to shoot on continuous – as fast as your camera can go.  With practice you’ll surely get better and have more “keepers” but even the best rarely achieve better than a 50/50 average keeper rate on difficult targets
  • Start early . . . end late
    • Begin your shooting sequence a second or two early – it will give you time to get the “rhythm” and allow your image stabilization to spin up
      • Use image stabilization?  Well, it depends.  Read up on your camera / lens.  Some systems have a special setting for image stabilization during panning
    • At the end of your series of shots, keep the motion going past the point of action.  You will naturally tend to slow down at the very end and you want to ensure you’re still in rhythm when your last shutter click occurs
  •  Practice
    • There really is no substitute for it, and it’s amazing how much better your equipment seems to work when you practice!
    • Don’t get discouraged.  Action shooting has a lot going on, focus on one issue at a time (panning, lower shutter speed captures, exposure, composition) and build up gradually.  Want to learn some other Air-show basics, check out this article from the beginning of the 2012 season.

P-51C at 1/125th shutter speed

Have fun and stay in focus!


Revisit Your Work

2010 Edit

What a difference three years can make!

I mentioned in a previous post to never go back and delete your older work – always save it as a reference of how far your photography skills have come.  I still hold firmly to that statement, even though your previous work may be obviously sub-par to your current capabilities – keep it as a timeline of your progression in the hobby.  There is another reason, however, why you might want to go back and revisit some of your previous work  . . . your editing skills have probably improved significantly.

Go back and take a look at some of your older images – ones that you still feel have pretty solid photographic elements – take an original copy of that photo and reprocess it as you would do it today.  You may be very surprised at how far you’ve come.

The opening image in this set is from an air show three years ago.  The image capture is pretty solid, with good exposure – and it demonstrates my processing skills circa 2009.  The picture below is the same image, processed with my 2012 skill sets – the difference in skill growth is obvious to me in several areas:

  • Composition: a much better crop demonstrates a better grasp and positioning of the main subject
  • Contrast: more detail (that was in the original image) is now popping out
  • Selective editing: sharpening, shadow work and color corrections are now applied to only the areas that need them

2012 Edit

So don’t go back into your past albums and delete any of your images – but do go back and revisit some of them.  You’ll be amazed at your progress – and may just find some hidden gems waiting for your contemporary skills to be applied.

Stay in focus,


Backyard Birding – Part Three

IDMkIV <untitled> 2010 09 04 6376 Original

Now let’s make some pictures!

If you’re new to photography (or bird photography in general) this will be an evolutionary process.  Take your time and have fun with it.  Here are some tips and considerations to get you started.

IDMkIV Dam Hike 4 14 10 2010 04 14 1621 Original


In Part Two of the series, we worked on setting up and planning for attractive backgrounds – but you still have to pay attention.  In the shot of the Black Capped Chickadee above, the distant background provided a nice creamy blur – but it’s not perfect.  The brown blur over the bird’s head wants to draw your attention away from the bird.  Always actively look at your background as you’re composing the shot, a step or two to the right would have improved this shot tremendously.

Ah Gotz Ma Grub

Getting Close

Most, but not all, birds will begin to get comfortable with you in their space.  To aide in this, sitting (or standing) still and generally being quiet is needed.  Limit sudden movements by being more deliberate and slow when you do move – it will ease the bird’s tension.  Also, sitting in the same spot frequently and for good blocks of time will help the birds adjust to you.  I regularly sit within 12-15 feet feet of my closest bird setup with no issues (except be aware of the minimum focusing distance of your lens.  This determines how close you can be and still achieve focus).  Oh, and one more thing – don’t think you can hide.  Trust me, the birds know you’re there!

Male Eastern Bluebird with Supper


Needless to say, you want great light for your shots.  When you were setting up your backyard birding area, you paid attention to morning and afternoon sweet spots as well as accounted for the movement of the sun over the spring and summer months – so you’re all set.  Well, not completely.  Consider one more technique as the last piece to the perfect shot – fill flash.

Now, this isn’t a requirement (you can make great shots without it) but it helps you deal with some of the inevitable shadow areas that can appear on the bird, especially around the eyes, face and breast.  In the Bluebird shot above (and many of my other backyard shots) I use fill flash along with an inexpensive adapter called a better beamer to help my light throw farther.  When you’re ready, brush up on fill flash and take your shots to the next level.

IDMkIV Dam Hike 4 14 10 2010 04 14 1660 OriginalColoring

Pay attention to the coloring on certain birds to ensure you time your shot correctly.  Similar to many ducks, some birds have an iridescent quality to them that varies depending on their angle to the light.  What appears to be almost totally black at one angle, can look quite colorful at a slightly different angle.  The Tree Swallow above is a good example.  Almost dark black over his eye but the same color behind his eye (at a slightly different angle to the sun) is amazing.  Pay attention to the light and learn the coloring traits of your birds.

IMG 4327

Be Considerate

Don’t endanger your birds for the sake of a picture.  When birds are very young, it can be safe (in nesting boxes only) to approach and take close-ups – but keep the following in mind:

  1. Mom and dad will fly off – but will return when you leave
  2. Be quick about it, do not leave the box open for any length of time due to temperature considerations
  3. Do not move the box around
  4. Do not move or disturb the actual nest
  5. Do not approach the box after the first week or so.  As the birds get older, you could force them into fledging (trying to fly off) too soon and endanger their life.

For birds that are naturally nesting in trees and other places, don’t even approach, you could alert predators to their location (where as properly setup nesting boxes are protected) or damage the nest by moving branches or other obstructions around.

Bluebird Brothers

Have fun with this new aspect to your photography – it’s a very rewarding experience!

Stay in focus,