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What are you doing on Saturday, Feb. 27? If you're going to be in Northern California, please join me for an all day workshop titled, Digital Photography from Start to Finish. This event is hosted by the Diablo Valley Mac Users Group, and will take place at Meadow Homes School, 1372 Detroit Ave., Concord, CA. The workshop begins at 9am and concludes at 4pm.

The day begins with a series of easy-to-master pro tips for both compact and DSLR photographers. Then we'll cover how to make great portraits, how to tame those unwieldy group shots, and fire up iPhoto to explore the powerful tools available to improve our images even more. You will learn how to:

  • Capture professional looking portraits
  • Master your flash
  • Shoot in low light
  • Take great shots of kids, pets, and sports
  • Create digicam movies
  • Edit images in iPhoto
  • And much more!

There will be plenty of Question & Answer time throughout the day, too.

The workshop is only $75, so this is a real bargain for an all day event. You can attend by downloading the PDF registration form and mailing it in. You can also call (925) 689-1155 for more information. Register today!

Free eBook on Wildflower Photography


For those of us in North America, it's not too early to start thinking about the Spring wildflower season. I've just downloaded and perused a free eBook titled, 13 tips for better wildflower photography, and it contains lots of helpful information and some terrific shots. If you want to improve your flower pictures this Spring, you might want to download a copy for yourself.

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Cool Gadget: Flipbac Angle Viewfinder

flipbac_finder.png The Flipbac Angle Viewfinder protects your 3" camera LCD and makes it easier to compose shots at high and low angles. It opens to more than 180 degrees in both landscape and portrait positions, and reflects the LCD image on its mirror-like surface. When you're done shooting, the flipbac folds up and protects the surface of the LCD. It fits most cameras with 3" screens, and is available for $18.95 US.

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I shoot in all sorts of locations, most of which are more cramped than I want. So I bring along my 6-foot wide rolls of white, black, and colored photographer's backdrop paper and do the best I can. Fortunately, if I shoot on black or white backgrounds, I can increase the space later in Photoshop CS (any of the versions) using the Canvas Size dialog box (Image > Canvas Size). This technique works best if you keep your background whites bright, or your blacks saturated.

In the top image you'll see that I ran out of space and don't have much background area around the subject. This can be a particular problem if you need to add another element to the shot, such as type. But the fix is easy. Just open the Canvas Size dialog box and adjust the settings as I have here.


Notice how I select the bottom/center box for the anchor. That adds white space to the top and sides of the image. You can control this by selecting the anchor that best suits your needs for that picture.


I usually work with white or black as the Canvas Extension Color, but you have nearly unlimited options via that popup menu at the bottom of the dialog box. Once you have your settings in place, click OK, and your backdrop suddenly becomes much more spacious.

I dug around a bit and found a good tutorial that also shows a similar technique for Photoshop Elements. Check out the article titled, Add Space to Your Studio in Photoshop. About half way into the article the author shows the technique for Elements.

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Some lessons come easier than others. For example, you would think by now I have the USB cord situation straight for all of my cameras. But nooooo! And there's other things that I've insisted on learning the hard way.

Plus, I have an update on the TDS Workshops I discussed last week. The TDS Hot Air Balloon Photography Workshop in June 2010 is a go. I'm already working on ideas for the Fall event. Thanks to everyone for the great feedback, and a special thanks to those who registered.

Listen to the Podcast

You can also download the podcast here (23 minutes). Or better yet, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

Monthly Photo Assignment

Slippery is the Jan. 2010 Photo Assignment. You can read more about how to submit on our Member Participation page. Deadline for entry is Jan. 31, 2010.

More Ways to Participate

Want to share photos and talk with other members in our virtual camera club? Check out our Flickr Public Group. It's a blast!

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The TDS Hot Air Balloon Classic Workshop is scheduled for June 25-28, 2010 in Sonoma County, CA. The focus of this 3-day event is food, photography, and fun.

This photo gathering will include three classroom sessions at The Digital Story Headquarters in Santa Rosa, CA, two morning shoots at the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic, delicious lunches and snacks, personalized instruction, cool swag, and three days of relaxation in beautiful Sonoma County located in the heart of Northern California Wine Country. Class size is limited to 6 participants to ensure personalized instruction.

The workshop fee is $495. Reserve your spot today, or ask follow up questions, by sending me email with the subject line "TDS Workshop." Contact information is on our Member Participation page. More details are available on the TDS Workshop page.

I hope you can join me in June. It's going to be a blast!

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Inevitably, when you're thinking about buying a new camera, it comes down to a horse race between two models. That's where a new site, Snapsort becomes invaluable. Just type in the names of your two finalists and let Snapsort provide you with an easy-to-read, highly useful, feature comparison.

It's also fun. I learned all sorts of interesting details about cameras I was curious about. The interface is clean. Performance is fast. Very nice.

You can keep up with Snapsort by reading their blog and following them on Twitter.

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"The Wall" - Grab Shot 191

"I spent four hours Thanksgiving morning walking the National Mall in Washington, DC," writes Rick Brandt. "Among my stops was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I worked my way from the eastern end of the wall to the western end. At the very end of the western wall, where there is only one name, laid a wilting carnation -- an interesting photo opportunity -- I took it. Then I looked up and saw this gentlemen kneeling at the wall -- he was about 50 yards away and I considered swapping lenses -- I had the 24mm-70mm on my 5D, and the 70mm-200mm was in the backpack."

" I really wanted to get closer, but I thought if I took the time to swap lenses, the moment may be gone -- and I didn't think it was appropriate to physically get closer -- so I took several shots from where I was with the lens that I had on the camera. A few seconds later, a threesome of runners (the Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger just finished at the Lincoln Memorial, just up the hill from the wall) passed me, entered the frame and provided what I feel was some sorely needed balance to the composition."

As Rick mentioned, he captured the image with a Canon 5D at 70mm (24mm-70mm). He then post-processed the image with Aperture and Silver Efx Pro.

Photo by Rick Brandt. Click on image to zoom to larger size.

If you have a candid you'd like to share, take a look at our Submissions page, then send us your Grab Shot. We'll try to get it published for you on The Digital Story.

And you can view more images from our virtual camera club in the Member Photo Gallery.

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The "infrared look" in photography is a terrific alternative to traditional color imagery. There are many paths you can follow to experiment with the IR alternative. The pure approach is to actually shoot infrared with a digital camera.

You can purchase a very dense Hoya 52mm RM72 Infrared Glass Filter and put it over your lens. Some cameras work better than others in terms of displaying the IR effect. You can test your candidates by pointing a TV remote control toward the lens and seeing how bright the dot of light appears on the camera's LCD screen. The brighter the dot, the better the camera will record IR.

You can also have an existing DSLR modified for IR photography through 3rd party services such as Life Pixel. If you want to get serious about IR, this is the best way to go. They remove the IR blocking filter inside the DSLR so you can shoot normally without having to put that dense RM72 filter over the lens.

You can read more about ways to capture IR in my Macworld article titled, Photograph the invisible with infrared photos.

If you're not interested in dense filters or modifying cameras, you can fake the IR effect using your image editor, as I did with the shot of the Bodie House shown above. I created that effect in Aperture using these simple steps in the Adjustments panel:

  • Enable the Monochrome Mixer in Aperture. Move the Blue slider to -20 and Green to +80
  • Switch to the Color adjustment brick and click on the Green square. Move Luminance and Saturation sliders all the way to the right.
  • While still in the Color brick, click on the Yellow square and move the Luminance and Saturation sliders all the way to the right.
  • And finally, in the Color brick, click on the Blue square and move the Luminance slider all the way to the left and Saturation slider all the way to the right.
  • Now play with your normal image adjustment controls, such as Exposure and Enhance to perfect your photo.

You can even create fake IR on your iPhone using applications such as Photo fx 2.0. I go over all of these techniques in my Macworld article titled, Four ways to fake infrared photography.

Regardless of your approach, this contrasty, unusual, B&W look is very refreshing and a nice way to shake things up.

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Most sports arenas don't allow professional camera gear unless you're part of the media pool. So it's very difficult to get compelling shots from the stands as a spectator. I can't tell you how many times I've had to walk back to the car with my camera gear because I couldn't get it past security.

Image of Lebron James shooting captured from the upper deck of Oracle Arena using a Zeiss 135mm lens mounted on an Olympus E-P1 camera. You can see the entire set of images on the TDS Flickr page. Click on image to zoom.

Here in Northern California, however, you are allowed to pack a "non-professional" camera with your personal belongings. To most security guards that means a compact. Just try getting a decent shot with it from the upper deck -- or for that matter, anywhere in the arena. There are three main problems with compacts in these venues:

  • Their zoom lenses generally don't have the reach you need. And if they do, it's at too small of an aperture, such as f/5.6
  • They don't perform as well at high ISO settings.
  • Their shutter lag and slow burst modes aren't a good fit for action photography.

But what about the in-between cameras such as the Olympus E-P1 that have compact-like looks, but perform more like a bigger DSLR? The E-P1 has a good burst rate, minimal shutter lag, and excellent high ISO performance. The only problem is, Olympus doesn't have a long, fast lens for that body.

So I pulled out my manual focus Zeiss 135mm f/2.8 lens that was part of my Contax SLR kit and used a Rayqual micro 4/3rds adapter to attach it to the E-P1. Nice thing about micro four thirds cameras is that they double the focal length of SLR lenses. So my humble Zeiss zoom became a 270mm f/2.8 sports lens when mounted on the E-P1.

To get this rig into the arena, I stashed the 135mm lens in the bottom of my small shoulder bag, then mounted the stock 17mm Olympus lens on the E-P1. The security office took one look at the E-P1 with the pancake lens on it, and let me though the door. Once inside, I switched lenses. To help me focus accurately at f/2.8 with the telephoto, I attached a Horizon 4X loupe (that I still had for medium format film) to the back of the E-P1 with gaffers tape. (If I still had the E-P2, I would have used the electronic viewfinder instead. But alas, I had to send back the review unit.) Using the loupe attached to the E-P1's LCD, I found I could focus quite accurately.

I then took my seat in the upper deck, set the ISO to 800, put the camera in burst mode, and had a great time shooting pictures. You can see a gallery of shots on the TDS Flickr page. These shots are cropped, but even so, the edited shots still have plenty of resolution for 8" x 12" prints.

Now I have to resist getting greedy because I also have a German made Zeiss 200mm prime lens. But I think it's too big to pass as part of an "amateur" kit. So for the moment, I'm going to stick with the 135mm kit when I'm at events as a spectator.

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