Sunday, February 28, 2010

Night Photography

In a much earlier posting from 2007, I talked about shooting Sunsets. I am currently teaching a Digital Photography course and the next project involved night photography. So, for their benefit and yours, here is some things to keep in mind when shooting at night:

-If you are including the moon, sunset, or sunrise, consider where it will be at the time of your shoot. OF course, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (changes a little throughout the year, but not much). So, you will get a vastly different photo when shooting sunrises to the east or sunsets to the west.

-It is going to be very dark. Bring a flashlight. This will help you see your camera as well as see where you are going.

-You must use a tripod as exposure times will be long

-Use a remote release to trigger your camera. Or use the self timer if the timing of the shutter release isn't critical. You may want to invest in a cable release which has a timer function. This will allow you to use a shutter speed longer than what the camera otherwise offers. For example, the longest shutter speed my Nikon D300 offers is 30 seconds. If I need a shutter speed longer than that, I have to use the Bulb setting. In that mode, you have to hold the shutter release button down to keep the shutter open. This is not conducive to sharp photos. Higher end cable releases have timer functions built in that will allow you to set longer times and hold them with a single press of the cable release button.

-Use the mirror lock up or anti-shock feature of your camera. This will help insure that the photo won't be soft due to vibrations from the mirror (Only applies to those using DSLRs as compact digital cameras don't make use of a mirror).

-Turn on long exposure noise reduction if your camera has it. Most DSLRs and some compact cameras do. May have dig through the custom menus to activate it. The problem with this is your longer exposures will take a very long time to complete. Let’s say you take a 30 second exposure. First the camera takes the normal shot, and then it takes another 30 second shot in which the shutter doesn’t open. It takes the resulting noise pattern and subtracts it from the original exposure. It is very effective, but it really slows shooting down. Not a big deal when it is 80 degrees out, but it really stinks when it is 25 degrees out.

-Bring your camera’s instruction manual. You should always carry it with you anyways. If you are using a seldom used feature like long exposure noise reduction, then it is likely that you will have to look up how to activate it.

-Use your cameras lowest ISO. This assumes that you can use a very slow shutter speed as needed. For most of you this will require that you use the bulb mode in which the shutter will remain open as long as you keep the shutter release button pressed. Many of the remote releases have a provision to lock the button down until you release it. If your camera doesn’t have a slow enough shutter speed, then you may have to increase the ISO in order to obtain a correct exposure even when the aperture is lens all the way open.

-You may have to manually focus. All autofocus cameras require a certain light level to autofocus. If you are setting up in the dark, you will have precious little (if any light) so you may have to manually focus. If you have a DSLR, you can set the lens on infinity. You should note that the lens will likely allow you to focus past infinity. Past infinity?!? This is to take into account the expansion of the lens due to different weather, humidity, and pressure. So, you make have to take a few photos to insure that it is really set at infinity. Almost all compact digital cameras have a manual focus provision that entails selecting a distance from a distance scale. I simply set mine for infinity when using a compact camera. I was happy with the results. Another neat trick is to utilize an external flash. They often have a much more powerful autofocus assist light built in that will allow your camera to focus in pitch black night. So, you would use it focus, then turn the flash off.

-Consider all the ambient light sources unless. Even a very weak light adds up during a long exposure.

-Set your white balance to daylight. This will preserve the unique colors at that time of day. There is no point at getting up at 2am if you just want to take a photo that looks like it was taken at noon.

-Start taking photos before you even see the sun. There is usually a lot of color in the sky that you don't even notice until you take a long exposure photo and see it. Try it.

-Remember to expose for the highlights. Ensure that you are taking in enough light so that the histogram is very close to the right most wall without touching it. On a recent outing I noticed that some of my students were not doing that because it looked better on the LCD when it was underexposed. That is true. However, it will not look nearly as good as the image that was properly exposed once you begin editing on it the computer.

-Shoot RAW file format (assuming your camera supports it). If it is worth shooting, then it is worth shooting as a RAW file.

-Consider creating a HDR image from multiple, varying exposure (I will soon post more on HDR).

-Look for reflections in water (assuming there is water) that will give you twice the color.

-Bring a cell phone or a buddy; preferably both. If you are trouncing around in the dark it is a good idea to have a way of getting some help should you run into any trouble. Please take this seriously.

Displacement Maps

I am sure you have see images where the texture of a brick wall is seemingly applied to a person. Or an image appears to be reflected or mirrored on water. This is usually done using a Displacement Map in Photoshop.

Here is a super fast summary of the process (I will add photos when I get a chance):
Select an image that you want to distort to make it appear as though it was printed on a piece of fabric. Open up the fabric image. Go go Image > Duplicate to make an exact copy of it. Convert it to grayscale by going to Image > Mode > Grayscale. Zoom into the image until you are are 100%. Then to go Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the Radius until the texture of the image disappears. Apply a Curves or a Levels to greatly increase the contrast. You must have a high contrast image in order for this to work. Then save the image as a Photoshop document (it will then have the default .PSD extension). Close the file.
Place the image of the person (just an example) on the image of the fabric (the original color version). Then select the face layer. Go to Filter > Distort > Displace. Start with a value of 10 for both input fields. Click okay then select the grayscale version of the image. This will then load the image as a displacement map and distort the shirt image. Basically, the darker the part of the displacement map image, the more distorted the face image will be. Try playing with the blending modes. Multiply Mode generally makes them blend together pretty well. You will likely have to use Curves or Levels to lighten the image after you apply the Blending Mode change.
Here are some other tutorials, but I think they both miss a few steps.
Have fun.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quick Draft Post about Photoshop Tutorials and Textures

Great list of tutorials about making fire in PS

Computer Security

Okay, you probably know that you should have an anti-virus program running on your computer that you keep up to date and regularly use it to perform a scan of your system.
Unfortunately, that is the very least that you should be doing to insure you and your data is safe on your computer. PC World magazine recently published the best article on computer security I have ever read. You should definelty read it. I guarantee there are real threats out there that you never even thought of.
PC World article "11 Hidden Security Threats".

Back to this issue of anti-virus software, with numerous excellent, free options now available, there is no legitimate excuse not to use one. If you think that it isn't necessary, then just ask a room full of people how many of them have had a virus of other malicious software cause havoc on their system. I currently use Microsoft Security Essentials on my laptop. It is non instructive. I have used AVG Free for years and currently have it on my desktop computer, but it constantly tries to convince you to "upgrade" to a paid version. I have also used Avast Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware in the past, but was annoyed by the audio alerts to scan my system. That being said, if you like to be reminded to run the scans, you will really like Avast!
Of course, there are plenty of other commercial products on the market that may offer additional features and possibly better protection. That being said, I have been using free products for years and have been very happy with their performance which is to say, I haven't had any virus problems.

If you are having weird computer problem, I would suggest your using an online safety scanner. There are two that I am aware one. I have used Microsofts's Windows Live OneCare safety scanner a number of times. It will search for virus, all manner of malware, registry errors, and it will also defragment your hard drive and give you the option of deleting unnecessary temporary files.

Trend Micro, a legitimate provider of computer safety programs, has a similar online scanner service named  Housecall. I haven't used it, but it is highly regarded.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Yes, Lightroom is great

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a really great program for photographers. In essence, it is a streamlined image editing and data asset management (DAM) application. If you shoot RAW and work with lots of photos; i.e. weddings, special event photography, or just a passionate hobbyist, you should definitely check out Lightroom. There is a bit of a learning curve, but if you take the time to get through it, you will find editing multiple images to be a much more enjoyable process. Here are some good resources for working with Lightroom (I will update as I find more):

Official Adobe site for Lightroom. You can download the 30 day demo from here.

Nice writeup on working with multiple Lightroom catalogs; one on a laptop and one master catalog at home

Tips and advice from the developers of Lightroom.

Suggested Lightroom catalog settings

Lightroom 3 is currently in beta. There are already a number of resources available for it.

Download the Beta version

Info about Lightroom 3

Photoshop Tutorials by Mark Galer

Julieanne Kost is an Adobe Image Evangelist. She has nice videos and write-ups here.

Blog about LR and related matters

Saturday, February 6, 2010

When things go bad in LR...what to to avoid....

Basically Lightroom is an image database program with image editing capabilities. By default, LR stores all the changes that you make to your images in a database name LRCAT which you can find if you navigate to the folder named Lightroom within your Pictures folder (assuming you are using the default directory for your photos). So, the actual photos are not being changed at all, rather the database makes a record of what changes are to be made. Here is the problem with that: if you lose your database, then all the changes you made to your images have been lost. This includes the keywords, metadata, and all the development settings.
Fortunately, a corrupt LR catalog is uncommon. Additionally, you should regularly be making a backup of the catalog. Each time you launch LR, it prompts you to create a backup of your catalog. I suggest you start doing it. That way if you somehow lose your catalog, you can go back to the most recent version. Also, LR has the ability to "repair" a corrupt catalog. It will prompt you should it find that your catalog is corrupt and ask if you want it to attempt a repair. I have not experienced this myself, so I don't know how effective it is. From reading forums and the like, it doesn't always work.
 Click here to an alternative method of repairing the LR catalog. Again, I haven't tried this as I haven't had the problem. Knock on wood.
Two other things to consider are pushing the edits and metadata to xmp sidecar files. This is to say that little companion files with the edits will be saved alongside the edited RAW files. The advantage of this is that even if you lose your LR catalog altogether, the develop and keyword data will still be available (the collections data won't be though). The disadvantage of this? When you open your images in PS, it will look at the sidecar edits rather than the LR edits from the catalog. This isn't an issue if you occasionally "push" the LR edits to the sidecar files. This happens by itself over time, but you can make it happen immediately.
Lastly, if you convert your RAW files to DNG files upon import, the metadata is saved in the RAW file itself as well as in the catalog. I am pretty sure you would still lose your collection information, but everything else would still be there. This is the route that I have been taking as of late. The only foreseeable problem with that is that you will not be able to edit that file with an RAW file that doesn't support DNG format. For example, you would not be able to edit a DNG file with Nikon Capture even though it was taken with a Nikon camera because it only support NEF files.
Something to chew on. The biggest take away is that you need to regularly backup your LR catalog.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Maggie Taylor

Maggie Taylor is a contemporary artist who creates photo based digital collages. Here work is whimsical and occasionally bizarre. When I show my students here work when presenting a digital collage project, many students are intrigued by her work and her working methodology. So, I have compiled a list of relevant links and resources.
First, you can visit her website at to see a large selection of her work.  You can download a really great PDF detailing her thought process and technique in creating an image from Creative Pro. That article is based on an excerpt from her book Maggie Taylor's Landscape of Dreams. Here is a link to little story about her for an art show.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Editing Raw Files

Like any advice, it is good to hear it from muliple people. Here are some tutorials on the use of Adobe Camera Raw that I highly recommend. If you are a Lightroom user, no worries as nearly everything he says applies to LR as well.

Start with this one:
Adobe TV video featuring Julieanne Kost introduction to ACR. Great step by step tutorial in which she explains the choices she makes. If you like it, and I think you will, it is part of a longer video series featuring her. Click here to see all the episodes of The Complete Picture with Julianne Kost.

Russel Brown a long time Adobe evangelist and pretty funny guy, has been posting some really great tutorials and scripts to his website for a number of years. I mention it now because he has some nice tutorials on working with Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS4. He takes a novel approach in some of the tutorials in which he edits others' files.
The Russel Brown Show