Wildlife Photography Tips: Go to the Park

Many people enjoy photographing wildlife but sometimes don’t seem to know where to go to find the opportunities. It doesn’t need to involve going to exotic locations or spending big money for a guided trip. Oftentimes, some of the most accessible wildlife is found if not literally in your backyard, then close by. In this quick tip for the beginner wildlife photographer, we advise you to get out and go to the park.

Common House Finch in Crabapple Blossoms

Living in an urban setting doesn’t mean you don’t have access to wildlife. In fact, much of the wildlife found in urban settings, give photographers an advantage over their more rural counterparts – they are more approachable. Any animal that is more acclimated to humans, tends to be less skittish and will allow closer interaction. In local parks, there are people walking, riding bikes, jogging, fishing, boating, playing, etc. and due to this increased human activity, the animals tend to recognize our behavior as less threatening. They recognize things that are out of the norm and will heighten their alert mechanisms only when something is different.

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Mastering Lightroom: Post-Processing Portraits

Many of our previous Mastering Lightroom series articles focused on specific Lightroom 4 features and tools, as well as ways of using them in your everyday workflow. I’ve explained how to use the Basic Panel and talked about the Tone Curve in great detail. We’ve also learned how to use External Editors, Spot Removal Tool and Virtual Copies. However, simply learning what each feature does is not our goal with these articles. After all, theory makes sense only when put to practice. In the end, we want to teach you how to actually edit your images, start to finish, no matter the subject or scene or desired result. We want you to be able to use what Lightroom has to offer without thinking about it, just as we should use our cameras and lenses. Learning what each tool does individually is essential, but what matters in the end is how we make them work in conjunction with one another. Perhaps then it is time to shift away from features and theory for a while and move towards editing images to achieve desired look in practice? There are many aspects of Lightroom we haven’t covered so far. Many tools, options, modules and tabs yet await our attention. But this time, instead of explaining specific settings, we will do some simple portrait post-processing focusing most of all on color and tones.

Mastering Lightroom Basic Portrait Post-Processing

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Understanding Histograms in Photography

Histograms can be found in almost any modern image editing software. It is my guess that most current digital cameras, including some compacts, can display histograms as well – some even live as you shoot using your LCD screen. Such a persistent inclusion would suggest that histograms are quite important. Even so, many beginner photographers don’t seem to understand what they show. There is nothing wrong or shameful with that, as histograms may appear to be rather complex at first. Truthfully, they aren’t. In this article for beginners, I will try to teach you how to understand histogram. Hopefully, by the end of this tutorial, you will learn to “read” them and see if they are useful to your photographic needs.

How to Understand Histogram

1) General Understanding

A histogram is a graphical representation of the tonal values of your image. In other words, it shows the amount of tones of particular brightness found in your photograph ranging from black (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness). As shown in the image above, dark tones are displayed on the left side of the histogram. As you move rightward, tones get lighter. The middle portion of the histogram represents midtones, which are neither dark nor light. Vertical axis of a histogram displays the amount of tones of that particular lightness. Histogram is exposure-dependent, but is also affected by tone curve and other settings.

2) Shadow and Highlight Clipping

Shadow and Highlight ClippingIf a certain portion of the histogram is “touching” either edge, it will indicate loss of detail, also called clipping. Highlight clipping (areas that are completely white and absent detail) occurs if the graph is touching the right side of histogram. Shadow clipping (areas that are completely black and absent detail) occurs if the graph is touching the left side of histogram. Either case can be often fixed by altering exposure settings. However, you must remember that it all depends on the scene. For example, if there’s sun in your image, it is only natural it will be so bright – completely white, in fact – that highlight clipping will occur.

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Which Nikon DSLR to Buy First?

Even though quite a few of our readers are beginner photographers, we often talk about things that, while simple to us, are much more difficult to understand for those with less experience and knowledge. That is why we strive to share our experience as someone shared theirs with us when we were just starting. The most difficult part for us is not the writing itself, however – mind you, we aren’t holding anything back. The most difficult part is becoming the beginner again so as to remember all the questions we had when we started. Make no mistake, we’ve had plenty of those. I, too, didn’t know what aperture and shutter speed was. I, too, had a hard time getting to know my gear in such a way I would be able to get quality results from it. I remember the painful transition from being a photography theoretician, an arm-chair expert, to one who uses his technical knowledge without thinking about it for the sake of photography, not comparisons and pixel-peeping. Thank goodness that part of my life didn’t last more than a few days. But before any of these questions came to my mind, I, too, had to make what seemed like the most difficult choice of all at the time. The first one, the one that gave way to all the other questions that followed and follow to this day. Where to start? Which camera to buy first?

Which Nikon DSLR to Buy First

Your first camera is not just a piece of equipment. It’s your entry into photography world. The “buy-the-most-expensive” logic doesn’t work here even if you have the means to do so. You have to get it right. Your first camera has to be “just enough”. It will either be too difficult, too heavy, too mind-boggling with all the functions, or too dull and alien. It may turn you to another system, or from photography altogether. Or it will fit you like a glove and lead you down the path of learning everything, and then learning, again, of what’s actually important. So, lets start from the start. In this “Which Nikon DSLR to Buy First?” article, I will introduce you to several Nikon DSLRs – you will not find the best camera here, as there isn’t such a thing. But, hopefully, you will find the best camera for you as a beginner photographer, one you are going to learn with and love for years to come.

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Winter Photography Tips

Winter can be a very beautiful time of the year, especially if you live in a region that gets plenty of snow. We all know how children love the snow – there are endless possibilities for having fun and cold weather is usually not enough to stop them from enjoying it. On one hand, winter poses a beautiful time of the year for photography, particularly landscapes and portraits, and can be equally refreshing for wildlife photographers. On the other hand, it creates certain problems that are hard to figure out for beginner photographers, let alone their cameras. In this article, I will give you tips on how to photograph in winter and end up with well exposed, beautiful color images. I will also provide you with suggestions on when to go out to photograph and how to use snow to your advantage.

Snowy Landscapes (6)

1) Plan Your Day

First and foremost, remember – days are much shorter during the winter. Sunrise is late, and sunset is early, so you only have a few hours of potentially beautiful light to capture those photographs, be it landscapes or portraits. I know from experience how engaging landscape photography can be during winter and those hours just fly by. Plan your day carefully – remember that you will need to revise your location no matter what you choose to photograph, so you’d better get there before the time of the day that you find most suitable. No less important is your safety. I’ve suffered from cold weather myself having stayed still in one place for too long. Bring some hot tea along with you, and some food, even if it’s just a sandwich. Dress warmly – it is better to be hot than cold. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged – cold eats up those batteries very quickly. The same goes for your camera, bring at least one spare battery and keep it somewhere warm and close to your body.

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Use External Editors

In every Mastering Lightroom series article, I mention certain strengths of this, in my opinion, superb piece of software. Only every now and then do I find something small to complain about, as I have in my “How to Manage Presets” article. I strongly believe Lightroom offers more or less everything needed to process a well captured image and offers plenty of powerful yet simple photographic tools. However, as our readers have wisely noticed in the comments section of my “How to Use the Spot Removal Tool” article, on rare occasions these tools may not be powerful enough. Here comes another strength of my favorite photo processing application – flexibility. You can use other programs to do what Lightroom can’t, and then go back with the processed image to its familiar and simple environment. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will show you how to use external editors with examples provided using the most popular and capable you can buy – Adobe’s own Photoshop.

How to Use External Editors

1) What Software can be Used with Lightroom 4?

A good question, this. As of late, I’ve found my photography changed in such a way I rarely, if ever, need to use something other than Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, but if such an occasion does present itself, I know I have enough choice. First and foremost, Lightroom supports the all-powerful Photoshop, which itself is likely enough to satisfy your every need when editing images. If Photoshop alone is not enough, remember the huge library of amazing specialized plug-ins you can find for it, including Google’s very capable Nik Software and the (rightly) popular Topaz Labs products (which we have plans to review). In other words, you may use Photoshop and, through it, all the plug-ins you can find and purchase or download as freeware.

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Add Film Grain

With mainstream days of film long gone, one would expect all the disadvantages it had on offer to be rid of for all times, as well. Digital is all about clean, high quality images now. Contrary to such an assumption, however, film has not left our everyday lives without a trace. A trace that is even more noticeable now that photographers got used to the differences between the two “religions”. Now, I say “got used to”, but the truth is plenty of photographers got bored of the sterile digital look and thus would seek ways of livening it up (instagramed anything lately?). One notable featured of photographic film has always been grain. Although, like high ISO noise in digital world, it was a result of increased light sensitivity and as such, an undesirable degradation of image quality, film grain was loved even during the past era of photography. Reasons behind it would make a fine discussion – in short I would say that grain was simply organic and beautiful – but one to be had with a pint of beer in hand and complimented by laughter and warm fire light. Instead, we will concentrate on actually applying film grain, or what is closest to it, with digital photographs. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will explain how to add film grain to your images. You will learn how to increase the size of grain, make it rougher or smoother and also hide high ISO noise (or make it more appealing) with it without the need of applying noise reduction.

How to Add Film Grain

1) What is Film Grain?

In essence, it is the chemical equivalent of digital high ISO noise, or, rather, the other way around. As film sensitivity went up, the amount and character of grain increased, just as ISO noise levels increase as you push sensor sensitivity to light up. Noticeably, film grain became visible at much lower sensitivities than current digital noise. Certain film of 400 ASA/ISO would already show visible graininess, and producing fine-grain film of 400 value was no small feat. Understandably, there weren’t any ISO 12800 equivalent films. One of the most sensitive films, the wonderful B&W Ilford Delta 3200, rendered so much grain, it would be thought quite unusable by some all-modern, technical quality junkies of digital era who have never been familiar with film aesthetics. Some prefer to see Delta 3200 as 1600 film pushed one stop during development. Think underexposing an image and correcting exposure by one stop in Lightroom with Exposure slider.

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Tether Your Camera

Lightroom is a very flexible image management and processing software, but apart from powerful tools and settings to enhance your photographs, it also offers features that help you during the actual process of photographing. Have you ever felt that, even with the constant resolution and physical size growth, camera LCD screens just aren’t big enough for comfortable image viewing in the field? Luckily, Lightroom offers a way to import photographs and review them as you shoot. This function, called Tethered Capture, is especially useful for studio photographers who don’t tend to move about too much. It can be equally useful for landscape photographers, too. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will explain how to tether your camera. This allows you to import images directly into the Lightroom 4 environment for quick and comfortable revision as you photograph.

How to Use Tethered Capture

1) When Should I Use It?

The best time to use Tethered Capture is when working in a less active environment. For example, studio and landscape photographers, who tend to bring their laptop computers along on a shoot, will find it to be very simple and fuss-less. However, wedding photographers, who tend to move all the time and change their shooting position, would find Tethered Capture to be annoying at the very least. Who’d want to photograph a wedding with a USB cable strapped to the camera constantly, and through it, a laptop? You’d need an assistant just to have that laptop lugged around behind you! In many other situations, Tethered Capture can make reviewing images that much more pleasant.

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Mastering Lightroom: How to Use Virtual Copies

As all previous versions of Adobe’s popular photography management and post-processing software, Lightroom 4 offers catalog system. Such a choice has both positives and negatives. One of the positives is non-destructive editing, which basically means the original image file remains intact no matter what you do to it within Lightroom environment (you can, however, delete the file entirely if you wish so). A side result is a very useful feature called Virtual Copies. In this Mastering Lightroom series article, I will explain how to use Virtual Copies. By the end of the tutorial you will learn how to copy, delete and compare them, as well as see different situations when creating a Virtual Copy can be very useful.

Mastering Lightroom: How to Use Virtual Copies

1) What are Virtual Copies and Why Should I Use Them?

As the name suggests, Virtual Copies are copies of an image file created virtually. In other words, they are copies created within Lightroom environment only. Creating a Virtual Copy does not copy the source file physically. Lightroom only stores editing information within its catalog. Among other things, such an approach also saves disk space (you only need to store information about the adjustments, not both that and a copy of the RAW file itself).

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All I Want For Christmas Is… A Working Computer!

Some intermittent PC problems, followed by a serious crash and some toasted devices, and work associated with reconfiguring a new PC have consumed more of my time lately than I care to admit. All the while, a pile of photography gear has been staring at me daily, crying out to be reviewed. Computers, in their various forms, have become rather ubiquitous. Most of us tend to take them for granted, at least when they are working properly. One cellphone provider recently advertised that upgrading our smartphones wasn’t just about improving technology, but rather an improvement to our very lives. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it is fair to say that some of us indeed identify too much with our technological toys!

“A Little Neglect May Breed Great Mischief”
“For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

- Ben Franklin
Poor Richard’s Almanac

When things go awry, however, we are reminded just how important technology can be to both our professional and personal pursuits. The following post details my recent experience and some insights that may help you prepare for the worst.

Christmas Tree

Attempting To Resurrect The Dead

Having had every model of PC since the original IBM PC produced in 1981, including a few I custom-built, and a number of Macintoshes along the way, I am pretty comfortable dealing with all manner of both software and hardware issues. I have successfully brought a few PCs back from the proverbial “dead.” As such, I have a healthy sense of paranoia regarding PC technology and realize that if anything can go wrong, eventually it will!

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