Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Focal Points and Leading Lines

Today, we look at two images to see the difference that a leading line can make. They are both made up of seven vertical shots merged into one photo in Photoshop. But this post is not about panoramas.

Both panos were taken from a boardwalk that I routinely traverse on my walkabouts. It's always interesting to peer into the swamp, for that's what it is and why there is a boardwalk over it.

The first (above) provided a very pleasant view in person, but the photo lacks something.

The second (below) is a much better shot IMO.

Why, when they're so similar?

For me, the reason is that the latter shot has a focal point of interest — the frozen stream. In the top photo, nothing in particular grabs my eye.

Also, the focal point becomes a disappearing leading line which draws the eye through the frame.

A more minor point is that the tree on the left and the stump on the right seem to provide some sort of natural frame.

So, although both views were pleasant enough to appreciate when I was there, the second photo has several elements that make it much better photographically (IMO): a focal point, a leading line, and bit of a frame to help focus the eye.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Snow on Tamarack

For those not from around here, the tamarack is a deciduous tree with needles: that is, it's a fir tree in style, but it loses it's leaves/needles like a deciduous tree.

I decided to take a close-up, which I won't actually call a macro because it's not that tight. First, I took the above shot with a small f8 aperture. The rule is: the smaller the aperture that you use, the greater the depth of field (or detail if you like) that you get in the photo. So, although they're fuzzy, we can see all of the branches in the background. The photo is too busy for my taste and not good at all.

So, then I opened the aperture to f2.8, which is quite wide, and took the next photo.

With less detail in the background (although even less would be better but that's all this lens could do) the branch of focus stands out much better. There is no question of what the focal point is. This photo just works much better than the first one. So, if you have a camera which allows you to control the aperture, go ahead and use it to your advantage.

Note 1: It seems confusing but the smaller the number of the aperture or f-stop, the larger the aperture. So, f2.8 is a much more open aperture than f16, foe example.

Note 2: Aperture controls DOF or Depth-of-Field. A large aperture (small f#) leads to a shallower DOF than a small aperture (large f#) which results in more of the photo being in sharp focus.

Note 3: DOF or depth-of-field can make or break a photo. The general rule is that you would like shallow DOF on a macro and a large DOF on a landscape photo where you normally want to see good detail from front to back. Of course, it's just a general rule — so perhaps I should call it a guideline.

Note 4: I did very little post processing on either photo. They are close to what one would see on the back of the camera.


By way of contrast (and having nothing to do with the point of this post), here is a tamarack from the same area, just a few days earlier. It's very pretty when the leaves turn yellow, especially because they hang on for quite awhile after the 'normal' deciduous trees are bare.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

First Snow

The snow has arrived. I am not sure if it will stay or not. Some years it does stay from the middle of November on through March and even into April. I hope this lot does go away for a little while because it makes the winter seem a little long when it comes and stays so early. The forecast is for another long, cold winter with that dratted Polar Vortex in place once again, so I am not too anxious to jump right into winter. Can't be colder and longer than last year though (he said hopefully with crossed fingers).

The good thing is that the paths were still walkable after only one snowfall, and a hobbled senior can get to spots that might prove difficult in another month or two. So, out I went with my camera to see what I could see.

And this is what I saw, or at least something close to what my camera saw since cameras don't necessarily see things the way that we do.

I liked this shot as soon as I saw it on the back of the camera. It didn't just have potential (as the shot in the previous post), but looked appealing to me right away.

However, on the monitor the RAW version lost quite a bit: the nice wintry blue cast for one thing. It was fairly easy to bring the blue back by cooling the white balance, and I also added a little more blueness in the shadows by using the split toning panel. This brought the image back closer to what I had seen on the camera.

I did some normal sharpening and some minor straightening and cropping, and increased the vibrance just a bit. I also adjusted the white and black points to boost the contrast, but once again, this was mostly to bring the RAW image back to what it should have been and not so much to alter it into my fanciful vision.

The one minor thing that I tried to improve, without great success, was to highlight the yellow bushes and trees. So I applied a little brightening via radial filters, but it really didn't do much and even looks a bit off. If I ever have another 'go' at this image, I will look at that effect again.

It seems like a lot of work when I write it out like this, but it really just involved moving a few sliders in Lightroom and didn't take more than a few minutes. It is one case where I preferred the camera's jpg version to the RAW version and worked to get the RAW image back closer to that.

The typical advantage of working with RAW data is that you make the decisions. When you shoot jpg images, the camera processes them as it sees fit, and then throws away so much good data that could be of use to 'the developer.' In this case, I had really liked what the camera had done (at least as I remembered what I had seen on the back), so I tried to process back toward that effect as opposed to the flat and dreary version I saw it when the RAW image initially came on the monitor.


In passing, permit me to insert a photo of the same pond from just three days prior. What a difference!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reflection Under the Bridge

I took a stroll around our neighbourhood park on a cold, windy day with the intention of just shooting a lot of photos. The object for me was to 'work the scene' and see what if anything appealed to me when I got the photos on the monitor later.

It's not a large park, and there's not really that much of interest. Yes, there's a nice pond, but with houses on three sides, it's not all that easy to shoot: especially when things get bleak in November.

There were some Canada Geese on the far side of the pond, and I took a number of zooms, but they weren't very interesting. I walked a bit in the long, dried grasses at one end of the park but couldn't find a very interesting shot.

The sun was going in and out, but when it came out, I saw some interesting reflections under the little footbridge over a tiny dtich that leads to the nearby pond. I thought that I could try to work with it, but it needed some tender care in post, as most photos do — especially if your shoot in RAW although I sometimes get decent results SOOC (straight out of the camera) even in RAW.

In analyzing the photo, I found five main things that I would like to change: numbered below.

1. This is to be the focal point. I think I need to brighten the reflection a bit and perhaps tone down the bright leaves on the bank — just even out the two parts of the focus a little. This could done in Lightroom: my goto photo editor. Some photos just require a little tweak or two in LR, but this would require more work.

2. This area above the line is extraneous to the photo, and even pulls the eye away from the focal point. I am going to crop it away. Also easily accomplished in LR.

3. The eye is always drawn to the brightest part of the image, so I would like to darken hilites like this one a little. Another job easily done in LR.

4. If I don't crop away this section, I need to do something with it. What I eventually decided to do in Photoshop, was to extend the wooden rail using the Clone (or Stamp) tool.

5. The boards are very unintersting. I was able to find a texture in Perfect Effects that made them better to my eyes.

Although I don't write down my steps as I go, that's more or less what I did, and the result is below.

You can be in a beautiful area at a beautiful time of day, and the photo is just lying there awaiting your snap. But sometimes, you are just carrying your camera around and experimenting. You get an image that's okay-ish but with potential to be better, and this is what happened that day. It's still not a WOW! image by any means, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't print it, but I find it pleasing enough.


Some of you requested seeing the original image to the previous post, and I have since added it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Replacing Danica's Head

Well over a month ago, I signed off for a short while with Thanksgiving plus a weekend on the road coming up after TG. That was then, and once the ship was righted, and I was back on an even keel, I found that I didn't want to return to my blog. Still don't really.

But, a few kindly souls have been emailing to wonder about my whereabouts, so I am dropping in to thank them for their concern and to let the world in general know that all is fine here. It's just that, I don't know what I want to do with this little space on the interwebby thingie. So, I'll will probably revert to dithering some more after posting this. In the meantime I will, however, make the supreme sacrifice of paying you all at least one little visit.

I have been pondering a couple of directions for this blog. One of them is to post just a single photo every now and then and 'talk' about it a bit. I won't get into my other idea right now.

However, to try out the photo notion, here's one that I didn't take; Sue did, but I processed it, and the steps are still somewhat fresh in my mind.

Danica wanted a snuggle the other night after she and Mom stopped over for supper. Sue had her camera nearby, so she hopped up to snap a few photos. Of the group of shots that she grabbed, we had a decent one of her and the same for me. The problem was that they were on different images.

So, I decided to use the good one of me as the base photo and to replace her head from the other picture. This is what I did — more or less anyway since I am going from memory.

  1. Before trying to merge the two images, I adjusted the White (ie Light) Balance in each. Sue had used a flash, but the ambient lighting was tungsten (as you can see), and the mixed lighting came out oddly. It still isn't perfect by any means, but it is better than it was.
  2. I sent both images from Lightroom to Photoshop as two layers in one file and had the program align the two layers. PS lined up walls and railings quite well, but people move, and her two faces (in the two layers) still needed some manual nudging to line up.
  3. Aligning the photos left some odd white space around the edges, so it was time to crop. I crop a lot in post processing. Unless the photographer is in a perfect position with the perfect lens and gets the shot perfectly straight, the majority of photos can do with subsequent cropping in post. I used to think that having to crop in post was a failure, and perhaps it is, but it is also reality, and it no longer bothers me to do it.
  4. I then masked out the whole top layer — the one with her good face (this one) — and painted just her face back in exactly over top of the poorer version of Danica.

  5. Replacing the face worked well, so I just had a few final steps to finish it off. First: in order to draw the eye, I used the iris blur filter in PS to slightly blur all but the area around our faces. Second:I added some vignetting (darkening) around the edges of the photo to continue to draw the eye to the important area.
  6. I almost forgot, but at some point in the process, I used the radial filter in Camera Raw to brighten both out faces, just a little.
It's still just a snapshot, but I enjoy taking an ordinary photo and making it just slightly better, and I am fairly well pleased with this result. Post processing in Photoshop or in any program will not turn an ordinary photo into a studio-quality shot, but it can bump it up a grade level, and that's what I think I accomplished in this case.


Edit: some people wished to see the original. The main thing was to replace her head, but while working on it, I did the other things mentioned above. It would have been a 'good enough' snapshot just replacing the head though.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Cottage Photos

I might as well take a few minutes to drop in to Blogland. We have been back from the cottage for almost a week, but what with unpacking, getting ready for company and then hosting said company, my thoughts have not been on posting. This won't change much for a few weeks as we first ready ourselves for Thanksgiving and then for another little trip: this time to visit family.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from our week in the country. I have so many that it's hard to know what to include and what to leave, but here we go.

We took the backroads to the cottage, but that was more than two weeks ago, and the colours were not very advanced. They came on quickly however, and were becoming quite wonderful within a few days.  We're not there any more, but I expect that autumn colour is already past its peak, or nearly so.

The above shot was taken very near the property along Glen Alda Road.

Below: a photo from a few days earlier of rapids on Eel's Creek, near Apsley. I used both an ND filter plus a small aperture to slow the shutter down enough to achieve the silky water effect. The foliage on the other side was quite splendid.

Here are a few photos from around the cottage property, both taken in the morning. Above: we had several foggy mornings and I wandered happily snapping many pictures. This is one that I liked with the logs in the foreground and the path leading our eyes into the frame. Below: near the end of our stay, we had a very fine sunrise. This was a somewhat lazy shot, taken almost from the back door. It's not sharp, but I sometimes prefer less than tack sharp photos.

There is a photogenic old barn on the property, and the way Brian mows the walking paths creates nice lines and colours. On this morning, the sun was just peaking over the trees. I stopped the lens down to create a sunburst effect. It's nice to play with this kind of effect every now and then.

Above: the same structure at night. I wanted to experiment with star photos but I included the barn for foreground interest. The light that you see emanates from the streetlight, just inside the entrance to the property way across the fields from the barn. The reach of this one light surprises me.

Another building on the property is the former planer mill which Brian has converted into a screened in structure, which gets us out of the elements and away from the multitudes of insects. I have taken many daytime photos, but here a nighttime exposures with lots of starry sky. You may or may not be able to see the path of two planes just over the treetops in this downsized version; you can click for a slightly larger view but not that much larger.

We sat inside the mill last Sunday afternoon; this was part of the view.

Leaves were falling in the whispering breezes, so I stepped outside the door to take a short video. I handheld somewhat shakily but you can begin to hear the whispering of the wind in the trees along with crickets and some background human chatter.

Finally, although I could go on and on, here is a photo of Brian toasting a marshmallow around the campfire. I think it was well toasted. Would you believe flame broiled?

So ... I guess that's it for a few more weeks. I hope you are all enjoying autumn in good health. Happy upcoming Thanksgiving to any Canadians who happen to stop by.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Odd Morning with Definite Upside

Sue and I found ourselves at an assembly of sorts at the kids' school yesterday. It wasn't one of the popular assemblies, and only a few adults showed up. Usually, gatherings are crowded and wild at their school events, and we must arrive early to find a parking space. We did that yesterday but needn't have bothered.
Why was the gathering so poorly attended? Because it was a mass.

Why did we attend? Because Danica was doing a short reading and wanted an audience but the rents couldn't attend.

A mass at school? Yes. It's a Catholic school (don't ask), so religious trappings are part of the package.

Was there a priest? Yes. One of [East] Indian origin who intoned with a heavy accent that few could follow. Wonderful fellow, I'm sure, but it did seem somewhat surreal.

Being the sort of bloke who doesn't appreciate kids being indoctrinated, this was not an event that I appreciated, but the kids sort of made up for my vexation. After Danica was done with her readings, she crossed the gym and sat with us and on us and was ever so cute and overjoyed. Then JJ slipped away from his class and sat on the other lap. It was touching and pretty well made it all worthwhile.

Then they wanted to be taken out for lunch but preferred different destinations. She wanted a milkshake from DQ: he a donut from Tims. Said items were purchased and brought back to our place to be eaten alongside their packed lunches.

It was quite a rigamarole, but it was fun. I'll remember this little outing often in the next week or two as we head to the country -- tomorrow.

By the way, I will also remember how kids are gifted in different ways. Danica has been an early reader who has been chosen to read at assemblies since Kindergarten. JJ is not made the same way, but he sees things that few others would notice. Yesterday, I put on dressier shoes that he hasn't seen before. He noticed and asked what it was all about. Not too many kids would notice their grandfather's footware, but he notices many things that others don't.

Then, Sue and I went for a little stroll later in the day, and I took these photos at the beginning of the Beckwith Trail. Autumn colour is creeping into the landscape. See you in a few weeks.