Archives for August 2011

Flower Power HDR

In the last post I shared several creative techniques for making interesting flower photographs. To handle the contrasty light we were faced with we used diffusers, reflectors and fill flash to control the shadows. But when we were faced with try to make some images of the fields themselves we couldn’t diffuse, reflect or add enough light to cover the several acres of flowers. Not only was the light high and hard, it was semi-backlighting the direction we were aimed. This was going to take both creative exposure as well as some additional post processing to end up with the image we had in mind. I suggested dialing in a three shot bracket with 2 stops in between (Ann shoots Canon) and I set my D3S to a 5 bracket set with 1 stop increments. Exposing for the brightest areas (clouds) to the darkest (distant trees) gave me all the detail and information I would need to process the image later. I chose to hand hold as there was plenty of light and the D3S can fire at 9 frames per second enabling me to capture a sequence with little to no movement on my part. Once we were back at our computers, I loaded up three images from my five shot bracket (normal, -2 and +2) into Photomatix and let it work it’s magic of blending the best exposure of each image together. I also darkened the image using curves to give it more visual depth.

Nikon D3S, AF-S 24-70mm 28

I then zoomed in even tighter, rotated the camera in a vertical orientation and repeated the HDR capture process. Adding a graduated ND using NIK Color Efex Pro 3 I darkened the background making the water stand out against the dark background. I found that the over saturated colors worked in this situation. I find the layers of bright colors leading to the sprinklers to have a surreal, painter-like quality…

Nikon D3S, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II

It’s amazing how the creative juices get flowing when surrounded by such beauty. What seemed an overwhelming task at first became a fun adventure in finding image after image and facing the challenge of meeting obstacles head on to come up with solutions. Stay tuned

Flower Power

Nikon D3S, AF 200mm f4D Micro-Nikkor

I love flowers! More specifically, I really love Dahlias with their variety of colors, patterns and sizes. This last week I had the privilege of sharing my passion with another flower enthusiast; Ann is a relative newcomer to photography and was drawn in by her love of flowers and desire to make beautiful images of her favorite subjects. August is prime Dahlia time in Portland so off we headed to the Swan Island Dahlia Farm where they graciously open their fields of flowers for the public’s enjoyment each year.

We arrived to a beautiful, clear, blue sky day! The kind that puts a smile on all Portlanders as we turn our faces to the sun to clear the mildew from our brains. But, not the kind of day that a flower photographer wants to see. If I can’t have the warm glow of sunrise or sunset, I prefer a slightly overcast day for photographing flowers. The diffused light allows me to capture great detail and nuances in color tonality that bright sun and shadows hide. I can change my white balance to reduce the bluish cast of an overcast day, I can add flash to make the colors pop and, I can add creative touches in the digital darkroom.

So, our first challenge was how to get that soft, diffused light on our flowers. Out came the Lastolight Tri-Flip diffuser/reflector to shield the flowers from the bright sun and soften the light falling on them. The transformation was dramatic and immediate! With our light problem solved, we got down to the business of finding that special bloom to photograph. The flowers had received an early morning watering and were glistening with water droplets…

Nikon D3S, AF 200mm f4D Micro-Nikkor

The drip, drip, dripping of the water drops pulled us in closer and closer to the dahlias until we could see reflections within each of the drops. Dilemma number 2 was how to move in close enough to see the tiny world reflected in the water drops and capture that detail on our sensors. We both had macro lenses that gave us 1:1 reproduction. I was using a 200mm f4 Micro-Nikkor with a minimum focus distance of 1.6′. Even at 1:1 reproduction (lifesize), the water drops didn’t really show the beauty that lies within so, we added extension tubes to get even closer. I used the Kenko 36mm extension tube which brought me a few inches closer allowing me to see the details within the water drops more clearly…

Nikon D3S, AF 200mm f4D Micro-Nikkor, Kenko 36mm Extension Tube

It was amazing what we could see in those drops! We had solved our light issue, moved in as close as possible for the greatest magnification, composed our images to our satisfaction now the only thing left to work on was getting everything we wanted in focus. No problem, right? Simply dial the aperture way down (f32 or more on a macro lens) and increase the depth of field. It’s not so easy! At the distance we were from our subjects depth of field was, well, non-existent. A water drop is not that deep, right? And how far is it from the front edge of a petal or bud to the back side of the water drop? An inch?, less? It is impossible to get it all in focus with the smallest aperture at that magnification and distance. And, even if we could, shooting at that small of an aperture would not bring the background into sharp focus but, it certainly would add more detail than we wanted. Oh, yeah, there was a gentle breeze that up close looked like a hurricane racing through the gardens buffeting the flowers every which way, flinging water drops away almost as fast as we could focus on one. Did we pack up our cameras and move on? Heck no! This presented a challenge that we could confront with every tool we had both in our camera bags and in the digital darkroom, to overcome the obstacles and come home with the prize of beautiful images…

Nikon D3S, AF 200mm f4D Micro-Nikkor, Kenko 36mm Extension Tube

Ok, to recap, we have found our subject, pulled out the diffuser to soften the light attached our macro lenses with extension tubes to our cameras, set up our tripods and composed an image that we like. Now to deal with the focus issue. I set my aperture to f8, yes f8 (I have a secret weapon in the digital darkroom that will solve my depth of field issues. Keep reading…), and switched to manual focus. I help my hand in front of the lens (a Moose technique) and clicked the shutter letting me know that I was about to make a series of exposures that all related to each other). I then focused on the very closest object in the frame that I wanted sharp, I clicked, moved the focus a fraction deeper into the flower, click, again and again on through the water drop and beyond to the farthest object within the frame that I wanted sharp until I had made about a dozen clicks that I could blend together in the digital darkroom using…drum role…Helicon Focus software! Now comes the hard part…not! I simply open Helicon Focus, select the images that need blending (sound familiar? kind of like HDR only not) and tell it to Render. I edit a photo or two and when I go back to Helicon, the image is done and I have a depth of field that is mathmatically impossible in one click. And the background is still a soft blur rather than having any distractions…

Nikon D3S, AF 200mm f4D Micro-Nikkor, Kenko 36mm Extension Tube

What a great morning! We set out to make some beautiful flower images and were confronted with several obstacles which we overcame one by one resulting in a very successful shoot. Not only did the instructor (me) teach my student many new techniques I had the privilege of seeing the world through her eyes and share her passion for the beauty, the color and the patterns found in flowers. Thanks for a great experience, Ann!

Alaska Fishing Bears

A great week with lot’s of photo opportunities. I can only blog between midnight and five am due to limited bandwidth at the lodge (we’re lucky to have internet at all in this remote location) and frankly after the wonderfully long days we have had I have not been able to get it done. While our primary focus is the bears, there are many other great subjects to point our lenses at too. So, here are a few samples of our week…

Juvenile Bald Eagles photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E III

Coastal Brown Bear photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E III

Harbor Seal photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E III

Arctic Tern photographed with Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

Arctic Tern photographed with Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

Juvenile Bald Eagle photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E III

Coastal Brown Bear photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E III

photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR

photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E II

photographed with Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR with TC-20E II

Another Day In Paradise

Beautiful weather, amazing landscape, fishing bears, great people. Who could ask for more…

Nikon D3X, AF-S 24-120mm f4 VR

Nikon D3S, AF-S 500mm f4 VR and 1.4X

Nikon D3X, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II

More to come…stay tuned