Thursday, February 25, 2010

What makes the image effective?

Our Composition and Perception webinar is coming up! This is a brand new, two-hour course on making your images more effective using principles and theories of perception, and traditional rules of composition.

Here's the information you'll need if you do decide to join us - click on the link for details and registration:

Composition and Perception Webinar
March 14, 2010
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM (EST)
$49 per person

As always - RECORDED sessions will be available to students who can not attend the live webinar.

Take a look at the photograph at the top of the post- these are the mud flats at the Mequite Dunes in Death Valley National Park, CA. I've used the gestalt principles of similarity and proximity here - as well as the rule of thirds for the placement of the horizon line and the moon.
This second shot is also from the mesquite dunes - again, the rule of thirds is pretty obvious in this shot... though I chose not to use it for the placement of the horizon. During processing, I tried to make sure that the foreground bush was clearly delineated from the sand behind it... allowing it to take it's place as "figure" in the composition. Sky and sand need to seem separate, but related - and in this case, they work together to create the "ground" part of the figure/ground relationship. Color is a pretty important element of this shots as well - and that's something else we'll be talking about on March 14.
This last shot was taken near Badwater - also in Death Valley. Texture is, perhaps, the most important element here - but notice the leading lines as well. Color is a very subtle element of the image - and because the focus is on texture, this image is an excellent candidate for black and white conversion. The salt flats and the dunes are an incredible place to work on composition.

It's tough to go too deeply into concepts like these in a blog post - but I wanted to give you a basic idea of what we'll be talking about in this upcoming webinar. If you are interested, take a look at the link. We hope you'll join us!

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Nature Photography Webinar Feb 21, 28

So, you're back from that nature photography workshop with hundreds of photos on your memory cards... what's next? The photo above was taken near Badwater during our recent workshop in Death Valley National Park in California. But how do you take that ordinary-looking RAW file and turn it into fine art? The photo below was taken under brilliant skies at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The image was processed using default camera setting.
The resulting image lacks proper contrast and colors. It's dull and uninteresting - hardly representative of the spectacular conditions of the real moment. But, with a few tweaks in the RAW converter, the photograph advances to a whole new level.
Here, the colors look clean and vibrant, and the contrast is much more appealing. The scene is much more inviting. Our upcoming Nature Photography Webinar Series (Feb 21 and Feb 28) is designed to help you bring out the details and colors in every part of the image. These webinars offer something for every skill level - from amature to seasoned expert. If you are interested in joining us, you can find all the information you need at the link below:

Registration: Nature Photography & iHDR Workflow

As always, RECORDED Sessions will be available for review by registered students for at least 4 weeks after the Webinar. About one week before class begins, registered students will be invited to download notes, sample images, and instructional videos for via ftp.

Session 1 – Nature Photography, Equipment, and Research
SUNDAY, Feb 21, 12:00 (Noon) PM - 2:00 PM (EST)

Session one is for students of all skill levels, and will focus on the basics of Nature Photography. After a brief discussion of composition and light, we will move on to discuss the equipment we use and how we use it. We will also talk about what it takes to shoot landscapes, and the research that helps us choose our shooting locations.

Session 2 - RAW processing
SUNDAY, Feb 21, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM (EST)

During session two, we will teach students of all skill levels how to work with RAW files. We will explain the difference between file types and introduce the basics of Adobe Camera RAW, before walking students through the processing of sample images. Students will work together to make decisions about color balance, exposure, contrast, and more as they work together on images provided by the instructors.

Session 3 – Layers and Masks in Photoshop
SUNDAY, Feb 28, 12:00 (Noon) PM - 2:00 PM (EST)

The material presented in session three is critical to the understanding of our iHDR process. This session is recommended for intermediate and advanced students – and those who have completed sessions one and two. Students will learn the basics of layers and masks in Adobe Photoshop. Sample images will be provided, and students will work alongside the instructors as they learn to use layers, and create and refine masks. Students will learn simple and practical blending techniques, and will receive an introduction to manual High Dynamic Range blending.

Session 4 – iHDR
SUNDAY, Feb 28, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM (EST)

Session four is our most advanced session. Students who wish to attend should have completed sessions one, two, and three – or should have a solid understanding of layers and masks, and a basic understanding of Adobe Photoshop and how it works. We will focus on processing bracketed images using our Intelligent High Dynamic Range blending techniques. Students will use critical skills from sessions two and three to process bracketed RAW images, and blend them using layers and carefully refined masks.

We HIGHLY recommend completing sessions 2 & 3 before attending session 4. We won't have time to go back and cover the concepts covered in sessions 2 & 3.

We hope to see you online!

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Monday, February 8, 2010

The Devil is in the Details

Death Valley's salt pan is about 5 miles wide, and stretches for more than 40 miles across the valley floor. At it lowest point, the Badwater salt flats are 282 feet below sea level. It's a fantastic place - and I love the details.

These little crystals measure just a few millimeters each. I took the shot with a 180mm macro lens on a 1.6 crop factor camera. The sun was behind Telescope Peak, so the valley floor was in shade. Soft, even light lets the details stand out without heavy shadows and harsh, blown highlights.

A macro lens can be difficult to get used to. Depth of field is extremely narrow as you get close to your subject, so look for flat surfaces if you want your entire composition in focus. You can also use that narrow depth to blur our unwanted detail in the background.
This shot was taken with the same lens on the same camera. Notice the blurred background. The blurring removes distraction - the rocky background would do nothing for the image. I took the shot just a few minutes before sunset as the last light gave it a soft, golden glow.

I've been to Death Valley several times, and every time, I find something new to photograph.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Love the Desert

I took this shot along the road to the Devil's Golf Course in Death Valley National Park, CA. It's titled "Broken Heart" (thanks, Suzy!). The dirt road was closed because of last week's rain storms, but we walked down to check out the condition of the location before most of our students arrived. Jay noticed these unusual patterns in the mud along the way, so he ran back to the car for our cameras. This one looks like a heart to me... and it makes an unusual valentine. :)

We had a great time in Death Valley. We had eleven students with us, and I really enjoyed this group. Everyone seemed ready to learn, and the whole group meshed really well. We've seen some really neat photos from this trip. We were lucky to get some fantastic skies, too. I'm looking forward to processing some more of my own photos... and seeing more from the group.
We shot at the dunes a couple of times, and after the sun rose, some of us started playing around with our own shadows. We ended up laughing so hard our stomach muscles were cramping up... we looked pretty ridiculous trying to capture our shadows as we posed and jumped around. It's a good thing there aren't very many people out there! Here are the results...
The series is titled Desert Petroglyphs thanks to Tex Schneider. Thanks for the suggestion, Tex! :)

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