The Timeless Sea: Tilt-Shift Miniaturization Effect on a Long Exposure Photo of My Friends on the Sonoma Coast

Who says I don’t listen to you?  Someone asked me to post the other photo I took of my friend and his two charming kids at the Sonoma Coast because this one utilizes a tilt-shift look.  This can create a sort of miniaturization effect, and quite frankly, this is usually more effective when done to cabins on a hillside or cars on the street rather than people, giving this miniature model toy effect, although that said, one of the best photos I’ve seen utilizing this effect was of masses of swimmers jumping into the ocean.

Sonoma, The Timeless Sea II (long exposure photo of the Pacific Ocean)

Title: Sonoma, The Timeless Sea II
Info: Nikon D90, 18-200mm Nikkor VR at 27mm, F/25 ISO 200 for 6 seconds, two Tiffen 0.9 neutral density filters, flat rock (forgot my tripod!).
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Salt Point, Sonoma County, California, USA

I don’t have a tilt-shift lens, so I created this in Photoshop utilizing the Quick Mask function in Photoshop.

I began by using Gradient Tool (Cylindrical Gradient) to apply a gradually increasing blur from where I wanted the focus point to be (in this case, the my friends standing on the rocks), increasing the amount of blur further from that point.  You can use your mouse, holding the Shift Key, to draw the gradient from the focal point on up.  You’ll need to experiment with this a few times.  I then switched out of Quick Mask to Standard Mode again.

I then applied the Lens Blur Filter in Hexagon Mode, tweaking the Radius to adjust the amount of blur.  I began around 15 and started adjusting to see what looked good 15-20 is usually fine.  You can also mess with Specular Highlights and Brightness as you see fit.

Especially with toys or cabins on a hillside, you’ll want to jack up Saturation Mode to bring out this miniaturization effect.  You can lighten and add a little contrast if you want as well.  That’s what I did here.

The miniaturization effect with this tilt-shift technique is more a function of your photo and what you choose to photograph.

LONG EXPOSURE PHOTO:  This is also a long exposure photo in which my friends once again sat still for six seconds.  I used two neutral density filters stacked together to reduce the incoming light, resting the camera on a rock.

Our trip, including more photos:

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, Sonoma

I’ll go easy this time:  a photo of a beautiful flower.  This is probably an easier sell than star trails photos!  😀

North of Jenner, north of Salt Point, is the not-so-frequently visited Kruse Rhododenron State Reserve in northwest Sonoma County, just off Pacific Coast Highway, a good stop along the way, especially if you like clean air, beautiful flowers and redwood groves.  And if you don’t like those things, whaat, you got rocks in the head?

This reserve contains second-growth redwood, Douglas fir, grand firs, tanoaks, and a plethora of rhododendrons. In April and May the rhododendrons burst into bloom, their brilliant pink blooms offering a dramatic contrast to the deep green of the forest. Since we were there in the middle of June, we caught the last of the blooms. The large amount of is a direct result of normal plant succession patterns following a severe fire that once occurred here. Today, the regenerating forest is gradually overwhelming the rhododendrons.

We went in mid-June, but still got to see some blooms.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 11-16mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens

Star Trails Among the Redwoods – Can I Take A Photo While Snoozing?

We can’t go too long without another star trails photo, can we?

Title: Treehouse Star Trails
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, stacked photos totaling 100 minutes, stacking 200 individual photos of 30 seconds each (ISO 800, f/4). The almost vertical streak near the middle is a shooting star. Light painted the trees by aiming a bright flashlight down on the wooden deck where the camera was. 21 June 2012.
Photographer: Ken Lee

Taking long exposure star trails photos aren’t necessarily always heroic, I’m-freezing-in-the-middle-of-the-night-desert affairs.  The above photo, for instance, was taken not long ago when I was staying in a little cabin called The Treehouse in Guerneville, Sonoma County, California, USA.

I set up my camera on a tripod on the main deck, with the camera looking almost straight up in the sky, right at the tops of the trees.

I “light painted” the trees by pointing my absurdly bright flashlight down at the wooden deck. Why? Because I didn’t want the trees to be really white colored or overexposed by the bright flashlight, and pointing out down at the wooden deck created a much warmer light.  I did this for easily less than a minute, taking up only two individual photos (this is “stacked”, with each individual photo being 30 seconds in length). I piled some furniture in front to keep critters away.

Then….I went to sleep.

The almost vertical streak near the middle is a shooting star.  It’s a one hour, 40-minute exposure in total.  Cool, eh?

 Find out more about star trails photography, including how to stack photos here.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

Happy 4th of July- Hot Air Balloon Festival

I thought this seemed quite American for the 5th of July, even if the French first came up with this mode of travel.  Or maybe it’s because I don’t have any recent photos of grilling meat or fireworks.

According to Wikipedia – just to let you know about my extensive research – the hot air balloon is the oldest successful technology that can launch humans aloft. In Paris, France, 21 November 1783, the first untethered manned flight was made by in a hot air balloon created on 14 December 1782 by the Montgolfier brothers.  Wine, cheese, the Statue of Liberty, and hot air balloons.  Find someone French and give ’em a big hug on this fine Independence Day!

This was taken at the Sonoma County Hot Air Balloon Classic, Sunday, 17 June 2012, in Windsor in Sonoma County, California, USA.  And yes, some day, I will get over to Albuquerque, New Mexico to see their hot air balloon festival.  That has several hundred balloons, much larger than the 25-30 at Windsor.  I used a Nikon D90 and my very weazy 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, which is currently in the shop getting a thorough cleaning and replacement of all it’s woeful, worn-out rubber parts.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

Photo Tip: How To Take Long Exposure Photos of the People and the Sea During The Day

…and unfortunately for me, without a tripod!!!

Title: Sonoma, The Timeless Sea I

6-second long exposure shot, with my friends staying verrry still! Nikon D90, 18-200mm Nikkor VR at 32mm, F/29 ISO 200 for 6 seconds, two Tiffen 0.9 neutral density filters, camera on flat rock (forgot my tripod!). Photograph: Ken Lee. Location: Salt Point, Sonoma County, California, USA

Tip 1.  Have a better memory than me.  I forgot the tripod when I went to the ocean.  Fortunately Adam (pictured) found some relatively flat rocks for me to place the camera.  See?  This blog is already useful.

Tip 2.  Reduce Incoming Light.  Use an external filter called a neutral density filter.  These are like sunglasses for your camera, and reduce incoming light without affecting the color.  Cool.  I stacked two Tiffen ND filters together to double the amount of light being reduced, but you don’t have to do that if you have either an adjustable neutral density filter or one that is simply darker.  I just happen to own two of these.

Now, you can also reduce the amount of light coming in by reducing the aperture of your camera.  For this photo, I set the camera to f/29, a super tiny opening, and set the ISO for 200 so it wouldn’t be ultra sensitive to light.  Then I experimented around with the shutter speed.  The longest I could go was 6 seconds on this very bright day, but sometimes, I can get away with as long as ten seconds with those two filters.  Again, if you have darker filters than what I have, you can keep the shutter open for considerably longer.

Tip 3. Soft things help steady the camera if you have no tripod. Adam found some rocks nearby.  They weren’t quite flat enough, so I asked one of the kids for some clothing.  I forget, I may have used a hat or a hoodie, I don’t remember, but it helped balance the camera so I could help frame the subjects and keep the image relatively flat (almost…I leveled the horizon just a wee bit in Photoshop).

Tip 4.  Count Down!  The last time I did this, the subjects were far away, so I didn’t count down, and what happened occasionally was that the kids would turn around prematurely, wondering if I were finished.  This time, they were much closer, so I counted down:  “6…5…4…” so they’d have a sense of how long they had to stay still.  It worked.  When you can photograph 3 year old kids staying still for six seconds, you’re probably doing something right.  😀

Tip 5.  Cheat.  Because the day was foggy, the sky was very very white.  At first, I kept it white, as I don’t tend to monkey around with coloring my photos in Photoshop.  But after a while, I decided to add a graduated neutral density filter using Nik Software Efex Pro, adding a little blue to the sky, which looks a little better and helps add a nice highlight around the subjects as a bonus.

If you look closely, you can see what my friends are looking at:  some harbor seals laying on the rocks by the water.  They look like they were laying very still as well.  Tip 4 works really well, even for seals.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Tiffen 72mm Neutral Density 0.9 Filter, Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras, and sadly, no tripod!