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Bowling Ball Beach 2

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Photo Tip of the Month: Avoid These Four Mistakes If Your Camera Gets Wet!

My loss is your gain.  Hopefully.  We’re going to discuss keeping your camera dry while photographing around splashing water this month.  I want to be up front here:  I am not an expert at this, as you shall quickly read!  But if I can help people by having them avoid the mistakes that I made, that would be great.

Please click on the photo to see it.  The algorithms for making the photo smaller seem to also make it appear blurry.  Thanks!

Title: Bowling Ball Beach 2
Info: Nikon D90, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod, f/14, ISO 200, 10-second exposure, which makes the movement of the water look mystical. This was possibly the last photo that I took with my D90, although it looks good that a camera technician can resurrect it now.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino County, California, USA

Shortly after I took this photo, I was splashed with water.  These large round rocks in a row create odd, unexpected, and surprisingly high splashes, and even though I had a Ralph’s paper bag around my Nikon D90 camera, it still got wet.

Mistake 1:  A Ralph’s plastic bag is not enough.  Use something more like a Op-Tech rain-sleeve. If you don’t get one of these, you can also use a shower cap in a pinch.  Save those shower caps if you stay at a hotel.  There are more expensive albeit more effective options, but since we’re discussing occasional splashing water from waves, I’ll stay with these suggestions.

I wiped off the camera with a towel.  It didn’t seem like that much water, so I fired up the camera again and kept shooting for another half an hour.

Mistake 2:  You can’t fry your camera’s circuits if there’s no juice. Turning on the camera, in other words, can fry your circuit-board or other parts if the salt water has entered the camera.

After half an hour of shooting, my camera began failing.  The shutter wouldn’t close.  Or wouldn’t shoot.  Then, the LED monitor began failing.  I left the beach and headed back to the hotel room, realizing that I had made a mistake, and opened up the camera, taking the battery and SD card out, took the lens off, and put it in front of a heater while I called a camera store to find out what to do and began scouring the internet for tips on drying a camera.

Mistake 3:  The camera salesman said that I shouldn’t put the camera in front of a heater. I never found out why.  Maybe you know.  I don’t.  But I saw one reference on the internet for getting dirt in the camera.  Now, to be fair, I had placed the camera in front of a fake fireplace, so it wasn’t blowing air.  But the best way to dry a digital camera, according to the salesperson and some articles I’ve found on the internet, is to submerge it in dry (duh!) rice and keep it there for 3-7 days.  Other people recommend placing the camera in a zip-loc bag with silica packets, which will also draw the moisture out.  I store my microphones in containers with these.

I ran to the market and purchased some rice, emptied a bag, and completely submerged the camera, but only after I found that I had made yet another mistake, which were beginning to pile up in a relatively short period of time.

Mistake 4:  Don’t forget to take off the LED cover.  I had forgotten to do this, but right before I put the camera in, realized that there was moisture trapped underneath.  My camera had gotten doused worse than I thought.

Now, what was worse than getting the camera wet was getting it wet with salt water.  Salt water is extremely corrosive.  Some people recommend that you attempt to disassemble the camera, quickly rinse all of the parts, and even more quickly dry that.  Since I’m not even close to an expert, I cannot recommend this, nor have I ever done it.  But the point being that if you can try and get the salt water off, that would be best.

Upon getting home, I took my camera to the local camera store.  They have a reputation for good service and have a good technician.  Their technician said that I had fried a circuit board, which would cost US$71 dollars, and that there would be a labor charge of about US$95.  So for a little under US$170, it appears that my D90 will be resurrected.  And while that’s a lot of money, it’s still cheaper than replacing it.

And for the rest of the trip, I used the Op/Tech 18″ SLR Rainsleeve with another camera while photographing the coastline near Santa Cruz, which worked well, although I had difficulty viewing the LED monitor.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, Sto-Fen Flash Diffuser.

Photo Tip of the Month: Exposing For Sky And Sea (Dynamic Range Without HDR Software)

You’re at the coast taking photos.  If you expose for the sky, the water, the cliffs, the rocks, the foreground becomes too dark.  If you expose for the foreground, the sky becomes blown out and appears like a white or gray blob.

What to do?  Ask a photographer from the 1850s!

Please click on the photo to see it.  The algorithms for making the photo smaller seem to also make it appear blurry.  Thanks!

Title: The Secret Coast
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 with B+W 1.8 ND filter. ISO 400, 8 second exposure, f/14.
Photography: Ken Lee
Location: Los Angeles County, California, USA

You could use a graduated neutral density filter to make the sky darker.  This works very well if the horizon is flat and doesn’t have rocks or mountains.

You could use Photomatix or another kind of HDR software.  A lot of people do.

But if you don’t have HDR software or flat horizons or graduated neutral density filters, all is not lost.  There’s a technique for doing it “by hand” that I believe creates a very natural look and can be done in many photo editors that can create layers, using a technique that was developed well over a hundred and fifty years ago!  Read on, my friend, read on!

Combining two exposures together
One way of dealing with dynamic range is to create two versions of the same photograph. That’s what was done with the photo above, a long exposure photo of eight seconds in which I exposed for the foreground.

Here’s how I created it:

1.  I created two versions of the same photo.  Using View NX 2, which I use for my RAW photos, I created a second version of the photo in which I lowered the exposure slightly, revealing the true colors of the sky.  I don’t make the sky too dark because otherwise the final result can look abnormal.  Maybe -1.0 exposure.  Play around with this and do it by feel.

I could have also used another photo of the same scene altogether that was exposed for the sky, which I’ve done for other photos.  Either way works. Create one exposed for the sky first, name it “sky”, and convert to TIFF. Then change your settings so that it’s exposed for the sea, rename it “sea”, and convert to TIFF.  We’re naming something meaningful simply so it’s easier to spot later.

2.  I combined the two TIFFs together as layers.  In Photoshop CS4, I opened the two TIFF files I had just created.  While viewing my “sea” TIFF – in other words, the photo in which I exposed the photo for the water, rocks, and foreground – I selected “all” (on a Mac, “Apple” + “A”; on a PC, “Control” + “A”), then copied it (Mac “Apple” + “C”; PC “Control” + “C”).

I then clicked on the other TIFF labeled “sky” – in other words, the photo in which I exposed for the sky – and pasted the “sea” photo in (Mac “Apple” + “V”; PC “Control” + “V”).  I could now only see the “sea” photo that was exposed for the foreground only.  The Layers Menu now showed two layers, the background being the “sky” photo. Cool. On all my versions of Photoshop, the Layers Menu has always defaulted to the lower right corner of the monitor in the event that you have difficulty locating it.

3.  I erased part the top layer to reveal the sky. It’s really that simple.  In Photoshop CS4, I selected the Eraser Tool, which should be found on the upper left side in a vertical bank of tools.  I like to use the Brush Tool, altering the size of the Brush depending on what I am doing, and starting off with 100% opacity and 100% flow.  You can change these as you see fit on the upper left corner in the horizontally-oriented taskbar of Photoshop.

So what I did was first select a very large brush, and at 100% opacity, kept erasing to reveal the ideally-exposed sky in the background layer underneath. As I got closer to the horizon or the rock, I made the brush size considerably smaller and changed the opacity to 50% to blend the borders better.

This part is hard to describe and takes some experimentation and patience, as you’ll probably need to zoom in on your photo near the horizon or edges to really see what you are doing.  This is art, after all, and how you do this depends on your taste and aesthetic.  Make sure you keep saving the image as you go in case Photoshop crashes and you lose all your work.  I personally like to blend the area where the water meets the sky a little bit rather than attempting a hard, discrete “line” of erasure.  Again, this is about aesthetics.  It’s art, so do it as you feel it looks and feels best.

When you’re finished, you should have a nicely blended image in which the sky looks like what you remembered, and not a white blown-out blob, and the foreground is nicely exposed as you originally did it.  Blending them artfully with the eraser is key.  Once you do this once or twice, you’ll get the hang ouf it and be able to do it quite nicely.

This technique is seriously old school!
Think dealing with dynamic range like this is relatively new?  Would you be surprised if I told you that Gustave Le Gray were doing this in the 1850s?  That’s right, the idea of combining more than one exposure was pioneered way back when your great-great-great grandfather was just a gleam in his pappy’s eye.  Le Gray combined two negatives for the very same reason I have here, using one negative for the sky and another for the sea, and then combining them into one photo (positive).

Some people have this attitude that this is fake and you shouldn’t Photoshop.  But if so, people have been faking it for quite some time.  No, we’re just exposing for the sky and for the sea.  And I would submit to you that a photo of a sky looking like a white blog instead of the deep blues and yellows that I saw would be unrealistic.

Thank you for reading, and thank you if you comment below!!!

Equipment:  Nikon D7000, Tokina AT-X 116

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!

Tip of the Month: 7 Tips For Beautiful Waterfall Photos!

Cathedral Falls, West Virginia

Cathedral Falls, West Virginia, Nikon D90, 18-200mm lens, 18mm, f/22, 1.6 seconds.  West Virginia has at least 3500 waterfalls.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love waterfalls?  Okay, maybe besides that one cranky great-uncle?  By request, I’m going to cover the best tips for getting gorgeous waterfall photos!

1.  Slow Shutter Speed. This is up to you and your tastes.  If you want to “freeze-frame” the spray, the specific waves, the droplets of water, you want a really fast shutter speed.  Once in a while, I like this to capture the power or drama of the falls.

Or do you prefer a soft, silky, ethereal feel of the water?  This is usually my preference.  If so, you want a slow shutter speed.  I shoot waterfalls, depending on the light, anywhere from 1/2 second to 1.6 seconds, using a low ISO.  But how can you shoot this slowly?

Upper Yosemite Falls

The Mighty Upper Yosemite Falls.  Although I generally prefer to shoot waterfalls using a slow shutter speed, there are sometimes in which I prefer a fast shutter speed to capture the individual waves and spray of the water, which can sometimes add more drama.

2.  Use a tripod.  You knew that, didn’t you?  This’ll keep everything sharp – except for everything that’s moving, of course. I like to use a Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord to further minimize camera shake, which can be introduced if you are touching the shutter button on your camera.

If you are hiking, use either a lightweight carbon fiber tripod or, like I did for the Cathedral Falls photo, a Joby Gorillapod.  It lightens the load and allows you to take photos of beautiful waterfalls, even if they are miles along the trail.

3.  Filters.  If the light is bright, you may not be able to slow down the shutter speed to 1/2 second or more. So, what to do?  You can screw on a neutral density filter or a polarizing filter to let in less light.  Cool, huh? For this photo, I used a polarizing filter because I left the neutral density filters at home.  Using a combination of the polarizing filter and a really small aperture allowed me to get a shutter speed as slow as 1/6 seconds.

4.  Figure Out The Best Time To Shoot!  When’s the best season?  When does the foliage look the best?  When does the water flow?  Might it look really cool in winter? Often, spring or fall is the best time for water flow, while the winter or summer may hardly have anything at all.

The time of day matters too.  The harsh light of day may not be the most flattering.  but certain times of the day may not be so great either if there’s strong contrast from trees or foliage overhead, with “hot spots” from the sun mixed with shade form the leaves and branches or trees. Most of the time, early morning or late afternoon is best.  Cloudy, foggy, or misty days can also provide good light for photographing waterfalls. But talking to people, checking out the falls, and otherwise doing research is best, particularly if you’re visiting.  Figure out when the light looks the best, or the most dramatic. Popular places like Yosemite often have a lot of information online or in photography books.

5.  Take Photos at Different Exposures and Shutter Speeds.  You never know what you might really like when you get home.  Experiment.  I mess with the shutter speeds, taking them from very fast shutter speeds to as long as 5 seconds or more, although for slow shutter speeds, I usually end up going for somewhere around 1/2 second to 1.6 seconds.  But not always.

6.  Small Apertures.  Consider using small aperture settings when shooting waterfalls.  Why?  As I mentioned, it lights in less light, handy if you are trying to achieve that silky smooth look of the water.  But more than that, what it allows you to do is keep more of the waterfall and surrounding landscape in focus.  This allows you to have a greater depth of field and keep the foreground elements as well as the leaves and trees around the waterfall, as well as the top of the waterfall, in focus.  My very small aperture of f/22 is a little smaller than most people do, but I did that because it was relatively bright and I wanted to get the shutter speed slower.  But experimenting with apertures between f6.3-f/13 in most cases will do the trick.

7.  Bring Microfiber Cloths and Plastic Bags.  Indispensable when you’re shooting around spraying water. You can use a plastic bag to cover the camera until you are ready to shoot. Using your lens hood can sometimes keep some of the water droplets (or sun) off the lens as well.

When I was shooting Cathedral Falls, most of the water on my lens came from a little boy who suddenly chose to throw rocks in the water pools right in front of my camera while his mother looked on and did nothing.  Because I’m helpful, I gave her some tips on parenting.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, Sto-Fen Flash Diffuser.

Photo Tip of the Month – Fill Light To Reduce Contrast in the Mid-Day Sun

You’d be surprised how many people will ask, “Why are you using a flash? There’s plenty of light!”  Here’s how flash can help your mid-day photos.

Wagon of the Old West

A photo of a Wild West wagon, using a fill light to minimize the harsh contrast of the mid-day sun. Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, 18mm ISO 200 F/6.3.

You can’t always shoot photos during the “golden hours” (early morning, just before sunset).  And you may not always want this. Sometimes, you want to capture the look of something at mid-day.  But as anyone who has shot knows, this can create harsh light and harsh contrasts, particularly with subjects that are in the shade, as shown below:

Wagon with no fill light as an example

Our Wild West wagon with no fill light as an example of how mid-day sun can create harsh light and harsh contrasts in photos, particularly with subjects that are partially in the shade. Compare this with the other photo which uses the fill light.

So, what to do?  Use a flash as a fill light.

For this photo, I used a Nikon SB-600 Speedlight Flash in wireless mode.  I placed it down on the ground, just out of frame on the right side, facing up at the wagon, with a Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce OM-600 Flash Diffuser Unit to diffuse the light.  I like to use off-camera flash because I have more control over what area of the subject my flash lights (and if shooting portraits, it’s a great way to avoid getting demonic red eyes!).  Here’s another look at the photo using fill flash:

Wagon of the Old West

Have another look at the photo of a Wild West wagon, using a fill light to minimize the harsh contrast of the mid-day sun.  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, 18mm ISO 200 F/6.3.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, Sto-Fen Flash Diffuser.

 

Photo Tip of the Month – 5 Reasons Why Compact Cameras Rule

Five Reasons Why Compact Cameras Rule
I own a Leica DLux 4, although there’s a Panasonic equivalent, the Lumix DMC-LX3, which is considerably cheaper and has the same body and lens.  This camera does quite well in low light situations for a compact camera.  There’s also four thirds and interchangeable lens cameras, other high quality compacts, such as the Canon G11 or G12, and iPhones or other phone cameras which can take quality photos.  I always prefer to bring a compact camera when i travel.  And a lot of professional photographers will bring a compact camera with them when they are on assignment.  Here’s five reasons why:

1.  It Ain’t a Great Photo If You Don’t Take It.  If you don’t have your camera with you, you’re not going to get the shot.  But with a small camera that can fit in your pocket, you can always have it with you for those unexpected fantastic opportunities.

2.  Mobile and Spontaneous.  Clubs?  Hiking?  Street Photography?  Concerts?  It’s always with you.  Take it out, start shooting instantly, and even upload it to your Facebook page if your camera allows you to do so.

3.  Make People At Ease With Portraits.  People are often more at ease with smaller cameras than large SLRs.  They’ll relax more, perceiving the smaller camera as less “formal”.  And with most cameras being smaller than DSLRs, that can help quite a bit in getting your subject comfortable with your photography.

4.  “Macro” Photography.  A lot of smaller cameras can also focus on objects much closer.  This can be a lot of fun when doing quick photos of…well, just about anything, whether it’s flowers, animals, or every day objects, bringing a new perspective that your SLR may not be able to do unless it has macro lens.

5.  Safety.  With a small pocket camera, you are far less likely to attract attention.  You’re far less of a target for theft.  This quite possibly can save your life.

The Window

Good portraits can be taken with modest or small cameras, such as the one with a Brazilian girl, taken with a Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3 – see link below) compact camera.  I can keep this in my pocket, perfect for the photographer on the go.

Paulinho of the pandeiro

Paulinho of the Pandeiro, Brazil. This photo illustrates a close-up low-light photograph that many high-quality compact cameras can achieve. Photographed with the Leica D-Lux 4 (the same as a Panasonic DMC-LX3 – see link below), which I kept in my pocket except for occasional photos, increasing my safety and people’s comfort level…perfect for the photographer on the go.

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