Michael Frye's Light and Land, E-book review

We are in the midst of another media transition, books and magazines, and newspapers are fast becoming a thing of the past. Will they join 8-track, B&W TV, Kodachrome, and VCR’s?? Probably not for a long time but the shift has begun and is accelerated by our modern thirst for instant news, quick answers from a wide knowledge base, environmentally friendly “print” formats, and interactive features that are at our finger tips whether we are at our desk, in a car, train, bus, or plane or just taking a walk!!

Last year after getting an iPad from my wife for my birthday, I quickly adopted this new multimedia craze and started searching for more ways to get my info delivered electronically.  This led me to search for photo books and I quickly found David duChemin’s company Craft & Vision, which publishes photography based e-books in PDF and iPad formats, and I must mention how amazing these books look on the iPad! Seeing each authors images displayed on it are usually worth the cost of the book alone! I now have many of these fantastic e-books and plan on starting to review these and other E-books occasional for you.

The first book I want to review is actually one of C&V’s newest, entitled “Light & Land - Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom” By Michael Frye.  I have several of Michael’s actual books and love them, but I thought my Lightroom skills were pretty good so I wondered how much I would get out of this book. Well let me tell you, he changed my editing workflow forever!

Michael’s teaching method is to take several of his pictures step by step from import to final perfection!  He explains the entire workflow in such an easy to understand way that it leaves you anxious to get to the computer to try what you just learned!! By far the biggest take away for me though was his explanation and dissection of the tone curve panel(Just called “curves” in PS) The setting of white and black points as well as easy to grasp methods for adjusting the curve instantly gave my own images a noticeable boost in contrast and depth that I had been un-knowingly missing!

View of an illuminated Sentinel Rock from near the Yosemite Church, edited using new method I learned in this e-book.

As with a lot of E-books, this one is priced at just $5, and in this one you not only get to see some of Michael’s beautiful Yosemite based images, but the knowledge you gain far outweighs the minimal cost, a definite must buy!

Do you....Live view??

I used to never use live view, I thought it was for either video recording or people used ot the big screen of a point and shoot!  Now I have found a couple instances when I really love and benefit from live view and I thought I would share those tips with you!
The first is white balance. I know, we all shoot RAW(and if you don't, you really should be, but we can talk about that some other time!) and white balance can always be changed in post processing, but I have found in certain situations for it to really be helpful to get it right in the camera.  Just last week I was shooting a wrestling tournament in a horribly lit gym that had natural light, sodium vapor gym lights, as well as a hefty tonal reflection from the entire floor of the gym being covered with blue wrestling mats! Well this is the kind of situation that wreaks havoc with auto WB in our cameras.  So before I got going I switched on live view, and then held down the WB button, and then proceeded to scroll through all the factory and custom settings until I found the one that matched the scene in front of me!  You could do this in post, but I knew I was probably going to have hundreds of shots, and didn't really want to have to fix all of them(even as a group) because for me when the color is SO wrong it makes it hard to even sort through the images on the first go around.  Also, I knew that I wanted to send some shots off to the parents of several of the athletes right away, and being able to grab a few quick picks, and exporting in seconds to email was a definite plus!

From auto WB on the left to WB adjusted with live view in arena

The other thing I have started using live view for is detailed focusing.  This is an old trick for macro and landscape shooters, but, well I guess I am a little late to the game, but if I wasn't doing it,  maybe you aren't either! This tip has another vital component, a tripod.  Which may be why I never knew or used this technique, since until recently I was never much of a tripod user, but on a recent trip to Florida, I went birding and brought my tripod along. We found large groups of birds in the water and they were actually staying fairly still, so I switched on live view and then zoomed in as far as I could, and moved the focus point around until I was zoomed into the bird I wanted to capture.  Then I manually focused my lens until the image in the screen was as sharp as possible. Then I waited until just the right moment.....and pressed the shutter!

Hope this helped or gave you something new to try!  Let me know if you like tips like this, I have some Lightroom tips and book reviews coming soon!

Barriers, fear and growth...

Do you always shoot what you know? Do you Stay in the your comfort zone of exposure, subject, or style? Or do you push your limits, stretch your boundaries and take that leap into the unknown??  I believe we put up fear barriers that can keep our creativity and skills reigned in to the point of stagnation and commonality.  In an interview with Vincent Laforet on Wednesday, Chase Jarvis talked about fear, and how it can be such a great motivator, and how it can lead to new skills and creative discovery!! I had heard a similar thought last fall but his comment sparked a few thoughts I wanted to share.

What barriers keep you from growing???

I think we all play in our favorite sandbox because it's comfortable and secure, but I know I have seen my greatest instances of growth as a photographer when I “go play in new parks” and climb up those ladders that seem to reach to the sky in order to shoot down those really scary slides we were intimidated by as kids!! In the last half of my 365 project last year I intentionally tried to start pushing myself.  I tried to raise my own bar and not always take the easy, safe or cliche image for the day.  For instance, as the days of the midwest’s beautiful colors of fall faded, and Chicago braced for frigid temps, and a white backdrop that plays havoc with your exposure settings, I challenged myself to not cave in and to shoot outside every day until the end of the year, no matter the weather or temperature. I found images in ice and views of my frozen hometown landscape that I would never have seen and would have never been captured by my camera if I had stayed inside the warmth of our home and my cozy comfort zone of images!  It was cold, and icy, but it was also beautiful and eye opening!!  What a challenge and a rush it was!!

Sunrise reflected in the layers of ice

As I prepared for a new year of photography, I took a personal photo inventory, no, not of my images, but of my skills, my exposure tendencies, my processing style, and much more.  I looked for the things I was not comfortable with, or afraid of, or never did, and put them on my list of challenges for the year.  This blog is one of them.  Writing and explaining things has always helped me clarify what it is that I actually know and believe, so here I am sharing my bit of knowledge and hoping I can grow in the process.  One of the other big ones on my list was portraits and using flash.  So, I got a second speedlight, some stands and umbrellas, and as soon as I heard about it, I signed up for the Nationwide Flashbus tour with Joe McNally and "the strobist" David Hobby, a whole day of flash from two of the best!!!

So the question really is What barrier have you built in your mind that’s preventing you from growing? What are you scared of? Is it portraits? Or flash? Or Is it simply leaving the safe green box of auto mode?? What are you gonna do? Stay in comfortville? or push out into the unknown, break through those fences holding you back an into a place where new images and skills lie waiting for you??


Do you prep your gear for instant shots?

I have a method I thought I would share for when I am going through daily life with my camera. Like most photographers, I have my camera with me all the time, mine usually sits in the passenger seat of my truck whenever I am driving around. I am always looking around for images or inspiration as I travel around Chicagoland both during work and on the weekends. I have missed some potentially awesome images by not being prepared, so I changed how I prep my gear. I used to just have whatever lens I had used most recently on the camera, but now I always have my longest glass on the body. I found that those "get them this instant" shots are never at the wider end of the focal range, for me they always seem to be wildlife shots in which the telephoto is needed. Sometimes you may only have seconds to get a skittish hawk sitting proudly on a post or a crocodile with his mouth open just off the side of the road(and yeah those are just two of the members of my personal "list of missed!!" that I can recall!)


My first Hooded Merganser!!

The other thing I try to do when I load up my stuff is to always check the settings, A couple key ones I used to forget(and as you will see, still do!) Are ISO and Exposure comp. Just the other day I had been shooting in the evening and then went to take some shots the next day and forgot my own advice and the first few were all at ISO 1000 even though I had nice light!   The other one that has bit me more than I care to admit is my exposure compensation. I play with ExComp a lot in dynamic images, as I watch my highlight warning but usually keep my exposure comp at +.3 to +1,(and even higher when snows on the ground)  but sometimes it gets adjusted way to far one way or the other and can give me either really dark, or blowout, or fuzzy images! So resetting that is crucial.  I am a matrix metering guy as of late, so metering is almost always set on that, so I don't tend to check it any more.

What do you guys do? DO you have a method for prepping your gear for that next shot??

Dreary inspiration...

It was just blah yesterday, it started out clear, blue, sunny, and beautiful, but it was too good to be true, it quickly turned gray and monotones and depressing…But, usually when I have time to go out for a photowalk my spirits rise, but for some reason it didn’t work yesterday!! It was just so dreary, and miserable.  I had been walking for quite awhile with absolutely no inspiration or photo urges, so I just stopped to survey the landscape and prepared to just cash it in for the day.  I was just standing on the floating path that crosses the bog and saw this grouping of dead, dried, and fluffy cattails and just felt like there was an image there somewhere.  As I looked through the viewfinder I had the aperture at F/4.8 so not much was going to be in focus so I picked one single cattail to focus on but….nah…didn’t feel right, so I bumped up the f/stop make the whole group in focus…again it just felt wrong…I lowered the camera, and stood for a another minute just soaking in the scene and my mood, and it felt like not only was my personal focus gone, but the moist, gray weather made it feel like nothing was crisp or in focus, kind of caught in the middle of a transition between winter and spring, everything just felt soft, dull, and un-focused today…Hmmmm, that might work… I slide the switch on the lens to manual focus, and then searched the scene for just the right composition, then I tried something I have only tried a few times, I UN-focused the scene until it felt right! And then gently rolled my finger across the shutter…Click.

A day unfocused...

As I drove home I kept thinking about the shot and the day.  I realized why should photography be any different than any of the other creative arts??  If painters are looking out at dark rainy skies, they don’t paint happy daisies or bright sunny landscapes, they paint with dark hues and scenes that match the mood of the scene before them or that they are feeling.  If musicians are depressed or down they write or play somber tunes and slow sad songs…So why not us?  I don’t know where this mood came from, I think the power to fight the winter doldrums was tapped out today, and I embraced it instead of fighting it, so the next time you’re in a funk(or the weather isn’t cooperating with your shooting schedule!!), maybe try to use your camera in a way you never have, to try and capture either your mood or the scene in front of you to create an image that would otherwise escape you by sticking to the rules, styles, and patterns you usually shoot  in!!