Fall challenges.

The fall colors here in Chicago have been, in my opinion, one of the best in years! The hard part, for a photographer, is creating interesting and new creative images. It's not enough to take a picture of a bright orange tree, it never seems to really capture the beauty and artistry that you see.  I tried many things to try and exemplify this season, some old, some new...some worked....some didn't! 

I have always loved reflections, so I tend to shoot a lot of them, but usually I am looking for calm, glass-like water, but on this day, the wind was blowing and creating slight ripples in the water and I have decided that Mother Nature may be the best abstract artist of all time: 

It took many images, and several locations to get this final shot. I loved those white birch trees, and moved to try and get them to highlight the scene. Initially I was using the tripod standing up, then realized(as is alomst always true!) that the reflections got better the closer to the ground you got! The wet leaves, and new pair of jeans had originally dissuaded me from going low, but anything for the right shot, Right?  So, I whipped out my little foldable frisbee I use for a knee pad and went to work!  I played with the shutter times, along with waiting for the right wind/ripple conditions. Finally all the elements came into alignment for this final image.  


It has also been quite misty here this year and created those dreamlike moments that take you back to bedtime stories of hidden worlds of wonder and beauty! While driving from another amazing nature shoot(That I will share soon!) I saw this little gate surrounded by this amazing maple tree and just had to go back! Several u-turns later, I was in position, and actually never left the truck!(It was private property, I am not usually that lazy! ;-)



and finally I have found I love the wide view of the colored forest, althoguh hard to capture in a truly engaging image, I do like this one from a recent trip to Ohio:



Choices, choices, choices!!! 

I realized very early on in my journey as a photographer that image creation has a lot to do with choices! Fast shutter and shallow depth of field or slow shutter and chance of vibration? Stability of a tripod, or freedom of going handheld? High ISO and get a shot filled with noise or low ISO and get blurred, dark shots? the list can go on and on, but recently I faced an even tougher choice, stay where you are and where the light is good and work the scene to its fullest...or run to another location and a spot that MIGHT be awesome too??  The choice is even harder when your traveling and you don't have tomorrow or next week to shoot it again!  


I woke up the first day to a completely overcast waste of a sunrise.  Also, I should mention to all of you that know me or have followed me for a while, you know I don't usually do sunrises! BUT, when you travel the right direction far enough on an airplane, the time zone vs. body clock gods are suddenly with you and you can not only sleep in, but still be up for sunrise! How sweet is that!!! So the first day was a wash, no biggie, I had another chance.  I had scoped out a spot along the water front with some serious potential. The sun would rise behind the mountains to the east, and I had several foreground elements that might make some good compositions.  My alarm went off 20 minutes before sunrise, and when I looked outside the view was shrouded in some serious mist, bummer! But this is the Pacific Northwest so I had kept my expectations pretty low!

I looked back out 30 minutes later and about fell over! The mist had partially lifted and the sun was breaking through! I am not sure I have ever got ready so fast, between getting dressed and grabbing all my gear it was seriously less than 2 minutes!  I actually ran to the location above, which was not my original spot.  I could hardly believe how beautiful it was with the sun hitting the end of the point and the fog lifting to reaveal the sailboats, and the trees in the background, not to mention the reflection I was seeing in the little pond!  It was so magical to see it was hard to keep my wits about me! I moved several times and I even remebered to bracket so I could make this realistic HDR!  

Now the anxiety hit! Do I run across the property to my original spot? or stay here? It was really hard to decide!! I actually started to leave pretty quickly and then stopped, went back and shot the frames you see above! Not sure what I thought could be better than this!! But, I think this is one of those easy decisions until your actually in the thick of it!! "Sure, I would stay at the guaranteed spot, for sure" but then you start thinking, "Well how good is it over there? what if I am missing an even more amazing scene?" To me this whole thought process is why shopping takes woman so long! "What if there's a better _______ at the next store??  ;-) I ended up staying here for a few minutes, but in hindsight I probably should have stayed longer, and waited to see what MIGHT happen with the light...but we will never know! I left and went to the other side of the peninsula and captured this:


I wanted to be there when the sun was just peaking up over the mountains, but I still really like what I got! If you look on the right of the image, you will see the mist that I was seeing in the other shot! SO it was still there...Hmmmm? I guess I got lucky this time and got two nice images, but I have been burned before and I am sure I will be again! But even with this shot in my camera I think I should have stayed where I was and worked it a little more.  

Have you ever had this dilemma? Or faced a tough choice for an image?  what did you do?


When the "plan" goes out the awry... 

As some of you know I was just in Washington State for a wedding. We were up on Whidbey Island, and I had several days to shoot and was anxious to capture one of the islands most famous landmarks, the Deception Pass Bridge.  I had seen many shots of this great bridge and wanted to get a creative, and cool version for myself.


Now for the story behind this shot!

We went to the State Park and went to the end of the parks peninsula where you can get a great view of the bridge and (no surprise!) It was foggy and overcast.  I saw this little rocky out cropping that seemed flat enough to set up my tripod to try and get a shot.  I made my way down the wet and sharp rocks to my spot. It seemed pretty good, and I decided to lower my tripod a little in order to get these little water sprays from the fairly gentle in coming waves, in the fore ground with the brdge clouded in fog in the background...

 Everything seemed to be going so well I had a good sturdy spot, the bridge was framed nicely and I had all the settings and focus I wanted...Then all of the sudden this enormous "rouge" wave came crashing in and hit the rocks in front of me creating a nearly 10 foot tall wall of water aiming right for you know who and his completely exposed camera gear!(and before you ask: My camera and lens "rain coat" was safely sitting in its warm and dry pocket in my camera bag in the parking lot! DOH!)  Needless to say I was soaked, as was my camera! I laughed so hard I can't tell you! It was awesome! It was just too funny not to laugh! The best part is my sister(Who was also laughing hysterically at this point was up the rocks from me and just happened to be waiting to grab a picture of me and had grabbed these "shots of the day" 


So after laughing, and wiping most of the water off the camera body, and wiping off the front of the lens with my shirt I kept shooting! Heck I was already down there, and wet, so why leave now?!!  It's just water, right?!

And after all that the shot isn't even that cool, but it will always hold a great story!!  I guess the take away for this would be: Make sure your ready for anything to happen(meaning Bring your raincover!) then, I would say don't let problems detour you from your intent! It may not be a wave hitting you but don't give up the vision to quick or if life throws you a curve, get back in the game and keep shooting!!!   

PS-I knew as soon as this happened and Julie captured me getting walloped that I just HAD to share the story with you guys! Ask my wife and friends, I don't mind telling embarrassing stories about myself, especially to get a laugh, but after reading Scott Kelby's blog post on Tuesday and this big time pro shooters admission about some big mistakes he made shooting an NFL game that, I was even more inspired to share my trials and mistakes, especially if it helps just one of you to learn from what I did or didn't do!  I make mistakes all the time, but I also try to analyze them, do you? or do you just try and forget them and keep going? Heck I learn more from my screw-ups than I do from the ones that just happen to be perfect! BUT, you have to be intentional about looking at your misses to learn from them, don't just delete them and move on, take some time, and figure out what you did wrong and what you SHOULD have done and most likely, next time you won't make the same mistake.  I love these two quotes from Jay Maisel, "They don't call it trial and success!"  and "If your not making any mistakes, your not trying hard enough!" which is one reason I am always trying to push myself everyday to a better picture than I did yesterday, or at least learn something I didn't know when I woke up today! 


Unleashing the power of the vignette tool in Lightroom!!


I haven’t done a “tip” post in a while, so how about we head back to Lightroom for a great new method for getting the most out of the vignette tool!!


I do not know about you but I use a slight vignette on nearly every single one of my photos. I learned the power of the vignette after reading David DuChemin’s e-book, Drawing the Eye. David talks all about the way we look at images and what we notice first, and how our eye is drawn to one thing over another, and one of those things is we are drawn to a lighter subject before a darker one, so darkening the edges of a frame will naturally bring the eye to the center area of the frame! 

When you go to the “effects” area of lightroom it gives you 5 sliders for vignetteing, and for years I generally just moved the first slider over to the left a bit to darken the edges.  Once in a while I would play with the other but could really never find a great way to grasp and quickly use those, it was kind of a crapshoot everytime! Until now…


It will seem counter intuitive and ugly at first but now, on every image I am vignetteing I slide the “feather slider all the way to the left, creating this atrocious hard edged outline! (Who would ever use this??) But, since that the edge of the vignette is such a hard line, when we use all the other sliders we can easily see what they are doing and how the shape of the vignette changes. SO now lets change the roundness and midpoints until the brightpart is right where we want it...


Now you can dial in the perfect size and shape vignette for each picture in seconds. When the shape and size is right, you then pull back on the feather slider until it looks like a natural darkening of the edges, and your subject will be highlighted by your customized vignette!  

Here's a couple more screen grabs from the feather slider at 0 to help you see the different vignettes you can achieve:



So go give this method a try and see what you think, I have found it really works great for dialing in just the right level of vignette in the shortest time, which gets me back out shooting that much sooner! Hope you like this post, feel free to comment, like, share, friend, circle, tweet this to all you lightroom friends out there!!  (Don't you just love all the new lingo the social networking has brought to our daily vocabulary!!)


More new stuff for me...HDR!

I recently got the entire NIK software collection for Lightroom and am loving these amazing plug-ins! Well one of the programs is their famous HDR Efex program.  I have always wanted to at least TRY HDR but never had the software to play with! Well no excuse now! 

For those who haven't already made up their mind about HDR you should give it a chance!(If you don't know, HDR has become one of the most polarizing topics in all of modern photography) You don't HAVE to make them look sureal and gritty, it's all up to the artist! 

So, the other day I went out with the sole intention of capturing some HDR images to just play around and start to get the feel of it.  Here's one of my faves from the day:


I found this great red rowboat at a local forest Preserve and we just happened to be having some amazing looking clouds that day so it was a perfect backdrop for a fun bright foreground subject. I tried to not go too far in the surreal direction, and really love the look I came up with for this scene. 

HDR Efex makes it SO easy to create these images, I am officially hooked! I have been practicing and am getting better and faster at bracketing my images from Underexposed to overexposed in either 5,7 or 9 images. Then once they are impoted into Lightroom I just click on all of them and export them to HDR Efex and the magic begins.  The NIK software is great because it not only aligns the images,(even though you nearly always use a tripod, you could pull off a handheld if you are rock solid and do all the bracketing automatically.  (BTW-one thing I don't like about my new D7000 is that it will only bracket 3 shots? Even older Nikons can do 5 and 7? how hard is it to include that little feature? SO with any more than than 3 exposures, and I have to do some manual adjustments.)  Once done processing it gives you tons of easy to understand options for making a picture go from realistic to completey otherworldly in look.  It even has NIK's patented control points that allow control of all editing choices for a specific area. Its so much more precise and faster than the adjuistment brush in Lightroom! 

Here's another one I did at the Botanical Garden: 


I really urge everyone to give it a try, they have trial versions of all the top HDR software! It really is fun! 

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