Merging in Lightroom


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When Lightroom was initially introduced to the market, it did not have the means to merge photos together. You had to use Photoshop to create a multi-layered image. Today, you can do that work right inside Lightroom with ease.

When shooting without a flash and with a bright background, the image in the front of the light will come out very dark. Now, no one wants the main image “in the dark”.  In the photos I am using for an example of bright backgrounds, I didn’t want to use a flash and didn’t want to lose the background either by opening up the stops to accommodate the image in the forefront.  So, I headed to Lightroom for a solution!


Lightroom now allows you to merge two or more images by compressing all the image data into one HDR image using very simple steps. Don’t be put off by “HDR”. In this instance of over-bright background, it is just a beginning point.  You can still adjust the final HDR product to your vision.

If you are steady-handed, shoot three or more photos with different speed stops without moving your focus.   For this article, I used my Canon 6D on a tripod and set my camera to shoot +/- one stop which means it will shoot the scene at a base stop that I set, then shoot ¾ higher (+3/4) and ¾ down (-3/4). I rarely do a full stop either way.  I set my ISO to 200 although I could have gone higher but didn’t want graininess in the images. Last but not least, my f-stop was set at 6.3.

Another way to shoot is to start at the high end of the speed you want to use and shut down a -1/2 stop for several more images.  The outcome will be the same.  This can also be done in reverse by adding +1/2 stop.

 The most important thing to remember when merging photos in Lightroom is that they are to be unprocessed. Another words do not do any post work on the images you plan on using.

Here are the two (yep, only two) steps for merging photos in Lightroom:

  1. Select the photos you wish to merge together. They have to be in consecutive order and have + or minus (-) speed settings for this to work (as mentioned above).  On a Mac, click on the first image and Cmd/Shift-click on the last image in Lightroom Classic CC to select the group of images you wish to use. I chose to use the three below.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 1.29.11 PM.jpg

The histograms of each shot shows that I used shutter speeds of 1/80, 1/30, and 1/15 (the reason 1/60 is missing is because I deleted it before deciding to merge the images.  (Accidentally tripped over the tripod and the image was blurry!  Not a good idea…)

image 1.jpg Image 2.jpg Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 1.32.16 PM.jpg

  1. Select Photo > Photo Merge > HDR. or press Ctrl+H.  Photo Merge is just below “Edit In”.

Step 2a.jpg

  1. Another box (HDR preview box) will pop open. This is where your final image will be created. You can select or deselect the following:

Auto Tone: Provides a good starting point for an evenly-toned merged image.  You can turn this off and see what happens.  Don’t panic if you see a dark image.  All the data is still there.  Lightroom just didn’t make adjusts; you can do this once  you accept the preview.
Auto Align: Useful if the images being merged have slight movement from shot to shot. Enable this option if the images were shot using a handheld camera. Enabling this option may not be necessary if the images were shot using a tripod.  The way to tell if you really need it is to zoom in on the image to see if everything aligns.

While you are making your choices, Lightroom is busy combining your chosen photos into one preview.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 11.34.59 AM.jpg

After deciding on those two options, you can choose how much “deghosting” you may need.  This occurs when some transparency from the one image to the next occurs while merging.  For example: a bird or plane flying across the sky. Each frame will have the bird or plane in a different position. You might see the ghost of the bird or plane in each position in the final image.  Deghost will take care of this.

You can preview the effects of these settings right within the dialog box once the image downloads.   Play with it a bit so you understand how the options affect your final image.  Then, accept the image.

My final HDR image turned out to be a far cry from what I envisioned.  As you can see, it came out rather bright while the plant detail is nice and sharp.  A little too bright for me!  (Remember, earlier I stated that you can adjust your final HDR image.)

HDR 1-2.jpg


When you merge images in Lightroom, the program creates a new file/image. It combines all the data from the images you used to create the HDR image and compresses that date into one file. This means you can adjust the final image as if it was the original shot but with a whole lot more data to work with.  In my example, it probably had three times the image data since I used three images.


Because my final HDR image was not quite what I wanted (again, I could have turned Auto Tone off and made adjustments from that image), I decided to do some further adjustments in Lightroom on the new file/image.  Now the image looks much more natural and the details of the plant are still nice and sharp.  This, I like!

HDR Final-2.jpg

HDR 2a.jpgHDR 2.jpg



So the next time you want to play with your camera, try this neat trick out. Take several shots of one object, using several different speeds. Combined them in Lightroom and see what you can create. Have fun!


Lightroom – How to Correct Backlight Issue


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How many times have you taken a picture of a beautiful object with a bright background and didn’t want to have the harshness of a flash? Your eye sees every detail of that object and the light from the background just makes it pop, right? But then when you look at your image, it comes out like this:

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 2.50.43 PM.jpg

In the past, when shooting with film, this could be somewhat corrected in the darkroom if you were lucky enough to have one (I wasn’t so lucky). You would have to take several images at different settings and work with “stacking” them to catch all the detail, and/or dodge and burn in the darkroom. Even before all the wonderful programs out there for digital cameras today, you still had to frame your settings and combine those images into one.

Now, everyone can take a shot and change it completely in a post-processing program with ease. And in many cases, may not need to “stack” photos. Today, I am going to give you a step by step process to lighten forefront images simply in Lightroom Classic.

Step 1: Easy. Download your image to Lightroom and make any straightening, cropping, and/or spot removal at this point. Don’t worry too much about the cropping. I usually will do this at the end but it can be done at any time.

Step 2: Make a “virtual copy” to work on. Right click on original image. Look for “create virtual copy” in the drop down list. Click on it. (Always work on a virtual copy and keep your original “clean”.)

 Step 3: Under “BASIC” on the right side of the screen, bump up the exposure, adjust the contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. I always add a little bit of clarity. My adjustments are below.


REPEAT STEP TWO. (Right click on the image you are working on, not the original.)

Step 4: Move down to “Lens Corrections”. Check Remove Chromatic Aberration and Enable Profile Correction. Below that, make sure your lens profile is correct. It actually does change the image a bit based on what lens you use.

Lens Correction.jpg

Step 5: Next, click on the “Detail” section. Under “Noise Reduction, adjust the Luminance (I always do this with the image magnified to 100% to see the detail), and Detail. To ensure the program understood you want the color nice and smooth as well as the detail, adjust those also.


Step 6: “Effects.” This step also can be done at the end instead of here. I add some vignette at this point. No real reason other than it gives me an idea of how my finished image will come out as I continue to work on it.



You should immediately see some more of the object begin to appear as it has below.


REPEAT STEP TWO. (Right click on the image you are working on, not the original)

Step 7: Now comes the fun part. Using the brush, which actually looks like a microphone with dots around the head, and laying sideways in the upper right corner of the editing side, you are going to paint in more light. I only wanted the flower to have more light and color, and not the background. First, bump up the Shadow slider to 100% so you can see what you are “painting”. Once you have the object highlighted, now move the slider down (in this case, I set my shadow at 32). You can now play with the sliders until the image is the way you want. My settings are listed below. Make sure you press the “done” button in the lower right section of the main image. You want these settings to remain as they are should you decide to do more painting later.


Step 8: After completing the last step, I decided to go back into “Basic” and readjust some of the sliders. My end result is not too bad. Just needs one more small adjustment.

Basic 2.jpg

And voila! After a little bit more cropping and Brush light adjustment the tips of the flower, I am pleased with the final product. The flower is not overpowering and the background light has been reduced. It looks natural. This is the outcome I wanted.


It may seem like a lot of steps (and it is!) but they are not difficult and only take seconds to do.

I know there will be those who might feel they would want more light on the flower. Remember this is from ONE image. You can only adjust the light in the image just so far before pixilation occurs. There is another process that would add more light but it entails combining several images taken with different setting. I will cover that in another blog.   In the meantime, have some fun playing with your sliders and Brush in Lightroom.


“What Happened…?”


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Have you ever taken a picture and when you printed it out or viewed it on your computer or camera it didn’t look like the picture you thought you took? This is especially true when shooting buildings. Your eye sees the building as nice and tall with straight lines aiming towards the heavens. Yet, when you take the picture and look at it, it’s distorted? It happens a lot to beginners and even us in the middle. And then the big question becomes “why is this happening?”

I am not a pro nor am I beginner. I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to photography. This means I enjoy taking images, manipulating them, and sharing them with those of the same mindset. So, I try to keep things simple and easy to understand. No technical verbiage for me. I’m that “whatchamacallit” person.

So here it is…one reason is that your perspective is off. For example, when you shoot close to a church and you step back to get the steeple in, you are changing the perspective. In the image below, you can see that the doors appear straight but as you take in the whole image, the rest of the church is distorted. The large windows seem to tilt in on the sides and everything in the middle seems to be fairly straight, although a bit tilted backward. Probably without even knowing it, you have had to tilt the camera up to capture the cross on the church as well as the front door.

Church #1-6667

I was standing just below the church, aiming slightly up which distorted the whole church except for what was at eye level (the doors) from where I was shooting. My lens was a 24-70mm zoom and I had it set at 24mm. It just didn’t work and I couldn’t step back any further as a very active street behind me restricted me from doing so!

How to correct it? Well, you can do several things:

  1. Change your angle. Step back so that you do not have to tilt your camera to capture the whole image. Sometimes you aren’t even aware that you are slightly tilting the camera to get everything within the camera frame.
  2. Not possible?  Option two is to not take the whole church. Move closer and capture just a window or the doors.
  3. Use a wide angle lens (if you have one)
  4. Take the shot the best you can. Then, in post processing, straighten it out as much as you can without causing more distortion. (More on this later)

I adjusted the horizontal and vertical lines of the image in Lightroom to help “straighten” out the church. As you can see below, I lost a lot of the content of the picture in post-processing. But at least you won’t get dizzy looking at it!

Church #2-6667

If you can’t change your position and don’t have a wide-angle lens, take the picture. Just ensure that your image doesn’t fill the frame like I did in the first picture and has plenty of border space around the church for post-process straightening. I didn’t and lost quite a bit of the image when I corrected the horizontal and vertical distortions in Lightroom.

This last image is of a church I had plenty of room to change my position to reduce the  in-camera distortion.  Although there is still a little bit of distortion, it is not very noticeable and the image is pleasing to the eye. (The small entrance to the right really was tilting toward the main building…!)  I did make some minor perspective changes, i.e., cropping/leveling and a little correction on the horizontal lines.  Other than that, this image is how I saw that little farm church that day.

Church #3-0741

So, the next time you are taking a picture, check to make sure your perspective is good; that you are on equal footing with the object that you are taking. If you don’t have the room to do that or a wide angle lens, then make sure you have enough clear space on all four sides in the viewfinder so that when you make your corrections in a post-processing program such as Lightroom, you don’t cut off anything of importance (like the cross on top of the steeple!).

There is another reason why the distortion occurs and it has to do with the camera itself.  And the fact the world is round!  But that’s for another blog…  Until next time, happy shooting!

How Many Tripods are Too Many?


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How many tripods are too many?  That was a real dilemma for me once. I bought so many that I had more tripods than all my other photography equipment put together!

My very first one was very inexpensive ($19.99 on sale!)). It had its issues but was what I could afford at the time and it worked for me. It was lightweight and fairly easy to use. I progressed up to a better one when the first one could not handle longer lenses (it tended to tip over from the lens weight).

My next tripod was made for the heavier equipment (camera and telephoto/zoom lenses). And it was built sturdier which made the tripod heavier to carry around. The shoe plate (where the camera attaches to the tripod) was set in one position which meant it only took landscape shots.  A great tripod for the price. That one cost me around sixty dollars. I was in heaven until…

A new one came out on the market. The shoe plate could now be positioned in the portrait mode by twisting a knob at the base of the shoe plate and tilting the platform to the side. What an innovation! The legs collapsed fairly easy although I constantly forgot to tighten them once they were fully extended from time to time! Timber!…

At this point, I have three tripods.   I took the the first one traveling as it was light aluminum and as long as I wasn’t using a long lens, it worked great. The second had the weight to hold longer lenses but was just as long as the first one when the legs collapsed (down to around 40 inches) and heavier to carry around. The third one was just like the second except the platform/shoe plate could be flipped to the side for portrait shots.

We’ll skip the next two tripods that joined the family as one was given to me and the second one I purchased thinking I was “moving up” with my equipment because I paid more for it. The reality was that I only purchased the company name. The tripod turned out to be the same as the third one I had purchased for much less. That makes five tripods for one camera!

Then a few years ago, the photography world comes out with this awesome portable tripod. This time I did a lot more research on the subject. I found one that folded down to only 16.5 inches, fit in its own pouch (or a backpack), was sturdy enough to handle my equipment, was easy to assemble, came with a built in counter weight for those heavier lenses, the shoe plate sat on a “ball” (ball head) and could be set in many directions, and many more extras that all my other ones combined did not have. Eureka!

It is the only one I use now. It is a Benro A 1692T tripod. It cost a bit more ($300.00) but well worth the money. Three years later, I still love it.


Today, there are less expensive portable tripods. Neewer is one company that sells them on Amazon. And I am sure there are others but I am no longer in the market for one. Currently, I own three tripods but really only use one, my Benro. The other two are for remote flash set ups (fill light).

You might ask, “what did you do with the other three”? Sold them on eBay and put the money toward my Benro, of course! There is always a market for used equipment.

A few things to remember when looking for a tripod: Make sure it can handle the weight of your equipment, has sturdy legs and if at all possible, a counterweight hook under the shoe plate to steady the tripod if necessary (this is especially handy when your ground is a bit rocky). And most importantly, the tripod does all that you need or want it to do.

How many are too many tripods? That depends on how you feel about tripods. For me, I am happily down to three; two that sit in my closet until I need them and one that I carry everywhere.

Have a great day and happy shooting!

Composition and Lines


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Hi Everyone. Building on my last blog about lines in images (November 10, 2017 “Leading Lines”), this week I thought I would show you how composition and lines really work hand in hand. There is no doubt that there are shots which probably will not have any apparent lines to follow but if you look, you will find them!

When composing a shot, whether it is a portrait or a simple landscape, its always important to double-check what you see in the viewfinder. As mentioned in previous blogs, with practice it will become second nature. Watch for things cut off by the edge of the frame or something sticking out of your subject’s head that shouldn’t be there! Although the latter might be funny at first, the subject might not think so later. Now, if that was your intent, to have a tree growing out of their head well…great!

The images I have below are from my backyard garden. I love shooting with natural light and really enjoy capturing it at all angles when I can. Today, I want to show you how to create a story with your image without words. The title of these images is Garden Cop. My thought process was to capture this little figure peeking out from the flowerbed. I wanted the viewer to get the sense that this little guy was looking out for the flowers and was working his beat, doing his duty.

Although the image does have something of the rule of thirds on an angle (upper right corner empty, bottom left filled with flowers, and center angle with the subject matter) drawing the eye to the little officer, the greenery is going every which way. It just does not feel balanced. The lines of the greenery really don’t point to any one thing. Not a terrible image but could use some improvement.


So, I changed my position and focused on the statue’s face. As you can see, the green lines now frame the face pretty good but are such a distraction that its difficult to really determine what I was aiming at with the image. Yes, I wanted to focus on the cute face, but all the greenery pulls the eye to the unfocused forefront of the image. Way too busy. The face looks so small in the image that the story gets lost. It’s just a shot of a statue in a garden. …Kind of dull, to my way of thinking.


My final product is what I was looking for in an image. By slightly changing my position from the front of the statue, focusing on the face, and watching the green “lines”, I captured this little copper on his beat in the garden. As you look at it, the left side is not longer so thick with a mishmash of lines and they are now in a soft focus. The wall on the right is slightly darker in the shade, and my copper has enough sunlight to draw attention to him. Although the face is in shadow, it looks natural. As you can see, I framed his upper body with the greenery so the viewer is focused on the statue.


In the end, I had to really look for the image lines, make sure they helped to focus the eye on my subject, and move around until I had the right composition to tell my story. Did it work?

Everyone takes pictures today. Everywhere you are, you can see someone snapping off a shot. What makes one image stand out against another is the composition. Did the photographer clearly identify the subject matter? Is it in focus? Are there distracting lines disrupting the flow of the image? When you look through your viewfinder, ask yourself this…”What is it that I want my viewer to feel and see?” “How can I help him or her focus on what I want them to feel and see?” “How can I take this average shot and make it into something wonderful?”  If you ask these questions of yourself before you take that shot, you are on the road to a great composition. One that will take their breathe away and have them asking you “how did you do that?” Have a great day and have fun with your camera!

Leading In…


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Leading lines. Everyone seems to talk about them when it comes to Photography. What are they and why are they so important when composing your image in camera? Is it really necessary to keep an eye out for them in the viewfinder? The simple answer is yes.

If you are not aware of what leading lines are, here it is in a nutshell.  Almost every photograph has some form of lines in it.  The lines could be bridges, roads, sidewalks, windows, trees, buildings, pathways, household furniture, etc.  They can be curved or straight but more importantly, they lead the eye toward something in the image. Many people simply snap the picture for posterity and don’t worry too much about how the lines interact with the entire scene.  And that’s fine. But if you want to tell a story with your image, then lines are very important in directing attention to your subject.

As you look through the viewfinder, get into the habit of doing a “once over” of the entire image with your eye.  It only takes a second.  With practice, you won’t even really notice you are doing it whenever you take a shot. In that second, you will see the full image, notice if there are any distinguishing lines, and much more (to be covered at a later date). Practice taking a step back from the scene and really look at it. I think of it as putting distance between the actual scene before me and what I want people who see the image to actually “see” and feel. The human mind processes data with amazing speed which means I have plenty of time to take it all in.

Sometimes, simply by shifting your focal point a bit, the “lines in the image will draw more attention to your subject matter.  Instead of the image being chaotic and resulting in the viewer being a bit confused as to what you want them to see and feel, you “aim” their eyes to the very thing you want to grab their attention.

In this first image below, the viewer can clearly see the lines of headstones leading to the trees and blue skies at Arlington National Cemetery.  Although the story is the amount of men and women who gave their lives for their country and are remembered with wreaths during the Holidays (Wreaths Across America organization), it also points to serenity and beauty.  The blue skies and trees in the background help to soften the pain and anguish one may feel for the many lives given for our Freedom. Is that what you see and feel?

Arlington Wreath Laying-3315

The second image has all the rows heading out into the distance. And if you follow those rows, you can see that they continue on and on. There are several lines in this photo. The white headstones leading into the cemetery, the shadows of the headstones pointing toward the ones in front of each line, and the tree trunks and two people at the top of the image drawing the eye upward and inward,. Do you see it? Simply by adjusting my position to capture the shadows of the headstone, I added lines, which pointed to each soldier buried there as if to say “we are all one”.

Arlington Wreath Laying-3247.jpg

Now that you see how lines affect an image, take a look at this last one. The only thinking I did was that I wanted a picture of Audie Murphy’s headstone. I did not take that second to look at the whole scene before me. I simply focused on the headstone and pressed the button, because I wanted the headstone to take center stage. Unfortunately, I did not take that second to really “look” at the scene in the viewfinder resulting in a very chaotic and distracting background. Headstones going every which way, too many people at the top of the image, the angle of light “whited out” the tombstones…I could go on and on as to why this image is simply a snapshot that does not tell any kind of “story”.

Arlington Wreath Laying-3331

Are leading lines important? In my opinion, yes. If you still don’t think as I do, that’s fine, too. What I would suggest is that you pull out your past photographs and really look at them. Would using the lines in the image have helped improve it? That is the question of the day! Have a good one until next time!




How To Start Shooting with Confidence


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Still afraid of your camera?  Are you intimidated by all the things it can do?  That was me a few of years ago when I went digital.

My journey into the world of photography started when I graduated from grammar school and was given a point and shoot film camera for my graduation.  Luckily, it came a few rolls of film.  Back then, having a camera was great but it had its downside too.  You had to pay for film and then pay for processing (developing) of the film later.  Even if you had a darkroom to develop film at home, all the chemicals and paper cost money!  This meant that when I took a picture, I had to really think about what I was doing so I didn’t “waste” film.

Today, the photography world has changed in so many ways.  You can take a photo with your phone, pad, or camera.  A camera can be mounted on your helmut or a phone to a  drone to take aerial shots.  This article is not about those types of “cameras”.  It is only related to the DSLR.

I have been shooting images for, well, a half a century and am still learning.  That is the key; keep learning.  The DSLR camera today certainly does a lot of the work for the photographer. Its advantage over the old SLR  is that it saves money on film and in Auto Mode (almost always) correctly reads light, distance and speed.  All one has to do is focus on the subject matter.  For most people who shoot photos, this is great.  No need to figure out f/stops, speed, or ISO settings to capture that smile, the deer in the field, or the setting sun.

So, the simple answer to gaining confidence is to just take out your camera and use it on the auto mode all the time.  But, that doesn’t always capture the image you are looking for.  It’s “brain” is limited to what it is programmed to do and doesn’t always adjust correctly for lighting (person in foreground comes out perfect but the background does not), for the many variations of light the eye perceives and adjusts to automatically, or even what you want in focus.

A bit more complicated answer to gaining confidence with your camera is to do the tiresome, boring, and any other blah word you can think of and read the manual.   It is filled with magical stuff if you can get through it!

In the past, only four things really mattered with the SLR:  focus,  light (ISO), shutter speed, and depth of field (f/stop).  Get those right and you had a good chance your roll of film had some great images on it .  Today, the DSLR cameras do so much more in-camera.  Colors come out vibrant, black and white as well as color can both be shot at the same time, sepia shots are done in camera, different modes to shoot in, and the list goes on.  But most importantly, you can shoot and delete as much as you want without the “money penalty”, i.e., film development!  We’ve come a long way from the Box camera.

My first DSLR made me crazy trying to figure out all the different icons on the piece of equipment.  Then add to that, taking the information the camera gave me on the back screen and attempting to use my knowledge of SLRs (single lens reflex cameras of old) to get the image I wanted from it!  Very frustrating and I seriously thought of just staying with film.  Of course, in the long run, doing that would become very expensive.  My confidence was at its lowest and I found I really didn’t want to pick up my DSLR at all and so it collected dust for a while.  I really had no confidence that I would be able to use a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) as I had my older film cameras.   I even spent money on classes to hopefully improve my ability to use DSLRs.  Frustration abounded.

Then a lightbulb when off and I now share this “brilliant” idea with you!  Read the manual.  But break it down into small pieces and absorb small portions.  Keep that manual in your camera bag.  Don’t be ashamed to pull it out when you are out shooting.  I have… many times, and still do.  Who can remember everything in that manual?

Boost your confidence by taking time to learn how to shoot in the different modes.  It does work. As I am a “hands on” type of personality and reading how to use my camera was extremely painful.  I only managed to get through the first few pages before I gave up.  So, I finally followed the method below and found it worked for me.  My confidence grew rapidly after that.  Use both your camera and manual for each step.

Use the “auto” mode for about a week.  See how it works.  The next week, go to the Aperture mode (you set the f/stop and the camera does the rest). The following week, switch to changing the shutter speed (Tv on Canon and S on Nikon).  Once you have learned the basics on how to use these three modes, try a week of the programmable mode.  The last one to try for a week is the manual mode.  By the time you get to this one, you will understand how your camera works and how each change you make in camera impacts the image you produce.  Manual mode gives you control over everything.  It’s not for everyone, but I use it with certain types of light because it gives me complete control over the image.

Your camera may not have all the modes I mentioned above, but working with your camera the same way by going through whatever modes it does have, will accomplish the same thing.  You will “know” your camera and your confidence with grow with that knowledge.

Technology is constantly changing.  What is new today is old tomorrow.  Learn the basics of photography, i.e., shutter speed, f/stop, ISO, and focus, and how each interacts with each other.  Confidence is grown by practice and then by continuing to learn.  Grab your camera and go!



Is it Real or Post Work?


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There is quite a conversation going on around the internet regarding photography and “pure” photography. Strange, but I never thought of it that way, even back in the “film” days. But apparently, with the onslaught of programs that help to enhance the original image from the camera, (some cameras have built in programs for that), the cosmic question has become “which is better? Pure photography (downloading and accepting whatever the camera captures, good or bad)? Or, images that have been adjusted in post work programs?  To me, the better question is; what is it that you want to accomplish with your image?

My favorite photographer is Ansel Adams.  You can still see his landscape photography everywhere.  He is known for capturing the landmarks and landscapes of the United States and is emulated by photographers worldwide.  Those who really don’t know him, believe his images are simply what he captured in camera.  The reality is, he did his best work in the darkroom.  Mr. Adams knew what he wanted his final products to look like and worked on his images until they reflected his “vision”.  His work, comprising of the National Parks of the United States, still capture the essence of the forests, rock formations, and the American landscape to this day.

I have read blogs as well as discussions on Facebook and other areas of the internet regarding this issue and people on both sides of the fence are very determined to convince each other that they are right. Just like politics…  I too would love to shoot a picture and have the camera do all the work for me (provided the camera knows exactly what I am striving for in the final product).  There are times when it is spot on but more times than not, the camera catches a dark area that my eye did not “see” or a glare which could have been be caused by the sun hitting the lens.  Or it reads the light as being too bright behind the subject matter because it registers all the light coming into the lens and adjusts for it, and the subject matter becomes a “shadow” in the image and the sky or background come out perfect with beautiful blue and white skies.

Below is an image I caught with my camera.  Using my manual mode, I made adjustments so that the sky wasn’t blown out and the foreground didn’t come out too dark.  To me, its a “blah” picture.  Not exactly what I actually saw that day.

This is what I actually saw.  Had to do some post work to pull out the beautiful stormy sky, the saturated colors that pop on overcast days, and added a bit of clarity to pull out more definition of the pathway.  My final image is below.  In this one I can actually see the beauty and “feel” the storm rolling in.  Which one do you like?

You can shoot in auto mode and have beautiful images to show off.  But there is a limit to what the auto mode can do, too.  Have you ever shot an image and then when you downloaded it, the final image wasn’t quite right? The shadows were too deep or or the sky and clouds just were a white blur?  But, your eye didn’t see it that way when you initially took the shot.  Your brain saw the beautiful blue sky with the white, fluffy clouds passing by, and the colors were vibrant.  Our brains make the adjustment so quickly, we don’t even notice it.  Our eyes automatically make subtle changes so we “see” everything in its splendor.  So, until the camera has a “brain” that can catch up with the many variables the human eye adjusts for automatically, I can proudly say I will never be a “purist”.


Negative space…good or bad?


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The art world (which includes photography, by the way!) has a language of its own that those who are not part of this community might misinterpret. My favorite one is “negative space”. I have heard this phrase many times and wondered what it really was. Was it good to have in an image? After all, the word negative has, well, negative connotations! So it must not be a good thing, right?

Well, not exactly.  This term actually can be a very good thing.  To explain it simply, the phrase is interchangeable with “uncluttered” or “open space”.  The image below is one that has negative space.  It was shot early on a foggy morning when the other side of the lake was so bogged down with fog, it looked like the lonely boat was floating on air.  I used the bushes along the shoreline to anchor the bottom corners (and I like that “window” look as if the viewer is peering into the frame).  The emptiness from around midpoint to the top of the frame is considered negative space.

Early morning fog on Lake Como in the summer

Early morning fog on Lake Como in the summer

Why have empty or negative space in a shot?  There are several reasons that I can think of to have it in the frame.  The first one is obvious.  It focuses the eye on the main object, which in this case is the boat.  Another one could be that I may want to add text to the image.  Or maybe, even change the background in post work.

My settings on my Canon 6D were:  ISO 200, 50mm primary lens (meaning it was not a zoom), f/7.1 (Aperture), and Shutter speed of 1/100 sec.  I did not use a lens filter although one would have cleared up the haze in the image.  You can see that the fog/haze tends to soften the boat and makes it slightly indistinct.  But, since I knew I had a program that allowed me control over how much of the fog/haze I wanted to remove, I decided to go filter-free.

I use Lightroom 5CC by Adobe when I download and backup my images.  It affords me the opportunity to slightly change things and still have all the data filed together without creating a large file when I save those changes.  The image below is the same image as above, only with some slight post work.

Added some post work

Added some post work

In Lightroom, I used the “dehaze” tool located under the tab “Effects” to clear up a little bit of the fog so the boat would stand out a bit more.  It deepened the color and shadows of the bushes along the shore.  After completing that, I used a brush to clarify (another way to bring out detail and add a bit more definition) and increase color saturation to the boat.  The background and foreground were not affected.

The two last images show what you can do with negative space.  Again, all my initial work was completed in Lightroom.  I tend to add vignetting to my images to tighten the viewing area a bit.  For me, it looks better having the fog “contained” inside the image.  But you might not.  It really is up to you.  The second image has added text that I completed in Photoshop.

A little vignetting and the fog is contained!

A little vignetting and the fog is contained!

The final product!

The final product!

This is just one example of negative space and what you can do with it.  A shot of a leaf on a sidewalk, an object on an empty table, or a person walking down a wide, lonely road.   Negative space can be created in many different ways with just as many different results.

What would you do with it?  Take a picture of a child blowing out a candle with the background completely darkened and only her face, cake and candle visible?  a couple of children (or even just one all alone) playing in the sand on a beach with no one else around?  An apple on a wooden table at eye level in an orchard, with the orchard itself deep in the background and out of focus?  Get your creative juices flowing and give it a try.

So, the next time you take out your camera, consider adding negative space in your images.  Keep your composition clean and clear.  You might find that you like the uncluttered look!

Light, Camera, Action!


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Photographers squat, bend, twist, and turn to capture that look or feel they want.  Basically, they move their body into all kinds of positions if necessary to get that one shot that will make their fortune! Those days are pretty much behind me, although I do try!  And, since I am not planning on making any kind of fortune with my camera and shoot because I love trying to capture the moment, my head tends to be on the swivel and my body, well, it creaks and groans if I insist it do something it doesn’t want to do!

The thrill for me is when I download my images and actually have ONE that is exactly what I was looking for; I am always excited and blown away!  Yep, I’m one of those…  Love it when everything just seems to go right!

Shot this image at the zoo!

Shot this image at the zoo!

With Halloween around the corner, I headed to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago recently to see if the animals might be into the Halloween spirit.  Imagine my dismay when I found the illusive and rare pumpkin hidden in the gorilla cage.  It didn’t move and did have an expression of shock as if it didn’t think anyone would find it there (this is my story and I’m sticking to it!).

Since this shot was indoors, I set my Canon 6D on manual and the ISO to 1600 so I wouldn’t have to use a flash.  My speed was set at 50 and the f/stop was 5.6.  These settings allowed me to capture the natural light coming in through the roof skylight, darkened the background a bit, and made the focal point stand out from its setting.  It did take quite a few pictures ’til I finally had one that I liked.  Some were too dark, others were too light, some had the fence in focus (not sure how I did that!) and others just weren’t the right angle.  As I have mentioned before, don’t be afraid to take a lot of shots.  Just make sure you move around to get different views of your subject.  My focus was as sharp as I could get it by focusing through the fencing and on the “face” of the pumpkin.  You can actually see the blurred fencing in the man-made pond in the lower right corner.

This was my thought process:  Step 1.  Locate pumpkins at the zoo (didn’t expect to find them in the cages, tho).  Step 2.  Using natural light, give the image a bit of a Halloween “eerie” look.  Step 3.  Using the area around it, give a sense of location (in this case, I kept the blurred fencing in as well as the cement pond in the lower right corner).  Step 4.  Keep the background blurry and dark (that’s why the f/5.6 (aperture) and Shutter speed at 50.  Step 5.  Adjust the image after downloading

The finished product up above has little post work done.  Since I shot in in RAW and not jpeg, I had to adjust the contrast and hue just a little bit and added a bit more saturation to the pumpkin to liven up the color a bit.  This is standard type of post-work when using RAW imaging.  The original image comes out kind of blah but has captured all the data you need to work with it.   Can you get a good image with jpeg?  Yes you can. I just prefer to use RAW.  In a later blog, we’ll go over the differences between jpeg and RAW.

One thing to remember if you are going to adjust your Shutter speed.  Having a slow one tends to pick up any shake that might happen.  Even if you are a steady hand, if you use any setting lower than Shutter speed 40, odds are there will a bit of blurring of your subject unless you use a tripod.  I was very fortunate to be able to steady my camera with my body and the fencing for the 50 shutter speed.  More about this later.

So grab your camera and go find something that strikes your imagination.  Think about how you want to present it.  What mood do you want to convey?  What type of light (natural or flash) do you wish to use to bring out that idea in your head?  Where do you want your subject? (I put my pumpkin in the “jungle” by placing it father back in the image, blurring the foreground and what was behind the pumpkin.)  These are just some thought processes that you should have going on in your head before clicking that picture.  And you will see a great improvement in your final image.

Happy shooting until next time!  If you have questions, feel free to drop me a line.  I may not know all the answers but I have fun finding them!