Photo of the Week July 31, 2010

The Owl and the Pussycat went out in a boat.
Unfortunately for them, it could not float.

The big white cat looked fore and aft
down the middle of the big red craft.

What he failed to notice was the deep grass sea
where the deep blue brine was supposed to be.
Taken in Olympia, WA
July 31, 2010

Photos of the Week - July 23, 2010

Juvenile Tree Swallows in flight
Competing for attention from feeding adult
Tachycineta bicolor
Tacoma, WA

Male Belted Kingfisher in flight with wings extended
Ceryle alcyon
Tacoma, WA
This week it was very hard to choose which single photo to include. There were several themes to this weeks work, including birds in flight, wetland ponds, and juveniles competing for attention and food from adults.
I volunteered Thursday and Friday monitoring western pond turtles for a joint project between Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Woodland Park Zoo. While doing my work, I was impressed with the biodiversity of plants and animals around the ponds. There were at least 7 species of dragonflies and damselflies in abundance. The willows and flowering plants were providing forage for a million (at least it seemed so) American goldfinch and House finch juveniles. And the skies were filled with a myriad of species from Red tailed hawks and Northern flickers to swallows and hummingbirds.
Late in the afternoon the ponds became alive with action after the heat of the day. The male Belted kingfisher was busy flying between several low perches. The Barn and Tree swallow juveniles were perched fence top, hoping to have the clearest signal to incoming adults with food. These two Tree swallows got in a bit of a tussle competing for the best spot.

Some options for photographing botanicals in a busy garden

Use a shallow depth of field to separate a botanical from a busy background. In this case, the azalea was about 2.5 feet behind the iris.

Photograph your subject in the sunlight with a background which is in the shade or much darker in color.

Photograph your subject so that it relates to another similar or complimentary plant which is either softly out of focus or smaller in size or reduced in dominance by the composition.

When all else fails, shoot details rather than the whole.

When would I use exposure compensation?

Despite the high quality light meter in my camera, sometimes the images come out too dark or too light. Sometimes it is a matter of a subject that deviates from the 'norm' that my light meter has been designed to read. Other times, my images don't come out properly exposed because there is too great of a contrast range in my subject matter. And, occasionally my images don't come out well exposed, because the camera's choices are different from my artistic vision.

I'll explore these various situations with some examples.

In the example above, I was shooting on a heavily overcast morning. The sky was nearly white to my eye. The osprey was flying well over my head and was deeply shadowed underneath.

My camera's meter is designed to average subjects to an 18% (middle gray) value. I use the multi-pattern meter for greatest accuracy in the greatest number of situations, but sometimes it fails.

Since I photograph birds in flight regularly, I know the bright sky can present a problem for my camera's meter. To compensate, I ADD light to my exposure, either by increasing the aperture to a wider f-stop or increasing the shutter speed to a longer time. In the two compensated frames above, you can see the increase of brightness and detail with a + 2/3 f-stop and a + 1 and 1/3 f-stop increase in exposure.

In the example above, I made the choice to photograph in light that had too much contrast. The difference between the bright areas outside the window and the dark areas inside the house was too great to be captured in a single ambient light exposure. I could either a) add 2 stops of exposure (by adding time or widening the aperture) which would lighten the interior of the house or b) under expose by 1 stop to expose for the exterior.

There is one other option for the problem above - fill flash. If your subject is close enough to be illuminated with flash, you could under expose the image to get detail outdoors and add a flash to illuminate the interior.
Another reason to over or under expose an image is artistic vision. A couple of years ago, a friend and I were photographing at night in the Montlake neighborhood of Seattle. The lights from the street and the 520 freeway were bright, but the water of Lake Washington was black to our vision. I could see traces of shadows from the cottonwoods lining the lake. I decided to experiment with over exposing the image to see if I could see the trees reflected or shadowed in the lake. This is the result.

Of course, this is not at all what I saw at the time. Rather, it was what I envisioned the story to be. Using exposure compensation is one way of putting your own stamp on a story.

In this image, I underexposed to tell the story of the kayaker coming in at nightfall.

This image was overexposed to show the glow through the iris and to give the image an unworldly feel.

Photo of the Week July 13, 2010

Country Village       Bothell, WA
Shutterbugs Photography Day Camp
Bellevue Parks Depratment

Photo of the Week July 8, 2010

Female Tree Swallow feeding Juvenile
Tachycineta bicolor

Now is the time to get outdoors and see this year's flock of birdies and beasties head out on their own. Young birds are learning the challenges of flying and of finding their next meal. Some lucky individuals have a little more help than others.

This image was taken at Black Lake Meadows, a city of Olympia owned property near South Puget Sound Community College. The meadows are a great spot to bird watch and see many species from common residents like the Spotted Towhee to more unusual birds like the Wilson's warbler and Western Tanager.

Tree Swallows nest in tree cavities, naturally created or abandoned by woodpeckers. Their nests are found close to water sources where they are able to easily capture the insects that make up the majority of their diet. When immature swallows fledge in late Spring or early Summer they continue to be fed for several days by their parents. It is quite a sight to see a nearly full-sized swallow receiving food after dramatically signally to its parent by madly flapping its wings.

For more information on Tree Swallows in Washington State, check out BirdWeb. To see inside a Tree swallow nest, check out the archives of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Nest Cam.

Replacing parts of a photo by layering images using CS4 auto-align

What you will need:
• Two images of the same subject with several repeating features. The photos do not need to be identical.

  1. Open Photoshop

  2. Open Adobe Bridge by clicking  File > Browse in Bridge

  3. Find the folder which has your images in it

  4. Single click on the first image you wish to use. Hold down the control key and single click on each the other photo.

  5. Click Tools > Photoshop > Load files into Photoshop Layers

  6. Make sure your layers panel is displayed. Click Window > Layers (when the layers panel is showing you should have a checkmark next to it)

  7. In your layers panel (in the lower right of your screen) single click on the bottom layer. Hold down your shift key and click on the top layer.

  8. Click Edit > Auto-align Layers Choose the automatic option and click OK.

  9. (Optional) Crop Image

  10. Zoom in so that you can examine the picture more closely.

  11. Create a blank layer. Click Layer > New Layer

  12. While you are zoomed in, turn off the visibility of the top image layer by clicking on the eyeball at the left side of the layers panel. Carefully scan the image and review which faces or features are best on the underlying layer.

  13. With Layer 1 highlighted in blue, use the brush tool to mark the people you will be replacing.

  14. Turn the visibility back on for top image layer.

  15. Make your top image layer the active layer by highlighting it in the layers panel.

  16. Add a layer mask. Click Layer > Layer mask > Reveal All

  17. Zoom into the image where you have marked areas for replacement.

  18. Choose your eraser tool.

  19. Set your colors to default by clicking “d” on your keyboard.

  20. Using a moderately small brush, begin erasing the part of the image where your replacement should be. If you remove too much information, take your brush tool and paint it back into the image.

  21. Turn off the visibility on Layer 1 or discard it.

  22. Save your work as a psd or tiff file to save the layers

Photo of the Week June 26,2010

Last weekend, we went to the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle for Artopia, a celebration of music and the arts. As is usually the case in Georgetown, there were many interesting people and photographic opportunities. You can see some of my footwear shots at the Photo Review Group blog. For more info on the goings on around Georgetown, check out Blogging Georgetown

As the evening began to wear down we came upon an art show of emerging artists in a gallery across the street from the old Rainier cold storage building on airport way. Coming up to the entrance I saw this elderly woman through the window - a cross between Mother Teresa and Grandma Moses. Her image beneath the reflection of the cold storage building immediately struck me as Gothic and intriguing.

I took about 5 shots from different angles with different architectural features reflected. This is my favorite.

Focal Length

What does the 28mm on my 28 – 135mm lens mean? And, why does my point and shoot say “35mm equivalent = 28 – 135mm”?
Focal length is a technical photographic term which describes one of the physical attributes of a lens. It can be translated into several non-technical definitions including how it describes the magnification of a lens, the lens’ angle of view, and how a subject might be distorted or portrayed.
Focal Length – technical definition
From two respected photographic resources:

  • Focal length - The distance from the lens to the focal plane where the lens is focused on infinity. The longer the focal length, the greater the magnification of the image.
Upton, Barbara and John Upton, Photography (second edition), Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1981: 379
  • One of the most important characteristics of a lens is its focal length. Technically, this refers to the distance from the rear nodal point of the lens (usually close to the aperture plane) to the plane where subjects at infinity come into focus. Knowing the focal length is important not only because it identifies the distance of the lens from the film (for distant subjects), but also because it provides a measure of the image size and subject area in relation to the film format. If you use a short focal length lens to photograph a subject, you will obtain an image of greater area of the subject, and each part of the subject will be smaller in the photograph, than if you use a longer lens. When I first became aware of the lens and the image it forms in relation to the subject, I thought of the lens as “embracing the outer world”
Adams, Ansel, The Camera, Boston, MA: New York Graphic Society, 1980: 44 

One way of thinking about focal length is that it describes the physical length of a lens from the focusing point inside the lens to the film plane or recording surface. So a 50mm lens is physically about 50mm in length and a 200mm lens is about 200mm in length. With a zoom lens, when set to 28mm the distance from the focusing surface inside the lens to the film plane is about 28mm (1.10 inches)

Three different perspectives of the Painted Hills Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, OR

Focal Length – magnification
Focal length is often used as a way of describing how magnified a subject might appear. For most modern non-professional digital slr cameras, a “normal” lens is about 35mm in length; meaning that photographs taken with a 35mm lens will have about the same magnification as we see with our normal vision.

Digital slr lenses which are longer than 35mm are called telephoto lenses. A telephoto lens brings subjects closer than they appear to the naked eye. A 70mm lens would be a 2x lens because things appear twice as close as they do to the naked eye.

Long telephoto lenses, such as 400mm or 500mm lenses, can be compared to binoculars in terms of their magnification. A 400mm lens brings things 11.5x closer than normal vision, rivaling a pair of binoculars.
Digital slr lenses which are shorter than 35mm are called wide angle lenses. Wide angle lenses make subjects appear further away than they would appear with normal vision. A 17mm lens is ½ as long as a 35mm lens, so subjects will appear twice as far away as with the naked eye.
Focal Length – angle of view
Focal length can also be used as a way of describing the angle of view of an image. Wide angle lenses produce images of vistas which appear wider and more inclusive than the scenes may appear to the naked eye. By including more in a scene, wide angle lens sometimes create stories and relationships which wouldn’t be evident otherwise. In digital photography an 18mm lens can show an angle of view equivalent to about 75°
Telephoto lenses can single out a narrower perspective of a scene than the eye can see. Telephoto lenses can be used to eliminate distractions or subjects from an image by ‘cropping them out’ from the field of view. A digital 200mm lens sees less than 18° of a scene.
Focal Length – lens qualities or distortions
In practical application, focal length also gives us an idea of how an image will look depending on what lens we choose. Each lens has its own look and signature which is a combination of its focal length, construction materials and quality, and whether or not it is a zoom lens or a fixed length like a 100mm lens.
In general wide angle lenses make an image appear to have more depth. There is an appearance that objects in the image have space between them and that there is a clear differentiation between the foreground and the background. A wide angle lens can appear to exaggerate the perspective of a building or subject shot at close range.
Wide-angle lenses can create apparent distortion of subjects. Because photographers are often forced to shoot at closer distances with wide angle lenses, subjects closer to the lens appear larger than those further away. Also, objects at the edges of the frame may appear angled or even warped when photographed with a wide angle lens. Be mindful of this when photographing large groups of people at short distances with a wide angle lens. People on the edges can appear unnatural and unattractively shaped.
Telephoto lenses can appear to flatten an image so that there is little sense of depth between objects that may not actually be close to one another; they compress depth, bringing foreground and background together.
Focal Length – “35mm equivalents”

In the world of digital photography, different cameras use different sized sensors to record photographs. Point and shoot cameras, such as Canon’s SD series may use a sensor that is about 5.8 x 4.3mm, while the digital Rebel and 7D use a 22.3mm x 14.9mm sized sensor. Full frame cameras use a 36mm x 24mm sensor.
With all these different sized sensors, discussions about focal length become difficult and head-banging. After all, we don’t really care how long a lens is; we care about the look it creates.
In the interest of reducing confusing (and obfuscating how small some sensors actually are), digital camera manufacturers have chosen to use the term “35mm equivalents”. The theory is that many photographers have enough experience with 35mm film photography that presenting the focal lengths with this system will make deciding which lens to use easier. It also gives everyone a level playing field when describing what a shot will look like.
Photographing with 35mm film, 50mm is considered a ‘normal’ lens. Lower numbered lenses are wide-angled. Lens with longer mm numbers are telephoto lenses. A 100mm lens is a 2x lens; a 400mm lens is an 8x telephoto.
Focal Length – other web resources
Cambridge in Colour – an excellent reference and tutorial site; well respected for its concise, well illustrated explanations. Be sure to toggle the different comparison images showing common lens defects.
Canon Focal Length Simulator – one of several on-line tools where one can compare the magnification and distortion of different lenses taken from the same position. Part of Canon’s lens education website.
Differences between Wide angle Lens and Telephoto Lenses

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