Category Archives: Technique

Reprocessing a Mt. Evans Elk Herd panorama

Back in July of 2007, I wrote a post about Mt. Evans, Colorado and included this image of an Elk herd we saw there:

Elk herd near mile marker 8 on Mount Evans  (2007 version)

At that time, I was using a Nikon D80 camera and made this photo with an entry level 70-300 telephoto lens.  I remember wanting to capture as much detail as possible, so instead of making one exposure of the whole herd, I zoomed in as far as I could and made four different frames at 300mm (450mm eq.), f/5.6, 1/100 sec, and iso 100. I ran across these images in my photo archive recently and wanted to see if I could reprocess the RAW files for a better result.  I thought you might be interested in my work flow – not so you can reproduce my results, but to give you some ideas on how to process your own images.

Here is one of the original RAW files SOOC (straight out of camera).  The white balance and exposure aren’t optimum and sharpness isn’t very good either – maybe due to poor lens stabilization and optical performance (and maybe due to my poor technique).

Here are the steps I went through to reprocess this:

  • Used DxO Photo Lab software to convert from RAW to .tiff and take advantage of the built in Prime Noise reduction algorithm.  I like that this software applies camera and lens specific corrections to all images.  It also returns the results to Lightroom still in RAW / DNG format.
  • Made basic adjustments (exposure, white balance) in Lightroom, and copied to all four frames.
  • Opened as layers in PhotoShop.
  • Stitched the frames into a panorama: Edit -> Auto-align Layers; Edit -> Auto-blend Layers.  At this point, it looked like this:

When I made the original frames, I didn’t cover enough ground for a rectangular composition.  To fix this, I used PhotoShop’s excellent Content Aware Fill on the missing corners.

  • Select the blank areas with the Magic Wand tool.  Expand the selection (~3 pixels).  Edit -> Content Aware Fill
  • use the clone tool to eliminate any obvious fill anomalies.

And then I worked on sharpness.  Here is a 300% look at the area near the Bull Elk:

Not very sharp.  So I:

  • Duplicated the layer and applied the Topaz Sharpen AI filter.  I used the Stabilize method with a Remove Blur value of 0.70.  Here’s the much improved result:

Topaz Sharpen AI can work wonders on this kind of problem, but it does take a lot of CPU power.  Depending on your hardware, you might have to be (very) patient.

  • The final step in Photoshop was to use Topaz Clarity for some added midrange contrast.  I applied the Nature -> Fur and Feathers II preset.
  • Back in LightRoom: I cropped to a 2:3 format; tweaked White Balance and exposure again; boosted texture and shadows on the Elk with a circular adjustment and range mask; Reduced green and yellow saturation; Used a -12 highlight priority vignette and added grain at 15.

And this is the new version I just posted to Flickr.

Mt. Evans Elk herdMt. Evans Elk herd (2019 version) – Near mile marker 8. Quite a harem! There are about 60 elk in this image: A single bull, ~10 young ones, and the rest female.

It took me about 30 minutes to do this.  Was it worth the effort? I can’t answer for you.  I think it looks much better and I’m glad I saved those RAW files! As long as i can re-start from the original sensor data, I can leverage newer software and get better results.  I know a lot of folks don’t enjoy computer work, but I do – so to me it’s worth it.

Click on any of these to see larger versions.  I have other Mt. Evans (and Colorado) photos in this album on Flickr.  And if you have any questions on this, I’ll be happy to try and answer them.  Just ask in a comment below.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make (or reprocess) some photos!

©2007 and 2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Long Exposure with Variable Neutral Density Filters

A friend wants to make long exposure photos on an upcoming trip. I recommended using a Variable Neutral Density Filter (VND) and offered to let them try mine.  So  we headed over to the Cocoa Beach Pier last Friday to test them out on some ocean waves.

Cruising homeCruising home. VND, ƒ/11, 35 mm, 0.3sec, ISO 100

VNDs are made from two polarizing filters – one’s fixed and the other rotates. You use the rotating one to vary the amount of light that’s blocked (typically between 1 or 2 and 6 or 8 stops).  I like them because they give you precise and easy control over how much light hits your sensor.  If you reduce light on the sensor, you can use a slower shutter speed or a wider aperture for a given scene.  They’re good to have when you photograph waterfalls (slow shutter to blur / smooth water) or in bright light (to shoot with a wider aperture and blur backgrounds).

Here’s my approach for smoothing water:

  1. Mount the camera on a tripod and trigger it with a remote or the self timer.
  2. Set ISO (usually for best quality). Don’t use auto ISO.  We want the  camera to vary shutter speed instead of changing ISO when the VND rotates.
  3. I use Aperture Priority mode and select the F-stop (for depth of field, image quality etc.).
  4. Compose with the VND filter at its minimum value (brightest setting).
  5. In bright light, you can use auto focus.  In dim light, you may need to  manual focus so the camera’s auto focus doesn’t hunt when you  darken the VND.
  6. Now, slowly turn / darken the VND until your shutter speed reaches the value you want.  You’ll need to experiment to find what looks best to you, but for water try between .25 and 1 second.
  7. If you can’t get a slow enough shutter, you can close down your aperture, or lower your ISO.

Some things to watch out for:

  • Like much in photography (and life!), you can find very expensive VNDs and very cheap ones. I’ve had good luck with name brand ones in the middle price range.  Don’t buy the cheap ones!  They may not be optically flat or coated, and might introduce color shift problems.  You’ll probably pay more for thinner ones too, which will reduce chances of vignetting.
  • Definitely look for VNDs with coatings to help prevent reflections / flare.  You’re adding four more air/glass interfaces to the front of your lens and you can’t use a lens hood, so coatings will improve performance.
  • Since these filters can be expensive, I recommend buying only one, sized to fit the biggest diameter lens you’ll use it with.  I have a 77mm VND and step down rings to mount it on my smaller lenses.
  • Some VNDs can be rotated too far and will show an ugly cross-shaped anomaly.  If yours does this, watch for it and back off until it disappears.  Some are made with a stop so you can’t rotate them too far.
  • Check your results as you go.  It’s easy to over expose highlights in moving water, so you may need to dial in some negative exposure composition.  Also, if the light getting through is too dim, your camera’s meter may not work well.  In that case you’ll have to change to manual exposure and adjust accordingly.
  • Make several exposures at different shutter speeds so you’ll have distinct looks to choose from when you get home.

Golden beachGolden beach. VND, ƒ/8.0, 26 mm eq., 0.8sec, ISO 200

That’s it – simple, right?  Do you use VNDs?  If so, let me know where I can view your long exposure photos.  And if you have any hints of your own, please share in a comment for everyone.

You can click on these images to see a larger version on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Enhanced details?

Have you heard about Adobe’s recent update to Lightroom?  It has a new feature called “Enhance Details”.  Adobe says it:

“approaches demosaicing in a new way to better resolve fine details and fix issues like false colors and zippering. Enhance Details uses machine learning—an extensively trained convolutional neural network (CNN)—to provide state-of-the-art quality for the images that really matter.”

You can read an explanation of what they’ve done on their blog at this link:  https://theblog.adobe.com/enhance-details/.  It sounds like a another fascinating advance in computational photography.  It’s also a great example of why you should shoot in Raw mode and save your original files – so you can take advantage of future software updates.  Of course I had to try this out!

Flower & bugWildflower and bug – processed in Lightroom with Enhanced Details (click for a larger view)

I chose this flower growing in Central Winds Park, near Lake Jesup as my subject.  By the way, this is the same spot and subject as this 2015 blog post.  There’s a lot of detail in the flower and insect and I was curious about how it would look using the new processing.

I ran Enhance Details on the Raw file.  At first, I couldn’t really see any improvement.  So I opened the original and enhanced images in layers in Photoshop.  I set the layer mode to Difference and then used a levels adjustment to highlight changes.

Difference map showing pixels changed by the Enhance Details algorithm

Using this method at 300% magnification to guide me to where the changes were, I could then see them clearly.  The enhanced image was indeed more detailed than the original.  But (for this example anyway) they’re extremely subtle!  Too subtle to show up in a blog resolution image without a difference map.

I did a little more research on-line and found this blog post:  https://elialocardi.com/adobe-lightroom-camera-raw-enhance-details-review/.  It’s got several samples where the differences are more obvious.  Well worth a read.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Adobe claims a 30% increase in image quality.  I’m not sure how they derived this number, but from the examples I’ve seen the results are much more subtle than that.
  • It works better on some subject than others, e.g. night photos of cities with lights, or images with artifacts.  Improvements are much harder to see on other subjects such as my flower.
  • I didn’t see (and haven’t heard of) anyplace where it made an image worse.
  • You pay a penalty in workflow, time, and disk storage when using this.  It shouldn’t be your default processing.
  • Consider it for portfolio images, or photos that you’re printing in a large format. Don’t bother with it for images shared to the web or ones that you’re printing small.  Keep your Raw files and you can always go back later and run them through.
  • If you use Fuji cameras, try it on their X-Trans Raw files.
  • We’ll hear more soon as the photo community explores this and we see results.
  • In the future this or something like it will probably become the default demosaicing approach.  Adobe should be commended and I hope they keep developing it

That was fun!  Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2019, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Long(er) cruise exposures

I thought you might be interested in a photo technique that I used on our recent cruise. Here’s an example image:

Journey's End

Journey’s End. (eq. FOV: 26mm, f/4.5, .8 sec @ ISO 1250)

In low light situations, I wanted the ship sharp in the foreground, and nearby water showing motion blur. I also wanted features on the horizon to be sharp (with no motion blur).

You can see the settings I used in the captions. The secret is to use a wide-angle lens, and keep your shutter speed fast enough so that the ship’s motion doesn’t result in blurred features on the horizon, but long enough so that the close by water shows some motion blur. For this image, a little less than a second worked out. Here’s another example (that was in last week’s blog too):

Approaching the Cayman Islands

Approaching the Cayman Islands. (eq. FOV: 26mm, f/4, 2 sec @ ISO 200)

Here are the steps to try this yourself:

  • Go on a cruise!
  • Choose an aperture that gives you the depth of field you want (e.g. sharp focus from foreground to horizon).  My Olympus 12-100 f/4 lens is sharp and has sufficient depth of field used wide open.
  • Choose an ISO value that results in the shutter speed you want (between 1/2 and 2 seconds).  With my micro 4/3 cameras, I’m conservative with ISO, but I’ll use up to 3200 if pressed – even for landscape shots.
  • Use your camera’s built-in image stabilization (or mount your camera on a tripod) to stabilize it on the ship.  Since my setup has the Olympus dual-IS capability, I didn’t use a tripod.  Instead, I braced myself against the ship and  hand-held these.
  • Make several exposures and check for sharpness. Since the ship is moving relative to the horizon, this setup is different from a normal dry-land photo.  To keep the horizon sharp, you’ll have to either time the ship’s motion and expose when it’s minimized (difficult), or make multiple frames and pick ones where the horizon features are sharp (easier).  I was able to get sharp images with exposures as long as 2 seconds, but I made multiple frames for insurance.

Here’s one more photo.  The light was brighter in this one, so I couldn’t get much blur in the water:

Dusk at seaDusk at sea. (eq. FOV: 24mm, f/4, 1/40sec @ ISO 200)

So that’s it.  A fun technique that will give you some nice “cruisey” images.  If you try this, let me know how it works for you.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Lessons from a photogenic place (repost)

Good morning!  We were traveling last weekend and I started coming down with a cold on the flight back.  So I haven’t been out much since and I don’t have any new material for you.  Instead, I’ll repost this write-up from back in April, 2014 – it’s one of my favorites.  And it reminds me I need to go back over there and see what’s changed!  You can also look at this post for more info on the location:  https://edrosack.com/2014/01/04/marineland-beach/


There were a few lights in the parking lot way back behind the sand dunes and the clouds were thick and low, making it so very dark on Marineland Beach south of St. Augustine, Florida that my first few exposures didn’t even register on the sensor. I kept raising exposure times and ISO until I was able to capture this:

99 seconds in the dark
99 seconds in the dark – ISO 400, 99 seconds @ f/8; Marineland Beach, about 45 minutes before sunrise.

It sure didn’t look this way to my eyes.  I couldn’t see much at all and had to use my head lamp to compose and focus.

When I got home and processed the photos, they reminded me of some things that might be useful to others.

Pre-visualize before, during, and after you press the shutter

You should always try to pre-visualize the photo you’re making before you compose and shoot – and it’s a delightful feeling when the image turns out just like you imagined.  But this is often harder than it sounds.  Especially if you can’t see what you’re photographing.  There’s nothing wrong with adjusting your vision as you go.  This is a wonderful advantage of digital cameras that we’d be foolish to ignore.  Check your results on the LCD during the shoot and adapt as necessary.  In this case, I knew exactly what I needed to change when I first looked at my (black) LCD.  I needed more exposure!

Pre visualization is great, but there’s also nothing wrong with post visualization.  What I mean is to try as many things as you can think of while you’re there and sort it out later when you get home.  Try HDR, panoramas, high tripod, low tripod, and focus stacking.  Use different  focal lengths, shutter / aperture combinations, and positions / directions.  Exploit changing weather / light as time goes on.  Capture them all and give yourself a better chance to come out with something you like.

Shutter speed

Shutter speed is a critical variable when photographing moving water.  The 99 second exposure above gave me very smooth and milky looking water, nicely outlining the rocks.  A 1/1000th second (or faster) exposure can freeze drops of water.  In between, you can find other speeds that look very different from the extremes.  Capture the scene with different shutter speeds when possible.  In this 1 second exposure, I like the added interest from the flow patterns in the water.

Marineland Beach and cochina rocks
Marineland Beach and coquina rocks – ISO 100, 1 second @ f/4 with 8 2/3 stop neutral density filter, ~30 minutes after sunrise.

High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing and ghost removal

There are so many controls and sliders in HDR software that it’s hard to know which ones to change.  Most HDR software has an option for removing “ghosts” (differences between multiple frames for anything moving in the image) and I think it’s a critical setting.  HDR Efex allows me to select the baseline frame I want to use as well as the amount of ghost removal to apply.  I like to experiment with these and select the combination that looks best.  In the image below, there was only one  setting that showed the breaking wave. And I think the wave definitely adds to the image.

Golden rocks and sand
Golden rocks and sand – 5 image bracket (-4 to +4 stops), almost an hour after sunrise.

Don’t leave too soon

I made these three images (and more!) over a period of 90 minutes.  The changing light provided different looks and opportunities to photograph this place.  It’s worth getting there early and staying for a while.

Don’t get overwhelmed

When you visit a beautiful place, especially for the first time – it’s easy to be overwhelmed and forget about everything except pressing the shutter button.  It helps to visit multiple times. The first time, it’s hard to see all the possible compositions until you get over the novelty and excitement. When you can relax and enjoy the experience you can open your mind and get in the zone.  Then you’ll make images you’ll be happy to share with others.

You can see more of my photos from Marineland in this set on Flickr.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog.  Now – go make some photos!

©2014 and 2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

Grand vista or Up-close and Intimate?

Last week I mentioned that we spent time photographing Amicalola Falls during the Focus on Atlanta Workshop.  I was also there in 2014  and when I got home, I was curious to compare images from the two visits.  That led to some observations and questions.

This first photo is from 2014.  I reprocessed it, mainly to correct some blown highlights in the water.  First observation:  Blown highlights bother me a lot more today than they did back then.

I made this from the foot bridge near the top of the falls.  Second observation:  It’s quite a hike, especially with a load of heavy camera gear.  But it’s well worth it for the wonderful view!  With a wide enough lens, you can try to show the grand scale and sweeping power of the falls.

Amicalola Falls

Amicalola Falls – The grand view from the footbridge near the top.  Nikon D800, ISO 50, 16mm, f/22 @ 1/3 sec.

I really like this photo, and I’m glad I made it.  Third observation:  Four years later, I think that it was a bit too easy.  Probably everyone that visits these falls will try for an image that looks like this.

The next three images are from 2018.  I must have been anxious to get the grand view photo in 2014 and hiked right by these locations – I don’t recall noticing them.  On this  recent visit, Mike Boening pointed out several spots along the trail and I stopped at a few and set up for more intimate photos.

Light in the creekLight in the creek. Olympus OM-D M II, Hi-res mode, ISO 200, 28mm eq., f/8 @ 1 sec.

On the way back down, the last spot I stopped at was only a few yards from the parking area!

FlowFlow. Olympus OM-D M II, Hi-res mode, ISO 200, 40mm eq., f/8 @ 1.2 sec.

I like the grand view image I made in 2014, but I think I like these 2018 images even more.  There are probably quite a few photos of Amicalola similar to my first one.  I suspect that images like the second and third are much less common since the number of possible viewpoints and compositions is so much greater.

Sometimes, only one approach will work for a subject or your style of photography.  On the drive up to the falls, we stopped at an overlook and I was fascinated by the fog / mist and low clouds moving through the valley.  I was able to poke the small lens on my iPhone through the chain link fence to grab this frame.  At the time, I didn’t think about an intimate detail type of composition there.

Foggy mountain viewFoggy mountain view

But that’s just me.  I saw a photo later that showed Mike making an image of some graffiti on the road.  Last observation: Graffiti isn’t something I normally photograph and I didn’t even pay attention to it at the time. Our usual photo styles can limit the potential images we see.

So what’s the moral of this story?  Should we make grand scenic view images or intimate, up-close photos of the details?  You know what I’m going to say , don’t you?  “It depends”.

Actually, I’m going to say:  It depends, but try hard to get both.  You’ll grow as a photographer if you can teach your brain to see both ends of this spectrum.  Shoot whichever you prefer first, but force yourself to look for the other compositions before you leave a spot.

As always, click on these images to see a larger version on Flickr.  And you can see other photos from the workshop in this album and other photos from Georgia in this one.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some grand, and some detailed photos!

©2014 and 2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Infrared evolutions

This is a long article about Infrared (IR) image processing.  If you don’t process IR photos, feel free to just look at the photos!  And please take a look at the new Infrared Gallery I added under the Galleries / Portfolio menu at the top.

You probably know I like IR photography. I’ve written about it before (click here to review my posts) and I often include IR photos in this blog. Here’s a recent example:

Circle B Bar Infrared 1Circle B Bar Infrared 1 (four frame vertical panorama)

Infrared’s an interesting medium.

  • IR captures invisible light:  a portion of the spectrum that’s different from what your eyes can see.
  • The spectral response makes blue sky look dark and foliage bright.  This reverses a normal daylight scene’s brightness values.  It helps tame contrast and allows you to shoot even when the sun is high in the sky.
  • Since your eyes can’t see infrared, your interpretation of the alternate reality is up to you.   You can process IR in Monochrome or as a false color image.
  • IR can sometimes capture details that aren’t seen with visible light.
  • If you use a modified digital camera, you may see improved detail in your photos. The conversion process removes the IR blocking / anti-aliasing filter.  In many digital cameras this slightly blurs the image during capture to lessen Moire and other aliasing artifacts.
  • I’m not really qualified to discuss shooting IR film – I’ve only done it a few times.  But I will say that modifying a mirrorless digital camera is a great way to approach infrared.  The mirrorless design eliminates any issues with IR focus.  The camera’s built-in exposure meter works well and values are close to the normal visible light ones, so you can hand hold in daylight conditions.

Another example:

Circle B Bar Infrared 3Circle B Bar Infrared 3 (three frame vertical panorama)

By the way, all the images in this post are from from an early March trip to the Circle B Bar Reserve.  I’m really glad I carried my IR camera on our hike!  Here’s another:

Eight Cedar Waxwings

Eight Cedar Waxwings – I forgot to bring the spare battery for my main camera and ran out of charge. So I switched my long lens to my IR modified body and kept shooting.

So what’s the point of this post?  I’ve struggled lately with how I process my IR images.  The work flow I’ve used seems to result in too much contrast / clarity.  I just felt that the results looked a bit “digital”.  So I’ve searched for new methods and I’ve found one that I like.  I’ve used it on all these photos and I feel that they look much more “organic” and much less “digital”.  What do you think?

Five nest Cypress

Five nest Cypress (five frame vertical panorama)

Here is my updated workflow:

  • Capture the RAW images with a modified micro 4/3 mirrorless camera.  Aperture priority, mostly handheld (although I do occasionally use a tripod).
  • Import into Lightroom to save the master files.  Then decide which ones are worth processing and discard the seconds / rejects.
  • Batch process the “selects” through DxO Optics Pro to take advantage of its noise and camera / lens module processing.  This step returns copies back to Lightroom in Adobe DNG RAW format.
  • In Lightroom, apply a custom camera profile to optimize the white balance (see this article for how to create one).  And if it’s a multi-frame image, stitch it together with Lightroom’s merge to panorama function.
  • Sometimes, you can use Lightroom’s B&W conversion and finish an image.  But I’ll open ones I really like in Photoshop.
  • There, straighten and crop, use the content aware fill, and clone if needed.
  • And here’s the new step in my workflow:  I’ve been using Skylum Software’s Luminar for IR B&W conversions. I found a very nice starting point for IR processing here: Laurie Klein’s Infrared Mastery presets.
  • Finally, it’s back to Lightroom for any final adjustments (tone curve, sharpening, vignette, grain, etc.).

Circle B Bar Infrared 6Circle B Bar Infrared 6 (five frame horizontal panorama)

Could I achieve this look some other way?  Maybe even with a lot fewer steps?  Yes, I’m sure it could be done.

Circle B Bar Infrared 2Circle B Bar Infrared 2 (three frame horizontal panorama)

Just a few years ago, we only had Adobe Photoshop and then Lightroom to process RAW images.  One of the great things about photography and image processing today is that there are so many ways to do things.  That’s also bad, because it takes a lot of effort to study all the options and find out which ones work best.   It seems like each program has strengths and weaknesses.

Software is changing every day, but I don’t know if there will ever be a single image processing program that does every thing I want.  For now, I’m happy with the results I’m getting using this somewhat complex workflow.  That doesn’t mean I’ll stop looking for new or simpler ways to do things.

If you have time, please take a minute to look through the new IR gallery.  I think it represents some of my best IR images.  I also have a Flickr album with many more IR photos at this link:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157628062119778.

If you’ve read this far, thank you!  That probably means you’re very interested in IR.  If you have any questions about this, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to answer.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some IR photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

 

Dancing Hawk

Lynn and I were away, visiting our first grandchild – what a wonderful experience that is!!!

Anyway, this blog is about nature photography and I haven’t been able to do much of that recently.  So when we got home, I was eager to go back out and ended up at Orlando Wetlands Park last Thursday.  I made several photos I like.  This one is my favorite from the trip:

Dancing HawkRed-shouldered Hawk

At first, the bird was sitting on top of a dead tree facing into the sun – very harsh light:

Back-lit bird (unprocessed jpg file)

I have many better images of these hawks on my computer. I’m not even sure what made me raise my camera.  Maybe my subconscious was getting ahead of me.

Luckily I did and when the hawk decided to turn around I was ready.  I made a continuous series as it used its wings to balance and I really like the one at the top. The wings are nicely spread and one foot is raised as if it’s dancing.

I’m glad I was shooting in RAW mode – it allowed me to compensate for the harsh light in post processing.  For reference, here is an unprocessed jpg version:

Dancing Hawk (unprocessed jpg)

Processing included using DxO Photo Lab for basic exposure tuning and noise reduction and then tweaking tones, colors, and cropping in Lightroom.

A little luck, a few seconds, and some post-processing can make a huge difference, don’t you think?  It helps to practice and know what’s possible in a situation like this.  Try it  – you might be surprised at the end result.  And maybe your subconscious will start helping you too!

This is a very good time of year to visit Orlando Wetlands.  I saw lots of Spoonbills, a couple of hawks, herons, egrets, ducks, Osprey, Belted Kingfishers, Ibis, a deer, etc.  And it’s cool and pleasant – great for a lovely walk.  You can look at more images from there in this album on Flickr:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/edrosack/albums/72157639616792296

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Feathered Feeding Frenzy Photo Fun

Once in a while, conditions are just right.  Low water levels force fish into small pools and birds flock to the spot to feed.  When you can get close to a scene like this early in the morning, with soft golden light from the rising sun behind you –  count your blessings!

Great Egret in flightGreat Egret in flight

This happened to me at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge a week ago (2/9/18).  I  lucked into seeing a bird feeding frenzy along Black Point Wildlife Drive.  It’s always a treat to watch and photograph these.  I’ve written about them before  (see this post from December of 2012).  Here are some observations. / hints that may help you in a similar situation:

  • The birds all compete for food.  Watch for interactions and squabbles – they can lead to great poses and action shots.
  • Since the birds are very focused on the fish they’re more tolerant of close photographers.  Be quiet and move slowly so you don’t stress them.
  • They’ll be constantly coming and going and moving in the pond.  Watch for good compositions as they shift around.
  • When they fly in, you can often track them as they get closer and land in the pools for some great images.  After a while you’ll be able to anticipate their paths.
  • As the birds land, they’ll be low and close to you – great for eye level BIF photos (BIF = Birds in Flight)!
  • You’ll need to balance zoom level, composition, background, exposure, focus, etc.  And conditions change rapidly.  Set up your camera in advance and be nimble.  I have a BIF preset programmed so I can quickly shift to it when needed.  It shoots at 10 frames / second with continuous focus, large focus area, and higher ISO settings to keep my shutter speed high.  You’ll need  1/1000 sec. exposures (or shorter!) to freeze wing motion.
  • A white bird against a dark background vs. a dark bird against the sky will require exposure compensation adjustments.  I have EC mapped to the rear wheel control so I can easily vary it when needed.
  • Your  “keeper” percentage may be lower than you’re used to.  But there are so many photo opportunities at a feeding frenzy that you’ll likely come home with images you like.  Practice when you can and you’ll get better.

Landing IbisLanding Ibis – I like the composition / background on this one.  But my shutter was too slow to freeze the wings and I didn’t get the exposure compensation right either.  I’m still practicing!

It’s not all about birds in flight.  Interesting groups or poses on the shore or perched on nearby branches are also photogenic.

On the banks of the pondOn the banks of the pond.  I like compositions with multiple species in the frame.

That was a wonderful morning.  I’m glad I was able to see all the action.  Oh, and before the bird activity, I also made a couple of landscape photos:

Dawn at the dock on the Indian RiverDawn at the dock on the Indian River.  Olympus Hi-Res mode.

Florida cloudsFlorida clouds along Black Point Wildlife Drive.  Monochrome infrared.

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!

©2018, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

More Computational Photography

As an Electrical Engineer and a long time photographer, I’ve been interested in computational photography for a while.  You can read some of my  earlier posts on the subject at this link. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

…”digital image capture and processing techniques that use digital computation instead of optical processes.”

I’d change this slightly from”instead of” to “instead of or in addition to”, but that’s a small quibble.

Moore’s law keeps driving the computing capabilities in phones and cameras ever higher and it’s fascinating to see what companies do with the extra potential.

Towalga River below High FallsTowalga River below High Falls, Georgia. Composite – iPhone default live view and Long Exposure, merged in Photoshop

I made the image above on our recent trip using an iPhone 8+ and Apple’s “Live Photo” mode. After I made the photo, I edited it on the phone and enabled the “Long Exposure” effect. The Long Exposure effect of blurring the moving water is computed from ~3 seconds worth of frames that Live Photo captures.  This is Apple’s web page explaining the feature.  Here’s what it looked like before I changed the mode – it’s not nearly as photogenic:

Towalga River below High FallsDefault iPhone live view

Until iOS 11 added this feature, I wasn’t too interested in Live Photos.  Now, I’m watching for places to use it. You can get a better image with your high-end camera and traditional optical techniques, but this is easier and a lot of fun to play with.

Here are some hints:

  • Pick a suitable subject:  moving water, traffic on a road, blurring people in a crowd, etc.
  • Motion blur with a traditional optical approach requires a slow shutter speed – either low light or using filters.  Since computational methods works by processing multiple frames, you can use it in bright light without filters.
  • Apple says it works on their newer phones (6+ and later).  You’ll need to have iOS 11 (or later) installed.
  • The Long Exposure effect has to align Individual frames and then crop where there’s no overlap so you’ll lose pixels around the edges.  Ideally, use a tripod – but that sort of defeats the idea of pulling your phone out of your pocket, doesn’t it?  Just hold the phone as steady as you can to minimize cropping.
  • Make several exposures and pick the best one later.
  • Long Exposure resolution seems to be lower than default iPhone photos.  This isn’t a huge problem for the moving parts of the frame – they’re supposed to be blurry.  For the static portions, you can load both versions into layers in Photoshop and use masking to paint in higher resolution where you want it.  I did this for the first photo above.
  • You can set a Long Exposure photo as your wallpaper.  You’ll see the static Long Exposure version until you press on it from the lock screen.  Then it changes to show the three-second animation – cool!

I hope Apple enhances this in future updates.  It’d be good to have some control over the blur effect.  3 seconds is nice, but some subjects will look better with less (or more?).

iOS 11 includes other updated computation photo capabilities (e.g. portrait lighting) – but that’s a subject for another day.

Photography’s changing fast – it’s a wonderful time to be a photographer, isn’t it?  In today’s digital world, many advances are likely to be computational and not optical.  Keep up – don’t be left behind!

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go compute some photos!

©2016, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.