Category Archives: Central Coast

Timing Is Everything

Have you ever wondered why photos of the same place can look so different?  Maybe you’ve seen some stunning photos of a place you’d like to visit while browsing a magazine or online.  Once you’re there and taking some photos of your own, you notice that they seem kind of blah.  Keep reading, maybe I can help.

Like the title of this post suggests, timing is everything!  One of the biggest differences between your blah photo and one from someone else that is drop dead gorgeous is the quality of light.  What does that mean?  For me it has always been referred to as the golden hour.  This usually refers to the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset.  The sun is low in the sky and the light can take on a rich, golden tone.  Of course this depends on where you are and what season you’re in.

Once the sun starts climbing, the light becomes more harsh and contrast increases.  That once beautiful scene can turn into something much less appealing (photographically speaking).  The dynamic range (the difference in light between the highlights and shadows) increases beyond the cameras ability to capture it.  You end up having to choose which one to base your exposure on, leaving you with either blown out highlights or black shadows with no detail.

One of the ways to continue photographing a scene when the sun starts to climb is to employ HDR (High Dynamic Range).  Typically you would make 3 exposures of the same scene (camera on a tripod is best), and merge them in post processing software like Photomatix.  HDR can help you create some wonderful mid-day shots that were at one time very difficult.  Some restraint is necessary to keep your image from taking on a cartoonish appearance.

That’s enough about HDR.  I’ve talked about it quite a bit in previous posts and you can look in my archives if you want to read more.  A google search will also take you to some very knowledgable folks with a lot of info on the subject.

Getting back to timing, there’s really nothing quite like capturing a scene early in the morning.  The air is fresh and clean, and the sun starts to paint everything in rich golden light.  Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Unfortunately it doesn’t always work out this way.  There are times when the sun just seems to pop up and the golden hour turns into the golden minute.  I’m sure there are some very good technical reasons for this, but I won’t try to guess as to what they are.  When this happens, I try to make the best of it.  There are times when the magic just isn’t going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it but enjoy the rest of the day.

Luckily there’s one more chance in the day to try again.  Just because the light wasn’t great in the morning doesn’t mean it won’t be fantastic in the evening!  Conditions change, and you need to adapt.  Keep an eye on the sky and get ready.  Sometimes all it takes are a few clouds to turn a blank, boring sky into a breathing taking sunset!

Keep in mind the time that the golden hour happens is related to where you are.  If you are up in the mountains it’s going to be later than if you are on the flat land.  The sun has to get high enough to get over the mountain peaks.  It can also happen that sunrise may not be the best time for golden hour photos as sunset.  It can help you choose the best time for photos by doing some research.

The whole point of this post is to help you increase your odds of capturing that knock out photo.  I’m not saying that you can’t get some great mid-day shots, it can just be more difficult.  There are certainly many photographers that buck the odds and post some truly fantastic mid-day shots.  I’m trying to point out that you stand a better chance of hitting that home run by working with the golden hour light.

Here are some examples.  These are all from one of my favorite places for photography, Morro Bay.

I hope the examples above give you an idea of what I’m trying to describe.  There are a couple of photos that are blah, at least to my eyes.  There are also a few that really seem to work.  How do I know?  Hundreds of hits on various photo sharing websites!  It pleases me that other people/photographers also enjoy some of my work.  It motivates me to get out of bed and get out there to make more!

That’s it for this post.  Remember, timing is everything!
Until next time – Happy Shooting!

Masterpiece or Snapshot?

As someone who sometimes struggles with photography, I often ask myself this question – does it always have to be a Masterpiece?

Little dog on the ocean

Above – Clancey looking out of the boat on Morro Bay.  Panasonic GX-1, Olympus 14-42mm lens, settings – Automatic!

Take the image above for example.  This was a very spontaneous moment of our little dog Clancey, looking out from our rental boat on Morro Bay.  Things happen very quickly when you have 3 little dogs, especially when you introduce them to something new, like a moving boat!  I didn’t have time to both drive the boat and fiddle with camera settings, so I set my Panasonic to Auto (gasp!) and grabbed the shot.  This may come as a shock to those purists out there, but sometimes it’s ok to use Auto.

Here’s another example:

Motorhome Dogs

Olympus E-P3, settings – the exif data says f/3.5 and 1/100th sec. and Manual.

The photo above is another of those moments that come quickly, and if you want to capture the moment, you just do it.  Having all 3 dogs sit patiently together doesn’t happen often and I wanted to grab this moment in time.  Playing with camera settings and trying to get 3 high energy dogs to sit still would have been impossible.

My point to all of this is that there’s room for both Snapshot and Masterpiece.  When doing family things, like walking down the beach or going on a boat ride, I’m personally more interested in capturing the moments.  Making memories during family time is more important than creating a Masterpiece.

If you’re on a family vacation, it’s still possible to step away and try to create your Masterpiece if that’s what you want to do.  My time for “real” photography is either very early in the morning (I don’t call it “Up At Dawn Photography” for nothing), or late in the afternoon/evening.

I find this works best for me.  I’m not boring others with my fussing and fiddling with tripod, filters, and camera settings and don’t feel rushed.  It’s just me, the camera and the scene I’m trying to capture – looking at the scene from different points of view, adjusting settings, or just experimenting, it’s all good!

Here’s  a shot when I was out by myself:

Morro Strand

Morro Strand State Beach, Olympus E-P3 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens.  3 shot HDR image.

This is late afternoon/early evening on Morro Strand State Beach.  The sun was setting fast, and even though it was July, the temperature was quite cool.  It would have been uncomfortable for others, but I was so into capturing the scene, I really wasn’t aware of the weather.  I had time enough to shoot this scene with multiple exposures and slightly different points of view.  Is it a Masterpiece?  I’m sure that’s debatable, but I like it!  I’m sure that my results wouldn’t have been as good had I felt rushed.  As patient as my wonderful wife is, it would have been insensitive and selfish to subject her to these conditions.  That’s why it’s important to have the time alone, it allows me to try and be creative.

There are a few times where you can mix both Snapshots and Photography.  If you’re smart, you won’t take too much time away from the family by getting carried away with trying to create that Masterpiece.  Here’s an example:

On the beach, Montana De Oro

Above – Snapshot with my Panasonic GX-1

Montana De Oro State Park

Montana De Oro State Park.  Olympus E-P3 with Panasonic 45-200mm lens and Vari-ND filter.

The 2 images above are from our visit to Montana De Oro State Park.  This is a wonderful place full of very dramatic rocky shoreline.  You can see my audience in one of the photos.  Since I had 2 cameras with me, one of them was setup for this.  My Panasonic GX-1 had the 14-42mm lens and it worked perfectly to pull out of the bag and grab this shot.  My wife and 3 dogs were very patient while I made the image above.  I probably took longer to do this than I should have, and do feel a little guilty about it.  I really don’t like to have people waiting on me (or feel rushed).  But it turned out ok and I got 2 great shots (the 1st, a Snapshot, the 2nd a sort of Masterpiece).

While the image of the rocks and blurred water may or may not be a Masterpiece, it satisfies my creative side.  The shot of my wife and dogs has much more value to me.

To wrap this post up, I’d say to find the balance between grabbing those memories (Snapshots) and creating Masterpieces.  It’s ok to do both (even if you’re a serious photographer).  Satisfy your creative needs and make that Masterpiece but don’t forget to create some family memories too!

That’s it for now, until next time – Happy Shooting!

Always Something to Learn (HDR).

There’s one thing about photography, and that is there’s always something to learn.  If you think you know it all, you’re just not trying anything new or different, or you’re in a rut.  I’ve been interested in photography for a long time, and it seems like there’s always something new.  Whether it’s a new piece of equipment, some new software, or a new post processing technique, there’s always something to learn and keep it interesting.

Now I’ve mentioned in previous posts the technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range).  The process involves the blending of 3 images of varying exposure and ending up with 1 image that not only has detail in the highlights, but in the shadows as well.  It allows the image to be much more real in terms of what the person experienced when they made it.  Your eyes (and brain) can process much more range of light and dark in a scene than your camera can.  That’s why when you look at a scene of a beautiful cloudy sky, trees, and a lake, you can see all of it.  Then you take a picture and are disappointed when the sky is blown out an you can’t see any of the clouds, and the trees near the lake are so dark there isn’t much detail.  This is the perfect time to try HDR.

You can find a lot of information on HDR.  One of the best places to start is Trey Ratcliff’s website:
Stuck in Customs

After dabbling in HDR for a little while now, I’ve been wanting to refine my technique.  But it seemed like I was always ending up with the same type of image, kind of edgy, maybe a little over done, and everyone once in a while I’d really nail one.  In my quest for more information, I found a great resource in an ebook.  I have a Nook Tablet and love to use it for reading so I started to search for photography books in general, and found “Improve Your HDR Photography” by Jim Harmer.  This book is only 138 pages, but gets right to it.  I found some very useful, very specific information on improving my HDR photography, just like the title says.  For less than 10 dollars this little ebook is a real winner.  You can see some of Jim’s work here:  Jim Harmer Photography

So, here’s what I have after reading the book.  This is a re-do of an image that I wasn’t really happy with from the 1st go round with HDR.  Here’s the before:

It’s ok, but I thought it could be better.  For my re-do I merged these 3 shots with Photomatix:
 Normal exposure.
Underexposed by 1 stop.
Overexposed by 1 stop.
All 3 were opened in Photomatix, blended, and tone-mapped.  After that, it was into Photoshop  for some final adjustments.  
The final product has more realistic colors and tones.  Compared to my 1st attempt, I think this version is more dramatic and true to what I actually experienced that wonderful evening.
That’s it, hope you liked this post!  See you next time!