Category Archives: Sony NEX3

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!

Testing My New OM-D

Today was a good day!  I got to have breakfast with a friend, see his son play in a baseball tournament, and finally use my new Olympus OM-D E-M5 in some action!

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve been trying to shrink my camera gear footprint.  Looking for alternatives to my large DSLR’s started with the addition of my Sony NEX3.  The NEX3 has many nice features, good image quality, and I still use it today.  It is not however, a replacement for my DSLR.  It’s too slow!  It’s actually ok to use  for static subjects, but lousy for anything that moves quickly.

Next I moved to the Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic GX-1.  These are both Micro Four Thirds (MFT) format camera.  I love the features, size, and image quality, but they are not suitable replacements for my DSLR.  Same story, too slow for any type of action.

There have been some advancements in the MFT world.  The introduction of the OM-D E-M5 (OM-D) really made some noise in the world of cameras and photography.  This was back in the early part of 2012, and I wasn’t able to jump on the bandwagon and buy one for myself at the time.  So, I bided my time and watched my favorite camera stores, waiting for a deal.  And finally last month, I was able to take advantage of one that presented itself at Adorama.

It was love at 1st site when I took my OM-D out of the box!  I loved the size, look, and feel of this little jewel.  But, was it the DSLR replacement/alternative that I was looking for?  By the way, if you’d like to read a review, click this link – OM-D.

The answer to that question is yes, and no.  Yes, because it is fast.  Much faster to use than any of my other non-DSLR cameras.  It can focus quickly, and can fire off 9 frames per second (fps).  And no, mostly because of user error and a little having to do with the way this camera achieves focus.  I don’t want to get into all of the techno-babble regard autofocus, but if you want, you can read about it here – Autofocus.  I’m sure as I get used to my OM-D, I’ll become more comfortable with it’s many features and settings and be able to confidently use it for any type of action.

And now, the results!  The action on the baseball field was lively.  For the most part ,the OM-D did just fine.  At 9 fps I was able to catch some great action sequences.  I was also able to capture what would have been some great action sequences, if they had been in focus.  To be fair, that could have happened with my DSLR.  I noticed a couple of times that my focus point was off (I usually set it to center).  Focus accuracy improved greatly once I reset it.

One of the other things that I discovered was that I had better luck setting the OM-D to single autofocus, rather than continuous autofocus or continuous tracking autofocus.  I’d pick a point on the field where I anticipated some action to take place and focus on it.  Once the players moved into view I’d press the shutter and fire away.  That may or may not be the best way to catch the action, but it seemed to work well for me today.

Here are a few shots from the game:

Baseball action, Olympus OM-D E-M5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baseball action, Olympus OM-D E-M5
Baseball action, Olympus OM-D E-M5

All of the shots above were converted from the original RAW file format to jpeg, and resized for viewing on the screen.  There was no other post processing performed.

While I’m not much on pixel-peeping, I have looked pretty closely at these images.  Overall I’m very pleased with the image quality.  My seat-of-the-pants review is by no means scientific,  but I think it does demonstrate how the OM-D works in a real life setting.  To my eyes, the image quality from my OM-D is on par with my Canon 60D.  While the 60D has a slower frame rate (5.5 fps to 9 fps), it does seem to do a little better tracking fast moving subjects than my OM-D.  Not by much mind you, but it is something to think about.  In every other area I think the OM-D is equal too or greater than my 60D.  I’ll need more photo opportunities such as the one I had today to make up my mind.  There will definitely be more to follow!

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

 

 

Evolving HDR Techniques

I’d like to think that I’m not too old or set in my ways to learn new things.  Especially when it comes to photography.  Although I’ve been at it for quite awhile, I admit that  there’s a lot I don’t know.

I find this especially true when it comes to HDR.  When I first discovered it, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The images were so detailed, and has such a huge range of color and contrast.  I knew this was something I wanted to learn.  Searching online led me to Trey Ratcliff’s website – Stuck in Customs.  Not only were his images beautiful and inspiring, but he was giving away his techniques!

More searching on the web led me to other folk’s HDR work.  Most of it was pretty grungy.  And, I have to admit that I kind of liked the grunge, especially when used on old cars or machinery.  That was when I was trying to come up with my own HDR workflow,  and got caught up in the grunge.

Time has passed, and I continue in my quest to produce very clean and less “overcooked” HDR images.  The old saying that “less is more” certainly seems to be true here.  Lately I’ve been revisiting some of my previous images, and in some cases cringing.  Some of my HDR attempts were really pretty lousy.

One of the smart things I started doing is to shoot just about everything in RAW.  This has allowed me to go back and work with the original image files, and being RAW, there’s so much more adjustment latitude available.  While Jpegs are ok, they aren’t as flexible as RAW files because they are preprocessed by the camera.  That’s one reason why Jpegs look better straight out of the camera compared to a RAW file.  RAW files are meant to be post processed!  Unfortunately, I also discovered that all of the images from my Sony NEX3 were set to Jpeg.  Oh well, that’ll teach me to pay more attention to detail!

As the title of this post suggests, my techniques are evolving.  I’ve gone back to basics and worked on single image RAW files (no HDR), just to make sure that I actually had something worthy of all the processing time.  After all, if I was making nothing but crap images and tried to make them masterpieces with HDR, I was wasting a lot of time.  One of the things I discovered by doing this was some of my images really didn’t need the HDR treatment, while others would benefit with a more subtle or restrained approach.

My point to all of this is to keep learning.  Keep refining your techniques whether it’s HDR or a more traditional approach.  There are a lot of great free resources out there, and I have shared them in previous posts.  I’ll mention one of them again – HDR One.  There’s a wealth of HDR knowledge on this site and it’s worth the investment of time.

To illustrate my point, I’m going to share some of my dirty laundry, before and after processed images.  Hopefully you’ll agree that the after images are improvements.  Don’t be bashful with your comments, I can take it!

Carson Peak

Above – Before.  Over processed, poorly processed.

Carson Peak, HDR

Above – After.  In addition to a more subtle HDR approach, this image was cropped slightly differently.

Silver Lake

Above –  Before.  I’m almost ashamed to share this one. It’s hideously overcooked.

Silver Lake, HDR

Above – After.  I think this one is much better.  While it retains its wonderful detail and contrast, the colors are more natural.

Hopefully I was able to help you see what I meant by evolving techniques.  For me, it seems that I’m never quite done with processing an image.  I’m reminded of this quote – “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” ~ Ansel Adams.

Don’t be afraid to revisit some of your pictures and apply new or refined techniques to them.  You may be surprised at what you get.

Until next time – Happy Shooting!