Recent Articles

Photos from the Panasonic LX3

October 18, 20090 Comments

As promised, here are some pictures from the LX3.  I’m still very happy with the performance of the camera, it has turned out to be a great camera to carry around when I don’t want to drag out the D700. 

The first photo was taken in the Bay area and the rest in Vancouver B.C.

BayBridge_LX3Relief  BeachCityFromStanleyPark Bench Gords LionsGate

Until next time – Jim

Photography book Giving Campaign update

October 2, 20090 Comments

Blurb.com has highlighted the Photography book by making it their lead blog post.

Check it out.

http://blog.blurb.com/index.php/2009/10/02/blurb-helps-microsoft-give-back-to-united-way/

Buy a wonderful photo book and give to charity

September 30, 20090 Comments

clip_image001

I am a member of the Microsoft Photography Club. This year Photography Club Members from around the world spent five months assembling and publishing a world-class, fine art photo book. The time and talent that went into this project makes every copy of the book a gift to its owner.  There is a full book preview online (160 pages of preview!).   100% of the profit from sales goes directly to the United Way and you get a valued and timeless reminder of how you too make a difference for those in need.

Not only does this book make a wonderful addition to any collection, and a thoughtful gift, each copy you purchase contributes directly to the ongoing, important work of United Way. This book is offered for purchase at the cost of printing plus $25.00. This additional amount is contributed directly to United Way in your name and is fully tax deductable as a charitable contribution.

The book is currently a best seller and Blurb staff pick.  Even if you don’t think you’ll buy a copy of the book, go take a look at the online preview anyway.  It really is amazing!

Jim

The New Walkabout

August 30, 20090 Comments

I love my full frame DSLR and the various lenses, but having the monster by my side constantly just isn’t practical so for the last 6 months or so, I’ve been looking for a compact camera.  I wanted something I could throw in my pocket, or bag and always have with me, but I didn’t want to sacrifice quality.  I narrowed my search down to two, the Canon G9/10 and the Panasonic LX3.  Both seem to have rabid followers and from the reviews I’ve read, both are wonderful compact cameras that produce superb images.  After much contemplation, I settled on the Panasonic. 

Panasonic LX3Why the Panasonic?  Well, I really like the aesthetics.  It reminds me of the old Rangefinder style cameras.  It has a F2.0 Leica lens, great for low light.  Settings are fairly simple to change, white balance, ISO, f-stop, metering, etc. by using a little joystick on the back of the camera, it will even bracket exposures, something I came across accidently.  Of course, if you want to go fully automatic, it has a ton of preset scene settings and all the bells and whistles of the most recent compacts.

What could be improved?  I would like to see a built in viewfinder instead of having to look at the LCD to compose.  There is an option to add a viewfinder that slips into the flash shoe, but sometimes I want to use that to trip a flash.   A longer focal length lens, though this isn’t a big deal to me, I tend to like the wide angle lenses.  It would just be nice to have the option.  Other than that, I’m very happy with my purchase so far.  I’ll be making a trip up to Canada in a couple of weeks so it will get a good workout.

I’ve posted a couple of quick handheld photos below:

Lunch – outside, mixture of shade and sun.

lunch - Baja Tacos

Macr0 – New presidential dollar.  It’s amazing how many gouges and scratches you can see.  Studio flash triggered by the LX3.

Presidential Dollar Macro

Until next time. – Jim

My new photo website is up with portfolios

August 18, 20090 Comments

My new site is FINALLY up displaying my portfolios.  Check it out.

http://jmclarkphoto.com

It’s not quite where I want it to be, but it’s a good start.

Until next time – Jim

Using Levels to Increase Contrast and Interest

August 10, 20090 Comments

I’ve been playing around with the levels feature of Photoshop lately after some recent interest in extending my knowledge of the curves and levels dialogs.  I’ve found it fairly quick and easy to add contrast and interest to an otherwise flat, blah photo. 

Here is a photo I took up in the San Juan Islands in Washington State.  As you can see, it has a very uninteresting sky and is generally flat and could use a contrast boost.  This is straight out of the camera. 

I’m going to attempt to add more interest in the sky and more contrast overall.

Before

With your favorite selection tool select the sky.  I’m using the Quick Selection Tool.

image

Once you have a good selection of the sky, open the Levels dialog by either using the keyboard Ctrl+L or selecting the black and white cookie at the bottom of the layers panel.

image

For this photo, most of the pixels in the selection are on the far right.  To darken the sky I moved the black black slider to the right until the sky had the look I was going for, I then adjust the grey mid-tone slider also to the right to darken the mid-tones.

image

Now, so we don’t have a definite line across the top of the tree line, we are going to add a Gaussian blur to the mask.

With the mask in the layer selected, click Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur.  I use a value around 25px.

Make your next selection, I did the lake next and made the same level adjustments.  I moved the black slider to the edge of the black pixels and then adjusted the mid-tones.

image

Next apply the Gaussian Blur to your mask.

Continue with each section of the photo.  I did a shore selection and finally the tree line.

Next I warmed up the sky and shore, by adding some yellow using the Levels dialog.

To add yellow to your selection, select the Blue channel.  To adjust the color you move the mid-tone slider left to add blue and to the right to add yellow, since yellow is the opposite of blue.  You can use the same method to adjust the Red and Green channels.

image

Before:

 Before

After:

after

We turned this uninteresting, flat photo into something a little more interesting.  It’s not perfect, but it gives you an idea of what you can do with the Levels dialog.  Of course, this is just one of many ways to accomplish similar results in Photoshop.  It’s another tool you can add to your repertoire.

Until next time – Jim

Panoramas

July 21, 20090 Comments

Certain places just beg to be reproduced panoramically.    You just can’t do some scenes justice with a normal single frame photograph.  I’ve always been interested in panoramas, something about them mesmerizes me.  I guess it makes me feel like I’m experiencing the scene like I did when I was there.

There are a number of methods for taking the shots and probably just as many more methods of stitching the photos together.

You can take panoramas handheld, with a level tripod or with a special tripod head designed specifically for panorama photography.  Nodal Ninja and Really Right Stuff both make panorama heads and I’m sure there are numerous others.  These can be expensive, as with most camera equipment, but produce superb results.  The advantage is the camera can be set up perfectly level and the nodal point, optical center of the lens, can be set.  The Really Right Stuff site has a good explanation (http://reallyrightstuff.com/pano/05.html).  Currently, I take my panoramas with a tripod and a hot shoe bubble level, it seems to work fairly well, but I will eventually purchase one of the panorama heads.

I’ve used several panorama stitching software applications including PTGui and Photoshop.  My favorite is a free program developed by Microsoft Research named Microsoft ICE (Image Composite Editor).  You can download the program at he Microsoft Research site (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/groups/ivm/ICE/). I recently used this program to stitch together a handheld panorama of Lake Powell down in Arizona.  The panorama was a total of 6 photos, 2 rows of 3.   I took the pictures fairly quickly as we were about to head back into town.  I didn’t really think it would turn out as well as it did.  As a test of ICE I renamed each photo and opened them out of order just to see if the program could figure out which photo went where.  A couple of minutes of processing later and out came a perfect panorama.

You can see a larger version here.

3448673049_2f141ccc88

Until next time!

Jim

Removing Color Cast

June 7, 20090 Comments

I’m always looking for new ways to remove color cast from images. Sometimes the color cast can be very dramatic and sometimes very subtle, depending on light conditions, camera white balance, etc. Most of the time our eyes tend to compensate for the color cast, unless it is extreme. There are many ways to eliminate color cast at the time the photo is taken, you can use a gray card, set a custom white balance in the camera using something white or neutral, like an Expodisc, or even a sheet of white paper. Most of the time I use the white balance presets on the camera, for example, tungsten, flash or shady. The presets usually do a relatively good job removing the color cast, but not all.

Today I discovered a new way in Photoshop to remove the remaining color cast that the camera doesn’t when using the white balance setting on the camera. I can’t remember where I read about the method on the web, but it seems to work great.

Steps:

Open the image you would like to modify and create a new layer.

You should now have the background layer and the empty new layer.

Photoshop layer1

Fill the new layer with 50% gray and set the blending mode to Difference. You photo will look something like a negative.

Photoshop layers

Now using the eyedropper tool, find the darkest black you can find. I find looking at the RGB values in the Info tab helps find the blackest black, or something close. A RGB value of 0,0,0 would be devoid of all color. Hold the shift key and click on this spot. You should see a target if you’ve done this correctly. I’ve drawn a red box around the target in my photo.

Photoshop difference layer

Now, discard the 50% gray layer.

Add a levels adjustment layer and select the gray eyedropper to set the gray point for the image. It may make it easier to set the “Caps Lock” to change the eyedropper tool to a target. You want to click on the exact pixel you chose above, then click OK.

Photoshop levels adjustment

Now the color-cast should be removed.

Here is a photo I took a while ago in Vienna, I removed a slight blue color cast.

Before:

Vienna bike rental image (before)

After:

Vienna bike rental image (after)

Until next time – Jim

** Just wanted to let you know I found the person that originally created this process, Dave Cross. Dave has a great blog that I highly recommend. http://davecross.blogspot.com/.

Focus – Hyperfocal

May 8, 20090 Comments

At a recent photography workshop I attended in Northern Arizona, I learned something I hadn’t really paid much attention to in the past, Hyperfocal distance.

LeRoy DeJolie, our workshop instructor and amazing  photographer, showed us a simple way of dealing with Hyperfocal Distance without whipping out a range finder, tape measure, or just plain trying to guess.  I’m not a hyperfocal distance expert, but I basically think of it as a point where everything in the image is in focus (maximum depth of field).  This is important in landscape photography because it is common to have something in the foreground (rock, plant, tree branch, etc.) and of course the main subject of your photo which may be an extended distance from the foreground object.  It’s really great to have everything in focus rather than the foreground or background slightly out of focus.

DOF is determined by the focal length of the lens and aperture.  For landscape photography, if you want everything in focus in your image, you typically use a wider angle lens and a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number).  I normally try to use f11 or f16, this gives me sharp images without diffraction which would cause the image to appear not so sharp.

If I came across this situation in the past, I would try to focus on something about a third of the way into my composition.  This actually works fairly well, but not perfect.  The little trick that LeRoy taught us was to set the camera to manual focus, focus on the far subject, then adjust the focus so the near subject is perfectly in focus and then split the difference.  This has worked very very well for me and I used this method in the following image taken near Page, Arizona.

Hoodoo near Page, Arizona.

Take care! – Jim

Early Morning at the Tulip Fields

April 26, 20090 Comments
After much deliberation, I decided I would rise welllll before dawn to take my annual drive up to the tulip fields near Mt. Vernon, Washington to catch the early light. Of course, I never sleep well when I need to wake early for something special. My plan was to wake up at 4:00am and be out the door by 4:15, yes that’s AM! I had prepared and loaded all the photography equipment the night before so all I needed to do was to throw on some clothes and be on the road. The drive up was fairly uneventful, though dark the entire drive. I contemplated returning home several times to a warm cozy bed, but persevered. I noticed on the way up that the temperature was continuously dropping as I got closer to my destination, just above freezing. I’ve been on enough early morning shoots that I was prepared with a winter coat, gloves and hat. It can get pretty cold standing there waiting for that perfect light.I arrived around 5:30AM and found a few people already scouting out locations in the fields. I received a recommendation to visit this particular field because of the variety of tulips. I put on my boots, gathered my gear and headed out into the field where I set up my tripod and camera and composed a shot looking East. And waited. It can be like watching water boil waiting for the sun to rise, but when it did, it was glorious! That alone was worth the trip. I took a bunch of bracketed shots, thinking I would probably do something in HDR to compensate for the large difference in exposure. I didn’t last too long in the field, even with my gloves on, my fingers were hurting from the cold AND you can only do so much with a bunch of tulips.

I did find an interesting old school bus on the way out. I surmised I could do something a little extreme with some HDR processing and subsequent processing with Nik Color Efex, one of my favorite Photoshop add-ons. I usually try to keep my photos natural looking, but I thought this subject deserved something more to bring out the detail.

Private Bus

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