Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Equipment and Software Thu, 18 Dec 2014 18:41:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Graduated Neutral Density Filters Tue, 18 Nov 2014 19:40:20 +0000 For landscape photographers the golden hours of light at the beginning and end of day are captivating. Long shadows and dynamic colors that illuminate the natural beauty at this time are certainly magical. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to capture what we see with one exposure because of the limitations in film and camera sensor technology. “Why not” is a good question? Our eyes have a variable aperture called a pupil, so when we view the highlight details (like the sky illuminated by the rising or setting sun) our pupils constrict. When we view the shadow details (like the landscape illuminated by only the sky) our pupils expand allowing us to see the details in both the highlights and shadows. The camera with only one aperture during an exposure doesn’t have this luxury. We can either expose for the highlights and allow the shadows to lose detail or visa versa.

Throughout photographic history various techniques have evolved to overcome this problem of high contrast and the inability of the camera to record details in both highlight and shadow. Merging two negatives when printing or processing more than one digital file in camera or software applications on the computer are two possible solutions. All techniques have their own particular nuances in getting acceptable results. There is only one option, however that can accomplish this with one exposure and a raw file format in camera and that’s the graduated neutral density filter (GND). This filter is used to partially block light in a portion of the scene (specifically the highlights), allowing us to expose for the shadows… thus minimizing the range of contrast and allowing the camera to record detail in both. It was a game changer in the 1990’s when the acclaimed adventure and landscape photographer, Galen Rowell, popularized the filters for the 35mm format with transparency film and their use is still prudent today shooting digitally. A series of these great filters are manufactured by Singh Ray and bear his name.

Like any tool we use to correct photographic deficiencies, there’s a fine line for achieving great results. Here’s a little info and a few tips to get you started down the right path when choosing and using your GND filters:

The rectangular style GND filters allow the gradient to be placed anywhere in the frame, accommodating nearly every situation. Cokin, Lee and Singh Ray are the most popular brands and they all fit the Cokin P system. The system holds up to 3 rectangular filters and mounts to your lens via an adapter, so you can work hands free. Cokin and Lee filters are made of plastic & resin respectably, which means less weight and cost at the expense of optical quality. Singh Ray filters are glass which means heavier, higher quality and pretty pricey at around $160 per filter. Be aware that various sizes are made. Make sure the filters, holder and adapters are compatible with your lens system.

cokin P

Photos courtesy of Tim Cooper and B&H Photo

The filters come in various densities and the most common are 1, 2 or 3-stops with soft and hard gradients to accommodate various transitions in the landscape you’re confronted with. If your budget can’t include all the available filter combinations, I’d recommend getting the 1-stop hard and 2-top soft. You can use them together if you need 3 stops of density.

stop densities
Soft Hard


*Note: The circular style GND filter (pictured below) is nearly useless and a waste of money, because the gradient or transition is fixed in the middle and ultimately dictates where the composition will exist… “yikes”. If you have one, maybe use it as a coaster for your favorite beverage?

rd splitPhoto courtesy of B&H Photo


  1. Decide on a soft or hard edge (transition) to the gradient. The scene’s transition between highlight and shadow will dictate which one you choose… remember the goal is to blend it so it looks natural or close to how our eyes see the scene.
soft edge

hard edge 2


Be mindful of scenes where features such as trees, mountains, etc. exist in both the shadow and highlight. The filter will darken these elements as they ascend through the gradient and will be obvious to the viewer that a filter was used.

bad transition

A better technique when you are confronted with this is through bracketing and using high dynamic range (HDR) software to blend the exposures together. RMSP instructor, Tim Cooper, wrote a blog article not so long ago that describes the HDR approach.

  1. Meter properly and choose the appropriate filter density.


Start with a good exposure reading for the highlights (usually the sky or clouds) and take note of the shutter speed. Your spot meter is perfect for this application.

Metered highlight

Get an exposure reading for the shadows (usually the foreground) and make sure the exposure is a “darker” by a half to a full stop from normal. This is the exposure setting you’ll use when you take the picture with the filter. Once again take note of the shutter speed and compare it to the shutter speed reading when you metered for the highlights.

Metered shadow.001
The differences in metered shutter speeds for the highlights and shadows dictates the appropriate GND filter you’ll need to use.

*Note: If your having trouble seeing where the filter is having an affect through the view finder, try stopping down to your smallest aperture for a moment and use the DOF preview button. The Live View mode is also great for evaluating the filters effect before you release the shutter.

Metered shadow.002

The exposure is 1/4s with a 2 stop soft GND filter pulled down to the base of the mountains… awesome!


Don’t get discouraged if the first couple tries don’t work out so well. With a little practice you’ll soon be capturing that beautiful magic light that makes your landscape photos shine!

Want to learn more from Doug Johnson?
Click here for a list of his upcoming courses.




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False Color Infrared – Digital – Guest Article by Mel Mann Thu, 06 Nov 2014 18:41:30 +0000 In my previous article, Photography In the Red Zone, I discussed the interesting world of Infrared photography and my experimentation with it. The traditional look of Infrared photography is black and white, and while this can be very dramatic, it’s not the only way you can portray IR photography. There is a version known as false color IR where different colors are matched to specific wavelengths in order to identify objects reflecting them. We’ve seen lots of these images because NASA uses false color IR for many of the earth images made by low orbit satellites. With this you can determine the health of plants, extent of flood waters, differentiate among snow, ice and clouds.

In the hands of a more down-to-Earth photographer false color, IR opens up wholly different color palettes to spice up seemingly mundane images. Selecting specific wavelengths for subjects may not be possible, but since the image generally shows an other-worldly appearance, the choice of colors is entirely in the photographers hands.

Although there is no longer color IR film available, digital IR offers the opportunity to work with this type of photography. All you need is an IR filter for your camera and editing software that gives you the ability to swap RGB channels and modify their levels.

First you need image information, both for IR and color. The following two images were made by putting my camera on a tripod and carefully making the same image twice, once with a Hoya R72 filter on my camera and the other with no IR filter.











Next I opened both images in Photoshop. Starting with the color version, I opened the Channels palette. I’ll show different versions of Channel swapping below but the technique is the same. First select the Channel you want to swap in the color image by clicking on the channel itself to make it the only one active.

All ChannelsGreen Channel Only










Go to the color image and Select All, then Copy.

Click on the IR image to make it active, open the Channels palette, select the same color Channel you copied in the color image and Paste. The Channel from the color image will be put in the image. You can move one or more Channels in this way depending on how you want your image to look.

Once you’ve swapped the Channels you want, open the Levels palette in the IR image. Select each channel separately and slide the black and white arrows to the edges of the histogram. You can put the arrows anywhere, but I usually start with this as a way to see how the basic image will turn out.

Levels Screenshot










When you’ve adjusted all the channels click on the RGB Channel to make them all active. Then you’ll see the final image in false color. From here you can make adjustments to each color using other Photoshop adjustment tools to get the final image just the way you want.

From the two images above here are the results of different combinations of Channel swapping.


Blue-Green Channel Swap


Red-Blue Channel Swap


Red-Green Channel Swap












With Selections, Masking and other editing tools you can create a worldview that is uniquely your own. My work is landscape so I have a range of colors to play around with; I have no idea what a portrait photographer would do with this technique, but would really like to see some examples!

Not a bad way to explore what’s all around us in a different ‘light.’

Mel Mann
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In Living Color: My Summer of Dragonflies – Guest Article by Steve Russell Mon, 06 Oct 2014 16:08:05 +0000 R22A2854-2My summer began with a chance photographic encounter with the “birth” of a dragonfly (the topic of my last blog) and is winding down with a concerted effort to capture dragonflies in flight. In between I’ve taken thousands of shots of dragonflies doing what they do: hunting bugs, eating, mating, perching, laying eggs and when I’m lucky hovering long enough to focus my camera.

I now have three dependable, accessible wetland areas between Tacoma and Seattle to shoot. The summer has been warm here and the light plentiful, which brought the dragonflies out and created the conditions necessary to shoot them at fast speeds, enliven the colors, and illuminate the intricate detail of their lacy wings and compound eyes.

R22A3623-2I’ve used about every combination of equipment to shoot them, including real close-ups with a 90mm macro lens, fill-the-frame shots from a little further away with a 70-200 lens(both f/2.8 and the lighter f/4), the use of a 36mm extension tube and/or a 1.4 or 2.0 teleconverter on a 70-200 lens, and both a Canon 7D (speed for flight shots) and a 5D Mark III (for superior processing). Most shooting was handheld, but I used a tripod with a gimble head when I was in a corridor of bushes on one side and tall grasses on the other that semi-contained a few dragonflies and made their flight plans more predictable.

R22A8574-2There were plenty of surprises again this summer. I witnessed (and shot) one dragonfly (the lime green one below) snatch its cousin the damselfly while the damselfly was mating and eat it for lunch (nature is cruel!). Anytime a male clamped onto the neck of a female and flew by repeatedly dipping down to the pond or grasses for her to drop some eggs, it was a surprise. Getting a flying dragonfly in focus was always a pleasant post-processing surprise given that they flap their wings at about 40 times per second. (That usually took perfect conditions and a 1/8,000th shutter speed.) And finding the blurred image of my tripod and the white cloud-like reflections from my camera lens framing a tack-sharp dragonfly in the foreground was a great post-processing surprise.

Dragonflies are the crown jewels of live macro photography (for me) but they can be some of the hardest subjects to shoot. A combination like that makes for a worthy challenge and a jolt of satisfaction when things come together for a great shot.

Steve Russell
IMG_4148-2 IMG_4239-2 R22A0752-2 R22A0983-2 R22A1349-2 R22A1363-2 R22A2854-2 R22A3376-2 R22A3623-2 R22A4784-2 R22A4914-2 R22A5808-2 R22A5989-2 R22A6613-2 R22A7127-2 R22A7799-2 R22A8072-2 R22A8146-2 R22A8457-2 R22A8574-2 R22A9105-2


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Using the Contact Sheet II Plug-in With Photoshop CC Thu, 25 Sep 2014 21:27:30 +0000 Photoshop CC includes only a single automated way of adding multiple images to a page: the Contact Sheet II plug-in. So to combine several photos on a page, most of the time you will use the same process described in my article about creating a poster with Photoshop. (See link here.)


Eyster_01 Fall Contact Sheet rotate

Contact Sheet II arranges a folder or collection of photos on the page in a grid of rows and columns. You can control the order that the photos appear on the page by rearranging them in Bridge. The images all stay the same size and do not overlap one another.








Eyster_02 Bridge Folder

To use the Contact Sheet feature, start Bridge and navigate to a folder or collection of pictures. From the menu, choose Tools > Photoshop > Contact Sheet II.* (You can also access the Contact Sheet in Photoshop from the File > Automate menu.) Photoshop starts and displays the Contact Sheet II dialog box.

*If you do not see the Contact Sheet choice, you can download and add the Contact Sheet plug-in to Photoshop CC by following the instructions on this web page: Even though Adobe says the Contact Sheet plug-in is not supported in Photoshop CC, it still works.





Eyster_03 Contact Sheet Dialog 1The first section lists the Source Images, which is Bridge by default, and displays the number of files selected. If you start the Contact Sheet from inside Photoshop, you have the option of selecting either Files or a Folder from the drop-down list and then browsing to the pictures you want to add to the contact sheet.








Eyster_04 Contact Sheet Dialog 2In the second section, you set up the Document size (paper) you want the contact sheet printed on. The default is 8×10-inch paper in a vertical orientation. You can also specify a print resolution, color mode, bit depth and color space. A check box tells Photoshop to flatten all the layers when you are finished. I turn this on for regular contact sheets. (It creates a much smaller file size.) But if you are trying something creative, you should leave this turned off so you can reposition the layers after they are made.







Eyster_05 Contact Sheet Dialog 3

The Thumbnails section lets you determine the number of rows and columns of photos printed on the page. First, decide whether you want the photos to begin across a row or down a column. Enter the number of rows and columns you want the Contact Sheet to use. In the example, I’ve chosen three rows and three columns to create larger thumbnails. Use Auto-Spacing sets the amount of white space between rows and columns. If you want to adjust the space manually, turn off this box. Then type in the Vertical and Horizontal spacing you prefer. Changing this will affect the size of the thumbnails. The last choice in this section is Rotate for Best Fit. Checking this box, turns vertical photos sideways so all the thumbnails are the same size. I find this makes looking at the photos awkward, especially for clients. So I leave this box unchecked.





Eyster_06 Contact Sheet Dialog 4The last section tells Photoshop to Use Filename as Caption as a way to identify a specific image. You can select the font, style and size for the name. I like to use a serif font like Times New Roman to make it easier to tell a number 1 from a lower-case L. A larger size makes the thumbnails slightly smaller.








Eyster_07 Contact Sheet Dialog 5

If you expect to use these settings regularly, you can save them as a preset. Click the Save button and give the layout a descriptive name. I used “3×3 Contact Sheet”. Then in the future you can click the Load button to retrieve these settings. The Reset button returns all the boxes in the window to their default settings, in case you want to start over.








Eyster_08 Fall Contact Sheet no rotate 9upClick the OK button when you are ready to have Photoshop build your contact sheet. If you have more images than will fit on one page, Photoshop automatically creates another document until it has used all the pictures you selected. Photoshop displays the finished page (or pages), ready to be printed.

Usually I do not save my contact sheets after printing since it’s easy to have Photoshop recreate them. But if I want to share the contact sheet with a client, I save it as a JPEG copy to make it easy to email to them.







Want more from Kathy Eyster?

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she will be teaching in 2015.


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Refining Masks in Photoshop Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:04:30 +0000 Refining Selections

The marching ants that represent selections have been around forever. But it doesn’t mean that they are the best tool for the job; it’s just all we have had until recently. Some years back Adobe gave us the Refine Edge tool. In addition to viewing the selection in a different way, it gives you a chance to modify selections as well. Very rarely do you create a perfect selection on the first go around. This new tool gives you ample opportunities to fine-tune the selection before you turn it into a mask.

When you have any selection tool active, such as the Magic Wand or Quick Selection tool, and a selection active (the marching ants are visible on your screen), you will have access to the Refine Edge command in the Option Bar. This command (pictured below) will allow you to modify or refine the edges of your selection.

The advantage of working with your selections using this dialog box is that you are able to see their true edge. With just the marching ants, it is often difficult to tell how well you have selected an area.

The Refine Edge dialog box gives you many ways to preview a selection. By clicking on the View Box (circled in red) you get access to the different ways that you can view the area of the image that is selected.

By placing your cursor over the icon, you receive a description of the view. The first icon is the least useful. It is the Standard view showing marching ants.

One of the most useful is the On White view, which works well in general and for darker objects. You also may find the On Black view useful for lighter objects.



Standard View

On White View

On White View

On Black View

Radius Slider
By increasing this slider, you are increasing the area around the original edge that will be affected by the settings. The increased radius allows the edge to get bigger and become softer. This will be the effect if this is the only slider that you use. If you use further refinements in the bottom of the box, this radius amount is defining the region in which the other options will operate.

Contrast Slider
This slider’s main goal is to remove any fuzzy artifacts that may have become apparent when the radius was enlarged. Radius and contrast work together to tighten the selection or make it more detailed; but don’t turn up radius too much because that’s the job of the Feather slider. Another way to think of the radius is that it is used to create a soft enough edge for the contrast to have something to work with.

Smooth Slider
The Smooth slider does just what you think it may do. It smooths out the rough edges of a selection removing any hard edges.

Feather Slider
The Feather slider is similar to the Radius slider in that it “blurs” the edge of the selection. It differs in that it exerts no control over the region that is being worked on by the other sliders; it is chiefly used for blurring the edge. Use the Feather slider to blend your adjustment from inside the selection to outside the selection. Remember that what is white is selected and what is black is not selected. If it is a shade of gray, it is partially selected. This means that only some of the adjustment will come through.

Shift Edge
The Shift Edge slider will make your current selection edge grow outward (expand) or inward (contract). If your edge is hard, it will stay hard but just grow inward or outward. If it is soft, it retains its soft nature and contracts or expands. To get any noticeable amount of expansion, the Radius slider may need to be increased. Just increasing the Contract/Expand amount without increasing radius may produce very little movement of the edges.  Increasing the Radius slider increases the region or the area around the edge that will be affected by the Contract/Expand slider (or any of the other sliders as well). This slider comes in handy for removing halos. Click OK inside the Refine Edge dialog box to commit to the changes that you made. You will be returned to your image with the new selection still active. Remember that you may not see any visible change to the marching ants. Don’t worry, though—when you create an Adjustment Layer, the resulting mask will look just like the preview!



Refining Masks

Modifying the edges of the selection with the new Refine Edge tool is a pretty neat trick. It does have one drawback, however: visibility. The problem with working on the selection occurs when you are masking out an Adjustment Layer. The Adjustment Layer, of course, will produce a change in the image. This change may or may not be obvious at the edges of the selection. With just modifying the selection before the adjustment is made, you have no idea how each side of the selection edge will look.

If you create a good selection first, then create the Adjustment Layer and turn it into a mask, and then modify your mask, you will have a real-time visual of the effects of your edges. You will be altering your mask as it masks out (or reveals) the underlying layer or new Adjustment Layer. The ability to see the changes as you adjust is very important.

The Masks Mode in the Properties Panel allows the Refine Edge Tool Controls to work on a mask.  Once a Mask is made, click directly on the mask to change the Properties Panel from showing the adjustment to showing the Masks Controls.  It is always a good idea to click on it once (the mask itself, not the Adjustment Layer) to ensure that you are actually on the right layer and on the mask itself. This will get you into a good habit that will be beneficial to you when you begin to work with multiple Adjustment Layers and multiple images in one document.

If you accidentally double-click on the mask rather than single click, it will bring up the Layer Mask Display options box. Just click OK for now. No harm done.

6-Masks View

7-Masks View

8-Masks View

9A-Masks View

Once you click on your mask, you are able to modify it in any way that you would a grayscale image. This means you can lighten, darken, increase contrast, use the Clone Stamp tool, blur, sharpen, or apply any other number of filters to it. At the moment, however, you can’t really see the mask. This doesn’t mean you can’t affect it; you just can’t see what you are doing. There will be many times when you want to affect the mask without looking at it. One example would be when you have created an Adjustment Layer with a mask, and the new adjustment is adversely affecting the surrounding areas. By working on the mask but looking at your image, you can watch how your edits are affecting the mask. Of course, there are those times that you will want to look at the mask directly.

There are two ways you can view a mask:
1.  Press the Option key (Alt for PC), and click on the mask itself. This will overlay the mask in black and white on your image. The images to the left show the Normal view and the image after Option (Alt) clicking on the Mask view. To return to Normal view, just press the Option (Alt) key and click on the mask again.

2.  Press the backslash key on your keyboard. The backslash key is just to the left of the bracket [ ] keys. This will show the mask as a semitransparent red overlay on your image.  The color and the opacity of this overlay can be changed to suit your needs. Double-click on the mask to bring up the Layer Mask Display Options dialog box. Click OK in this box when you have made the desired changes. The mask overlay will display these new settings until you return to this box to change them. Pressing the backslash key again will return your image to Normal view.

It is beneficial to know both of these options, as neither will work 100% of the time. Sometimes, you may need to see through to your image, while other times it will be easier to work in the black-and-white mode. These are the manual techniques for viewing your mask. When you begin working in the Masks Panel, these overlay modes are also available.

Click on the Masks tab to reveal the Masks Panel. When adjusting the sliders in the Masks Panel, you should be looking directly at your image (usually at 100% magnification) rather than at the small icon of the mask in the Adjustment Layer. This allows you to see in real time the changes you are making to the mask.  In the image to the left I have made a mask of the sky and darkened it using Curves.  Notice the artifacts (circled in red) around the edge of the Washington Monument.  This can be easily fixed using the Masks Panel.

The first slider you will see is the Density slider. It is set to 100% by default. This means the mask is at full density. Blacks are black, whites are white. If you reduce this slider, you will be lightening the blacks and grays on the mask. Remember, the blacks of the mask are blocking the change occurring from that Adjustment Layer. The grays are somewhat blocking the change. The whites allow it through fully. If you lower the density of the mask, the blacks and grays are getting lighter, thus allowing more of that change through to your image.

The next slider down is the Feather slider. It works just like the Feather slider in the Refine Edge tool for selections. The Feather slider “blurs” the edge of the mask. This creates a transition zone (from black to gray to white), from the adjustment being fully on to fully off.  The Feather slider will affect smaller resolution images more drastically than larger resolution images. The image to the left shows that by simply adjusting the feather I am creating a Halo around the monument.  I will need to click on Mask Edge to get to the full range of adjustments.

The next section of the Masks Panel is the Refine area. Here you will see the buttons for Mask Edge, Color Range, and Invert. The Mask Edge button brings up the very same control panel that you get with the Refine Edge tool for selections (pictured at left).

Here it works on the mask rather than a selection. As mentioned earlier, we find that it is often easier to refine the mask after the fact instead of trying to refine the selection before hand. The reason is that you are refining the mask with the current adjustment applied, allowing you see your image while you work.

Using the Refine Mask Box

10-Masks View

1. Here I have clicked on the Mask Edge Button and the Refine Mask box pops up.

2. Next I chose the On Layers View (circled in red)







11-Masks View

3. Increase the radius until most of the artifact disappears (here I have set 9.5). Remember this increasing the area around the original edge that will be affected by the sliders below.

4. The problem with this mask is that it is just a bit too big. The curves adjustment is darkening down the sky, and it is edging into the monument.  Shifting the edge of the mask will eliminate the dark halo.  Here I have shifted the edge +7.





12-Masks View

13-Masks View

5. The upper image to the left shows how by increasing the radius and Shifting the edge I have removed the halo from around the monument.

6. By checking the Show Original Box (circled in red) you see the original image before the mask refinement (lower image).

7. When you are satisfied with your refinements, click OK to apply your changes.


You would follow the same steps to apply any of the other commands such as Smooth, or Contrast within this dialog box.




































Sometimes you may find that the whole edge, however, does not benefit from the same amount of Shifting adjustment. This could be fixed manually afterwards, by going in and painting on the mask.

On occasion, you can create a mask that has shades of gray as well as white and black. This is not uncommon when using Select > Color Range. In cases like these, you may want to subtly alter the tones in the mask.

You can adjust a mask with any adjustment (Curves, Levels, and so on) that work on brightness or contrast. Color adjustments will be grayed out when you are on a mask.

To alter the contrast of a mask (remember to click once on your mask first), choose Image > Adjustments > Curves-Do not create another adjustment layer. Here you are working on the mask itself so go up to the menu and choose Image > Adjustments > Curves. You could also use Levels. The adjustment will be reflected on your mask as you adjust. Remember, white allows your adjustment to be visible, and black restricts it. So as you increase the contrast of a mask, you are simultaneously letting more and less of the adjustment through in different areas of the image.

You can also combine the selections with masks. Let’s say that you wanted to blur a section of the mask rather than the entire thing.

With your mask active, draw a rough selection with the Lasso tool.

You need to blur the selection to ensure a good blur on the mask, so click the Refine Edge button in the Options Bar and feather the edge. Click OK.

To blur the mask, you would think you could just use the Feather slider in the Masks Panel. Not so. For some reason, the panel ignores the selection. So we will use a trusted old technique. With the selection active (and your desired mask active), select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur, and adjust the radius to suit your needs. Remember to go to Select > Deselect when you are finished!




Want more from Tim Cooper?

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the courses he will be teaching in 2015!

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Flossing with Keywords Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:00:07 +0000 Dentists know a thing or two about healthy teeth and you may have heard Dr. Molars say, “You only have to floss the teeth you want to keep.”

As photographers using image editing programs like Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, Photoshop, etc., this anecdote could apply in some ways to our image file organization…meaning, “You only have to add keywords to the files you want to find.” It’s an easy task to do each time you edit or add image files and if we integrate the task into our everyday workflow, finding any file you want becomes a piece of cake. Yes, you’ll be able to find that “needle in a haystack” from images taken yesterday or years ago without much effort.

Some folks might be asking, “What’s a keyword?”

The describes a keyword as:
A word used as a reference point for finding other words or information…as photographers that information is keyword metadata attached to image files.

People use keywords when they type into the Google search box to find web pages, for example. It’s no different here, except we’ll be adding the keywords in our image organization software so we can search for our photographs.

It’s certainly easy to find your photographs if you just started taking pictures, and taking the time to add keywords might seem unimportant at this point. That will change over time, however, and become much more challenging as your library of images becomes gi-normous…it will I promise. So, why not make adding keywords a “good habit” right from the start?

If you’re someone like me who had previously added thousands of images into my photo library, adding the appropriate keywords to all those files might seem like a daunting task and it certainly would be if you tried to complete the whole task in one sitting. If you approach the task in smaller bites you’ll be done before you know it. For example; try adding a few when you’re looking at existing files to do a certain project or how about when you’re downloading a cool movie or music from iTunes…you get the idea.

Getting started is simple, but there’s a few things to consider now so the keywords you’ll acquire over time are easy to manage as well.

  • The camera/lens and exposure metadata is already written to the image file when you take the photo and is searchable, so it would be redundant to add any of this information as keywords. The industry also calls this specific type of metadata “EXIF data” or Exchangeable Image File Format data…now you can really impress your photography friends!
  • When you are adding keywords always separate the words with a comma and then a space between them (or they will be considered one keyword). Good keywords: big, Martha, dog – Not so good: big Martha dog…Martha might get a little upset if she found out and not because her dog is big. You get the point!
  • Keep it simple whenever possible and use one word descriptions that have meaning to you. These could be adjectives, verbs and/or nouns that will help in your search when you need to find a photo.

Adjectives: cute, blue, round
Verbs: running, blowing, blurred
Nouns: waterfall, boy, Kevin, cloud

Here’s a good list of keywords for the image on the left:













Keywords can be added to image files in nearly all image editing programs these days including Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom and Photoshop, although the convention in which they’re added might be a little different. For example, in iPhoto the placeholder for keywords is labeled “add a description”:





In Photoshop’s Bridge organizer the place holder is labeled “keywords”:







In Lightroom, it’s in the Library Module and since most folks are using this program as their “go to” editing software, let’s look a little more closely at adding keywords in this program.

When you open the Keywording panel in the Library Module there are a few places to add the words. These are labeled Keyword; Tags, Suggestions and Set.

LR_Library Module


Keyword tags1. Tags is the place to type in and add your keywords to one or more image files that have been selected in the grid mode.





Keyword suggestions2. Suggestions is a list of recently used keywords that are continually updated with the most recent words that you have added. You can click on these to add keywords to one or more image files that have been selected in the grid mode.



Keyword set3. Sets are a group of keywords. You can create the group (as a preset) or use what LR has when it was installed. These are words you frequently use to describe images like winter landscape, wedding, food or even the names of relatives in your family.



Keyword_ListThe Keywords List panel in Lightroom is a reference for all the keywords you’ve added over time. This is “the place” to edit your growing list of keywords…meaning organizing and deleting words. It’s also another place to add a keyword to other photographs although it’s not the most convenient or logical place to do it.










Once the image files have one or more keywords (metadata) attached, they are now searchable using the text filter.  In Lightroom, this is located above the image display window in the Filter Bar. Just type in a keyword and “Bing Botta Bang” and there’s the images you were looking for…Wahoo!



Want to learn more from Doug Johnson?

Visit his profile page and check out his RMSP offerings in 2014!


Want to learn more about using Lightroom?

Join RMSP instructors on one of these upcoming workshops:

Lightroom for Photographers in Ronkonkoma, NY
Lightroom for Photographers in Minneapolis, MN
Lightroom for Photographers in Missoula, MT







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What’s That NOISE? Part 2 Fri, 11 Apr 2014 22:25:22 +0000 In the last post I covered the most widely recognized cause of digital noise in your photographs and solutions for removing and minimizing this problem. Now I want to cover two other causes and how to combat the different noise that results

Cause #2: Exposure

Didn’t see that one coming did you?

We love digital photography because we can fix our mistakes on the computer after the fact.  e all underexpose our images from time to time and lighten them later but this isn’t really any different than what’s going on when you’re shooting at high ISO’s. By underexposing your images you are dropping the signal closer to the level of the noise and by lightening it in Lightroom or Photoshop you are boosting both the signal and noise similar to the way your camera would have done by shooting at a high ISO.

In fig 5 I overlaid two pictures of the same subject. On the left is a photo taken at the proper exposure and on the right is a photo that was underexposed by 2 stops and then lightened. You’ll clearly see a crosshatch pattern much like the effect of shooting through a screen door.  This is really unpleasant and easily avoidable.

Fig 6

Solution #2

Um…don’t underexpose your images!  Okay, that one is obvious and I know that it’s consistent with your goals anyway.  The crazy thing is that many photographers, when first starting out, have been told to intentionally underexpose their images.

Try to get the best exposure possible and beware of what will happen when you shoot at high ISO’s and underexpose…screen door city!

Cause #3: Long Exposure

The process of creating long exposures produces a whole different type of noise and requires another approach to eliminating it.

Every time you take a picture, your camera charges your sensor while the exposure is being made.  The longer your exposure the longer the sensor receives the charge.  As you may have guessed, the sensor heats up when it’s being charged so longer exposures result in the sensor getting hotter.  By using really long exposures (let’s say anything longer than 8 seconds for older cameras and 15 seconds for newer ones) your camera’s sensor starts exhibiting noise due to this heat.  This is often called thermal noise and, as you might expect, more heat = more noise.

As your sensor heats up, different pixels on your sensor start to “fail.”  This looks like specks of false color that are most apparent in the mid tone and dark areas within your photo (see Fig 6).

Fig 7

Newer cameras do better at long exposures than old ones but every camera has its limit.  The fortunate thing about this type of noise is that it’s predictable and repeatable and that makes it easy to remove.


Solution #3  Let your camera do the work!

There’s a setting in your camera, called Long Exposure Noise Reduction (Long exposure NR) that you want to turn ON.

Here’s what it does. Say you take a 10 second exposure. Your camera will operate normally during that 10 seconds but then it will take a second exposure for 10 seconds with the shutter closed creating a Dark Slide. For both exposures the sensor was charged for 10 seconds and in both cases it produced the same thermal noise at exactly the same pixels; in the photo you took and the Dark Slide that your camera took. Then your camera goes through a process called dark slide subtraction in which it identifies the pixels that failed in the dark slide and fixes those exact pixels in your photo.  Some cameras differ in the way they do this but the process works like magic and there is no equivalent in computer post processing that comes close so be sure to use this awesome camera feature.

Turn it on and leave it on, it only goes through the process on long exposures.

BE WARNED! You’ve got to remember that this feature is on so that you don’t think your camera is broken the first few times you use it.  Remember that your camera is taking a second “picture” after it took yours.  If your exposure was 30 seconds long then the dark slide is also 30 seconds long. That means your camera will prevent you from doing anything (like hitting “play” to see your photo) for those 30 seconds and then a few more while it performs dark slide subtraction. You’ll be standing there in the dark thinking your camera is broken but it’s just doing its job. In fact it will tell you so on the top of the camera.  It will say something like JOB or NR on the LCD. Let the camera do its thing and don’t turn it off during this process.  When it’s finished, prepare to be amazed with your gorgeous image, free from thermal noise.

BE WARNED #2.  Long exposures eat up batteries and you’re taking two of ‘em for every photo.  Be prepared to go through batteries quickly!

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Using Photoshop CC to Prepare a Picture for Photo Lab Printing Mon, 17 Mar 2014 23:13:09 +0000 In my last post I described the process of getting a single image ready for photo lab printing using Lightroom 5. In this article, I am illustrating the comparable process using Photoshop CC. Note that all the steps can also be accomplished with most older versions of Photoshop as well as many versions of Photoshop Elements. So no matter which edition of the photo editing program you have, you should find some information to help you correctly prepare your favorite image for printing.

[Note: The Save As screens are from a Windows computer. If you use a Mac, your Save As screens look different but all the same choices are available.]

Select a Picture

To begin, select an adjusted master photo from Bridge. This picture should be one you have already worked on to enhance its exposure, contrast and color to make it look its best.

EysterKathy_01 Bridge Masters

You can crop your image to improve its composition, too, without having to use a specific size at this point. But if you plan to order a specific proportion for your print later (such as 8×10), you may want to keep that in mind. Also decide the print dimensions you want and the resolution you need. In this example, I want an 8×12 inch horizontal print at 300 ppi resolution.

Rafferty Spring 2012

Save a Copy

To protect your original master file, make a copy of the adjusted picture. Working on a copy is important because you will be resizing the image and changing the original number of pixels. In the future, if you decide you want to print the same image at a different size, either larger or smaller, you would open the original master document and create new copy for that print. So your master edited photo remains unaffected.

Save the copy as either a PSD or a TIFF file because these do not compress your picture. When you name your copy, include the print dimensions for future reference. In my example, I call the picture “daisy blue 8×12” because I plan to order an 8×12 inch print size.

EysterKathy_02 Save As PSD

Size the Photo

Now you need to change the size of the picture to match both the dimensions of the paper you want it printed on as well as the resolution necessary for the best quality. Using the Image Size command seems like the logical choice. However, Image Size does not allow you to set an exact dimension. It only fits the photo into a box of the size you specify. This could result in your picture being smaller than your intended size, creating a unwanted extra border around the print instead of the image extending all the way to the edge of the paper.

A better way to change the size and resolution of your picture is to use the Crop tool. After you select the Crop tool, check the Options bar at the top of the screen below the menus. Here you tell Photoshop the exact dimensions and resolution you want for your picture.


EysterKathy_03 Crop Tool Options

In the Options bar, change the Preset drop-down list from “Ratio” to “W x H x Resolution” for “width x height x resolution”. Photoshop remembers your choice here, so it will be the same the next time you select the Crop tool.

Type in the dimensions you want for the print size. Photoshop uses the unit of measure that you have set in preferences. The default unit is inches (in) or you can specify centimeters by adding “cm” after the number. I type 12 for W, 8 for H and 300 for resolution in the appropriate boxes. (You might consider using 200 ppi if you are creating a print larger than 16×20 inches.)

The last choice is “Delete Cropped Pixels.” You can leave this turned on or off. When you save the final print file as a JPEG, Photoshop deletes any preserved pixels.

Adjust the sides of the cropping box to suit and press the Enter or Return key to apply it. Depending on the original size of your file, the picture may either shrink or enlarge on screen to meet your size and  resolution requirements.

Sharpen the Image

Changing the size of your image changes the number of pixels in the file, either deleting extras or adding new ones. As a result, important edges lose their crisp appearance. In addition, the printing process also softens these edges slightly. So to return your picture to its best appearance, you need to sharpen it.

To begin, flatten adjustment and other layers into a single layer using Layer > Flatten Image. Then duplicate the background layer by pressing Ctrl+J (Windows) or Cmd+J (Mac). Applying the sharpening to its own layer lets you easily adjust or delete it if you need to.

From the Filter menu choose Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. The initial size of this window offers a very small preview. It’s best to be able to see lots of your photo at 100% magnification. So drag a corner to resize the box and get a much larger preview.

Within the preview window click and drag to a part of the image that has important details that need to be properly sharpened. Adjust the sliders and click OK when you are satisfied. (See this Adobe video for more on using the Smart Sharpen filter.)

EysterKathy_04 Smart Sharpen small


EysterKathy_05 smart sharpen big

Convert to the Appropriate Color Spac

Last, you need to be sure the image file is in the correct color space for the photo lab. All labs can understand the sRGB color space. A few professional labs can also interpret Adobe RGB correctly. Check with your lab ahead of time to see what they prefer. If you can’t find this information, use sRGB as it is the safest.

To be sure your photo is using the right color space (or profile), from the Edit menu choose Convert to Profile. At the top is the current (Source) color space of your picture. Next is the new (Destination) color space you want Photoshop to use. Click the drop-down list and select “sRGB IEC61966-2.1.” You can leave the other choices at their default settings and click OK.

EysterKathy_06 Convert to sRGB

Save the Photo as a JPEG File

Now your picture file is ready to be saved. It has the right dimensions and the correct resolution. It has been sharpened and converted to the appropriate color space. From the File menu, choose Save As. Select a Prints folder on your desktop (to make it easy to locate your file for uploading). Include the print size in the name and change the file type to JPEG. Click Save.

EysterKathy_07 Save As JPEG
Photoshop displays another window of JPEG Options where you specify the amount of compression applied to your picture. I recommend using Quality 10; this provides a small amount of compression that does not have a detrimental effect on your image and usually cuts the file size in half. Also be sure to set the Format Options to “Baseline (“Standard”)” and then click OK.
Now your photo is ready to upload to your favorite photo lab!

EysterKathy_08 JPEG Options



Want to learn more from Kathy Eyster?

Visit her profile page and check out her RMSP offerings in 2014!

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The Crop Factor Explained Mon, 21 Oct 2013 23:34:12 +0000 Teaching in the Career Training, Workshops and Photo Weekends programs for RMSP I get a lot of questions. (Bring ‘em on, I love questions!)  One equipment-related topic seems to be more of a stumbling block for new photographers than any other.  At some point we’re all told that our lenses are going to perform differently from camera to camera.  Friends, camera store employees and magazines throw around words like crop factor and explanations are given, but many people still are left scratching their heads.

I’m going to try to break it down for you in hopes that it will clear things up.  Hold on tight because it’s gonna seem like math class for a while.  If nothing else, enjoy the pictures of the cute kid.

Here it goes…

Before the days of digital SLRs, lenses were pretty straightforward.  A 100mm lens was a 100mm lens.  Nowadays the same lens will behave very differently based on the camera on which the lens is mounted.

This phenomenon is commonly called Crop Factor or Field of View (FOV) crop.  To understand what’s going on we first need to review a few basics:


Field of View describes the amount of your scene a given lens takes in.

  • A wide angle lens takes in large amount of the scene.
  • A telephoto lens takes in a very narrow part of the scene


How your Lens Works…well kind of.

Your lens is a cylinder that focuses light inside your camera, which is probably not a surprise to you.  Being a cylinder, your lens projects a circle of light onto the digital sensor in the back of your camera (upside down and backwards of course, but that’s for another article).  This is called the image circle. (fig. 1)


Figure 1


Film and Digital Sensors

Your digital sensor sits inside the image circle just as your film did back in the day.  The lens and your DSLR camera body were designed based on Film SLR dimensions and the need to cover a piece of 35 mm film with the image circle.  The image circle was projected onto the film so that most of the circle was recorded by the rectangular piece of film. A full frame digital sensor is the same size as a piece of film (approx. 1”x1.5”) and, as a result, takes in the same amount of the image circle. (fig. 2)


Figure 2

Digital Sensors and Their Sizes

A full frame digital sensor doesn’t alter the field of view of the lens because it fills the image circle in the same way that a piece of film did. Not all digital sensors are the same size, however, and this affects the Field of View that your lens takes in.

The two most common sensor sizes are “Full Frame” and APS-C or “crop sensor”.  An APS-C sensor measures roughly .8”x.5 inches, or half the length and width of a full frame sensor.  The image circle projected by a given lens remains the same on all cameras but the APS-C sensor takes up a smaller area within the circle. When placed inside the same image circle, the APS-C sensor will take in significantly less of the image circle than the Full Frame sensor.  (Fig. 3)


Figure 3

So by using the same lens on a camera with an APS-C sensor you will get an image with a Field of View that is narrower than with a Full Frame Sensor. (Fig. 4)  This is due to the fact that the smaller sensor records less of the image circle.



Figure 4

Crop Factor

Here’s another way of thinking about it…as your sensor gets smaller it will result in an image that appears like it has been taken by a lens with a longer focal length because the field of view is getting more narrow.  This change in the Field of View of your lens can also be called your effective focal length.  To determine your effective focal length you must first know the crop factor of your sensor.

Knowing the crop factor of your camera is pretty straightforward; specific cameras have specific crop factors.  Below are some common cameras and their associated crop factors.


Camera Crop Factor
Nikon D5200, D7100 (APS-C) 1.5
Nikon D3s, D4, D800, D600 (Full Frame) 1
Canon 60D, 70D, 7D, Rebel (APS-C) 1.6
Canon 1Dx, 5D mkIII, 6D (Full Frame) 1


Determining your effective focal length is a matter of following the formula below.


Actual Focal Length   X   Crop Factor   =    Effective Focal Length


So if you put the same 100mm lens on a Nikon D800 and a D7100 you will get the following effective focal lengths


Camera                        Lens                        Crop Factor                        Effective Focal Length

Nikon D800                   100mm     x                     1                                                100mm

Nikon D7100                  100mm     x                   1.5                                              150mm


Okay, so how does all this affect you? When buying a new lens (you know you want one and it’s just a matter of time) you’ll need to consider the crop factor of your camera and the resulting effects on focal length.  A 24 mm lens will end up with an effective focal length of 36mm on most crop sensor cameras.



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Dragonflies – Guest Article by Steve Russell Thu, 18 Jul 2013 22:27:59 +0000 _MG_5280It’s easy to miss them – as I did for years riding my bike fast around the local lake – and easy to dismiss them as they whiz by at breakneck speed. But up close, dragonflies have an amazing array of colors, and set against nature’s greens and yellows and oranges and blues they make stunning macro subjects to shoot – and you don’t even need a macro lens to shoot them.

Some dragonflies fly around most of the time and roost (perch) on tall grasses or bushes only occasionally. Others roost a lot and fly less. It is when they roost that we have the best chance at decent photographs. Catching them in flight can be done, but it ain’t easy.

IMG_5284My favorite lens for shooting dragonflies is a Canon 70-200mm, f/4, IS lens with a 1.4 extender. It is infinitely lighter than the f/2.8 version and since I always shoot at f/11 or f/16, the wider aperture of the faster and more expensive lens isn’t needed. The extender gets me a little closer from a distance (4-6 feet usually) and that helps because dragonflies can often be easily spooked if you get too close. The loss of a stop of aperture with the extender (from f/4 to f/5.6) doesn’t matter with the greater depth of field settings. The image stabilization (IS) is essential because there is usually so little time for using a tripod that all of my shooting is handheld or with the help of a used carbon fiber walking stick I got at REI to brace my camera against.

Ninety percent of getting good quality images of dragonflies is showing up. Just shoot and shoot and shoot and you will begin to learn the dragonflies habits and rhythms and where and when to find them. And it will pay off in spades with the most unique and color-filled images you can imagine.

Steve Russell
IMG_0595 IMG_5284 IMG_5694 IMG_5707 IMG_5947 IMG_6086 IMG_6137 IMG_6184 IMG_6559 IMG_6631 IMG_9374 IMG_9683 _MG_5280 IMG_0465 ]]> 0
Sweet and Easy Flash Exposure Tue, 09 Jul 2013 20:15:57 +0000 JohnsonDoug_Flash PowderBalancing ambient and flash exposure in photography has perplexed humankind since its beginnings when flash powder (yikes!) was used to light things up in the early 1800s. These early pioneers had to rely on intimate knowledge of manual flash exposure to get things right.






 – ©BlitzlichPulverPhotography

With recent advances in technology like “Through The Lens” metering (TTL)  and onboard flash unit navigation for both TTL and manual flash exposure, it’s become relatively easy peezy to get sweet results.

We still possess all the power to control the flash output manually and I’ll discuss this later in this discussion, but with TTL mode technology, the flash and camera work intelligently together to balance the ambient and flash exposure for you. Whether you’re using the little pop up flash on the camera or more powerful models that fit in the hot-shoe, it’s good exposure made simple. If you’re a Canon or Nikon shooter, these hot-shoe flash units are affectionately known as Speedlites (Canon) or Speedlights (Nikon). A fun thing about the technology is now we don’t have to relish (pun intended) in front lighting our subjects the way onboard camera flashes do… we can now move our flashes off camera, still get great exposure results and produce much more dynamic light… fantastic!

I know what your thinking… if TTL technology is so amazing, why would we even consider manual flash exposure? Here’s some food for thought and why you might choose one over the other.

Our camera’s auto exposure modes; Program, Aperture, and Shutter priorities attempt to create good exposures by juggling our camera controls and do so very well most of the time. Well, the TTL technology compliments the camera system by working to balance the ambient exposure you create with the flash exposure automatically and it also does a fantastic job “most” of the time… and since the TTL system is attempting to balance both, we should think about the flash as a fill light.

Here’s a few variables that influence (positively or negatively) the TTL exposure as it attempts to balance the two exposures:

– subject reflectivity
– volume of the frame the subject occupies
– subject to background distance
– subject position within the frame
– available light
– strength of the backlighting
– camera exposure algorithms

The photographer has some influence on the outcome, but remember, ultimately the TTL system has the final say.

In manual flash mode the two exposures rest squarely on your shoulders. Just like manual exposure mode with the camera controls… meaning, you are the commander of both (ambient and flash). Like the flash pioneers I mentioned earlier, being proficient requires knowing a thing or two about Guide Numbers (flash power), the inverse square law and “The Rule” – “shutter speed has no affect on the flash exposure”. It’s not that difficult once you understand a few basic concepts of light and flash. Manual flash is also a bit more powerful at full power (1/1) than anything TTL can dish out.

There is this little helpful app (understatement of the century) we can now use to calculate manual flash power wherever we might be with our smart phones and that’s PhotoCalc by Adair Systems LLC. Here’s a screenshot and the icon to look for when buying.









So, now let’s discuss a simple workflow to maximize our results and we can simplify the process by thinking about and accounting for the two events (ambient and flash) that happen during the overall exposure.

In TTL Flash Mode                                           TTL Exp Mode1
JohnsonDoug_TTL Exp ModeJohnsonDoug_TTL Exp Mode1







1. Meter for the ambient exposure you want (brightness) and set it.
2. Use flash exposure compensation (FEC+/-) to create the flash exposure for your subject

In Manual Flash Mode
JohnsonDoug_Manual Exp Mode







1. Meter for the ambient exposure you want (brightness) and set it.
2. Use flash power, the inverse square law (flash to subject distance), aperture and or ISO to compensate the flash exposure for your subject.

Before you grab the camera and head out the door, keep these other little keepsakes in mind when your working:

1. The camera’s sync speed when metering. It’s the fastest shutter speed the camera will allow when a flash is used. For most cameras it’s around 1/200s
2. Smaller apertures have a profound negative affect on flash exposure.
3. In manual flash mode – “Shutter speed doesn’t affect the flash exposure” – So, think about it like this : use shutter to compensate for the ambient exposure and use aperture to compensate for the flash exposure. It’s helpful to remember this acronym: SAAF (Shutter – Ambient, Aperture – Flash).
4. Know and study your histogram on the camera… it is your 21st century light meter.

*Don’t forget the fresh batteries, bring your creativity and some flash filled fun friends and you’ll be a happy little speedliter or lighter.

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Anatomy of an Interior Photo Shoot Tue, 18 Jun 2013 15:43:42 +0000 McLain_on-set_1As the 79 new students who are in Missoula for Summer Intensive will soon learn, lighting is what can make or break a photograph. This may seem obvious when looking at an image of a spectacular sunset or harsh light on a models face. In these situations, lighting is dramatic, impressive, and “in-your-face.”  It can also be achieved with little or no additional gear. On the flip side, to light a scene in a way that makes the light appear seamless, without distracting shadows, and makes the viewer assume that there was NO lighting gear used at all can be a real challenge.

Interior photographer and RMSP lighting instructor Jeff McLain recently found himself in San Francisco after being hired to create images for an interior designer. He submitted this interesting behind-the-scenes description of the shoot. If you’re like me, you’ll love this glimpse into the gear and process of a professional photo shoot. So, without further adieu, here’s Jeff’s recap. Take it away Jeff….

After a latte and a warm cannelle, I headed into the Castro District to meet my client – a 30-something interior designer who just finished her most recent residential project. We essentially were taking overall shots of a living room and a dining room and some vignettes. In the interior world – there is a distinction between interior designers and decorators. Designers often must create original pieces of furniture, draw it, work it up in AutoCad and send it to a builder to create. Whereas decorators are more accustomed to knowing where to shop and what to get to create a certain ‘look’ in a space. This client had created many of the pieces we were photographing as well as shopped for others. At one point I shot a wall-mounted lighting fixture for her. The fixture was from a popular catalog, but she had custom-designed the lamp shade. So, while there is a distinction between the titles – often the skills cross over.

130611_Moore-1816My approach and style with interiors is clean, cheery and sunny, so that it’s showcasing the designer’s work more than doing anything too flashy with the photography. Mostly interior photography is about problem-solving and working with sometimes-complicated lighting scenarios and colors. Complicating things this day was the overcast sky – which meant I was going to be dragging the shutter and pumping a lot of light into the spaces to make it sunny.

My kit consisted of a Canon 5d Mark II body, 24 Tilt/Shift lens, 24-105 f4 and a 70-200 lens (of which I used for one shot of curtain hardware up high). I keep all my stands and scrims and soft-boxes in a couple long hard-cases that are meant to house golf clubs. My heaviest case is a Pelican case that I gutted the foam out of and filled it with A-clamps, Cartellini clamps, Superclamps, black Cinefoil, gaffer’s tape, hand tools, and gels (see thumbnail image). 2012_11-281In this case I also carry a soft gardening pad and work gloves. The pad comes in handy and offers some comfort for my knees when I need to get low and work on the ground. The gloves are ideal for handling hot lights, moving stands and coiling dusty extension cords.

The 24 TS lens is beautiful manual focus glass – but due to its wide angle, it can be tricky to use. I often find that if objects get too close, they look huge and distorted, so if I have room, I back up so that the outer border of the shot is throw-away and I can crop in to the center of the image circle – still maintain my perspective control, but lose any of the strange distortion that comes with this lens.

I brought two laptops and one Tether Tools Aero Master table with the intention of shooting into Lightroom, and a backup laptop with Phase One’s C1Pro. After the first few shots tethered, the ‘spinning beach ball’ showed up on one machine, so I switched to the other to get up and running without sucking up too much time fussing over the stalling machine. For most of the shots, I used two Profoto heads with Acute 1200 packs. One light was my ‘sun’ (and often shot productionat full power on the pack and placed outside shooting in to the space) and the other was a fill light bouncing into the ceiling inside. After each completed set-up, I would back up the raw files to a folder on a portable hard drive. Since my machine running Lightroom was acting up, I shot to C1 Pro.

Most of my exposures were around f11 with a couple at f16 and in the 1/8th of a second shutter speed range. At one point I used some prop flowers as a makeshift cucoloris to break up the light with some pattern. More often than not, I take extra exposures so later in post I can paint in slightly darker window scenes as needed, or if there are reflections on wall art, I’ll have my assistant hold some foam core and get clean plates for post-production later. Often if a lamp is close to a window, the long shutter and strobe lights make the lamp too ‘hot’ so I’ll get my assistant to gobo the light and paint those in as well. I’ve found that trying to pull some info from a darker bracket in-camera makes tones go towards dirty grey – whereas getting the extra shot at the hero exposure but with lighting tricks (or what I affectionately call “Jedi Lighting”) makes for cleaner pixels with which to work.  All of this is really par-for-the-course type stuff in this line of work.

I was longing for either a Toyo G view camera or, if I had my dream camera, a Linhof 679 medium format view camera and a digital back. But, alas, most of these clients nowadays are throwing the images on the internet and the big cameras start to feel like overkill when the end product will be twelve inches at 72 pixels resolution! Nevertheless, I hope to test out a Sinar arTec or LanTec camera someday for my architectural work. And the only other thing I wished I’d had was a 2400 ws pack and a fresnel to really pump more light in so I could shoot at ISO 100 and not 200! Work with what you got!

Nevertheless, the client was happy with the shots and we managed to knock out 7 set-ups with propping versions and extra exposures in six hours.

130611_McLain_01 130611_McLain_03 130611_McLain_04 McLain_on-set_2


Does working with studio lighting equipment interest you? Join Jeff from August 18 – 23, 2013 for his Intro to Studio Lighting workshop held in Missoula.





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Extending Your Depth of Field Wed, 05 Jun 2013 16:00:48 +0000 Sometimes it is just impossible to get everything completely sharp within a photo, even if you stop down to the smallest aperture (such as f22 or f32).

This may be due to using longer focal length lenses (which inherently give us less depth of field), or it could be that you are trying to get something very close AND very far away sharp.

In this example of the Aspen trees, I was using a 200mm lens to visually compress the trees and remove unwanted background. This resulted in a composition where it was physically impossible to get all of the trees sharp. When faced with this type of situation the solution is to shoot several images each focused on different area of the frame and then use Photoshop to blend them together.

The image below shows the three separate images. In the first image, I focused on the front tree. For the next exposure, I focused on the second tree back. The last shot was focused so that the far tree was sharp. Each image was made at an aperture of f16 to spread out the depth of field.


Select the three images in either Lightroom or Bridge. In Lightroom choose Photo>Edit In> Open as Layers in Photoshop. In Bridge choose Tools>Photoshop>Load Files into Photoshop Layers.  The image below shows how your new document will appear with the three stacked layers.


Select the three layers by clicking one and then Ctrl-clicking (Cmd-clicking for Mac) on the others. Click the layer where I have it marked with an X.  Clicking in other spots on the layer will have a different effect. The image above shows all three layers selected (yellow) Choose Edit > Auto-Align Layers. From the resulting dialog box Choose Auto for projection. Un-check Vignette Removal and Geometric Distortion. Now that your layers are all aligned, Choose Edit>Auto Blend Layers. Choose the Stack Images option and check the Seamless Tones and Colors box as seen below.


Voila! Photoshop has blended your layers together and created a final photo that is sharp throughout. The image below shows the resulting image with the Layers dialog box. Notice that Auto Blend has masked out the necessary areas to create the final image.




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Sketching With Your Smart Phone Fri, 10 May 2013 15:00:50 +0000 The smart phone – specifically the iPhone – has certainly caused a bit of a revolution and excitement when it comes to photography and as a professional I’ve embraced the craze, too. Some of my favorite images have been captured with this clever little device. Nowadays, we have the ability to shoot, process and share images with anyone in the world in the time it takes to brush your teeth. And it fits in your shirt pocket… its like a magician’s trick! But let’s not pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat just yet though. The magic can only take us so far, especially when we want to enlarge the file for print. Here’s the caveat, it can’t replace the quality you’ll get from taking the time to capture the scene with your DSLR gear. The iPhone’s 8mp sensor size is relatively small and there isn’t nearly as many pixels, so it becomes just point-n-shoot quality when we go to print. The zoom feature also makes the quality considerably worse because you’re using relatively less and less sensor the more you zoom in. Digital noise is another misfortune inherent in these little cameras and basically unprintable after shooting in low light (auto ISO takes over). Those favorite iPhone images could maybe be enlarged to 5×7, but going much beyond that and we’re looking for trouble.

Considering these limitations, I’ve started using my iPhone as a sketching pad preceding the act of “hauling” out the big gear when I think the composition might be important. Sketching can be loosely defined as a preview of the possibilities. Perspective and framing is just one advantage of sketching.


With the explosion of smart phone applications that mimic what post processing software can do for with our DSLR files, now not only do I use it for composition, but also for sketching what a close up, panoramic or high dynamic range (HDR) image might look like. I would have never thought my little phone could become such a valuable tool for my serious photo work!

Even the default camera that comes with the phone is fairly rudimentary and I’ve found third party apps that control exposure and focus (among other things) much better at these basic camera functions. ProCamera by Jens Daengen is my first choice for capturing any image on my phone.


ProCameraAll of us close up photographers using our DSLR camera’s know what kind of time and energy it takes to set up and shoot a macro shot whether the composition ultimately works or not. We’ll, why not try one with the phone first to see if you even like it?  Unfortunately, the lens won’t allow you to focus as close as a true macro lens or extension tubes will. The subject will not be sharp after hitting the shutter, but all you’re looking for is the sketch to see if the composition is worth your time…awesome!



Pro HDRHDR software has also created a buzz in the photo world, and now with your iPhone and Pro HDR by eyeApps LLC, we can now capture and render highlight and shadow detail from high contrast scenes by processing more than one exposure. It’s a common occurrence shooting landscape scenes or building interiors with outside views. Pro HDR is the app that can accomplish this and the results are surprisingly good, but not without significant limitations. Higher contrast scenes require a broader range of exposures than the app will allow to create a realistic interpretation. And the jpeg file format won’t produce great results compared to the image quality captured with a raw file on your DLSR and processed with a computer application like HDRSoft’s Photomatix.



AutoStitchA panoramic perspective is a blast to shoot and process and the merged files are capable of producing big beautiful wall prints. The workflow also requires patience, time in the field to set up and capture, and merging all the files on the computer requires time and energy. It’s worth it if the scene is good, but sometimes after all of that we realize the final output isn’t worth the high cost of printing and displaying it “big.” With the simplistic setup, capture and processing capabilities using a pano phone app like Autostitch by Cloudburst Research, we can now sketch it first to see what the possibilities are like from our DSLR. What an enormous time saver!



So the next time your on the way out the door to do some serious photography with your beloved DSLR, don’t forget your little phone camera and do a little sketching!


I will be teaching at our upcoming Photo Weekends in Cheyenne, WY  in May and in Missoula, MT in October.

You can also join me for one of these Workshops in 2013:
Basic Photography – Cheyenne, Wyoming
Basic Photography – Missoula, Montana
Death Valley National Park – Stovepipe Wells, California
Flash Photography – Missoula, Montana
Grand Teton National Park – Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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Two Elements to Better Macro Photography Mon, 22 Apr 2013 16:00:34 +0000 RizzutoTony-3205I thought that title might suck you in and now that I’ve got your attention I want to tell you about my favorite accessory for macro photography.  It doesn’t matter if you are brand new to macro and want to buy some gear or if you’ve been shooting for years and already own a macro lens.  This accessory doesn’t have any performance drawbacks, it’s relatively inexpensive and I never leave to photograph without it.

Some call it a Multi-Element Diopter, some an Achromatic Filter and others a close up lens.  Very confusing but really it’s just a high quality filter made up of two elements that allow you to get really close to your subject and still focus.  Think of it the same way you do a pair of reading glasses…you know, the ones you put on when you can no longer hold your book close and still focus on the words.

Don’t confuse this with the inexpensive close up filters made of a single piece of lower quality glass.  This filter is made of two pieces of high quality glass and doesn’t degrade your image the way the cheap ones do.  Spend the extra money; you’ll be glad you did.

The cool thing about this gadget is it can be used with any lens 70mm or longer.  Put it on your telephoto lens and get really close to that Dahlia or stick it on the front of your macro lens and magnify things beyond life-size!  It’s that easy.  Put it on, get close and focus.  (One word of caution, it will make your low quality lenses look even worse so use it only with your higher quality lenses.)

How do they work?  As you get closer to your subject it gets bigger in your viewfinder (and on your sensor).  The problem is that you can get close to something to make it big but that doesn’t mean that you can focus on it.  A Multi-Element Diopter lets you get closer than normal (to make something big) and still focus (to make it sharp).

Actual Size Life size Plus-2 Plus-5

There’s one SMALL catch; once you put it on your lens you’ll loose your ability to focus on anything that’s not close.  Kinda like looking across the room at something through your reading glasses.  No biggie, put it on only when you’re going to shoot macro, after all it’s a macro accessory!

Much like your reading glasses Multi-Element Diopters come in different strengths.  And much like your glasses they are “rated” in diopter strengths.  Simply put, as the number gets higher you can get closer and still focus, resulting in more magnification.

RizzutoTony_DSC1850 20x30 RizzutoTony__DSC3863 RizzutoTony__DSC1512


I know that by now you might want a little shopping advice so I narrowed the list down to two that I’ve used and love.

Canon 500D Close Up Lens (+2 Diopter Strength)
Marumi DHG Achromat (+3 or +5 Diopter Strength)

So, grab one, put it on your lens and start getting close!


If you are interested in learning more about macro photography and want to learn to create big images of tiny subjects, I will be teaching a Macro Photography workshop from June 30 – July 5, 2013. Hope you can join me!



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