Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Tips & Techniques Thu, 21 Aug 2014 19:53:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:08:29 +0000 READ MORE >]]> IMG_3562It was an amazing sight – the transformation of a beetle-like larva into a fully functioning flying dragonfly right before my very eyes – and camera.

I’d been shooting dragonflies this summer at my favorite marshy spot on the edge of nearby Waughop Lake. I happened to look down and spot an ugly little larva crawling along the grass toward my bike, which was laying on the ground. Cool, I thought, and I snapped a couple of shots before it disappeared under my rear tire for the shade, I figured.

I went back to the dragonflies until I needed something else from my pack when I noticed the larva had crawled up onto my tire. Snap-snap, and I went about my business. The third time I passed by, though, there were FOUR eyes looking back at me and it suddenly occurred to me that a dragonfly was pushing its way out of the back of the larva. Wow!

R22A0351I ran over to switch my telephoto lens for a macro and twin flash and returned to shoot the metamorphosis over the next 90 minutes. It was mid-day, high sun, harsh light and the larva had attached itself on the underside of the tire partially in the shade. Not the conditions I would choose, but in documentary or photo journalistic photography (which I would consider this to be in a nature sort of way) you work with what you got when you got it.

This grassy spot is right off the asphalt path that circles the lake and I am sprawled out on the grass, which is covered in goose poop, shooting what must have looked to the frequent passers-by to be my bike tire. Hmmm. But, oblivious to them and to the time, I shot away for an hour and a half trying to capture every conceivable angle knowing that in all likelihood this would be my first and only time with an opportunity like this.

The dragonfly and its huge compound eyes and compacted wings slowly eased out, moved next to the lifeless larva exoskeleton, gradually spread and dried its perfect wings, and with its stored genetic knowledge intact, launched its first flight flawlessly – off my bike tire. After surviving for two to three years as a larva in the muck of the lake bottom, it would live to fly, eat and procreate for perhaps another three to four WEEKS – the normal post-larval lifespan of a dragonfly.

It was purely by chance that I got to see (and shoot, no less) such a miraculous event. These may not be Pulitzer Prize winning photos, but they’ll forever distinguish my summer of 2014.

When viewing these photos keep in mind that I purposely re-oriented some right-side-up to make it easier to view them. Also, the last image is, as best I can tell, an adult version of the same type of dragonfly in great light, but it is NOT the same one.

Steve Russell

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Shadowlands: Five Tips for Capturing the Beauty of Back-Light Macro – Guest Article by Steve Russell Fri, 27 Jun 2014 22:38:29 +0000 READ MORE >]]> R22A9416How is it that one can walk by, even photograph, the same thing thousands of times year in and year out – and not really see it? It’s happened to me. I shot small subjects for years in soft front-light and side-light or with flash and have had great results, but it wasn’t until I was stuck shooting at mid-day in harsh light recently that I looked toward the sun and noticed the grasses come alive with color and the bugs on the sun-side casting amazing shadows on the vividly striated grass. Not only that but any limbs hanging over the edges became brilliantly translucent. I began to notice this effect on any wide grass– contrasty shadows, bright colors and the amazing luminescence of my subjects created by back-light, especially at mid-day.

Shooting at mid-day in harsh light not only became possible, but preferred for this type of shooting. But to shoot this way there are a few things to know that may help you if you are interested in doing the same.


1) Look for background first and subjects second. This is the reverse of what I’m used to. Look in the direction of the light for wide grasses or leaves. Walk toward the light so you can spot the silhouettes of the bugs on the plants in front of you and because they are less likely to see you coming and get spooked off.

2) No flash needed or wanted here. While flash does an incredible job for detail and saturation, in this case it eliminates shadows and darkens backgrounds that can otherwise create a brilliant bokeh. Besides, there’s plenty of light on a sunshiny day.

3) Forget the tripod (no time for it), but make speed, aperture and image stabilization a priority for handheld shooting. Plan on a minimum of 1/60th sec but really 1/500th sec or faster is preferred as is an aperture of f/11-16. To get these settings it is the ISO that may have to get bumped up and fortunately I have a camera that can handle it – most of the shots below were at ISO 1600, but my 5D Mark III shows little or no noise. My Tamron 90mm macro lens has Vibration Compensation (VC). I use a hiking pole if I can to help stabilize the camera, as well.

R22A1665 4) Keep the lens parallel to what you want in focus. I would suggest several years of intensive yoga so that you can contort yourself in position to shoot from behind bent grass. It ain’t easy sometimes. I’ve been looking through the viewfinder but if there’s time you could use live view (and a loupe no doubt) and magnify the image to get the best focus.

5) All these rules are made to be broken so have fun and experiment with the settings and techniques.

Mid-day sun is now my friend and I have added a whole new way of shooting to my macro repertoire. I shake my head when I realize that these opportunities were there all along and I hadn’t really seen them until now. As much as I enjoy the detail and the balanced light of my normal shooting, I equally appreciate the beautiful lines, shapes, colors and contrasts that back-light photography can generate.

Steve Russell


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Using Photoshop CC to Create a Poster for Photo Lab Printing Mon, 16 Jun 2014 17:27:34 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In this fourth post on preparing images for printing at a photo lab, I describe using Photoshop CC to lay out a poster that includes one of your photographs plus some text that acts as a title. Note that most of the steps can also be accomplished with 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 as a poster for printing.

00 Fair Poster 16x20

Create a New Document

To begin, decide on the paper size you want for your poster. Check with the photo lab you plan to use to ensure they have that size available, especially if you want to create a panoramic style. For this example, I’m creating a horizontal (landscape) poster 16 x 20 inches.

Open Photoshop CC and from the File menu choose New. In the window that appears, provide a name for the document. Then fill in your choices for the width, height, resolution and background, which will be the background color of your poster. I set the units to inches and type in 20 for the width and 16 for the height at a resolution of 300ppi. I plan to use a color photo, so I set Color Mode to RGB Color and 8 bit. My poster will eventually be saved as a JPEG file, which is 8 bit, so this saves me a step later on. I want the Background Contents to be White. Clicking on the Advanced arrow reveals the Color Profile box where I select sRGB since this is the color space most photo labs work with. When you are satisfied with your choices here, click OK and a blank document appears.


01 New File

Set up Margin Guides

To help position your photo with even margins, it is useful to have Photoshop display guides. These light blue lines do not print; they are just for reference. From the View menu choose New Guide. Create two Vertical guides, one at 1 inch and one at 19 inches for the left and right margins, respectively. Also create two Horizontal guides, one at 1 inch for the top margin and one at 13 inches to leave a three-inch bottom margin where the title will go. Also in the View menu, turn on Snap and then Snap to > Guides. This ensures that your picture exactly lines up with these margin guides.


02 new document w-guides

Select the Picture from Bridge

Now you are ready to add the picture. Open Bridge and find a final edited image you want to add to your poster. Select the picture and from the File menu, choose Place > In Photoshop. Using the Place command allows you to reposition and resize the photo without compromising the quality. It also means you can double-click on the layer thumbnail for this picture and do further edits to fine-tune its appearance later.


03 Select in Bridge

Position and Size the Photo

Your picture appears centered on the page with an X through the middle. Move your cursor inside the photo and drag it into position. If you need to resize the image, hold down the Shift key and drag a corner. The Shift key preserves the original proportions of your photo. When you are satisfied with the position and size, click the check in the Options Bar.

04 Place Photoshop

05 Move placed photo

06 size placed photo

Now it is time to add the embellishments to make this poster stand out. There are many effects you can add with Photoshop, but I am going to add just a complementary border and a title.

Add a Stroke Border

To add the border, from the Layer menu choose Layer Style > Stroke. In the window that appears, adjust the width of the stroke border using the Size slider. Choose the position of the stroke. Inside and Centered will cover part of your image. Leave Blend Mode and Opacity at their defaults of Normal and 100%. Fill Type is Color and starts with black. If you want a different color border, click the swatch to reveal the Color Picker. Move your cursor over the photo to click on a different color in the image. Click OK to save your color and OK again to apply the stroke effect. If you change your mind later, you can double-click on the Stroke Effect in the Layers panel and make changes.

07 layer style stroke color picker

Add the Title

To create the title, choose the Type tool. In the Options Bar, select the font, style, size, alignment and color. The fonts and styles are what are installed in your computer. Size is in points (72 points equals 1 inch). You can type a larger number in the size box if needed. For a different color, click on the swatch to get the Color Picker again. You can make the type color match the border color by clicking in the border itself. Click OK to save your color choice. Then click below the picture and start typing. You can select the text and make further changes to all the choices in the Options Bar until you are happy with the title’s appearance. When you are finished typing, click the check in the Options Bar. If your type is not in the correct position below your photo, choose the Move tool. You can center the Type layer on the Background layer by Ctrl-clicking (Cmd-clicking Mac) on these two layers in the Layers panel and then choosing Align Horizontal Centers from the Options Bar. Select just the Type layer to adjust the title’s vertical position using the arrow keys. It is helpful to turn on the Grid (View > Show > Grid) to fine-tune the title position.

08 type centered with grid


Apply a Drop Shadow to the Title

The font and color I chose do not stand out well from the background. So I add a drop shadow effect to the words. Make sure you have the Type layer selected. Then from the Layer menu choose Layer Style > Drop Shadow. Adjust the Distance, Spread and Size as desired; you can leave the other choices at their defaults. Photoshop updates the effect as you make changes. When you are pleased with the result, click OK.

09 type drop shadow


To see a preview of your poster, turn off the Grid and Guides using the View > Show menu.


10 Finished poster

Save the Poster as a Master PSD File

Save your poster as a master PSD file and include the poster size in the name. This preserves all the layers and effects you applied so you can change them in the future.

11 Save As PSD

[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.]

Save the Poster as a JPEG File

Now create a JPEG copy to send to the photo lab. 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.


12 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.


13 JPEG Options


Find your favorite photo lab online and upload, order and pay for your poster print. Consider ordering extras to share with friends and family.


To read the first three posts in my series on printing, check out these links:

Using Lightroom 5 to Create a Poster for Photo Lab Printing
Using Photoshop CC to Prepare a Picture for Photo Lab Printing
Using Lightroom 5 to Prepare an Image for Photo Lab Printing

Want to learn more from Kathy Eyster?

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




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Clouds Fri, 06 Jun 2014 19:05:02 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In the late sixties Joni Mitchell wrote the lyrics:

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow its cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all”

Joni may not have known about clouds back then, but we should as outdoor photographers today. They are so important to our compositions they can’t be underestimated…and without them our skies have very little interest and almost no depth. Severely clear is a weather forecast most photographers dread, and quite possibly might change some minds about getting their fannies out of bed to go shoot. Watching a weather forecast the night before is a darn good idea even though there’s never a guarantee you’ll have clouds!

If blank blue skies just happen to be what Mother Nature served for breakfast and you reluctantly got your fanny out of bed for it, a good approach might be to minimize the amount of sky (negative space) so it’s not such a distraction by placing the horizon close to top of the frame. Another great idea is to fill the sky with subject matter that’s interesting.

JohnsonDoug_Minimized sky-2-5JohnsonDoug_Minimized sky-1-7










Some weather (wx) forecasting sites on the computer like the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and weather apps for your smart phone have visible and infrared red (IR) satellite video feeds which allow you to see cloud movement in real time or if any clouds actually exist around your location. This technology also helps us predict where they might be in the near future. The IR feed is extremely helpful when there’s no visible light, like at night before a shoot the next day or in the predawn hours before hopping in the car or crawling from a warm bed. My favorite iPhone app that includes an IR feed is My-Cast Weather Radar from Garmin DCI. This wx app is $3.99 worth of pure love and available for Android devices as well.

MyCast-20IR radar.jpg










Scientifically, these atmospheric wonders form when air pockets that hold water vapor, and are warmer than their surroundings, rise (like a balloon) and then cool. Cooling causes the water vapor to condense into droplets and together with the wind form the cloud’s limitless possibilities of shape and form. These yummy little visual treats can be the main dish or the whipped cream that goes on top of your favorite landscape.

Main dish-12Whiped cream-1-13










The atmosphere is always in a constant state of evolution and clouds go along for the ride, changing shape and position in the sky from one moment in time to another. Waiting for the perfect moment can make or a break the composition and requires patience, experience and lot of luck. One thing to keep in mind however, is the more you’re out there, the less you need to rely on the “luck.”

good clouds-16better clouds-15







Clouds not only supply our limitless imagination with countless shapes to enjoy and marvel at, they also provide balance and support for the most breathtaking and dynamic landscapes compositions.

To take full advantage of the beautiful and ever-changing personality of clouds, we should consider a few basic compositional ideas to strengthen the communication.

1. Use the concept (rule) of thirds when arranging or waiting for clouds.

Rule of Thirds-1-10Rule of Thirds-2-9







2. Support the landscape characteristics (shape, line, texture, color and or idea) by including similar cloud characteristics.











3. Give clouds a little room to breathe…I know it sounds funny, but be aware of merges with other elements and that includes the edge of the frame.

frames edge-1-4frames edge-2-2










4. Timing is everything.











One last thought…never forget the polarizing filter (if your camera’s perspective and the heavenly clouds in your view finder are 90 degrees from the sun angle)…

They will sing “hallelujah,” and so will your photographs!


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The Bugs are Back! Guest Article By Steve Russell Fri, 09 May 2014 22:33:40 +0000 READ MORE >]]> The Bugs are Back

R22A6655-13After my usual winter hiatus from bug-art photography, I dusted off my 65mm (Canon MP-E 65mm macro) and 90mm (Tamron macro VC) lenses and headed back to the park. What’s new this year is that I upgraded to a 5D Mark III camera, got a Hoodman Loupe (and elastic band to hold it on), and I start the season with lessons learned from last year’s shooting including how to shoot into a cloud-filtered setting sun with, of course, my trusty MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Flash.

Dance flies made their usual debut at the flowering of the Oregon Grape bushes, but this year I spotted a first for any species I’ve ever shot: a pair of dance flies mating while the female simultaneously feasted on a just-caught fly. Damselflies emerged earlier than I’ve ever seen them and within the first few days I witnessed two of them caught in the fangs of spiders that are always lurking amongst the grasses. I also made my usual quota of one or two focused images per year of the most elusive fly around (orange and yellow with eyes in the back of its head) as I followed it bouncing around from one brief grass-stoR22A6966-18p to another, while getting off one quickly-composed handheld shot if I was lucky before it flew again.

My Mark III performed beautifully, although the move of the magnification button to the left of the LCD screen (from the top right of the camera on the Mark II) is infinitely more difficult to operate when I need my left hand to hold and steady the lens. It also takes a little longer for the LCD image to refresh after a shot and activates again only after I depress the shutter button half way. Maybe it’s just a matter of adjusting something in the camera. I hope so. I’m also experimenting more with high magnification handheld shooting at 4X and even 5X with my 65mm lens, and although there is a high rate of failure unless the conditions are absolutely perfect, the payoff is amazing in terms of detail.

The bugs are back and with them another season of endless opportunities to capture these tiny monsters in artistic compositions, with complimentary backgrounds, in ever-increasing detail while they’re doing instinctively dramatic things.

Let the shooting begin.

Steve Russell Photography

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The Magic of Light Painting Mon, 05 May 2014 17:48:46 +0000 READ MORE >]]> What is Light Painting?

The word photography means to draw or paint with light. When I first began studying photography, I was told that along with composition, the study of light would be a lifelong endeavor. Over the years, I’ve found this to be an absolute truth. I have also found that light painting is one of the more creative and magical ways to illuminate a scene.

RH, Neon Graveyard

In short, light painting is using a flashlight to illuminate your subject. Rather than depending on a typical light source for lighting, you use a flashlight to “paint” your subject. Standard photography involves the use of ambient light, meaning natural light provided by the sun, overcast days, the sky, indoor lighting, street lamps, etc. “Ambient” means “relating to the immediate surroundings,” so ambient light is that which surrounds us. The light that’s available.

Commonly, light painting takes place outside after dark, inside dark rooms, or in any other dimly lit situations. This is not to say that complete darkness is necessary for light painting. It is possible and indeed fun to mix light painting and ambient light together. One of my favorite times to paint with light is when the moon is full. The trick is to put yourself in situations where your shutter speed can be long enough to allow you time to paint your subject. If you are shooting a well-lit street scene, your shutter speed may be as fast as 4 or 8 seconds—just not enough time to effectively paint your subject. A dark alley, however, may produce an exposure of 30 seconds or a minute or two.

Old Truck,  Nelson Ghost TownThese exposures are more conducive to creatively illuminating your subject with a flashlight. The real beauty of light painting is in the crafting of the light. You are the artist. The conductor. Few forms of photography allow this level of creativity in shaping your subject. The flashlight becomes your brush and the scene your canvas. Imagination and experimentation become your workflow, resourcefulness and ingenuity your tools.

In the images below made in the solitary confinement cell in the Mansfield Reformatory, I needed to add light to bring out the detail in the cell. In Figure 1.1 we first see how dark the cell was, with the ambient light reaching only so far down the hallway. Then we see how the cell looked after I stood inside the cell and painted outward with my flashlight to create the shadows of the bars on the floor.


Figure 1.1:  Before and after light painting 

While creating masterpieces takes some practice, the basic concept of light painting is little more than illuminating your subject with the flashlight while your camera’s shutter is open, a process that resulted in this ghost town image (Figure 1.2).


Figure 1.2:  Restrooms, car, Gold King Mine Ghost Town


One of the coolest things about this type of photography is that you need very little special gear. No special lenses, tripods, or tripod heads. You will, however, need a some form of tripod and a camera that can be set to “Bulb.” This setting allows the shutter to stay open for as long as you depress the shutter button. The easiest way to do this is to use a remote release to lock your shutter open in bulb mode. You can purchase a cable release produced by your camera manufacturer, or check out less expensive options from after-market sources. I use the Vello brand remote from B&H (Figure 1.3), which costs considerably less than the Nikon models.

Figure 1.3:  Vello cable release


Just about any type of flashlight will provide enough illumination to see in the dark, but I like to use tactical flashlights for my light painting.  They provide a nice mix of durability, intensity and a smooth beam of light.  The intensity of a flashlight is measured in lumens. The higher the lumen value, the more powerful the flashlight.

I use a 65-lumen SureFire Xenon bulb for the bulk of my work. I also own a 100-lumen SureFire LED (Figure 1.4) for work where a brighter light is required.

Figure 1.4:
Top: Surefire 100 Lumen LED
Bottom: 65-Lumen Xenon

While the more powerful 65-lumen and 100-lumen lights work well for light painting, you may find them too bright for the extra illumination you’ll need while adjusting your camera or finding gear in your backpack.  I use a Coleman LED Multi-Color (Figure 1.5), one of many brands, allows switching from a brighter white light to a dimmer red light. I consider this type of light an essential part of my light-painting tool kit.

01.05Figure 1.5:  Coleman LED Multi-Color flashlight

Light Shaping

The best part about light painting is having the ability to shape your subject with illumination. This can generally be accomplished by changing your position and the angle of the flashlight. Moving closer to your subject increases the intensity of the flashlight; stepping back decreases its power. Placing the light at an angle to the subject increases the feeling of texture in the surface. Illuminating it from behind can provide rim light and separate your subject from the background.

There are limits, however to the capabilities of the basic flashlight. It’s not uncommon to want to narrow the beam of light, decrease its intensity, or even change its color. Fortunately, the photography world is filled with light-shaping and modifying tools that allow us to overcome these problems.

A snoot can help narrow down the beam of light from a flood to a spot. This is a great help when you want to paint a smaller area without spilling over on the surroundings. You can see how in this image of a powder magazine at Fort Point, I was able to paint the front of the barrels with a narrow beam to keep the spillover to a minimum (Figure 1.6).


Figure 1.6:  Barrels painted with a snoot

There are many types of snoots available to the photographer, but most are made for speedlights or studio strobes. Several manufacturers make snoots that can be used with a flashlight as well. Here you see a Vello 5-inch Snoot/Reflector attached to a speedlight (Figure 1.8). This can easily be repurposed to wrap around the front of a flashlight.

01.07Figure 1.7:  Vello Snoot/Reflector

Another way to narrow down your beam is to use a honeycomb grid. This type of modifier will shrink the size of the beam while decreasing the intensity. Pictured here is a ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Grid (Figure 1.8). This system includes three depths of grids that fit inside of the snoot. The deeper the grid, the more narrow the beam (Figure 1.9).


Figure 1.8:  Rogue 3-in-1 Grid Kit

01.09Figure 1.9:  Each grid provides a different radius beam

The grid is manufactured to work with a speedlight. It is, however, an easy matter to remove the grid from the snoot and hold it in front of your flashlight.

Getting Your Ambient Exposure

For most light-painting compositions, you’ll want an exposure between 30 seconds and 3 minutes to allow time to illuminate your subject. The first step is to establish your ambient exposure and compostion using a higher ISO.  Once your test shot for the ambient exposure is complete you can then calculate your actual exposure:

ISO 3200 for 2”  equals
ISO 1600 for 4”,
ISO 800 for 8”,
ISO 400 for 16”,
ISO 200 for 30”,
ISO 100 for 1 minute

The one minute exposure at ISO 100 now gives you time to illuminate your subject with your flashlight.  Here is an example of how I used a higher ISO to begin my light painting process.


Figure 1.10:  I began by putting my camera into Manual Exposure Mode with Matrix metering. I set my ISO to 6400 and my aperture to f/11. I pointed my camera into the sky and adjusted my shutter speed so that the indicated meter read -1. This setting makes the sky appear darker than at Midday but not black.


Figure 1.11:  The resulting image shows how the sky has a night feel and the foreground is completely black. This exposure was 4 seconds at f/11 with an ISO of 6400. The -1 setting on the sky is typical, but not mandatory. You can experiment with different brightness levels to suit your taste.  

Figure 1.12:  Next, I used the Six-Stop Rule to calculate my final exposure. The Six-Stop Rule states that 1 second at ISO 6400 equals 1 minute at ISO 100. My test exposure was 4 seconds so my final exposure will be 4 minutes. At this point it’s not necessary for me to run the full exposure while I test for light painting. I know the sky will be right at the 4–minute mark so now I am just testing the light painting. This image shows the amount of painting was insufficient.

Figure 1.13:  For this next test shot I painted the front headstones for longer (about a total of 2 seconds each stone). The total exposure for this shot was only 46 seconds but I’m not concerned about the sky at this point. I am simply trying to get my painting right for the main subject.

Figure 1.14:  After a couple more light-painting test shots I came up with this final image. This was taken using the full exposure of 4 minutes. I increased the time I spent painting the front headstones to about 3 seconds each. I then placed my flashlight at a low angle and painted the grass around the stones. The full exposure also gave me time to walk back into the scene and paint a few more monuments. Using Photoshop, I cloned out some of the brighter city lights at the rear of the cemetery for a less distracting background.

Starting the Process

When getting started with light painting you may feel a bit like a fish out of water. Where to begin? What to do first? It all begins with visualizing your composition. As you look at the scene imagine what it can be rather than what it is.

  1. Decide what lens to use. This will determine much of what comes next.
  2. Think about depth of field. Do you want your whole scene sharp (F/8–f/22) or do you want only the main subject sharp (F/1.4–f/4)? I tend to like maximum sharpness, so my default apertures are f/8 or f/11. Consider using only one or two apertures when your first start out. This consistency will help you learn how much painting is necessary for a good exposure.
  3. Set your ISO to 6400. If you don’t have 6400, use 3200. Running test shots at high ISOs saves time and helps with fine-tuning your composition.
  4. Set your camera to its multi-segment meter. The multi-segment meters (Evaluative for Canon, Matrix for Nikon) deliver decent initial exposures in scenes that have a mix of lights and darks. Some adjustments may be necessary after you review your test shots.
  5. You can obtain good exposures under moonlit conditions by pointing your camera into the sky and putting the indicated meter at -1. This will leave your foreground black but your sky will have that nighttime feel.
  6. For scenes without much ambient light, I typically shoot for 2 or 3 minutes at f/8 or f/11. I find these two apertures allow enough time to paint without being overly restrictive. F/16 and f/22 allow much less light to pass, increasing the time you need to paint.
  7. Once your ambient exposure is established, begin to practice your painting. Remember, it’s not necessary to expose each of these test shots for the full time. At this point you are just analyzing your painting techniques. The overall length of exposure will have very little influence here.
  8. If you are working in a bright area, there is a chance that some light can enter through the eyepiece in the back of the camera causing an odd glow or streaks across your image. Closing the viewfinder eyepiece shutter (Figure 2.23) during long exposures will eliminate these anomalies.


Once the initial ambient exposure is established, the real fun begins. It’s time to put the brush to the canvas. At this point you are truly making photographs instead of taking them. You are creating the light. You are designing the overall look and feel of the image.

Should your subject be brighter? Get closer or spend more time painting. Too bright? Spend less time painting or back up. Want to change the color of the main subject? Put a filter over your flashlight. Want the ambient light to be more blue? Change the white balance. The possibilities are endless.

The ambient exposure is controlled by the f/stop and shutter speed. The light painting exposure, though is controlled by the aperture, length of time spent painting, distance from the flashlight to the subject, and subject reflectivity.

  1. Wider apertures, shorter painting times.  Smaller apertures, longer painting times.  I typically use f/8 and f/11 @ 100 or 200 ISO.
  2. For shorter painting times, get closer to your subject.
  3. Subject reflectivity is also an exposure factor. Darker or rougher subjects will take more time to bring up to the desired brightness. Subjects that are smoother or lighter will require less time.
  4. Because of all these variables, it is nearly impossible to give an average painting time for any given aperture. Experimentation is key. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Simply open your shutter and start painting

Angle of light

1. Painting at the same angle as the camera will produce the least-interesting version of your scene. (Fig. 1.15)

01.15 Figure 1.15

2. Painting the subject from the side will result in the most texture and dimension. (Fig. 1.16)

01.16Figure 1.16

Light Painting Considerations

  1. Be prepared. Carry extra batteries for all of your gear.
  2. Don’t wear bright clothing.
  3. Use your red flashlight to avoid the painful white light. Set your LCD to a lower power setting.
  4. Use your high-power flashlight to help you compose and focus.
  5. Establish your ambient exposure first.
  6. Use low ISOs of 100, 200, and 400.
  7. F/8 and f/11 provide good sharpness while allowing enough time to paint your subjects.
  8. Common shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 3 or 4 minutes.
  9. Use your white balance to establish the color temperature of the overall scene.
  10. Filter your flashlight to alter the color of the subjects you paint.
  11. Don’t be afraid to walk through the scene, but be sure the camera can’t see the front of the flashlight.
  12. Paint from different angles to create the feeling of multiple light sources.
  13. Paint some objects brighter than others. Scenes become flat and boring when all of the subjects are the same brightness.
  14. All light painting is an experiment in creating light. Have fun. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques.


This is an excerpt from Tim Cooper’s book The Magic of Light Painting from Peachpit Press due to be released mid-May.  The Magic of Light Painting is an eBook that can be purchased for $8.00 by clicking here.


Want to learn more from Tim Cooper?

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



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Flossing with Keywords Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:00:07 +0000 READ MORE >]]> 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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Using Lightroom 5 to Create a Poster for Photo Lab Printing Wed, 16 Apr 2014 15:00:33 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In my previous posts, I’ve outlined how to prepare a single photo for printing by your favorite photo lab (called “outsource printing” by some). In this article, I describe how to use Lightroom 5 to create a poster layout featuring one of your best photos and get it ready to send to a photo lab. Lightroom includes many additional layout choices you can adjust (for example, changing the background color), but I’ve kept to basic steps to keep the article a manageable length!

00 Glacier Poster

Start by selecting and processing your photo to look its best in the Develop module, including sharpening it using the Detail panel. Cropping to improve the strength of your photo is fine. There is no need to crop for a certain size since this layout provides for a border around your image.

01  develop LR5

Choose a Template

Next, switch to the Print module. From the Template Browser in the left panel, choose a layout. For this project, I select the “1 Large with Stroke” template. It has 1-inch equal borders on all four sides along with a thin black line around the photo.

02 Original Print Template

Change the Paper Size

The template assumes a letter size piece of paper (8.5×11 inches), so to change this, click the Page Setup button. Select the appropriate paper size, in my case 16×20 inches. Lightroom automatically adjusts the page layout to reflect the new paper size. [Note: I'm working with a Windows computer so if you use a Mac, your Page Setup window will look very different.]

03 Page Setup 16x20 Land

04 16x20 Print Template

Widen the Bottom Margin

To leave space for a descriptive title, I need to make the bottom margin larger. In the Layout panel on the right side, I make the bottom margin 3 inches and leave the others at 1 inch.

05 Layout panel bottom margin

Adjust the Stroke Border

The default width of the black border is two pixels. If you want to make this wider, open the Image Settings panel. Then adjust the Stroke Border size to your preference. The border is contained within the cell that determines the size of your photograph. So as you make the stroke wider, your picture shrinks slightly to accommodate it.

06 stroke width Image Settings

Add the Title

To create the title below the picture, you can use Lightroom’s Identity Plate feature. To access this, open the Page panel. Check the box for the Identity Plate. The default color is white, which makes editing the text difficult to see. Check the Override Color box, which turns the type black.

07 ID Plate Center

To change the Identity Plate text to something appropriate for your picture, click the small arrow in the bottom right corner of the Identity Plate box and choose “Edit.” Double-click to select the text and type your title to replace it. Choose a font, style and color for your title. Don’t worry about the size at this point. Click OK when you are satisfied.

08 ID Plate Edit

09 ID Plate Edit 2

Position and Size the Title

The Identity Plate appears in the middle of the page, right over your image. To position it below the photo, click on the words so a box appears around them. Drag the title into position below the picture.

10 ID Plate Center with box

11 ID Plate bottom black

Lightroom does not contain any commands to automatically center the Identity Plate. But you can create that effect by stretching the box’s borders to fit between the left and right margins. This usually makes the type too big. So adjust the Scale slider until the title looks right.

12 ID Plate Expanded

13 ID Plate sized

Change the Title Color

If you want to change the color of the type in your title, click on the black box next to Override Color. In the window that appears, click and drag the eyedropper out of the box and over the image. You can see a preview of the color under the eyedropper displayed in your text. Let go of the mouse when you are happy with the color. Close the box by clicking on the X.

14 ID Plate new color

For a preview of what your printed poster will look like, first click in the gray background to hide the Identity Plate box. Then open the Guides panel and turn off Show Guides.

15 Poster Preview no guides

Save a Template

If you think you will use this same layout again, you can save the design as a User Template. In the Template Browser panel click the Plus icon. Type a name for the template. I used “16×20 poster H” (H designates a horizontal design) and click Save. Now you can easily add a different image to the poster and update the Identity Plate.

16 Save Template

17 Save Template

Set the Resolution, Sharpening, JPEG Quality and Custom File Dimensions

Now you are ready to save this picture and layout as a JPEG file that you can upload to a photo lab. These are the same steps as you would use for an individual picture. In the Print Job panel, for Print To select JPEG File. Set the File Resolution to 300 ppi for prints up to 16×20 inches (you may want to use 200 ppi for larger prints to create a smaller file at acceptable quality). Turn on Print Sharpening. Select the amount you want applied; I usually use Standard for my nature and architecture shots. If you are printing a portrait, you may want to choose Low instead. Then pick the Media Type. Use Glossy unless you are ordering an inkjet print on watercolor or other textured paper. In that case, choose Matte.

Now set the JPEG Quality to 100. If you are ordering a very large print (16×20 inches or more), use 90 to create a smaller file but still good quality result. Check the box to turn on Custom File Dimensions. These start at the paper size that you selected with the Page Setup window. Confirm they are the correct dimensions. In my example, the dimensions are already correct at 20 inches (wide) by 16 inches (high). If they are not accurate, type the dimensions you want.

Set up Color Management and Create the JPEG File

Making choices for Color Management is the last part. For Profile, sRGB is the safest choice. For Intent, use Relative for the most vivid colors. If you know the lab can accept Adobe RGB files, you may want to use that profile for slightly better quality, especially for high saturation photos. Finally, leave Print Adjustments turned off until you have experience with the lab. If you have calibrated your monitor, you should not need to make any adjustments here. Now your poster is ready to be turned into a JPEG file suitable for a quality print. Click the Print to File button at the bottom right and save the image to a folder on your desktop for easy retrieval.

18 Print to File panel

Go to the photo lab’s website and follow their instructions for uploading, ordering and paying for your print. Wait patiently for your print to arrive. Admire your work when it does!


Want to learn more from Kathy Eyster?

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

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What’s That NOISE? Part 2 Fri, 11 Apr 2014 22:25:22 +0000 READ MORE >]]> 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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What’s that NOISE? Part 1 Wed, 09 Apr 2014 21:00:35 +0000 READ MORE >]]> It’s pretty likely that you’ve at least heard about noise in digital photos. I’d also be willing to bet that you’ve got a few images in your archive that are great examples of this artifact, but do you really know what causes it? I would imagine that most of you answered “yes” but how about if I tell you that there are three different types of noise and three different causes…now what’s your answer?

In these two posts I’ll go over the three causes of noise and the three solutions.

Cause #1: High ISO

This is the one that you’ve definitely experienced. We all use high ISO’s when we are forced to shoot in low light situations but still need fast shutter speeds. Even if you don’t use manual exposure, your camera will automatically boost the ISO when shooting on Auto Exposure or using the scene modes.

Here’s something you may not know:  when you shoot at a high ISO you’re actually UNDEREXPOSING your image.  Seems strange, huh?  Your images don’t look underexposed because your camera amplifies the signal after you take the photo to make it look brighter.  This isn’t too different from listening to a recording in which someone is speaking very softly; you turn it up to hear it better.

Here’s where the problem starts…your camera’s sensor has a specific amount of noise that is always present but usually the amount of signal (your exposure) is so much greater than this noise that you don’t see it. When you don’t have a lot of signal and your camera amplifies it (turns it up) you are also amplifying the noise as well.

Imagine in that same example of the person speaking softly there is a fan on in the background. The noise of the fan is much more quiet than the person but when you turn the recording up to hear the person better the fan gets louder too. You can easily imagine that if the fan stays on and the person speaks more and more softly the difference between their voice and the fan gets smaller. As their voice gets more quiet it gets closer to the volume of the fan which means it will be harder to distinguish their voice from the noise.

So how does this relate to ISO again? The higher you set your ISO the more you are underexposing your image (less signal) and the more your camera has to turn up the signal. As you underexpose the image more and more you are dropping the level of the signal closer and closer to the level of the noise so when your camera amplifies things the noise becomes as apparent as the signal. That’s why you see more noise in your images as your ISO gets higher.


There are several things you can do to prevent or minimize the appearance of high ISO noise.

#1  Shoot at the lowest ISO you can get away with in every situation. Seems like a no brainer but I see people shooting at ISO’s that are much higher than necessary all the time. Remember to check that setting often.

#2  Turn OFF high ISO noise reduction if you use post processing software. The tiny little computer in your camera attempts to get rid of noise by smearing over it to smooth it out. Unfortunately it also softens details and creates strange artifacts in the process. The processor in your computer combined with post processing software are much better suited to the task of removing high ISO noise, especially if you shoot RAW. Lightroom and Photoshop do a remarkable job of removing ISO related noise. In Lightroom, use the Luminance slider in the Detail Panel to remove High ISO noise. Be careful, if you go too far things will look like they’re made of plastic!  Check out Fig 1 and Fig 2 to see what an incredible job you can do with RAW images.

Fig 1 Fig 2

#3  Use your tripod and longer shutter speeds. In situations where you don’t need to freeze subject motion your tripod is your best friend.  It will control camera movement during the exposure while your longer shutter speed will give you the right exposure in low light.

#4  Get a new camera!  I knew you were looking for a reason to buy a new body so I thought I’d give you permission. Really, I’m kidding, but you should know that all cameras are not created equal and you should know the limits of your camera. Newer cameras, especially those with larger sensors and low megapixel counts perform much better at high ISOs. My Nikon D3s is a great example of a camera that is exceptional at these ISO’s. Look at how well it performs at 6400 ISO (fig 3) and prepare to pick your jaw up off the floor once the noise is removed (fig 4).

Fig 4 Fig 5

In my next post I’ll cover two other types of noise and how to overcome the resulting nastiness.

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Planning For Outdoor Art Shows Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:31:57 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Outdoor Art Shows are a popular summer activity for many people; artists and visitors alike.  Not only are they a great way to “put your work out there,” they are a great way to network with other artists, get ideas and inspiration and hopefully sell something. Here are some things to consider before applying:

Which shows are a good fit for your work?
It’s a good idea to visit shows you are interested in the year before you apply for them and talk to artists that have already done them.  Is the show is an Art Show or an Arts and Crafts Show?  Higher priced artwork cannot compete with artisans selling jam or soap.  Also, ask the organizer about the attendance of the show. You want a lot of people to be exposed to your work.

ClarkJulie_TarpandWeightsApply early!
Most juried shows have deadlines in the winter or early spring. Make sure you read their websites thoroughly and follow their instructions to a “T”.  All shows have different requirements and will more than likely toss your application if you do not follow their instructions. Consider that most shows have a hefty application fee. Can you afford to shell out $200-$300 per show knowing that you may not necessarily recoup it until the summer (if at all)?  Submit good quality JPEGS of your work so the jury can see what your work really looks like.  Have a good, solid Artists’ Statement and CV, but don’t make them too long… jury members have hundreds of applications to go through! Most shows ask for 5-6 sample images for submissions, so include a link to your website to showcase additional images.

Think about how you want to display your artwork.
Try to have a cohesive body of work that is displayed thoughtfully and tastefully. Your booth will look great and in addition to attracting people, you may also win a prize.  Many shows have cash prizes for various categories.  It’s also a good idea to have various sizes of work and different price points… something for everyone.

The first year you do Outdoor Shows, you should be prepared to spend quite a bit of money on your booth display. You will need a white 10×10 tent with zippered walls (any other colour will cast a hue on your work and make it dark inside). Costco has inexpensive tents online, but they are not very strong. For rainy days, a white tarp is essential (large binder clips and wooden clothes pegs are great for securing a tarp on your tent). You must have weights for your tent!!  10 gallon water jugs, sandbags or PVC pipes filled with concrete are some options. You will also need a hanging system. Metal display grids are sturdy, but heavy and difficult to transport. I started off with chains attached to the frame of the tent with plastic zip ties. I now use a heavy plastic grid that I got in the garden centre area of the hardware store.  It comes in a 30’ roll, so it will cover 3 walls of your tent nicely. Attach with velcro or plastic zip ties. I use “S” hooks to hang artwork on the grid and paper clips to attach price tags. You may want a folding table and a chair. A high stool or director’s chair is recommended so that you are at eye level with the visitors.

ClarkJulie_Chains Hanging SystemYou  will also need a cash float, receipt book and possibly a means of accepting credit cards. For those with smart phones, The “Square” or something similar is fantastic and economical. There is also a ton of other stuff like duct tape, paper towels, calculator, packaging, tablecloth, guest book, snacks, water, extra clothes, sunscreen, rope, basic tools, band aids, painkillers, raincoat & boots, etc. Make a checklist and be prepared.

Greet everyone that comes into your booth and be prepared to talk about your work. People are interested in you, your process, your inspirations and your gear. Be friendly and courteous. Hand out business cards and postcards with info on your next show… sometimes people need to get to know your work and see it a few times before they buy.

Finally, think about marketing.
A week or two before the show, send out an email blast, promote yourself on Facebook and Twitter, put up posters in your neighbourhood, hand out postcards, and generally tell everyone you know. Word of mouth works! Make sure you “Like” the show’s Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and share on Social Media.

Good Luck and have fun!


ClarkJulie_RiverdaleArtWalkJulie Clark is a Mixed Media Artist and Fine Art Photographer who attended RMSP’s Career Training program in 2009.  She is currently living in the historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario where she spends her time puttering around her studio and taking way too many pictures of her puppy and two cats (she also specializes in Pet Photography). You can see her work at and



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Shooting a Realistic HDR Image Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:58:08 +0000 READ MORE >]]> The High Dynamic Range Image

HDR imagery can be considered a recent fad or a well-worn technique, depending on how you look at it. In the early days, film failed to produce visible detail in the highlight and shadow values of high-contrast scenes. Because of this, photographers resorted to difficult and tedious darkroom techniques to help return the detail to the print. Today’s digital sensors, while holding great promise, still fall short of the capability of our vision. Luckily for us, however, modern computer programs provide a more accurate and elegant solution to this the age-old high-contrast problem.

The acronym HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It can refer to a computer program, a photograph that has been processed by an HDR program, or the technique of taking multiple photographs with the intention of blending them together in an HDR program.

Let’s begin with the phrase ”dynamic range.” Dynamic range refers to the amount of separation between the brightest and darkest parts of a scene. A scene low in dynamic range would have a limited range of brightness tones, as seen in Figure 1.01. Here you see tones that are almost all the same brightness; the entire scene is made up of midtones. A scene high in dynamic range would have a large range of brightness values, as seen in Figure 1.02. Here the image consists of midtones, shadows, and highlights. There is a huge difference between the highlight values and the shadow values. This huge difference between values is what makes this scene high in dynamic range. High contrast is a more commonly used phrase to describe scenes with high dynamic range.

Figure 1.01: A scene with low Dynamic Range Figure 1.01: A scene with low Dynamic Range


Figure 1.02: A scene with high Dynamic RangeFigure 1.02: A scene with high Dynamic Range

The problem with film and digital sensors is that neither is capable of providing a realistic image in these high-contrast situations. If you expose correctly for the shadow area of the scene, the bright highlight areas become overexposed (featureless white), as seen in Figure 1.03. If you expose properly for the highlight area, the shadows become underexposed (featureless black), as seen in Figure 1.04. In some cases, where the contrast is really extreme, it is possible to lose detail in both the shadow and the highlight areas. Both of these photos appear unrealistic because as we encounter these situations in real life, we see detail in the very dark and very bright parts of these high-contrast scenes. We see something more like the image in Figure 1.05.


Figure 1.03: A good exposure for the shadows results in overexposed highlights
Figure 1.04: A good exposure for the highlights results in underexposed shadows.


Fig-1.05The HDR technique, then, is to take multiple photographs at different exposures. Each of these photos will capture a different range of detail. Once the photos are captured, you can then import them into an HDR program such as PhotoMatix. This program blends all the exposures into one photograph that contains full shadow, midtone and highlight detail. This resulting image is often referred to as an HDR image or HDR photograph.

Figure 1.05: An image created by blending the two previous photos together in an HDR program

When HDR Is Needed

The primary reason for wanting to shoot multiple exposures and blend them together in an HDR program is to capture full detail in a scene that contains very bright areas and very dark areas. These high-contrast scenes can be found everywhere, from landscape and nature scenes to interior architecture and real estate situations.

While important, shooting for HDR is not necessary with every photograph. Our cameras are capable of capturing the full brightness range of plenty of scenes. So when do you need HDR? The simple answer would be whenever the scene’s brightness range exceeds the camera’s capability to capture it.

By this measure, however, we would never have any photographs with pure blacks or whites, which are necessary to provide a photograph with full range of brightness levels (tonal value). Some pure black or pure white without detail is fine in almost any photograph. The image in Figure 1.21a and its histogram (Figure 1.21) show a slight clipping in the shadows. This is noticeable in the area around the waterfalls. As you can see, this small amount of pure black is perfectly acceptable. In fact, without it, the image might feel somewhat flat (low in contrast).

Silhouettes are another instance where you’ll want some pure black in your images. The image in Figure 1.22a and its histogram (Figure 1.22) show what we would normally consider severe clipping. Because there is no need to see any detail in silhouettes, however, the clipped shadows are just fine.


Figures 1.21 and 1.21a: An image and its histogram showing acceptable clipping in the shadows



Figures 1.22 and 1.22a: A silhouette image and its histogram showing the amount of clipped shadows

The mood of the photograph is something else you need to take into account. Not all images need to be presented as bright and full of midtones. A low key image is one that is dominated by darker tones. Not necessarily pure black, but just dark tones. Figures 1.23 and 1.24 are examples of this type of imagery. On close examination of these shots you can see there are areas of pure black, but they don’t fill the frame; they are interspersed with areas that are dark but contain detail. Compare these with Figure 1.25. Notice how the large area of dark dominates the frame.


Figure 1.23: Low key image showing acceptable amounts of pure black
Figure 1.24: Low key image showing acceptable amounts of pure black


While some areas of pure black complement an image by giving it a full range of values, large areas of pure black or white can overwhelm an image. This is the time for HDR. When you have large areas of pure black, as seen in Figures 1.26 and 126a, shooting multiple exposures and blending them in HDR is required to reveal detail in the shadows.


Figures 1.26 and 1.26a: Scene showing good highlight detail but no shadow detail

Once you’ve determined a scene needs HDR to bring out detail in the shadows or highlights, or both, it’s time to make the exposures that can be blended together. Shooting for HDR is more than just setting your camera on Aperture Priority, Evaluative metering, and Auto-Bracketing and firing off a few shots. Care should be taken to analyze the scene and set your camera accordingly.

Metering the Scene

Shooting for HDR boils down to making a series of exposures that capture the full range of tones present in the scene. The simple way of doing this is to get one good exposure for the highlights and then open up one stop (add more light via the shutter speed) and make another exposure. Then open up again and make another exposure. Continue this until the shadow areas are captured on the histogram. Figure 2.01a is an example of the first shot, where the highlights would be properly exposed. This was ¼ of a second at F/16. Notice the shadows are crawling up the left side of the histogram, indicating they are quite underexposed.

Figure 2.01b, shot at ½ second at F/16, would be the second shot. In this histogram both the shadows and highlights are clipped. Figure 2.01c was made at 1 second at F/16. The shadows are still clipped. Figure 2.01d was made at 2 seconds at F/16. The shadows almost have enough exposure, but not quite. Figure 2.01e  shows the final image made at 4 seconds at f/16. Here you can see a histogram that represents full shadow detail.

Fig_02.01aFigure 2.01a: The first exposure, ensuring good highlight detail. ¼ of a second at F/16




Fig_02.01bFigure 2.01b: The second exposure, ½ of a second at F/16




Fig_02.01cFigure 2.01c: The third exposure, 1 second at F/16




Fig_02.01dFigure 2.01d:The fourth exposure, 2 seconds at F/16




Fig_02.01eFigure 2.01e: The fifth exposure, ensuring good shadow detail. 4 seconds at F/16





Here is a visual example of six shots created to blend together in HDR.  Figure 2.02 shows the images.  Note that the brightest image shows plenty of shadow detail, and the darkest images retains highlight detail.  Figure 2.03 shows the final combined image.


Pro Tips

Here are a few tips that may help you achieve better results in the field:

1.      Find the important bright area when metering. It’s essential to realize that not every bright area in the scene needs detail. Typically light sources themselves can do without detail. It’s also unreasonable to expect to get detail from the bright sun. Likewise, reflections from light sources in glass, mirrors, or metal should be ignored. Of course there are always exceptions. A very ornate lamp shade or chandelier will benefit from proper exposure. The main idea is to keep larger, important bright areas from blowing out.

2.      Don’t concern yourself with the blackest black. Most images benefit from a pure black somewhere in the scene. Like for the highlights, determine which areas are truly important. Trying to get detail in every black and every white will result in an image series that becomes difficult to process correctly.

3.      HDR software has the ability to blend together images that are not perfectly aligned, but it does take the software longer to produce the final results. If the images are too far out of alignment, however, the software may not be able to achieve perfect registration. While you might get lucky with a hand-held series of exposures, it’s best to ensure perfect alignment by using a tripod. The use of the tripod will also allow the use of smaller apertures for more depth of field.

4.      Use a cable release or remote. Along with using a tripod, remote releases will help keep your images sharp by reducing camera shake.

5.       Use the Self Timer. Some cameras will not shoot all of the exposures at once when set to Auto-Bracket. This means you have to press the shutter release button or cable release for each shot. While not terribly time consuming it would be nice if the camera would simply fire them all of with one press of the shutter. Try setting your camera to Self Timer. In many cases pressing your release once will trigger the camera to shoot the whole series of brackets automatically.

6.      Consider using Continuous High Speed Release mode on a Nikon or Continuous Shooting mode on a Canon. By default, pressing your shutter release button shoots a single frame. In Continuous Mode, your camera will continue to shoot until you release the button. This mode can be used to capture a series of exposures in rapid succession, eliminating subject movement in between shots.

7.      Many scenes don’t require exactly three-, five-, or seven-stop brackets. They might need four or six. In these cases it’s easier to set your Auto-Bracketing to capture more images than are necessary and delete the unnecessary images back at the computer.

8.      If you are unsure about your metering or histograms, hedge your bet by capturing more images. It’s better to come home with extra images that are too light and too dark than to wish you had those images while you’re processing your HDR.

9.      Shoot in RAW. RAW files contain much more information than JPEG files. More image information allows more options when it comes to blending your images together. HDR programs will process JPEG files, so uploading your old images is not an issue. For the most latitude in processing your images, however, set your camera to shoot in RAW.

10.     I use the Program PhotoMatix Pro to blend my images together. I find this to be the most realistic and easiest program out there.  It can be purchased from  Putting in my name, TimCooper (all one word, capital T and capital C) into the coupon code will get you 15% off the purchase price of $99.00!
This is an excerpt from Tim Cooper’s book The Realistic HDR Image from Peachpit Press.  The Realistic HDR Image is an eBook that can be purchased for $8.00 by clicking here.


Want to learn more about HDR imaging from Tim?
Join him at an upcoming Photo Weekend or Workshops in 2014.

Click HERE to see a listing of all of Tim’s 2014 offerings.


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Using Photoshop CC to Prepare a Picture for Photo Lab Printing Mon, 17 Mar 2014 23:13:09 +0000 READ MORE >]]> 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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Important First Steps Thu, 06 Mar 2014 23:35:24 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Have you ever noticed how seemingly small decisions we make at the beginning of a process can have a large impact on everything we do from there on out? Well that’s probably the case in your photography. There’s a little camera setting working against you if you are a JPEG shooter and a software setting to be aware of as a RAW shooter.

Canon calls it Picture Style and Nikon calls it Picture Control. Choosing a picture style is a lot like picking a film to load in your old film camera; different films had different looks and the same is true for these in-camera presets. Like it or not, a picture style is being chosen for you when you shoot a JPEG or when you process your RAW images. These picture styles will increase or decrease color saturation, contrast, sharpness and tint by differing amounts to make your images “pop” but beware…what makes one subject look amazing will cause problems with another.

Scroll through the Picture Style menu and you’ll see options like LandscapePortrait, Standard and Neutral. Each of these options will permanently alter your JPEGs in the following ways. (RAW Shooters, this will apply to you once you get your image into Lightroom so keep reading!)

Fig 1

Landscape: Dramatically increases color saturation, contrast and sharpness to add drama and life to your landscapes.

Portrait: Decreases sharpness slightly and increases color saturation slightly to smooth skin and give it a healthy color.

Camera Standard: Boosts saturation and sharpness slightly to give your images that little oomph that they often need.

Neutral: Reduces contrast and saturation to produce images that are closest to what your eye sees.

Check out the following portrait with the different presets applied. Pay special attention to the texture and brightness (or darkness) of her skin and hair.

2 3 4 5

Did you pick a favorite? Great! But remember that if you’re shooting JPEG, these changes are permanent and once you’ve lost information in a JPEG it can be very difficult to get back. So, as a rule, I would suggest that you use the preset that gets you closest to what you want without going too far. For example, in the above image shot on neutral or portrait, you could further darken her hair and alter her skin slightly in post-processing to give it the love that it needs. If, however, you shot it on standard or landscape it would be increasingly difficult to pull that detail back out of her hair and darken her ever-brightening skin. The takeaway? In-camera settings are permanently applied to your JPEGs so choose wisely!

So what’s different about shooting RAW when it comes to Picture Styles? Well….nothing and everything. When you shoot RAW the Picture Style affects only what you’re seeing on the back of your camera since what you’re seeing is a JPEG preview and your photo editing software will discard the picture style once the image is in your computer. (Canon’s or Nikon’s proprietary software are exceptions to this.) This explains why when you shoot RAW you may have an image that looks great on the back of your camera but it looks flat and lifeless when you put it in Lightroom. Your camera preview includes the picture style adjustment and your computer’s initial preview does not.

When you import your RAW images into Lightroom or open them in Photoshop’s RAW converter (ACR) a generic picture style called Adobe Standard is applied to your image. Adobe Standard can be thought of as general adjustment created by Adobe to work for all cameras in most situations. I tend to stay away from generic, jack-of-all-trade settings and instead favor those that work best for specific images.

In my mind, the secret starting point for working on RAW images in Lightroom or Photoshop is a menu called “Camera Calibration.” Within this menu is a set of profiles created by Adobe to emulate your in-camera Picture Styles. I don’t make any adjustments to my images until I’ve finished choosing the best profile.

Go to the bottom right hand panel within the develop module of Lightroom to make your selection. Here you will see Landscape, Neutral, Portrait, Camera Standard and others depending on the specific camera you used. If you are viewing a Canon RAW file you will see Canon’s presets and with your Nikon files you’ll see Nikon’s presets.

Calibration Canon Calibration Nikon

When choosing a profile for my image I’ll select the one that affects the photograph in favorable ways without going too far. Look at the following close ups of the portrait with different presets applied. You’ll see that in some cases, the hair is so dark that it would be hard to recover detail and the skin is so light that it’s lost texture.

9 10 11 12 13

Or in the images of the Parliament Building in Victoria, B.C. you will see that based on your taste and how dramatic you want the photograph to feel, Neutral or Camera Standard may be the best place to start.

14 15 16

Once I’ve established the starting point for my post-processing I’ll then go through the rest of the develop settings and work on my image. As with JPEGs, beware, just because a preset looks great on one image doesn’t mean that it will be the best choice for another. Start with the right preset and add enhancements from there instead of trying to undo problems created by making the wrong choice.

17 18 19


You can find out more about Nikon and Canon’s Picture Controls by clicking the following links.

Nikon site Picture Controls:

Canon site Picture Styles:


Want to learn more from Tony Rizzuto?

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



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7 Quick Tips for Shooting Birds – Guest article by Steve Russell Tue, 04 Mar 2014 22:17:14 +0000 READ MORE >]]> IMG_2737-15Desperate for sun, warmth and shooting opportunities I recently joined a group of experienced wildlife photographers in the San Diego area to shoot birds. What I learned from them and from my own trials and errors over five days has opened up a whole new, exciting world of nature photography for me and I’d like to share some lessoned learned for increasing one’s chances for success.

1)   Equipment. I shot with a Canon 7D (7 frames per second), 70-200mm 2.8 IS lens, 1.4 and 2.0 teleconverters (TC), and a sturdy tripod with gimbal head. Others had longer and better prime lenses that I drooled over but I enjoyed the portability and flexibility of my lens. Big lesson regarding the TCs: all my “keeper” shots of flying birds were taken with the 1.4 TC, which focused noticeably faster and more accurately in the AI Servo mode than the 2.0. The 2.0 TC did very well for still birds farther away. I also had the most success handholding flight shots and using my tripod for the stills.

2)   Camera settings. I learned that an aperture of f/8 or more is essential if one wants as much detail in the wings and body as possible; shoot as a minimum speed of 1/1200 and faster if at all possible (especially for fast-flapping birds like cormorants); keep the ISO as low as one’s camera can handle, but the speed and aperture settings are more of a priority to maintain. I tried shooting in aperture priority, shutter priority, and auto-ISO and I’m still not sure which I like the best.

IMG_1764-83)   Composition. Not unlike shooting bugs, leave room to fit in all of the bird’s parts like wings; strive to keep the lens parallel to the parts of the bird one wants in focus; first priority is getting the eye in focus preferably with a catch light; be acutely aware of background, what one wants or doesn’t want complimenting or distracting from the subject.

4)   Light. As usual, it’s all about the light, right? As a general rule keep the sun to one’s back to get the light on the bird’s eyes and body; low light in the golden hour before sunset can magically transform, warm up and saturate birds as it did with the pelicans and flamingos I shot at this time of day. I was amazed. Low to the horizon source light also better illuminates the birds’ undersides.

5)   Shooting still birds. Even still birds move and do interesting and funny things like when they are preening, yawning, cawing, eating, hunting, taking off or landing, or in the case of the pelicans, throwing their heads back. Still birds in groups are hard to isolate but on the other hand my eye was drawn to when two or more lined up in symmetry or interacted with one another like when I caught an adult flamingo feeding a juvenile.

IMG_1414-56)   Carrying stuff. I tried and loved using a Cotton Carrier vest system to support my camera and lens but I also wore a small backpack for extra lenses, batteries, cards, etc. The Cotton Carrier bore the weight evenly at my chest level and freed both of my hands, but my camera was retrievable at a moment’s notice.

7)   Post-processing. Not much different here than it is for bugs: in Lightroom, highlight desired features (i.e., eyes), orient the subject with the rule of thirds in mind, bring out detail in the fringes of light and dark, improve contrast, minimize or eliminate distracting elements in the background, enhance color, sharpen, etc.

Boiling down the art and technique of shooting birds of one person’s experience into 600-plus words doesn’t do the subject justice, but maybe it’s enough to spur one to try something new or refine one’s own techniques. One thing is for sure: shooting birds, especially in flight, is easier said than done and there is no better way to get better than to go out and learn from one’s own experience. My thanks to my new-found bird-shooting friends in San Diego who led the way for me.


Steve Russell

IMG_2824-17 IMG_2740-Edit-16 IMG_2737-15 IMG_2686-14 IMG_2639-13 IMG_2363-12 IMG_2272-11 IMG_2221-10 IMG_1922-9 IMG_1764-8 IMG_1636-7 IMG_1420-Edit-6 IMG_1414-5 IMG_1341-4 IMG_1313-3 IMG_1217-2 IMG_1123-1


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