My process for Photography Production

I’ve shared a lot of my photography via social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr. It’s generally unlike other photography that you may see around the web. I generally don’t shoot people, unless the people are part of a greater narrative or scene. Never as the object of focus in the scene. I also have embraced the surreal… more commonly known as High Dynamic Range (or HDR) photography. You either love it or you hate it. You can see some of those on Flickr.

Last night, I was showing this picture to a friend who exclaimed, “How the hell do you do this?”… and while he is no photographer, I have had that question enough to answer that question here. Take this as a tutorial.

HDR Beach Rainbow-small

I will take you through the steps of processing a photo using my workflow. Photography is an art, though, and while the steps I use achieve the aesthetics I am comfortable with, you should absolutely tinker and play. You never get any better if you don’t. And obviously, know your camera… know how to see a shot. Composition is important and I don’t think it can really be taught… it’s an innate sense that you get simply by using your camera and practicing!

Camera

Obviously, you have to start with a camera. In the photo I am processing here, I am shooting with a Canon T5i and an EF 28-135mm f/3.6L lens. I’m shooting in Aperture priority mode with autofocus turned on. What this means, in laymans terms, is that I have a wide lens (28-135mm… it’s a zoom but the lower the number, the wider the field of view), with a middle of the road aperture (aperture is how wide your lens opens up when you snap a photo… the lower the number, the more light and the less depth of field). It’s also important to shoot RAW, as RAW captures much more image data than JPEG and allows for manipulation in software like Lightrooom.

Note: Shutter Speed is how fast the shutter opens and is, as it sounds, a time thing. Aperture is how wide your shutter opens… the wider (or lower number), the more light and the shallower the depth of field is brought in. ISO is your light sensitivity. Use this in combination with Aperture to enhance the exposure of light. A lower ISO means more exposure. A higher number represents less exposure (and more noise…. fine grained splotchiness… in the image). They are all important to know and use appropriately.

This is the photo of my fur kid on Christmas Day. We will be developing this.
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Lightroom Processing

I import all my photos into Lightroom. Once I’m there, I have access to all kinds of non-destructive settings and if I shoot RAW (which I do), all the visual data, including visual information you can’t see… shadows, highlights… they are all there waiting to be drawn out.

In Lightroom, I have a few steps. I want to setup my key image (the image that we’ll do all other processing from, with the enhancements I’d like. In Lightroom, visit the Develop tab and work from the top of your toolbox to the bottom. The toolbox is on the right.
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The initial list of settings I make on this photograph (and usually the settings I tinker with) are as such:

  • Contrast: +40
  • Highlights: +20
  • Shadows: +89
  • Whites: +30
  • Blacks: No change
  • Luminence: 86 – Luminence is important for noise reduction. See this great article on noise reduction

NOTE: DO NOT CHANGE EXPOSURE DURING THIS STEP

Exposure is saved for the next step. Technically, HDR is a style of photography that superimposes several images of different exposures over each other. You can do this with a camera if you have a tripod and the scene does not change between snapping photos and adjusting camera exposures. This is not practical in an action shot or where there is any movement. It’s easier to take one exposure and copy it and apply your exposure changes.

In the next step, I right click on the image in the filmstrip (bottom of the Lightroom view) and choose “Create Virtual Copy”. I do that twice so, at the end, I have three equal images. I leave the original alone and adjust the second image exposure level to +2. For the third, I set it to -2. Now I have three exact photos with 3 different exposure levels. If you do adjust your exposure in the first image, then do the math to make exposure 2 as +2 from that number and the third as -2 from the original.

For example, if you modify the exposure in the original to +.50 and then create two virtual copies, your second copy should be +2.50 and the third should be -1.50.

Export these photos to somewhere you can find them.

Photomatix

Now, open Photomatix! Click on “Load Bracketed Photos” and find your three exposure-doctored photos.
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Make sure that your exposure brackets are set correctly.
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After clicking “Ok”, you can modify the settings as necessary, but I typically leave them alone. When finished, click “Align and merge to HDR”. If you shoot three (or more) photos from your camera, there is a chance that the three images are slightly unaligned. Photomatix tries to fix this. Because I use one exposure and enhance the exposure on copies, this is mainly unnecessary.

Photomatix will apply your images on top of each other and will smartly attempt to find the best aspects of each to show and enhance. Photomatix comes with boatloads of presets and you can find more in abundance on the internet. I use Trey’s, but often tweak his presets myself using the toolbar on the left.

Once you find the settings you like, click the “Apply” button…
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Save it and open it up in an application like Photograph to apply a very small crop to remove the white space that always exists as an orphan of this process.
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Once you’ve done this, you’re done. I do other things such as making smaller sizes for the web. I also use Lightroom’s Watermark feature on export to apply my signature. Combat stealing anywhere I can. Photography, however, is an art. Find your art and your expression. Use these tools or others. There’s no right way to do anything, outside of fundamentals. Experiment and have fun!

Here’s the final product!

HDR Fender

For Photographers, Instagram Square Photos are Worse than a TOS Update

I’m a photographer and I use both my iPhone 4S and my Digital SLR to take photos.

There’s a difference between taking pictures and taking photos, however, and the nuance is an important thing to understand. When you raise a camera and snap a photo, unless you’re paying attention to things like composition, lighting, depth of field, aperture, shutter speed and ISO, you’re taking a picture. If you’re doing all of those things (or reasonably close to all those things), you are safely in the category of “doing photography”.

One is casual. The other is intentionally art (whether good art or not is a subjective matter that shouldn’t be handled in this post).

Art doesn’t have to be Pablo Picasso or Ansel Adams or John Lennon. It doesn’t have to have a philisophical meaning or intent. Art is the expression of the Artist on an outward medium. Or in the case of photography, it is more simply the interpretation of what the eyes sees into a likeness in film or in digital media. Photography as art cannot be done haphazardly. That’s how people get caught in the trap of buying a $2000 camera and wondering why their photos suck. Because there is no context of movement, sound, smell or touch, the essence of a point in time must be captured entirely visually. If it’s done right, it’s art because care, intent and a degree of skill are needed to translate the moment into a snapshot.

Photographers work hard to get this right. It takes a perceptive eye, a knowledge of the equipment, lighting and composition to make a great piece of art in the form of a photograph.

I thought this was about Instagram?

This is about Instagram. Instagram’s app used to allow the user to upload a photo that did not fit a strict “square” format and pinch and squeeze to resize and get an entire photo in. While this was not as aesthetically pleasing as it could have been, it gave the photographer the ability to use the entirety of a photo and the composition nuances in it.

The new app does not allow for this zoom and strictly enforces a square model. The Next Web covers some of the pushback and takes the opposite side as me – that it’s high time Instagram enforce a square photo.

Take this photo as an example. I love this photo of Downtown Austin from across the S. Lamar St Bridge. The composition here is extremely important. The reflection of the bridge in the water, the trees and of course the kayaker under the bridge make this photo what it is. Here is my post-production piece.

Austin, Texas

However, what happens with Instagram? I have to scroll to one side or the other or find a happy medium in the middle for this photo.

Austin, Tx - iPhone

I realize, of course, that many users hate to see black bars across the top of the Instagram photo, as it was the day I posted my photo to Instagram!

Austin, Tx - Old InstagramHowever, this is the balancing act that Instagram has to consider. While creating a photography app for the masses, the need to keep photographers on board is essential. The new app takes away the artistic prerogative and choice from the artist and puts discretion in the hands of the masses. Last time I checked, the masses don’t shoot my photos, edit my photos, make artistic choices about my photos or have the same skills or style that I possess as an artist.

choose what my photos look like. I use Instagram to publish because it has two things: an audience and a distribution vehicle. When I post to Instagram, I push my photos to both Twitter and Facebook. I chose this even with the artistic limitations that it offered before this app update (namely the “letterbox” that goes with the photos that don’t fit into a square format).

One can argue that Instagram had to make a business decision, perhaps inline with the desires of their Facebook overlords. I guess that argument can be made. But removing artistic license abilities of artists who are using the platform is a terrible idea. Imagine if Twitter had said, back in 2007, that they had this platform that could only be used with 140 characters because it was built for use over text message and, since that was their original idea, and the colonial approach to the short message service was the only appropriate way of consumption, then text messages would be the only method of use allowed.

That is, in fact, exactly what Instagram has said indirectly, and what the Next Web article (linked above) advocates. Hey, photography used to be limited to a square format because it was the cheapest way to do it. Yeah… and then we got 35mm film which opened up a 4:3 ratio. And then we got digital that opened photographers to new technologies to create different formats, styles and use different concepts to create art.

Imagine if all our music sounded exactly the same way as the Beatles did in the 60s. Would there be any evolution to music? Of course not, because every artist would sound exactly the same way, use exactly the same cadence, write lyrics that epiphanize the exact same mindset that existed in the 60s and generally would be boring today – and I’m a big Beatles fan!

Returning to a square format is not a bad thing. There are vintage schools of thought in every format of art, fashion, music and culture. But that doesn’t mean that every artist should be forced to adopt such styles. That makes photography boring and conformist. That’s not why we do photography!

Pro Photo Rental Brings Gear Rental to those Without Unlimited Amex cards

My main escape in life these days is photography. In a life that consists of networking and running and trying to stay on top of all the latest trends, services and events, shooting my camera and trying to capture the perfect moment in pictures is a true love of mine.

In the past, I’ve handed off some words of wisdom about buying a digital SLR cameras to new photographers. Thousands of photos that I’ve taken are on Flickr, with the best being over at my photoblog. I’ve shot events, buildings, people and even the inauguration.

Last year sometime, my friend Micah Baldwin, introduced me to Jared Kohlmann the founder and curator of ProPhotoRental.com. I’ve been a fan since, and have rented all kinds of equipment from him.

Gear rental is important for me for a few reasons. For one, I simply don’t have a lot of budget to go and buy lenses and the ever-illusive Canon 5D Mark II, a $3000 investment that I am nowhere near able to get yet (Hey, Jared… when are you gonna have a Mark II in stock for me to rent?! :)). Though admittedly, Jared gives me a discount on my rentals, even without those discounts, the prices are cheap.

For instance, at SXSW, I made a 7-day rental of the following equipment:

  • Canon EOS 5D
  • 580 EX-II Speedlight Flash
  • EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS telephoto lens
  • EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens

The cost of this rental for a week (without discount) is a mere $335. Far less than you would spend at Penn Camera, who, by way of example, would charge $20 a day in addition to a $400 deposit just for the flash!

Clearly, it makes sense to rent often if you’re in the market to buy gear and you want to try it out. A lot of photographers recommend investing the most money in lenses as opposed to going out of the way to upgrade a camera body. Either way, with PPR, you can try out the bodies or a variety of lenses in the Canon, Nikon or Olympus variety. (Who uses Olympus?! That’s like suggesting that Kodak is actually a good camera manufacturer! ;-))

Below, some of the shots taken with PPR gear:
Alex Hillman
Canon 5D, 70mm, f/2.8, 1600 ISO, 1/160th sec, Flash fired

The District Superimposed against Washington
Canon 5D, 160mm, f/5, 800 ISO, 1/8000th sec, No flash

Inauguration Day
Canon 5D, 300mm, f/5.6, 200 ISO, 1/320th sec, No Flash

WordPress Plugin Pack: Photography

Every day, I get emails, IMs and other questions asking me “What plugins do I have to have in WordPress?” My answer is always the same – depends on what you do or want to accomplish. There are two plugins that are absolutely required, in my opinion, for any WordPress blog – Akismet to combat blog spam and All in One SEO Pack to handle all the basic search engine marketing stuff that most of us forget (or maybe don’t even know how to do) every day.

I will be releasing these “plugin packs” regularly so feel free to request (by email) packs you’d like to see. All plugins released are GPL and publicly available – but I will provide a zip that includes all the plugins for one easy download.

The first plugin pack is for photographers.

  • Lightbox 2 – frames photos in an aesthetically, pleasing frame over a darkened screen.
  • WordPress Flickr Manager – provides controls for managing your Flickr library and inserting Flickr content into posts.
  • Yet Another Photoblog – allows you to turn a WordPress install into a Photoblog
  • SlidePress – Turn your photos into slideshows.
  • NextyGEN Gallery – built on the Gallery software, leveraging WordPress functionality.

Download the Entire Pack

[download#1#image]

Las Vegas Photowalk – Be there!

I’m still not sure how many of you will be in Vegas for Blog World Expo (or who happen to be passing through this coming Friday), but if you are going to be there, bring your cameras!

Photo Credit: Roadsidepictures

Digital Photography School (Darren Rowse, also from Problogger) is hosting a photowalk and Kris Krug is leading the walk. I had a part in organizing this, but Darren and Kris have done most of the work.

We’ll be meeting at Caesar’s Palace and leaving for the walk promptly at 6:30p. Would love to have you come out. I, for one, will have a 24mm f/1.4 lens provided by Pro Photo Rental who will also be in attendance.

The details from the DPS blog are as follows:

Date – Friday 19 September (we know not everyone will be there on the Friday night but it was the only real time available when we surveyed the organizing team).

Time – 6.30pm – 8pm (we’ll be leaving on time so get there a few minutes early – details below on what to do if you’re late).

PlaceCaesars Palace Hotel – Caesars Palace Dr Las Vegas – for those of you attending Blog World Expo this is about 1.8 miles from the convention centre – a reasonably quick cab ride.

We’ll be meeting at Caesars and then walking south along the strip – as far as we can go in the time.

Exactly where to meet – outside Caesars near the Valet parking area there are three large Fountains/Water features. We’ll be meeting there. Look for a bunch of people who look like bloggers with cameras :-)

Here’s the map on Google Maps

Walk Leader – Photographer Kris Krug from Static Photography will be leading us on the walk. He’ll give us some good tips and direction along the way.

What to BringWalking shoes, a drink (it’s Hot in Vegas) and most of all your camera and any lenses/accessories that you want to play with. Keep in mind that we’ll be out around dusk (should be a nice time to shoot).

What we’ll do – this will partly depend upon how many of us there are and where Kris leads us but we’ll most likely be sticking to the Strip (heading south) and might even head to one of the Casinos (if a group of 60 photographers doesn’t freak them out too much).

This will be a fairly informal walk. While Kris is “˜leading’ the idea isn’t for it to be a teaching session – rather a time of connecting, sharing ideas, getting to know one another and having some fun with one another and our cameras.

At 8pm some of the group may continue on together – it’ll be up to the general group consensus at this point.

If you’re late – if you are running late you can try to catch up with us on the walk. We’ll be moving south down the strip. We’ll attempt to give updates on Twitter as to our location – follow @digitalps (DPS’s twitter account) and I’ll have someone login and update every now and again.

If you’re going to share your photos on Flickr we’ll have everyone Tag their images with DPSVegas so we can all see the shots.

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