Digital Neutral Density

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On the morning after Christmas my son, Anton, and I went out to shoot at Cooper Lake. One advantage to having a great place like this nearby is that you become familiar with the optimum times to be there and the optimum angles from which to shoot, depending on when you know the good light will be hitting a specific place. Since the path bordering Cooper Lake curves around, you can start at one spot for first light and then make your way to the next spot when the sun is slightly higher. (A lake surrounded by mountains has its own challenges when it comes to allowing for differences from the official sunrise and sunset times.) And while you’re waiting for the light to be in the right position, there’s always the beaver pond, or close-ups on the opposite side of the path.

On this particular morning one of my “while you’re waiting” shots was a capture of Anton in action. Instead of shooting from the edge of the path, he had got right down to the edge of the shore. I decided to go for an environmental shot, i.e., one that shows him in the broader landscape instead of a tight shot. (This is beautiful Cooper Lake, after all.)

The problem with the resulting image was that the lower half was too dark while the upper half verged on the too light side — perfect conditions for a graduated neutral density filter. But I don’t have one in my collection, or at least it wasn’t with me that day.  I remembered that Nik Color Efex Pro 4 has a grad NDF preset, so I pulled the image into Photoshop and then into Color Efex Pro. Easy! You can manipulate sliders to change the lightness/darkness of the two halves of the photo and to regulate the degree of blend. If your exposure problem affects the right and left halves of the image rather than the upper and lower halves, there’s a rotating slider as well.

Lightroom has an adjustment brush tool for this situation, but personally I found the Nik preset much easier (and faster) to use. Just a personal preference.

The processed image is at the top of this post.

While you’re at it, you might want to take a look at Anton’s website.

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Winter Monochrome at the Lake

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Here in the Northeast we had a big snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving. On the day itself the snow was still coming down a bit and we went for a walk to Cooper Lake. It was very cold, the turkey was in process of roasting, so I grabbed my Olympus SH-1 point and shoot rather than my DSLR with tripod.

The images I’m showing you here are the best of the results from that walk. Conditions were a winter photographer’s dream come true. The processing was minimal — very minimal. No B&W conversion was involved; this is completely natural. I tried experimenting with converting one image to B&W and didn’t like the result; it wasn’t the right tone, somehow too warm. The cooler tones right out of the camera were spot-on for the feeling of that day. Hope you enjoy these; comments welcome!

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Last but not least — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Thank you for being readers of my blog.

Look Behind You

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Pictures of lots of photographers all lined up jostling for space so they can get their shot of that “iconic scene” are legion. To counter this, you have wise, experienced photographers who advise you, “Look beyond the obvious!” Turn in another direction!” “Look behind you!”

I was reminded of this recently not by a top-notch photographer but by a lady I met in the course of a walk at one of my favorite spots — Cooper Lake in the Catskill Mountains of New York. It was Christmas Day and the relentless chill that would (little did we then know) plague our entire winter here in the Northeast was just settling in. I set out with my new Nikon D7100 hoping to get some shots of the lake while the ice, not yet very thick or snowed over, still had some interesting patterns in it instead of  the boring, uniform white that would develop later.

People you meet along the lake are usually very open and friendly, and this lady, who said she often brings a little camera along but didn’t have it with her that day (only a fanatic like me was actually going to stop in that freezing cold to set up a camera and shoot), told me that farther along, on the side of the road away from the lake, dripping water was producing some interesting ice activity on the rocks and branches — in other words, don’t just look at the obvious — the lake — and pass up this close-up potential.

Sure enough, a little farther along and there it was. It had grown much too cold to have the patience to set up the tripod and try to get intricate shots that would really have done justice to the scenes, so the best I could do was to put on my Tamron 75-300mm Vibration Reduction lens, turn on the VR, and shoot handheld.  This is a lot of trial and error, but if a couple of good shots result, it’s worth it. Here are my couple of reasonably good shots.

DSC0168 BW sI had a few icicle photos to choose from, and the one at the top of this post was the best. I processed it in blue for an unusual effect. Then, out of many snow-ice-branch and twig-rock images, I selected this one on the left and processed it in black and white; the color did nothing to enhance it, and the B&W enhanced the starkness of this winter weather.

And yes, I did get a fairly decent image of the lake itself with the ice patterns. Here, below, is the one I chose. A good deal of cropping from the bottom was necessary, and retaining the color — actually, processing it so as to bring out the color — was the way to go. You can click on this image and on the top image of the blue icicles to see the larger photos on my website.

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Again, remember that it’s always worth looking away from the obvious — you never know what you’ll find that will make an interesting photograph.

Favorite Photos of 2012

I’ve just compiled a list of my twelve–that’s right, an even dozen–favorite images that I made during 2012. Can I say they’re by far the best? Well, that’s always very subjective, and a photographer isn’t always the best judge of her/his own work. But IMHO they are certainly among the best, and I’ve chosen them to include representative images from my favorite places and subjects.

Here I’m posting a sample for you to see. Click on any of them, or on this link, to go to my website to view this entire gallery of twelve images. The entire gallery–each of the twelve images–is my Print of the Month for January 2013. That means not one but twelve pictures offered for purchase at the special Print of the Month prices. That’s my New Year’s gift to all my friends and followers. May you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

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Some Quick B&W Conversions

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is coming to St. Anastasia’s parish in Orange County, NY to celebrate the centennial of our parish cemetery, and I’ve been asked to provide photos of the cemetery for use in the Commemorative Book and to photograph the event itself. In return for my services, the Centennial committee has kindly given me a free full-page ad in the Commemorative Book; I just had to supply the ad copy.

I selected five representative photos, added the text, and arranged it all into what I think is a really attractive design; hopefully the printer can tweak it a bit.

Then I realized that the ad would be printed in black-and-white, not in stunning color. And I thought, I want it to be my black-and-white, not the printing firm’s default B&W. Back to Photoshop. I made my own B&W versions of each photo and reassembled the ad. Here below are three of the five images and how I did quick (very quick — they needed them urgently) conversions of each.

For this autumn image of Cooper Lake I used the Neutral preset in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2, set the Brightness to 5 and the Contrast to 10 to ensure definition of what otherwise might have appeared as murky shadows.

What to do with a fall foliage image of New Hampshire’s beautiful Shelburne Birches that depends primarily on color for its effect? Relying on the whiteness of the tree trunks for definition, I simply added a B&W adjustment layer in Photoshop and used the “Lighter” preset to ensure some detail in the leaves.

It’s usually somewhat easier to do a B&W conversion of a non-nature image. This one is from my “Stieg Larsson’s Sweden” collection. With more time I would, and probably will, give this one more thought for a more “artistic” rendition, but for now I used the “High Structure (smooth)” preset in Nik Silver Efex, left the other values at 0 but set the Structure at 20.

Not leaving anything to chance, I provided a print-out along with the images on a disk. At first I set the printing option to “Use black cartridge only,” but this really muddied up the blacks, especially in the Cooper Lake image, so then I tried leaving it at the “High quality” default under the Color tab in the printing dialogue and this worked.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Hi my friends,

You know this isn’t something I normally would do or even advocate, but I just want to devote this one brief blog to letting you know about some special items I have for sale–a limited number of matted prints (and two framed prints) left over from a recent show. Here is a sample, and before I add them, let me tell you that the link to view and purchase them is exclusively at my Etsy shop. You can also click on the photos themselves to go directly to some of these items.

Thanks for looking! — Next posting I’ll make it up to you by reviewing a phenomenal new book by one of my favorite photographers.