Category Archives: Colors

Correcting White Balance in Digital Images using expodisc 2.0

Of all the autoexposure features available in modern DSLRs, the one that is most frustrating for me is the Auto-WB.  For years, I set the white balance to Auto-WB, hoping to be fine with the color in my digital images.  Again, for all those years, my mind wasn’t tuned to deciphering the color issues.  Recently, I noticed that some of my landscape shots looked too blue to me.  Talking to a former photography student and now a good photographer himself, Sanjiv Kapoor, I learned how to adjust the color temperature and the tint sliders in Lightroom to get the right colors.  Furthermore, I learned the idea of using a WB filter to reduce the guesswork involved in this exercise.  Here’s how.

This is my process for RAW shooting.  I attach an expodisc 2.0 WB filter to the front of the lens, in the light condition of the main shot, to make a reference image at metered exposure.  It produces a perfect (18%) neutral gray image.

Neutral Gray Image

Neutral Gray Image made with a WB filter in the same light as the image subject.  Caveat – if you are viewing this post in a monitor not correctly color calibrated, you are not seeing neutral gray.

Once opened in Lightroom, the default may not open up as neutral gray.  It will open up with a default color temperature and tint, that may not be the real color temperature/tint.  Drop the eyedropper from the Lightroom Develop Module into this image.  That neutralizes any color cast in this reference and gives you the right white balance.  Just apply the same color temperature and tint to the desired image.  It is quite easy to do this in Lightroom, by simply “sync”ing the develop settings.  In fact, I spend my time long enough on this reference (see the dust spot in it – I correct that, plus apply the lens profile etc), before “syncing” it to all the frames shot in the same light.

Here’s an example.  As opened in Lightroom, the top image shown here is how it looked.

Image as seen after Lightroom opened RAW file

How this image looked when RAW file was opened up as default in Lightroom. Too blue and not representing what was seen.

This is too blue and did not represent what was seen.  The color temperature was 5750 with a tint of -4.  The neutral gray reference shot shown earlier had a color temperature of 8800 with a tint of -5.  Upon correcting this image to that, the resulting final image is shown below.

Image with corrected white balance

Image with corrected white balance, with the aid of the expodisc 2.0

This represents what was seen.

Now that I have figured this out, and now that I have tuned my mind to seeing colors a bit better, I find all kinds of color errors all over my portfolio from years of work!!  :-)  As I find time, I will keep correcting the color of my past photographs, but I don’t have the reference shots to help me.

NOTE: The user’s manual for expodisc 2.0 talks about a different way to use it.  Take a reference shot into the camera, by using a setting for white balance reference shot.  Then the following images will be rendered correctly.  In my honest opinion, this method is appropriate for jpg shooters.  The method I outlined here is more suited for RAW shooters.

Expressing my own photographic vision in Yosemite

THE CONTEXT

I went to Yosemite on Feb 18.  As I was driving through the valley, enjoying the scenery and making my images, I noticed a group of about 50+ serious photographers all bunched up at one spot along the South Drive in Yosemite Valley.  They were all standing beside their tripods, with their 70-200mm lenses pointing in about the same direction.  I was curious and couldn’t wait to find out what they were up to.  I stopped my car, walked up to this group and inquired what was going on.  One of them shared with me that the horsetail falls would light up in the last light of the setting sun and that they were all waiting for that magical moment to be photographed.  I immediately recalled my reading of Galen Rowell’s book, “Mountain Light”.  Galen had photographed this phenomenon and had also provided insight into the precise time of the year when this magical phenomenon would occur.  It did not happen all the time, because of the changes in sun’s trajectory relative to the location of the falls.  A special time of the year indeed.

WHAT OTHERS PHOTOGRAPHED THAT DAY

At the time of this writing, I just searched Google Images for “glowing horsetail falls yosemite” and just saw several hundred images, all looking about the same.  There are just a handful of them that are unique.  For example, see this great image, made coincidentally on Feb 18, by Michael Frye – http://www.michaelfrye.com/landscape-photography-blog/2016/02/19/horsetail-el-capitan/.

MY REACTION

After settling my curiosity on what was going on, my instinct was to move on and continue to find my own images.  Being a passionate photographer myself, I did not feel like joining them to wait for that magical moment.  My heart was not there.  Joining this crowd to repeat what they were doing, to make an image just like theirs, would not give me any joy and I did not want to have anything to do with it.

MY VISION

I find satisfaction from my photography, only if the photograph represents something I found.  I do not consciously copy what others do and I get no joy from doing so.  Since all of my photography knowledge and skill is based on studying the works of great photographers that have walked before me, no doubt, there is a subconscious influence from them.  My composition style is certainly subconsciously influenced by all the great photographs that I have seen in the books that I have read.  In that sense, I am not original.  At the same time, I do not study a famous photograph of Yosemite tunnel view or Half Dome and go there to duplicate it.  If I had joined that group of 50+ photographers that day, I may have walked away with a stellar photograph of a great phenomenon, but it would not represent my vision and would therefore give me no joy.  I have seen many photographers, many of them in my own photography workshops, who go to a location and do the following.  They set up their tripods, and then look up other famous images of that location on their iphones and try to recreate it.  Being there in excellent light was by itself not sufficient.  They need this iphone review of past great images, to inspire them.  I am exactly the opposite.  When I visit a new location, my research through TripAdvisor, Google, Wikipedia and other sources, is restricted to figure out where to go, but never to study previously photographed images of that location.  I go there, soak it in and let the place talk to me.  Once a particular scene touches my visual heart, I pull out the camera and work on dissolving myself (get lost) into the scene.  I capture some compositions and keep fine tuning until I feel that my vision is exhausted.  In fact, if there is another photographer in the vicinity, I usually walk away until I find some solitude to work my vision unhindered.

That day, when the group I ran into, were set up to capture the glowing horsetail falls, I simply moved on and made my own images.  Here are my 7 keepers from my day trip to Yosemite on Feb 18.  None of them may be as stellar as Michael’s horsetail falls shot, but these are images dear to me as it represents my original vision.  I made them alone and haven’t seen another photographer’s work look similar to these.  These are mine and therefore extremely fulfilling for me.

  1. El Capitan and Afternoon Clouds
    El Capitan and Afternoon Clouds, Yosemite, CA.

    El Capitan and Afternoon Clouds, Yosemite, CA.

    Usually, I refrain from making landscape images in the afternoon.  Most of the time, I shoot early at sunrise or late at sunset.  However, the afternoon clouds offered an incredible sight on Feb 18.  The uninteresting afternoon light prompted me to give it a black and white treatment.

  2. Runoff stream from Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite, CA
    Runoff from BridalVeil Falls, Yosemite, CA

    Runoff from BridalVeil Falls, Yosemite, CA

    While the BridalVeil Falls by itself forms interesting viewing, it did not offer anything photogenic for my eyes.  I ended up spotting this area of its runoff.  In fact, I made over ten different compositions at this spot and finally picked this as my keeper.  The black and white treatment emphasizes the colorless winter look.

  3. Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Whenever, I see water bodies, I look for compositions similar to this one.  The emphasis is on the reflection in the water, while the trees above water provides the context.  The strong dark tree trunks in the left (along with its reflection) anchors an otherwise floating green scene.

  4. Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    This is another interpretation of the scene depicted in image 3 above.  I couldn’t resist the lure of the panoramic.  There is something very attractive about the 1:3 format for me.  A series of floating dark tree trunks are anchored by the strong pair of dark tree trunks on the right of the image.  Several individual frames were stitched to create this one.  Viewing this in a larger size on a large monitor brings out its glory better.  Try viewing this same image on a large monitor from my website gallery in the panoramic section.

  5. Vertical Face of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA
    Vertical face of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA

    Vertical face of El Capitan, Yosemite, CA

    Later in the afternoon, the clouds continued to mesmerize.  This time, I witnessed how the vertical face of El Capitan and its magnificient size could be emphasized by showing how it rises into the clouds.  Again, couldn’t resist the lure of the 1:3 format, but in the lesser used vertical form.  I stitched several frames vertically to create this.  The vertical pano format also emphasizes the height of this famous rock.  The uninteresting afternoon light called for black and white treatment.

  6. Trees and reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Here is another location that offered an excellent photo opportunity with mirror reflection of interesting trees with dark trunks.  I shot this originally in the native format of 2:3, but cropped a little to emphasize the reflection.  Again, this image has a greater impact when viewed in larger size.  View this in the Landscapes (color) section of my website gallery.

  7. Trees and reflection, Yosemite, CA
    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    Trees and Reflection, Yosemite, CA

    This is another interpretation of the same scene shown in image 6.  Again, I couldn’t resist the lure of the 1:3 panoramic format.  It is debatable which of image 6 and 7 is better.  I like both of them because I made them – my wife and kids love image 6 better.  This image is also better enjoyed as viewed larger from the panoramic section of my website gallery.

Walking away with 7 landscape keepers from one day’s shoot is unusual for me.  I usually find one keeper out of a day’s worth of effort.  Some of these images will eventually be deleted.  I think two of them may survive over time.  Since these are my new babies, I like all of them for now.

CONCLUSION

My point of this blog is not to belittle those that wanted to create the magic originally seen in Galen’s image of horsetail falls.  In fact, I am not sure if Galen was the first one to do it, but certainly his image is the earliest I have seen.  Also, Michael Frye’s image points out how one can be original even today, with the same old location.  My point, however, is that I see far too many photographers attending my workshops who are very happy simply recreating other images they have seen.  In fact, they keep visiting the same iconic locations that have been over-photographed.  Through this post, I want to encourage at least some of you serious photographers to go out and open up to find your own images.

Working a composition

When I come across something interesting to photograph, I do not click one image of an obvious composition and walk away.  I start with the obvious compositions, but I keep refining and altering my position, until I have attempted a lot of variations.  Very often, when I review my work later in Lightroom, I find that my later refinements bring out the fine keepers.

I photographed a waterfall along Fern Creek in Muir Woods, CA, last week.  Let me illustrate how I worked the composition in that case.

The following image is the first image I made when I saw the waterfalls.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The first image made of the waterfalls

This first image has a number of branches coming in the way of the view of the falls.  Clearly, I don’t like it and try another shot by moving a bit.  The next image shown here removes a bunch of the blocks and the view is somewhat clear.  However, one fern leaf snuck into the lower end of the image.  It is important to understand that I was viewing through the viewfinder on my f2.8 lens, but I was shooting f22.  This causes this fern leaf to be almost invisible in the viewfinder, due to shallow depth of field, but it shows up in the f22 image.  Plus there is a brown twig in the lower left of the image.  I see all this in my LCD panel and decide to try again.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

I moved and made the following image, in an attempt to remove distracting blocks to the view of the falls.  The following image has problems though.  Some other brown dried leaf has now snuck in, plus the brown twig on the left is still there.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

After some more adjustments to my tripod position, I made the following image.  This composition is almost OK, but, during the 30 second long exposure, I got distracted talking to my kids in the nearby trail and accidentally touched/hit the tripod during the exposure.  Observing the top edge of the rock, just after the falls, I realize that it is not exactly sharp, due to the accidental hit to the tripod during the exposure.

The next image made

I try again, this time getting a sharp image, with minimum distractions.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

The next image made

Taking one of the final frames during these series, as my base, I decided to use Lightroom to crop it and develop further.  FInally, I removed some branches and twigs to clean it up further.  The final result is as shown below.

Waterfall, Fern Creek, Muir Woods, CA, USA

My final finished image

Many beginners ask me what I mean, when I say “work the composition more”.  I decided to illustrate using this example.

Let me know if you have any feedback on this post.

Discovering unimaginably great photographic compositions

Great photographs are often not imagined that way.  Many advanced amateur photographers I know, step out into location, take an image with the most obvious composition and then walk away with the idea that they are done.  I did this for many years, but I no longer treat my photography that way.  I start with the most obvious compositions and then I stay and I stay and I stay.  I try another composition and yet another composition and keep on going until either physical exhaustion or mental exhaustion or my next chore deadline hits me.  Often, I stay at a location and make hundreds of images.  My best compositions then turn out to be those that are closer to the frame 100 mark and almost never near the frame 1.  The creative juices start flowing after the most obvious compositions are out of the way.  Your brain starts thinking out of the box, after the “in-the-box” thinking is exhausted.  This is in fact, a great way to train your composition skills.  Lock yourself into your closet and force yourself into making 100 different compositions.  Freeman Patterson taught me this through one of his books.  Later, when I attended a seminar by John Shaw, he told us the same thing.  Ever since, I have tried it very often and every time, I come up with some cool images.

Let me illustrate using one example.  This happened two weeks ago.  I was travelling with a fellow photographer in his car.  Fortunately for me, he was driving and we had an hour to drive before our night photo shoot in San Francisco.  He happened to tell me about his new Fuji X100S camera in his glove compartment.  I found myself pulling it out and making hand-held shots.  I made 300 frames that night and will show you a sample of the progression from trash to good (atleast for my eyes).

I started with images like this one.

One of the first images I made in a series of 300. Nothing spectacular. No big deal. But, this is just a beginning.

The first images made in a series will not be necessarily spectacular.  But, it is important to get going.

After a few frames, this is yet another frame that was made.

This image was made shortly after the car started moving. Nothing spectacular here either. But, some ideas are developing. The streaks due to long exposure is triggering a thought …

I want to extend the idea of making light streaks with long exposures.  So, I try some more shots.

The streaks are more prominent in this shot. This is validating that some cool images are possible. Need to try variations, with the same idea.

OK, at this point, I am thinking, “what else I can do with this idea?”  And then, I make an image like this.

Extending the idea of brandishing my camera during a long exposure. Still not a killer keeper, but I want to keep going.

By this time, I want to keep going with the idea further.  Then, after a few frames, I made this image.

Continuing on the streaks during long exposure idea.

Now, the idea of creating an image with streaks during a long exposure, while brandishing my camera, is very encouraging.  This is still not a keeper image for me, but it is getting close.  I want to keep going.

This is getting a lot closer to a clear keeper. In fact, with a crop to remove the emptiness of the bottom most area and the dark top right area, this is indeed a keeper. Very encouraging.

With the right crop, this is a nice keeper.  Let me keep going.

Ooooh! My first keeper, for my eyes. Made by brandishing my camera in circular movement plus bottom left to top right.

By this time, I have completed shooting over 200 frames.  From now on, I went on shooting solid keepers.  Here are some examples.

One of the keeper images, from a series of 300 shot in a one hour car ride. Never imagined this composition, before I started the car ride.

One of the keepers from the series of 300 images made in a one-hour car ride. This composition could not have been imagined prior to the ride.

My favorite so far, from the whole series. To my eyes, this is a lovely composition.

To summarize, you should practice your photographic composition often.  How about 100 images a day?  If not, atleast do 500 images a week.  In any one practice session, include atleast 100 images of a simple subject.  Your composition skills will shoot through the roof, if practiced consistently.  This is more useful than reading tens of books on composition.

If you found this article useful, let me know.  Email me at info@pixgaga.com.  Feel free to forward it, comment on it, and above all please use it.

Good luck with your photographic composition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall colors in Northern California

Out here in Northern California, there are wonderful fall colors, wherever you look.  You simply cannot miss it.  What do you think about these three images, that I made last Thursday?

Fall leaves, Milpitas, CA, USA

Fall leaves, Milpitas, CA, USA

Fall leaves, Mipitas, CA, USA

Fall leaves, Mipitas, CA, USA

Fall leaves, Milpitas, CA, USA

Fall leaves, Milpitas, CA, USA

 

 

7 Lessons from a Waterfall Image

Fall leaves and small waterfall, Uvas Canyon, Morgan Hill, CA, USA

Fall leaves and small waterfall, Uvas Canyon, Morgan Hill, CA, USA

  1. In overcast conditions, look for colorful subjects (flowers, foliage etc) to make intimate landscapes.  Given the time of the year (mid-Nov), photographing fall leaves was a no-brainer for me.
  2. If possible, emphasize something in the foreground, against the background subject.  In this case, I found this colorful leaf for the foreground to anchor the shot of a background waterfall and more leaves.
  3. Photograph extensive depth images with a wide angle lens.  I used my 17-35mm f2.8.
  4. Use f22, if there is a foreground object very close to the lens, along with background that is far away.  This ensured front to back sharpness due to extensive depth of field.  My lens was about 9 inches away from the foreground leaf.
  5. Use your camera’s native ISO to keep the noise to the minimum.  I used ISO 200, native to my Nikon D300.
  6. Use a tripod.  The shutter speed for this shot was 30 s.  I could not have done it hand-held.  I used my light GK1580TQR5 tripod, coupled with my Kirk BH-1 Ball head.  This tripod is light enough and small enough to actually fit inside my camera backpack.  At the same time, I was not impressed by the ball-head that came standard with this tripod.  I therefore took it out and fitted my Kirk BH-1 ball-head to it.  I now have a fine light tripod, with an extraordinary ball-head.  This tripod provides the stability to shoot long exposures.  This ball-head provides ability to quickly and easily fine-tune my composition, once the tripod is setup.
  7. Do not trigger with your finger.  Use an electronic cable release.  I used one for this shot, to eliminate any camera shake, resulting in a sharp image.

Fall colors in San Jose, CA, USA

Fall colors in Aspen tree, San Jose, CA, USA

Fall colors in Aspen tree, San Jose, CA, USA

We still find fall colors in San Jose, CA.  Just last week, I found this Aspen tree in a grocery store parking lot and made this shot.  Tomorrow, I am headed to the Lake Tahoe area for skiing.  Hope to find a totally different kind of scenery there.  Will post images from that trip soon.

In sharp contrast to my previous post (on black and white), this is an image that cannot be effective in black and white.