Friday, October 24, 2014

Coming Soon: Alien Skin Exposure 7

Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
Post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure 6.
When photographers still commonly used film, the look of a photograph was directly related to one's choice of film. What film one loaded into their camera was a critical decision. Each brand and type of film was unique--each one had its own look.

Digital photography is a much different thing. There are only very minor differences in the look of digital images between each and every brand. No matter the camera, all digital photographs look basically the same. The photographer must, using post-processing software, manipulate the images to give them the look that they want.

Manipulating photographs in software can be a time consuming process. It can be very difficult to nail down a certain look, and it often requires trial-and-error to get it close to what you're looking for. In order to streamline the process, many people resort to a "close enough" philosophy. 

But there is a much quicker, easier and more precise way to get the look that you want: Alien Skin's Exposure software. This software accurately emulates a whole bunch of different films (black & white, color, print, slide, polaroid, and more) and even different processes (cross process, push process, bleach bypass, etc.). In my opinion, Exposure is the best photo editing software on the market. Yes, I mean that: it is the very best.

Alien Skin introduced Exposure 6 this last June, but already they've developed a number of improvements. They just announced that the next version, Exposure 7, will be released in December.

What will the new version have that the current version doesn't?

First, there will be RAW support for most camera makes and models. No more converting to TIFFs before opening in Exposure. You will also have the option to export as TIFFs or JPEGs, and you can even resize if you'd like.

Exposure 7 will have the ability to crop and rotate. This seems like a long overdue no-brainer. There will be an improved user interface for file and folder browsing. "Maximized color fidelity" is another improvement. There will be nine new "films" in the upcoming version (six color and three black-and-white).  They've also added a bunch of new textures.

The best news in all of this is that those who have purchased (or will purchase before December) Exposure 6 will get a free upgrade to Exposure 7. Yes, you heard me correct, free. That's almost unheard of. Try getting that from Photoshop, because you won't.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Is Color Better?

Striped Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
Yesterday I explained that if color isn't important to an image, it should be converted to black-and-white. If color is an essential element to a photograph, it should remain in color. When is color "essential" to an image? What makes color in a photograph work? Those are questions that I hope to answer here.

There are a number of color theories in photography, and the more one studies this the more convoluted it becomes. But there are some basic ideas that seem to work.
Evening In The Tehachapi Mountains - Tehachapi, California
One idea that works is color contrast. If you look at a color wheel, the colors that are on opposite sides of each other are contrasting colors. Red and green are contrasting colors, as are blue and yellow/orange. Contrasting colors are bold when placed against each other. 

Another idea is complimentary colors. If you draw a "Y" on a color wheel, the three colors at the points of the "Y" are complimentary colors. A complimentary color combination is typically more subtle than contrasting colors, but it can be just as effective.
A Deer In The Neighborhood - Stallion Springs, California
Also, if an image lacks light contrast, sometimes it works better in color than monochrome. If the image is toned a bit flat, it can be difficult to get the subject to stand out in black-and-white. If there are different colors to separate the elements within the frame, sometimes it just works better in color.

I think, more simply, trust your gut. If you think that an image would be good in color, it probably will be. When you make the decision for the photograph to be color, be sure to compose the image in such a way to take full advantage of the color. Make the color obvious.
Morning Light & Shadow - Tehachapi, California
It is important to make the decision of whether or not an image will be in color prior to exposing the frame. If you wait until after the shutter has been opened, you've lost your opportunity to take full advantage of your choice.

I recently captured the photographs in this post using a Nikon D3300 DSLR. I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 6 software.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

When Is Black & White Better?

Wind Turbines - Tehachapi, California
One question that I commonly get asked is, "How do you decide if a photo should be color or black-and-white?" This seems to be a point of confusion for many.

I've touched on this subject a number of times.  In Color or Black & White? A Tale of Two Photographs I said, "I know before I capture an image if it will be color or black-and-white, and that decision is critical." In Color or Black & White I wrote, "If color is not an essential element of a photograph, it should be black-and-white." And in Color & Monochrome I said, "Black-and-white is a whole different ballgame than color."
No Trespassing - Tehachapi, California
A common mistake that people make is to capture an image and decide later if it should be color or black-and-white. Color photography and black-and-white photography are not all that similar. They don't have much in common.

Color photographs only work when color is an essential element to the photograph. Monochrome images only work with appropriate light, contrast and design. 
Deer Family - Stallion Springs, California
Before opening the shutter, I ask myself if the image will remain in color or if I'll convert it to black-and-white. If color is not important to the image, I'll decide to convert it to monochrome. With that decision, I then compose the scene for black-and-white.

The five photographs in this post I recently captured using a Nikon D3300. In each example I decided before exposing the frame that they'd be black-and-white. In each example I used light, contrast and design to get the most out of the scene. 
A Wind Farm - Tehachapi, California
The top three images, Wind TurbinesNo Trespassing and Deer Family, are about contrast more than anything else. Light and shadow are critical to monochrome, and it is important to purposefully use them to your advantage.

The bottom two photographs, A Wind Farm and Joshua Tree Desert, are also about contrast, but less so than the top three images. The bottom photograph, especially, lacks contrast (despite the harsh lighting). What they lack in contrast they make up for in design.
Joshua Tree Desert - Mojave, California
Design is where you place the different elements within a photograph. Moving up or down, left or right, forward or backwards makes a difference in how all of the elements fit together. Design is purposefully placing everything just where you want it.

When is black-and-white better? When color isn't essential to the photograph. But this decision needs to be made in advance so that you can craft a great monochrome image from the scene.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Visiting The California Science Center With Young Kids

Triangles, Lines, Squares & Circle - Los Angeles, California
The California Science Center, located in Exposition Park near downtown Los Angeles, is a free museum. That's right, free. Well, not entirely free, but we'll get to that later.

I recently visited the California Science Center with my family, including three children all under the age of seven. Would this place keep us entertained? Would little ones actually learn something?
Pianist - Los Angeles, California
We were greeted by a modern structure. From the outside the place looks interesting. On one side is an IMAX theater, on the other the California Science Center, and in the middle is a covered courtyard with  some modern art that appears to be based on outer space.

We didn't visit the IMAX theater. They have several different movie options (all documentaries), but we didn't come to see a movie. Ticket prices are about the same as any other movie theater. 
Two At A Window - Los Angeles, California
Inside the museum are a bunch of different exhibits on three different floors. The permanent exhibits are free, the traveling exhibits (plus a few other things) cost money. The traveling exhibit Pompeii was there for our visit, but the arm-and-leg price tag convinced us not to see it.

One of the permanent exhibits that we spent a lot of time in was Ecosystems. This exhibit is subdivided into eight "zones" that explain the different ecosystems found on Earth. Within this area is the Family Discovery Room that is for children seven-years-old and younger. There is also a large fish tank, and at certain times of the day you can watch scuba divers feed the different fish.
On Mars - Los Angeles, California
Honestly, I think we could have spent most of the day in Ecosystems. The kids had a blast and learned a lot. There are plenty of hands-on learning opportunities. Some favorites were Extreme Zone, River Zone and the fish tank.

Another exhibit that we spent some time in was Creative World. There are five areas within this exhibit: Communication, Structures, Transportation, Tech Lab and Discovery Room (another seven-years-old-and-younger area). While I think my kids were a little young for some things in Creative World, there were enough age appropriate activities and displays to keep them entertained. 
Learning At The Science Center - Los Angeles, California
A highlight for my five-year-old son was all of the rockets, satellites and other space objects on display. Most of these are not hands-on, but he loved them anyway.

The space shuttle Endeavour is on display in a separate structure that is accessed through the museum. It sometimes costs money and it is sometimes free. It was free on our visit. This exhibit underwhelmed me, and I felt it could have been a lot better (I think it is a work in progress). However, my son said it was his favorite part of the trip.
Cactus Hotel - Los Angeles, California
There are plenty of other things to do and see in the California Science Center, and we didn't get to them all. We spent several hours there and only went through about half of the museum. This could be an all-day adventure.

If you should make it an all-day trip, there is a cafeteria with some different food and beverage options. All are overpriced, of course, but it is good to have refreshments available. 
Hands On Learning - Los Angeles, California
At the top of this post I asked, "Would this place keep us entertained?" The answer is a resounding yes. Even after several hours my kids did not want to leave. They were disappointed that it was time to go. Several days after our visit my six-year-old daughter wanted to know when we'd go back.

I also asked, "Would little ones actually learn something?" Surprisingly, yes. On the way home my kids were pointing things out, telling us why things were they way they were. They actually absorbed quite a bit.
Building Corner - Los Angeles, California
The California Science Center is free, but don't expect the trip to be free. Parking is not free ($10 per car, I think). The IMAX theater isn't free. Some exhibits and activities are not free. The food certainly isn't free. I'm not complaining. I'm simply suggesting that you should be prepared to spend some money.

If you find yourself in the Los Angeles area, the Science Center is a great place to both entertain and educate children. This is can be an inexpensive stop, yet one that the kids will be talking about for days.
Three At A Window - Los Angeles, California
All of these photographs were captured using a Nikon D3300 DSLR. I post-processed them using Alien Skin Exposure 6 software.

Friday, October 17, 2014

How To Capture Unique Photographs of Iconic Locations

It's the big question whenever I travel to well known, highly photographed locations: how do I capture something unique? If there are millions of look-alike images, how do I break that mold?

Rock Behind Ice Plant - Morro Bay, CA
I mentioned in my last post that I'm heading to Yosemite National Park this weekend. I've never been, and I'm really looking forward to it. What I don't want to do is make a bunch of exposures that look like everyone else's.

A place like Yosemite has been photographed millions and millions of times. Not only do tens of thousands of people snap photos of the park each year, but there are people who basically dedicate their lives to photographing the place. How do I over this weekend create something different than what has already been done?

Capturing unique photographs of iconic locations requires photographic vision. This is a prerequisite. It is not possible with it.

I define photographic vision as a vivid and imaginative conception. Essentially, it is both creativity and previsualization rolled into one. Put more simply, it is adding a bit of yourself to your photographs. There is only one unique you, with your own perspective and approach. By tapping into that you can create images that are different than those captured by others.

One tip is to find less travelled, less viewed angles. Several years ago when I visited the Grand Canyon I hiked to Shoshone Point before dawn to catch the sunrise. It was summer and the park was crowded, yet nobody else was there. No one made that hike. Another example is Morro Bay. I found a lesser known beach entry that provided an uncommon view of Morro Rock.

Sunrise Over Vishnu Temple - Grand Canyon, AZ
Similarly, photographing at times when others aren't around is another idea. This might be at night. This might be in the off season. Times when other photographers are not capturing the scene are great opportunities for you to be doing so.

Finally, one can use unusual equipment to capture unique photographs. If everyone else is using a wide-angle lens, pull out a telephoto lens. If everyone is using a telephoto, attach a wide-angle to your camera. Perhaps use something really unusual like a Holga camera. If you are doing something different, your photographs will be different.

The impossible prospect of capturing unique photographs of iconic locations isn't quite as daunting as it at first seems. Yes, it is difficult, and requires the photographer to do his or her absolute best. But it is far from an impossible proposition.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Upcoming Autumn Yosemite Trip

I've never been to Yosemite National Park. I've lived in California off-and-on throughout my life (roughly 11 years total) and I've never been to Yosemite, one of the most beautiful places in the world. I know, it is a shame!

But that changes this coming weekend.

This will be a quick trip to Yosemite National Park. I'll be staying one night in Mariposa. That gives me two days at the park, but not really. On day one I'll have to drive five hours from my home to get to Yosemite Valley, and on day two I'll have the same five hour drive home. On top of that I have plans early on the first day that won't let me get going until late morning.

I think that I've made some good plans to make the most of the time that I do have in the park. My wife used to work in Yosemite when she was younger, so she has a lot of information and experience to help with planning. I've also done some other research and found great advice on the web. I feel well prepared to maximize the experience.

We should arrive in time on the first day to catch the park in the last two hours of sunlight. My plan is to stop at Glacier Point on the way in, and then get to the valley before sunset. Two stops I hope to have time for are Cathedral Beach and Valley View, but I may find myself with only enough time for one stop. Bridalveil Falls is another potential stop if we happen arrive early. An alternative option, should we find ourselves running late and with just enough time for sunset, is to skip Glacier Point on day one and add it to the end of day two.

After sundown we'll head to Mariposa to eat and sleep.

The next morning I plan to get up early and head into the park to catch the sunrise. The first stop will be Cook's Meadow and then I'll head back to Cathedral Beach or stop at El Capitan Bridge (I haven't decided yet). Then I'll return to the hotel for breakfast and to get my family.

I want to keep most of the day two activities low-key because I have three young children. This trip is just as much for them as it is for me and my photography. On our way into the park we might stop at Fern Springs and Bridalveil Falls (if we missed it the day before). It probably will be one or the other, depending on the time. After that the plan is to spend the remainder of the morning and the entire afternoon near the visitors center, going through the museum and doing the touristy stuff. We will pack a picnic lunch.

If there happens to be water in Mirror Lake (which I doubt) we may hike there. If there happens to be water flowing down Yosemite Falls (which I doubt) we may hike to the lower falls.

Sentinal Bridge and Swinging Bridge are two potential stops in the late-afternoon or early evening. The final planned stop is Tunnel View, catching it in the evening light on our way out of the park.

It's fine if I can't get to everything. I know that I'm not really giving this trip the time that it deserves. But I wanted to make sure that I made it to Yosemite with autumn in full swing.

I plan to return in late spring, perhaps sometime in May. I've heard that Yosemite is amazing right after the winter snow melts away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cleaning Out The Notebook (5 Photographs)

Dry - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 100, f10, 1/160, 40mm.
In this post are five photographs that I recently captured using my Nikon D3300 DSLR. Typically there is something in a post to tie the images together. This post is a little different because these photographs are unrelated. What I've decided to do is talk about each image.

Dry at the top was captured while I was out on a walk with my kids. It was just something that I found in my neighborhood. Right now all the grass and brush are brown and dead. At one time this was a pretty wildflower. Now it is lifeless, and I found that to be photographically interesting.
Barbed Wire & Three Staples - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 140, f13, 1/125, 40mm.
The above photograph, Barbed Wire & Three Staples, was captured while on that same walk as the top image. Three is a good number in photography, and this image has three twice (the staples and the boards). I converted it to monochrome because color wasn't important to it.
Thread Lines - Stallion Springs, California
ISO 280, f13, 1/125, 40mm
I liked the repeated thread-like pattern on the two objects in Thread Lines. That and contrast are the only things that make the image interesting. I converted it to monochrome because color wasn't important to the photograph.
Bolt End - Tehachapi, California
ISO 220, f10, 1/125, 40mm.
Bolt End was captured at a local park. I found the scene on a swing set while giving one of my kids a push. I had a camera with me, so I was able to create this image. Interestingly, this was my first attempt at macro with my new Nikkor AF-S 40mm f2.8G Micro lens. Again, it was converted to black-and-white because color wasn't important. 
Electric Dawn - Mojave, California
ISO 900, f4.5, 1/125, 55mm.
I captured Electric Dawn early one morning while driving through the Mojave Desert. It was about 20 minutes before sunrise, and the colors were great. I pulled over and captured the above image without even getting out of the car.