Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Take A Hike

Monolith Trees - Stallion Springs, California
One week ago I took a morning hike near my home in Stallion Springs, California (a small community near Tehachapi in the mountains of central California). I hiked a different trail near my home last Friday morning. I brought along my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera to capture images.

This trail follows the Chanac Creek through a canyon. The trail crosses the creek four times. While the creek was flowing pretty good, it was shallow enough that crossing it wasn't much trouble.

It was a great morning for a hike, with near perfect weather and the area fresh with spring colors. Got to see some deer and other wildlife, although not close enough to get any good photographs of it.
Green Side - Stallion Springs, California
Chanac Trail - Stallion Springs, California
Looking Down - Stallion Springs, California
The Happy Wanderer - Stallion Springs, California
Tejon View - Stallion Springs, California

Defending The Use of Photoshop In Photography

"You Photoshopped this picture, didn't you?" I hear that question sometimes. Maybe it is phrased differently, but the idea is the same: your photography is not grounded in reality.

Eat Deli Gas
It's an accusation, really. Are you a photographer or digital artist? True photography, after all, is not manipulated. Photographs never lie.

But photographs do lie. All of them. No photograph tells the truth. None. Ever.

Every photograph is biased in one way or another. Camera choice. Lens choice. Film choice. Camera settings. Vantage point. Composition. Aperture. Shutter speed. ISO. Focus. The list goes on and on of all of the ways that photographs are biased even before any post-processing is applied.

Reality is a tricky thing. Albert Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." Reality is whatever you want it be. Is Eat Deli Gas grounded in reality? Yes, it is grounded in the reality found in my own mind.

I've noticed lately that a lot of photographers are defending their use of Photoshop by saying something to the effect of, "Cameras are not capable of capturing a scene accurately and so I use Photoshop to make the pictures more accurate." I disagree with that argument.

I don't disagree that cameras are not capable of capturing a scene as good as the eye and brain can. I don't disagree that Photoshop can be used to make a picture more accurate. What I disagree with is the idea that photographs must be accurate. It is asking a photograph to be something it is not capable of. Photographs are not truthful and they cannot be truthful.

French painter Rene Magritte was frustrated by this same thing. In 1929 he made The Treachery of Images, which is a painting of a pipe with the words "this is not a pipe" printed on it. And that was truth: a painting of a pipe is not an actual pipe. Just as my image of a sign is not in itself a sign. And just like my photograph of saguaros are not actual cacti.

All photographs lie and reality is an illusion. It is much better to embrace that than to fight against it. It is better to openly accept it and enjoy the freedom of it than to pretend that photographs are not biased.

Ce N'est Pas Un Cactus
Those critics (most of which are amateur, armchair critics) who look down their nose at photographers who use Photoshop do so because they don't understand all of this. They've never thought deeper than "this looks real" or "this doesn't look real" and they never imagine that there might be more to it than that. They don't bother to find the meaning.

Take Eat Deli Gas, for example. It is a joke, first of all. A gross, immature joke. I saw the sign and found some humor. If I didn't alter the image, the joke might be less obvious. Second, by somewhat altering the colors I was able to create an image with color contrast that catches the eye. If I had failed to do so you wouldn't give the photograph anything more than a passing glance. Instead, you might look at it long enough to catch the humor.

I'm not really a big fan of extensive post-processing. Moderation is a wise ideal. But a photograph should not be judged by the amount of post-processing that it was given. A photograph should be judged by whether or not it is good. The problem is that many critics don't really know what makes a great photograph, well, great.

Photographers should not be ashamed that they use Photoshop. I don't know if it better to attempt to educate the critics on this, or, when asked, simply answer, "Yes, I do." Either way, it is the critic's problem and not the artist's problem.

In my case, I don't use Photoshop at all. I don't even own it. So I can truthfully answer, "No, I didn't Photoshop that photograph." Perhaps that is misleading. Then again, all photographs are misleading, so does it matter what I say? Not really.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Quick Trip To The Tehachapi Loop

I took a drive out in the Tehachapi, California countryside this afternoon. It included lunch at the historic Keene Cafe in the small community of Keene and a quick stop at the famous Tehachapi Loop to see one train go around.

The Tehachapi Mountains are beautiful this time of year. Spring brings green mixed with colorful flowers. The weather is typically perfect (it certainly was today). I brought along my Sigma DP2 Merrill and Samsung NX200 cameras.
Eat Deli Gas - Keene, California
Monochrome BNSF - Tehachapi, California
A Cross Country Train - Tehachapi, California
The title is a play on words. I purposefully placed the dark "cross" telephone pole in front of the white background so that it would stand out.
Swift Freight - Tehachapi, California
I purposefully captured this car so that the word "swift" would be in the photograph.
Poppy Flower Blossoms - Stallion Springs, California

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Last Night's Blood Moon (Some Lessons Learned)

I stayed up just late enough last night to photograph the lunar eclipse and blood moon. It was an interesting show, and I look forward to the next one.

I mounted my Samsung NX200 (with a 50mm-200mm lens attached) to a tripod and pointed it toward the moon. I snapped a few exposures. The one you see below I liked best.
Blood Moon 4/15/2014 - Stallion Springs, California 
A little technical data: ISO 200, f5.6, 4 second exposure, manual focus. Now let me tell you what I did wrong and the (faulty) reasoning why I chose what I did. I wanted to "zoom" by cropping, so I wanted the lowest ISO that I thought I could get away with. The largest aperture on the lens is f5.6 (depth of field was no concern), so I chose that. I figured a four second exposure would be short enough to not show the motion of the moon (well, the Earth, really), but long enough to get a correct exposure. That put my ISO at 200.

Where I went wrong was guessing the exposure length. Four seconds was too long. I needed a two or maybe even one second exposure. I should have used ISO 400 or maybe even ISO 800. I would have had a better photograph if I'd done that. Instead, there is a slight amount of motion and the moon is slightly blurred. You can see just how much movement there was by looking at that star (or planet or whatever it is) just to the right of the moon.

I've had better luck photographing the moon in the past. Nearly one year ago from almost the exact same spot and using the exact same equipment I captured the image below.
Half Moon - Stallion Springs, California
The good news is that I have three more chances to get this right over the next 18 months. The next blood moon will be on October 8, 2014 at about 5:30 am Pacific Standard Time.

Monday, April 14, 2014

I went For A Hike This Morning

I went for a hike this morning in the foothills around Stallion Springs, California (near Tehachapi). I brought along my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera. Below are the photographs that I captured.
Spring Landscape - Stallion Springs, California
Tree & Rock - Stallion Springs, California
Mountain Country Road - Stallion Springs, California
Water Break - Stallion Springs, California
Valley View - Stallion Springs, California
Two Trees - Stallion Springs, California

Saturday, April 12, 2014

5 Tips For Photographing Babies

Over There Is A Better Angle
I'm not a newborn photographer. I don't photograph babies for a living. But I am a photographer and I do have a baby, so I know some about this topic, mostly from trial-and-error.

It can be difficult to know where to begin. The first experience can make one nervous. Babies are so little and fragile, and they certainly don't follow the photographer's commands. It can seem tricky, but it doesn't have to be.

Below are five tips that I've learned for photographing babies:

The Scene
Setting the scene for a baby photo shoot is easy. What I have found is that a plain black or plain white background works best. Some sort of solid black or white cloth, such as a blanket or curtains, does the trick. If you don't have a solid black or white background, then some other solid color is the next best thing. I would avoid prints or patterns because they are often too busy and distracting.

You can certainly try other scenes. A pillow or stuffed animal or basket can be cute. I wouldn't discourage trying something, but I think that the simplicity of the plain black or white background is tough to beat.

The Baby
Sense of Touch
Babies are cute--everything about them. Baby eyes are cute. Baby noses are cute. Baby hands are cute. Baby feet are cute. You get the idea. You don't have to do a lot other than capture that cuteness in order to make successful baby photographs.

I like focusing (no pun intended) on the details. There are so many little things (again, no pun intended) that can be captured. Be sure to photograph the baby close up as well as further away so that you can get all of those cute details.

The Moments
First Bath
You don't have to stage a scene in order to make great baby photographs. Sometimes you need to be a photojournalist. Sometimes you just need to capture the moments.

With babies there is a "first" all of the time. First bottle, first bath, first smile, and on and on and on. These moments are treasures that deserve to be captured.

The Siblings
Sibling photographs are great. There is a connection and wonder that's difficult to explain. These photographs are metaphoric gold.

My experience is that these images need to be natural. They need to unfold by themselves and not be staged (or, at least, be careful not to over stage). The magic is in the moment. This is a time to put on your photojournalist hat and try to catch the decisive moment.

The Lighting
Sleep Silent Child
I really like natural light for baby photographs. A north facing window provides great natural light. Any other window will work as long as the light is diffused with white curtains or an overcast sky. Early morning light (right around sunrise) from an east or south facing window can sometimes be nice, as well as evening light (right around sunset) from a west or south facing window.

If you want to bounce some light you can use front window shades from your car. Or a mirror. I'd avoid using a flash, but if you do use it make sure it is diffused.

No More Pictures, Please
Notice that I mentioned nothing about cameras. What camera you use is unimportant. Photographic vision and creativity are most important.

Also notice that nothing I mentioned is complicated. Photographing babies does not need to be complicated. A baby on a black blanket next to north facing window is a great combination and all you really need. Just relax, have fun and smile at the cuteness that is in front of the lens.

Follow Up Thoughts - Thought of The Day: Nikon D7100 vs Pentax K-30 and Pentax K-5 II

On March 4, 2013 I published a post called Thought of The Day: Nikon D7100 vs Pentax K-30 and Pentax K-5 II. As of this writing, that article is the #1 most read post on the Roesch Photography Blog.

My initial reaction is really? Of all the posts that I've published, this is the one that's most read? I'm surprised, because it is far from the best or most useful. I can't really explain it, other than perhaps there are three DSLRs mentioned in the title.

I used to own a Pentax K-30. It was a good camera and all, but I've moved away from DSLRs in favor of smaller and lighter equipment. I have found that often less is more, and simplicity is better than complexity.

"You'll be happy with your choice whatever that choice is," I concluded. That's a true statement, unless you have G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome), then you'll be unhappy with your choice whatever that choice is.

I briefly mentioned that cameras are not important in that article. Cameras are not important. You can use whatever camera you wish and craft great photographs. That's because photographic vision, creativity and the decisive moment are much more important than choice of camera.