Black & White Desert

In October I was at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and only had my Canon S95 point & shoot camera with me.  I shot in shutter priority mode in RAW and got a few nice photos.  Spent a lot of time in the Desert Dome which was all fairly uniform in color so I changed some of those shots into black & white images.

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The Lost Photos

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A few months ago I went on a vacation to Chicago with my family.  This was the first time we’d been to Chicago so I was excited to get some photos of a new place. Right after the trip, I bought a new desktop computer to replace my old one and transferred everything over, including Lightroom, all my presets and my photos.  I recently filled up a 1TB external hard drive with just photos and now have a 3TB external drive for the backup photos from this year on.

Well, about 6 weeks after getting the new computer, it died.  Sent it in for repair and when it came back, nothing could be recovered from the old hard drive.  I was pretty sure I’d recently backed up all but one set of photos, which were of the local spring flower show and something that I didn’t mind losing. But when I finally got everything up and running again, I discovered that I’d lost all my Chicago photos.  I hadn’t backed them up to the external hard drive right away. Blergh.

They aren’t completely lost – the edited versions of the photos are in my Snapfish account and also on Flickr so I at least have those.  Plus I’d already made a photo book of the trip before the computer died.  But all the RAW files are gone so I’m left with a much smaller set than I started with.  This has caused me to get more serious about backing up photos at the same time I import them into Lightroom.  Fortunately, Lightroom makes this very easy in the import setup.  I’m really going to spend more time taking full advantage of all the features of Lightroom in order to improve my photo editing workflow.

I Hate HDR . . . Or Do I?

Yes, it’s another post in my “I hate” series.  This time I hate HDR, or high dynamic range photography.  HDR is a technique where you take several photos of the same exact subject at different exposures and then combine them into one single image that has a broader range of light to dark areas then a normal photo can capture in one image.  It’s been pretty hot in photography for a while now and I see it popping up all over the place as more and more people get into it.

For me, it’s just too much work.  For best results, you have to do it using a tripod and have a totally static scene.  Boring, boring, boring.  Also, I often see it overused and the results look fake.  If done well, the image looks almost too perfect.  If overdone, the result looks really fake and not at all natural.

Yet . . . maybe I’m a hypocrite?  Because lately, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been playing with a lot of presets in Lightroom and have come to really like the faux-HDR presets.  They aren’t true HDR as I’m only applying them to each single image, yet the result is very similar to HDR.  I just tried it on a bunch of my photos from a local sculpture park and I really like the way they turned out.  So maybe there is a place for HDR in my photography after all – just don’t ask me to bring the tripod.

 

More Photo Editing Apps

I’m continuing to have fun finding new photo apps for use on my phone and the other day I tried one called Photo Grid, available on the Google Play store for Android devices.  It just simply makes little collages of your photos on your phone/device so I made this one from my recent outing to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and bridge going across to Loring Park.

Sliding Down the Slippery Slope of Photo Manipulation

As I’ve mentioned before recently, lately I’ve been getting interested in Lightroom 4 presets as a way to alter my photos to put some cool effects on them (see my magnolia experiment from last week).  I have mixed feelings about this since I tend to be a very realist/naturalist type of photographer.  I shoot images as is and try to do very little post-processing beyond some cropping, sharpening and enhancing shadows/adjusting exposure.  I don’t use Photoshop and don’t intend to ever get it, so I can’t do all the fancy layering and composite photos that others do, although I do admit to occasionally removing a distracting element from a photo.  For our salon competitions, my photo club has no restrictions on the use of Photoshop filters and techniques so I frequently lose out to other members who are amazing Photoshop artists.  Many of them think nothing of grabbing a clear blue cloudy sky from one picture and  layering it over the washed-out sky in another image to enhance their photos.  This feels wrong to me, but I can’t quite articulate why.  It seems that at that point, the art ceases to be a photograph and becomes something else completely.  Then it feels like it’s no longer about who’s a good photographer, but rather who’s the best at using Photoshop. However, the more I experiment with the presets (or filters as they’re also called), the more I like them and want to use them.  Am I a hypocrite?

Below is an example of what I’ve been doing.  The other night I was on the high pedestrian bridge between Loring Park and the Walker Art Center and shot some photos of the traffic.  It was around 9 p.m. and the sun was going down but it was still fairly light out.  The first photo is the one that I shot as is – the cars’ lights are on, the sun’s going down but there’s nothing all that interesting about the photo.  Then I started applying some presets in Lightroom and came up with the second image which I really like.  I love the gritty feel of it and the way it looks almost like much later at night with maybe even some rain.  In my opinion, it’s a much more interesting photo.

So am I just as “guilty” as the heavy Photoshop artists?  One one hand, I’m not adding or removing to the scene, I’m just changing the overall look of it.  On the other hand, it looks much different than it was in real life so is, in a sense, a “false” image.  I don’t know – maybe I just need to give up on some of my realistic tendencies and get more creative, as that’s definitely the direction a lot of photography is moving into now.  I don’t want to get left behind.

Instagram: Not Just for iPhones Anymore

I bought a new smartphone last month, coincidentally right around the same time that Instagram was released on Android devices.  Also right around the same time it was announced that Facebook (actually just Zuckerberg acting alone) bought Instagram for $1 billion so I’d heard of it but didn’t know much about it.  I just knew that I really liked the cute little square pictures you could make with it and wanted to try it.

Here’s the thing about taking pictures with a phone – mine always were terrible so I didn’t bother much.  Then I discovered a fun little app called Retro Camera that gives you several different types of “cameras” that each apply an Instagram-like effect on the photo as you take it.  This app made even bad photos look kinda cool (although still bad by normal photography standards) so I started using it for all photos I took on my phone.  Here’s a collage I made from a trip to Wichita, KS using the “Barbl” camera on RetroCamera:

Then Instagram came along and now I can apply even more fun filters to my phone camera pictures.  I’ve even started “Instagramming” (yeah, I just made that up) some of my regular photos from my Canon 7D just to make them look a little different.  It’s fun and I think it’s an easy way to make some cool photos.  So far I’m most drawn to the Lo-Fi and Early Bird filters.

Flowers – Lo-Fi filter from Instragram

Hockey game – Early Bird filter in Instagram

Another good app I use on my phone is Little Photo which takes great “straight” pictures and then has a ton of options for filters, probably 5 times more what Instagram has.  I’ve been using that a lot lately too, mainly because it takes much better photos than even the camera app that came with my phone does.

Of course, a lot of this is kind of cheating, in my opinion. All these fancy filters (and the Lightroom presets I wrote about earlier) can make a mediocre picture look a little better. And they can definitely be overused.   It still takes skill to make a truly amazing photo, although digital technology can take amazing photos even further.  But it’s not like I’m giving up all photography just to snap silly little photos with my phone, it’s just another fun thing to explore.  I figure if I want to take photos with my phone once in a while, I might as well see if I can make them look as cool as possible.

If you’re using Instagram, you can find me there as photoskunk also.

Lightroom Preset Success

For the past year and a half, I’ve been using Lightroom to edit my photos (started with version 3 and now have upgraded to v. 4).  It’s taken me a while to get comfortable with it but I finally feel like I’ve gotten over the hump and can really make my photos pop using various actions.  Since I’ve conquered the basics, I’m starting to explore more of what Lightroom can do.  For example, I’m currently addicted to vignetting my photos – it takes a good photo to another level and makes it look almost professional most of the time.

Another thing I’m learning about are Lightroom presets.  Have figured out how to use the basic presets that come with the program but tonight I finally figured out how to import other presets into LR4.  Exciting!  Haven’t had much of a chance to play with them but I’m sure that’ll come soon.  I’m also going to be on the lookout for more interesting presets, preferably free.

Here is a quick example of some presets I played with:

Original photo with basic post-processing (no presets, just what I’d normally do)

Same photo with a strong HDR-like preset applied

“Phaded Photo” preset applied (free download)

The next step would be for me to start creating my own presets.  Since I do tend to repeat the same sets of actions quite a bit, I really should start building those into presets.  This is one reason why I just love Lightroom – it’s easy and fun and you can do so much with it.