Luminar Flex Lightroom Plugin

You’ll noticed I haven’t posted to the blog in quite some time. I’m not even sure blogs are relevant any longer with social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram having become so popular, but it does it give a place to post a few before/after images, so that’s what I’m using it for today.

Late last week I saw an announcement from Skylum, makers of the popular Luminar Software, announcing the release of their new Luminar Flex plugin for Lightroom and Photoshop. I purchased the Luminar software some time ago on some sale they were running, but never got around to installing it, mostly because it was another stand alone app that I didn’t want to fool with. When I saw they announced a new plugin for Lightroom I was ready to give it a try. Luckily, if you already own the Luminar software, the plugin was free to download. Otherwise, it is $70.

I got a chance to play with the plugin a bit over the weekend. I really fell in love with a filter in the plugin simply called “sun rays”. As you might guess, it will add sun rays to an existing image. It does a really good job, too. You have a lot of control over the rays, also. You can adjust the temperature, length, number of rays, opacity, etc. I applied this filter to a few images I made previously created. Take a look at the before and after images below.

I have no affiliation with Skylum at all.

Gulf States Camera Club Council Convention

Over the last several days I had the good fortune of being able to speak to and meet tons of really great people from the Gulf States Camera Club Council in New Iberia, LA.  I had a blast talking photography with them, shooting with them and enjoying the local Cajun cuisine.  

I had arrived a day before the event started so I could visit this place I had heard so much about from other photographers, Cazan Lake.  The lake has a pretty good sized rookery that several species of Egrets use, as well as some Rosette Spoonbills.  I was excited at the chance to photograph baby birds in the nest.  It appeared I was a bit early for Spoonbill babies, but there were several Egret babies begging their parents for food.

I quickly found out that it's not just the Cajun people in the area that enjoy a good crawfish, but the local Egrets, too.  I was able to capture a few different images of Egret parents feeding the babies crawfish.  

Cazan Lake is about an hour drive North of New Iberia, so I loaded up my gear and headed out so I could be there at sunrise.  I had no idea what to expect when I got there.  There was a small building upon arrival welcoming guests.  I tried to go in and find out where I needed to go but the door was locked.  Luckily a man pulled up in his pickup truck, advised me to put $10 in the drop box and gave me directions to the rookery.  All I had was a $20, so that's what I put in there.  I hope that man got the other $10 for helping me out.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,000 sec, f/8, ISO 220, Compensation: +1/3

This is an image of one of the Egret Nests at the Lake.  I used my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens to capture this image.  I was moving around quick so instead of using a tripod, I went with my Sirui P-324S Monopod.  It really allowed me to move around quick and offer a bit of stability.  It also saved my arms from getting tired!

My go to formula for birds lately has been using Auto ISO.  I have my D500 setup in the menus to top the Auto ISO out at 12,800.  I have also set in the menu a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000th.  All I need to do then is set my aperture.  You can also do this using Manual Mode by simply turning Auto ISO on, then you set your shutter speed and aperture.  Using Auto ISO has saved many shoots for me that most likely would have been blurry from too slow a shutter speed.

More from the Madison County Nature Trail

This is a follow up post from yesterday's image from The Madison County Nature Trail.  The park is a very popular place in the fall, when the colors are great.  This means it gets photographed a lot.  When I am in a situation like that, I try to look for different and unique perspectives and compositions.

Aperture-priority, 1/40 sec, f/8, ISO 640, Compensation: -2/3, 76 mm

This was taken from very close to the same spot yesterday's image was made.  I stepped a little to the right, got lower and included the foreground foliage with the bridge in the background.  I choose an aperture that would give me a depth of field that would make the foliage stand out from the background.

Image made with my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm Lens.  Gear supported by my Sirui Tripod and Ballhead.

Madison County Nature Trail

So, I've been trying my best to chase fall color around for the past few weeks.  I think the best I found was this past weekend, near my house.  There is a very nice area near my house called The Madison County Nature Trail, or some call it The Green Mountain Nature Trail.  The colors there were amazing this past weekend!  Word spread quickly, though and I think every photographer in the area made the trek there.  There were tons of people and photographers when I showed up.  A lot of photographers doing family portraits and other families just enjoying the colors and nice weather.

Aperture-priority, 1/40 sec, f/8, ISO 800, 86 mm

I was there to photograph the colors, and boy were they there!  This little covered bridge is a popular spot in the park.  You will often encounter people having their portraits made around this bridge.  It also makes for a great reflection...especially with these colors.

A few things I like to do when photographing fall colors is to use a circular polarizer and under exposure just a touch.  Using a circular polarizer will not only remove any glare off of foliage but also enhance the colors a bit.  Also, under exposing the image by 1/3 - 2/3 stop will also help to make the colors pop a little more.  It's a good idea to check your histogram to make sure you aren't getting too dark, or losing a lot of shadow detail.  It also never hurts to find a good spot with a reflection!

This image was made using my Canon 5D IV and Tamron 28-300mm Lens.  My gear was supported by my Sirui Tripod and Ballhead.

Center Composition

Composition seems to be the component in photography that allot of people struggle with.  You are told you must stick to the basic rules of composition.  Then, sometimes, you are told that it's OK to break those rules.  So, follow the rules...break the rules...it all makes sense now, right?

I generally base most of my compositions off the "rule of thirds".  The rule of thirds, if you aren't aware of it, is a composition rule that divides your image into thirds both horizontally and vertically so you have nine parts, or squares, like a tic tac toe board.  The idea is to place your main point of focus at one of the intersecting points of the squares.  This is supposed to make your image better balanced and give a more natural viewing experience.  Like I mentioned, this is the rule I base almost all of my compositions off of.  It's what I am always thinking about when I compose a shot through the viewfinder.

There are times, however, that I want my subject in the center of the frame.  You will hear many give advice against putting your subject in the dead center of the frame.  However, when I do it, I am still thinking about the rule of thirds.

Aperture-priority, 1/250 sec, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Compensation: +2/3, 600 mm

This elk, for example, is in the center of the frame.  As I was composing this shot, I was thinking about the rule of thirds, like always, and wanted to position his eyes on the "upper" third line.  Although the eyes aren't at one of the intersecting points, they are placed along the line of thirds.  In my opinion, this still works.  Being an outdoor/nature photographer, I use this type of composition most often when photographing wildlife.  In a scene like this one, where the critter is looking straight into the lens, I think it works well.  It gives you a sense of making direct eye contact with the critter.  Personally, I don't think you would get that instant sense if this scene were composed with the elk's eyes at one of the intersecting points.

Composition rules...follow them, bend them, break them.  Do whatever it takes to make the image a pleasurable experience for the viewer.  

This elk was photographed in Cataloochie Valley in The Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

This image was made using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600 G2 Lens mounted on my Sirui Tripod with PH-20 Gimbal Head.  Camera settings can be viewed by hovering over the image.

That Lens Isn't Wide Enough

This past weekend, I met up with a small group of friends to do some waterfall photography in the back woods of North Georgia.  I am always up for waterfall photography!  When you throw in nice weather conditions and a waterfall I've never visited before, I will be even more excited.

I wanted to make sure I was traveling light for the trip, so I only took the Canon 5D IV and the new Tamron 24-70mm G2 Lens.  This was my second chance to try out the new Tamron Lens.  I have no idea how they did it, but they managed to make it even better than the previous 24-70, which I used more than any other lens in my arsenal. 

One of the falls we visited was Crow Creek Falls.  It has two parts, an Upper Crow Creek Falls and a Lower Crow Creek Falls.  I enjoyed the upper falls much more and spent more time photographing it. 

Did I mention that I only brought my 24-70mm lens?  When I typically shoot these water scenes, I like to use a wide angle lens and anchor the foreground with something.  In my experience going with a wider lens, like a 15-30mm is usually too wide for these scenes.  It also presents a bit of another problem in the fact that you will absolutely need a circular polarizer for these scenes...and although I have the polarizer setup for that lens, it is bulky and takes a bit of work to assemble.  I went the lazy route and stuck with the 24-70mm lens and its easy peasy, screw on polarizer.

Aperture-priority, 2.5 sec, f/16, ISO 100, 24mm

I wanted to use this group of rocks and small cascade as my foreground anchor, but when I tried that at 24mm I was losing the main waterfall in my composition.  I need to be wider!  Crap, I was lazy and didn't bring my wider lens.  What did I do?  I took two shots.  One for the foreground, then another including the main waterfall in the background overlapping the scene by about 30%.  In Lightroom I used the Photo Merge feature to create a panoramic out of the two images.  I got the composition I wanted and I could still be a little lazy by only bringing one lens...winner winner chicken dinner!

Image made with Canon 5D IV, Tamron 24-70mm G2 Lens and Sirui Circular Polarizer.  Gear supported by a Sirui W-2204 Tripod and K-20x Ballhead.

Tips For Posting To Instagram From Your Computer

Photographers in the masses have been trying to figure out why Instagram has never given us access to post our images from a computer.  That is where we edit them, right?  Wouldn't it be easy to edit and post from the same place?

Luckily, I came across this nifty little program several months back called Grids.  Not only is it a great way to post to Instagram from a computer, but it does an amazing job at displaying your Instagram feed on a large screen.

When you visit the website, http://thegridsapp.com , you will notice the elegant design right away.

It is available for download for both Mac and PC, and the full Pro version only cost $9.  You can only view your Instagram feed with the free version.  You will need the Pro version to post to Instagram.

Once you install the application and log in using your Instagram account info, your feed will be brilliantly displayed.  You can set your display options to view only images,  images with a brief description or images with the full description.  You can also set the size of the images in the preferences.  You can post images, video and even stories from your computer.  There are even keyboard shortcuts for you fancy keyboard shortcuters.

It is super simple to post, too.  It will even let you drag and drop.

This is how the feed looks once you get logged in through the app.  It is pretty sweet!  One of the only caveats I have found is that when using hashtags with your post it doesn't remember your frequently used hashtags, like when you post from a mobile device.  

However, if you are on your desktop posting, you can visit this handy little website called Display Purposes.  It will allow you to type in a hashtag, like say #landscape, then do a search and it gives you suggested related hashtags you can use with it.  It even has a copy button so it will copy to your clipboard, then you can paste into the caption filed in Grids or add as a seperate comment.

P.S.  I have no affiliation with either Grids or Display Purposes.  I purchased my Pro version of Grids for $9.  I feel like $9 is more than fair for a program that helps me solve an issue I have had since I started using Instagram.

Hopefully this helps you if you were looking for something that would allow you to post from your desktop without any special modification or workaround techniques. 

Photographing In The Snow

While out in the tetons on our photography workshop, it snowed.  Then it snowed some more.  After that, it snowed a little more.  Over about a two and a half day period it snowed over 30".  So, we got our fair share of photographing while it was snowing.  If you didn't mind standing outside and getting snowed on, there were a lot of photographic opportunities to be had.  Wildlife was the biggest of those opportunities.

You encounter a few problems when photographing in the falling snow.  Depending upon the amount of snow falling in between you and your subject it can cause your autofocus system to get confused. It can also create a layer of "haze" between you and your subject.  The first one you can deal with in a few ways.  You can just use your autofocus system and hope it is smart enough to figure it out, which might cause you some lost shots, or you can simply switch to manual focus.  The problem with autofocus is it's going to, sooner or later, decide to focus on falling snow instead of your subject.  There is almost a guarantee this will happen when your subject is doing something super interesting, or has moved to a nicer background ;)  The second problem..haze.  It can't really be fixed, but can be helped out a bit by using the "dehaze" slider in Adobe Lightroom CC.  This slider is pretty much magic and can knock down that haze in your image by a great deal.

Aperture-priority, 1/1,250 sec, f/8, ISO 800, Compensation: +1, 150 mm

Hover over the image to see camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

This is one of the moose that came to hang out with us at the ranch.  There were three of them.  They showed up everyday.  Usually, when the ranch fed the horses, the moose showed up there to "share" breakfast with them.

This image was made using my Nikon D500 and Tamron 150-600mm G2 Lens.

Great Blue Silhouette

Today I'm sharing another image made at Viera Wetlands down in Florida.

Many times you arrive at a location before dawn.  While you can't really shoot any action you can take advantage of the sky back lighting some of the birds and use that opportunity to get creative.  Here I used the colors of the sky before sunrise to create a silhouette of the Great Blue Heron that was tending to her nest.

ISO 640, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/80th second

Hover over the image with your mouse to view the camera settings.  Click the image to view it larger.

If you look at the camera settings, you'll notice a pretty "slow" shutter speed.  Especially when we normally think of shooting birds.  Shooting a 600mm lens at 1/80th second does require a stable tripod.  Bear that in mind if you are out trying this.  Handholding at that shutter speed would not result in an image as sharp as using a tripod.

Another thing to keep in mind when shooting these silhouettes is I typically shoot these in aperture priority with multi-segment metering mode.  I then shoot them at about -1EV.  This allows for more contrasty colors in the sky and we aren't really looking for detail in our subject anyway so I am not worried about that.  

One last thing to remember when shooting these is how to properly read your histogram.  When you shoot these silhouette images, your histogram will be mostly to the left indicating not much shadow detail.  Great!  That's exactly what we are looking for.  In this case, the "perfect" histogram is all the way to the left.  Don't get hung up on your histogram needing to have the "perfect" bump in the middle while not touching either side.  That maybe perfect in some situations, but not if you're looking for a silhouette.  

This image made with my Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  All mounted a top my Sirui tripod and Ph-20 Gimbal Head.

Mrs. Bluebird, depth of field and focus

Yesterday I was telling you a little about how I have my yard setup for photographing birds.  I mentioned that I have my blind setup right at the minimum focusing distance for my lens.  The lens I use most often for these types of shots is the Tamron 150-600mm.  When using the lens at 600mm at the minimum focusing distance the depth of field (DOF) is pretty small.

ISO 640, 600mm, F/6.3 @ 1/500th second

Hover over the image to view the camera settings used.  Click the image to view it larger.

If you look at the above image, you can see how shallow the depth of field is.  You can see the eye is tack sharp, but 3 or 4 inches away the bird's tail is out of focus.  It is important to remember this when using a telephoto lens at the longer end  close to your subject.  Since the DOF is so shallow your focus is critical.  If I had missed the eye by even a tiny bit, it would have been soft.  Images of wildlife or birds rely on the eye being in sharp focus!

When I hear people complain about getting soft images out of any telephoto lens, it is usually related to distance.  Either they are so close that the DOF is so shallow that they simply miss the focus point, or they are too far away and end up cropping the image heavily and expect the image to be sharp.  Keep this in mind when using those longer lenses.

This image was made using my Sony A77 II and Tamron 150-600mm Lens.  Both mounted on my Sirui Tripo and PH-20 Gimbal Head.