Landscapes

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.

I'm Not An Artist

Like the title says, I'm not an artist.  

I've never considered myself to be an artist.  I've never painted anything (but I did watch Bob Ross).  I've never sketched anything.  I'm horrible with sidewalk chalk.  I've never even seen a pottery wheel.  Hell, I can't even draw a straight line with an old school, number 2 pencil.  You want to know what I consider myself?  A regular, overweight guy in his 40's from Alabama.  Well, there's nothing too special about that, you say.  You are right.  I'm just that.  

I do not delve deep into my connection with the arts to explain a photo I took, or justify why it is fabulous.  I don't include some strange quote, that the person being quoted probably doesn't even understand, with an image to help you connect to it.  I do not have any magical connection with the rock, or stream, or mountains.  I am not responsible for creating any kind of "magic" light at sunrise or sunset.  I simply put myself in a place at those times and what happens happens.  It's always great to see another one, I'll tell you that.  I am only hoping to create an image I like, and hopefully others will, too.

Despite being from an IT background, when it comes to cameras, I'm about as technical as an animal...you can pick the animal.  I think they are pretty much all on a level playing field technologically.  If you've ever heard one of my talks, or been to a class, you've probably heard words like "dumaflachy" or "do-dad".  If you got real lucky you may have even heard "dohickey".  

I first picked up a "real" camera about 10 years ago.  It was, at that point, I immersed myself in every piece of literature, every video (we still had these weird DVD things back then), every piece of online content I could find concerning photography.   I could care less about the super technicals...or the mechanicals.  I just wanted to know the basics of exposure and what creative controls I had.  I quickly learned about the exposure triangle, I learned how things like your aperture selection could help you tell a story.  I learned how shutter speed effects an image and can give it different feelings.  I also learned that there is usually more than one way to get somewhere, you just have to find the way that works the best for you.  I skipped the parts about learning how many millimeters the opening is at aperture F/8 of a certain lens (yes, I've been asked that).  I also skipped the parts about the processes of sensor production.   I simply wanted to take a nice photo and know how to repeat that process.  If you are new to this, my advice to you is do not get caught up in the technicals.  It will frustrate you, unless you are an engineer.  If you are an engineer, then dive deep into the technicals.  The point is knowing how many millimeters the opening is at F/8 on your lens is never going to help you.  Ever.

I am very grateful to photography.  It has allowed me to see and appreciate many things in this world I never knew existed.  When I was growing up, my family never went on vacation to The Grand Canyon or Mount Rushmore.  Our "vacations" were to the Dairy Queen and then we continued onto Guntersville Lake.  They lasted the afternoon and then we were back home.  I never knew a world outside of the state I lived in.  Photography has allowed me to see phenomenal scenes all across this great country of ours.  It's allowed me to make some great friends, too.  Seeing these things makes me want my children to see them.  I want them to know how things outside of Huntsville, AL look and feel.

The whole point of this post was just to tell you how incredibly ordinary I am and I'll not try to be somebody that I am not.  I wanted to capture good sports shots of my son when he was growing up, so I bought a camera.  Next I learned how to operate it, which some may argue I still haven't learned.  Then I wanted to shoot waterfalls, and wildlife, and mountains, and flowers, and birds....

If this average, overweight, forty-something, donut loving, nontechnical ginger can figure this whole thing out....So.  Can.  You.  Don't be discouraged or intimidated.  Don't be afraid to take a short class, or workshop (with anyone...not just me, although that would be kinda great).

I guess I should share an image now, right?

Aperture-priority, 4 sec, f/16, ISO 100, Compensation: -1/3, 24 mm

This is an image I went back and re-processed from Portland Head Light in Portland, ME.  If you hover over the image with your mouse, you will see my camera settings, or metadata, for this shot.  I always try to include this information for a few reasons.  First, if I don't then it's the first question I get asked.  Second, was part of my initial learning process.  Many people will tell you that metadata is pointless because you would need to be in that exact same light and conditions in order for you to be able to use it and recreate the image.  I could not agree with that more, however, when I was first learning, I would look at this information and see what the shutter speed was and what effect it had on the image.  I would look at the aperture someone choose and see how it effected depth of field.  So, even though I knew I would most likely never be in those exact same conditions or light, I was still using the metadata to learn about photography.  Hopefully, my sharing this information helps you learn a little, too.

Image made with my Canon 5D III and Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD (A007) Lens.  My equipment was steadied by my Sirui W-2204 waterproof, carbon fiber tripod and K-20 Ballhead.

Marshall Point Light

One of the lighthouses on our list to stop at was Marshall Point Light.  Not because it was overly beautiful or picturesque, but because it was in Forrest Gump, of course!

Marshall Point Light was in the movie Forrest Gump.  It was in the scene where Forest ran across the country.  When he ran from one ocean to another, he ended up at Marshall Point Light.

Due to our schedule we had to shoot it during the middle of the day, with not the best light.  So, I was looking for a way to present it that you don't normally see it  while trying to make the best of the light we had.

Aperture Priority, F/16, 1/125th, ISO 100, 15mm Exposure Compensation +1

Here's one of the shots I came up with.  It's from the "back" side of the walkway looking back into the sun.   I used the handrail of the walkway to diffract the sunlight in order to get the sun star.

I used my Canon 5D III and Tamron 15-30 for this shot at 15mm.  I choose F/16 as an aperture to help enhance the sun star.  Then, since I was shooting directly into the sun, I set my exposure compensation to +1.  This allowed me to get detail in the foreground and lighthouse.  If I hadn't adjusted my EC, the image out of the camera would have had very little detail in the foreground, almost a silhouette.  

Canon 5 D Mk III, Tamron 15-30, Sirui W-2204 Tripod and Sirui K-30 Ballhead

 

 

Favorites of 2015

I've had a few months absence from posting to the blog.  I really took the last few months of 2015 to chill out and hang with the fam.

I see the "in" thing now seems to be everyone posting  their "best" or "favorites" from the year of 2015, so I thought I'd follow suit here.  Many of these photos are special to me for various reasons.  It's mostly the memories made more then the photographs made.  Spending time with friends, stories we will talk about for years to come, some killer breakfasts after sunrise, I could go on and on...the point is, I probably like these for reasons that wouldn't make much sense to many of you, but that's one of the aspects of photography that I enjoy the most; friends and memories.

I hope you enjoy!  I included 15 images, since it was well...2015.

You can click on each image to view it larger.


10 Stops of Neutral Density

Recently I had been working on an article on long exposure and I had the good fortune of trying out a new 10 Stop ND filter by Tiffen, the XLE Apex filter.

This filter is unique int he fact that it has a IR blocker and Hot Mirror added.  These are added to eliminate IR pollution that you might get when shooting really long exposures with these types of filters.

Once I got the filter, I headed out with my Sony A7R, Tamron 24-70 Lens and Sirui T-2205X Series Tripod looking for interesting long exposure scenes.  It didn't take me long to fall in love with the filter.  I knew just playing with it a bit I needed to get to the coast for some daytime long exposure shots.

Luckily I had a trip to Houston already planned, so I went a day early and basically started in Galveston and worked my way up and down the coast looking for subjects.

ISO 100, 40mm, F/14 @ 25 seconds

I came across this pier.  It was actually The Galveston Fishing Pier.  I found a place to park along the roadside a few hundred yards away, walked down to the waters edge to find a giant pile of rocks.  This was a welcomed sight!  Not only did it make a great foreground anchor, but there was no beach area here, so I didn't have to wait on swimmers or people to get out of the way.  The waves were crashing over the rocks as the surf was moving pretty good that day, too.  Bonus!

I adjusted my composition to include the pier in the background and capture the rocks with the dreamy effect of the surf from the long exposure in the foreground. Without this filter, my exposure would have been a fraction of a second and the effect wouldn't be near as cool as it turned out with the 25 second exposure.

I mentioned my tripod earlier, the Sirui T-2205X.  I absolutely love this little tripod for traveling.  It is very light, folds up really small and still holds up for use for these long exposure shots.  A tripod is a must have for these types of shots, too!

ISO 100, 24mm, F/14 @ 20 seconds

This is the exact same spot only a slightly different comp.  I also choose to create both of these as black & white images.  I believe these long exposure shots tend to look better in black & white, but that's all personal preference.  I hope to be sharing more of these types of long exposure shots with you that I captured in the near future.

All about ND Filters

I've been asked about ND filters at the last few workshops we've done, so I figured it's time to go over everything you need to know about ND filters.

What are ND filters?  

A ND filter is a specialty filter used to block a certain amount of light from reaching your camera's sensor.

Why would I want to block light?  

There are multiple reasons, but a few would be to slow your shutter speed down in order to do things like show movement, eliminate moving people from a photo or be able to shoot at a wide open aperture in bright daylight.

How are ND filter strengths labeled?

OK, let's talk about determining the strength of the ND filter.  Different manufacturers label ND filters differently.  Sometimes you may see a filter labeled as a ND4 filter,  sometimes you may see one labeled as a 0.6 ND Filter and sometimes it may be labeled as a 2 stop ND filter.  I'm going to attempt to explain why this is and how to know what strength a filter is by these numbers.

If you see a filter labeled with a ND #, like ND2, that is actually the attenuation factor of that filter.  I know...big word.  However, it's easier to remember it like this.  The number, in this case 2, would be the denominator, or bottom number, of a fraction.  So, if we have a ND2 filter, the fraction would be 1/2, so half the amount of light being allowed through the filter, or roughly 1 full stop.  A ND4 would be 1/4 the amount of light being allowed through the filter, or 2 stops.

Some manufacturers label ND filters in terms of their optical density.  Optical density is just a fancy way of describing the light blocking ability of the filter.  Those numbers will look like this: 0.6 ND Filter.  What you basically need to remember here is the higher the number, the more light that is blocked by the filter.

The most common way ND filters are refereed to are in stops.  Let's face it, as photographers we all talk in stops.  It's our language.  None of us really care about the optical density, we just want to know how many stops of light is our filter blocking. If you have a ND filter that is labeled with the Attenuation Factor or Optical Density, you can use the chart below to find out how many stops of light it is blocking.

Attenuation FactorOptical DensityLight Reduction in Stop #'s
ND20.31
ND40.62
ND80.93
ND161.24
ND321.55
ND641.86
ND10026 2/3
ND2562.48
ND4002.68 2/3
ND5002.79
ND1000310

 

Do ND Filters come in different shapes or sizes?

Yes.  They do.  Typically they will either be a round, screw on type filter or a square or rectangle shaped filter.

The round screw on types are pretty easy.  They screw on to the front of your lens threads and you would buy the size filter that you need for your lens.  For example, you have a lens with a 77mm filter thread, then you buy the 77mm round ND filter.  

The square or rectangular shaped filters come in various sizes.  They require a filter "holder" system in order to mount to your lens.  The "holder" system would consist of a ring that screws onto your lens filter threads and a "holder" that mounts to that ring that would have slots that you would slide your filter(s) into.

I prefer the screw on types myself because there tends be much less chance of light leak using these.

 

Are these the only types of ND Filters?

Not at all.  There are also Variable ND filters, Graduated ND Filters and do not forget in a pinch a Circular Polarizer can be used as a ND Filter.

A Variable ND Filter is a screw on type ND filter that has a variable amount of ND adjustment. So, you would turn it just like you do a circular polarizer to dial in how much light blockage you want.  Typically these filters will range from about 2-10 stops of light blockage. 

 

A Graduated ND Filter is most often in the square or rectangle format.  It is basically a ND Fitler with a graduation of ND effect.  Typically about half the filter has the ND effect.  So if you were in a situation where the sky was very bright and the foreground was dark, you would want to use a graduated ND to darken the sky, but have no effect on the foreground.  These also come in the round, screw on flavor, but they aren't as popular because the round ones limit your amount of control over the filter.  They also come in Hard Edge or Soft Edge.  A Hard Edge Graduated ND filter has an abrupt stop of graduation.  They would be best used in a situation where you would be photographing a flat horizon line, like at the beach. The Soft Edge Graduated ND Filter has the graduation taper off slower.  Those are best used in a situation where your foreground is not level, like mountains.   Graduated ND Filters also some in "reversed".  This means the graduation would be darker at the horizon line and fade out as it goes up.  You would use a Revers Graduated ND Filter when the horizon is much brighter than the rest of the sky, say at sunrise or sunset when the sun is right along the horizon line.

After saying all of that, I will tell you I do not regularly use Graduated ND Filters.   I typically take separate exposures while I'm in the field and blend them together using Photoshop.  This requires more post processing work, but it keeps me from lugging around extra filters and I feel it yields better results.

I typically keep Variable ND Filters in my bag at all times.  They are very convenient to use and eliminate the need for several filters in several different strengths.

Another thing to keep in mind is a circular polarizer can block a certain amount of light, too.  Depending on the brand of polarizer you have, it could block from 1-2 stops of light.  It can be used in a pinch to slow down your shutter speed, or if you have forgotten or do not own a ND Filter.

How much will an ND Filter slow down my shutter speed?

Let's take a look at how many stops of ND will have an effect on your shutter speed.

ND Filter In StopsShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter SpeedShutter Speed
0 Stops1/4000 second1/1000 second1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds
1 Stop1/2000 second1/500 second1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds
2 Stops1/1000 second1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds
3 Stops1/500 second1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds
4 Stops1/250 second1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute
5 Stops1/125 second1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes
6 Stops1/60 second1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes
6 2/3 Stops1/30 second1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes8 minutes
8 Stops1/15 second1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes15 minutes
8 2/3 Stops1/20 second1/5 second1.6 seconds6 seconds25 seconds1 minute 40 seconds6 minutes26 minutes
9 Stops1/8 second1/2 second2 seconds8 seconds30 seconds2 minutes8 minutes30 minutes
10 Stops1/4 second1 second4 seconds16 seconds1 minute4 minutes15 minutes1 hour

You can see from the chart above that if you have a /4000th of a second shutter speed and add a 10 stop ND Filter to the front of your lens that will result in a shutter speed of 1/4 second.  Likewise if you have a shutter speed of 1 second with no filter and you add a 10 Stop ND, then you get a 15 minute shutter speed.

What kind of effect does this have on my images?

Let me show you a few examples.

ISO 400,  51mm,  F/8 @ 244 seconds

This is an image I made at sunrise on Folly Beach, SC.  I added a 10 stop ND filter to the front of my lens, which yielded a shutter speed of 244 seconds.  Without the filter my shutter speed would have been somewhere around 1/4 second.   The longer exposure here allowed the sensor to capture all the movement of the water  as a smooth, dreamy look.  My original shutter speed of 1/4 second would have frozen the water compared to this. 

ISO 100, 70mm, F/13 @ 25 seconds

This is an image that I took in the middle of the day in San Leon, TX.  After I added the 10 stop ND filter it gave me a resulting shutter speed of 25 seconds.  Although it isn't as long a shutter speed as the previous image, it was taken midday in much more light.  Without the filter I would have had a shutter speed of around 1/30th second.  The water was pretty choppy this day and the longer 25 second shutter speed created a much more visually appealing image.

Besides having ND Filters, you will also need a sturdy tripod since your exposures will be so long.  I use Sirui Tripods because of their stability and durability.  I would recommend them to anyone in the market for a good tripod.

That's all I have today.  I hope you learned a little something and I didn't take up too  much of your time. Happy Friday!

 

Lewis Falls

I just wanted to make a quick post to share an image with you that I made a little over a month ago in Yellowstone National Park.  Yes, we were there a week before the government shut down...I'm so glad the parks are back open now! 

Most of you know I'm kind of a waterfall nut, so seeing one this nice, so far from home and covered in snow was a no-brainer.

I shoot this at a ISO lower than the native ISO of my camera, which I don't do often at all.  It just happened to be very bright overcast and I was trying to slow the shutter down as much as I could.   I went with ISO 50.  I shoot this in Aperture Priority mode at F/22 (again trying to slow 'er down a bit) and that yielded a shutter speed of 1/4 second.

Of course I had my camera mounted on my Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT Tripod and used my Hoya Circular Polarizer.  I also used a cable release...I sometimes forget to tell you that, because I usually do it all the time so I sometimes forget that thing isn't actually part of the camera. 

When the light sucks...

I once heard another photographer say "When the light sucks, make it black & white."  I think for the most part, this works.  However, don't let that be the only time you remember to try converting things to black & white. 

Last week, we were on our way back from Yellowstone National Park (in the good, old days when it was open) back to Jackson Hole.   A few miles past the entrance to Grand Teton National Park we came upon a stunning light show nature was putting on for us.  One of those very fast, but impressive displays that you have to capture right at that very moment at that very spot, or it's gone kind of deals.

The few days before this had been socked in with clouds and the afternoon was supposed to be "mostly clear"  according to the weather.  Well, I was under the impression that "mostly clear" meant things would mostly be clear...stupid me.  However, it worked out that being "mostly not very clear" gave us just enough break up in the clouds to get this light show for about 3 minutes.  It was phenomenal to see.  It reminds me of another quote I once heard from a not so famous photographer, "Exposure is hard.".  

Anyways, so the point of the post was to remind you to try black & white when the light doesn't suck.  I converted this image above to black & white and I'm quite pleased with the result.  It's not that I don't like the color image, because I do.  However, now I have two images that I like. 

In case you're wondering technicals for the shot above, here you go...

Canon 5D Mk II, Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD Lens @ F/16.  ISO 100 and a shutter speed of 1/80th second.  The color shot was processed in LR5 and Nik Color Efex Pro.  The black & white shot was converted using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

A few from the Smokies

This past weekend I got a chance to run up to the Smoky Mountains for a short time.  The time spent there is always too short, but I'm always happy to take what I can get. 

I started the day with sunrise at Clingman's Dome.  I love shooting sunrise here probably more so than anywhere else in the park.  The panoramic views, especially at sunrise, with the clouds in the valleys is always something to behold. 

The shot below was taken with my Canon 5D Mk II and Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8Di VC USM Lens.  Both of those sitting atop my Vanguard Alta Pro 283 CT Tripod.  I got there later than expected and almost missed the sunrise all together.  I do a lot of previsualization, if that's a word.  I have in my mind exactly what I want to do before I ever arrive at a location.  Of course, a lot of times, dealing with nature, those ideas have to be altered upon arriving at a location and seeing the conditions.  With that said, I knew I would want to get a sun star, so I knew I would be shooting with a narrow aperture.  I decided to go with F/16.  I almost always shoot landscapes at my lowest native ISO, and for the Canon, it's ISO 100.  Since I was shooting in aperture priority mode, like I do 99% of the time, the camera selected the shutter speed of 1/10th sec.  I then processed the image in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop.

After sunrise I spent the next few hours riding around trying to capture images along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail before the light got too harsh to photograph the water and get that smooth, silky look that everyone loves.  

The image below was made with the same camera/lens/tripod combo.  This time I did attach my circular polarizing filter.  I never leave home without it and it is a must have for water!  I used the same ISO, but it was still fairly dark in the shadows of the mountains and trees, so I went with an aperture of F/11.  This still gave me plenty of depth of field using my wide angle lens and allowed me to go with a bit of a "quicker" shutter speed of 13 seconds.  I normally shoot these water scenes at around F/16, but doing that here would've given me a shutter speed that would've smoothed the water too much for my liking. 

After capturing a few images at this location, I moved on down the motor trail until I got to the infamous water mill that has probably been photographed a zillion and a half times.  When I come up on scenes like that, I try to find an interesting take on them.  Something you wouldn't normally see everyday.  Sometimes that is very hard to do, other times I don't have a problem with it.  On this morning, I tried a composition I haven't tried before and the sun just happened to play along.

This image was made with my Fuji X-E1 and XF 14mm F/2.8 lens.  I'm still using the same tripod, the Vanguard Alta Pro 283CT.  Knowing I wanted to get a nice sun star again, I went with an aperture of F/22.  The lowest native ISO for the Fuji is ISO 200, so that's what I choose here.  That yielded a shutter speed of 13 seconds.  I had my circular polarizer attached, but I was very careful when dialing in the amount of polarization.  You see, the water that is moving through the "trough" (man, I'll never get the English language) would look as if it weren't moving at all if I had dialed my polarizing filter down to where it had the strongest effect.  And I want you to know it's moving, so I dialed back the polarizer so you can still see a little of the sheen, which helps to show movement.  Then it was off to Lightroom and Photoshop to convert this to black & white.  

 

I finished the trip around Roaring Fork with a stop off at The Log Cabin Pancake House for some Peach Crepes.  You would've needed a pretty fast shutter speed to capture a photo of those as I quickly scarfed them down as soon as they hit the table. ;)

Later that day I ran across an antique tractor show.  First time I've ever been to one.  MI'll save those photos for another day.