Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Photo retouching - How to finish a photo

As a professional photographer and teacher of photography, I am asked to evaluate a lot of photos. It is not uncommon to see good photos with great subject matter and sharp focus, but the photo is just good, not great. As I look at these photos, there are many times when I think "This could be a great photo with the proper retouching".

Before I talk about photo retouching, let me set the record straight. I am not saying that you can take a bad photo and make it good with Photoshop. I am also not a proponent of shooting all my photos and thinking "I can fix this later". But, there are many times when a photo is 75% complete and needs to be tweaked to be complete. And in the case of the photos in this blog post, there are times when the lighting is such that you have to tweak the image to make it a useable photo.

With that said, let me show you some photos from this last week in Nelson, NV and show you how I retouched them.

This is a photo I took of my good friend, Wes. He was my stand-in so that we could test the composition and lighting, before photographing our model. If you look at this photo, the lighting is nice and even with both Wes and the sky properly exposed. But all of you shooting with digital cameras know that it is very difficult to get both the sky and subject lit correctly in this situation. So...how did I get this shot?

Let me show you the original.

Here is how I shot the photo of Wes. I was using my Canon 5D Mark III, 24-105mm lens and 600EX-RT flash. My goal was to properly expose this photo for the highlights. In other words, I wanted to make sure that the sky was not blown out (overexposed). But in doing so, this caused Wes to be dark. There are two ways to fix this problem. I could use a flash to light the subject (which I did later), or I could fix this later in Photoshop. Here is what I did to fix this photo in Adobe Photoshop.

If you look at these screen grabs (above and below), you can see how I manipulated the photo in Adobe Camera Raw. They key to "fixing" this photo was the adjustment of the highlights and shadows.

Sliding the highlight slider to the left, I was able to recover (darken) the sky. Sliding the shadows slider to the right allowed me to open up (lighten) the shadows so that you can see Wes' face, the mountains, and the truck.

Now. let me show you another photo, taken in the same location, but later in the evening.

Here is the completed photo of our model, Skylar.

Now, let me take you through the shooting and editing process for this image.

Here is the original untouched RAW photo. You will notice that my light source is coming from my left. My goal was to light Skylar, but not too much of the truck. If I had used the on-camera flash pointed straight at her, the entire truck bed would be overly lit and distract from her. My friend was using some studio lights in a large white softbox to my left, but since I am simple guy, I was mainly using my Canon 600EX-RT flash. I pointed my on-camera flash head towards the softbox and used that as a large reflector, getting the results I was hoping for.

When I looked at the RAW image on my computer, the first thing I noticed is that my flash lit Skylar with light that was a bit on the cool side. So I used the white balance slider to warm her up. I also noticed that there were some key areas which needed to be (burned) darkened. Since the human eye is drawn towards the brightest area of a photo, I wanted to darken the sky so that it did not draw the viewer from Skylar. Once again, I used the highlight slider to recover the details in the sky and clouds. I also used the adjustment brush in ACR to darken her and the truck bed a bit, since I felt that they were a tad too bright. I chose to slightly lighten the green cab of the truck and the Texaco sign. Once in Photoshop, I also made some other small modifications. You will notice that the reflection (above the benches on the right side of the image) has been removed. I felt that it too was distracting.

Compare the two photos and see how much the mood changes between the two.

Here is another photo, taken about the same time, but in a different location.

Looking at the completed photo (above) as compared to the original RAW photo (below) you will see that I made some slight adjustments to enhance this image.

Starting in Adobe Camera RAW, I started by warming the white balance of the image to give Skylar a more pleasing skin tone. I then used the radial filter and adjustment brush to selectively darken the sky and surrounding environment around her. Again, I want Skylar to be the focus of the photo, so having her in perfect focus and being the brighter element in the frame, your eye goes right to her. You will also notice that I removed the front of the car on the right side of the photo. I tried to avoid that when shooting, but knew that I could fix that later.

For those of you thinking that all of this is creating an unrealistic representation of the truth, please keep this in mind: Most of what you see in the final image is actually closer to the truth than the RAW file. The human eye can see much more dynamic range than a digital camera, so I was attempting to show you what I was seeing there.

For this photo of Skylar, I once again used the large white softbox to bounce my flash. This is why her face is brighter on the left and goes to shadow on the right (her left). This creates dimension in the photo and is much more interesting than a flat, evenly lit photo of her. This lighting also accentuates her curves.

I was done shooting by 8:30pm, but the other guys kept shooting well into the darkness. They had just finished up, and were about to pack up, when I asked them to stay in place. They had the modeling (constant) light turned on, on the ProFoto B2 strobe, so I used that as my light source. I set my camera on my Gitzo tripod, adjusted my Acratech ballhead, set the 10 second timer, and ran into the shot. We all stood still for about 4 seconds and voila! Everyone loved this shot.

Here is the original RAW capture of the same photo. You will notice that there is very little detail in the shadows and the people closest to the light source are overly lit. Using the highlight and shadow adjustments in ACR let me correct all that.

I hope that this example will help all of you next time that you look at your RAW photos after shooting and downloading. Hopefully you will evaluate your photos and turn a good photo into a great one!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Photographing NASCAR at Pocono Raceway

If you are following along on the Facebook or Instagram pages, then you probably know that I spent the last weekend shooting the NASCAR race in Pocono, Pennsylvania. I was there to capture the #1 car. This car is part of the Chip Gnassi race team driven by Jamie McMurray, and this week was skinned with the Lexar logo.

I am going to take you along with me as I shot the preparations for the race and the race itself. If you are a NASCAR fan, then you will like the up close view of the race. If you are a fan of photography, you might appreciate my shared camera settings and thought processes as I shot the race. Either way, I hope you enjoy this...

I got to the track on Friday morning to take photos of the car and Jamie. Most photographers are not allowed to go into the garage area, but since I was shooting for this team, I was allowed to do so. I was using my Canon 1Dx and 1066x Lexar Professional CF cards (of course!) for all the photos this weekend. For these inside photos, I was using the Canon 24-105mm lens.

This is a photo of Jamie McMurray in the car and getting ready to go out and test the car, prior to qualifications. It is quite a process getting into these cars. They climb in through the window opening and then have to get connected to the communication system. Then they have to get their fire protection and helmets on. Then they harness into the seat and head support, and connect the steering wheel to the car.

I went out to the track to get some photos of Jamie and the #1 car driving his practice laps. I changed lenses from the wide lens to the new Canon 100-400 lens, and grabbed this simple close-up shot of the car waiting on the track.

After taking the close-up shot, I put on my Tiffen HT Circular Polarizing filter and zoomed the Canon 100-400mm lens out to show the car, grandstands, and a little of the cloudy sky.

Then it was time to grab a couple motion panning shots of the car on the track. In order to get this photo, I turned the polarizing filter to it's darkest point and then set the camera to ISO 100, f/9 which gave me a shutter speed of 1/80th sec. Because the car was moving at close to 150mph, this shutter speed was enough to achieve the motion blur but also get the car sharp.

Let's now fast forward to Sunday...race day!

The race started at 1:30pm, but I left for the track at 8:30am to beat the traffic and make it in time for the mandatory photographers meeting at 10:30am. In these meetings, the track officials and NASCAR officials explain the dos and don'ts for the track (including where we can go and where we can not, how to best navigate the track, possible dangers, and best shooting positions...) They also hand out maps of the track and field any questions from the photographers.

Having a little spare time, I made my way up to the Chip Gnassi suite and grabbed some lunch before the race began.

From the suite, I saw this view of all the race team's trucks and the American flag, and thought that it would make a good photo.

I then made my way out to pit row.

I saw these people walking around pit row and had to take their photo. These are some serious race fans! After hanging out at the Gnassi pit area for a while, I made my way to the driver introductions.

I love that some of the drivers bring their kids with them for their introductions. This is a photo of Sam Hornish and his little daughter.

And here is Ryan Newman with his little girl.

Danica Patrick making her entrance...

And...of course...I had to get a good photo of Jamie making his way onto the track wearing his Lexar fire suit.

Jimmie Johnson making his way out.

And for what will likely be his final race at Pocono Raceway, Jeff Gordon, is still the all-time winningest driver at this raceway, with 6 career victories.

Here is Jeff Gordon making his introductory circle of the track.

For the National Anthem, I switched back to the Canon 24-105mm lens to get this wide shot of Jamie and his crew. I have to say...It is always a weird time for me to shoot, since I am always torn between getting the shot and paying respect to the country. This time I chose to do both, shooting a couple of photos and then stopping and turning to the flag.

Most of the teams will huddle together and pray before the start of the race. This prayer must have worked for this team, as nobody was hurt during this race and they ended up winning the race in a dramatic fashion.

Now...for the photos of the race.

I started out by turn 1 so that I could get some photos of the race start. This turn also has a steep bank, making for better motion blur shots of the cars.

Since I was at the race to get photos of the #1 car, you can bet that I prioritized this car over all the others on the track. If you follow my work, you know that I am not a big fan of "freezing" race cars on the track, when shooting them from the side. Using a fast shutter speed on race cars does not do the sport justice. So I used the Tiffen polarizing filter to cut the amount of light coming into my camera and went for a slow shutter speed for these photos. I set the camera to ISO 100 with an aperture of f/16. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. The trick is to pan at the EXACT same speed of the car (using my hips) while firing off shots.

The slow shutter speed not only blurs the background, but it also shows the spinning of the tires.

Although it is more difficult to track multiple objects while panning, I actually prefer this photo since it has more cars in the frame.

This photo was taken with a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second. You might be wondering why this has as much blur, if not more, than the photo taken at 1/30th. The reason is quite simple. Jamie was driving much faster when I took this photo, and I was panning the camera at a faster rate.

One of the advantages of motion panning, is that you can isolate your subject. If you look at this photo, you will notice that the cars in the center of the frame (where I was focusing and tracking) are the only cars in focus while the others are at different levels of blur.

After shooting at different positions of turn 1 for half an hour, I walked back towards the grandstands. I wanted to use the crowd as a different background for the motion blur.

I really like the way that the yellow Menards car "popped" out of the background in this image.

While I was standing on pit row, Kurt Busch came in for some fuel and a tire change. I quickly changed the camera setting from f/16 to f/4 to get a shutter speed of 1/1250 sec and freeze the action. Although, if I had photographed more pit changes, it would have been fun to try motion panning on some of the crew members. Maybe next time!

My next stop was the outside of turn 3. I wanted to get into this shooting position to get a head-on shot of the cars. Not long after getting to this position, there was a caution and the cars had to follow the chase car. I was happy to get a photo of the #1 car amongst all the other cars in a tight formation.

And then, not long afterwards, they were back to racing. You might notice that I did switch the Canon 1Dx back to a high shutter speed for this shooting position. Since the cars were coming towards me, I figured that motion panning would not work very well here.


I decided to give motion panning a try to see if it was possible to get a good shot from this head-on position. Believe it or not, this photo was taken with the new Canon 100-400mm lens all the way out at 400mm, at 1/30th sec (handheld). And you know what? I kinda like the results!

As I was leaving the race, I saw this large sign by the exit. I was so flattered that they would build this huge sign for me. I thought to myself "Really - it was just nice to be here. You didn't have to do that for me!" And then I realized that this was for the "other Jeff" at the track. :)

Special thanks to Gnassi Race Team and NASCAR for the credentials.

If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post or send my monthly newsletter.


Friday, July 31, 2015

How to photograph waterfalls - my tips to help you get great photos!

I am currently in Pennsylvania, and was out scouting locations today for a private class I am teaching here. Two of the locations that I hiked into were waterfalls.

When I got back to my hotel room and downloaded the images, I started to make notes of how to properly photograph waterfalls. I took a break and went downstairs to get some dinner, and while at the table (where they do not allow any electronics - so no distractions) I thought that the information should be shared with all of you, not just the people coming tomorrow.

So...here you go. A blog post explaining the best techniques for photographing waterfalls.


First, lets talk about the equipment that you need. Beside having a camera and lens, you really should have a good tripod and a polarizing filter. The tripod holds the camera perfectly still so that you can shoot at slow shutter speeds (which we will talk about in a moment). The polarizing filter lets you cut the glare off the tops of the still water and the wet rocks surrounding the waterfall. The filter also blocks some of the light, which is helpful. I relied on my Canon 1Dx, 24-105mm lens, Gitzo travel tripod and the Tiffen Circular Polarizing filter for all of today's photos.

Optimal weather

Believe it or not, I prefer to have overcast skies when shooting waterfalls and streams. This gives me nice even light across the frame, without the splotches of sunlight coming through the surrounding trees. The other advantage of overcast skies is that it is usually darker outside. This, along with the polarizing filter, makes it easier to get a nice slow shutter speed.

Slow shutter speeds

Freezing action in sports is great, but freeing water coming off of a waterfall is not ideal. The photo below was taken at 1/500th of a second and shows the water as we see it in person.

I prefer to slow down the shutter speed to create a milky smooth flow of water. Depending on the speed of the flowing water, I usually shoot between half a second and 2 seconds to get a nice flow.

This second image, taken in the exact same spot as the first photo, was taken with a shutter speed of 1.7 seconds. When you are shooting, I would recommend that you try different shutter speeds to see which yields the look that you want.

For those of you wondering how to slow your shutter speed, I would recommend the following. Set your ISO to 100 and then you can try shooting in shutter priority mode at the desired speed or aperture priority at a very small aperture (maybe something like f/22).


Most people who take photos of waterfalls, do so with the entire waterfall in the photo. Sometimes it is more interesting to isolate a portion of the fall. Try zooming in with your lens to find interesting scenes within the larger picture.

I saw the water dripping straight off of the rock in the foreground and thought that this would make for an interesting shot.

Look around

OK, this may not be about shooting waterfalls, but I wanted to remind you all to look around when you are taking photos. Don't get so consumed with a subject that you miss other interesting photo opportunities.

I was walking from one area of the river to another and spotted these flowers reflecting in the still water. It is not the intensity of a waterfall, but it is definitely worth a shot.

Include foreground and backgrounds

There is nothing more boring to me than a straight-on photo of a waterfall, especially if it taken at a fast shutter speed. Heck, anyone can take that photo, and many do. You should strive to include the surroundings. Look for a scene which compliments the water fall and adds interest to the overall photo. Don't be afraid to move around (as long as it is safe) to get a pleasing angle.

I loved all the green that surrounded this waterfall. I moved to a position that let me show off the movement of the water, but also include greenery in the front and back of the frame. You will notice that I usually photograph waterfalls at an angle, to show off the cascading water off of the rocks. Even with the overcast skies, this photo was a bit bright in the background, but I knew that I could darken this in Photoshop later (which I did).

I was walking back to the main road when I saw this waterfall way off in the distance.  I switched to my Canon 100-400mm II lens to get in close, positioning myself so that the trees framed the waterfall.

More water is not always better

Contrary to what most people think, more water coming off of a waterfall is not always better. As a matter of fact, I prefer to find waterfalls that have "just the right amount of water". I don't want the water bursting over the edge, but prefer it to fall down and cascade from one water to another. To me, this adds much more interest the photo.

For this photo, I moved to a rock at the very edge of the river to that I could see the upper part of this water fall, which was otherwise hidden. Notice how the frontmost water is cascading from one rock to another, whereas some of the other water is "over" flowing. I like this photo because my "main subject" is the closest part of the fall, but there are varying amounts of water flowing in one photo.

I am going to end this blog post with two older waterfall photos.

Both of these photos were taken at Niagara Falls (from the Canadian side), but they are very different views of the falls. Both were taken at slow shutter speeds, but one is a typical wide shot and the other is an isolated shot.

I like them both for different reasons. 

OH, one more thing!

Dust spots

It is very likely that when you take these photos at a narrow aperture (to achieve the slower shutter speed), that you will notice dust spots on your photo (caused by dust on your camera sensor).

Make sure that you zoom into your favorite photos when you are editing and remove those little buggers. If you have a bunch of them, it is probably time for you to have your sensor cleaned. (I will write a blog on how to clean your own sensor coming up soon.)

I hope this helps all of you. Now go out, find a waterfall and have some fun!


If you are interested in purchasing any camera equipment, please click here to go to B&H Photo, as I get a referral from them if you enter this way. I would really appreciate that.

And also, remember that you and your friends can enter your email address at the top right of this blog to get an email any time I write a new blog post, and my monthly newsletter .