Mix ’em Up, Part 1: Introduction to Combining Images in Photoshop CS4

The advent of digital photography has opened up an array of new techniques for working with and combining multiple images in pursuit of technical perfection. Three of the most popular techniques in this category are panoramic stitching, focus blending, and high-dynamic range imaging.

As of Photoshop CS4, Adobe now includes some level of support for applying all three of these techniques without external tools. In this post, I’ll provide a brief overview of the three techniques and the problems they’re intended to solve. In future posts, I’ll address each of the three techniques individually, provide an example or two, and discuss both Photoshop’s built-in tools for applying those techniques as well as talking about third-party solutions and other alternatives. (more…)

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Working with Rainbows

Rainbow WhirlwindRainbows are one of the most magical of sky effects, elusive, mysterious and colorful. They’re a natural subject for the nature photographer, so much so that they do run the risk of cliche, but they can also can put the final “shazam” on what would already be an interesting image. With a few simple hints and techniques, you’ll gain a better understanding of how to capture and convey their magic.

The first challenge in finding a rainbow is finding one to photograph in the first place. Any rainbow requires two elements, light and water droplets. The light needs to be from small source and very bright, so it’ll usually need to be direct sunlight (although it is possible to find and photograph “moonbows”) they’re very hard to see and even harder to capture well. The need for both sunlight and rain or mist means you’ll usually need to look for rainbows in mixed weather (rainy conditions without complete overcast) or in other places where mists form in broad sunlight (waterfalls, such as my Iceland image above, geysers, and the like.) (more…)

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Working with Tides

Living near the California Coast affords me ample opportunities for photographing the seashore, and an important part of learning to photograph in and around coastal areas is learning a little bit about tides. Low tides often allow fascinating tidepool opportunities, and (at least in the coastal areas near here) often bring a lot of interesting geology out of the water. (more…)

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Using Your Tripod: Why and How

In my last two articles, I talked about how to select tripod legs and a tripod head, with that gear assembled it’s time to get out into the field and learn how to use your new tripod to best advantage.

One of the primary reasons we use tripods is stability. It is simply impossible to hold a camera steady enough for a critically sharp image as shutter speeds get longer and longer, and longer shutter speeds are often an inevitable requirement of smaller apertures and wider depth-of-field. (more…)

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Selecting a Tripod: Tripod Heads for Nature Photography

This is the second of a two part article on selecting a tripod, and covers the selection of tripod heads and quick-release systems. The first part discusses tripod legsets and can be found here.

For most nature photography tasks, I’d recommend using a large, high-quality ballhead. The best of these feature a large ball, adjustable tension, and a can hold quite a bit of weight. The Kirk Enterprises KB-1, Arca-Swiss Z1, Markins M-20, and (if you can find it) the Burzynski Protec are all excellent choices for general-use tripods. (more…)

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Selecting a Tripod: Legsets for Nature Photography

One of the most common questions I get from students who are just starting to get serious about their photography is “what sort of tripod should I buy?” This quickly breaks down into two questions, “which tripod legsets?” and “which tripod head?”. In this article, I’ll talk about how to select a good legset for your needs, in part two, I’ll cover tripod heads and quick-release systems. (more…)

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“Canon or Nikon?”

Backlit Aspen, Bishop Creek
Backlit Aspen, Bishop Creek (Photo © Joe Decker, All Rights Reserved.)

So, my friend J.D. and I are up photographing along the South Fork of Bishop Creek in the Eastern Sierra. It’s autumn, there’s excellent color in the aspens in the valley, and we’ve scouted the area the previous day to estimate when last light will fall on the aspens. We arrive ten or fifteen minutes before, set up our tripods, find our compositions, and casually embrace the “If it looks good, shoot it….” rule, shooting as we chat and watch the shadow of the valley wall creep towards the edge of our compositions.

That last moment approaches, and just then…. (more…)

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If it Looks Good, Shoot it…

Into the Future
The Grigory Mikheev travels through sea ice and sunrise in the arctic North Atlantic.

If it looks good, shoot it. If it looks better later, shoot it again. –Galen Rowell

So goes one of the best pieces of photographic wisdom I’ve received. It’s more than just a simple strategy, it also reflects something important about nature photography: many of the best nature photographs feature ephemeral light. Whether dramatic (like sunsets or rainbows), or subtle (like the play of light and shadow across the landscape on a partly-cloudy day), the best light is often short-lived and unpredictable. (more…)

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Bad Weather makes for Great Photographs

Little Butano Creek, Butano State Park
Little Butano Creek, Butano State Park

I recently gave a photographic workshop along the San Mateo county coast (about 45 minutes south of San Francisco), and there were a few last minute cancellations. I suspect they’d checked the weather report, temperatures were expected to be in the high 40s with clouds and drizzle. It’s a pity these folks didn’t talk to me before cancelling, they missed out on some phenomenal photographic conditions. I knew better. Many of my favorite photographic images were taken under or at the edges of clouds, mists, fog or rain. While blue skies sell postcards, interesting photographs often require interesting light, and it’s emphasizing that lesson that’s the topic of this post.

(more…)

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