Mylar reflections

On a rainy day I like to get some store flowers and let my creativity flow.  I found these wonderful variegated carnations and took them home.  You can ususally find Mylar sheets (or other shiny silver sheet) at arts and crafts stores.  The wedding section has some fun products and the scrapbooking section is full of possible backgrounds.  Some office supply stores even have large sheets of silver coated material.

You can also use a mirror but that tends to be too harsh a reflection for my taste.

So, carefully cut the flowers almost to the bloom to help avoid getting any of the green stem in your shot.  Then snuggle them up next to each other on your reflective surface.  The paper should curl up behind the blooms.

Set your camera eye level on tripod with the blooms and use a shallow depth-of-field (f/5.6) to get detail just in the blooms.. I like the reflection just a bit blurred to give a sense that the flowers are laying on something, not just floating in thin air!

I used Levels in Photoshop to make the silver turn white.

Of course this idea will work on a multitude of subjects!

Have fun!

Magic Wings Butterfly House

We are so fortunate to have the Magic Wings Butterfly House in Durham, NC. It is part of the NC Museum of Life and Science and CNPA makes special arrangements to allow our photographers to shoot at private times. We love to explore the area which includes butterflies, moths, birds, flowers and water features.

As with most public places, there are issues with distracting backgrounds and always challenges with the quick flying butterflies.  On cloudy days the butterflies are calmer than on sunny days like today, but always a fun experience.

Here are some images and notes:

I look for specimens that are in good shape.  Butterflies are easily injured and having chunks out of their wings detracts from their beauty. I shoot RAW images and crop down where necessary as you cannot always get as close as you’d like.

Camera bag:  I keep it simple to have maximum flexibility.

Canon 40D which has a popup flash which is sometimes enough extra light.

Canon 430EX flash on a bracket for horizontal and vertical shots.

Canon IS 70-300mm lens.

Monopod for extra stability (I find a tripod too confining)

A polarizer helps with glare off the foliage in particular. Some of the wings are also reflective and it helps reduce the glare.

That’s about it and covers everything I want to do. A handy trick is to put your camera and lens in a ziploc bag (even unzipped) in your camera bag until you get in the Butterfly House.  I wait a few minutes and then take it out and rarely get any condensation problem  If you just take the camera in from the cold it could take up to 15 minutes for it to get used to the humidity and I worry about damaging my equipment from the excess condensation. I also prefer not to change lenses under these circumstances.

Clothing: There is extreme humidity in the Butterfly House, so even in winter I wear a short sleeve shirt under my sweather and coat!

            OWL MOTH

Don’t forget the plants. The veins make a beautiful pattern in these leaves!

               The original image has a twig moving in from the right side and there was nothing I could do about it at the time of shooting.  In the final image you can see I got rid of it in Photoshop by selecting the twig, Edit > Fill > Content Aware Fill. (CS5 only).  In addition, I cropped the image and made an oval vignette to darken the sides.  Be sure to feather your oval selection so it blends nicely.

Hope you get to visit this great place sometime!

Color Pop

Often times the color we see when viewing our images on the computer is not quite as vibrant as we remember. Particularly with RAW images, which are actually defined as unprocessed, uncompressed gray scale images, the camera can only send a vague idea of the scene.  It is our job to process these images.  When you process a RAW image, you are not destroying any pixels and have much more information to work with.  With JPEG images the camera has already made many decisions for you and usually gives a better repreentation of what we saw.  However, when you work on a JPEG image, you are affecting pixels and often deteriorating the quality of the final file. It is totally a personal preference which file type to work with but just keep in mind the differences. I work almost exclusively in RAW.

The often ignored LAB color mode can help bring in the color you originally saw in the scene. LAB stands for “lightness” “a channel or the magenta-green” and “b channel or yellow-blue”.   For those of you who like the tech behind the scenes, here is Adobe’s description of LAB mode.

“The CIE L*a*b* color model (Lab) is based on the human perception of color. The numeric values in Lab describe all the colors that a person with normal vision sees. Because Lab describes how a color looks rather than how much of a particular colorant is needed for a device (such as a monitor, desktop printer, or digital camera) to produce colors, Lab is considered to be a device-independent color model. Color management systems use Lab as a color reference to predictably transform a color from one color space to another color space.”

The Lab Color mode has a lightness component (L) that can range from 0 to 100. In the Adobe Color Picker and Color panel, the acomponent (green-red axis) and the b component (blue-yellow axis) can range from +127 to –128.”

I often find the color rather flat in RAW images and use the LAB color mode to bring the color back… or at least see a version with a real color pop to get me started.  You can make these steps an Action as described in my Post on 1/31/2012.  Feel free to experiement outside the settings I have suggested on the grid.

•Open Image
Original image from RAW file
•Image > Mode > LAB
•Open Adjustment Layer at bottom of layers panel > Curve
•Use “a” from the dropdown – this is the magenta-green channel
•Use the 10-segment grid by clicking Alt and the mouse in the grid if needed
•Move the upper right point 2 squares left
•Move the bottom left point 2 squares right
•Use “b” from the dropdown – yellow-blue channel
•Move the upper right point 2 squares left
•Move the bottom left point 2 squares right
•Use “lightness” from the dropdown
•Run your cursor with eyedropper over the image to find the lightest point of your main subject, and Ctrl click to set a point on your line
•Then Ctrl click the darkest area of your main subject to set another point
•Move the higher point up and the lower point down to achieve the contrast you want in the main subject area
•Flatten image
•Change back to RGB – Image > Mode > RGB

Camera Movement Fun

Sometimes, particularly midday when the light is not ideal for garden photography, you can still have fun.  Find a dense patch of blooms and try some different movement techniques with your camera.  It takes experimenting and not always predictable results, but you get some really neat images.

This image was taken by moving the camera up and down during a 0.3 second exposure at f/13.  I like to have some sharpness to start with as you are already blurring a great deal.

The next image of spinning tulips was taken with the camera on a tripod. . My lens had a collar which I loosened so I could easily rotate it during exposure. I started with a level shot and moved the lens left and then right during a 1/4 second exposure at f/22. If you have a neutral density filter, that helps get a good exposure at a slower shutter speed.

The final example was taken at 1/10 second at f/29. Again on a tripod I simply move the camera slowly up during exposure.

As you can see, this can be lots of fun and make good use of midday light.  Look to avoid strong shadow areas as you might get a black blur in that area.  Very bright highlights can also create a bright smear, so look for midtone images.  Always something fun to do in the garden.

Magic Circles

This Photoshop technique is so much fun to play with on different images.

1. Open an image and Crop to an 8″x8″ square. (any size square will do). Make sure your Image > Mode is on 8 bits so that the following Filters will be usable.

2. Select the Background layer and click Ctrl-J to make a duplicate layer.

3. Select the Copy layer and click onFilter – Distort – Polar Coordinates. Choose Polar >Rectangular.

4.Image > > Image Rotation > 180 degrees.

5. Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. Chose Rectangular > Polar.

6. Delete Background layer and Save.

Shoot all angles!

Whether you are photographing flowers, people or wildlife, sometimes the best shots are the least obvious. Often times we get so focused (excuse the pun) when we find an appealing subject that we forget to look at it from all angles.  This peacock was so beautiful and cooperative that I just kept on shooting. But when another peacock came close and turned her (his) tail feathers to me, I saw a wonderful pattern in the feathers.  I try to remind myself to shoot each subject from as many angles as possible to get some unique shots.