Surprise: The Story Behind the Photo

By Laura Richards

Surprise, a photo of an egret and a ... by Laura Richards

Surprise by Laura Richards (f/11, 1/500, auto ISO 400, 300mm)

Several years ago, my husband and I took a trip to several countries in southern Africa, including Botswana where we visited Chobe National Park. Driving through the park, we saw a wide range of animals and birds. On this particular photo, I was focusing on the egret. It was quite a distance away, so I wasn’t sure what kind of image I would get.

When I got home, I uploaded all my photos onto the computer. As I looked at this one, I wasn’t impressed with the egret, but then I realized there was a crocodile right next to the bird. The shape of the crocodile mimicked the curve of the grass so I never saw it while I was taking the photo. Ironically, the crocodile was in better focus than the egret, and I never knew he was there. The other thing that surprised me was the proximity of the two. I would think the egret would be a good snack for the crocodile, but there doesn’t seem to be any friction between them.

A lot of times I delete photos that I don’t think are great before I upload them, but I am finding out that there are hidden things in photos that actually make an interesting story, and you don’t see them until you enlarge the photo. I normally would crop this image, so the viewer would see the crocodile right away, but I wanted to show how easily you can miss things if you aren’t careful.

How Much Editing Is Too Much?

As you put Matt Kloskowski’s tips into action after this month’s presentation, will you be wondering if you’ve gone too far?

By Jim Hamel

So, how much editing is too much? Unfortunately, there is no answer to this question. Different people have different ideas on this topic. Some people want everything to appear natural, and the tipping point for them is when their photos do not. Others couldn’t care less about that, in fact, don’t want their pictures to appear natural.

Once you decide on your general philosophy, that sets a range for you; but even then how you approach each picture is still ultimately up to you. I will offer two additional  thoughts on this topic: one cautionary and the other encouraging.

On the cautionary side, I will say that beginners are much more likely to overdo the processing than people who have been doing it for a while. They will end up with garish colors or too much contrast, or they’ve pushed everything too far and generated a lot of noise, banding, or other effects. Although the HDR craze has largely faded (due largely to the ability of post-processing software to pull detail from highlights and shadows without resorting to HDR), it used to be quite common to see beginners proudly displaying totally overdone HDR shots. So be careful when you are just starting out.

On the other hand, don’t let comparisons of your edited photo to the original hold you back. I am frequently guilty of this one.

I gleefully edit away and then I go back and compare my edited photo to my original.
When I do, I see how far I have come and inevitably decide I have overdone it. It doesn’t
look like the original, and that bothers me for some reason. But you have to keep in mind
that nobody is going to see your original. All they see is the final edited picture. It will likely look just fine to them. Don’t let that hold you back.

All you can do is decide for yourself. To help that process along, look at others’ work and pay attention to whether you think it looks over processed or not. Go through a bunch of pictures on Flickr or 500px, and I think you’ll pretty quickly be able to decide where you fall on the scale.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article (with three more tips) and even more images.

Anole’s Lunch: The Story Behind the Photo

By Lynne Rogers Harris

photograph of a lizard eating a butterfly by Lynne Rogers Harris

Anole’s Lunch by Lynne Rogers Harris (Olympus M1 Mark III, ISO 200, SS 1/200, f2.8)

This was the first year back for the Butterflies in the Garden exhibit at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden. As most of us know, the conservatory was in need of repair so we have missed this event the last few years. It was a cloudy day and I was expecting the conservatory to be dark inside and the butterflies hiding. I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much light was coming through the windows.

After arriving, we were told new butterflies had just been released into the conservatory. They were everywhere. After shooting a while and talking with other photographers, I was about ready to leave when someone pointed out this anole lizard. He was a little camouflaged, but I finally saw him and he had a butterfly in his mouth. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a photo. I took a few shots, and he soon crawled away with the butterfly still in his mouth. Later, I learned that the lizards eat the butterfly bodies but
not the wings.

Please join your fellow photographers when they post outings on Facebook. It’s always fun to shoot and learn with others; and you never know when you’ll get that one shot that makes the trip all worthwhile.

10 Things I Learned About Photography

By Mangesh Sangapu

Fast-forward a few years and I’ve grown as a photographer. I won “Photographer of the Year” in a local club and had photos featured on nationally renowned websites.

Looking back at my journey, I compiled the top 10 things I learned. Hopefully, this will make your journey a bit easier.

1. It’s an investment

money by Mangesh "Manny" Sangapu © Mangesh

© Mangesh

Camera prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, but the expenses don’t stop there. I started with a $500 Panasonic Lumix G7 and figured that would be it. Then came lenses, tripods, accessories, etc. Understand that photography is a hobby that requires various products. It’s not just the camera and lens, but much more than that.

All these products cost money. There’s no need to dive head-on into purchasing all these products, but understand that your camera and lens is just the starting point, and if you
stick with this hobby, you’ll eventually need more gear.

Don’t worry, as there’s a huge market for pre-owned lenses. There are sites like KEH that sell pre-owned gear, as well your local Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace.

2. Kit lenses limit you

Kit lenses refer to the beginner lenses bundled with cameras. They are given this name as it comes as a part of the camera kit. Typically they have higher f-numbers, like f/3.5, that can limit you to well-lit environments.

The higher these numbers, the more light you will need on your subject, unless you’re going for the dark look. The lower the numbers, the less light you will need around your subject.

In addition to your kit lens, I recommend starting with a 35mm or 50mm with a low
f/number, (e.g. 50mm f/1.8). To get comfortable with these lenses, try shooting exclusively with them for several weeks.

You don’t need to dive into buying all the low-aperture lenses, but having at least one in
your collection will give you a light advantage over the basic kit lenses.

3. Exposure is the main concept

The exposure triangle

I still remember the first time I modified my camera dials to change the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. My mirrorless camera has an electronic viewfinder so I could see how these factors immediately affected the final image.

It was at this moment that a light went on in my brain — because I finally understood exposure and why it was a big deal. Each of the three factors in the exposure triangle affect the amount of light on the subject. Once you learn exposure and get confident using it, you will advance by leaps and bounds.

4. It takes time

When I first got my camera, I couldn’t put it down. I took it everywhere with me: family
events, vacations, and even walks in the neighborhood.

The reality is that buying a camera won’t make you a good photographer. The pictures
you take five years from now will, hopefully, look better than the pictures you take today.
Photography is an art, and it takes time to craft those skills.

I recommend you take your camera everywhere. Learn ALL the settings and build your confidence with practice. Remember your camera doesn’t make the photos … it’s you and
the skills you apply through your camera.

5. You’ll see things differently

After learning exposure, I started looking around and noticing how light affected the environment. Today, even before I look through the viewfinder, I have a general idea
if the light needs to be modified. This only happens through practice and experience.

I can see images and notice color temperature (white balance), where the light source was in an image, and much more. The more you work with your camera, the more you understand how lighting affects your image. Eventually this will improve your vision to a point where you’ll see things differently.

6. Technical skills help

Close up photograph of a woman's eye by Mangesh "Manny" Sangapu © Mangesh

© Mangesh

Have you ever organized the files on your computer? Well, get ready to put those skills into use. Photography doesn’t end at the shutter button. A lot of time and effort is spent  after the photo is taken. This is where technical skills come into play. Whether you’re using Photoshop, ACDSee, Lightroom, etc, technical skills will make it easier for you to organize and edit your photography.

7. First, learn all the rules …

When I started photography, I had no clue there were repeating themes that were used to make a pleasing image. There are many photography principles that help you do just
that! I’ve listed several here and by no means is this a comprehensive list:

  • Fill the frame
  • Rule of thirds
  • Composition
  • Depth (3Gs: fore-ground, middle-ground, back-ground)
  • Movement through shutter speed
  • Depth-of-field

This is a small list to get you started, but learning these will only improve your photography. First learn all the rules … and then break them!

8. Find your community

Learning photography doesn’t have to be something you do alone. I joined a local photography club, and it really took me further. It allowed me to enter monthly competitions, and having my images critiqued helped me improve.

I also joined many YouTube channels and bookmarked several popular photography
sites like OutdoorPhotoAcademy by Jim Hamel.

The takeaway here is to find your community, talk about photography, and learn from each other to go further.

9. Respect the craft

There are a lot of arguments on the internet about sensor sizes, lenses, camera brands, megapixels, etc. Winning an argument won’t make you a better photographer, and you
waste precious time that could be spent improving your skills.

Photographers put years into their work. Respect the craft and the time others have put
into it. If you’re asked to provide feedback, be respectful and constructive.

Every day, someone new picks up a camera with the intention of becoming a photographer. Keep your distance from those online arguments and cultivate an
environment that’s friendly to the new photographer.

10. Make it fun!

Are you frustrated with your camera? Photo editor? Your skills? Then take a break from it and come back another time. Photography is meant to be fun, not frustrating!

If you’re photographing other people, remember you’ll transfer your energy to your
subjects. Be happy and you will get better poses from them.

Remember to enjoy the ride, have fun, and click away!

Mangesh "Manny" Sanga

Mangesh “Manny” Sangapu is a member of TAPC and the creator of OpenFilmmaker.com, where he blogs about photography and film. Go there to see the rest of this article, including comments about his photography equipment.

Barred Owl In Flight: The Story Behind the Photo

By David Roberts

Barred Owl In Flight by David Roberts

Barred Owl In Flight by David Roberts (324mm, f 5.6, 1/2000, auto ISO 2500)

One of the primary activities practiced at the Colleyville Nature Center (CNC) is photography, and the primary subject being photographed is wildlife, particularly birds. By far the most popular birds at CNC are the Barred Owls, with the spring mating season and subsequent arrival of the baby owls (owlets) being the peak time of activity for the year.

I was fortunate on a recent visit to find the ‘West Side’ female owl sunning herself in the
opening of the iconic ‘Owl Tree.’ After posing for some static shots in great light with awesome catchlights in her eyes, she decided to stretch her wings and take flight. I had witnessed this exact scenario many times before, as this is my third owl season at CNC. I knew there was a good chance she would fly instead of returning to inside the tree, so I was prepared with the proper camera settings. As with many things, timing is everything. Even though you know its coming, its amazing how easy it is to be distracted by conversation with a fellow photographer or simply removing the camera from your eye to scratch your nose. There is certainly an element of luck involved here, and luck was on my side.

This image was captured on March 5, 2020, at 10:10 a.m. with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 contemporary lens.

Photo Organization Made Simple

By Jim Hamel

Got free time? Here’s a little lesson that may help you pass the hours, or days, or weeks.

My guess is that you want your photos to be organized but don’t want to spend any time worrying about it. And you want to be able to find your photos quickly. There is nothing
worse than looking through a bunch of folders for a photo you know you have somewhere, but being unable to find it. At the same time, you don’t want to create a cumbersome system. It will not be sustainable. You are likely to give up on your system and then your photos will have no organization at all. A cumbersome system is likely to take up more of your time than actually looking for a photo every now and then.

Or maybe you are just getting started with photography and haven’t thought about how to organize your photos at all. You may not have enough photos yet that you see the need. But starting out with a good process right away is the best way to go. It will save you a lot of time and effort so you don’t have to go back and reorganize your photos later.

The Tension: By Date or By Subject?

The two main ways people organize their photos are either by date or by subject. Both
methods have strengths and weaknesses. You might create a folder structure by date,
and that will allow you to see everything chronologically. Unfortunately, we all tend
to forget what we did on certain dates, and it might become problematic to find something from two to three years ago.

steel wool on fire night photograph

Photo by Jim Hamel

The other way to organize is by subject. That becomes a problem, too. It is hard to sustain, and there might be different subject matter in the same group of pictures. For example, take a look at the photo on the right. This is a night shot I took where I was playing with steel wool lit on fire in a park in northwest Texas. Into which folder should I put the photo? A Texas folder? Or perhaps a state parks folder? Or perhaps a night photography folder? Or maybe one for spinning fire shots and other such trickery? As you can see, it would be confusing. The temptation is to start duplicating the photos and putting them in multiple folders, which is just a waste. I use a system that gives you the best of both worlds and it’s really easy.

The Simple System

First, download your photos to your computer as your normally do. When you do so, a folder with the date will be created. Now, rename the folder you just created, keeping the date, but also adding a short description at the end. For example, if the folder that was created says “2017-12-09” and it contains images you took on a trip to New York, just add the words “New York” to the end. Now the folder reads: 2017-12-09 New York. Or if you took pictures at your child’s birthday party, add the words “Birthday Party” to the folder after the date. And so on. Do this to all the folders you create. Here is a snip of my hard drive so you can see how this folder structure will look:

TAPC-2020-04-org-screenshot

That’s it! You’re done.

Taking this step will do two things for you. It will keep your photos in chronological order, which is important because your brain often works in terms of chronology. We usually have at least a rough idea when we did something. You can go to the folder for any particular year and scan it quickly to find what you need. In addition, having added the description will now let you know the subject of each folder. The subject is in the name so you never have to spend any time going through the folders.

Using this System in Lightroom

If you just organize your photos on your hard drive, you are done. But many  photographers use Lightroom, which offers other organizational features that you can add on to this system. How does that work?

It is really pretty easy. First of all, when you import your photos, Lightroom will use the
exact same folder structure you created on your hard drive, so the system you created
above will also work in Lightroom. For example, looking at the structure we created before, here is how it will look in Lightroom:

TAPC-2020-04-org-lightroom

When I am looking for a picture, this is more than enough to let me find it quickly. If you want to use any of the other Lightroom tools to organize your photos, you can add them on. The best such tool is Collections. This is just a separate grouping of photos on whatever basis you want. Lighroom doesn’t actually move the photos, but it will look that way on your screen. To create a Collection, you simply press the plus sign, name it
whatever you want, and the drag some photos into it. This is great if you are creating a group of photos from multiple dates.

What about keywords? Put simply, forget about them. Unless you are selling stock photography, I wouldn’t even bother with them. You will spend more time keywording
photos than you will spend looking for photos. All you are doing here is adding a little one- to three-word description to the chronological folder structure that your computer is making.

It is really simple to do, and it takes virtually no time, so you will do it every time. It is all
you ever need to do to stay organized. I have shown many people this system, and it seems to work for just about everybody.

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel is not just a great photographer, writer, and teacher, he’s also one of our very own TAPC members. Check out his free photography guides and tutorials at Outdoor Photo Academy. You can also see this original unedited article.

Exploded Deli Club: The Story Behind the Photo

By Bill Webb

Final image of Exploded Deli Clubphotograph by Bill Webb

Exploded Deli Club by Bill Webb (f 4.5, 1/10, ISO 400)

For our recent ‘Food’ topic, I chose to try one of those exploded shots we see sometimes. Folks have since asked if it was a bunch of Photoshop layers. The answer is ‘no.’

Here’s how I did it.

lights, wires, and stands for setting up Exploding Sandwich photo by Bill Webb

Photo 1 – Exploding sandwich photograph setup

Photo 1 shows my lights and supports set-up in the kitchen. I set up two stands and ran solid wire between them to make the ‘shelves’ onto which I would place the sandwich makings. I had an LED panel as main light positioned at camera left and a small LED fill (about 15 percent power) on top of the camera.

Sandwich layers attached to wires for Exploding Deli Club photo by Bill Webb

Photo 2 – Exploding sandwich layers attached to wires

When that was all set up, I disassembled my Jason’s sandwich and carefully positioned the pieces on the layers of wire as you see in Photo 2. I checked exposure and lighting to get the background dark and the sandwich well-lit. I took the shot.

Final image of Exploded Deli Clubphotograph by Bill Webb

Photo 3 – Exploded Deli Club final image

Then in Photoshop, I used spot healing and cloning to remove the wires. Voilà – an exploded sandwich (Photo 3).

The last step was to reassemble the sandwich and have lunch!

Black & White

You might think that a black-and-white image is a step down from its full-color equivalent, but the absence of color draws attention to other facets of composition, including light, shadows, lines, shapes, patterns, texture, and symmetry.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when shooting for our March 2020 club contest.

Keep It Simple

Choose a subject that will showcase the compositional elements. Busy backgrounds or cluttered images are distractions to avoid.

Lighthouse in black-and-white by Tony Naccarato from Unsplash.com

Lighthouse in black-and-white by Tony Naccarato from Unsplash.com

2. Capture Contrast

Make sure there is separation between your subject and the background. A great black-and-white image often has varying shades of gray. But including clean black and clean white areas within the image will help keep it from looking muddy. However, a large area that is only black or white can look like dead space.

3. Filter the Light

A polarizing filter will help darken skies and remove harsh reflections. A neutral density filter will allow you to lengthen exposure time to create interesting effects in water or clouds.

4. Try Underexposing

It’s a bit of an optical illusion, but the darker your blacks, the whiter the whites will seem.

5. Shoot in HDR

Some cameras will allow you to shoot in HDR (high dynamic range). This format can often make color images feel a little surreal. But it’s a powerful option in B&W for how it
seemingly amplifies texture, contrast, and light and shadow.

6. Play in Post

black-and-white photo of chairs by Jonas Jacobsson from Unsplash.com

Black-and-white photo of chairs by Jonas Jacobsson from Unsplash.com

Capturing the image is just the first part. Use Photoshop or Lightroom to play with levels and curves. Do a little dodging and burning to parts of the image. It’s not cheating. (This is technically how Ansel Adams did it, just with paper in a darkroom.)

Calm: The Story Behind the Photo

By Michael Burleson

Photo of horse eye and owner's eye by Michael Burleson

Calm by Michael Burleson (f 5.6, 1/800, ISO 800)

This shot was taken on an overcast afternoon when my wife and I took a break from her schoolwork to see her horse. Horses are known for their theraputic qualities and are often used to promote mental health.

While she was visiting, I decided to walk around the barn to take a few shots of the horses.

This was a very subtle and still moment between her and her horse that displayed a calmness I was thankful to capture.

The sky that day really painted the canvas for the shot, and I didn’t really find it necessary to edit it much. I chose black-and-white because it really brought the moment to life.

20 in ’20

 

You gotta have a goal. Why not make 2020 the year you try 20 new things in photography?

Read on for some suggestions. Many of these are the topics for this year’s
competitions. So push yourself this year and getcha some ribbons!

1. Go Old School

Shoot in black and white. But don’t just desaturate an existing image. Seek out something you think will look fabulous in B&W and shoot that (for the March contest).

Photo of person and their reflection at the beach by Jeremy Vessey from Unsplash.com

Photo by Jeremy Vessey from Unsplash.com

2. Get a Silhouette

Find something that is strongly backlit and expose for the background. Submit in the April competition.

3. Reflect on Reflections

This is another option for the April contest. Take a second look at still water, store windows, puddles, and well, mirrors.

Put some extra dimension in your shots by purposely finding subjects that have elements in the foreground and background.

5. Paint with Light

June’s contest is the source for many of the ideas in this article. Take a long exposure at night, and use a flashlight to “paint” certain areas for dramatic effect.

6. Move While Shooting

Add a sense of motion to your images by zooming or panning during an exposure. The longer the shutter speed, the bigger the effect.

7. Add a Filter

Try shooting through a neutral density filter to smooth out water or clouds. Might be a nice effect for the July contest.

8. Get on Your Belly

Our eyes see almost everything from a standing perspective, so shooting from a unique angle is an easy way to make your photographs instantly more interesting. Get really low for the August contest.

Photo by Thomas Park from Unsplash.com

Photo by Thomas Park from Unsplash.com

9. Find a Pattern

Our November competition will have you looking for geometric shapes in nature. Go even further by finding interruptions in patterns—almost always makes a great photo.

10. Get Closer

A common remark heard from judges is the subject is too far away in the photo. So move in. Push yourself to get closer than you usually do. Might work nicely in the February contest.

11. Go Somewhere New

Texas has amazing places to shoot. Here are just a few and a few more.

12. Go Somewhere Old

Push yourself to find new subject matter in familiar places. If you’ve photographed every animal at the zoo, go again and capture shots of people.

13. Alarm Yourself

While out shooting, set the timer on your phone to go off in an hour or so. When it does, immediately shoot the most interesting thing you see.

14. Do the Opposite

Go ahead and get the shot. Then force yourself to do something completely different with the same subject. The crazier, the better.

15. Flash Someone

Most photographers wait too long to explore the power of flash. Did you know you can probably change the intensity of the flash on your camera? Start with that. Use it to fill shadows. Try using reflectors to bounce light.

16. Go on a TAPC Field Trip

Have you seen the images we get when we go somewhere together? Our Facebook page is the best place to hear about upcoming trips.

17. Sit Still

Find a nice place. Sit. Then wait. Observe. Absorb. Look at the same things until they seem to be foreign. If you’re getting bored, you may be about to see something amazing. Good things come to those who wait.

18. Go Out in the Rain

To capture images you don’t normally get, shoot when you don’t normally go. Turn your excuses—too rainy, too cold, too windy—into invitations.

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz from Unsplash.com

Photo by Noémi Macavei-Katócz from Unsplash.com

19. Volunteer

Many local businesses would love some free photography. This will push you to do interesting work and may just help you move from hobbyist to pro.

20. Shoot Yourself

For most photographers, the subject matter they have the least of is themselves. Use the timer on your camera and capture a headshot. You’ll need it after all these challenges make you rich and famous.

If you’ve already done a few of these, add your own challenges to the list. But push yourself to find (and do) 20 in ‘20.