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.

 

 

Smoke Dancer: The Story Behind the Photo

By Lynne Rogers Harris

Smoke Dancer, a black-and-white photo by Lynne Rogers Harris

Smoke Dancer by Lynne Rogers Harris (f/8, 1/125, ISO 100)

I had been wanting to try my hand at shooting smoke as I had seen some really cool images. So, I bought some incense sticks, set up my black backdrop, used two flashes pointed at the smoke from the sides, and started shooting.

I learned quickly that too much of the flash was hitting the background but my setup just didn’t allow me any other options.

At any rate, I pulled the image into Photoshop and played a little and still wasn’t very happy with the result. I then “inverted” the colors and voila. Suddenly, to my eyes,
I saw a sketch of a dancer and fell in love with it. I hope you can see the dancer, too.

How to Maximize Attraction to Your Photos

By Jim Hamel

We all have trouble evaluating our own work as others will see it. As we sit at our computers, we get to the point where we cannot see the forest for the trees. Not only that, but if we do manage to decide what will attract someone’s eye, we need to decide what to do about it.

In this article I want to give you some steps you can take to better evaluate how others will see your photos and some things you can do to attract their eyes to the right places.

Texture and patterns of clouds above tree in landscape. Photo by Jim Hamel

The simplicity of this photo attracts the initial attention; the texture and patterns of the clouds hold the attention a bit longer. Photo by Jim Hamel

1. You Have a Split Second to Impress

It is amazing how fast we make decisions about photographs. It literally happens in a split-second. As photographers, we need to understand that we only have that fraction of a second to impress the viewer. That is especially true when we face a screen full of thumbnails.

One of the reasons photographers are always preaching about “simplicity” in photos is the importance of catching someone’s eye immediately. A busy photo just will not look good in the initial glance. A simple photo will maximize attraction.

This tendency is not only true of thumbnails on a computer screen, but prints as well. There have been studies that measured the entry and exit times of people in photography exhibitions. The average time spent per photo was about 10 seconds. And that was for masterpieces in a museum that people drove to go see. If people don’t linger over masterpieces, imagine the time they are going to give your photo.

So you need to consider that split second decision in your own work. How? One way is to force yourself to look at your photograph for just a split second. Turn away from your screen. Now turn to look at it and allow yourself to register it very quickly. What is your first impression?

Another way is to leave the picture up on your monitor and walk away for a second. Turn around and view it from across the room. Or go into the kitchen to refill your coffee, and then register the first thing you think when you walk back in the room and see the photo.

These will help you take a “fresh look” at that photo you have been editing.

2. Consider the Route of the Eyes

Once you’ve got someone to give your photo more than the split-second initial look, you’ve got to consider what you want their eyes to do next. This is why leading lines and other compositional elements are so important.

Take a look at photos you love and consider how your eye moves around the frame. Do you gravitate toward certain movements? People differ, but I have personally found that many of my favorite photos start with the center of interest in the lower left quadrant and move in a counter-clockwise rotation from there.

dock rope lines to ship photo by Jim Hamel

The dock-lines provide physical leading-lines into the heart of the picture. Photo by Jim Hamel

Once you determine how you want the eye to move around your picture, how do you do that? The primary way is through brightness and darkness. Our eyes are attracted to brightness, so make the path a little lighter, or make other parts a little darker.

The eye is also attracted by sharpness and contrast. You can add selective contrast and/or sharpening to parts of your picture to guide the eyes of the viewer. You can also add a slight blur to unimportant parts.

3. Reward the Viewer

Once you have held the viewer’s attention for a second or two, you need to reward them for hanging around. That is in the details.

Frankly, this is what we spend most of our time on already. We make sure the textures are just right. We shade things a touch. We worry about color hues and saturation. Just keep doing what you are doing here.

4. View Per the Format

Next, you need to consider how your viewer will see your photo. For example, will your photo be one of many thumbnails that the viewer will be looking at on Flickr or 500px? Or will it be an enormous print? Or maybe something in between?

The size often matters to how your photo is registered. Some pictures are striking as thumbnails, but when you get them on your screen you are unimpressed. Other photos look great blown up, but cannot get a second look as a small thumbnail.

Also, consider that many displays will force a crop on you. The thumbnails on 500px, which is how most users of that site will see of your photo, will not allow for long or tall photos. Instagram actually forces your photo into a square format. So consider how the picture will ultimately be seen before it gets there.

5. Let It Hang Around

We live in an era of instant gratification. If we’ve got a good photo, we want it up right now for all to see.

Many times, if you immediately publish a photo to your website or social media, you will later wish you hadn’t. You will see things you wish you had done differently. We always seem to go too far with an edit or not far enough with something, on the first try.

If you leave a photo hanging around for a few days, you will often go back and make some changes. So give yourself some time with your photo. If possible, print it out and leave it laying around or hanging up for a few days. Note the things you’d like to see done  differently. Then go make the changes. Now you’ve got a final version ready for viewing.

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 and even more images at Digital Photography School.

Time to Reflect: The Story Behind the Photo

By Terry Barnes

"Time to Reflect' sunset photograph of the National Memorial on the Murrah Federal Building site in Oklahoma City by Terry Barnes.

Time to Reflect by Terry Barnes (1/320, f/10, ISO 100)

This spring I learned the PhotoPills app can calculate the dates and times when the sun will be exactly centered down the east-west streets in New York City. I wondered if it could be done in Oklahoma City, specifically at the National Memorial.

The Memorial is located at the site of the former Murrah Federal Building. There is a block-long reflecting pool with “portals” on each end about 10-feet wide by 25- to 30-feet tall. I wanted to center myself on the east end of the pool and have the setting sun centered through the west portal with a reflection on the water.

PhotoPills gave me two possible evenings in September, so I entered the dates into my calendar and waited four months. On September 16, the clouds obstructed the sun, so I
only got a few planning shots.

I returned the next evening to a perfect sky. I set my camera to take a shot every 15 seconds, starting about 10 minutes prior to the “PhotoPills time” and continuing until the sun had crossed the portal. This picture was time stamped within a minute of the time the PhotoPills app had provided. What a smart app!

Fast Food Photo Tips

Food photo by Brooke Lark on unsplash.com

Food photo by Brooke Lark on unsplash.com

Here’s some sage advice for this month’s photo competition entrants, who in true Procrastinator’s Delight style may be waiting until the last minute to shoot the subject — food.

Composition is king in food photography. Give careful consideration to the angle of the shot, the direction of the light, and the placement of the props. Keep reading for a little more on each.

Pick a Side

Several factors determine the best angle to shoot from. If your subject has a lot of horizontal layers, like a cupcake, you’ll  want to showcase that by shooting from the side. A straight down perspective can emphasize the shapes of plates and cutlery, and also eliminate a distracting background. Shooting more diagonally can give you the best of both worlds.

Consider the Light

Usually, the most dramatic food shots appear to have one light source, often on the side of or slightly behind the subject. There may be other lights involved to reduce or soften unwanted shadows, but this can often be handled by deflecting, diffusing, or blocking the light. Some photographers love the feel of natural light, but others like the control of artificial sources.

Raspberry cake photo by Anna Tuthfatullina on unsplash.com

Raspberry cake photo by Anna Tuthfatullina on unsplash.com

Choose Props Wisely

A successful shot has several ingredients, including added props. These can help draw the eye to the main subject, but can also distract if not done well. Select items that complement the colors of the food, including the background or table. When shooting from the side, try putting props in the foreground and background to help tell a story, but use depth of field to soften the focus while keeping the main subject sharp.

Shake It Up

Much of these guidelines pertain to traditional food photos. Your best results may come from tweaking the recipe.