I set out tonight on a walking trail as the sun was setting. One more snowfall like the last one, and I'll need snow shoes to walk this trail. Nothing special, but I believe in trying to get one decent picture a day. Still not sure if I succeeded in this series. Nice, but not breathtaking. 

But, you have to get out there to shoot.




Thanks to my wife, I got some nice gift certificates for Henry's Camera. I was able to pick up a Sigma 70-300 DG OS (Optical Stabilization) lens. I was looking at something not too expensive; this Sigma lens runs about $450.00, and has excellent reviews on both Amazon.com and the B&H Video site. If you accept that this is a moderately-priced 70-300mm lens designed for amatuers, you should be happy with it. I think if you start to compare it to Canon's 70-200mm f.2.8 IS II, you'll certainly find weaknesses in the Sigma by comparison, but that model of Canon lens is also about 3 times the price. There are reviews and product spec info pages on the web for this lens, so I'm not doing a big review, just a brief overview. This is my first non-Canon lens for my 7D. As far as aftermarket lenses go, Sigma is generally accepted as producing excellent product. This lens can be used with both full-frame sensors, as well as the smaller APC-s sensors, such as is found in my Canon 7D camera. In brief:

1. Overall weight and build: The lens barrel is plastic, but it has a solid feel to it. The calibrations on the lens are high resolution, matte-white on black lens, which make all of the numbers very visible. Sort of like the matte-white numbers on the dial of the famous Omega Speedmaster watch, which was used in NASA's space program owing to it's legibility under different light sources, among other things. So, I like the very legible calibrations. I like that the lens is not a heavyweight, and wears comfortably on my Canon 7D. It also comes with a lens hood, which has a very matte finish, in order to diffuse light I would think, which is a clever thought by Sigma engineers. What I really miss is a barrel lock; I have not found there to be any lens creep as its called (the lens slowly extending itself owing to gravity as it hangs from at your side), but I have read that in time, the barrel will develop lens creep. All telephoto zoom lenses should come with a simple lens lock, which lock the lens at its shortest focal length, so the lens doesn't drop out while you're trekking about.

2. Auto focus operation: The auto focus is to my perception, a noisier affair than the AF on my Canon lenses. I have read complaints of slowness in the auto focus on other reviews, although I have not yet found this to be the case. I have found the auto focus to be acceptably quick and on target in use.

3. Lens speed. This is not a super-fast lens. In other words, if you want to use this lens to take exposures of fast-action (think sports) in less-than-bright light, you may find it is not fast enough since its widest aperture is f/4-5.6, with the tightest aperture being f/22. In the series of exposures I show here, the fastest I could shoot at 300mm and f/6.3 (the widest aperture I could use with an acceptable shutter speed for some light morning dog-walking action) was 1/100 sec, not fast enough to freeze motion. To be fair, the light was grey and overcast.

4. Sharpness at wide open lens: When I took an exposure of a still subject at 300mm, I found when I zoomed the image 100%, the image detail and sharpness was acceptable. I have read that the sweet spot for image sharpness at 300mm for this lens is closer to f/9, but I couldn't manage it in the light this morning.

5. Color sharpness: When set correctly (I shoot in manual mode all the time, so I try to balance aperture and shutter speed based on my camera's readings moment by moment), I feel that the colors seen in the images I posted here, as well as in the images I've been test shooting since I got this lens, are sharp and correct.

Overall, this is a decent lens for the money. I have read pretty much only positive reviews of this lens. Its prime uses would be for wildlife photography (the main reason I bought this), sports action from the sidelines in good light, and portraiture work, since the 9-blade aperture construction creates some very pleasing bokeh. I look forward to posting more images from this lens in the future.
A few test images; the test images are as shot, with no correction post-production. These were only re-sized to be able to be uploaded.

Photo 1: Lens zoomed out to 300mm; reviewers say that the best aperture for this lens at 300mm is about f/9, but I could not do this in the grey-sky light today. My aperture setting was f/6.3, and the fastest shutter I could get at ISO 200 was 1/100, not fast enough to freeze the action of a running subject.

Photo 2: Cropped section of the moving image, zoomed 100%. The distortion is due to the low shutter speed.

Photo 3:  Lens zoomed out to 300mm, f/6.3. On a still subject the sharpness, I believe, is very good. Color here is excellent as well. 

Photo 4: Cropped section of the still image, zoomed to 100%. Sharp detail and color in my opinion.

Photo 5. Shot to demonstrate the bokeh of this lens; here, the foreground in blurred, the background fence is in focus.

Photo 6: Opposite; the foreground in focus, the background fence in blur. This should be a really good portrait lens. 
I got up early this morning, with a nice case of acid reflux from Christmas dinner the night before. As I lingered over a strong espresso, I saw the dawn approach and had to get out to take advantage of the fresh snow and the rising sun.

After strapping on the Cotton Carrier and Cotton Carrier lens bag (which I use exclusively to hold about 5 different filters, lens wipes and an Allan wrench to tighten the fitting that anchors the camera to the Cotton holster), I felt more purpose oriented, and headed out.

As I got to the walking trail, I realized that the sun was hitting its peak, and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be. I ran about a kilometer to get to a spot where I knew I'd catch the sunrise, and was able to snap a series of shots as the sun came up. 

My mantra in photography is, that photography is light and knowing how to capture it. The best natural light is at dusk and dawn, and then at those times, the key moments are brief and fiercely unforgiving. 

The great thing about winter's mornings, is that the red color of sun rise reflects really well off snow. Since our area had a fresh snow fall of about 4 inches last night, I could count on some nice reflective images, as well as exposures of the sunrise itself.

I was using my Canon 17-40mm lens, which is outstanding for sunrise and sunset shots; it's sufficiently wide angle to capture excellent landscape shots. The lens elements are L-series glass, and therefore provides solid chromatic rendition and sharpness. Additionally, the aperture construction is a 7-blade design which I find creates beautiful sun stars when shooting over f/13 with the fastest shutter speed that a proper exposure will allow. As the sun was coming up to the treeline, you can see a vertical shaft of orange-tinted light, a brief-lasting phenomenon of refraction as the sun clears the horizon. These are colloquially known as angel shafts, and I'm always trying to capture a better one. Not as challenging as the famous "flash of green" seen over equatorial horizons at sun set, but a similarly infrequent event which lasts a short period of time.

I used a Singh-Ray 3 stop, hard-stop split neutral density filter, which means that the horizon and above is shooting through three-stops of neutral grey filter to tame the bright sunlight, and the bottom half of the filter is clear, allowing for the less-well lit foreground to be properly exposed. Essentially, high dynamic range photography without HDR software and post-production.

Overall, some decent images. I met up with the dogs as my wife made it out to the trail later on. I didn't have the right lens for high shutter speed work, but the shots of the dogs in action are acceptable, but they're just not Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8 stop-action sharp. Photography is a toolbox, and you need the right tool for the job. My 17-40mm landscape lens is great for landscape, but it isn't fast enough for really good stop-action work.

Finally, a few shots of some other parts of the trail; in a few, I used my Singh-Ray Blu 'n Gold filter to punch up the sky, others I used the split ND filter, and for others (like the tunnel of Tamarack trees) I used no filter at all.

Anyways, I ended up feeling a whole lot better for my morning run and photo work. I was using the Cotton Carrier side holster, which holds the camera fine even at a slow jog, which is about what I'm capable of doing in fresh snow the morning after. I was surprised that the base plate actually came loose on the walk, the first time I have ever experienced that. I have spoken to Joe Cotton on the phone, and he said that contrary to the info on his website, you don't need to apply a threadlocker to the base plate, but rather, just tighten the base plate sufficiently (the base plate screws into where your tripod plate would go; this plate allows you to slot your camera into a padded holder, which retains your camera superbly, releasing with a twist and a pull). I'm cautious not to over tighten, for fear of cracking the camera body's fame, which would be fatal for the camera. That said, I tighten to where it feels very snug, then just carry the Allen key that comes with your carrier so if needed, I can tighten up out in the field; better to have to tighten a base plate from time to time than to over tighten and crack the body I believe. And if I knew I was going to be running, I would have worn my chest Cotton Carrier, which is built for everything from combat to hikes in the Gatineau Hills. 

Wearing the side holster Cotton Carrier on my right hip, with the lens bag on the left hip, I feel like I'm rigged to rappel. The strap systems Cotton uses are well padded, well designed and well laid-out. When I have both systems on and snug, I feel strapped-in, my camera is not swaying all over the place, and I have ready access to my filters, to go from 3-stop ND to 2-stop ND to Blu 'n Gold to a color graduated filter if I wish. Since I find myself changing filters in a frenzy during a sun rise to capture all the nuances, I like having the Cotton lens bag on my hip, where everything is organized, close and very secure.

Hi everyone, and Merry Christmas! As my gift to you, I should take a break from blogging, especially today. However, before the guests arrive, I decided to upload 10 of the photos that I have entered in the Outdoor Photography Canada contest....from a previous blog, you'll see I already entered 10 photos in said contest. I decided to enter another 10, and here they are. I hope they say "Canada outdoors" to the judges; they do to me. 

Take care, have a really safe and happy Christmas (we had a good snowfall in the Ottawa area this morning).


I woke up after my last night watch, went for an appointment in Carleton Place at noon, then thought that the light was too good to waste. I went home, got my Canon 7D, and used my new Cotton Carrier  (http://www.cottoncarrier.com/ ) side holster, which allows you to literally hook the camera into a Lexan mount. The mount sits on a padded cut out which wears on the belt of the system. Its a very comfortable way to carry a heavy camera, hands-free over rocky, slippery terrain, which is where I went to shoot. My only issue was that using P-sized neutral density grad filters became a problem; the carrier angles the lens to rest against the body, which bothers the filters. 

I had called Cotton Carrier and spoke directly to Joe Carrier, president and designer. A very knowledgeable and pleasant  man, he addressed this issue by telling me I could reverse the position of the mounting piece as it sat on my camera body. Since the mounting piece is angled (to angle long, heavy lenses to rest against the body to relieve torque and strain on the mount and camera), he explained that by reversing the angle, the camera would now angle away from my side, and not angle into it. Since I'm using a light lens (Canon 17-40 mm ) there is no concern of torque damage issues with the camera angled out in this manner. So, I had my 7D, with a Singh-Ray 3 stop ND grad filter, totally hands free, while walking about 5 kilometers of snow-covered trail. The free lens bag that ships with the carrier (see their site; not sure how long they're doing this) wears on the opposite side the of camera, and was perfect for holding several more filters, cleaning cloths and car keys. Everything wears on shoulder and waist straps, so everything is exceedingly firm, comfortable and very, very secure.

A Canadian company! A clever innovation that works, and works well. If you have ever lugged a pro-series DSLR any distance on a neck strap, you'll soon realize that this is an ineffective method, which leaves the camera bouncing and unsecured. Consider a system that for a reasonable price puts your DSLR on a chest or hip rig, with ample, padded webbing to lock the camera on you in a way that's much more comfortable than you would think, and which is light years ahead of neck straps. 

As for the shoot, well, the shoot went ok, not the absolute best light, and I'm a crap photographer too :)....but if you don't get out and shoot, you'll never know if that magical shot was there waiting in the woods for you.

Be safe all, and as of the 20th, Happy Hanukkah, and in two days, Merry Christmas!

Take care,


Thanks to my sister, I got a nice gift certificate for Amazon.com, and went ahead and replaced an older monopod with a very nice Vanguard carbon fiber monopod.

Why I like the Vangaurd Elite-CP24 Carbon Fiber monopod:

1. Price: its a very reasonable $114.00 on Amazon. I was looking at Gitzos, Really Right Stuff and so forth, and was looking at in some cases twice to three times the price. While I do believe in getting what you pay for, I also look at the overall factors, which are my next points;

2. Its extremely well-rated, everywhere you look. From Amazon to B&H Video to Adorama to other web reviews, I could not find a negative opinion. In term of quality of construction, durability, functionality, etc., I found universally-positive reviews, which is actually a fairly unusual thing. Photo 1.   This shows the overall unit; nice padded wrap at the top, with a strap, a carabiner attached to the strap to clip your pod to a knapsack or belt loop.  Photo 2. This shows a nice, solid metal platform for either your camera, or for a ball head to attach. There are two sizes of set screw to cover all models, and they include a neat little metal tool that removes the set screw, and which also has an Allan wrench to screw in the three included tightening set screws that go in through the underside of the base.
3. It is very solid. I received this today, and after expanding all of the sections, there is no appreciable twist or evident torsion weakness. Also, the stated overall length is more than adequate for me, and I stand 6'3". It collapses with twist rings (which I prefer to clamp-snaps) and since the twist rings line up next to each other (Photo 3) with one twist of the hand, you can open all of the twist rings in one go.

4. The base can be raised or lowered by screwing clockwise or counterclockwise.  If you go indoors or don't want to mar a surface with the stud, you can screw the base back upwards to recess the stud (Photo 4). To expose a very solid steel stud, for use on ice, mud or other types of terrain where a spike will anchor better than the flat rubber foot, you screw the rubber foot back to reveal the stud (Photo 5). Very neat.  The rubber foot is attached to the pod with a ball-socket joint, so the foot will also angle around as you move your position, which is also a very smart design feature (Photo 6). And the overall construction quality is seen in Photo 7, where the size and knurling of the twist ring is shown.

Overall, this is a smart design, made by a large company that manufactures binoculars, tripods and other outdoors equipment. I would prefer to buy Canadian or American, but in this case, the design, the ruggedness, the lightweight of the carbon fiber at an extremely reasonable price, all conspired to get my gift certificate.

Another nice plus of carbon fiber; it doesn't get cold in the winter. I remember many a long, cold winter's night as a crime scene photographer, doing timed exposures of accident scenes at night. The aluminum tripods we had would get so cold, that the chill would go right through your gloves and numb your hands. Nowadays, aluminum tripods and monopods tend to have foam grips to overcome this, but when you adjust and manipulate the frozen aluminum pod, you still maim your hands, both in very hot and very cold weather.

In any event, if you decide you want a monopod for your spotting scope for nature watching, to support a large lens for action/sports shoots, or you want the monopod for those dusk/dawn shoots where you need a stable platform for a 1 second exposure, certainly consider this beast. 

Take care and a very Merry Christmas to all,

You might be getting gift cards this Christmas for camera shops/Amazon, etc. Like me, you may be looking to add a monopod to your arsenal, a handy device to have where a tripod is too much, but the IS (image stabilization) on your camera lens is not enough in low light for a clear shot.

Monopods fill the gap nicely; they're lighter and shorter as a rule than tripods, and are much easier to pack and travel with. The obvious downside is that they can't support a camera in a motionless manner as a tripod can. They will steady your shot in low light, or if you're shooting with a very large lens, but you can't stand your camera on it and do a 20 second timed exposure with it.

As a result, both are handy to have. I carry a tripod for those shoots where I know I'll need to do a timed exposure, and like the monopod for dawn/dusk shoots where I need to steady the camera, and not immobilize it. Even a high-quality carbon fiber tripod will weigh several pounds; add on a ball-swivel head sturdy enough to safely manage a large lends and full size pro DSLR, and you're into a bit of weight hanging off the back of your knapsack. 

If you decide to have both mono and tripods, do a bit of research on the type of base plate that you'll be using. I believe in you get what you pay for, and as such tend to save and buy the strongest, lightest and best-designed kit I can afford to have a very satisfying, long-lasting result. 

 However, when using certain specialty ball heads and base plates (as opposed to a more mainstream offering), the more expensive kit, albeit high-quality, can be a bit of a problem. Said specialty base plates are often machined and dovetailed to fit exquisitely into the ball head. Your camera becomes locked securely into a free-moving ball head, making for great tripod work. Wonderful.

The downside is, that much of the aftermarket kit (adapter screws, strap screws, etc) that is designed for mainstream base plate designs does not fit onto the specialized stuff. So for example, my Blackrapid R-7 shoulder strap--an outstanding strap alternative to standard vertebrae-damaging neck-straps--can use an adapter screw to allow me to switch quickly from neck strap to tripod. However, this adapter screw is made for the mainstream base plate designs, and will not fit on my exquisitely designed specialty base plate. As much as I like certain high-end tripod/monopod camera-mounting systems,  once you buy into these systems, you may be unable to use widely available adapters, straps, etc. So if you want to switch your camera from one ball head that's permanently mounted on your monopod, to the panning head that's permanently on your tripod, you may find that you're stuck into a square-peg-in-a-round-hole sort of dilemma.

If you decide to add a monopod to augment your tripod, do your research and make sure that the heads and base plates are interchangeable and are of a common enough design that you can use widely available aftermarket accessories. This way, if you have one base plate screwed into your camera, it can go from the tripod to the monopod without switching base plates. 

Further, if you use a carrying system like the outstanding Cotton Carrier (www.cottoncarrier.com), you can buy an adapter plate from Cotton Carrier that allows you to use your camera in their carrying system, then transition right onto a tripod/monopod. So, make sure that the heads you decide to buy for your tripod and monopod are compatible, so that when you do get an adapter accessory like the one that Cotton Carrier makes, you can move seamlessly from carrier to tripod one shoot, and carrier to monopod the next day.
And Cotton Carrier is a Canadian company. Love to see Made-In-Canada (and Made-In-the-USA) companies that employ us locals with smart designs and quality products. If you want an innovative carrying system for your pro-sized camera and lens setup, look no further: 


Merry Christmas all, be safe and keep taking pix.



Pure portraiture
On a recent shoot, we were working outdoors on a very cold, very windy day. The upside was, the model was very motivated to do the outdoor portion of the shoot, in the evening sunset on the edge of the Ottawa River. A brutally cold wind was in play, not only punishing the model, but also destroying my reflective umbrella.

Outdoor shots like this, even in daylight, still require additional lighting. Not having additional lighting means underexposed parts of your shot. 

For this shoot, I used my Canon 580ex flashgun, with a reflective umbrella on a stand. I had someone holding the umbrella in the high wind (if I don't have someone, I do carry soft ankle weights, which I attach to the stand bottom to weigh it down for outdoors shoots).

The reflected umbrella gives the beautiful catch-lights in this model's eyes, while providing nice, soft directional light. The light--moderated with a CTO (color temperature orange) flash filter, gives a nice, bronze hue to the model which complimented the setting sun. 

For any of my shoots, I always use wireless setups, so there are no wires to bundle and trip over. After experimenting with very inexpensive wireless triggers from China, I have found that you get what you pay for; my bargain gadgets let me down too often, failing to fire or operate at a shoot. After doing some research, I have found and settled on the Paul C. Buff Cybersyncs. These transmitter-receiver rigs are extraordinarily reliable while being affordable. If you're just starting out, check out their site ( http://www.paulcbuff.com/cybersync.php ). You need a transmitter to go on top of your camera's hot shoe, there the flash would normally go, then one receiver for each of the flashes you plan to use. You set your flashes on the "slave mode", and as you take your shot, the slaved flash will fire, even if you don't have line-of-sight (or they will if you use a decent unit like a Cybersync or a Pocketwizard). 
You can do as I did, and experiment with the very cheap gadgety-triggers, but I have found that they work briefly and then crap out. They're dirt cheap, so you get what you pay for. I have read web reviews by those who swear by the inexpensive triggers, as an alternative to the more expensive but rock-solid Pocket Wizards or Cybersyncs. My decision to use Cybersyncs was based on failures of cheaper units; I cannot go to a shoot and be fiddling with remote flash triggers that keep failing. 

Once I have your modelling shoot planned out (general structure as to where I want to shoot, what "look" I'm aiming for, etc), I generally will use two soft-boxes with Canon 580ex and 480ex respectively at 45 degree angles to the model. I'll supplement this with a third flashgun straight-on to the model, a Canon 320ex mounted in the reflective umbrella rig (sometimes I'll set it up as a shoot-through umbrella rig for softer, more diffuse light).   I can also use the modelling light on the 320 unit, attached to a Gorrila Pod overhead to act as a nice hair light ass well.

And a quick word as to the lens; for almost this entire shoot, I was using a Canon 85 mm EF prime lens. I love this lens, one of the best for portraiture I have found. Owing to the fact its an 85 mm, however,  you will need a fair bit of space to frame up your shot. A prime lens is one which does not zoom or move. In other words, you look through the viewfinder, and what you see is what you can shoot; to re-compose your shot, you need to move, you can't adjust the lens to re-compose your scene. This makes things a tad awkward at times, but the benefit is that a prime lens--with no moving parts--can have a much larger base aperture (faster lens, which means it can admit much more light into the camera, so you can take low light shots without a flash or tripod, as well as creating beautiful bokeh, or background blur, by using the widest aperture setting). 

A prime lens is also capable of capturing images that are tack-sharp, with vivid colors and next-to-no distortion, flare or other lens abberations. When looking at this shot, you can see the buttery-smooth texture of the image aspects, the sharpness of focus where it counts, the beautiful background blur (bokeh) made possible by the very wide aperture. In fact, to get this de-focused background, I opened the aperture to its largest setting of  f1.8, then used a four-stop neutral density filter to tame the incoming light to prevent over exposure.

   To see more photos of this beautiful model from this shoot, please go to my website page and click on the portraiture page. 

I recently did a photo shoot with two very unique people. The gym owner (pictured here) is in amazing physical condition, especially given that he's in his late 40's. He doesn't just look fit; he is fit. He cycles competitively in the summer, and after starting his day at six in the morning, opening  the gym, getting his training in, running the gym, training clients, managing the facility and giving spinning classes, he'll take an afternoon crunch on his bike through the Gatineau Hills, and come back to the gym for more personal training for clients. I'm a bit younger than he, and get out of breath if a sentence goes on too long. Its hard to believe we're even the same species.

Anyways, shooting in gyms poses several problems:

   1. Wall mirrors are everywhere. You have to position yourself and your lighting equipment out of the way, so as to avoid having the kit in the shot but while still providing suitable exposure. I use prime lenses to make the most of low light, and often shoot with an 85 mm lens to frame my shots without catching myself or my equipment in the mirror's reflection. Lights must also be carefully aimed to avoid flash burn reflection in the wall mirrors, which seem to be everywhere.

   2. Weight equipment. Sometimes it adds to the industrial feel of the composition, but often its just clutter. Take time to move benches and so forth to create the shot you're after. Using wide aperture settings not only makes the most of low light conditions, but the wide apertures create excellent bokeh, blurring your backgrounds out nicely.

   3. The model needs to arrive ready to shoot; this means no tight clothing, since a shoot likely involves several clothing changes, and tight clothing leaves marks that, contrary to popular belief, cannot be simply "Photo Shopped" out. If the model is in condition, has suitable clothing and an idea of the types of poses they want to do, the shoot rolls along more smoothly and the results are much better. I always talk to the model before the shoot, and e-mail the model/client a shooting schedule thay outlines what we intend to accomplish, so there's no confused wandering around the gym.

   4. Gyms are generally lighted with ceiling mounted fluorescent lights. This type of light casts a nasty yellow tone in the shots. I try to shut off as many of the fluorescent lights as I can and do as much lighting with my wireless flashguns, usually a combination of two soft boxes and one reflected umbrella at a minimum. I will also use a reflector to create a concentration of light on the model, and will also use gel filters on the flashguns to create a mood or to correct a poor lighting situation. 

   5. Setting up background screens usually requires an aerobics room, or a yoga room, somewhere you can set up your frames and screens for black, white or dappled backgrounds. Dappled is easiest to set up since it doesn't show wrinkles, but black and white--which show wrinkles--give the best results, no question. When shooting the subject against a white screen, I find I have to tweak the flashguns (slaved units on manual mode) a fair amount at first to find the sweet spot where you don't have a shadow on the screen (too little or unbalanced light), nor do you wash out the model with too much light.

   Once I get all of these issues under control, while maintaining an energy with the model and keeping the pace moving, the shoot goes well. Fitness enthusiasts who want to have a record of their physique, and the progress made in time, are very willing to do what it takes to get the right shot, even though they may be shattered-tired from the event. Its an interesting, unique type of portraiture, which I very much enjoy doing. 

   Too see more of this subject, please click on the "Portraiture" tab.

   All the best,


Quick post to talk about what I'm doing right now before I head to work; post production. I did a shoot last week, and the result was nearly 400 captured images. Since my prices include post production, I will give the client a DVD with all of the unedited images (in this case they downloaded the images at the shoot onto their hard drive), and a DVD with the edited images. Sometimes people think "editing" is a bad word. I have had people look at my work and make a dismissive remark that "...its all Photo Shop." 

The fact is, the iconic Ansel Adams spent masses of time in the darkroom after his shoots, editing his plates and negatives with techniques such as dodging and burning to get the results he was after. Editing, while being a time-consuming process, may range from 5 minutes per image to much, much more depending on what is being done. Most photographers--myself included--will at the very least, make tiny corrections to exposure, color saturation, contrast, sharpness and often composition itself, tended to by cropping.

With current software, the trend is moving quickly towards HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography. Essentially, the photographer takes three exposures of a scene which has variable light. The exposures are taken on a tripod, so as little of the scene as possible changes between the shots. The photographer adjusts the exposure of each shot, so that the dark foreground, the moderate mid-ground and the bright background are properly exposed across three images. Then, in post-production, the images are blended to create one image where all aspects are perfectly exposed. 

 There are some really good HDR images out there, but the human eye is a dynamic mechanism, so as we look at a scene, our pupils dilate and contract to admit more or less light for the eye to process the image. We get used to processing a scene based on our eyes' abilities to deal with varying light. 

Cameras are fixed mechanisms; when taking a picture, the operator tried to expose for the largest area of light in the image. Even so, there will be over and under exposed areas, and an HDR image is often a striking result, because it produces in one image a panoply of proper exposure, causing the view to really look into the image and enjoy all the separate details, as opposed to glancing at it quickly. However, it is a time-consuming process (right now) in order to get a decent result. 

I find that using filters--specifically graduated filters--works best for me these days. These are small rectangles of glass or plastic which have half tinted in neutral density grey (so that they darken the scene without affecting color) and the other half is clear.  Mounted on the camera lens, the operator can have the grassy foreground nicely exposed so all the color and detail is evident, while the darker upper half of the filter tames the bright light of the horizon/sunset, to provide a balanced result.

Results of this can be seen at this blog,  http://singhray.blogspot.com/ My filters are all Singh-Ray. They just seem to work better for me than any others I've used. This isn't a paid endorsement. I just like the product, it works well, and the range of filters available means you can manage bright and harsh light at shoots with a variety of filters.

The photo at the left here is one I shot using SR filters. By metering for the light of the foreground, I was able to capture all of the detail of the grass, the rails, the rocks. The colors are rich and separate, all as a result of proper exposure. Without a graduated filter, the longer exposure needed for the foreground would have resulted in the bright sunset blowing out the back ground. The filter calms that bright light, nicely darkens the difficult-to-see clouds, and results in a balanced picture. A few tweaks in Photo Shop Elements to adjust exposure and color saturation, and the result is there.

If shooting with graduated filters sounds like a way to get better landscape shots, post your questions and we can discuss.

Otherwise, stay safe and stay out there



    Chris Kiez, a hardcore photographer since the 80's, learned to take a picture before the age of selfies and cell phone photography, training on mechanical cameras and film. After years of taking photos of all manner of subjects and people, he did over a 10 year stint as a crime scene photographer on two continents. Now, he does portrait and landscape photos, and is currently distressing the world with his relentlessly, excruciatingly boring blogging. To buy what you see on this site, click here!


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