Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Before and After

I'm in this constant loop of self improvement that usually involves things that fall into one of three categories: Lighting, Composition, and Post Processing. That last one has been my Achilles Heel because Ive spent the majority of my time on the first two. But now that I pretty much have my lighting sorted out I'm spending more time on my post processing "skills" -in quotes cause I still suck at it. But I am getting better, and recently I was reminded of an image that National Geographic published in their Young Explorer Magazine (Jan/Feb 2011 pages 10 and 11) and I wanted to see what I could do to improve the shot. At that time I was wrestling with a flower that was yellow but always seemed to come out a little on the orange side, or with a greenish tint. Here's the original edit:

Here's my recent pass on the original RAW file:

The yellows are a lot better, and the overall contrast is much improved. For post processing I'm currently using Photoshop Elements 13 with Topaz plugins (Denoise, Detail, Clarity, and Adjust depending on the image). I'm not going to get into a play by play on my post processing because I'm still learning, but if you are looking to improve your digital darkroom skills then check out the Topaz YouTube Channel -even if you don't use their plugins there's still a lot of really good advice!

If anyone has some other online post processing references then please pass them my way in the comments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Studio Verses Field Macro

I frequently see photographers debating the merits of "natural" photography, and these days I have a tendency to avoid such discussions like the plaque. The word natural is just too subjective -what might seems perfectly natural to you might be completely unnatural to me (or vise versa). Truth be told I do not think that macro photography is natural since most people can't see more detail than what's visible in a 1/3 life size image. So I have no interest, romantic or philosophical, in creating natural images. My goal is to make images that people want to print large and hang on the wall, even though it's a photo of a "bug". To that end I'd rather be shooting in near studio conditions so that I have full creative control over the scene, and so I can show you what I want you to see and not just what the camera was able to capture. There's just no way to produce an image like this one in the field:

I was photographing that solitary bee on my patio table, but initially it wasn't active. I'm getting bored with taking static images because the story telling aspect is, well, short. "Here is a sleeping insect. The end". Kinda dull, and I really don't want the images in my gallery to get repetitive. So I was sitting there thinking about the scene that I wanted to shoot when it dawned on me that I could probably create it. If I failed then I'd still have a static shot of a sleeping bee, but if it worked I'd not only have a much better image I'd also be able to get a composition out of my head that had been stuck there for a few years. So I put some honey on a sunflower petal, coaxed the bee to climb onto it, and when it started feeding I shot it like it was the last image I was ever going to take. For the background I used a piece of light blue plexiglass with some glossy photo paper taped behind it. Is it "natural"? Not even close. Is it a photo that looks good printed large? Well let's just say that I had a print of it on canvas gallery wrapped that's currently hanging at my mother in law's house...

Given the choice I'd much rather shoot in near studio conditions, but that doesn't stop me from chasing the critters in the heat of the day when they are hyper active. The down side is that I'm not in full control of the scene so I pretty much have to accept what the critter and the lighting conditions will give me. Sometimes I get lucky and I can use the flash to expose for the subject and let the natural light expose the background, like in this image:

I'm still holding on to the flower's stem to help keep the scene steady, but other than that I'm not manipulating the frame or the subject. Contrast that shot with this one where I'm sitting at the patio table, I have my "studio" set up, and I've baited the subject:

I'm not saying that either style is right or wrong, but given the choice I'd much rather produce studio images.