Category Archives: Software and Techniques

Rebecca’s Reverse Clarity Technique

This is going to be a quick note. I just came back from a trip to Mt LeConte in the Smokies with a friend of mine, Eric Bowles. We had a great trip but it showed me how much out of shape I was. Now to try to correct that over the next 3-4 months with all the travel and photography I have planned..

When I got home after 2 days, my lovely wife showed me her images that she had been processing from our trips starting this spring. She had previously been using a little point and shoot camera and I got her a Sony NEX 5n for her birthday. She has been having lots of fun using it and still learning the intracies of differents modes of shooting and focusing. She also took to processing in Lightroom like Michael Phelps takes to water.

Rebecca showed me some of her images and one really struck me. She showed me how she achieved the look and it was so simple. Instead of increasing Clarity, she moved the slider the opposite way ( negative Clarity) and, boy was the image stunning.

Rob Sheppard and I have always taught others to move sliders all around and see what kind of effect you get. Rebecca took that to heart and came up with a great look.

I decided to try the technique on a shot from Rainbow falls. It’s subtle, but I really like what it does.

Before Reverse Clarity

After Reverse Clarity

So the moral of this story is two fold. One, don’t get out of shape and try to hike 7 miles up the mountain with gear and then 7 miles back down. Two, move your processing sliders all around. You won’t damage anything and you might find a look you really like.


Quick Tips for Video with dSLR

I will be using the Nikon D4 as an example (the d800 is set up the same way) for shooting video with a dSLR.

  1. Shooting mode– You will want to shoot in M (Manual) Mode. Why? Because if the light varies much, your shutter speed will vary and shutter speed is related to frame rate, so you will want that consistent.
  2. Resolution/Frame size– You will want to use a 1080p resolution whenever possible. A 1080p is the frame size 1920 by 1080 as indicated on the Nikon D4. The other resolution you will see is 1280 x 720. This is called 720p. On the Nikon D4, you choose the resolution and the frame rate at the same time.
  3. Frame Rate- There are various frame rates (Frames per Second or FPS), but the most common that you will use are 24 FPS, 30 FPS and 60 FPS. 24 FPS is a more cinematic frame speed (movies) where 30 FPS is more TV 9 and commercial). 60 FPS is a really low HIGH speed. When you shoot at 60 FPS, then you can slow the play back down to 10-20 FPS and have slow motion footage. In the D4, the Frame Size (Resolution) and Frame Rate are connected. You will see 1080*30 (which is 1920 x 1080 at 30 FPS), 1080*24, 1080*25 (don’t use this as it is not common frame rate here in US), 720*60. When you go to 60 FPS, your Frame Size goes down to  1280 x 720. Can you mix and match Frame Sizes and rates? Yes but it makes editing much harder and the outcome might not be as good.
  4. Shutter Speed – Your shutter speed should be about twice what your frame rate is set for. So a 24 FPS frame rate should have a shutter speed around 48 (50 is the closest we have). At 30 FPS, shoot for a shutter speed around 60. Whatever you do, try to keep your shutter speed below 100 or below. The only caveat to this rule is when shooting for high speed (60 FPS). Then you want a high shutter speed (say 500-1000) so when you slow the playback down, the images are still sharp.
  5. Neutral Density filter – One of the upsides to a dSLR is using glass with fairly wide-open aperatures (f1.4- f2.8) to give you good separation between your subject and the background. But if you have to close your aperture down to f22 to get a shutter speed of 60, that kinda defeats the advantage of shooting with a dSLR. In steps a ND filter to the rescue. A variable density ND filter such as the Singh Ray Vari ND or the Genus Vari ND will best serve you. Just get one to fit your largest lens (say a 77mm) and then use step rings to fit smaller lenses. If you plan to shoot 2 cameras simultaneously (say for an interview) then you will need 2 filters. With the ND filter, you can get a shutter speed of 60 at f2.8 even with bright sun outside.  
  6. Audio– Cameras come with a built in mic, but this is not the best mic to use if you plan on using the recorded sound with the video. Rode makes a great small mic to fit on your hot shoe and plug into the Mic port on your camera. The Rode VideoMic Pro is a good choice. One add on do decrease wind noise is a Dead Cat.  No, don’t go try to find a road kill cat. A DeadCat VMP by Rode is an artificial fur wind muff to help deal with wind noise when shooting outside.  

This should get you started. I will talk about support in a later blog for video..

My Nature Photography Day Shoot

To celebrate Nature Photography Day, I initially was going to Colditz Cove on the Cumberland Plateau. Then I realized that I had plenty of subjects in my own front yard in our wildflower garden. So, about 630am, I proceeded down the steps with a 200 Micro lens, Nikon D4 and my tripod.

At first, I was scouting and taking some rather standard flower shots.

Then I started framing different color flowers in the background for some contrast interest (I also shot some verticals after I shot the horizontals).


Then I played with Focus stacking.. I really liked the bud in front of the bloom.


After an aborted attempt to get a bumblebee in focus in flight ( I didn’t have my flash with me when he flew by), I was about to call it quits. I wasn’t satisfied with what I had shot so far. Just ho hum. Then I stood there looking at the flowers and wondered about using my multiple exposure techniques.

I decided to using the Multiple Exposure Monet technique because the flowers and the garden seemed to be calling out for that type of expression.


I also played with broader strokes of my Monet brush while making the image.

I had a great time and while I was downloading the images from my Nikon D4, I picked up my iPhone and went back out.

First I shot this image.

Then I opened it in ProHDR app on the iPhone and converted it to a sketch>

Then I Imported both to Lightroom and opened them up in Photoshop CS6 as Layers then used a Layer Mask and Opacity to paint in the color of the flower on the sketch. I think it’s cool that you can even see the little ant with the iPhone image.

I hope each one of you enjoyed your shooting during Nature Photography Day. If you haven’t, there is still time. June 15 doesn’t end until midnight!

How to Paint with Light

Photography derives its name from the “painting with light”. But the term light painting has come to mean using external sources of light (flashlight, candle, etc) to paint in light on a subject at night. The method I use in Light Painting requires a flashlight and some way to color the light.

First, choose a flashlight. I use everything from a 2 million-candle power spotlight (with color gels) to a small AA flashlight. I even have some even smaller flashlights that use really small batteries, but that is for a follow-up blog. For my AA flashlights, I color the light with pieces of plastic that I get from Staples. Just go look in the notebook section and look for plastic colored dividers. You can even get Rosco gels to put over the light source. The flashlight should have a way to turn on and leave on without having to hold a button, but a button is really nice for starting and stopping your sweeps of light.

Second, choose a subject in very dark light. Because you are going to leave the shutter open for several minutes, you may not want the surrounding area to pick up ambient light and make night into day. Even in the wilderness, we have light from the moon. This takes planning so use something like the Moon Seeker app for iPhone which shows the phase of the moon, the moon rise and moon set times and even the arc, so you can plan to have the moon behind a big obstruction when painting.

Third, set your exposure. I start out at 1 minute and go up to 5 minutes exposure (tip: you need a way to set a long exposure, with Nikon this is the MC-36 controller. Most digital cameras only go to 30 seconds for the longest exposure). Keep increasing the exposure until you start to see a little definition in the image. This will give you plenty of time to paint light into your subject. Now on to painting.

Fourth, paint with light. Pressing the button down on your flashlight, sweep the light to follow the contours of your subject. Don’t ever stop the light in one spot. Time the length of your total flashlight exposure (I use 1 mississippi, 2 mississippi to count it out). Review your image. If the painting is too bright, only paint for half the time. If the painting is too dark, paint for twice the time (see, we are using photographic stops of light). Look at how smooth your painting is. It takes some practice because you will be painting over and over areas to build up the light in the image.

Voila’. You have a light painting. Now doesn’t that make you feel more like an artist with a paintbrush?

Try this with a double exposure. Find a subject that silhouettes against sunset. Expose for the sunset, wait about 45 minutes, then light paint your subject. If this is a true double exposure, you get only one crack at it.. But here’s a tip, photograph the silhouette several times before the double exposure, exposing for the sunset colors. Then do your double exposure. Then do several regular light paintings. You will need to combine these images in Photoshop (the first sunset images with the light painting) and play with them, but it beats just getting one shot at it..

In camera double exposure!

Multiple images and light painting produced in Photoshop.

iPhone for Scouting

iPhone for scouting

I have always carried my phone with me when shooting, Especially when hiking. I really don’t want to be one of those people who call 911 when I run out of water or get lost, but if something bad happens when I am alone, I will use it to facilitate a rescue. I have been looking at the PLB (Personal Locator Beacons) and the Satellite Messengers (SPOT is one but I am holding out for the InReach by Delorme, which is currently only for Android phones.. Really? With all the iPhones out there?).

So what else do I carry my phone for? Well, my iPhone4 has a built in camera and also built in video. So this has become one of my scouting tools. Instead of carrying a larger compact camera, this camera has multiple functions, including the one my wife thinks that all phones should do only, and that is make and receive phone calls. Now, with my iPhone, I can take reference images and video. Take images and then share directly to Facebook. Take images and use Snapseed by NIK and play with them before sharing (Hey, it’s not Photoshop, but boy did they pack a lot of stuff in a program that fits on your phone).  Use reference apps for wildflowers, butterflies, birds, etc.

So for photo shooting and image enhancement, these are my top Apps:

  1. Pro HDR – 2 shot HDR method
  2. AutoStitch Panorama – Creates panoramic images
  3. Snapseed – creative enhancement to images and great sharing
  4. Pano  – Creates panoramic images
  5. Photoshop Express (PS Express)– still not regular PS, but fun to use.

For location and scouting, these are my tops Apps:

  1. Sun Seeker – great sunrise sunset position that even has a live image overlay mode.
  2. TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) – great for sun and moon information including phase of moon. (for those of you, like me, didn’t know what ephemeris means- “a table listing the future positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets over a given period of time”. So now you know.)
  3. Hi Tide – gives high and low tides for your position. Great for beach photography and especially tidal pool photography.
  4. SkySafari 3 – I use this to determine moon position in sky and also constellation positions for time lapse of the night sky.
  5. Offline Topo Maps  – You can download the maps for the area you will be in and have them on your phone, even without a internet connection.. Works great.

For in phone reference, these are my top Apps:

  1. Audubon Guides– Butterflies– Great resource
  2. Audubon Guides – Wildflowers
  3. GSM Wildflowers Great Smoky Mountains wildflower guide that is partnered with DLIA ( Discover Life in America) which is in charge of the ATBI (All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory).
  4. iBird Explorer Pro Birds of North America. Includes drawings, photos, songs and more. They have a sell on the app right now (April 12, 2012) for half price. It was worth it at full price!
  5. The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America– for all of you who have used David Allen Sibley’s guide books for birds, this is great. Get the full version!

I will be posting a blog tomorrow about some weather apps as well as useful information about weather conditions and also how to survive a lightning storm!

Spring Flower Tips – Lenses and composition

When we talk about composition, we usually talk about “Rule of Thirds” and foreground/ background, diagonal lines, leading lines, repeating elements and so forth. Have you ever considered the composition effect that changing lenses would have on how your subject relates to its surroundings?

I started doing Closeup Wide Angle images at least 15 years ago and used a small 8mm extension tube with my 17-35 wide angle lens to great effect. Instead of an intimate portrait of a flower, you now get a portrait but in a setting of the flowers surroundings. This gives the flower and home to live in as opposed to a setup that could be anywhere. I think it tells more of an environmental story to have more of the home surroundings of a subject. We are so concerned about the environment and where things are going, it is nice to show the environment even when you are doing a close up portrait.

Well, the 8mm extension tube doesn’t work on the 17-35 with digital cameras. Even the full  frame Nikon D4 just wouldn’t focus. I tried and I can share some images, but it wasn’t pretty. Alternatives are to use a diopter (big glass filter than screws in front of your lens). I use a Canon 500D diopter filter. Yes, Canon filters will work on Nikon glass. Why use Canon diopter? Because I can? Well, yes, but better answer is that Nikon doesn’t make a diopter in 77mm size. I also use the Nikon 5T and 6T diopters on my Nikon 200 micro when I want to get closer than 1:1. (This is full life size, meaning the image area you are capturing is the same size as the sensor area).

Yesterday, I was trying hard to make the 8mm extension tube and 17-35 Wide Angle thing work and wasn’t happy. I guess I thought I would get lucky and it would start working on the D4 where it hadn’t worked on the D2x or D3s or D3x.. Wrong. Then I remembered.. I’ve got a 24mm PCE (tilt shift) lens in my bag. The cool thing is that it is a Micro lens. So I got it out and started playing. It doesn’t give me quite the background area that the 17mm did, but it works.

So here are a few images, first shoot with 200 Micro then with 24 Micro. See the difference..

Later this weekend, I will show some images put together using Helicon Focus Stacking. Creates a different image than trying to get everything sharp by using a large DOF when doing macro work..

Spring Flower shooting tips- Multiple Exposure

Spring has come to the Smokies extremely early this year. I am hearing from friends around the country that they are experiencing an early spring also. Some teaching tips for spring wildflowers from today’s shoot.

Consider using multiple exposure to achieve a dreamy look to go along with your images. Flowers images look good when using this technique. Ok, here’s the How to for Multiple Exposure ( Canon people, don’t feel left out, the new Canon EOS- 1D X now does in camera ME). These instructions are for the Nikon D4 but are similar to other Nikon dSLRs.


  • First go to Menu>Shooting Menu and scroll down to Multiple Exposure and press OK or the Right Arrow button on the Multi Selector.
  • Scroll down to Number of shots and choose 2 (in another Blog I will talk about techniques that use more than 2 images).
  • Leave Auto gain on at the bottom ( if you are shooting double exposures at night or a night shot combined with sunset image, turn Auto gain off).
  • Now scroll back to the top where it says Multiple exposure mode and click OK. This will take to the Mode dialogue box where you will choose On (single photo). This indicates that the multiple exposure mode will shut off once the required number of images is taken.


  • Once you are in ME mode and ready to shoot, take your first image at whatever f stop you would normally (say f11 or f16) and focused the way you want the focus point to be. Take your first image.
  • Next, change the f stop to 5.6 or lower. If you are in Aperature mode, the shutter speed will change automatically. If you are shooting in Manual mode, don’t forget to change your shutter speed to center. You don’t have to worry about under exposing either one of the images the way we had to with film. That is what the Auto Gain is all about.
  • After changing the f stop, then rack the focus closer to you (in front of your focus point). This will throw everything out of focus. You can occasionally get interesting images by racking the focus completely behind your normal focus point.
  • Take your second image. Wait for it, wait for it, done. Your Multiple exposure image appears in your Preview Monitor. This allows you to see if you want to change focus points or f Stops to achieve a different look.

Ok, now go out and play. Remember that Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.

The next installment of Flower teaching tips will cover Light Modifiers.