We had a great time speaking with Brent Mail about everything from RAW and JPG files to shooting lava on the Big Island of Hawaii. You can check out the podcast and a written synopsis of the interview at Brent Mail Photography.
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Recently we had pleasure to sit down with Frederick Van Johnson the host of This Week in Photo for a brief interview. We talked about how we got started in photography, what defines our photographic style and what it takes to balance family life and photography. We love TWIP’s casual interview style and plan to appear on future episodes.
You can listen to the complete interview on TWIP at: http://www.thisweekinphoto.com/2013/twip-302/
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As we hiked down from a ridge overlooking Lanikai Beach on Oahu, I noticed a small cactus flower blooming beside the trail. The mid-day light was shining through the flower, creating a subtle glow inside. When I got close, I could see brilliant, red veins scribbled across the thin membrane inside the flower – so I pulled out my macro lens to take a shot. By the time I finished, I was sweating… but I had the shot I wanted.
I got in as close as I could for this shot – pushing my macro lens to its focusing limit, and cropping the finished image to get in even closer. The repeating patterns are particularly appealing to me. They remind me of writing… I think it’s poetry. Don’t you?
Simplifying an image can be difficult, but it starts with choosing a simple subject. Look for subjects that draw the eye and stands out from its surroundings. Don’t try to include the whole scene in the finished image – instead, choose a very simple composition that showcases just one area or object. Once you’ve identified your subject, look for distractions. It’s ok to have a secondary element in your shot… but avoid clutter.
I use lots of other techniques to simplify my images as well. If clashing colors are distracting – try converting to black and white. If dark shadows or bright highlights draw your attention away from the subject, use a diffuser to soften the light. Look for colors that are similar for a simplified color palette.
I like to use a long shutter speed to smooth the surface of a lake or pond to remove ripples on the surface. And sometimes I use a wide aperture to create a narrow depth of field that softens a distracting background.
What techniques do you use to simplify a composition? Feel free to share examples and ideas in the comments!
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Here’s something fun I’ve been playing with lately. I’ve been fooling around with making tiny planets in Photoshop, and I thought I’d share the steps for making them – along with some basic tips that I learned as I played with the process. I have to admit that I had entirely too much fun with these. :)
Here’s how it works…
Step 1: Choose the Photo you want to use to create your planet. I’d recommend planning for these shots in advance, and taking some nice pano shots with interesting horizons. But, it works just as well to choose existing photos and crop them to your specifications. I chose this shot from Florida because it had a nice, wide horizon, some pretty reflections in the water, and an interesting sky.
Step 2: Make sure your horizon is level, and then crop the photo to create a wide panorama.
Step 3: Next, we’re going to create a square shape by stretching the image. Choose Image > Image Size, then copy the dimensions for the Width into the Height box and click ok.
Here’s what happens to your image – it gets all stretched out. Stay with me here.
Step 4: Turn your image upside down. Choose Image > Image Rotation > 180 degrees.
Step 4: Convert your image to 8-bit if it isn’t already. The polar coordinates filter doesn’t work for a 16-bit image. Choose Image > Mode > 8 Bits/Channel.
Step 5: Select Filter > Distort > Polar Coordinates. Select the Rectangular to Polar option, and click ok. And there it is! Your very own little planet! It needs a bit more work, but you are mostly there! If you don’t like the result, go back and tweak your original image. You can choose a different one with a more interesting horizon, or crop it differently for a different finished effect. I’d recommend doing some experimentation to see what happens when you choose a wider or narrower panorama, include more or less sky or foreground, and so on.
Step 6: Now it’s time for some cleanup. I use the clone tool, the spot healing brush, and the patch tools – along with content aware functionality – to get the look I want. This is where my Wacom Intuos 5 tablet and stylus come in really handy. I’m zooming way in and working with lots of tiny details – and the stylus lets me have all the control I want. (Did I mention I’m a control freak?) ;) Anyway – I try to get rid of the sharp “crease” that happens when the filter does it’s work, and then I go in and make sure my reflections and horizon line are just right.
Sometimes, I’ll create a duplicate layer and rotate it to help me achieve the finished look I want. In this case, my horizon wasn’t quite right. I rotated the duplicate layer on top of the original planet, and then used a mask to isolate part of the horizon line for that layer. Then I merged those layers, and continued with the cloning process. I used that little bit of rotated horizon to help me create a cleaner finished look.
Here’s what the planet looked like when I was done with the cleanup.
For the finished image, I added some more clouds to fill in the stretched corners. I also added some wildlife. The birds add interest and also provide a sense of scale. I wanted my planet to feel truly tiny.
Here are a few more examples of what you can create with this fun technique. This glowing planet was created from a burning sunset over Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park.
And this one is a Faerie World straight out of Iceland!
I’d love to see what you create using this technique! Please share a link in the comments… and feel free to share suggestions for creating great tiny planets as well. Have fun!
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This is a shot from the Big Island of Hawaii. Here, the lava flows in to the sea. I loved the chaos of this location. The slow shift of the fiery lava that created a startling new landscapes overnight. The intense heat against my skin – and the steady breeze off the sea that tossed my hair, and provided a breath of fresh air above the burning. The furious boiling as hot lava hit the cool ocean – and the rush of steam that seemed to have a life of its own. The lava creates a brand new landscape – by destroying everything in its path. Houses. Trees. Livelihoods. We walked for two hours and saw just one living creature – a tiny spider that had laid claim to the wasteland and spun a little hammock to call home. In some places – where the lava was old – tiny plants were springing up. Harbingers of a new world to come.
Jay and I usually shoot together, but over time we’ve each developed our own artistic styles. On April 18th, we’ll talk about how our styles have evolved over time during our Fireside Chat with Nik Software and host Scott Sheppard.
Fireside Chat: Stand By Me with Jay and Varina Patel
Time & Place: Thu, April 18, 1:00 PM EST (10:00 AM PST)
Google+ HangOut Event: http://bit.ly/12cqvC2
We hope you’ll join us!
I stood by the window a few weeks ago, watching new snow fall on the snowdrops by the door. The tiny, white flowers were tightly closed against the chill – waiting for a moment of warmth. They were a quiet promise that Spring will come. I couldn’t help myself. I grabbed my camera and tripod, and went outside to kneel in the snow. :)
Here are a few tips for getting a shot like this one.
1. When photographing white objects against a white background, overexpose slightly. All that bright white throws off your camera’s meter. Check your histogram to be sure your whites are bright enough – but don’t let the details blow out.
2. When photographing water droplets with a macro lens, look closely at the reflections. Change your position if necessary to make sure the reflection isn’t distracting. In one shot from this morning, I noticed that the water droplet reflected the pattern of siding on my house. No good. I changed my angle and captured this shot instead.
3. Pay close attention to your color balance. A slight shift towards blue will leave those greens looking dull and lifeless.
4. I chose an aperture of f/16 for this shot because I wanted to be sure that my droplets and the flower were in sharp focus. I was so close to the flower that a wider aperture would have left me with very little depth of field to work with. Because I was so close, f/16 let me keep the flower sharp while blurring out the snowy background for a very simple finished image.
I am pretty sure that the Garden of Eden would have looked something like this. I love this spot in Eagle Creek in Northern Oregon. The best time to visit this location is when it has been raining – or under heavily overcast skies. Filtered light brings out the rich greens and reduces the overall dynamic range.
This was my third attempt to photograph this location….and if I had to try 300 more times before getting a shot like this, I wouldn’t mind in the least. I enjoyed every minute of it.
I wanted to create a sense of depth in the finished image. To do this, I placed the camera close the surface of the water and used a wide-angle lens. I stood in the water (did I mention that the water was icy cold because of Spring snow melt?) for about 45 minutes and waited for just the right distribution of the bubbles to go by me to capture their streaks with a long shutter speed. By the time I was done, my feet were numb… I think I could feel my toes again after another hour and a half. ;)
High school students ask me if they should go to art school… with hope in their voices. Their parents ask me if I think art is a practical choice for a college major… with skepticism. And as a kid who dreamed of being a photographer – and a parent who knows that making it in the art business is tough… I’ll try to answer the question honestly.
This is something I’ve thought about quite a lot. I’m a professional photographer, and it’s a tough business. It’s incredibly competitive – and just having talent in art isn’t enough. I started out as an art student – studying photography and painting and drawing… and all the other requirements for a degree in the liberal arts. A student who graduated with a degree in art usually gets a basic education in math, science, and language as well. I don’t know of any schools that don’t require a well-rounded collection of classes. But in the end, I’m glad I decided to change my major.
I eventually earned a degree in information technology. I know – that seems like an odd choice for someone who was already building a photography business. But, it was definitely the right thing for me, rather than going through art school. See, the thing is, you don’t need a college education in order to learn to make great photographs – and there are so many ways to learn. Spending time working as a photography assistant, going on a workshop or two, shadowing a pro, and doing lots of research online… all of these are great ways to learn. But building a business? That’s an entirely different thing. If you want to be successful – to make money from your art, you need a different kind of knowledge.
The problem I’ve seen with students who finish college with a degree in art or photography, is that they feel lost once they are done with school. A business degree would help them start and run a business. A marketing degree would help them market their work. A degree in information technology (like mine) would let them build their own website, handle e-commerce, and understand the software they use for post-processing. A degree in language arts would help them write great articles so they can get published in magazines or write books. See where I’m going with this? Most art students know how to make art… but being a professional photographer is about SO much more than that.
And of course – there’s always the fact that photography is an extremely difficult world to break into. The odds of being able to make a living from it are small – so having a degree in something more “practical” is a great idea. But please don’t be discouraged! If you are determined and willing to work very hard, you can make it as a photographer. I know that’s true, because I did it myself. But remember – part of “making it” is being practical about the choices you make along the way. The ones who succeed are the ones who understand that being a professional artist takes a lot more than just artistic talent.
If you do decide to major in art, make sure the school you’ll be attending has a well-rounded program. In addition to the classes you need for your major, look for classes that teach important skills like marketing, business, writing, computers, and so on. You might also want to consider a double major, or minor in art while concentrating your studies in another field. While you are in school, look for internships and find photographers who will let you shadow them while they work. Make connections with other photographers who know more than you do. Ask a million questions… and take note of how others are running their businesses, how they make money, how they market their work, and how they become successful. Watch for and learn from their mistakes, too… it’s always better to learn from other people’s mistakes than to make your own. ;)
For those of you who dream about being professional artists… you can do it if you are willing to work for it. ;) Good luck!
And for all of you – what advice can you offer to someone who wants to be a professional artist?
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