Posts Published in July 2009

Interview with Pierre Pallez of hotpixel

Pierre Pallez is the photoblogger behind hotpixel.


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PetaPixel: Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Pierre Pallez: I live in Switzerland, 40 yrs old, 2 kids 7 and 11, my day job is IT analyst. I have a passion for images, since I was a kid. I think I somehow went into photography through amateur astronomy. I built my own digital CCD camera, and the programs to read images from it myself first, then moved on to digital photography because that was too much work. I find “normal” photography much more rewarding.

Apart from that, I like cooking, reading, listening to music, spend time with my family and friends, etc.

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PP: How did you build your own digital camera?

PP: That was back in 1998 or so. I built a CCD camera designed specially for astronomy, out of a kit that was popular amongst amateur CCD photographers back then. To give you and idea, this thing was 0.4 megapixels, and it took 20s to read a frame over the parallel port of a PC at the time. It was cooled 40 degrees Celsius below ambient temp and used a humongous power supply. When I switched over to a DSLR that was over 6MP and could write an color image to disk within tenths of a second it just blew my socks off.

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PP: You took that photo with the camera?

PP: No, but with a more elaborated CCD camera. Digital imaging in astronomy is still not easy today, but 10 years ago it was even harder. A good thing about it is it teaches you a lot about technology and, maybe most importantly you get to learn to be patient. The image I sent to you was shot through an H-alpha filter, which lets through only a tiny amount of light, it’s like a big ND filter. I think the combined exposure time was 3 hours for this image, and it’s far from perfect.

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PP: How did you first get started in photography?

PP: I had a film camera when I was a kid, then I got myself a used Nikon SLR with a 50mm lens. I loved it but the cost of film processing was too high for me, so I was not using it too much. Then in 2003, I went into a shop and got myself an EOS300D. That was one of the 1st DSLRs, and really it got me back into the hobby.

I had a blog at the time, and I started posting pictures. Some people went oooh-aaah, and I thought they were just being nice. But then, I started to get feedback from some artists, and they were encouraging me. So I continued.

I was lucky enough to have nice people around me to help me out, whether internet friends or real people. My wife kept encouraging me. I also had a lot of support from a colleague and from some artists friends of mine; they helped me a lot getting forward. Some of them were very helpful in providing critique of my images.

So I created a separate website and posted some images on it. I wanted to find out whether all those people were right about my pictures when they were saying some of them were quite good, or were just being nice. So I started participating in photo contests, and put some images to the test. And I scored a few wins. I know it doesn’t mean much at all, but it was encouraging at the time. All it proved is that some other people I didn’t know liked my pictures, not just my friends. So I kept working on it, read piles of books, stalked every photographer I could meet, etc.

Photography is a virus. Once you get the bug, you’re toast :)

And then I wanted to learn lighting techniques. I attended some courses and workshops, including at the broncolor factory. When I enrolled for a one -week lighting course there, I didn’t know those guys were actually manufacturing the rolls-royce of lighting gear, I picked them up because that was the only lighting course that was close to where I live.

Many people in the course I attended traveled as far as from Dubai or Chicago, and I was the only amateur guy in there :) So I felt really like a privileged man to have this type of course close to where I live….

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PP: What equipment do you currently use?

PP: Canon 5d mark II and a bunch of lenses. Hasselbald x-pan panoramic camera 45mm and 90mm lenses. Holga. Elichrom studio strobes. Vivitar and canon hotshoe flashes triggered by pocket wizards. And many doo-dads.

Equipment is secondary. The guy behind the camera makes the image and is supposed to be in control. What gear you use to create the image does not matter, you can make incredible stuff with inexpensive gear if you want to. A camera is a tool, so for me the best tool I have found so far is this, and it varies all the time. I also had a used hasselblad 500c/m, but the cost of film processing and the time scanning rolls of it were too much for me, so I sold it recently.

PP: Could you tell us about some of your favorite lenses and why you like them?

PP: Canon 24-70 L, Canon 70-200mm L 2.8 IS, Canon 105mm macro f2.8, Canon TS-E 90mm f 2.8, and Canon 50mm f1.4.

The 24-70 is a great all-around lens and is always in my bag. I always take either the 50mm f1.4 or the 85mm f1.2 with me. I take the other ones out for specific situations. The 70-200mm is very sharp and contrasty, the 85 can be really soft when you want it to be, great for portraits and at f1.2 it’s really a light bucket. The ts-e is a killer for panorama shots that I stitch together. I’ve done one in Paris that is over 150 megapixels with it, and it’s really really crisp. This ts-e is a normal manual focus lens if you don’t use its tilt-shift controls, it works also great for portraits. I dig portraits that are shot at either 85, 90, or 105mm focal length. There must be some law of optics that make portraits especially pleasing at this focal range and that I don’t know about :)

I just looked in my archive, and it seems 70% of my shots went through the 24-70 lens. I just love it, but it’s heavy.

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PP: What is your favorite type of photography?

PP: I dunno. I’d say in this order: portrait, landscape, macro, studio. I dig studio lighting quite a bit at the moment. And I like to use flashes to explore lighting possibilities. I have no preference, really, but it seems I like either pure uncluttered landscapes, or human interaction.

I also like to capture what is usually unseen. hi-speed photography, long exposures at night, double exposures, 2nd curtain sync, etc. or extremely long exposures of the night sky. I like challenges :)

PP: Can you tell me about your workflow?

PP: All images end up into lightroom2, they’re tagged, selected. The keepers are flagged as such, and then I do minor adjustments to them. Crop, or adjust levels etc. Nothing much. I’m not that good with post-processing in Photoshop, so it’s usually levels adjustments and a tad of sharpening if it helps, but not much. I wouldn’t know how to more with it to save my life, so one thing I don’t do is shoot something and say “I’ll fix it in Photoshop later” .

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PP: What do you look for and focus on when photographing? What makes a good photograph in your opinion?

PP: I was asked exactly this a while ago, and it’s hard to answer. Sometimes, you know you’ve snapped a great photo the moment you click the shutter. Maybe more so when you’re kind of doing some photo-journalism, and captured some action. But, for the images that you invent, design, create, or think through, whatever you want to call the process, it’s different. In my case, if I can think of a title for an image I am in the process of shooting, then I know it might end up as a keeper.

If I shoot something with no particular intention, then I know when I press the shutter it has a good chance of being thrashed when I get home. You can get some nice surprises from time to time, but my personal ratio is darn weak. If I have time, what I try to do is watch, think, then maybe shoot or maybe not if I don’t think it would end up as a good pic. Sometimes I go out for hours and don’t shoot one frame. If I don’t see something I feel like photographing, I don’t do it. We get to decide what we want to show in our pictures, no ?

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PP: What is your goal in photography?

PP: Wow. There’s a lot of debate about what photography is. I think cartier-bresson said that photography was about freezing a moment in time, which he surely did. I guess that’s what a lot of people tend to go for. Whether it’s capturing some fleeting expression in a portrait, or freezing motion with a hi-speed photo, you want to show something compelling. My hunch is that a good photo is one that I shoot and I can say to myself: I don’t know how to do better that this.

I try to be a perfectionist, and it’s hard not to settle for what I think is good enough. But in the end all we guys can do is do our best with the tools and the knowledge we have at the time we shoot. So that’s not easy to set a goal.

The events we cross, the people we meet, the conditions we live in, the tools we have all determine up to an extent what our goal is, not us. I think I like photos with a content. If I can make a picture that touches people’s minds, then I’d be happy with it.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

PP: I lived in France for 30 years, so I’ve been influenced by cartier-bresson, doisneau, dieuzaide and many many others. I like the work of robert capa, raymond depardon, james nachtwey and other war photographers too. Salgado, berengo-gardin, ansel adams, eisenstaedt, weston, and so many others I can’t quote.

I like BW photography quite a bit. There’s a quote I like a lot “if you want to take a photo of someone take it in color. If you want to take a pic of their soul, shoot them in black and white”. Don’t know if that’s why I like BW photographers a lot, but there you go. I’d shoot more BW if my kids were not asking for color. :)

PP: Do you follow any modern photographers online?

PP: Of course, there are shmuzillions of them out there. I like diane varner, kat from durhamtownship, round-here was a great inspiration, chromasia, sam javanrouh, notraces, kea, etc, moodaholic, and about a million more.

PP: Who would you like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

PP: Diane varner.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel readers?

PP: Have fun, take it easy and enjoy clickin’

By the way – a plug to joe macnally, one of my favs at the moment. I recommend his book, the moment it clicks. A great read.

Also in the plug department : strobist.com – a gold mine for anyone out there trying to understand lighting without getting bankrupt. Get your flash off-camera, guys, it will really change the way you see and photograph things.

Photomatix Giveaway Winners!

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A big thank you to everyone who participated in our latest giveaway and shared your favorite photographers with us. We received 191 comment and tweet entries this time (a new record!), and I’ll share the results of the question in a bit.

The winners of a free Photomatix Pro Plus license, chosen using a random number generator, are:

#9: Max Vernon (@max_vernon)

my favorite photographer: http://www.flickr.com/photos/muzzlehatch

#14: riNux (@riNux)

My Favorite Photographer is Joe McNally @JoeMcNallyPhoto http://portfolio.joemcnally.com/ #Petapixel #Photomatix

Congratulations! Please drop me an email at [email protected] to claim your prizes.

A big thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway, and to all our loyal readers! We have a lot more awesome stuff lined up to be given away, so be sure to check back soon!


Now, onto the results of the question, “Who is your favorite photographer?”. The top three responses we received were:

  1. Ansel Adams (24 people)
  2. Joe McNally (6 people)
  3. Sam Javanrouh (4 people)

I never would have guessed that Ansel Adams would have been the overwhelming favorite, and found that pretty interesting.

Framing People in Tunnels of Light

One of the things that never ceases to catch my eye is when people are framed in interesting ways within tunnels of light. That sounds a little confusing, so let me show you some examples…

Here’s a photograph I took just a few days ago on a walk along a greenbelt near my home (you can hover over it to see the original, unaltered photograph):

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Canon 40D + 16-35mm 2.8 at f/2.8, 1/80s, and ISO 800.

This isn’t the best of examples, but I’ll just start off with it. Notice how the trees create a shadowy, natural vignette around the two people walking arm in arm. You might be surprised, but you can find these “natural vignettes” everywhere you look — you just need to look for them! I do wish the couple was a little closer to me along the path, perhaps at the edge of where the trees’ shadows reach (you’ll see why in just a moment).

The other really interesting thing I like about this photograph is how the gap in the sky created by the trees is the shape of a heart, but I digress…

Let’s move on to another example…

Here’s a photograph I took back in February 2008 at the UC Davis arboretum. My family and I were walking along the path and passed under a tunnel (hover over it to see the original):

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Canon 20D + 24-70mm 2.8 at f/7.1, 1/200s, and ISO 800

The light bouncing off the water was creating interesting patterns on the tunnel wall, while my family became silhouettes when framed by the strong daylight at the end of the tunnel.

This is slightly cheating, since a dark tunnel during the day will always be a place to shoot “tunnel of light” photographs. Thus, I find naturally occurring “light tunnels” much more interesting. They depend much more on where you stand and how you frame the shot.

This third and final example was taken back in April of this year outside the VLSB building on the UC Berkeley campus (hover over to see original):

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The man was still in the shadow of the overhanging branches, so he too became a silhouette when framed by the bright scene in the background.

Adding some strong artificial vignetting during post-processing also helps to make this kind of photograph more interesting.

Next time you’re outdoors, try framing someone using shadows and a tunnel of light!

Interview with Valerie J. Cochran of your waitress

Valerie J. Cochran is the photoblogger behind your waitress.

Portrait by Bill Vaccaro.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Valerie J. Cochran: The question I most often get asked is ‘Are you really a waitress?’. So yes, I am a real waitress. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry off and on since my first summer job at the age of 15.

I grew up in a small town in Missouri. After high school I moved to Georgia to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design where I studied photography until the financial laws were changed. Then I moved back to Missouri and studied Comparative Literature. That led me to California in 2001 and UC Berkeley where I studied for a short spell. Berkeley the college did not agree with me, yet the Bay Area felt like home. Today I live and work in beautiful Oakland, California.

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PP: When did you first get into photography, and what was your first camera?

VC: When I was a little girl I loved shooting Polaroid’s of my family with my dad’s Land Camera. It was magic to watch them develop! I also had a Kodak 110 camera. I had it for years and took it everywhere. My first serious camera was also my dad’s. It was a Pentax ME slr with a 35mm lens. I used it in all through art school.

PP: What equipment do you use now?

VC: Today I shoot only analog. My main camera is a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm f/1.4 lens. Recently I was gifted a Canon AE-1 Program camera with a 28mm lens which I have taken out a few times. Other cameras include: Holga 120N, Shakey’s Pizza Diana Clone, Kodak Brownie, Fisheye 2 35mm from lomography.com, and disposables. I love shooting disposables!

PP: Where do you develop your film?

VC: The cheapest place. Drugstores for everyday C-41 and local photo labs for black and white. Then when I do prints for exhibition or for sale, I have a pro lab scan my original negatives. I detest scanning! I’m ok with letting the pros take care of that end. I am grateful to have darkroom experience though. I keep saying I’m going to build one in my bathroom, but I’ve been saying that for years. One day… maybe I just will.

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PP: When and why did you start your photoblog?

VC: Your Waitress began five years ago after a bad shift at work. I was managing a restaurant and working 80 hours a week. A guest of the restaurant was a bit belligerent after a few cocktails and I told her we could no longer serve her drinks. Then she proceeded to list all of her accomplishments and asked when I was going to become a ‘real person’. A waitress in her eyes was just a servant. I got a bit upset.

Later that night I decided to start a ‘rant blog’ and write about mean restaurant patrons. I deleted the post in the morning but kept the blog. A few days later I found a box of pictures I had taken at SCAD. One self-portrait in particular caught my eye. Who was that girl and what happened to her dreams?

A few days later I started scanning some old pics and changed my site title to ‘Your Waitress Photos’. Then I started taking pictures around my neighborhood with a digital camera, a Fuji FinePix A201. I started anonymously, only using your_waitress for my name, as a protest to those who felt service people had nothing to offer. I went back to film when my digital camera broke. By then, I had a few followers and was hooked on not only photoblogging, but also on having a creative outlet back in my life.

PP: Do you still have that self-portrait that caught your eye?

VC: Yes, I shared it on the first version of my photoblog for my birthday in 2004.

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I use it as a profile pic in places such as Twitter, since it is the beginning of my current photographic journey. It was taken in the fall of 1992 in my apartment on Oglethorpe Avenue in Savannah, Georgia. I was 19 years old.

PP: How do you go about taking portraits of strangers?

VC: That is the second most asked question I get. I used to be terrified of shooting people. I was worried about offending them or invading their privacy. However, I kept finding myself drawn to people and wanting to take their photograph.

The first true street portrait I took was of a man named Michael (just like you) in Berkeley. I had already spoken to him a few times and had given him some change for food as he was homeless. I was walking around my block with my camera and passed him sitting in a doorway. He smiled and said hello as I walked by. After a few steps past I came back and told him my dilemma. I wanted to start taking street portraits but was afraid. He agreed to be my first. I only took one frame of him because I was so nervous! It worked though. After that I got more courage and starting asking other people I had met before. That is how I started, with people in my neighborhood.

PP: Could you share that first street portrait with us?

I would be honored to share it.

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This shot of Michael was taken with my old Fuji FinePix A201 on Dwight Way in Berkeley. It was originally posted at the first version of your waitress photos on August 26, 2004.

PP: Do you have any memorable or awkward experiences with street photography?

VC: I have only been yelled at seriously for taking a picture once. I was shooting a veteran in downtown San Francisco, and a woman walking across the street was worried I was shooting her. I tried to explain that I was only taking a photo of the man, and just had to walk away.

A few times I have almost been hit by cars, usually taxis. That may be my doom one day – stepping off a curb while trying to focus a shot and being run over by a taxi. I’ve also been bumped and pushed in protests usually by police. Nothing too serious though. You just have to stand your ground out there and make your presence known.

The most memorable moments are the strangers I have met along the way. Last month in New York I met an amazing event photographer, Louis Mendes. I talked about the experience a bit on my photoblog. I will never forget that day.

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PP: Are there any tricks of the trade regarding street photography that you’ve picked up over the years?

VC: What works for me is to be visible and honest about taking pictures. Some other wonderful photographers are great at being sneaky. I am not sneaky. I always keep my camera out and try to look like I belong there. When approaching a subject for a street portrait, I don’t ask right away if I can take their picture. I smile, and say hello first. Then I try to talk to them. I don’t just want their picture, I want to know a bit about them as well. I love meeting people, and working as a waitress has helped. I have to talk to strangers everyday. Once I got over my own fears, I learned to focus on helping my subjects get over their fears. People get nervous with a camera in their face. I do take pictures of people without asking but I am still very visible. They know I am there, even if it isn’t obvious in the shot. Waiting for the moment, to shoot a frame, when people get used to you being there might be my trick.

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PP: What do you consider to be the most important skill or technique in taking pictures that aspiring photographers should focus on mastering?

VC: If I only get one then it would be: Shoot often!

I obviously don’t think you have to have the most expensive gear to be a good photographer. A person behind the lens of a decent camera shooting something they are passionate about will do just fine. Get to know your camera. Trust it. When you take a picture you like, figure out what you did right and repeat. Then take some chances, try some new film, and you will find your way.

PP: What’s on your wish list?

VC: It might be cliche, but I have dreamed of owning a Hasselblad 501CM for many years. A dear friend had one when I lived in Kansas City. He was kind enough to let me shoot it a few times and I have wanted one ever since. Also, that darkroom I mentioned before would go together nicely with the Hasselblad since medium format is much more expensive to develop commercially.

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PP: What do you wish you had known when you had just started your waitress?

VC: I’m not sure honestly. Maybe I should have gotten the domain from the beginning instead of restarting the photoblog, twice. I have no major regrets. The surprise of the journey is part of the fun.

PP: What are some of the most challenging aspects of what you do?

VC: As a photographer? Shooting on the street creates different conditions that are not always ideal for photography. In a studio you can fix the light to your needs, on the street you take what you get and do your best. Just getting out there though is the hardest part. Most challenges I face, like all the other areas of life, come from within. Inspiration can be fleeting. That is one reason I have never tried to be a photo-a-day photoblogger. When I have something interesting to share on the photoblog, I post. When I am not shooting, I don’t. I no longer feel the need to ever ‘feed the blog’. I fell into that trap a few times in the beginning, now I understand that breaks are good.

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PP: This is unrelated to photography, but is there anything about being a waitress that most people don’t know or realize? Also, if you could broadcast a message to the world on behalf of all waiters and waitresses, what would you say?

VC: Yes, people are crazy. If you understand that in the beginning, you will be a great waiter/waitress! Of course, that applies especially to people in the restaurant business. I do love my job. I enjoy taking care of people. I love learning about different cuisines, wines, liquors, napkin folds, etc. The best part about waiting tables is that each shift is a new beginning. You get to start with a clean slate and rarely have to take your work home with you. A bad shift can be erased by a good talk with your coworkers over a cold beer at the end of it.

As for the second question: If you treat people the way you wanted to be treated, everyone will benefit. A boss of mine used to say: Sugar goes a lot farther than salt. Also, tip more than you think you should for great service. I’m sure all my fellow servers would agree to that last bit.

PP: You’ve shot in quite a few different cities. Which stand out to you? How are they similar and different?

VC: Travel is always inspiring. Even across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. New Orleans is my favorite city. I was there in 2005 a few months before Katrina hit. The people and vibe of NOLA are like no other. It is truly magical, and the night shots I brought back are still some of my favorites. Chicago was fun! I grew up in the Midwest but had never spent time in Chicago. Wandering around an abandoned candy factory with my fellow photogs, what more could you want? My most recent trip was to NYC, also for the first time, last month. I shot 43 rolls of film that week. New York is a pilgrimage for any street photography or cinema or literature fan. To finally walk those streets that have been ingrained into our culture, was amazing! Plus the people were extremely friendly, which surprised me a bit. It is the little things that make them different, like how New Yorkers don’t wait for red lights to cross the street. Those are the things you remember.

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PP: Who are some photographers you follow online?

VC: I have met several of my photoblogging heroes and have a gallery of them in my 86 list. A few I haven’t met but have followed for years include: Rion Nakaya, Rachel James, Juan Buhler, Markus Hartel, and Susan Burnstine.

PP: Who is one person you would choose to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

VC: Juan Buhler.

PP: Anything you’d like to leave PetaPixel readers with?

VC: I would just like to thank them for making it to the end of the interview! Oh, and shoot often.

Crater Lake in Oregon

Crater Lake in Oregon is such a beautiful place that post-processing isn’t really even needed for photographs taken there. Here’s an unprocessed photograph I took there this past summer on a road trip with friends:

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Canon 40D + 24mm 2.8 at f/8, 1/250s, and ISO 100.

Shooting landscapes with snow and water can sometimes be kind of tricky to expose, so I would recommend shooting manual to nail your exposures the way you want them. For this photograph I used partial metering and tried to properly expose the mountain. Luckily, a cloud was passing over at the moment, making it a little easier to expose the water, mountains, and sky without blowing any highlights.

I only wish I had a wider lens, since the 24mm on a crop body (the 40D) is effectively a 24 x 1.6 = 38.4mm lens. A wider lens would have helped to make the shot more dramatic.

crateredit1In terms of post-processing, my goal with this photograph was to make it “pop” a little more than it does. Even though the scene is beautiful, the unprocessed photograph is a little too dull and ordinary.

Here are the initial changes I made during post processing (in the “basic” tab of Adobe Camera Raw):

White Balance: Changed to daylight, which warmed it an almost insignificant amount.
Exposure: Increased by half a stop. The original seemed a tiny bit underexposed to me.
Recovery: Boosted this up to 40 to recover some of the clipped areas in the clouds and snow.
Fill Light: Notice how in the unprocessed photo the bottom left hand corner is filled with shadows. I filled in these shadows a little by increasing fill light to 20.
Blacks: The black point seemed fine, so I left this unchanged.
Brightness: Didn’t need to increase brightness. Left unchanged.
Contrast: Increased this by 50 to recover some of the contrast lost in other steps.
Clarity: Increased to 30 to gain lost detail in the clouds.
Vibrance: Added a bit more color with +20.

This is the resulting photograph after the initial changes (hover your mouse over it to compare it to the original):

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Now we move onto sharpness, color, and vignetting.

Sharpness: +80. Making the landscape nice and sharp for prints, if needed.
Saturation: Blues -10 to make the sky and water more natural.
Luminance: Yellows and Greens +50 to bring out the trees. Blues and Purples -50 to bring out the clouds by darkening the sky. Makes the photograph more dramatic.
Lens Vignetting: Amount -20 to add a little vignetting.

The resulting photograph after these changes (hover to compare with previous version):

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Now can do some more detailed edits in Photoshop, after doing a lot of general changes using Adobe Camera Raw.

One of the things I like to do with clouds is burn them to make them a little more dramatic. Using the Burn Tool with Exposure set at 20%, I burned the bottom of each cloud with one pass to make them a little darker.

Next, in the bottom right hand corner of the frame, there’s a tree that’s slightly visible. Since not enough of the tree is visible to help it frame the scene, I find it a little distracting, so I removed it using the Clone Stamp tool.

crateredit2Finally, notice how the island in the lake and the snowy mountains in the background are a little hazy. I’d like to increase the contrast a little specifically in these areas without affecting the sky in the background or the trees in the immediate foreground.

Using the quick selection tool, I select the lake, island, and mountains, and increase the contrast by applying a slight “s-curve” in Curves (Image->Adjustment->Curves or Ctrl+M). Screenshot of the curve to the left.

The final image that results from these two edits in Photoshop is below. Hover your mouse over the image to compare it to the previous image, before the cloud and contrast changes.

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That’s it! We’re done. You can also hover over this link to compare the image to the original unprocessed photograph. Our goal was to make the photo “pop” a little more.

Basketball Hoop Walkthrough

Today I’ll be doing a post-processing walkthrough with the following photograph I took about a week ago:

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It was taken with a Canon 40D + 16-35mm at 35mm, f/2.8, 1/500s, and ISO 800.

The composition is pretty ordinary. The basketball hoop is placed along one of the rule-of-third lines, while the lines of the ground create interesting angles in the photo.

In terms of exposure, I didn’t want to properly expose the foreground and blow out the sky, nor did I want to properly expose the sky and end up with too dark of a foreground. Thus, I ended up exposing it somewhere in between, causing both the ground and sky to be a little “muddy” in appearance.

hoopedits1Now, opening up the RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw, here were my initial adjustments:

White Balance: I upped the temperature a bit, since the original photograph is too cool, or blue. See how the gray backboard looks bluish-gray.
Exposure: We begin tackling the “muddiness” of the photograph by increasing exposure a little. The photo begins to look more properly exposed.
Recovery: Increasing the exposure blew out certain small areas of the photograph. Increased recovery by twenty to recover the detail in these areas.
Fill Light: Added a tiny bit of fill light to brighten some of the darker areas of the foreground without affecting the sky.
Blacks: After the previous steps, we lost a lot of true black and ended up with a whole lot of gray. Increase black a little to turn the darkest of the gray points into black points.
Brightness: Increased brightness by 10 from the default of 50 to brighten the foreground a little more without affecting the sky too much.
Contrast: The photo became pretty “uncontrasty” through the previous steps. Increased contrast to +70 to regain the lost contrast.
Clarity: Increased this to +50 to make the hoop stand out a little more against the bright sky behind it.
Vibrance: Increased by 20 to give the less-saturated colors in the photo a little more color.

After making these changes, this how the resulting photograph looks (hover your mouse over it to compare it to the original version):

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See how the photograph became less “muddy” in appearance?

Next, we can deal with sharpness and vignetting. In my opinion, this is a photograph that vignetting benefits a lot, as it can help draw the viewers eye to the subject (the hoop). For this photograph, I made the following changes:

Sharpness: +75.
Lens Vignetting: Amount -60, Midpoint 40.

The following photograph results (hover to compare):

hoop3

That’s all the changes I made to the photograph in Adobe Camera Raw during the RAW to JPEG conversion step. I could be done with the photo at this point, but notice how there’s a distracting crack in the ground in the bottom left corner of the photograph. I used the clone stamp tool in Photoshop to get rid of this crack.

Here’s the final, post-processed photograph (hover over it to compare it to the original photograph before post-processing):

hoop4

What I really liked about this photo was how it looks like a film photograph in certain ways. If I had stepped a little further back so that the hoop was smaller, I might have cropped the photograph to look more like a medium format photo.

Interview with Fredrik Olsson of smudo.org

Fredrik Olsson is the photoblogger behind smudo.org.


fo

PetaPixel: Could you tell me about yourself?

Fredrik Olsson: I’m Fredrik. I live in Stockholm, Sweden with my wife and two kids.

I guess the thing anyone meeting me for the first time says is “gosh, you’re tall!” :) Wow, it’s hard to talk about myself like this… I like music, not playing, but listening to. I like to take pictures. I’m overall a fairly happy dude.

For a living, I’m a researcher in language technology and information access. My current professional interest is in how to make advanced information access techniques available to a broader public. Spare time-wise, I like to hang out with my kids and family, and, of course, to take pictures. :)

PP: How tall are you?

FO: 204 cm (6 foot 7 according to google).

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PP: How did your interest in photography start?

FO: I’m not really sure. I’ve always liked to draw and paint. At some point I borrowed my mother-in-law’s Pentax Spotmatic F. I think it was in 2000 or 2001. The next thing I knew, I had signed up for an evening course in photography. That was in 2002. From then on, I’m stuck. :) But I still don’t remembering taking the decision of signing up to that course.

PP: Is there any meaning behind the name “smudo”?

FO: Yes, a rather silly one. A decade or so ago, some friends of mine used it as an expression to mock someone who was a little bit too clever for his own good… as in “hey smudo!”. It’s an acronym for “super mega ultra dukt-olle”.

Well, I guess the first part is clear. Nowadays, I don’t think of it as being an acronym. Just the name of my site. I cling on to it since I like the sound of it, and that it sounds like an actual word, but isn’t.

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PP: Do you prefer film or digital?

FO: Wow. That’s a hard one! There’s something special with film, for sure. But I more often than not end up using my digital gear. I’d say I prefer film, but if I had to make a one-time decision, it’d be digital. What I find attractive with film is the process of taking pictures, that each and every exposure is there, not deletable, and that it forces me to spend more time to think before pressing the shutter.

Recently, I picked up a Polaroid sx-70, a camera that I’ve been looking to get for a long time. I pretty much find that one to combine the best of both worlds, in a sense; it’s instant feedback, but the sheer cost of pressing the shutter requires me to be very certain about what I want to capture and how to do it.

PP: Isn’t your time with the sx-70 ticking though, since Polaroid retired their film?

FO: Yes, definitely! I’ll get me some more packs of film, then I’ll see what happens. Maybe me and the sx-70 won’t last more very long, or it’ll be a camera that I’ll use on very special occasions only in the future.

PP: Can you list some of the gear you currently use?

FO: Um. Nikon d700 + various lenses, Polaroid sx-70, Lomo lc-a, Holga, Fuji f200exr.

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PP: Which are your favorite lenses and why?

FO: As for now, I’m really fond of the 105/1.8. I got it recently, and haven’t really come to grips with it yet. It appears to be a great portrait lens, and I particularly like the shallow DoF it is able to produce. For the same reason, I really like the 50/1.4. That said, the lens that I use most often, is the Tamron 28-75/2.8; I like it because it is lightweight, fast, and delivers reasonably good image quality… it manages to keep up with them kids at home and it’s a good walk-around lens.

PP: What type of photography do you enjoy the most?

FO: Turning everyday moments and situations into something that I (and hopefully others) enjoy looking at. Snapshots with a twist. Photography that selectively samples the things enjoyable in life.

PP: When did you start your photoblog?

FO: I made the first post on July 3, 2003, so it’s been six years next week.

PP: What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced since starting smudo.org?

FO: Blog-wise? To keep the blog personal without flaunting the privacy of my near and dear. From working with information access and the Internet, I know that what goes on the internet, stays on the internet; I want my kids to be able to actively make the decision regarding their presence on the web when they’re old enough. Other than that, I think the most challenging thing about running a blog, of any kind, is to keep posting on a somewhat regular basis.

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PP: Have you wanted to quit at times? If so, what kept you going?

FO: I’ve thought about quitting, but not for long. The thing is, I’m very bad at quitting things. :)

Seriously, without the blog and the social interaction it has entailed, I probably wouldn’t be doing photography. So, no blog, no photography; and I find it hard to think of a life without photography.

PP: How much does post-processing play a role in your photography?

FO: Oh, a big role, I’d say. About half the work is in post. That doesn’t mean I end up doing many edits, but in thought, the post processing plays a great role. Let’s say that I allow post processing to be half of the image creation. I usually don’t do other things in post than I couldn’t have done in a wet lab.

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PP: Can you describe your workflow?

FO: I’m shooting in jpg (fine) and raw. Offload the images to the computer, sorting them based on date offloaded. I use iview mediapro for looking at and cataloging the images (it’s a discontinued software, so it doesn’t handle d700 raw files, but my computer is old and can’t cope with anything newer). After the selection process, I fire up my very old copy of Photoshop (or bibble if converting from raw) and do whatever edits I find appropriate (levels and curves mostly, maybe some (de)saturation), resize for web, unsharp mask and save. That’s about it. I try to keep the images backed-up on at least two different external drives.

PP: Let’s say a genie gave you the opportunity to photograph anything. Can you describe that dream situation or location?

FO: In any situation? Wow. I need to ponder that for a while…

What comes to mind, having kids of my own, would be to take photos and mental notes from the point of view of a child. The first few years, we, as kids, remember nothing from. But the same years are the ones that the parents perhaps cherish the most. It’d be interesting to keep memories of those years; What were we thinking about? What situations influenced us?

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PP: Do you have any advice for aspiring photographers who are looking to get where you are?

FO: Keep shooting. Carry a camera at all times. Be active on discussion forums and on sites like flickr.

PP: What are the biggest influences on your work?

FO: I’ve chosen not to delve into the world of classical photography. So I know almost nothing about the Great Ones… which is sort of weird given my day-job as a researcher. :)

Thus I can’t really say what inspires me in terms of the history of photography. I’d have to say that my biggest influences include what I see, read and hear about in the media. Tt’s vague, I know. Sorry for not being able to come up with a proper answer.

I follow people on flickr and through their photoblogs; Those are my main inspiration.

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PP: Who are your favorite photographers?

FO: there are a number of photobloggers that I follow; I’ll list some of those…

John, sannah, justin, radio.urugay, raul, …

There’s a whole bunch of great sites out there… I’ve listed some of them on my links page, and I continuously add images I like to my flickr favorites.

PP: Who is one person you would like to see interviewed on PetaPixel?

FO: John of orbit1.com.

PP: Any final things you’d like to leave PetaPixel readers with?

FO: Stay (trigger) happy!

So You Wanna Do HDR? Photomatix Giveaway!

Update: This giveaway has ended, and the randomly selected winners were posted here. Thanks to everyone who participated! Stay tuned for more awesome giveaways!


High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is really interesting, and is mentioned a lot these days. Some people love it, while other hate it. Whatever camp you’re in, I would still recommend that you at least try it out, since I believe you actually learn the most in photography from experimentation.

Here’s an HDR photograph I took in 2008 of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus:

campanileHDR

It’s composed of two photographs that I took without a tripod, and was created using Photomatix by HDRsoft. It seems like everyone these days is using Photomatix for their HDR work, and if you’ve heard of HDR, you’ve probably also heard of Photomatix.

Well today, I’m giving away two (2) copies of Photomatix Pro Plus, each worth $119. This bundle includes not only the standalone program, but also plugins for Photoshop, Lighroom, and Aperture. Of course, feel free to downgrade to one of the individual packages if this much software is overwhelming.

Entering this contest is simple. All you need to do is answer the following question:

Who is your favorite photographer?

Any photographer is okay, though try not to say it’s yourself. Links are definitely encouraged if the photographer is modern enough to have a website!

There are two ways you can send your answer to me, and feel free to use both methods for double the chance to win! You can…

  1. Leave a comment on this post
  2. Tweet your answer to @petapixel on Twitter

Winners will be randomly picked and announced in a week on the evening of July 18th, 2009.

Good luck!


If you’d like to view more examples of what you can do with Photomatix, check out the Photomatix group on Flickr, and to learn how to actually do HDR photography, try reading this tutorial by Trey Ratcliff on Stuck in Customs.


Another tip: If you include a link in your tweet back to this post, your tweet will automatically show up below the comments section, allowing you to share your answer not only with me, but with PetaPixel readers as well!

7 Steps to Taking Clone Photographs

As a lot of the interviewees we’ve had on PetaPixel have shared, a great way to improve in your photography skills is to experiment. Even though many of the experiments I share on PetaPixel have nothing to do with directly improving your photography skills, they’ve definitely helped me gain a deeper understanding of various aspects of photography, post-processing, and manipulation, and I hope they can do the same for you. Today, I’ll show you how to take photographs of multiple yous. Let’s get started!

Here’s a photograph titled “Clone Wars” that I took in a field behind my house yesterday:

clonewars

Canon 40D + Canon 16-35mm. f/5.0 and 1/500s at ISO 100.

The difference between this kind of thing and other kinds of photo manipulation is that you’re not trying to add fake people or objects into a photograph that are actually out of place (in terms of things like lighting and shadows). Instead, you’re taking certain parts of real photographs and merging them together. This means the editing can be nearly undetectable if you handle the whole process very carefully.

So, without further ado, the seven steps to taking clone photographs:

#1: Bring the Right Gear

Here’s what you’ll need to bring:

  • Camera (see below for requirements)
  • Tripod (as sturdy as possible)
  • Remote Shutter Release (optional, though recommended)

gearyoullneed

Believe it or not, you don’t need a fancy schmancy camera or lens. Any camera with a tripod mount, manual focus, manual exposure, and a self-timer should do.

The most important thing you need to focus on is consistency. Many of these steps are ways for you to achieve consistency in your shots, which leads to a consistent looking result. We want every single photograph to be nearly identical to all the others in everything except the person in the shot, and a tripod will help you to do this. It’s very important that the tripod does not move at all through the entire series of photographs.

If you have a remote shutter release, you can bring it along to ensure that the tripod does not move between shots. It’s not necessary though, as long as you’re very careful when pressing the shutter button each time.

#2: Setting Manual Exposure

manualexposure

To keep your exposure identical between shots (assuming the lighting/weather isn’t changing), use manual exposure mode. Since you want everyone in the shot to be sharp, use a higher aperture to increase the depth of field. I used f/5.0, but feel free to go higher.

Once you’ve decided on an aperture, adjust the shutter speed until you decide that the exposure is correct. Adjust, shoot, and view the result until you’re confident that it’s about right. The exposure will apply to all of the photographs, so it’s very important that you nail this step. I might cover how to determine correct exposure in a future post, but for now, just eyeball it.

For ISO setting, try to go as low as you can in order to reduce noise. If you’re taking the photo outdoors in bright lighting, ISO 50 or 100 is probably the way to go.

#3: Setting Manual Focus

manualfocus

Another thing that you want to keep constant in each of the photographs is the focus. Focus on something at an average distance away from the camera (based on where you’ll be located in the shots), and then change your focus mode to manual to lock this focus and prevent the camera from auto-focusing between shots.

#4: Determining Where You’ll Be

Now that you’ve adjusted all the camera settings you need to, you can start thinking about where each of the yous in the photograph will be located.

This can be kind of tricky, unless you seriously plan out things ahead of time and mark out locations on the ground or something. For my “Clone Wars” photograph, I simply decided where to go next after each photo, and remembered my location for subject interactions by remembering little “landmarks” on the ground, like a branch or patch of dirt.

I was shooting alone (though a friend would have made things easier), and took about ten minutes from start to finish to capture the shots I needed. The photo is composed of 11 separate photographs, one for every me you see in the picture. Here’s a little montage of the individual photos that were combined to produce “Clone Wars”:

montage

Unless you want to spend an absurd amount of time merging the photographs, try to avoid overlap as much as possible. If none of the yous overlap, then the last step (merging the photos) is a breeze. If they overlap a lot, either toss the particular photo, or brace yourself for some painful Photoshop work.

Finally, try to vary your location and distance from the camera in the photographs to make the scene more realistic. Notice how in “Clone Wars” I sometimes appear right in front of the camera, and sometimes appear pretty far away. Going farther away from the camera also allows you to squeeze more yous into the shot, since you won’t occupy much space in the frame.

#5: Taking the Pictures

Taking the photograph is relatively straightforward.

  1. Be careful not to disturb the camera
  2. Start the timer by pressing the shutter button or remote release
  3. Run to whatever location you determined in Step #4 for this particular shot
  4. Hold your pose (or get into your airborne pose) as the timer activates the shutter
  5. Review the photo carefully, and redo it if something is off.
  6. Repeat until finished

If viewed by themselves, the individual photographs that make up the picture look pretty ridiculous.

absurd

Try to find a location where there aren’t many people watching (I was alone in the field). Otherwise, be very comfortable making a fool of yourself.

If you need to jump in one or more of the photographs (like I did for one frame in “Clone Wars”), you’ll need to get used to when to actually jump while watching the blinking timer light on your camera. This can be pretty tricky, and was actually the frame I had to redo the most.

Once you’re done shooting, off to post-processing you go!

#6: Post-Processing the Images

You were careful to keep the framing and exposure consistent in the first five steps, so don’t blow the consistency during this step. If you post-process at all, you must do the exact same modifications to all of the photographs.

I used Adobe Camera Raw (ACR), which allowed me to synchronize my changes across all the photographs.

synch

I’m not sure how you should synchronize the edits if you use Lightroom or Aperture, since I don’t use those programs, but I’m sure there’s an easy way you can do it. If you know, please leave a comment for other Lightroom or Aperture users!

Here’s one of the original images before post-processing was done. Hover your mouse over it to see what it looked like after raw processing and conversion:

beforepp

If you’re perfectly consistent in your post-processing, the photographs will continue to be nearly identical no matter how much you do to them.

#7: Merging Everything Together

We’re finally here — the step where it all comes together. This is also potentially the most difficult, but shouldn’t be too bad if you managed to keep your people from overlapping in Step #4.

  1. Choose one of the photographs to use as the canvas on which all the others will be “painted”
  2. Copy one of the remaining photos into a new layer
  3. Create a layer mask for this photo
  4. Fill the layer mask with black to mask out the new photograph. (tip: you can also create a black mask instantly by holding the alt key when clicking the mask button.)
  5. Using the brush tool, paint white over the area of the new photograph you’re located at. This will reveal you very seamlessly since, aside from your body, the backgrounds are nearly identical (even if wind affects the location of the grass, branches, etc…).
  6. Continue painting until everything in the new photo you want to reveal is revealed, and nothing looks out of place.
  7. Repeat until all the yous in all the other photographs are added to the original photo

The final state of the image and layers should look something like this (with each layer except the canvas mostly masked):

layers

There you have it. Once you do it once, subsequent attempts will be less and less difficult and time consuming.

Here are some other “clone” photographs I took during the same afternoon:

“Chillin’ With My Clonies”

pensive

“Duck-Duck-Goose”

duckduckgoose

“Execution”

execution

Interview with Phil Bebbington of terrorkitten

Phil Bebbington is the photoblogger behind terrorkitten.


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PetaPixel: Could you tell me a little about yourself?

Phil Bebbington: Well, my name is Phil Bebbington, I’m 51 and from the beautiful georgian city of Bath in the UK. I have been taking photos since about 1976, and blogging for about 3 years. I was a police officer for many years although I’m not sure what that has to do about anything. I have taken breaks in photography over the years but have been fairly focused on it now for about 8 or 9 years.

PP: What do you do for a living?

PB: I am retired – working part time doing this and that to supplement my income.

PP: How did you first get into photography?

PB: I don’t remember exactly, I know it was 1976 and I saw a camera for sale in a local store – it just seemed to catch my attention. I saved for it and started shooting – the rest is history.

PP: Do you primarily shoot film or digital?

PB: I shoot film.

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PP: How come you haven’t transitioned to digital when so many photographers have?

PB: I like the pace of film – I enjoy the fact I cannot see what I am shooting. It slows me down, I have to have confidence in what I am doing – there is no point in shooting two shots as I cannot see the first. It gives me time to think, to look, it gives me confidence and assurance in my ability. All I have is my exposure meter and the camera, all the decisions are mine.

I also feel more comfortable with a tried and tested system. We know how long film lasts given good storage. I know that a negative, even if tramped into the ground, will yield an image – I have had digital images break down and lost for ever.

I’m not saying one is better than the other… I just feel comfortable with film. I feel it gives me the best of both worlds.

PP: How did the digital images break down?

PB: Just commercial scans that when I tried to access would not let me read them. You never get that issue with film.

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PP: What equipment do you use these days?

PB: Many. My main camera and the one I love is my Hasselblad SWC (wide angled fixed lens) – I also use a Holga on a regular basis as well as other Hasselblads. I would say however that most of my work is with the Hassdelblad SWC and the Holga.

PP: How many cameras and lenses do you own?

PB: I would say 10 or 12 cameras including Polaroids and a few extra lenses.

PP: Is there anything on your wish list?

PB: Not really – I guess a nice medium format panoramic camera but I’m not sure how much I would use it. I probably have too many cameras already.

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PP: Have you received any formal training in photography, or are you entirely self taught?

PB: Totally self taught.

PP: What are your thoughts on digital photography and where photography in general is headed?

PB: Generally I think photography is headed down the digital route, which I don’t have a problem with. I feel film has a place but will probably occupy a niche market.

My worry with digital is the snapshot side – the guy in the street that used to take snap shots used to have the films developed and then threw the negs into a tin and there they sat – to all intent and purposes 36 negs with one or two of use – of course the whole set told the story because we didn’t sling the bad ones.

With digital however, we photograph our sons birthday, look at the photos, delete the bad ones and keep the couple of good ones and so the story is gone as the story was the good and the bad – my worry is the loss of the documentary photography done by the guy in the street!

We may not feel the effects of that for 30 years.

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PP: Any thoughts on the announcement by Kodak today that they will be retiring Kodachrome film?

PB: Any loss of any film is a sad day – the films available now is shrinking by the day – sad yet inevitable I feel.

PP: What’s your favorite film?

PB: My favourite is Fuji Provia 100, however developing has become costly and difficult so now I use Fuji 160C or Kodak 160VC.

PP: Where do you develop your film? Do you do it yourself?

PB: No, I use a local lab – they are few and far between for 120 film – perhaps when the local one stops I may have to do it myself.

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PP: How often and how much do you shoot?

PB: Most days I look for shots. I shoot in two ways: my daily routine is with the Holga, and other projects with the Hasselblad SWC – mainly because the portability of the Holga allows me to carry it at all times.

PP: What is your goal in photography?

PB: For more people to see the photography I am pleased with. I shoot mainly for me so promoting myself I find difficult and a chore as I see little worth in it – still, positive reactions are nice and I guess I wouldn’t have an online presence if I didn’t want to show people.

To perhaps one day be represented by a gallery would be nice – I guess the ultimate aim is not to make money but for it to be self financing. Yeah, self financing would be very nice.

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PP: What has been the biggest challenge since starting your photoblog?

PB: My biggest challenge perhaps has been making my photography match the way I think – for years the two seemed out of kilter. I felt I was taking photos but not seeing – the day I started seeing, it started to make sense.

PP: As an aside, why did you choose the name “terrorkitten” for your photoblog?

PB: Well – the blog was originally a gallery of types – I thought it would be good to choose a domain name that at least made people look and perhaps to wonder what the web site was about. Nothing more than that really.

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PP: Who are some photographers you keep up with online?

PB: No Traces, The F Blog, pinkie style, electrolite, and lenscratch.

PP: If you could choose one person to be interviewed on PetaPixel, who would it be?

PB: Angie Harris at pinkie style.

PP: Anything else you’d like to say to PetaPixel’s readers?

PB: Sheesh! Not really – you have made me think that’s for sure, and I have enjoyed it tremendously.