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Macro Photography – Lichen Branch

They say the devil is in the details, and those details can be captured with macro photography. Macro photography allows you to capture a world that goes otherwise unnoticed in a place where bigger usually equates to better. Getting closer to a subject can open your eyes to a hidden world populated with new colors, textures, and forms, which in my humble opinion is a photographer’s dream; we’re always looking to be different and to explore the unknown.

I’m always searching for new perspectives, and looking through a camera lens allows me to see the world in a completely new way. Our vision is approximately the same as a 50mm lens mounted on a full-frame camera, so we can replicate what we see with the naked eye using this lens, or we can completely alter our field of view by introducing wide angle or telephoto lenses.

Macro photography holds a special place in my heart because it allows you to literally see your subject from inches away – I sometimes feel as if I’m looking through a microscope, but I’m reminded that it’s just a 1:1 representation of the subject after looking at the focus ring on the lens.

You’ll need some photography equipment to do this right. For starters, a macro lens is a necessity. Then, you’ll want to invest in a tripod and a remote trigger release. You should also be familiar with how to focus your camera manually because the autofocus system is going to hunt for a focus point when you’re this close. You want absolute control of this, so manual it is.

Another recommendation, if you can swing it, is a macro focusing slide for your tripod; this allows you to make very small adjustments in both x and y coordinates to get the best focus. You can find phenomenal tripods and accessories over at Really Right Stuff; a little warning though… this stuff is expensive, but the quality is top of the line and it will last a lifetime.

Lichen Branch

Lichen is a really unique type of fungus that comes in different shapes and colors; it primarily grows on tree branches, limbs, rocks, and soil. It’s interesting that some lichen are used to assess regional air pollution as a few of the lichen species are sensitive to pollution and may die if exposed to it.

This particular lichen species is white and was found on a dead tree branch at the park. I love how macro photography blows the background completely out of focus here.

A dead tree branch filled with white lichen fills the frame with a blurred grassy background.

Photography Websites – Behind the Scenes

Updated for 2013

I decided to change it up a little today and share my knowledge with you on a vitally important piece of the photography puzzle (or any online business presence for that matter).

I’m talking about photography websites and I’m going to share with you why you need to be smart and choose the best solution for your online photography portfolio.

Photography websites are important for a few reasons:

  • A well designed site will define your brand.
  • It’ll showcase your best work.
  • Customers can find you.
  • It’s your 24/7 marketing machine

That means more customers knocking on your door looking for your services.

You Need To Avoid Flash

With so many different and emerging web technologies, finding the correct solution could be like searching for a needle in a haystack. You want photography websites to look professional, beautiful, and they have to be able to showcase your work well. I’ll say this up front – don’t use Flash!

Use WordPress Instead!

Search engines have a hard time indexing Adobe Flash sites because they’re bundled inside a container that cannot be crawled by the major search engines; yes, the engines are getting better and they can handle Flash to a certain degree, but not like pure HTML.

My advice here is to feed the search engines the language they understand and that’s HTML & CSS. The W3C is moving in the right direction by providing a lot of the pretty Flash functionality into HTML 5 and CSS 3 so it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream. Technologies like jQuery can assist with pretty presentation features such as photograph fades and shadowboxes. I won’t get into too much detail here because this topic is way out of scope for this article, but you have options and most of the heavy lifting is already done for you.

There are technologies out there that will help you build beautiful photography websites. Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal are all extensible and easy to understand content management frameworks that will run circles around any Flash based site. Stick to the basics and don’t reinvent the wheel. Beautiful photography websites are attainable; you just have to be in the know, or at least in the know with the tech savvy. 🙂

Behind the Scenes

Diving into a 365 project has been exciting! It’s been more than just a project, but a way of life. I eat, breathe, and sleep photography and I love every minute of it! I may miss a day or two here and there and that’s okay; the instant this becomes a job is the same time it’s no longer fun. There’s more to this photo-a-day project than meets the eye – at least for me. Let me elaborate and give you a behind the scenes look…

See, I know there are books, tutorials, DVD’s, photography websites, even similar blogs that publish photography tips. The difference is, these publications don’t have my mark on them. It hasn’t been taught with my own unique spin. Maybe you relate to me better than someone else teaching the same subject. If you don’t, that’s okay too – I just hope that in the end, I help a few people along the way.

That’s why I am working on a formal photography tutorial section for this website. My illustrations, my storyboards, my tutorial skeletons, and all the little sticky notes with pointers, insights, and raw material will become your foundation for comprehensive photography lessons. Time consuming, yes, but think of it as my way of giving back.

This is long enough for tonight… I leave you with a photo of some raindrops on a windshield; I tend to do my best work alone in silence while the rain pelts my office window.

Raindrops collect on a car windshield with the rest of the scene out of focus.  You can also see out-of-focus tail lights adding some beautiful colored bokeh to the image.

Expose in Photography – First Snow of 2012

Achieving proper exposure in photography is a fundamental skill needed if you want to stop taking snapshots and start making real photographs. You have to break away from "program mode," but fear not, calculating proper exposure is simple to learn!

Your camera sees the proper exposure at 18% grey; this means your camera will take a meter reading (a calculation) over the focus point in your viewfinder and set what it feels are the best values for this. Ah, but there’s a catch… cameras are dumb. Since the camera sees proper exposure at 18% grey, what if your subject isn’t actually 18% grey? Well, your photo is either going to be under or over exposed!

Manually setting your camera exposure comes into play in scenes where the majority of your subject is white or black – it’s also beneficial to do this 100% of the time, but let’s take baby steps for now.

Here’s what happens… say for example you wish to photograph snow; the camera will see your snow as 18% grey and under expose the shot making your beautiful, fluffy, white snow murky and grey. The exact opposite happens when shooting dark or black scenes. The 18% grey camera reading will overcompensate and blow out all those deep, intense shadows.

A solution which I rely on time and time again to get proper exposure is called the PhotoVision Digital Target. As an added bonus, this target will also set your white balance! I use the 14" version because it fits nicely in my bag.

I promise… my little photography blog tips will soon flourish into a fully-blown dedicated learning section on my website; more to come on that…

First Snow of 2012

There is a method to my madness. Getting the correct exposure ties in nicely with my next picture.

We have been blessed with our first snowfall of 2012 this past Saturday! I love the look of pristine untouched snow on roads, pathways, trees, rocks, and anything else for that matter.

Everything looks so pure and clean. Any bit of color in the drab winter months comes to life with snow. Blue US Postal Service mailboxes, red street signs, orange construction cones, and green pine needles pop out of the frame. Oooh, I just made up some new photography ideas! I must update my 365 project ideas list.

Pine needles draw pointed attention to a branch in the lower right portion of the frame where fluffy, white snow sits.

Night Photography – Shadows & Color

I am sure that I will be partaking in quite a bit of night photography for this photo-a-day project simply because I work during the week and it is difficult to devote time during daytime hours – excluding weekends and vacation days of course. All is good though; night photography can add a new dimension to your photography skill set. All you need is a stable tripod and a cable release. Or, you can use the timer on the camera; a 10 second timer should be sufficient at eliminating any internal camera vibrations.

Shadows & Color

I really like to play with shadows and to create mood with dark scenes, especially at night. This particular wrought iron fence had a light passing through the grates and created the coolest play on shadows near the painted yellow stop text. The wrought iron shadows danced into the distance, mingling on top of one another and interweaved into sets of diamonds. Midway through setting up, I noticed headlights behind me and somehow managed to stop the flow of traffic. Oops! So, I moved out of the way, recomposed again, and came away with a keeper.

A wrought iron fence creates a pattern of shadows on the asphalt below in this night photography photograph.

Nature Photography – Mountain Biking in New Jersey

It’s the winter and the landscape is drab because there isn’t any beautiful white snow lining the trails just yet. Nature photography needs to be meticulously planned; it’s wise to know the weather report and the lay-of-the-land. Also, scout the area for remarkable hidden finds that could potentially land a beautiful shot.

Scenery will change dramatically because of available light and available color (think flowers and growth here), so I recommend visiting a favorite location in different conditions. Rain from earlier in the day can add saturation to your scene’s colors or a ray of light from the sun can add just the right amount of flair to your photo. You will eventually get what you were looking for with patience and persistence.

Mountain Biking in New Jersey

I was not so lucky yesterday, and that’s OK. Chalk it up to another condition that I know doesn’t work for a particular location – at least for the exact vision I had. Nature photography can be finicky like that. It’s January and the temperature is close to 60 degrees here in New Jersey. Crazy right? It felt right to get on the bike and go for one last ride before it is too cold.

So, I packed my camera and my backup mountain bike; the primary has a flat and I really need to change the tires because the treads are down to the bone. My ride started out okay – but proceeded to get progressively worse. The backup Cannondale doesn’t have clipless pedals that I’ve grown to love, and the ground is as slick as a banana peel. Mud is everywhere and I’m having a hard time keeping the bike stable through the rivets of mud, especially with a pack on my back.

In the end, the four mile loop seemed like eternity, but it was worth every grunt, thorn prick, and following day saddle pain. This next shot is a result of a much needed break midway through the ride.

A Cannondale F3 rests on a tree looking up towards the trail.

Camera Phones & Office Sunset

It was a Friday afternoon and I was working on a project at the office, but also fully aware that the sun was setting; a view from the window gave it away that I was in for a treat on the walk to my car. I didn’t have my camera rig with me, but fortunately technology has advanced to the point that you can carry a high quality point-and-shoot wherever you go. Which cameras should you use in a pinch?

Use Your iPhone or Whatever You Have Readily Available

My iPhone 4S works double duty as my backup and my always-on-hand camera. A few minor level adjustments and noise cleanup in post really helps add depth and clarity to any image. While the iPhone isn’t a full frame sensor with professional control, it isn’t meant to be. It’s the device that gets you the shot when you need to travel light or simply forget to bring your rig with you. And for that duty alone, it’s priceless. Kudos to Apple for constantly evolving the camera hardware inside their devices!

Office Sunset

I’m pleased that I was able to take five minutes, compose, adjust the exposure directly on the screen, and fire one precise shot. This office sunset certainly was beautiful and I am forever grateful that high quality cameras are available on phones; otherwise I would have never had the opportunity to capture this beautiful sunset!

A gnarly tree hugs the right frame with branches covering the top allowing the office parking lot sunset to be framed between these two elements.