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Driving in Scotland and 12 Miles to Mallaig

Where to begin… well, driving in Scotland is a challenging experience, that’s for sure! At least for an American…

Driving in the UK is the complete opposite to what we’re accustomed to. The driver seat is on the right of the car and the cars drive on the left side of the road. So when you have oncoming traffic, cars whizz by you on your right, a sensation that I haven’t felt since acquiring my driving permit years ago.

Okay, that bit is tough at first in its own right, but that’s not the only challenge here. If I’m not completely in shock already, the roads outside modern cities are extremely winding and narrow. Eek! I cringed at the sight of oncoming traffic on more than one occasion, but I will say this… once you acclimate yourself for a day or two, driving in Scotland is like wearing an old hat; it just feels right! Ah, I meant left. Sorry for the bad joke…

We toured the country in what was essentially a clockwise circle that originated in Glasgow and worked our way north and west till we reached Inverness. We had fantastic opportunities to see the Highlands and their breathtaking views along the way. Rain clouds loomed and were never too far from sight; that’s okay because rain is beautiful in Scotland. It has this way of amplifying color–especially the greens.

12 Miles to Mallaig

The Highlands are truly beautiful and worth seeing firsthand if the opportunity presents itself. The scenery changed dramatically from flat land to jagged rocks and huge green rolling hills (I may be a little off with that statement because I had my eyes glued to the road in total concentration for a lot of the drive).

We were on our way to the Mallaig ferry when I spotted a patch of Fox Glove overlooking a loch with green landmass in the distance (that’s a lake for you westerners). I don’t remember too many of the location details, only that we were "12 Miles to Mallaig."

A dynamic landscape that depicts foxglove and yellow flowers in the foreground and a loch with green islands all under an overcast and moody sky.

Red Dahlia in HD Crop

I was traveling to Sussex County last week to visit a potential wedding venue for next year’s festivities. Yup, I’m engaged! With that said and me being my romantic self (or not), I was moved by the Dahlia gardens all over the property and snagged this unusual 16X9 HD crop of one of the red ones near the playhouse.

A 16X9 crop of a partial red flower

Creative Cropping and a Magenta Columbine Flower

A little while back I was getting creative with a sunflower photograph and decided to crop it in a different way. Enter creative cropping. Remember these sunflower petals?

Well, I took this idea and ran with it to create an extremely dynamic composition. No cropping this time, though. All 12 megapixels are present and accounted for.

Magenta Columbine Flower

My community is filled with a bunch of interesting flowers. So many in fact, that I have infinite opportunity to create a new photo every day. If only I had the time… Kudos to our neighborly gardeners for keeping up with planting new ones all the time.

Shooting nature photos on a daily basis creates curiosity; at least with me. I always want to learn more about the subject after my shoot. I got lucky with researching this next flower because I had to dive in with no knowledge of its name. A quick search for perennial flowers in New Jersey and I nailed it on the first try. This is a Magenta Columbine flower.

A dynamic composition with lots of empty space of a magenta columbine flower.

White Balance Hands On – Apple Blossoms

I thought I’d show you all exactly how I use the Color Checker Passport in my workflow to attain a correct white balance this time around.

Have a look at the small sized color swatches in the first photo and note the top half. Pay particular attention to the third row with little icons that look like mountains and sunlight; this is the group of swatches that will be used to color correct landscape photographs. The center is neutral, the two leftmost add a touch of coolness, and the two rightmost will add a bit of warmth to your color palette.

To color correct your scene, you must shoot your photograph under the same lighting conditions and incident angles as your reference shot. Also, the same exposure values must be used; any shift, and your colors won’t be true. So, in order to do this accurately, move your camera dial to manual mode and get a proper meter reading for 18% grey.

Now that we have the proper exposure dialed in, take your reference shot and forget about it till you move to post.

Once you get your images into the software editing suite of your choice, find the little white balance eye dropper and click the neutral white target for landscape that I mentioned earlier. Take note of the white balance temperature and tint, or simply lift the adjustment and stamp your remaining photos. That’s it. You’re done!

I show the Color Checker Passport on location and explain how to use it.

Apple Blossoms

I am back to the same location I created Weeping Dream, but only this time the seasons have changed. Apple Blossoms and Cherry Blossoms are in bloom and those same bare trees are filled with beautiful color; we have overcast skies again so color saturation is at its best.

An Apple Blossom tree flower close up.

X-Rite Color Checker Passport – Purple Hyacinth

I recently picked up a new color management tool called the X-Rite Color Checker Passport and just incorporated its functionality into my workflow. In a few words, this thing rocks! I don’t see this handy little color checker leaving my side any time soon.

So, what’s it do exactly? Well, you can use the passport in a few ways; I opted to simply use it as a white balance tool within my photo management suite. I take a snapshot of the color checker in my scene under the same lighting conditions and shooting perspective and swatch the landscape neutral target. I even have the option to add coolness or warmth to the photo by clicking the landscape swatches in either direction. Triple awesome.

Purple Hyacinth

Spring has sprung and the available flower assortment proves it. I stumbled upon a pretty patch of purple Hyacinths a few days ago and have been waiting for a cloudy day to reveal their beautiful colors.

A single Purple Hyacinth in focus among the out of focus purple petals and green background.

Macro Focus Stacking

Updated for 2013

I’m using a new macro technique (new to me) today called focus stacking; essentially, you take a bunch of frames with manual focus at the same exposure and bring focus to different areas of your photograph in each shot. you need the following setup for the best results:

First, set your lens focus to the desired macro scale. Once its set, do not touch it again.

Your lens probably has markings for 1:1, 1:2, 1:4, and so on. Line up your focus scale mark to the center and nail down your distance away from the subject.

Now you’re ready to set your exposure and start shooting some frames. Start at your subject’s closest features and work your way to the back by sliding the focus rail forward. Small movements make dramatic focus differences so move the rail carefully and take your time.

Depending on your subject distance, you may need to slide right or left and stitch a panorama so it’s a good idea to make sure you have x and y axis rails on hand.

Import and Stack

After importing the set, you merge the frames together and a focus stacked photo is born.

In the case of the daffodil, I wanted to emphasize the petal and leave other features out of focus. So, I took three shots at f/4.5 – one for the closest petal edge, one for the center petals, and lastly, one for the top of the petal ring. Adding focus to more frames generally creates a sharper photo when merged together, but since this is my first time, I opted to merely test the technique.

Yellow Daffodil to Kick Off Spring

Oops, I flubbed. I mistakenly shot this yellow daffodil with the focus stacking technique at ISO 3200. Luckily, my camera sensor resolves great detail with little noise through ISO 3200 and is generally acceptable at ISO 6400. I lose some dynamic range at higher ISO, but all is not lost. ISO 3200 is totally unnecessary, though. Especially in daylight. So, if you’ve been away from shooting for a while, remember to reset your camera before you use it again.

A focus stacked yellow daffodil reveals beautiful petal texture while leaving soft green stems out of focus.  The contrast of the black background with the yellow flower accentuates its beauty.

Bathroom Renovations and Sunflower Fields

We’re in the last stages of a quick bathroom spruce up. We’ve already spackled, primed, painted (the color is called slightly aqua), wired up the vanity, installed the medicine cabinet, and mounted the towel hardware – the only few remaining details are to print a few photos, hang said photos, and run a few beads of caulk to seal up the sink and tub. It’s almost a job well done; reno photo coming soon.

Sunflower Fields Forever

I’m on a roll with rediscovering old photos from 2011 that were initially on the Do Not Show list. I’m not sure how I managed to let Sunflower Fields Forever slip through, but I’m constantly refining my workflow. Sifting and sorting gets better and more efficient each time I download a memory card. Note to self, keep being hard on yourself and really scrutinize your work; your photos will thank you later.

A sunflower maze path down the center of the frame is surrounded by sunflowers right and left with high noon light and blue skies with rays of light passing through a few clouds.

Post Processing and Sunflower Petals

Post processing photographs is synonymous with a master cook using salt in a gourmet dish. You need it as part of your workflow to help achieve your vision and more importantly, to grow as a photographer and artist.

I’m not just talking about modifying saturation, color balance, or contrast. I’m not even suggesting that you need to churn your photos through a HDR processor every single time. What I am suggesting, though, is to scrutinize your composition.

Crop That Photo Till You Drop

Chop it up, change the aspect ratio, and make sure you come away with at least five different variations of your original photograph. By completing this exercise, you will gain an understanding of how to approach your subjects from newly appreciated angles. You will also begin to possess a deeper creative mindset and that my friends, is the point I want to drive home.

The more you do in post with composition, the more you will develop your creative mind.

Sunflower Petals

I was digging through my photo library and wanted to find a photo that lacked focus and punch; I came across a photo series from last year of a Sunflower maze and knew this was the album to search. I remember feeling a bit disappointed with the outcome of this shoot.

Ah, always revisit your photos… you might surprise yourself. Speaking of surprising myself, I followed my own advice on post processing and chopped up the composition till I found a new angle that really added focus and depth. Intuition kicked in and I came away with a crop that I know I’ll be using for new work.

A sunflower is a sunflower is a sunflower until you chop off three quarters of the sunflower petals and let your viewer use his or her imagination to fill in the blanks. I did exactly that with the crop I’m sharing with you today.

A quarter of a sunflower fans out its petals from the bottom left of the frame while the rest of the scene blurs into beautiful yellow and green bokeh.

Christmas Tree Star Topper – Flower Abstract

Tomorrow is a sad, sad day. The Christmas tree is finally coming down and making its way to the trash. All those days of coming home from work and enjoying that winter pine scent will soon be a distant memory. This year, the tree was especially small, but it made up for its size by overpowering the room with pine tree scented bliss; I can’t tell you its type, but I do know it was not a Frazier fur. Our Christmas tree had a star topper this year, which added a little bit of color to the already festive red, white, and green lights.

Blur Your Focus to Create Light Bokeh

The weather has finally turned cold and windy which is capable of sending chills through bones so what better way to introduce memories of warmer weather with an abstract flower from the Christmas tree star topper! This technique is simple to do with any sort of light. Simply switch your camera to manual focus and pull the lights OOF (out-of-focus). You can make this as dramatic as you like and for added punch rip the shot with a fast shutter speed to render your lights in a sea of black like I did here.

A Christmas tree star topper is photographed while out-of-focus to create a beautiful golden flower abstract.

Flower Photography – Day 12

Everyone loves flowers; they are beautiful to look at and they add that little bit of vibrance to any room when they’re freshly cut. Flower photography is popular – especially when one is shot close up. The pistils (those little tentacles in the center of a flower) are remarkably detailed. Get close enough and see for yourself!

I really enjoy visiting the botanical garden in Ringwood, NJ after Memorial Day – there is so much to see and you can literally spend a few hours just walking around. I’m going one step further this coming year; I’m bringing a blanket to sit on for lunch and a soccer ball. Did I mention the field is huge?

A White Daisy Crop

I’m sharing a crop today of a flower that was photographed this past summer. No macro, just a pretty white flower with nice background bokeh from a 50mm lens.

A delicate white flower with yellow center stands out from the bunch.