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FIRST LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

JULY 2018

DIGITAL CORNER - CREATING A BLACK OR WHITE BACKGROUND

On my recently completed Flower Techniques workshop we spent a full late afternoon / evening session going over about 15 different computer techniques for working with flower photography in addition to our field work and an evening of doing extreme macro techniques in the room. Two of the items covered include creating a black or white background to a shot. Below are the steps used for doing these in Photoshop as well as a before and after image for each technique. The steps are not that difficult but the more detail there is to the foreground subject the more work will be involved in cleaning it up with the brush.

CREATE A BLACK BACKGROUND
- Add an Exposure adjustment layer to darken the background. 
- There are three sliders: Exposure, Offset and Gamma Correction.  Move the Gamma Correction slider to the right until the background is fully dark.
- Create a layer mask and using the brush paint away the main subject to reveal the original color. Start with a large paintbrush to get large areas and then make the brush smaller with sharper edges to get the edges and small portions uncovered.
- Use the Clone tool to clean up any parts that need a little bit of filling in.

CREATE A WHITE BACKGROUND
- Do a quick select of your subject.  This may take some work for subjects with lots of detail.  Invert the selection (Cmd Shift I).
- Create a Hue / Saturation adjustment layer of the inverted selected area to lighten the background.
- There are three sliders: Hue, Saturation and Lightness.  If you move the Lightness slider to the right it will lighten the selected inverted background.
- Create a Layer Mask and use the Brush (hard edge) to pick up any stray parts not selected previously.
- Flatten the image and use the Clone tool to clean up around the edges.

Why create a black or white background? A white background is good for doing a computer technique to create a kaleidescope effect to a flower and for note or Christmas cards to put some text into a blank space. For a black background, it can be combined with the zoom filter for a shot with a very interesting effect. There are several other filters a black background can work well with such as polar coordinates. A little playing around will show you lots of great effects that can be used with either of these backgrounds.

flower with cluttered background
Flower with a busy background

flower with blacck background
A nice, clean black background helps make the flower pop and gets rid of distracting elements

flower with busy background
Flower with a clean but colored background

flower with white background
White background


FEATURED UPCOMING WORKSHOP - ACADIA / COASTAL MAINE FALL (OCTOBER 7 - 13)

A trip that has filled up the last several years has several spots still open this year and is one that everyone who goes on enjoys. Photograph lighthouses, quaint harbors, rugged scenic coastal settings and colorful tree-lined ponds and streams as we explore Acadia National Park and and mid-coast of Maine. Learn tips and tricks for working with the varying moods, weather, and light Acadia and Coastal Maine presents to create images of stunning nature scenes of this area. You'll also learn the advantages of long exposures of water at sunrise that will allow you to create some very ethereal images of the rocks, water and sunrise colors as well as a few fall photo special techniques.

boulder beach acadia national park
Sunrise at Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park with a long exposure to soften the water

JOSHUA TREE

During the new moon period in May I made a run over to Joshua Tree to start checking out things in my new area of Southern California. I wanted to do some Milky Way shooting of the area and see if it would be a good place to hold a workshop. While it might be a future destination, the time of year was not quite right. Even though my searching on Stellarium showed the Milky Way would be out a good bit earlier, each of my nights there it did not appear until about three to four hours after sunset, making for a pretty long wait to get it.

While the area is quite beautiful and I saw some really nice potential spots for shooting and did some at numerous locations, I might have to go again in the fall when there might be a better chance of the Milky Way coming up earlier and in a different location in order to think about a potential future workshop there.

Besides the Milky Way, one thing I found quite fun to shoot was some sun stars in various locations in an around the trees. The shapes of the trees creates some interesting holes and patterns for edges of the sun to sneak through in order to create sun stars. Remember, shoot at f/16 to f/22 or so to create sun stars. Using your depth of field preview button will help show what the star effect will look like.

sun star through joshua tree
Canon 5D Mark IV and 70-200mm f/2.8 at f/22, 1/80th sec, -2/3 EV, 100 ISO - depth of field preview used to gauge sun star effect

The night shooting did allow me to play with my new 5D Mark IV at night as well as try some new settings such as stopping down 1/3 of a stop to 3.2 from 2.8 and using 6400 ISO. I also moved the White Balance around a little bit and got more comfortable with my new light panal. I have used it several times but with it having adjustments for both brightness and color balance there's a fine line to getting everything just right based on the colors of the foreground object.

The park has an interesting natural cactus garden full of cholla cactus that is good right after sunrise with getting them backlit. More explorations found some interesting trees near rock formations. The area is a good spot to get shots of the earth's shadow just before sunrise and after sunset. Sunset works a little better because you can scout a shooting location of some nice trees with a good background. Trying to find something before sunrise is a bit tougher unless you have a spot pinpointed to know exactly where to go. The same can be said for finding trees for the Milky Way. You can do exploring during the day and know almost where to go but you need a strong light to find the exact tree or tree / formation combo spot you saw earlier. The more visits to the area will make this endeavor a bit easier. This is unlike going to the parks in Utahl with large rock formations - one tree looks a lot like another tree when there are a bunch in the same area and there was one or two that stood out to you earlier.

All in all it was a fun trip that seems like it will be worth another look at a different season. It may or may not end up on the workshop schedule.

milky way at joshua tree
Canon 5D Mark IV and 16-35mm f/2.8 at f/3.2, 15 seconds, 6400 ISO, 4000K White Balance - light painting with my new panel

 

COLORADO WILDLIFE RECAP

The baby goats were out in full force for the main destination for the summer Colorado Wildlife trip. While goats, and more specifically baby goats, were the main interest, we also found a group of about 50 elk or more that included thirteen babies near Evergreen and numerous baby deer at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. We also visited an area with a couple of lakes that is usually good for babies birds but the avocets nested early this year and were gone due to the early warm temperatures and dry conditions. Several nice buck deer in velvet also provided a bit of good shooting opportunities at another location.

While with the elk I ended up counting 13 babies, including getting most of six in one shot once they got up from being bedded down in the trees. They then made their way over a ridge to a meadow with a retnention pond where four of them went into the water with two of them putting on a pretty good show of splashing, running around and even standing up for a bit of sparring. As the light left for the evening a couple more babies and moms came out of the trees bringing the total babies up to the final count. I've never seen this many babies before in a group and some friends who live next to the meadow also didn't recall seeing that many together at one time so it made for a special treat for everyone there.

But, the main draw for this trip is the baby goats on Mount Evans, as well as the cooler temperatures up top. Early morning saw temperatures in the upper 30s with a slight wind and our late afternoon sessions were in the 50s. Perfect weather. It sure beat the 90s that were going on in Denver. Before the workshop began I made a run up the mountain with some friends and we were even snowed on a little bit. It can snow up there almost any day of the year so you have to be prepared in terms of dressing warmly, especially if a stiff wind kicks up as it often does when you're at the highest point around.

jumping baby mountain goat
Make room, I'm coming on over

For the goats, I believe we ended up seeing eight babies, more than enough to get some great behavior shots of them interacting on the rocks and jumping from rock to rock. At this early stage of activity on the mountain, it's quite evident which babies were born about a week earlier than the later ones as they are about half the size larger than their younger friends. Mothers of the very small babies were keeping them at arms length from the larger more rambunctious baby goats. There was a time or two when a yearling goat would try to get in on the action but the moms of the new births would not have anything to do with that and would chase them away.

The playfulness of the little ones is something everyone should experience at least once. I do this trip to try and time it so that babies have just left their birthing areas and are out on top for everyone to see and enjoy their antics. I even got a shot or two I have never gotten in the 25+ years I've been making the trek up the highest paved road in North America - a mother and baby posing right in front of the summit sign with the mountain name and elevation at that point just shy of the true summit 150 feet higher.

Another of the better opportunities was with some early light backlighting the babies' coats. This rimlighting of a white coat against the backdrop of a nice blue sky sure makes them pop out from the background. One thing I always stress to people in conditions such as this is to underexpose a little bit to darken the backlit bodies so the rim lighting is even more accentuated. The same thing works for backlit white birds with nice plumage.

Those who know me well would not believe my shooting style with the goats on Mount Evans. This is probably the only place I do hand holding of my equipment. You only need a 100-400mm lens (some times just a 70-200mm) up here as the goats get so close they will brush up against you. Here, I bump the ISO up enough so that I'm getting somewhere around 1/2500th of a second or more. The above shot was at 180mm, 500 ISO, f/5.6, 1/3200 sec.

The only disappointment for the trip was the baby burrowing owl nest at the Arsenal was way to far away to shoot. There are usually several out there with one somewhat close to the loop road but that wasn't the case this time. Even with a 600mm and 1.4 each of the five babies was barely larger than a single focusing square. Hmm, maybe a 4000mm would have come in handy. On my scout trip out there a couple of days before the workshop began I did get a nice shot of an adult taking flight from a pole near the road but on our morning out there the adult(s) were hanging back near the nest area. Also didn't see a badger or any coyote at the refuge this year. Quite strange to not see any coyote there and I made a total of three visits there. If you're passing through the Denver area or are there for a few days, make sure you do a couple of laps around the loop road right after sunrise as this refuge has become a great spot for finding a variety of wildlife. Sometimes you need to know where to look for what and make an unexepted turn, but watch what others are doing and follow them but don't encroach too much on their shooting. In addition to the wildllife mentioned, there is also a significantly sized bison herd. For the deer, there are both mule deer and white-tailed deer, one of the few places both can be spotted.

baby elk playing in water
A couple of this years elk babies playing in the water

FLOWER TECHNIQUES RECAP

A great trip because the participants said so. There is more teaching on this trip than any other both in the field and in the room where we do some extreme macro work, playing with mylar and one evening of artistic computer techniques. This is also the trip where I usually end up rarely touching my camera. With not having taken one shot on the trip due to working very hands-on with people, I had a couple participants send me a shot to include with the write-up. Interestingly enough, both sent something based on the computer techniques I taught them.

In fact, after we did our night session on computer techniques, everyone was seeking out shots they could use for some particular things they learned they had found interesting.

Once again the Denver Botanic Gardens was the perfect spot for our morning shoots. On the weekends they let members get in an hour early so we had nice light and no crowds for our first hour of shooting and once it opened to the public everyone usually gives photographers and artists plenty of room to do their thing. Never once was anyone felt rushed to move on from a flower or plant they were taking their time with.

One of the biggest takeaways people got was with me working with them to make sure they had a very good grasp of using the depth of field preview button. I use this constantly when doing flowers so that I get everything in focus that I want in focus. This is a great tool for this type of shooting that everyone should used to using. We even took focusing to the next level by back focusing a little bit from the front edge of the subject as there is a little bit of room in front of where you focus that's in focus. DOF preview shows show when the exact moment that happens so it makes it easier to go a little past initial focus to maintain your forward point focus.

glowing edges computer technique
Glowing edges technique by Ramona Boone

Besides the one night of computer techniqes, which included me giving each person a batch of background textures and playing with that for a little bit, we also had a night where we did in-room shooting. The participants found out actually how close they can get to a flower to isolate just small portions, especially when using a macro lens in combo with extension tubes and / or teleconverters. It has opened a whole new world for them. With some of the extreme close-up work we played with soft focus on some flowers I bought for some very artistic renderings. I also had my light pad which we put some leaves and petals on to get light coming through to pull out extreme details in the leaves and petals.

After finishing up in the room we headed out to a nice public rose garden one of the suburbs had in a park. Although beetles had gotten to a lot of the roses, there were still more than enough in great shape to do some nice shooting of. Not many city parks departments have a rose garden as nice as this one.

Although the Botanic Gardens has been a great place to hold this trip for several years, I believe I'm taking this back into the wildflower fields of southwest Colorado next year. In the past when I did this trip it did not include a major emphasis on the computer techniques. Next year we will do several of the better known wildflower fields in the morning and then retreat to the room for our evening sessions on the computer and doing extreme close-up work in controlled settings. We will probably get out into the field for at least one evening session.

black background zoom effect on flower
Carol Carson - Combining a couple of techniques, she used a black background, then did a zoom on a new layer and finished that up with a layer mask to clear up the middle of the flower

 

NIK FILTERS IS BACK

For those who weren't aware of it, Nik Filters for Photoshop / Lightroom has made a return. DxO bought the filter set earlier this year and has recently released it. While it's last release from Adobe was free, the lastest batch costs $69. For those who have been looking for this long-standing filter package, it is now available again, though at a cost. If is available for both Mac and PC platform.

SUPPORT THE SPONSORS

In talking with a few visitors of my website they weren't aware of the specials some of my sponsors provide. On the Sponsos link there is a listing of nine different companies I have worked with over the years. Some offer discounts and some other incentives. These change from time to time so check back to see what they are offering. For ThinkTank bags, you get a promo item with most any order along with free shipping by going to their site through my link and for Singh-Ray Filters and Cradoc Software you get 10% off. Let them know you support First Light by using the links or promo codes.

TRAVEL INSURANCE PROVIDER

photomatix

Whether you need travel insurance for your next First Light trip or any trip you're planning on taking, make your first and last stop at Yonder Travel Insurance. Use the link on my Sponsors page to take you to your one-stop shop for all your travel insurance needs. Throughout my website I state that travel insurance is recommended. Some people have learned the hard way by not having insurance when they have had to cancel late or something unexpected has come up. Show your support by using Yonder Travel for your next travel insurance needs. Please use the link on my site each time you go shopping for this, even for other trips. What's nice with Yonder is they donate a week's worth of meals to a child in need with every policy sold.

CRADOC SOFTWARE SALE

All programs and all packages for new users are 25% off! Visit www.cradocfotosoftware.com/store to check out all the great software packages they have available. Some packages include fotobiz, keywords and fotoquote. USE CODE:2018_Summer during the checkout process to receive your 25% discount. Be sure to also use FLT1215 to let them know you came through the First Light poratal.

NEXT BEAR TRIP

It may be a bit off, but let me know if you are interested in attending a Kodiak Bear trip in the summer of 2020. Because of the price and length some people need to have a lot of lead time. I will be getting the dates set when I'm up there this month and try to get a better deal on pricing. If you have any interest please let me know. I do need a minimum of six for this trip so the price won't have to go up.

GREAT DEAL ON CANON PRINTER FROM HUNT'S PHOTO EXTENDED

Canon has continued their printer rebate program through July 31st. Hunt's is offering the Canon Pixma PRO 10 printer at $379.99 before rebate (Canon sells it on their website for $699.99). FOR THE MONTH OF JULY WE WILL INCLUDE ONE PACKAGE EACH OF CANON 13X19" 50 SHEET SEMIGLOSS AND LUSTER PAPER, A $100 VALUE! Canon will then send you a $250 mail in rebate! This is a pigment based printer and is always reviewed very well. Your final cost is $129.99 after mail in rebate! That includes the printer, 100 sheets 13x19" paper and a FULL set of ink! Contact Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383. Hunt's also has special pricing on a variety of Canon and Nikon lenses and some used equipment. Check with Alan and tell hime you're a First Light referral.

 

burrowing owl in flight
Burrowing owl taking flight from a nearby post - Canon 1D X and 600mm f/4 at f/8, 1/4000th sec, 800 ISO - fast shutter speed to freeze action and f/8 for depth