Storm over the Tetons

Jackson Lake Lodge view
Jackson Lake Lodge view

After attending Thomas Mangelsen’s talk at the Willow Turnout just south of Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park, I decided to head over to the lodge for lunch. As I had all of my camera gear with me, I could not resist taking some photographs with the tourists.

These shots were taken way too late in the day, though they still show the beauty of the location. If you click on the picture, you will receive a scaled down version of the 46MP (megapixel) panoramic photo. This image was stitched together from my Nikon D800 shot with a Nikon 85mm f1.4D lens at f11 and 1/320 of a second.

All of the technical superlatives aside, this was a great day for shooting because there was a storm roiling over the mountains and made for much more interesting shots than we’ve had in the last week.

A few flakes of snow fell as Manglesen was giving his talk in conjunction with the Grand Teton Park Association. He was the first photography speaker they’ve had at the location. Normally they’ll have writers or painters, but I was told they were finally able to coax one of the local famous photographers to share some of their stories. I also saw Loren &  Barbara of the Teton Photo Group as well as Roger of Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris at the talk.

D800 dreamyAlso, while I was enjoying my ham and cheese sandwich, my favorite after my return from Antarctica, I shot a time-lapse of the clouds rolling across the mountains. While the camera was clicking away, a lady walked up to the camera and tried to look through the viewfinder. I asked her to be careful and not touch the camera. She said she didn’t and continued on. As I had the D800’s viewfinder cover shielded, there was nothing to see except a flap of plastic. But she sure tried. Once I process the time-lapse, I’ll find out if anything went awry.

I love shooting time-lapse videos on the D800. I’m able to use my manual focus lenses with their manual control aperture rings, eliminating the annoying flicker that normal G lenses suffer from. I’ll have to re-post my article on how to eliminate flicker from time-lapse shots without using software. As the D800 has a built-in intervalometer, I don’t have to worry about having another annoying cable floating around. Granted, I can only shoot 1000 shots with the built-in version, but I’ve rarely had the need for more.

As I’m writing this, I’m sure I’ll find a need for it. But at 30 frames per second (fps), a 1000 frame sequence gives me 33 seconds of 1080p HD video. That’s more than enough for editing videos unless I’m going to do something exotic. That exotic might justify the expense of a fancy intervalometer and a time-lapse rail from Milapse’s Dynamic Perception group. We talked years ago when he was figuring this out and he’s got it down to a science now. Their products are highly recommended.

Photoshop for photographers

Photoshop logoMy Photoshop for Photographers class at the Jackson Hole Art Association is taking students now. Enroll for the class and learn how to use photoshop to improve, adjust, and deliver your photographs.

This is the class description:

If you want to make more of your photographs using Photoshop, then this class is for you. You will feel comfortable making your way around the software by the end of the course. We will cover workflow, setup, filters, rotation, cropping and retouching techniques. You will learn how to use layers to apply effects non-destructively, how to set color, curves, hue and saturation. Resolution, resizing, and sharpening will also be covered, as well as how to place and decorate text. This is a hands-on class.

Rollerderby Matrix
Rollerderby Matrix

One of the keys to this software is the ability to make non-destructive edits to your photographs. Why is this important? Say you’ve made several modifications to the curves, levels and color tint of your photograph. Just as you are making some corrections to dust, you notice that you don’t like the curve adjustment. With destructive software, there is no way to go back. Photoshop has what are called layers. These layers, when used properly, allow you to make a huge amount of changes and selectively add and disable them as you desire.

Photoshop is an amazingly complex and daunting program. For the first time user, it can be quite intimidating. I will demystify some of the basics you’ll need to get more out of the software as a photographer. So often, Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud) is used by graphic artists to do incredible work.

As the name implies, the original software was designed for photographers to manipulate and improve their photographs. Over the years, Adobe added a whole slew of capabilities and tools to the software to make it useful not only to photographers but graphic artists as well.

The picture at the right shows you just a smattering of what you can do with the software. From Photoshop CS3 and on to CC, Adobe added the ability to do basic 3-D work as well as edit video. Photoshop is not After Effects or Final Cut Pro, but it gives you the ability to add the amazing effects that you see in any movie that has special effects.

But before you get to the point where you’re doing some insane work, you have to have a handle on the basic controls as a photographer. This class will help you get there.

The intermediate class Photoshop for Photographers in August will touch on the above plus how to do selections, cloning, masking, and how to use some of the more advanced features of this software.

Added jewelry portfolio page

112-1100-PBS-14-1161-Edit-531I’m excited to have added a jewelry photography sample page to my portfolio of images. This is just a sampling of the images I’ve created for clients. Their products are special and delicate, so I take the utmost care when handling, processing, and preparing them. As some of the pieces in the portfolio are in excess of $10,000, they required special handling.

Many of the shots were done at the client’s site in order to minimize the risk and stress of photographing high-end valuable products. There are several reasons for this:

  • Eliminate cost and risk of shipping
  • Essentially eliminate the “down time” of pieces not on the sales floor
  • Providing instant feedback for the client to ensure their needs are met without costly reshoots
  • Reduces or eliminate the need for additional insurance because all pieces never leave the client’s business

112-1100-PBS-15-1278-Edit-mod-531Photographing jewelry is one of the most complex types of photography there is. Not only is the work technically demanding, there is a high level of artistry needed to take a photo of a ring and turn it into art. So often I receive jewelry samples which have dings, buff marks, scratches, and other undesirable defects. Even with brand new polished jewelry, there are always small defects present in the product.

But with photographs, each client wants their jewelry to look perfect, inducing the buyer to want, if not need, to purchase the piece. I go to great lengths to produce the most appealing and attractive images possible. Clients are always astounded at the level of technical effort and hours of post-processing necessary to make an image look as good as they do.

I am happy to travel to the client’s site to photograph high-value items. Although I prefer to shoot products in my studio, I understand and appreciate the client’s need for reduced risk, feedback, and turnaround time. If the client is able to ship their samples to me, this is always better than having me travel to their site to reduce cost. I look forward to delivering  high quality jewelry images to my clients in the future.

Advertising in roller derby

IMG_2470smI photographed for the Juggernauts roller derby a few weeks ago. Their catalog is out now with my advertisement in it. Thank you Thrasher!

It was a fun time photographing all the ladies, as it was a mad rush to complete the job during their practice and still make them all look good. No pressure there.

As a sponsor of the team, I really enjoyed the interaction and I look forward to working with them throughout the season. This roller derby isn’t your 1970’s material with hair pulling and punches. The referees are very strict on the rules and I still haven’t figured it all out.

One of the interesting things about this type of photography is I have the chance to make something a little more creative than just the high-key relatively flat light portraiture. As the graphic artist and team managers were on-board with my idea, I was able to run freely with what I thought would work.

As with all photo sessions like this, I made sure to take plenty of shots because some end up as blinkers, funky faces and the like. It’s just the nature of photographing people – sometimes you catch them at just the wrong time where they don’t look just right. After sifting through those photos and deleting out the bad ones, I ended up with a good selection of material for the team to work with.

IMG_8625smYou can see to the right the layout concept. I photographed the players in different poses so that the layout artist could place them in rows and columns with a unified look. It actually came out better than I had hoped. Chalk up one for a little advance planning!

Giving the art director and the layout artist something to work with and lots of options was very important for this work, as there might be something unforeseen that doesn’t work with one or another player. It’s difficult to think of all the possible issues one might encounter, as I tried to do during my expedition across Antarctica. But I always try do my best with what’s available and most of the time it works out pretty well.

We also created their first poster as well. The shot was a composite of multiple pairs of players made to look like a movie poster. There are more posters coming out out, so be watchful.

Added private lessons

DSC03347smI’ve added private photography lessons to my offering of courses after several requests during today’s Teton Photography Symposium.

We had an excellent turnout for the talk, even though the Snow King Hill Climb was taking place at the same time. There are some very dedicated photographers in the valley. The group was enjoyable and we received very good feedback on topics for future classes. There were a stunning 13 different ideas for photography classes. If someone has a suggestion, please let me know and I’ll pitch it to the Jackson Hole Art Association.

With private photography lessons, you can learn in a comfortable, private setting at your own pace. If you don’t understand something, I will review whatever is confusing you. There is no threat of feeling foolish in front of a class full of students. I am patient and remember when I was struggling with my camera, too!

Thank you to everyone who attended the Teton Photography Group March 2014 symposium!

Off-camera strobe teaser

Off-camera with fill

To get people excited for my two upcoming strobe photography classes at the Art Association of Jackson Hole, I’ve decided to post some samples to show what you can do with you get the strobe (flash) off the camera.

First, you need a strobe that can be triggered remotely, either wired or wirelessly.  There are a multitude of ways to do that.  We’ll cover that in the class.

The photo at the right shows the final image (click to see a larger version).  The background isn’t nice but that’s not the point.  Look at the texture of the trilobite I collected from the desert a few years back.

You can see depth, shape, texture.  How is this accomplished?

With shadows.

Once you get to a two-dimensional photograph, the only cue for texture is shadow.  You can kind of guess when there isn’t, but it’s pretty darned difficult.  I used one off-camera strobe and the on camera flash for fill.  More on that in a moment.

Direct flash
Direct flash

Now to the left, you can see a photo taken with just the on-camera flash of a Nikon D800.  Pretty ugly compared to the one above, right?  This is the type of photograph of something you’ll see on eBay.  Even some wedding “photographers” think their little pop-up flash will do a good job (and charge a lot for it).

We don’t want to do that.  We want to create convincing, dramatic photographs.  Does every shot have to be art?  No.

But it took me about 2 minutes of making adjustments to go from the shot on the left to the shot above.  Is the balance as perfect as I’d like?  No, but you get the point, it’s easy to see the trilobites are there, that they have depth and they are interesting.  The direct flash gives you none of that feeling.

It’s a dramatic change.

The next shot is done with purely off-camera flash.  It looks a little overly shadowed, right?

Off-camera only
Off-camera only

This is way too dramatic for this object.

That’s where the concept of fill-flash comes in handy.  Even though we’ve got the strobe off-camera, the shadows are so dark that they distract from the subject.  This is something we don’t want to do, either.  For this shot, I wanted to emphasize the subject and not the shadow.  In another blog entry, I’ll cover the shadows as negative space, an art concept.  Sometimes you want to draw attention to the shadows.

But not in this shot.  I wanted to show texture without making it look like a film-noir for ancient dead creatures.  There are plenty of b-movies with those.  For very flat objects, it does take a little work to get some drama out of them.  Even a piece of paper can be made to look interesting.  I’ll show that in another blog entry.

I was shooting perfectly flat petrified wood tables for By Nature Gallery and, with a little effort and off-camera strobes, I made the tables come alive.  Even though they’re perfectly smooth, the little crystals inside the petrified wood just pop with color.  Getting the strobe off-camera made those shots possible.  (note that the photos on their site are not mine, mine are in their brochure)

Getting texture out of seemingly flat things is just one of the concept that I will be teaching in my strobe (flash) photography class.

Click on any of the photos to see a higher resolution shot to see what I’m talking about.

Beautiful butterfly lighting

While working on a full product catalog photography shoot, one of the fun things I’ve

Beautiful light for beautiful products
Beautiful light for beautiful products

been able to do is use some classic portraiture lighting techniques, like the butterfly lighting in the photo on the right.

Many times, photographers will use light tents for their shoots, giving their products a certain look.  And that look is just like everyone else’s look.  Although light tents are very handy, there is only so much you can do with them.

You can place lights all around them, chose to use just one light, and add variations on variations.  That seems great, but the surrounding darkness looks the same.  And with very reflective objects, you can see the box frame.  It requires lots of post-production work in photo editing software to fix that.  I very much prefer to get the image right in camera, as I don’t like wasting mine or my clients’ time correcting errors out later.

I don’t want my client’s products to look like everyone elses.  They hire me because I

Crystals at By Nature Gallery
Crystals at By Nature Gallery

give them a unique look with very high quality.

When photographing crystals with light tents, the highlights become very mushy in the translucent stone.  Soft light removes the texture of the crystal surface.

Instead, I use hard lights to make the image pop.  It takes more work but the results are better.  The are reflections and hot spots to deal with – that’s the challenge and where practiced skill comes in.  Strip boxes, light tents and umbrellas take away those hot spots but they also soften the texture.  Texture is very important in these images, as it really gives feeling to the crystals.  Without those hard edges, the above piece would look like plastic.  People don’t go into By Nature Gallery to purchase fake plastic rocks – they want the real thing.

I do my best to deliver the real thing.

Pearls luster photographs

Pearls have been one of the most difficult things to photograph I’ve run into yet.

Milky pearls
Milky pearls

Bison being aggressive toward me were nothing compared to these tiny little round spheres.

My first photos were too milky and bead like, as you can see in the photograph at the right.

Although I created the nearly perfect light tent with no particularly hard edges, this ended up being a total failure for pearls.  Many objects are very nice with uniform smooth lighting but not these.

According to what I saw on, I was making these nice pearls look like they were of low quality.  That is because the edge of the reflection is not sharp.  “You should be able to see your reflection in the pearls.”  For many things, I work hard to put a nice, smooth gradient on.  Pearls are just the opposite.  The harder the edge of the reflection, making the pearl look more mirror-like, the better.

Fail on the first attempt.  Oops.

So, after studying pearl images from Mikimoto, I figured out their image magic of

Same pearls with luster
Same pearls with luster

how they make the pearl look round and lustrous.  It’s a combination of their pearl quality and using one of the types of classic portrait photography.  In many of their images, they use what is termed butterfly lighting.  Not all of their pearl images are like that but most are are a variation of it.

Of course, making this style of image requires a softbox and reflector.  As my awesome parents are shipping me my softbox, I’m going to have to figure out how to get by with what I have for now.  Using very non-photography items like paper, cardboard, posterboard, and the like, I’ll be able to create a make-shift softbox.  As you can see with the second image, the same strand of pearls as above looks much more lustrous.

Like all photography (and really, everything else), you have to keep working it and studying what was done.  Then you can match and maybe even go beyond what anyone else has done.  This takes lots of effort and keeps you up late at night.  But if you keep at it, chances are you will succeed.

Just don’t give up.

Diamond Necklaces

I’m enjoying studio photography and had the chance to photograph Kelly’s

Kelly's diamond necklace by Christian Tse on black.
Kelly’s diamond necklace by Christian Tse on black.

diamond necklace by Christian Tse today.  I made the first image on black to make the piece stand out.  It was actually pretty easy to get the background to go within 3 points of complete black.  This will be part of my intermediate photography and strobe photography class in spring 2014 put on by the Jackson Hole Art Association.

The second image was done on white, similar to what most jewelry companies do.  Although almost all products are done on what, PSOW, I prefer the black for this sort of piece with white gold and diamonds.  Even though the image on the metal is the same in both

Kelly's necklace by Christian Tse on white
Kelly’s necklace by Christian Tse on white

images, the effect of a black versus a white background is pretty dramatic.  It’s really a personal preference.  Most clients prefer things on white because they can cut the background out in Photoshop and then do whatever they need with it.  I prefer to get everything right in the camera and not have to do hardly anything in PS.  The less time I spend in post, the happier I am.

The photographs I’ve done for By Nature Gallery have required a pure, 0,0,0 background, meaning I have a LOT of work to do in photoshop.  Even though I can control the light really well, getting a true zero black background is essentially impossible.  So, their work always requires a lot of post.

You’ll have to decide for yourself which one you like better.

Necklace setup shot
Necklace setup shot

I’ve also included a setup shot so you can see what goes into making one of these images.  I really wish I had one more Nikon Speedlight to give me an extra edge and ability to sculpt the image.  It’d only be another $500.  Haha!