my flickr photostream

Monday, January 25, 2010

Roll with it

Susquehanna Pano
© 2010 Simon Hucko

If you've been on this planet for more than a few days, you know that things don't always go according to plan. Murphy manages to work his way into everything, including photography. No matter how well you prepare for a shoot, there's still a good chance that something unexpected will happen.

Last week, I got the idea that getting up for sunrise on Saturday would be a good thing. Every time I checked the weather, it got better and better - cold and clear. Friday morning the sun rose in a clear sky, and I started getting excited. Any thoughts I had of staying in bed evaporated, and when my alarm went off at 6am on Saturday I hopped up and got ready to go shoot. The minute I pulled out of the driveway, I knew my pre-visualized shot was ruined. The streetlights were blazing in the fog, and the sky had absolutely no pre-dawn glow. The whole town was covered with fog (see here). I could have turned around and gone back to bed, but I decided to stick it out and see what else I could find. When I got to the river I noticed the wisps of fog swirling around the bridge, and knew I had my shot. I had to wait a bit for the light to be right (bright enough to balance with the lamps on the bridge), but it got there and I made a few decent images. I also took the time to shoot a few images for a pano (above), which I think turned out pretty well.

The lesson here is that even when things don't go as planned, you can still make great photographs. Preparation for a shoot is essential, but a lot of times the unexpected shots are the best ones. Being in the right frame of mind to adjust and adapt and take full advantage of your situation can help ensure that you walk away with something good, and possibly even something great. Don't give up just because things don't go your way.


[title of blog] on flickr

Sunday, January 24, 2010

52 weeks: Week 3 wrapup

Bridge over the Susquehanna
© 2010 Simon Hucko

And another week has passed over at the [tob] 52 weeks group. Another solid week of entries - glad to see people are getting out and photographing every week, even if they do it on Saturday night (that's what deadlines are for, folks). As always, keep up the great work and keep on posting! And, as always, feel free to invite more people to join.

My photo this week is not the photo I had planned on taking, but it turned out pretty well (more on that tomorrow). I left the color balance a little cool to keep the street lamps from getting too orange. A 4 second exposure helped smooth out the river and the fog.

This week's winning entry is "Dead Man's Hand" by q-pix:
Dead Man's Hand
© q-pix (sorry, don't know your real name)

Great lighting on the cards. I like the layout and composition - the square crop works very well here. The smoke is a great added touch, too. My favorite part is that you can still see the texture on all the cards. Well done.

That's it for this week. Keep on shooting!


[title of blog] on flickr

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Straighten those Horizons

I Got the Blues
© 2009 Simon Hucko

The thing about spending a week on a giant boat is that you wind up with a lot of photos of the water. The thing about water is that it makes a straight horizon. The thing about straight horizons is that if you screw it up and the horizon comes out even a little crooked (we're talking fractions of a degree) people immediately notice and are bothered by it.

I knew this going into the trip, so I took extra care to make sure my horizons were straight. However, even if it looks right through the viewfinder, you may still find that your images came out a little crooked (sometimes just the action of pressing the shutter is enough to knock things off-kilter). The solution is to double-check everything when you're editing and make sure you straighten your photos. Different editing software has different ways of straightening photos. Aperture pops up a grid overlay when you're adjusting it, so it gives you a nice reference for the horizon (or other straight horizontal or vertical lines). I believe the new versions of Photoshop have a feature where you draw a line along the horizon and it automatically straightens the image. However you do it, make sure to get it right or everyone will start feeling sea sick after flipping through your vacation photos.

As an example, here's the above shot rotated by 1 degree:
Crooked Horizon Demo

Makes a huge difference, no?

(As a side-note, you can see the barrel-distortion from my lens in both of these shots. Most zooms have some amount of barrel distortion at the wide end and pincushion at the tele end, which is another advantage to prime lenses. This distortion can be removed using various software, but I don't have any in my possession at the moment.)

A few tips to avoid crooked horizons:
- Use a tripod to level and steady your camera
- Turn on the grid display in your viewfinder
- Get a level for your hotshoe, something like this
- Double check and straighten your photos if necessary in post


[title of blog] on flickr

Monday, January 18, 2010

52 weeks: Week 2 wrapup

© 2010 Simon Hucko

Week 2 of our 52 weeks project has come to an end. The number of submissions dropped a little, so to all of you who didn't make it this week you'd better submit something extra awesome next week! ;)

My photo this week comes from the gorge at Toughannock falls, just north of Ithaca. The falls themselves are very impressive and worth a trip in, but there were plenty of other interesting photo opps with the creek being frozen over. This was taken at a little drop (no more than 6 inches) where a small patch hadn't completely frozen over. I used a polarizer to cut the glare on the water and to help extend exposure. This was a 4 second exposure at f/22. Black and white conversion was done with a blue filter to darken the rocks even more (they had an orange-red cast to them) and really bring out the ice and foam.

All right, enough about me. This week's winning photo is "shiver" by [Adam_Baker]:
© Adam Baker

The tones, the wonderful composition, and most of all the falling snow all drew me to this photo. It's a beautiful, icy, thorny representation of winter, and is my pick for the week. Nicely done, Adam.

Another photo I feel deserves mention is this untitled shot by JustinZoll (a close second for me and Rachel's favorite this week):

© Justin Zoll

The thing that caught my eye the most was the contrast between the textures in the reflection. I like the rule-of-thirds framing, too. This would make a great piece of wall art - I encourage you to get it printed large (at least 12x18) and hang it somewhere.

That's it for this week. Thanks again for your submissions and for all of the comments going around the group. Don't be afraid to post discussion topics, either; questions, how-to's, and any other information you want to share are more than welcome! Keep those photos coming.


[title of blog] on flickr

Monday, January 11, 2010

Managing Vacation Photos

Ship Ahoy!
© 2009 Simon Hucko

I've already written a bit about managing your workflow, but I thought I would talk specifically about how I handled photos on this trip.

I have a relatively small amount of card storage available to me, and I was certain I would go over capacity pretty quickly. Rather than go buy new CF cards that I'll likely never need again, I decided to bring my laptop and a card reader and use it to dump my photos onto every day. (There are specific devices that are basically a hard drive with a card reader attached that will do the same thing, but they're even more expensive than new memory cards.) After setting up a series of dated folders, I was ready to start shooting.

Over the past year my shooting style has evolved a bit. I tend to avoid pressing the shutter unless I'm reasonably confident that I have a good photo in the viewfinder. Often I'll adjust exposure and take another shot (learn to love your histogram), but keep the same basic framing. This philosophy greatly cuts down on the number of photos that I take to begin with, helping me not to fill up memory cards and cutting down on processing time later.

There are a few exceptions to this, though. Sometimes I think "there's a great image in there somewhere," and will spend a few minutes trying different approaches to the subject until I find it or realize that I just can't get it due to lighting, timing, physical obstacles, etc. Also, when I'm shooting people I'll often take a few quick photos in a row to make sure I capture the expression I want with their eyes open. (I think people have a sixth sense about cameras and manage to blink right when the shutter is tripped.) I also tend to shoot short bursts in low light to ensure that I get a sharp shot.

I don't usually recommend deleting photos in camera, but to save space I would delete shots that I knew right away were bad (missed exposure, obviously blurry, bad timing and whatnot). By being picky with what I shot and deleting the FUBARs, I never even came close to filling up my cards for the day.

When we finally got home, I realized I had no good way to get the 9GB of photos from my laptop to our iMac. In a perfect world I would have a networked folder on the iMac that I could upload all of the photos to. In the real world, I decided not to mess around with any of that and just used a thumb drive to move photos over 1GB at a time. A little bit of foresight would have saved me a good amount of time here, so learn from my mistake and have something set up for transfer.

I created a new folder in my Aperture library for the trip, and created several projects within the folder: one for each day (dated and labeled with where we were), one for bracketed shots that I took for some HDR images down the line, and one for a few panos that I'm going to stitch together. These got separate folders because I didn't have time to work on them right away, and this way I can find them easily and don't have to go digging through the rest of the photos.

Final photo count for the vacation? Just under 1000, which is about half of what I expected I would shoot (not that I'm complaining). After sorting and starring, I ended up with just under 500 to share with friends and family. Of these 500, I expect only about a dozen will make it to flickr.

Editing 500 photos was no fun task, but I made good use of Aperture's "lift and stamp" functionality. Because I shoot in RAW and have a preferred style of editing, every photo gets the same basic treatment (slight contrast boost, little bit of vibrancy, mild noise reduction, sharpening, small amount of vignette). By editing one "average" photo and lifting the adjustments, I saved a lot of time and was able to fly through most of the images. With these basic adjustments lifted and ready to go, I would adjust white balance if necessary, clean up exposure and highlight recovery if necessary, straighten and crop if necessary, then stamp the adjustments. Obviously, not every photo will benefit from this basic processing, but I could handle those on a case by case basis. I know that Lightroom has presets available, where you could do something very similar (and better, IMO, since you can set up a few different presets for different situations like landscape, portrait, low light, etc and have them ready to go). I'm not sure about other photo editing applications, but it's worth doing a little digging if you're going to have to process a high volume of images and have a somewhat standardized set of adjustments that you do to each one.

Sorry for the rather lengthy text-filled post, but there are a few good take away lessons in there. First, make sure you plan ahead and have enough storage space for all of your photos while on vacation. Second, make sure you have a good way of getting those photos on to your primary computer. Third, try to mean it each time you press the shutter, it will save you space and editing time. Finally, lift and stamp or presets make editing a lot easier and faster.

Plenty more to come about the trip. Stay tuned!


[title of blog] on flickr

Sunday, January 10, 2010

52 weeks: Week 1 wrapup

Beach Umbrella
© 2010 Simon Hucko

Well, we made it through the first week of the 52 weeks project. We got 13 submissions from the 17 people signed up for the group, so that ain't bad. Keep up the great work, and remember that photos should be taken sometime within the week that you post them.

My photo this week comes from the beach at Cozumel. It was a quick pick as I was in a jam to finish editing photos from the vacation, and in retrospect I think I probably could have done better. I like the feeling of isolation and peacefulness of the shot, though, and the great texture in the sand. Looking at it again I should probably have boosted the exposure a little and warmed it up a tad to give it a brighter beach feeling, but c'est la vie.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for. My favorite from the first week's submissions is... (drumroll please)

"Big Wheel, Head On" by matt.mendick
Big Wheel, Head On
© Matt Mendick

I really like the symmetry and the unique perspective. There are a few technical issues here (some of the reflections are a little distracting, and there's that shadow in the bottom left), but I kept coming back to it. When trying to decide on a "winner" this week, my wife Rachel also picked this one out almost immediately as her favorite. There's just something very compelling and unique about this composition, like being a little kid staring up at your new toy. Nicely done, Matt.

This week's submissions close at Saturday midnight, so get shooting and get them in! Thanks again to everyone who participated, I'm looking forward to seeing your next entries.

Also, if you know anyone else who might be interested in joining (or if you're a reader and you haven't done so yet), we always welcome new members :)


[title of blog] on flickr

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy New Year

O Christmas Tree
© 2009 Simon Hucko

OK, so I'm a little behind on the New Year thing. Sorry all. Finally returned to civilization today after cruising the Caribbean. Between Christmas and this vacation I came home with around 1300 photos to sort through, so I'll be spending a lot of time staring at the iMac this week. Plenty more to come on all that.

The real purpose of this post is to announce that submissions are open for the 52 weeks project, and a few photos have started trickling in. I plan to have mine uploaded tomorrow or Friday, depending how I fare with the vacation photos. Don't forget to stop by and submit your photo by Saturday at midnight. Should be easy this week with all of the New Years festivities.

That's all for now. Stay tuned early next week for the first week's "winner" and the first of what I'm sure will be many posts relating to the trip. In the mean time, don't forget to get out and shoot for next week's submission!


[title of blog] on flickr